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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 486980 times)
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« Reply #10020 on: Nov 15, 2013, 06:25 AM »

What Colombia's Kogi people can teach us about the environment

The Kogi people are warning society of destruction we face if we fail to embrace nature

Jini Reddy   
Guardian Professional, Tuesday 29 October 2013 14.55 GMT      

Deep in Colombia's Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, surrounded by jungle (and guerrillas, tomb raiders and drug traffickers), live 20,000 indigenous Kogi people. A culturally intact pre-Colombian society, they've lived in seclusion since the Spanish conquest 500 years ago. Highly attuned to nature, the Kogi believe they exist to care for the world – a world they fear we are destroying.

In 1990, in a celebrated BBC documentary, the Kogi made contact with the outside world to warn industrialised societies of the potentially catastrophic future facing the planet if we don't change our ways.

They watched, waited and listened to nature. They witnessed landslides, floods, deforestation, the drying up of lakes and rivers, the stripping bare of mountain tops, the dying of trees. The Sierra Nevada, because of its unique ecological structure, mirrors the rest of the planet – bad news for us.

The Kogi don't understand why their words went unheeded, why people did not understand that the earth is a living body and if we damage part of it, we damage the whole body.

Twenty-three years later they summoned filmmaker Alan Ereira back to their home to renew the message: this time the leaders, the Kogi Mama (the name means enlightened ones), set out to show in a visceral way the delicate and critical interconnections that exist between the natural world.

The resulting film, Aluna, takes us into the world of the Kogi. At the heart of the tribe's belief system is "Aluna" – a kind of cosmic consciousness that is the source of all life and intelligence and the mind inside nature too. "Aluna is something that is thinking and has self-knowledge. It's self-aware and alive." says Ereira. "All indigenous people believe this, historically. It's absolutely universal."

Many Kogi Mama are raised in darkness for their formative years to learn to connect with this cosmic consciousness and, vitally, to respond to its needs in order to keep the world in balance. "Aluna needs the human mind to participate in the world – because the thing about a human mind is that it's in a body," explains Ereira. "Communicating with the cosmic mind is what a human being's job is as far as the Kogi are concerned."

The Kogi people believe that when time began the planet's 'mother' laid an invisible black thread linking special sites along the coast, which are, in turn, connected to locations in the mountains. What happens in one specific site is, they say, echoed in another miles away. Keen to illustrate this they devised a plan to lay a gold thread showing the connections that exist between special sites.

They want to show urgently that the damage caused by logging, mining, the building of power stations, roads and the construction of ports along the coast and at the mouths of rivers – in short expressions of global capitalism that result in the destruction of natural resources – affects what happens at the top of the mountain. Once white-capped peaks are now brown and bare, lakes are parched and the trees and vegetation vital to them are withering.

"The big thing in coastal development in this area is the 'mega-projects', especially the vast expansion of port facilities and associated extensive infrastructure to link new ports to large-scale coal and metals extraction and industrial plant such as aluminium smelters," says Ereira.

In a poignant scene in the film, CNN footage from September 2006 shows the Kogi walking for miles to protest against the draining of lagoons to make way for the construction of Puerta Brisa, a port to support Colombia's mining industry.

What happens at the river estuary affects what happens at the source, they say, over and over again. "The Kogi believe that the estuary provides evaporation that becomes deposited at the river source. So if you dry up the estuary you dry up the whole of the river source," says Ereira.

In the film, the views of the Kogi are backed up by a specialist in ecosystem restoration, a professor of zoology and a world leader in marine biology. "Along this stretch of coastline, you have a microcosm for what is happening in the Caribbean and also on the rest of the planet," says the latter, Alex Rogers, of Oxford University, on camera. "Their view that all these activities are having an impact at a larger scale are quite right."

It's not all doom and gloom: the Kogi end the film on a message of hope: don't abandon your lives, they say, just protect the rivers. But how to do that? One way forward is to engage the Kogi (and other indigenous communities who have an understanding of environmental impacts) in environmental assessment plans. The Tairona Heritage Trust has also been set up to support projects proposed by the Mamas. But Ereira stresses, "The Mamas are very clear about how we should take notice of what they say. Listen carefully, think, make our own decisions. They don't want to tell us what to do."

"I would hope that ordinary people will come away from the film feeling empowered to express what they already know – which is that the planet is alive and feels what we do to it," he says.

"Everybody who is a gardener in this country already has a Kogi relationship to the earth but they don't necessarily have a language to express that. They have an empathetic relationship to the land and what grows on it, and that empathy is what we have build on."

For more information visit the Aluna film website.


* Kogi-Mama--008.jpg (46.81 KB, 460x276 - viewed 34 times.)
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« Reply #10021 on: Nov 15, 2013, 06:30 AM »

November 14, 2013

Key Brazilians in Graft Case Must Go to Jail, Court Says

By SIMON ROMERO
IHT

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s highest court has ruled that the powerful figures in the governing Workers Party convicted in a vast vote-buying scheme must soon start their prison terms, a surprising twist in a country where corrupt lawmakers have long been sheltered from punishment.

The decision by the Supreme Federal Tribunal, made Tuesday night after deliberations in the capital, Brasília, came in response to a request by Brazil’s prosecutor general that the convicted officials should begin serving their sentences.

More than 20 people, including top legislators, senior governing party figures, officials at Banco do Brasil and businessmen, were originally sentenced more than a year ago.

Pointing to the potential for the ruling to provide a precedent in other corruption cases, Ivar Hartmann, a law professor at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, a top Brazilian university, called the decision a “historic moment for the Brazilian legal system and for the stability of institutions in Brazil.”

If the prison terms actually materialize, such a development would be a rare example in which politicians go to prison in Brazil after being found guilty of their crimes. The same court decided in September that it would allow a new round of appeals in the trial, a ruling that may still allow some of the convicted figures in the scandal to wriggle out of hard jail time.

Confusion persisted Thursday as to exactly when the political figures would go to prison, though legal experts said the imprisonments could happen as early as next week, barring other surprise developments. The chief justice of the court, Joaquim Barbosa, is expected to issue the imprisonment orders, leaving it up to a separate court in Brasília to carry them out.

The most powerful figure in the scandal, José Dirceu de Oliveira e Silva, who was chief of staff for Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was vacationing at an exclusive beach in Bahia State when the high court made its decision. His lawyer said Thursday that he had returned to his home in São Paulo and was ready to turn himself in to the authorities.

Still, many Brazilians expressed a mixture of surprise and bewilderment at the prospect of such figures going to jail.

“We haven’t seen them in prison yet; in the meantime it’s as though they were in a luxurious mansion,” said Lindalva Santos, 38, a fruit stall vendor in Rocinha, a sprawling slum in Rio de Janeiro. “This should have been seen a long time ago.”

The landmark corruption case raised hopes that Brazil’s legal system could act independently of other branches and provide accountability in what has been called the country’s largest corruption scandal.

In the case of José Dirceu, as he is commonly known in Brazil, he was sentenced to almost 11 years in prison for orchestrating the vote-buying scheme, called the mensalão, or big monthly allowance, after the payments made to lawmakers for their votes.

Since the prison terms ordered by the high court apply only to crimes in which defendants are not eligible for a new round of appeals, José Dirceu is expected to be granted somewhat relaxed prison conditions, allowing him to leave during the day to work and return to prison at night to sleep.

In making their ruling, justices pointed to structural aspects in Brazil’s judiciary that made it far more likely for the poor to go to prison than the rich and powerful, especially in relation to drug-related offenses.

“We have thousands of people sentenced for small quantities of marijuana, and very few people sentenced for immense crimes,” said one justice, Luís Roberto Barroso. “To be jailed in Brazil you have to be very poor and defended very poorly. The system is selective, almost of castes.”

Lis Horta Moriconi and Taylor Barnes contributed reporting.
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« Reply #10022 on: Nov 15, 2013, 06:45 AM »

In the USA..United Surveillance America

November 14, 2013

C.I.A. Collecting Data on International Money Transfers, Officials Say

By CHARLIE SAVAGE and MARK MAZZETTI
NYT

WASHINGTON — The Central Intelligence Agency is secretly collecting bulk records of international money transfers handled by companies like Western Union — including transactions into and out of the United States — under the same law that the National Security Agency uses for its huge database of Americans’ phone records, according to current and former government officials.

The C.I.A. financial records program, which the officials said was authorized by provisions in the Patriot Act and overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, offers evidence that the extent of government data collection programs is not fully known and that the national debate over privacy and security may be incomplete.

Some details of the C.I.A. program were not clear. But it was confirmed by several current and former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter is classified.

The data does not include purely domestic transfers or bank-to-bank transactions, several officials said. Another, while not acknowledging the program, suggested that the surveillance court had imposed rules withholding the identities of any Americans from the data the C.I.A. sees, requiring a tie to a terrorist organization before a search may be run, and mandating that the data be discarded after a certain number of years. The court has imposed several similar rules on the N.S.A. call logs program.

Several officials also said more than one other bulk collection program has yet to come to light.

“The intelligence community collects bulk data in a number of different ways under multiple authorities,” one intelligence official said.

Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the C.I.A., declined to confirm whether such a program exists, but said that the agency conducts lawful intelligence collection aimed at foreign — not domestic — activities and that it is subject to extensive oversight.

“The C.I.A. protects the nation and upholds the privacy rights of Americans by ensuring that its intelligence collection activities are focused on acquiring foreign intelligence and counterintelligence in accordance with U.S. laws,” he said.

Juan Zarate, a White House and Treasury official under President George W. Bush, said that unlike telecommunications information, there has generally been less sensitivity about the collection of financial data, in part because the government already collects information on large transactions under the Bank Secrecy Act.

“There is a longstanding legal baseline for the U.S. government to collect financial information,” said Mr. Zarate, who is also the author of “Treasury’s War,” about the crackdown on terrorist financing. He did not acknowledge the C.I.A. program.

Orders for business records from the surveillance court generally prohibit recipients from talking about them. A spokeswoman for one large company that handles money transfers abroad, Western Union, did not directly address a question about whether it had been ordered to turn over records in bulk, but said that the company complies with legal requirements to provide information.

“We collect consumer information to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act and other laws,” said the spokeswoman, Luella Chavez D’Angelo. “In doing so, we also protect our consumers’ privacy.”

In recent months, there have been hints in congressional testimony, declassified documents and litigation that the N.S.A. program — which was disclosed by Edward J. Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor — is not unique in collecting records involving Americans.

For example, the American Civil Liberties Union is fighting a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for documents related to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the provision that allows the government to compel companies to turn over business records for counterterrorism purposes. After the government declassified the N.S.A. phone records program, it has released many documents about it in response to the suit.

But the government has notified the A.C.L.U. that it is withholding two Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rulings invoking Section 215 — one dated Aug. 20, 2008, and the other Nov. 23, 2010 — because they discuss matters that remain classified, according to Alexander Abdo, an A.C.L.U. lawyer. “It suggests very strongly that there are other programs of surveillance that the public has a right to know about,” Mr. Abdo said.

In addition, a Justice Department “white paper” on the N.S.A.’s call records program, released in August, said that communications logs are “a context” in which the “collection of a large volume of data” is necessary for investigators to be able to analyze links between terrorism suspects and their associates. It did not say that call records are the only context that meets the criteria for bulk gathering.

In hearings on Capitol Hill, government officials have repeatedly avoided saying that phone logs — which include date, duration and numbers of phone calls, but not their content — are the only type of data that would qualify for bulk collection under the Patriot Act provision. In a little-noticed exchange late in an Oct. 3 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the N.S.A. director, appeared to go further.

At the hearing, Senator Mazie K. Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii, asked General Alexander and James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, a sweeping question: “So what are all of the programs run by the N.S.A. or other federal agencies” that used either Section 215 of the Patriot Act or another surveillance law that allows warrantless wiretapping of phone and emails?

General Alexander responded by describing, once again, the N.S.A.’s call records program, adding, “None of that is hid from you.” Mr. Clapper said nothing.

Then, moments later, General Alexander interjected that he was talking only about what the N.S.A. is doing under the Patriot Act provision and appearing to let slip that other agencies are operating their own programs.

“You know, that’s of course a global thing that others use as well, but for ours, it’s just that way,” General Alexander said.

In September, the Obama administration declassified and released a lengthy opinion by Judge Claire Eagan of the surveillance court, written a month earlier and explaining why the panel had given legal blessing to the call log program. A largely overlooked passage of her ruling suggested that the court has also issued orders for at least two other types of bulk data collection.

Specifically, Judge Eagan noted that the court had previously examined the issue of what records are relevant to an investigation for the purpose of “bulk collections,” plural. There followed more than six lines that were censored in the publicly released version of her opinion.

Lawmakers on the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have been trying to gain more information about other bulk collection programs.

In September, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin and an author of the original Patriot Act, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asking if the administration was collecting bulk records aside from the phone data. An aide said he had yet to get a response. Even lawmakers on the Intelligence Committees have indicated that they are not sure they understand the entire landscape of what the government is doing in terms of bulk collection.

Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, recently sent a classified letter to Mr. Clapper asking for a full accounting of every other national security program that involves bulk collection of data at home or abroad, according to government officials.

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

November 14, 2013

Obama Moves to Avert Cancellation of Insurance

By ASHLEY PARKER and ROBERT PEAR
NYT

WASHINGTON — President Obama, trying to quell a growing furor over the rollout of his health care law, bowed to bipartisan pressure on Thursday and announced a policy reversal that would allow insurance companies to temporarily keep people on health plans that were to be canceled under the new law because they did not meet minimum standards.

The decision to allow the policies to remain in effect for a year without penalties represented the Obama administration’s hurriedly developed effort to address one of the major complaints about the beleaguered health care law. It seemed for the moment to calm rising anger and fear of a political backlash among congressional Democrats who had been threatening to support various legislative solutions opposed by the White House because of their potential to undermine the law.

Senate Democratic leaders said they did not see the need for an immediate legislative fix — a victory for White House officials worried that momentum was building toward consideration of a measure to force the change.

The Republican-controlled House is still set to vote Friday on a bill by Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, that would allow Americans to keep their existing health coverage through 2014 without penalties — as well as allow new people to continue to buy the plans, something the White House said would gut the Affordable Care Act.

The president’s announcement on Thursday seemed to limit Democratic defections, with only two dozen or so House Democrats now expected to support Mr. Upton’s bill. Without the presidential action, officials said, scores of Democrats might have joined Republicans in approving the Upton measure.

It remained unclear, however, just how much impact the fix delivered by an apologetic Mr. Obama would actually have. Though his proposal grants discretion to insurers to allow people to stay on their existing plans, there is no guarantee that insurers will do so, or that the states will allow such renewals.

Also unclear are what prices will be charged by insurers for existing policies that are continued in force through 2014. Insurers generally did not have rates approved for the renewal of such coverage because the policies were supposed to be terminated at the end of this year.

Some state insurance commissioners caught off-guard by the announcement said they did not intend to allow insurers to reinstate the policies. And insurance companies denounced the president’s action.

“Changing the rules after health plans have already met the requirements of the law could destabilize the market and result in higher premiums for consumers,” said Karen M. Ignagni, the president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group.

“Premiums have already been set for next year based on an assumption about when consumers will be transitioning to the new marketplace,” she said. “If now fewer younger and healthier people choose to purchase coverage in the exchange, premiums will increase, and there will be fewer choices for consumers.”

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, representing state officials, and the American Academy of Actuaries, a nonpartisan professional group, said the move could threaten the viability of insurance markets operating under rules that provide consumers with new protections starting in 2014.

Republicans portrayed the policy switch as an effort to shift blame to insurance companies. Speaker John A. Boehner dismissed the president’s act and said the White House could not be trusted on the issue.

“Promise after promise from this administration has turned out to be not true,” Mr. Boehner said. “So when it comes to this health care law, the White House doesn’t have much credibility. Now, let’s be clear. The only way to fully protect the American people is to scrap this law once and for all. There is no way to fix this.”

Still, the president told reporters that the changes should allow many people to retain their health care plans for a year despite having received letters saying they could no longer keep their insurance.

“This fix won’t solve every problem for every person, but it’s going to help a lot of people,” said Mr. Obama, who repeatedly took personal responsibility for misrepresenting the law and saying Americans who like their coverage would be able to keep it.

“I completely get how upsetting this can be for a lot of Americans, particularly after assurances they heard from me that if they had a plan that they liked they could keep it,” Mr. Obama said. “And to those Americans, I hear you loud and clear. I said that I would do everything we can to fix this problem. And today I’m offering an idea that will help do it.”

The president’s plan would apply only to people who have policies that are being canceled. Those currently without insurance would not be able to buy the old plans.

Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, one of the first Democrats to break with the White House over allowing people to keep their current plans, said the president’s announcement was a welcome development but stressed that Congress might still need to go further — a sentiment shared by other Senate Democrats facing re-election next year.

“The president’s announcement this morning was a great first step, and we will probably need legislation to make it stick,” Ms. Landrieu said. She has offered her own legislation that would allow people to stay on their current insurance plans indefinitely, but indicated that she was open to letting the president’s fix supersede hers if it went far enough.

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, said that while her members were “very pleased” with the president’s plan, some were still clamoring for a fix on top of what he was offering. Many of them, she said, were those who fought hard for the law’s passage and wanted to see it saved.

On Friday, House Democratic leaders are expected to offer a plan that would build on Mr. Obama’s solution and give their members additional political cover, though it is likely to be rejected by their Republican counterparts.

Eager to avoid opening the measure to legislative attack in Congress, the White House used administrative authority to let insurers renew their current policies. Mr. Obama’s action represented a sweeping assertion of presidential authority to delay enforcement of certain provisions of federal law — provisions at the heart of the health law.

The president’s “transition policy” was set forth in a letter to state insurance commissioners from Gary M. Cohen, the director of the federal Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.

Under the policy, Mr. Cohen said, “health insurance issuers may choose to continue coverage that would otherwise be terminated or canceled, and affected individuals and small businesses may choose to re-enroll in such coverage.”

People who keep the policies will be unable to obtain financial assistance available for new coverage purchased through insurance exchanges. If an insurer chooses to reinstate coverage that has been canceled, it must notify policyholders that they have a right to obtain coverage that complies with the law and provides additional benefits.

The administration said it would consider the impact of the transition policy in deciding whether to extend it beyond 2014.

Even those lawmakers who were pleased with Mr. Obama’s change of position expressed frustration with the overall rollout of the law.

“Who could be happy with it?” said Representative Juan C. Vargas, Democrat of California. “The reality is they didn’t do a good job — all these years to prep for it. Someone messed up, and someone’s head ought to roll.”

Jeremy W. Peters, Michael D. Shear and Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.

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November 14, 2013

$122 Million in 2012 Spending by Koch Group

By NICHOLAS CONFESSORE
NYT

A political nonprofit group founded by the billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch spent $122 million during 2012, according to documents filed with the Colorado secretary of state, putting it among the biggest election spenders in the country.

The group, Americans for Prosperity, spent tens of millions of dollars in political advertising in a bid to defeat President Obama and Democrats in Congress, while investing equally large sums to build a national grass-roots organization for conservative activists and voters. Based in Virginia, the group is central to the political organization nurtured by the Koch brothers and their allies in the past decade, and in recent years has played a pivotal role in advancing conservative policies in states like Wisconsin and North Carolina.

But the group and other right-leaning nonprofits and “super PACs” came up short last year, failing to unseat Mr. Obama or swing the Senate to Republican control. In recent months, the Kochs have undertaken a major revamping of their political network, including building a more centralized fund-raising apparatus centered on a trade association called Freedom Partners, also based in Virginia.

Because Americans for Prosperity is not required to disclose its donors, it is unclear how much of the group’s money comes directly from the Kochs or other donors. And some comes from other nonprofits, like Freedom Partners, which provided $32.3 million to Americans for Prosperity in the months leading up to the 2012 elections.

The Center for Public Integrity, a watchdog group, first reported the Colorado documents. Colorado requires nonprofits that raise significant funds there to file annual disclosures.

Despite the setbacks last year, the Kochs and donors close to them have indicated they were likely to increase spending further for the midterm elections and the 2016 presidential race.

Levi Russell, a spokesman for Americans for Prosperity, said, “Every year we’ve expanded capability and impact, and we expect that to continue.”

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Ted Cruz Crowns Himself The Stand-In For The American People

By Amanda Marcotte
RawStory
Thursday, November 14, 2013 10:15 EST

Ted Cruz is really testing the limits of the Explosive Douchebaggery Theorem, which holds that every few years, there has to be an ego-driven wingnut whose unearned and delusional sense of self-regard grows exponentially every day until the sheer weight of his ego causes his career to collapse unto itself like a black hole. As with Tom Delay, Newt Gingrich, Joe McCarthy, Michele Bachmann and many more before, for months and years, the right wing nut believes that they can keep up with having their egotistical weirdness double daily, but eventually their hubris does catch up with them. Ted Cruz is going down this path, and nothing that I can see will stop it.

    The latest example is a doozy. Cruz was interviewed by the Politichicks, a right wing website, and got the “how do you work so hard when everyone is such a meanie?” softball question. His answer is a a jewel of overwhelming self-aggrandizement.

    “I’m encouraged,” Cruz insisted. “I’m encouraged because I think all across the country, I think people are getting energized, they’re getting engaged, they’re speaking up. And we shouldn’t be surprised. Changing the country isn’t easy. And the establishment is going to fight back. In both parties, they don’t want to change.”

    “And so, the reason — the nastier the attacks get — I mean, they’re directed at all of us, they are directed at the American people,” he continued. “Because a lot of the folks in Washington don’t want to be held accountable.”

In a sense, it’s just another example of the hard right tendency to assume that you’re not a real American if you don’t belong to the 30-ish percent that holds, as Rick Perlstein puts it, the belief that liberalism is “the ideology that steals from hard-working, taxpaying whites and gives the spoils to indolent, grasping blacks” and that they’re here to save America from the supposed dangers of, to be blunt, democracy. But with Ted Cruz, I think he’s reaching a new stage in his exponential ego growth. This is the part where he starts to see himself as a god of sorts, a prophet put on earth to be the body of “America”. It’s really no surprise. Cruz’s father has been running around hinting that he believes his son is some kind of emissary of God’s, here to end the supposed “great transfer of wealth”. See above from Rick Perlstein about what that means.

Not that you need to bother, since Rafael Cruz is pretty blunt about his racism:

    Evangelical pastor Rafael Cruz, father of tea party star Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), called black and Hispanic voters “uninformed” and “deceived” during a speech to conservative activists in February.

    After attending a panel on minority outreach at the FreedomWorks grassroots summit, Cruz, a Cuban-American, born-again Christian, spoke at the conference. He noted that a previous speaker “mentioned something about Hispanics being uninformed or deceived.”

    “Well, the same thing is true of the black population,” Cruz said.

And of course, there’s the “go back to Kenya” crap.

(I don’t even know that I should bother addressing the content of the argument that is being forwarded by implication by the hard right, but it’s worth pointing out both that black people do, in fact, pay taxes, and white people also get government benefits. In fact, wealthy and middle class people, who are disproportionately white, tend to get more government benefits, in the form of tax breaks and government investment in business and education.)

So, Cruz is on a path that’s well-known to all of us. The only question is what form the career flame-out will take. Will he resign in disgrace like Newt Gingrich? Will he be facing indictments or jail time like Tom Delay? Sex scandal? Exposure of campaign “irregularities” like Michele Bachmann? Public humiliation when he runs for President and realizes that the American people he believes he is one with actually see him for the crazed wingnut that he is? I welcome your wild speculation below!

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

November 14, 2013 02:00 PM

Watch: Forum Audience Laughs at Ted Cruz for Claiming He 'Didn't Want a Shutdown'

By David
CrooksAndLiars

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) faced howls of laughter from an audience in Washington, D.C. on Thursday when he claimed that he "didn't want a shutdown" over President Barack Obama's health care reform law.

At The Atlantic's Washington Ideas Forum, Fox News host Chris Wallace pointed out to the Texas Republican that many of his colleagues thought he hurt the party by forcing the government shutdown instead of letting Obamacare fail on its own.

"That ignores who I think was responsible for the shutdown," Cruz replied. "I didn't want a shutdown. Throughout the whole thing, I said we shouldn't have a shutdown."

That remark elicited laughter from the forum audience.

"Now, folks here can disagree," Cruz said, turning to the crowd. "But repeatedly, I voted to keep the government open."

"In my view based on where things are right now, I think stopping Obamacare is the essence of pragmatism," he added. "The most pragmatic thing we could do is say, 'Listen, this isn't working. Let's start over.'"

Wallace then turned to the 2016 race, but Cruz insisted that he was focused on the Senate instead of running for president.

"But, sir," Wallace said. "At the risk of being a smart aleck, for somebody who is focused on the Senate, you're spending a lot of time in Iowa."

"Well, I'll tell ya, I went on a lovely pheasant hunt in Iowa," Cruz quipped. "I'm spending a lot of time all over the country and the reason is -- since I've been elected, I think we've done 86 events in Texas, I think we've been to 14 or 15 states all over the country -- and the reason is, one of the things that has confused some observers, I'm not devoting my time and energy to try and make the case in smoke-filled rooms in Washington. I think Washington's broken."

"Can you envision a situation where you would decide, I'm the guy to lead the crusade?" Wallace wondered.

"I intend to support whoever is standing up and leading, whoever is effectively defending conservative principles, defending free market principles, defending the Constitution, bringing us back to defending liberty," Cruz explained. "That's who as a voter I intend to support."

"And it's my hope that we see a thousand flowers bloom, that we see lots of people stepping up providing that leadership because that's what it's going to take to turn the country around," he concluded.

"I never thought I'd hear you espousing the views of Chairman Mao," Wallace chuckled.

Click to watch:

<iframe width="440" height="284" src="http://embed.crooksandliars.com/embed/MjgzNDJdLQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

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

Rep. Gohmert upset Obama’s Israel policy not based on Biblical prophecies

By Travis Gettys
RawStory
Thursday, November 14, 2013 12:43 EST

A tea party lawmaker cited the Bible during a speech Wednesday on the House floor criticizing the Obama administration for its treatment of Israel.

“There are many who have been aware of Scripture, and it has often been a guide in our relations with Israel,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). “’Some of us believe that the Bible is accurate. Certainly, so many prophesies have been fulfilled, and if that is true, this administration, unless they can find a verse that accurately says that those who betray Israel will be blessed, then this country is being dug in a deeper hole by this administration and its betrayals of Israel’s trust and Israel’s friendship.”

Gohmert said President Barack Obama had urged Israel to enter into a nuclear nonproliferation treaty with other Middle Eastern nations, which he said would require the nation to disclose and give up its undeclared nuclear weapons.

“This was viewed and discussed as being the first time in people’s memory when the United States, by and through its administration — the Obama administration — had taken action that was very adverse to Israel and the international community, and particularly in the U.N.,” Gohmert told lawmakers. “Normally we did not side with Israel’s enemies.”

He warned that pulling away from Israel had provoked its enemies and left it vulnerable to attack by Iran.

“The reason that it is important to point these things out now is, what is happening between the United States and Iran, as we leave Israel out of the equation — even though it is Israel that is considered to be the little Satan and we are considered the great Satan, and Israel is probably to be the first attacked, if there is an attack — they are certainly the most vulnerable, yet we leave our former friend Israel out of the equation,” Gohmert said.

The lawmaker said Obama administration officials had been telling Israel not to “dare attack Iran” without U.S. permission.

“We won’t let them have nuclear weapons; and yet it is not the United States that is first threatened,” Gohmert said. “The great Satan, the United States, in the eyes of leaders in Iran — not the Iranian people, but Iranian leaders — would get around to attacking us. But first Israel is threatened.”

Gohmert said the president had warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his nation “must defend itself by itself.”

“Our President said that, and yet, if we are not going to help Israel defend itself, which is actually defending us as well, then shouldn’t we avoid jeopardizing Israel’s own self-defense?” Gohmert said.

Actually, Gohmert used a heavily abbreviated formulation of the president’s quote that differed from his intended message.

“We will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat,” Obama told the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March 2012.

Netanyahu said at the time that he appreciated the president’s willingness to “take no options off the table” for Israel’s ability to defend itself.

Gohmert also said that Obama had thrown his support behind Israel’s enemies, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and engaged in an apology tour of Islamic nations, a debunked but persistent right-wing claim.

“My oath of office is to this country,” Gohmert said. “When I was in the Army for four years, my oath was to this country. My allegiance continues to this country, and I believe that being Israel’s friend is helpful to this country; and that is why I so strongly support being a friend to Israel.”

Even though he devoted much of his speech to establishing biblical justification for American support of Israel, the lawmaker said that’s not the only reason to do so.

“Even if you took the Bible completely out, you took out most anything except just looking at the Middle East and who believes in the value of life like we do here in the United States, who believes more in democratic actions like we do in the United States, then Israel should certainly be our friend,” Gohmert said.

Click to watch this clown: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhmytmBtO84


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« Reply #10023 on: Nov 16, 2013, 06:31 AM »

The rise of far right parties across Europe is a chilling echo of the 1930s

By John Palmer, The Guardian
Saturday, November 16, 2013 1:15 EST

Having played down their fascist sympathies they’re re-emerging now after a PR facelift. Time is running out to counter them

Since the global banking crisis in 2007, commentators across the political spectrum have confidently predicted not only the imminent collapse of the euro, but sooner or later an unavoidable implosion of the European Union itself. None of this has come to pass. But the European project, launched after the devastation of the second world war, faces the most serious threat in its history. That threat was chillingly prefigured this week by the launch of a pan-European alliance of far-right parties, led by the French National Front and the Dutch Freedom party headed by Geert Wilders, vowing to slay “the monster in Brussels”.

Of course, the growth in support for far-right, anti-European, anti-immigrant parties has been fed by the worst world recession since at least the 1930s – mass unemployment and falling living standards, made worse by the self-defeating austerity obsession of European leaders. Parties that skulked in the shadows, playingdown their sympathies with fascism and Nazism are re-emerging, having given themselves a PR facelift. Marine Le Pen, leader of the French NF, plays down the antisemitic record of her party. The Dutch far-right leader has ploughed a slightly different furrow, mobilising fear and hostility not against Jews but Muslim immigrants. Like Le Pen, Wilders focuses on the alleged cosmopolitan threat to national identity from the European Union. It is a chorus echoed in other countries by the Danish People’s party, the Finns party and the Flemish Vlaams Belang, among others.

For now, the French and Dutch populists are carefully keeping their distance from openly neo-Nazi parties such as Golden Dawn, whose paramilitary Sturmabteilung has terrorised refugees and immigrants in Greece, and the swaggering Hungarian Jobbik, which targets the Roma minority.

According to some pollsters, the far right might win as many as a third of European parliament seats in elections next May. That would still leave the centre parties – Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberals – with many more members. But for the European parliament to form a credible majority, all of these parties might well be forced much closer together than is good for democracy.

Such a situation would be unsettlingly reminiscent of 1936, when the centre and the left – notably in France – temporarily halted the swing to fascism but formed an unprincipled and ineffective coalition. Its collapse on the eve of the second world war accelerated the advent of Phillippe Petain’s Nazi-collaborating regime. History does not normally repeat itself in an automatic fashion, but it would be foolish to take the risk.

More worrying than the growth of the far right are the temporising gestures to the racists and anti-immigrants now coming from mainstream Conservative and even Liberal Democrat politicians and from some of the new “Blue Labour” ideologues. The warning from the likes of David Blunkett that hostility to Roma immigrants might lead to a popular “explosion” is reminiscent of Enoch Powell’s rhetoric.

An antidote to the far right requires that the European left articulates and pursues a comprehensive alternative to economic stagnation, an ever-widening income and wealth gap and the degradation of our social standards, civil liberties and democratic rights. But that alternative has to be fought for at European as well as national and local levels, and will require more, not less, European integration.

Time is running out, not only for the European Social Democrats, but also for the wider socialist left and the greens, to show they can create a counterbalance to the rightward drift of the centre. Without that, the new far-right alliance may only have to hold together and wait for its hour to strike.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013

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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/15/2013 06:25 PM

Football Violence: Neo-Nazis and Hooligans Find Common Ground

By Rafael Buschmann

Football is increasingly becoming a platform for right-wing extremist violence across Germany. Alarmed sociologists and security experts warn of a new danger: a network of neo-Nazis and hooligans.

They call themselves the GnuHonnters, a take on the English term "new hunters." Their motto is: "Comrades in spirit. Many colors, but one entity." It refers to the fact that they support different soccer clubs. Three weeks ago, some of the members met at a small celebration in Berlin, as one hooligan group marked the 30th anniversary of its founding. There was beer, rock music, strippers and table dances. Eventually, one of the guests, a tattooed tank of a man with a bald head, trudged through the room with a giant snake on his shoulders.

The GnuHonnters are a consortium of 17 different soccer hooligan groups from all over Germany. Hooligans have traditionally battled each other, but now they have teamed up to form a network to fight together for a common cause. Worryingly, they are increasingly being supported in their efforts by violent right-wing extremists.

In the past, Western Europe was beset with violence at football games caused by troublemakers among each club's group of fans. But, in recent years, hooligan activity has been successfully suppressed by massive police operations with the cooperation of ordinary fans inside the stadiums of German professional football clubs playing in the two divisions of the Bundesliga, the country's top soccer league.

In response, the thugs have taken to fixing a time and a place with each other beforehand, so that they can meet and fight away from the stadiums and out of the public eye on grassland and fields. But now hooligan culture is on the rise again. Fan commissioners from Aachen, Braunschweig, Dortmund, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt report that hooligans who were active as long ago as the 1990s are once again showing their faces in the stands.

'Planned and Well-Organized' Attacks on Police

The Central Sporting Operation Information Center, a police body that tracks football violence, has attested to the fact that, in the fan bases of the Bundesliga clubs, there has been an increase "in right-wing motivated behavior" in the violent hooligan scene. At 16 clubs, the center identifies a crossover in membership between the football and far-right scenes. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, has spoken of a 15 percent overlap between football-affiliated hooligans and right-wing extremists. However, security officials in the Ruhr region of western Germany say the real figure is likely to be much higher.

In a trial involving the Elbflorenz hooligan group in Dresden, it emerged that many of the thugs work together. "There are repeated instances of violent attacks on police officers involving hundreds of hooligans on the fringes of football games -- planned and well-organized. We realized that there were increasingly violent right-wing extremists among them. Apparently they use the hooligan clashes as training," said chief prosecutor Jürgen Schär, who led the prosecution of the Elbflorenz hooligans, according to the Dresden-based daily Sächsische Zeitung.

Schär further revealed that hooligans and neo-Nazis had met together in remote forests for weapons practice.

"Since we started aggressively pursuing right-wing gangs, their members changed the focus of their activities to hooliganism or autonomous neo-Nazi groups," Schär said. "For us, it has become more difficult to catch them."

Thugs and the far-right seem to particularly like the football environment, and there is also an enemy at hand in the form of so-called "ultras." In many European countries, ultras are traditionally a club's most passionate fans, traveling to all the games and making the most noise in support.

Subtle Agitation

For many ultra groups in Germany, in particular, being a fan goes hand in hand with certain political themes. They support anti-racism campaigns and demonstrate against commercialization. That does not fit with the hooligans' ethos, as it goes against their macho and violent world. Hooligans tell the ultras that they want "no politics in the stadium." It's an old slogan that right-wing exremists have used for years to infiltrate amateur sports clubs and youth movements. They want to win over young people through this ostensible separation of sport and politics, and to create a national consciousness through common fashions and music or attending openly right-wing speeches. It's subtle agitation.

Members of the GnuHonnters are easy prey. Like many right-wing extremists, they have a common enemy: They also consider the often left-wing orientated ultras a bane.

The GnuHonnters network was founded on a farm in the town of Leichlingen, in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Back then, at the beginning of 2012, the meeting was made up almost exclusively of old-time hooligans with paunches. Members of the Borussenfront, a group of hooligans associated with the Borussia Dortmund club, sent out the invitations, and it was the perfect chance to drink beer and reminisce over battles past. That's how the event was described by one person who has since attended more meetings of the hooligans.

From meeting to meeting, the number of people in attendance grew, with many more younger hooligans, martial artists and youth squads. They met sometimes in Frankfurt, sometimes in Berlin, and never in the same place twice. A crude pamphlet was written and has acted ever since as a kind of mission statement. Top priority: "Re-establishing old values." Second goal: "No anti-fascists in the stadium." Third goal: "Win back freedom of speech."

Attacks by right-wing hooligans on left-wing fan groups have been on the rise for months. The most prominent example is with the long-established club Alemania Aachen, whose ultras fan group, Ultras Aachen, was forced out of its own stadium by continuous attacks from the far-right.

Trouble in the Stands
For many ultra groups, Aachen is an example of who ultimately holds the actual power in the stands -- those who are physically the strongest. The members of Eintracht Braunschweig's ultras, Ultras Braunschweig 01, are currently experiencing something similar. For weeks, they have been intimidated by their own hooligans. During the game against Borussia Mönchengladbach, there was a brawl in one stand occupied by home fans. As the stewards escorted the ultras out, the club's hooligans sang racist and homophobic songs. A few days after the incident, Eintracht punished the ultras, which shows just how powerless football clubs are against right-wing violence. In recent times, there have also been attacks by right-wing fans on left-wing ultras in Dortmund, Dresden, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich and Rostock.

On the outskirts of the Ruhr region, in a small café right next to a lake, a member of the security services, who prefers to remain anonymous, lays out group pictures of the GnuHonnters. Old and young people pose together, some giving the Hitler salute. The investigator moves his finger over their heads, saying their names in turn. According to him, they are right-wing extremists from Berlin, Braunschweig, Cottbus, Dortmund, Dresden, Duisburg, Essen, Frankfurt and Munich. There are cadres from the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD), too. The agent explains how you can estimate the size of the GnuHonnters. The group appears to contain up to 300 people if you look at a photo from the last meeting.

But little can be done at the moment to combat them. The authorities need to first agree on responsibilities because the network is constantly active in different German states. In addition, the group rarely actually breaks the law -- the Nazi symbols of individual members, which are illegal in Germany, would not be enough to justify suppressing the whole organization. The investigator believes that the group will grow even larger in the coming weeks.

'Football Must Meet Its Immense Social Responsibility'

Gerd Dembowski, sociologist and fan researcher, also believes that right-wing hooligans will grow stronger. For many fans, the idea of ultras is "simply too trendy," especially for younger fans, who are increasingly turning to hooliganism.

"The hooligans are also experience-driven like ultras, but with a clearer structure," says Dembowski, who advises Bundesliga clubs in their anti-discrimination work. But he criticizes clubs for putting too much emphasis on slogans. "Eighty percent of anti-discrimination work is symbolic politics with posters and flyers," he says. "The clubs must teach their employees, appoint integration commissioners, strengthen fan projects. Football now has an immense social responsibility, which it must meet."

A few minutes before the Bundesliga game between Borussia Dortmund and VfB Stuttgart, a booklet is distributed by volunteers. The match, being played on a Friday evening under floodlights, is a big stage for Dortmund on which to confront the problem of right-wing extremism among the hooligans and ultras who follow the club. In the leaflet, there are neo-Nazi codes and how to decode them. In this way, fans can be more aware of far-right activities in the stadium.

Shortly before kickoff, a member of the far-right Dortmund hooligan group Northside climbs the fencing surrounding the immense Südtribune, one of the largest football stands in the world. He rips his T-shirt, exposing his toned body. Then, with his right arm, he gives a Hitler salute. The singers within the ultra group called "The Unity" can only look on from their spot in the stand.

« Last Edit: Nov 16, 2013, 06:47 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #10024 on: Nov 16, 2013, 06:43 AM »

Why even atheists should be praying for Pope Francis

By Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian
Saturday, November 16, 2013 1:09 EST

Francis could replace Obama as the pin-up on every liberal and leftist wall. He is now the world’s clearest voice for change

That Obama poster on the wall, promising hope and change, is looking a little faded now. The disappointments, whether over drone warfare or a botched rollout of healthcare reform, have left the world’s liberals and progressives searching for a new pin-up to take the US president’s place. As it happens, there’s an obvious candidate: the head of an organisation those same liberals and progressives have long regarded as sexist, homophobic and, thanks to a series of child abuse scandals, chillingly cruel. The obvious new hero of the left is the pope.

Only installed in March, Pope Francis has already become a phenomenon. His is the most talked-about name on the internet in 2013, ranking ahead of “Obamacare” and “NSA”. In fourth place comes Francis’s Twitter handle, @Pontifex. In Italy, Francesco has fast become the most popular name for new baby boys. Rome reports a surge in tourist numbers, while church attendance is said to be up – both trends attributed to “the Francis effect“.

His popularity is not hard to fathom. The stories of his personal modesty have become the stuff of instant legend. He carries his own suitcase. He refused the grandeur of the papal palace, preferring to live in a simple hostel. When presented with the traditional red shoes of the pontiff, he declined; instead he telephoned his 81-year-old cobbler in Buenos Aires and asked him to repair his old ones. On Thursday, Francis visited the Italian president – arriving in a blue Ford Focus, with not a blaring siren to be heard.

Some will dismiss these acts as mere gestures, even publicity stunts. But they convey a powerful message, one of almost elemental egalitarianism. He is in the business of scraping away the trappings, the edifice of Vatican wealth accreted over centuries, and returning the church to its core purpose, one Jesus himself might have recognised. He says he wants to preside over “a poor church, for the poor”. It’s not the institution that counts, it’s the mission.

All this would warm the heart of even the most fervent atheist, except Francis has gone much further. It seems he wants to do more than simply stroke the brow of the weak. He is taking on the system that has made them weak and keeps them that way.

“My thoughts turn to all who are unemployed, often as a result of a self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost,” he tweeted in May. A day earlier he denounced as “slave labour” the conditions endured by Bangladeshi workers killed in a building collapse. In September he said that God wanted men and women to be at the heart of the world and yet we live in a global economic order that worships “an idol called money”.

There is no denying the radicalism of this message, a frontal and sustained attack on what he calls “unbridled capitalism“, with its “throwaway” attitude to everything from unwanted food to unwanted old people. His enemies have certainly not missed it. If a man is to be judged by his opponents, note that this week Sarah Palin denounced him as “kind of liberal” while the free-market Institute of Economic Affairs has lamented that this pope lacks the “sophisticated” approach to such matters of his predecessors. Meanwhile, an Italian prosecutor has warned that Francis’s campaign against corruption could put him in the crosshairs of that country’s second most powerful institution: the mafia.

As if this weren’t enough to have Francis’s 76-year-old face on the walls of the world’s student bedrooms, he also seems set to lead a church campaign on the environment. He was photographed this week with anti-fracking activists, while his biographer, Paul Vallely, has revealed that the pope has made contact with Leonardo Boff, an eco-theologian previously shunned by Rome and sentenced to “obsequious silence” by the office formerly known as the “Inquisition”. An encyclical on care for the planet is said to be on the way.

Many on the left will say that’s all very welcome, but meaningless until the pope puts his own house in order. But here, too, the signs are encouraging. Or, more accurately, stunning. Recently, Francis told an interviewer the church had become “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception. He no longer wanted the Catholic hierarchy to be preoccupied with “small-minded rules”. Talking to reporters on a flight – an occurrence remarkable in itself – he said: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” His latest move is to send the world’s Catholics a questionnaire, seeking their attitude to those vexed questions of modern life. It’s bound to reveal a flock whose practices are, shall we say, at variance with Catholic teaching. In politics, you’d say Francis was preparing the ground for reform.

Witness his reaction to a letter – sent to “His Holiness Francis, Vatican City” – from a single woman, pregnant by a married man who had since abandoned her. To her astonishment, the pope telephoned her directly and told her that if, as she feared, priests refused to baptise her baby, he would perform the ceremony himself. (Telephoning individuals who write to him is a Francis habit.) Now contrast that with the past Catholic approach to such “fallen women”, dramatised so powerfully in the current film Philomena. He is replacing brutality with empathy.

Of course, he is not perfect. His record in Argentina during the era of dictatorship and “dirty war” is far from clean. “He started off as a strict authoritarian, reactionary figure,” says Vallely. But, aged 50, Francis underwent a spiritual crisis from which, says his biographer, he emerged utterly transformed. He ditched the trappings of high church office, went into the slums and got his hands dirty.

Now inside the Vatican, he faces a different challenge – to face down the conservatives of the curia and lock in his reforms, so that they cannot be undone once he’s gone. Given the guile of those courtiers, that’s quite a task: he’ll need all the support he can get.

Some will say the world’s leftists and liberals shouldn’t hanker for a pin-up, that the urge is infantile and bound to end in disappointment. But the need is human and hardly confined to the left: think of the Reagan and Thatcher posters that still adorn the metaphorical walls of conservatives, three decades on. The pope may have no army, no battalions or divisions, but he has a pulpit – and right now he is using it to be the world’s loudest and clearest voice against the status quo. You don’t have to be a believer to believe in that.


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« Reply #10025 on: Nov 16, 2013, 06:44 AM »

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11/15/2013 05:58 PM

Turkish Discontent: Gezi Protests Spawn New Party

By Hasnain Kazim in Istanbul

The protests that erupted in Turkey in May 2013 saw a local environmental protest bloom into a nationwide pro-democracy movement. A new political party has formed to channel this dissatisfaction into political power, but the hurdles to success are high.

Gezi stands for democracy. For freedom. For having a political say and personal responsibility. For parks and trees. And for daring to say "no" to those in power. And for being able to believe in, hope for and love whatever you wish, exactly as you please. That's what makes it a bit of a miracle that suddenly all sorts of different people were uniting behind a common goal.

But Gezi has run out of steam. The protests that were sparked when Turkey's government announced plans to raze Gezi Park, one of the last green spaces in the center of the European part of Istanbul, and replace it with a shopping center, have now subsided. In June, thousands took to the streets, first in Istanbul, and then throughout the entire country. Now, the demonstrations are few and far between.

"That's exactly why we've decided that we have to take it a step further and found a party," says Cem Köksal. The 37-year-old with shoulder-length brown hair is greeted by young people on the streets here in the Kadiköy district of Istanbul. Köksal is a rock musician and guitarist who also writes and produces music. He and his comrades-in-arms want to challenge Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Their plan is to grow a political force from the seeds of a pro-democracy movement.

"Erdogan said to us demonstrators that we shouldn't protest on the street, but instead stand for election if we want to change something," says Teoman Kumbaracibasi, 42. "That's us!" Known as "Teo," he is also widely known as an actor on a TV series.

'Our Goal Is Not the Opposition, but the Government'

In October, Kumbaracibasi and Köksal founded the Gezi Party (GZP) with 26 others. The party is a colorful mix of young and old, left-wing and conservative, blue-collar worker and university student. What unites them is a shared dissatisfaction with Erdogan and his authoritarian government. On Saturday, the GZP will open itself to new members. "There are hundreds who want to join us even though they have no idea exactly what we want," says Kumbaracibasi. "Thousands," Köksal corrects him. Just a month after launching, he adds, the party has already attracted 31,000 fans on its Facebook page.

Indeed, Facebook is where all these people found each other. "A few months back, we didn't know each other at all. Now we are constantly working with each other, like each other, love each other," says Nursun Gürbüz, who works for an export company. Together, they want to achieve something big. This ambition is broadcast by their party logo: a man whose legs are taking root in the ground like tree trunks and whose arms are holding a green ball. The message here is: We embrace Gezi, we embrace the entire world. The group wants to field candidates for the 2015 parliamentary elections. "And our goal is not the opposition, but the government," Köksal says.

Of course, this might sound a bit quixotic and megalomaniacal. In fact, many people within the Gezi movement take a critical view of the new party. "Gezi was and continues to be a loose movement that one can't mold into the shape of a party," says Merve, a university student who spent days demonstrating in Gezi Park. Other critics believe that the party's leaders are too unknown to succeed. Bekir Agadir, who heads the Istanbul-based opinion research agency Konda, says that it's too early to speak of a "genuine alternative to the traditional parties."

Stymied by Election Laws Despite Support

That said, one can only guess how much dissatisfaction there is with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Erdogan has admittedly won the last three elections. But members of the Gezi Party believe that this has more to do with how bad the opposition is. "What's more, we have a 10 percent hurdle," Gürbüz says. "Smaller parties don't make it into parliament." At least half of the population doesn't back the government, Kumbaracibasi adds. "They're searching for a real alternative."

The party wants to help create a society that values human worth and, more than anything, to make the country's constitution more democratic. The party manifesto champions the establishment of a societal order that "takes as its foundation the rights of all individuals and a state based on the rule of law." The party base is also supposed to vote on everything online and be more powerful than the party leader. "I can be removed at any time," says Köksal, the party head. Should the party come into power, he adds, it wants to introduce a "digital mandate" in the parliament. Turkish voters should also have a voice -- not the only one, of course, but at least one that can be heard by all.

The party's founders believe their chances are good. They say that Erdogan is even losing support in the rural areas of Turkey, such as in Anatolia and his other political strongholds. "Why have Turkish media reported so little about the Gezi protests?" Kumbaracibasi asks. "So that the protests don't expand too much. There is also major dissatisfaction in Anatolia. Four million people are living in poverty despite the economic success that Turkey has supposedly experienced." If they knew more about the pro-democracy movement, he adds, they would join it.

Now the party's leaders plan to travel through the country and get the word out about their party. If the party enjoyed success in the municipal elections scheduled for March 2014, it could provide it with a powerful boost. But that's not going to happen, as the hurdles imposed by Turkish election laws are too high. According to the GZP, the laws require that a party be active in at least 41 municipalities at least six months before elections in order to field candidates.


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« Reply #10026 on: Nov 16, 2013, 06:49 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/15/2013 05:18 PM

Passively 'Sniffing' Data: How Mobile Network Spying Works

Interview by Christian Stöcker

British intelligence agency GCHQ has been targeting mobile phone company networks. Telecoms security expert Philippe Langlois explains what they can find this way, and how users can protect themselves from such snooping.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The British intelligence agency GCHQ is hacking into the networks of mobile phone companies operating so-called GRX routers. What are these networks and why are they an attractive target?

Philippe Langlois: These are the "roaming tubes" of the worldwide mobile system. You can basically track every user in the world who is roaming with their smartphone. When roaming, all the Internet surfing and accesses to corporate networks go through these exchanges, and can be eavesdropped on by passively "sniffing" all data, all web pages and all emails.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is it possible to defend against that kind of snooping?

Langlois: Basic security such as encrypted web pages (https), encrypted email (PGP) or encrypted chat (Jabber OTR) will prevent such interception. In that sense, the GRX is not different from a traditional Internet Service Provider. If you're using safe Internet best practice there, you can protect your communication secrecy, but you cannot protect your location.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Can one track a user this way only while he's roaming with his handset? Or does the GRX hacking allow tracking even when the targets are in their home country?

Langlois: By listening passively to a GRX network, one can know where any user is roaming with a coarse location granularity: i.e. their city or region. But GRX also enables making requests that can basically target any subscriber, not only those that are roaming. Though this is an advanced security attack.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Could this kind of access also be used to implant spying software directly on someone's phone?

Langlois: If you control what goes into these "roaming tubes," if you can see what people surf, you can probably also change that. And if you can change the content, you can possibly suggest some application to the user through a trusted content provider. By doing that, you may compromise his handset, and implant hidden software features such as GPS location acquisition, covertly taking pictures or even video, listening to calls and even ambient conversation when the phone is in "sleep mode." Some companies such as Gamma have provided this kind of software to many different governments and regimes.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Does access to a GRX network also allow access to other, local mobile networks from there?

Langlois: A GRX network is called a "walled garden." The theory is that only "nice people" are on the network, that is, only clean telecom mobile operators. That was the theory, so the mobile operators didn't really protect themselves against other operators on the GRX network. The user traffic, which is potentially harmful to operators, is neatly encapsulated into the "roaming tubes," preventing users from reaching the infrastructure of the GRX network itself. But operators themselves can do that. And therefore, anyone having compromised one operator or the GRX network can attack other mobile operators with a much better chance to compromise them than by attacking through, say, Internet access. The unknown, dark, insider-only networks are always less secure than the ones which are heavily exposed and attacked, and thus more protected.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: According to material from whistleblower and former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, GCHQ is also attacking the networks of billing clearinghouses like MACH. How could a secret service benefit from accessing the networks of such companies?

Langlois: The billing clearinghouses get a very particular kind of data: the call detail records (CDRs). These add up to make bills for all users. This way, mobile operators know who owes them what. But this data can also be used by intelligence agencies to know who calls whom, when, and for how long. CDRs don't have the content of the call, just caller number, called number, duration, sometimes even caller location, etc. In intelligence jargon, that's called "traffic analysis," and it's way faster than listening to conversations from a user. That's the main tool that police forces use to gain insight into the extent of criminal rings, for example. But it's also very useful to perform counter-insurgency work by tracking who calls whom to a rally, or to know who calls the political leader of one party or another.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Could access to billing house networks be used to gain access to actual mobile networks from there?

Langlois: Billing clearinghouses have the same "walled garden" pattern. You don't expect to be hacked by your accountant. Here, it is similar: You may fear the Russian mafia on the Internet, but not the service that generates the biggest part of your revenues. Therefore, mobile operators are not protected enough on these networks, and can be compromised this way.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: One GCHQ document says that the intelligence service would like to be able to implant software on any device based "just on the MSISDN," or the phone number. Do you think that's feasible, given what we know about the current capabilities of the GCHQ andNSA?

Langlois: Yes, since intelligence agencies are routinely buying previously unknown vulnerabilities from the gray market (it's called zero day exploit trading), they probably have some of them which enable compromise of some or most of the target operating systems or standard applications of these phones.


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« Reply #10027 on: Nov 16, 2013, 06:51 AM »


Albania rejects US request to host disposal of Syria's chemical weapons

Apologetic prime minister Edi Rama says stockpile cannot be destroyed on Albanian territory, to cheers from 2,000 protesters

AP in Tirana
theguardian.com, Friday 15 November 2013 21.05 GMT

Albania, one of the staunchest supporters of the US, has firmly rejected a request by Washington for it to host the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile.

The surprising refusal on Friday was a major blow to international efforts to destroy Syria's chemical arsenal by mid-2014. It left the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons without a country to host the destruction of Syria's estimated 1,000-tonne arsenal, which includes mustard gas and the deadly nerve agent sarin. Syria says it wants the weapons destroyed outside the country, which has been devastated by the ongoing civil war, and the OPCW has described that as the "most viable" option.

In a televised address from the capital, Tirana, the Albanian prime minister, Edi Rama, said it was "impossible for Albania to take part in this operation".

The announcement was greeted by a loud cheer from some 2,000 protesters camped outside Rama's office to show their strong opposition to the plan, fearing it would be an environmental and health hazard.

Albania had been considered the OPCW's strongest hope, as few diplomats had expected the Mediterranean nation of 2.8 million people to reject what Rama said had been a direct request from the United States. A meeting on Friday morning of the OPCW's executive council in The Hague had been adjourned to work on the wording of the plan.

Albania, a member of Nato, is one of only three nations worldwide that have declared a chemical weapons stockpile to the OPCW and destroyed it. Nations including the US and Russia also have declared stockpiles, but have not yet completed their destruction.

In Washington, a US state department spokeswoman, Jan Psaki, told reporters that the decision would not hurt US-Albanian relations.

"We appreciate Albania looking seriously at hosting the destruction of chemical weapons," she said. "The international community continues to discuss the most effective and expeditious means for eliminating Syria's chemical weapons program in the safest manner possible."

Tirana has been an avid supporter of Washington since the US and Nato intervened with airstrikes in 1999 to stop a crackdown by Serb forces on rebel ethnic Albanians in neighbouring Kosovo.

"Without the United States, Albanians would never have been free and independent in two countries that they are today," Rama said in an apologetic speech. "Without the United States, today there would surely be no demonstrations about chemical weapons."

But the plan was unpopular at home.

"We don't have the infrastructure here to deal with the chemical weapons. We can't deal with our own stuff, let alone Syrian weapons," said Maria Pesha, a 19-year-old architecture student, among the protesters camped out overnight outside Rama's office. "We have no duty to obey anyone on this, Nato or the US"

Albania has had problems with ammunition storage in the past. In March 2008, an explosion at an ammunition dump at Gerdec near Tirana killed 26 people, wounded 300 others and destroyed or damaged 5,500 houses. Investigators said it was caused by a burning cigarette in a factory where some 1,400 tons of explosives, mostly obsolete artillery shells, were stored for disposal.

Rama said he decided to reject the request because other countries, which he did not name, were not prepared to be part of the operation.

"If some other countries would have moved in time to be part of this operation I would have been ready to tell you: this is our plan, here is the agreement with our partners, here is how little we will risk and how much we will gain morally as a nation and physically as a country," Rama said.

"Unfortunately this element, [as] important for me as it is for you, is today absent," he said.

Wherever and whenever it happens, the destruction of Syria's weapons will be overseen by experts from the Hague-based OPCW, which won the Nobel peace prize this year for its efforts to eradicate poison gas and nerve agents around the world.

The Syrian chemical disarmament mission stems from a deadly attack in August on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus in which the United Nations concluded that sarin was used. Hundreds of people were killed. The US and western allies accuse Syria's government of being responsible, while Damascus blames the rebels.

The Obama administration threatened to launch punitive missile strikes against Syria, prompting frantic diplomatic efforts to forestall an attack. Those efforts concluded with September's unanimous UN security council resolution endorsing the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons.

Since then, international inspectors have visited 22 of the 23 chemical weapons sites declared by Syria and have confirmed that Damascus met a 1 November deadline to destroy or "render inoperable" all chemical weapon production facilities.


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« Reply #10028 on: Nov 16, 2013, 06:56 AM »


Slovakian Roma in Sheffield: 'This is a boiling pot ready to explode'

Page Hall in Sheffield has seen a huge influx of Slovakian Roma, who say they want to give their children the chance of a better future in the UK. But rubbish, noise and gangs of young people have put them on collision course with other residents

Helen Pidd, northern editor
The Guardian, Friday 15 November 2013 17.14 GMT        

As night fell over Page Hall in Sheffield on Thursday evening, Barrie Rees started layering up. Thinsulate hat, gloves, a warm jacket, sturdy trainers, his two walking sticks. He hooked an electronic cigarette on a cord around his neck, and hoped someone else would bring a pen and paper to note down observations. The 64-year-old was ready to go out on patrol.

Rees limped his way lightly down the tightly packed terraced streets of his north Sheffield neighbourhood to the Pakistani Advice Centre on Page Hall Road, where he was meeting other members of the recently formed Page Hall Residents Association.

"They called us vigilantes," said Rees, "What a joke! Look at me and my sticks. Usually there's another on a mobility scooter. In summer we had a pregnant lady with us. Vigilantes! Couldn't be anything further from the truth. We're just a group of ordinary local people who don't like being intimidated in our own neighbourhood, trying to make the newcomers understand how life works here."

It was people like Rees whom Sheffield MP David Blunkett no doubt had in mind when he gave an interview this week in which he warned that tensions between local people and Slovakian Roma migrants in this part of his constituency could escalate into rioting unless action was taken to improve integration.

"If everything exploded, if things went really wrong, obviously the community would be completely devastated. We saw this in Bradford, Burnley and Oldham all those years ago when I first became home secretary. We saw that community itself were the losers, you know, that things inside here implode. It's not the places outside that cop it, it's the community," said Blunkett.

In an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield the former home secretary also accused the government of "burying their head in the sand" over the scale of Roma settlement in the UK and said the Roma community had to make more of an effort to fit in with British culture: "We have got to change the behaviour and the culture of the incoming community, the Roma community, because there's going to be an explosion otherwise. We all know that."

By the time the interview aired and had caught the attention of the national media, Blunkett was on a plane to India, his press secretary saying he was uncontactable for at least a fortnight. By Thursday Blunkett had come out of purdah to say he had never warned of riots. But the touchpaper had been lit.

Come the end of the week pretty much every media outlet in the country had descended on this working-class suburb of north Sheffield. A chip shop owner appeared on the front page of the Daily Express claiming two Roma teenagers had tried to sell him a baby for £250. The Daily Star ran a front page story warning that "Roma migrant invasion will start UK riots". The Mail said the "first signs of vigilante action" were appearing, with talk of street patrols roaming the area after dark to "educate" the Slovakian incomers in how to behave – a development which brought to mind the terrifying militia that have tried to drive gypsies out of villages such as Gyöngyöspata in Hungary.

It was about 6.45pm on Thursday night when the first police patrol car arrived in Page Hall. They'd been summoned by a resident from one of the two-up, two-down terraces complaining about a gang of Roma children making a racket outside their house.

"GUYS," yelled an officer as he got out of the car and ran up Hinde Street toward a group of 20 children hanging about. "GO HOME. NOW!" The children scarpered like sparrows. The Page Hall residents' patrol – which on Thursday comprised Rees, a half-Jamaican/half-Scottish woman called Fatima, a white woman called Beverley, a Pakistani landlord who asked to be known just as Mr Khan, and a young white couple named Jonathan and Amy – were pleasantly surprised.

"First time I've ever seen them even get out of their car," said Fatima. "Usually the police just drive past. It's probably because the media is here."

The group gathered around the two officers. "Be honest. You wouldn't want to live here, would you?" Fatima asked the policemen, who were in short sleeves and stab vests despite temperatures having dropped to 4C. "I completely agree with your point," said one of the officers, a friendly chap in his 30s. "It's good that Nick Clegg has got involved now. That's what people around here want – for a local MP with an important position like he's got to raise these concerns at a national level."

The officer admitted he had no authority to order the children off the street until 9pm, when a Section 30 order gives police the power to disperse groups from public places. Most nights they were called to Page Hall, he said, and after 9pm they tried to take the youngest children home – "but you can't fit 60 of them in the back of the patrol car, can you?"

On Friday Sheffield council decided to renew the current Section 30 order until 11 February 2014, given the tension in the area.

South Yorkshire police says it doesn't have crime figures available for Page Hall specifically, but that anecdotally crime does not appear to have increased significantly since large numbers of Slovakian Roma started to move in three years ago. "It's anti-social behaviour which is a problem rather than crime, really," said one of the officers on patrol.

Nobody knows for sure how many Roma people have come to Sheffield since Slovakia joined the EU in 2004. The council's best guess is that 1,500 eastern European Roma children now live in the city as a whole, with around 500 in the small Page Hall area. Miroslav Sandor, a Roma community worker in Page Hall, gives a much higher estimate. He thinks there may be 600-900 large families in the city, mostly concentrated in Page Hall. A good proportion of them come from Sandor's own home village of Bystrany in south-eastern Slovakia, and the nearby hamlets of Žehra and Letanovce. Though the migrants come and go, the flow is predominantly in one direction. Three buses run by Interbus make the 30-hour journey overland from Slovakia to Sheffield each week but just two go back in the other direction.

In Page Hall rubbish fills the gutters, and stained mattresses and sofas are piled up in gardens. Sheets taped to windows as makeshift curtains fail to disguise 10 or more people piled up watching TV in tiny front rooms. Tinny music fills the air each time a group of teenagers walks past with a mobile phone. Mazher Iqbal, a Labour councillor and cabinet member for communities and inclusion, says house prices in Page Hall have dropped out of proportion with other areas of the city. He is reluctant to accept the newcomers have caused the litter problem. Instead, he blames the weather. "The wind can blow off the bin lids," he says, adding that the Roma did not initially understand how to recycle.

The Page Hall Residents Association is incredulous at the suggestion the weather is responsible for the mess. They show me their private Facebook page where they upload pictures and observations made on their regular patrols. There are pictures of bins crawling with maggots and videos they've made of noisy groups congregating outside their houses at 1am. They complain of washing being stolen from the line; garden furniture going missing and suspicions that a stream of scantily clad teenage girls filing through one particular garden gate are selling themselves in an upstairs flat.

As well as the baby sale rumours, there have been other unsavoury claims about a cat-eating newcomer who dumped carrier bags full of feline body parts. On the baby front, South Yorkshire police insists it did a thorough investigation, including a trawl of CCTV footage and a search of all babies born in the Page Hall area, but could find no evidence of any missing child. It could perhaps have been "merely a joke in poor taste" said a spokeswoman.

But is there going to be a riot? Absolutely, says Colin Barton of the Halal chip shop on Page Hall Road. He's the one who claims to have been offered the baby back in August and swears the sellers were deadly serious. He thinks it's entirely possible many Roma babies are born at home, their births never registered. "If something doesn't change round here there will be a pitched battle. There will be fights eventually. This is a boiling pot ready to explode."

Barton scoffs at the suggestion his views about the Roma – that they don't work but somehow have enough money to hang around in the betting shop a few doors down – are racist. "How can I be racist?" he said, gesturing to his wife, Nicola, as she served up fish and chip suppers for £2. Nicola is from Sri Lanka and has brown skin. She is just as fed up with the incomers as her husband. "You are in England, not Slovakia. You need to abide by our rules," she scolded a Slovak outside the chippie who had been telling the Guardian that there was nothing wrong with standing around in large groups on street corners at night.

Fatima, one of the Page Hall Residents Association volunteer patrollers, takes a different tack. She calls out cheerfully to every youth she passes, insisting on having her photo taken with young girls holding an impromptu mobile phone photoshoot on the main road. "I want to know these kids' names," said Fatima. "I want to be able to say, 'Hello Christian, how's your mum?' We used to know everybody around here."

Barrie Rees says they try to be friendly to the Roma. Born in Wales, he remembers arriving in Sheffield as a young man and the Pakistani family next door coming round and inviting him in for tea. "It's about mixing in and integrating rather than intimidating people. If they behaved properly we would have no objections to them whatsoever. This has always been a mixed area and we like it that way."

The Pakistani Advice Centre, set up 20 years ago to advise south Asian immigrants, now has a wider role to help all newcomers. It runs sessions each Monday to encourage Roma parents to send their children to school.

Sandor, a Roma community worker funded by Sheffield council, was tense and unhappy, carrying around a clipboard containing all the articles written about his community. "I'm really upset," he said. "People are blaming me." For a number of months Sandor has been running sporadic "official" street patrols with paid wardens in high-visibility jackets. It is his job, Sandor says, to educate his countrymen on how to behave.

He would not let the Guardian go out on patrol with him, and when he saw us chatting to a group of youths at around 8pm on Wednesday night he told them in Slovakian to not talk to us. Fatima, from the Page Hall Residents Association, says the unofficial patrols only began because they felt Sandor was not doing his job properly. "He's friends with them all and just chats to them rather than moving them on and teaching them what's what," she said.The Roma chatted happily to Fatima outside the SK supermarket, which sells Slovakian meats and cheeses.

Mario Sandor, a 37-year-old father of five, said he just wanted a better life for his family. "In Romania I can't a get a job because I am black," he said. "Here I've worked stacking shelves in Tesco and in a sausage factory. My children get a proper education. That's why I'm here – I want them to be lawyers and doctors."

Seventeen-year-old Daniel Dunka, who moved to Sheffield with his seven brothers and one sister seven years ago, said he wanted to get a good job, maybe as a teaching assistant. Patrick Pokuta, another 17-year-old studying business at college, said he wanted to be a mechanic. Neither could see what the problem was with them hanging around on the street at night. "There is nowhere else to go," they say.

Ten-year-old Christian Kandrak had only been in Sheffield since February but had already picked up a South Yorkshire twang as he explained he had dreams of becoming a paid interpreter: "I like to be in England. I want to learn English so that I can get a good job, to make money. That's why Slovakians come here."


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« Reply #10029 on: Nov 16, 2013, 07:08 AM »

PIG PUTIN'S RUSSIA....

Artist who nailed scrotum to Red Square is charged with hooliganism

Petr Pavlensky could face fine or jail term after being charged under same law as Pussy Riot protesters

Leonid Ragozin in Moscow
theguardian.com, Friday 15 November 2013 12.31 GMT   

Link to video: Russian artist nails scrotum to Red Square cobbles

http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/nov/11/russian-artist-nails-testicles-red-square-cobbles-video

Petr Pavlensky, the artist who this week nailed his scrotum to Red Square cobbles in protest at Russia's descent into a "police state", faces a prison term or a fine.

A police spokersperson confirmed to the Guardian that the artist had been charged with hooliganism, which carries a potential five-year jail sentence. Pavlensky, who is currently in Saint Petersburg, told the Guardian that investigators had summoned him to Moscow for questioning.

The Interfax news agency quoted a police source who specified that the charges referred to "ideologically motivated" hooliganism. The same vaguely worded clause of the Russian criminal code was applied to members of Pussy Riot who are serving two-year prison sentences.

On Sunday, Pavlensky squatted on the pavement in Red Square, naked, and hammered a nail through his scrotum into a gap between the cobble stones. The artist claims his performance was a protest against the "police state" and public apathy to it.

The potential punishments range from a large fine or community service to five years in prison. Unlike in the case of Pussy Riot, prosecutors chose not to detain Pavlensky pending trial. Given the absence of a propaganda campaign in the government-friendly media, a show trial on the scale of the Pussy Riot case looks unlikely.

The artist said he was ready for all eventualities, including prison. "It will be another nail in the regime's coffin. The authorities are discrediting themselves."

The jailed Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova turned up this week in a Siberian prison hospital having been held incommunicado for 26 days. On Thursday, Tolokonnikova phoned her husband, Petr Verzilov, and reassured him her health was fine and that she preferred the Siberian prison to the one in Mordovia, where she was previously held.

Tolokonnikova has been admitted to Krasnoyarsk tuberculosis hospital but said she did not have TB, Verzilov said. She is being treated for health problems related to the hunger strike she waged as a protest against inhumane treatment in Mordovia.

The authorities have met one of Tolokonnikova's demands by moving her to another prison. They kept her whereabouts a secret during her transfer by train from European Russia to Siberia.

Authorities have not explained why a journey that normally takes a few days was extended for almost a month. "By comparison, it took 15 days for Dostoevsky to make a similar distance in horse-driven carts, when he was exiled to Siberia in the 19th century," Verzilov pointed out in a tweet.

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

Greenpeace Arctic 30 face Russian jail extension

Green group says it will resist attempts by Russian authorities to detain activists and journalists for further three months

Press Association
theguardian.com, Friday 15 November 2013 15.33 GMT   
   
Greenpeace activists clean large ice letters depicting arrested activists, which have been set up in front of the headquarters of the Russian oil giant Gazprom in Berlin, Germany. The 'Arctic 30' activists face an extension to their pre-trial detention Ice letters depicting arrested activists, set up in front of the headquarters of the Russian oil giant Gazprom in Berlin, Germany. The 'Arctic 30' activists face an extension to their pre-trial detention by Russia. Photograph: Ole Spata/dpa/Corbis

The group of Greenpeace activists arrested in Russia during a protest against drilling in the Arctic face a three-month extension to their detention.

The organisation said Russia's investigative committee had announced it was applying for the extension against the 28 campaigners and two freelance journalists while it continues its investigations.

Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said: "Our hearts break for our friends in jail and for their loved ones on the outside. We will fiercely resist this absurd attempt to keep those men and women in jail for a crime they did not commit.

"If the authorities succeed then we will appeal and ask for their release as soon as the court can schedule a hearing. This is a farce, it is an outrage that makes a joke of justice. It's time for the Arctic 30 to come home."

Greenpeace said hearings over the extension bid must be completed by 24 November.

The 30 were detained on 19 September after the Russian authorities seized the Arctic Sunrise vessel.

Sir Paul McCartney has written a personal letter to Russian president Pig Putin calling for the release of Greenpeace activists.

Protests will be held at over 70 Shell petrol stations across the UK on Saturday as part of Greenpeace's campaign to free those arrested.

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

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot's prison letters to Slavoj Žižek

Pussy Riot's Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is currently in a prison hospital in Siberia; here she and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek meet in an extraordinary exchange of letters

• Pussy Riot: composer Cecilie Ore's choral tribute to the punk band

Slavoj Žižek, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova   
The Guardian, Friday 15 November 2013 19.16 GMT   
 
2 January 2013

Dear Nadezhda,

I hope you have been able to organise your life in prison around small rituals that make it tolerable, and that you have time to read. Here are my thoughts on your predicament.

John Jay Chapman, an American political essayist, wrote this about radicals in 1900: "They are really always saying the same thing. They don't change; everybody else changes. They are accused of the most incompatible crimes, of egoism and a mania for power, indifference to the fate of their cause, fanaticism, triviality, lack of humour, buffoonery and irreverence. But they sound a certain note. Hence the great practical power of persistent radicals. To all appearance, nobody follows them, yet everyone believes them. They hold a tuning-fork and sound A, and everybody knows it really is A, though the time-honoured pitch is G flat." Isn't this a good description of the effect of Pussy Riot performances? In spite of all accusations, you sound a certain note. It may appear that people do not follow you, but secretly, they believe you, they know you are telling the truth, or, even more, you are standing for truth.

But what is this truth? Why are the reactions to Pussy Riot performances so violent, not only in Russia? All hearts were beating for you as long as you were perceived as just another version of the liberal-democratic protest against the authoritarian state. The moment it became clear that you rejected global capitalism, reporting on Pussy Riot became much more ambiguous. What is so disturbing about Pussy Riot to the liberal gaze is that you make visible the hidden continuity between Stalinism and contemporary global capitalism.

[Žižek then explores what he sees as a global trend towards limiting democracy.] Since the 2008 crisis, this distrust of democracy, once limited to third-world or post-Communist developing economies, is gaining ground in western countries. But what if this distrust is justified? What if only experts can save us?

But the crisis provided proof that it is these experts who don't know what they are doing, rather than the people. In western Europe, we are seeing that the ruling elite know less and less how to rule. Look at how Europe is dealing with Greece.

No wonder, then, that Pussy Riot make us all uneasy – you know very well what you don't know, and you don't pretend to have any quick or easy answers, but you are telling us that those in power don't know either. Your message is that in Europe today the blind are leading the blind. This is why it is so important that you persist. In the same way that Hegel, after seeing Napoleon riding through Jena, wrote that it was as if he saw the World Spirit riding on a horse, you are nothing less than the critical awareness of us all, sitting in prison.

Comradely greetings, Slavoj
23 February 2013

Dear Slavoj,

Once, in the autumn of 2012, when I was still in the pre-trial prison in Moscow with other Pussy Riot activists, I visited you. In a dream, of course.

I see your argument about horses, the World Spirit, and about tomfoolery and disrespect, as well as why and how all these elements are so connected to each other.

Pussy Riot did turn out be a part of this force, the purpose of which is criticism, creativity and co-creation, experimentation and constantly provocative events. Borrowing Nietzsche's definition, we are the children of Dionysus, sailing in a barrel and not recognising any authority.

We are a part of this force that has no final answers or absolute truths, for our mission is to question. There are architects of apollonian statics and there are (punk) singers of dynamics and transformation. One is not better than the other. But it is only together that we can ensure the world functions in the way Heraclitus defined it: "This world has been and will eternally be living on the rhythm of fire, inflaming according to the measure, and dying away according to the measure. This is the functioning of the eternal world breath."

We are the rebels asking for the storm, and believing that truth is only to be found in an endless search. If the "World Spirit" touches you, do not expect that it will be painless.

Laurie Anderson sang: "Only an expert can deal with the problem." It would have been nice if Laurie and I could cut these experts down to size and take care of our own problems. Because expert status by no means grants access to the kingdom of absolute truth.

Two years of prison for Pussy Riot is our tribute to a destiny that gave us sharp ears, allowing us to sound the note A when everyone else is used to hearing G flat.

At the right moment, there will always come a miracle in the lives of those who childishly believe in the triumph of truth over lies, of mutual assistance, of those who live according to the economics of the gift.

Nadia

4 April 2013

Dear Nadezhda,

I was so pleasantly surprised when your letter arrived – the delay made me fear that the authorities would prevent our communication. I was deeply honoured, flattered even, by my appearance in your dream.

You are right to question the idea that the "experts" close to power are competent to make decisions. Experts are, by definition, servants of those in power: they don't really think, they just apply their knowledge to the problems defined by those in power (how to bring back stability? how to squash protests?). So are today's capitalists, the so-called financial wizards, really experts? Are they not just stupid babies playing with our money and our fate? I remember a cruel joke from Ernst Lubitsch's To Be Or Not to Be. When asked about the German concentration camps in occupied Poland, the Nazi officer snaps back: "We do the concentrating, and the Poles do the camping." Does the same not hold for the Enron bankruptcy in 2002? The thousands of employees who lost their jobs were certainly exposed to risk, but with no true choice – for them the risk was like blind fate. But those who did have insight into the risks, and the ability to intervene (the top managers), minimised their risks by cashing in their stocks before the bankruptcy. So it is true that we live in a society of risky choices, but some people (the managers) do the choosing, while others (the common people) do the risking.

For me, the true task of radical emancipatory movements is not just to shake things out of their complacent inertia, but to change the very co-ordinates of social reality so that, when things return to normal, there will be a new, more satisfying, "apollonian statics". And, even more crucially, how does today's global capitalism enter this scheme?

The Deleuzian philosopher Brian Massumi tells how capitalism has already overcome the logic of totalising normality and adopted the logic of erratic excess: "The more varied, and even erratic, the better. Normality starts to lose its hold. The regularities start to loosen. This loosening is part of capitalism's dynamic."

But I feel guilty writing this: who am I to explode in such narcissistic theoretical outbursts when you are exposed to very real deprivations? So please, if you can and want, do let me know about your situation in prison: about your daily rhythm, about the little private rituals that make it easier to survive, about how much time you have to read and write, about how other prisoners and guards treat you, about your contact with your child … true heroism resides in these seemingly small ways of organising one's life in order to survive in crazy times without losing dignity.

With love, respect and admiration, my thoughts are with you!

Slavoj

16 April 2013

Dear Slavoj,

Has modern capitalism really overtaken the logic of totalising norms? Or is it willing to make us believe that it has overpassed the logic of hierarchical structures and normalisation?

As a child I wanted to go into advertising. I had a love affair with the advertising industry. And this is why I am in a position to judge its merits. The anti-hierarchical structures and rhizomes of late capitalism are its successful ad campaign. Modern capitalism has to manifest itself as flexible and even eccentric. Everything is geared towards gripping the emotion of the consumer. Modern capitalism seeks to assure us that it operates according to the principles of free creativity, endless development and diversity. It glosses over its other side in order to hide the reality that millions of people are enslaved by an all-powerful and fantastically stable norm of production. We want to reveal this lie.

You should not worry that you are exposing theoretical fabrications while I am supposed to suffer the "real hardship". I value the strict limits, and the challenge. I am genuinely curious: how will I cope with this? And how can I turn this into a productive experience for me and my comrades? I find sources of inspiration; it contributes to my own development. Not because of, but in spite of the system. And in my struggle, your thoughts, ideas and stories are helpful to me.

I am happy to correspond with you. I await your reply and I wish you good luck in our common cause.

Nadia

Link to video: Pussy Riot on Putin, 'punk prayers' and superheroes: http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2012/jul/29/pussy-riot-russia-interview-video


10 June 2013

Dear Nadezhda,

I felt deeply ashamed after reading your reply. You wrote: "You should not worry about the fact that you are exposing theoretical fabrications while I am supposed to suffer the 'real hardship'." This simple sentence made me aware that the final sentiment in my last letter was false: my expression of sympathy with your plight basically meant, "I have the privilege of doing real theory and teaching you about it while you are good for reporting on your experience of hardship …" Your last letter demonstrates that you are much more than that, that you are an equal partner in a theoretical dialogue. So my sincere apologies for this proof of how deeply entrenched is male chauvinism, especially when it is masked as sympathy for the other's suffering, and let me go on with our dialogue.

It is the crazy dynamics of global capitalism that make effective resistance to it so difficult and frustrating. Recall the great wave of protests that spilled all over Europe in 2011, from Greece and Spain to London and Paris. Even if there was no consistent political platform mobilising the protesters, the protests functioned as part of a large-scale educational process: the protesters' misery and discontent were transformed into a great collective act of mobilisation – hundreds of thousands gathered in public squares, proclaiming that they had enough, that things could not go on like that. However, what these protests add up to is a purely negative gesture of angry rejection and an equally abstract demand for justice, lacking the ability to translate this demand into a concrete political programme.

What can be done in such a situation, where demonstrations and protests are of no use, where democratic elections are of no use? Can we convince the tired and manipulated crowds that we are not only ready to undermine the existing order, to engage in provocative acts of resistance, but also to offer the prospect of a new order?

The Pussy Riot performances cannot be reduced just to subversive provocations. Beneath the dynamics of their acts, there is the inner stability of a firm ethico-political attitude. In some deeper sense, it is today's society that is caught in a crazy capitalist dynamic with no inner sense and measure, and it is Pussy Riot that de facto provides a stable ethico-political point. The very existence of Pussy Riot tells thousands that opportunist cynicism is not the only option, that we are not totally disoriented, that there still is a common cause worth fighting for.

So I also wish you good luck in our common cause. To be faithful to our common cause means to be brave, especially now, and, as the old saying goes, luck is on the side of the brave!

Yours, Slavoj

13 July 2013

Dear Slavoj,

In my last letter, written in haste as I worked in the sewing shop, I was not as clear as I should have been about the distinction between how "global capitalism" functions in Europe and the US on the one hand, and in Russia on the other. However, recent events in Russia – the trial of Alexei Navalny, the passing of unconstitutional, anti-freedom laws – have infuriated me. I feel compelled to speak about the specific political and economic practices of my country. The last time I felt this angry was in 2011 when Putin declared he was running for the presidency for a third time. My anger and resolve led to the birth of Pussy Riot. What will happen now? Time will tell.

Here in Russia I have a strong sense of the cynicism of so-called first-world countries towards poorer nations. In my humble opinion, "developed" countries display an exaggerated loyalty towards governments that oppress their citizens and violate their rights. The European and US governments freely collaborate with Russia as it imposes laws from the middle ages and throws opposition politicians in jail. They collaborate with China, where oppression is so bad that my hair stands on end just to think about it. What are the limits of tolerance? And when does tolerance become collaboration, conformism and complicity?

To think, cynically, "let them do what they want in their own country", doesn't work any longer, because Russia and China and countries like them are now part of the global capitalist system.

Russia under Putin, with its dependence on raw materials, would have been massively weakened if those nations that import Russian oil and gas had shown the courage of their convictions and stopped buying. Even if Europe were to take as modest a step as passing a "Magnitsky law" [the Magnitsky Act in the US allows it to place sanctions on Russian officials believed to have taken part in human-rights violations], morally it would speak volumes. A boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 would be another ethical gesture. But the continued trade in raw materials constitutes a tacit approval of the Russian regime – not through words, but through money. It betrays the desire to protect the political and economic status quo and the division of labour that lies at the heart of the world economic system.

You quote Marx: "A social system that seizes up and rusts … cannot survive." But here I am, working out my prison sentence in a country where the 10 people who control the biggest sectors of the economy are Vladimir Putin's oldest friends. He studied or played sports with some, and served in the KGB with others. Isn't this a social system that has seized up? Isn't this a feudal system?

I thank you sincerely, Slavoj, for our correspondence and can hardly wait for your reply.

Yours, Nadia

• The correspondence was organised by Philosophie magazine in cooperation with New Times. Longer versions can be found in German at philomag.de or in French at philomag.com. Tolokonnikova's letters were translated from Russian by Galia Ackerman


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« Reply #10030 on: Nov 16, 2013, 07:10 AM »


Gibraltar border row: no evidence of Spain breaking EU law, say inspectors

European commission calls on Spain to streamline border crossings and on UK to share more intelligence on smuggling

Ian Traynor in Brussels
The Guardian, Friday 15 November 2013 13.43 GMT   
 
The government has expressed disappointment after the European commission found that Spain had broken no EU rules by stepping up checks on the border crossing into Gibraltar.

The commission sent a team to investigate after a row broke out in the summer when Spanish authorities tightened frontier controls, allegedly to crack down on tobacco smuggling, forcing people trying to enter Gibraltar to suffer lengthy queues.

The move was viewed as retaliation after Gibraltar had created an artificial reef off its coast, angering Spanish fishermen.

In a letter to the British and Spanish governments , the EU executive said there was no evidence that the Spanish authorities were deliberately causing congestion and delays at the border.

"The commission has not found evidence to conclude that the checks on persons and goods as operated by the Spanish authorities at the crossing point of La Línea de la Concepción have infringed the relevant provisions of European Union law," the letter said.

But the commission called on Spain to streamline border crossings by expanding the infrastructure, and demanded both countries work together more to combat cigarette smuggling, with the UK asked to share more intelligence on the issue with Spain.

Although the commission failed to support British complaints about how the Spanish manage the border, the government nonetheless claimed a form of vindication.

The British government said on Friday that it was disappointed by the result and that its position remained that the action Spain took was illegal.

"The fact that the commission has not found evidence that EU law has been infringed is not the same as concluding that Spain has not acted unlawfully," said a government spokesman.

"We remain confident that the Spanish government has acted – and continues to act – unlawfully, through introducing disproportionate and politically motivated checks at the Gibraltar-Spain border."

The dispute flared in the summer when the Gibraltar authorities created an artificial reef in the waters off southern Spain by dropping dozens of concrete blocks, said to be for environmental reasons.

The move brought howls of criticism from Spain's fishermen, one of the strongest and loudest fishing lobbies in Europe. The UK dispatched a Royal Navy warship as Spanish trawlers converged on the waters around Gibraltar to protest.

Gibraltar and Britain then accused Spain of deliberately creating chaos at the border crossing through mass checks on travellers and commuters.

EU officials concerned themselves not with the marine dispute but with the border row. The UK claimed Spain cleaned up its act to satisfy the inspectors from Brussels. "The border operated significantly more smoothly than normal during the commission visit," said the government spokesman on Friday.

Graham Watson, the Lib Dem MEP whose south-west constituency includes Gibraltar, said: "I am deeply disappointed in the European commission's conclusion there has been no breach of EU law in Spain's checks at the border. I completely disagree.

"If that's justice then I'm a banana," he said. "It sounds to me as if Spanish officials have succeeded in nobbling this report."

The commission said management of the crossing point was challenging and called for greater co-operation between the two sides, not least because of the increase in tobacco smuggling into Spain.


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« Reply #10031 on: Nov 16, 2013, 07:12 AM »


Italy and Spain told to redraft spending plans by Brussels to meet debt rules

European commission's autumn fiscal surveillance report also censures Germany, France and Croatia over reforms or deficit

Heather Stewart   
The Guardian, Friday 15 November 2013 17.49 GMT   

Brussels has urged Italy and Spain to redraft their tax and spending plans or risk breaching eurozone debt rules in 2014.

The two countries were singled out for criticism in the first report issued as part of the so-called Two-Pack process, under which countries in the single currency area agreed to far closer scrutiny of their economic policies.

The censure came just a day after Spain announced that it would leave the €41bn (£34bn) EU bailout programme it has drawn on to rescue its teetering banks.

In the more stringent surveillance regime adopted since the financial crisis, the single currency's 17 member countries are now required to submit an annual draft budgetary plan, detailing spending totals and proposed economic reforms, to be picked over by Brussels.

Countries are required to keep budget deficits below 3% of GDP, and debt levels below 60%, under the eurozone's Stability and Growth Pact – though those targets were widely ignored in the runup to 2008. More than half of member countries are currently in an Excessive Debt Procedure, which sets a time limit for them to get their budgets back on track.

Italy and Spain are widely seen in financial markets as the most likely candidates to be forced to seek help from the European Central Bank's (ECB) emergency bailout scheme, known as "outright monetary transactions" in the coming years. Both countries were invited by Brussels to "take the necessary measures within the national budgetary process" to prevent them busting the targets.

Italy's finance ministry protested after the commission's judgment: "In formulating its opinion, the commission does not take into account important measures announced by the government."

Several other countries were also censured by Brussels on Friday as part of its "autumn fiscal surveillance package". France, whose economy has slipped into reverse, according to growth figures released this week, was accused of making limited progress on the structural reforms, such as changes in labour market regulations, recommended by the commission.

Germany, which has already been accused by its European partners – and the US Treasury secretary Jack Lew - of saving too much, and spending too little, was told that it had made no progress in structural reforms.

"As soon as a new federal government takes office, national authorities are encouraged to submit an updated draft budgetary plan," Friday's report said.

Croatia was also warned that it may face action under the Excessive Deficit Procedure for breaking deficit limits.

With both growth and inflation in the eurozone slowing – the latest official figures released on Friday confirmed that inflation was just 0.7% in the year to October – the commission's verdicts will add to an increasingly fraught debate in Europe about how best to manage the eurozone's 17 economies.

Some countries, including France, believe the euro is too strong on foreign exchange markets, jeopardising exports; but after last week's quarter-percentage point rate cut, Germany is reluctant to see further moves by the ECB that might help to guide the euro downwards.

The European commission also urged countries across the eurozone to beware of slashing public investment as they battle to balance their budgets, and focus instead on cutting day-to-day government expenditure. "The general trend of decreasing public capital expenditure observed in the past few years, while stabilising, is not being reversed," it said.

In aggregate, across the 17 member-countries, the commission expects spending cuts worth 0.25% of eurozone GDP to be implemented in 2014.


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« Reply #10032 on: Nov 16, 2013, 07:16 AM »

U.S. thinks nuclear deal with Iran is possible next week

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 15, 2013 12:53 EST

A nuclear deal with Iran is possible at the next round of talks in Geneva, a US official said Friday, but warned tough issues still had to be hammered out.

“We are going to work very hard next week. I don’t know if we’ll reach an agreement. I think it is quite possible that we can. But there’s still tough issues to negotiate,” the senior administration official told reporters.

The official also renewed pleas to skeptical US lawmakers not to slap more sanctions on Iran in the mistaken belief it would force the Islamic republic “to the point of capitulation” and the dismantling of all its nuclear program.

“I personally don’t believe surrender would come any time soon, it is a culture of resistance,” the official, warning that if there were new sanctions Iran “would move forward with its nuclear program … and we would find ourselves with no other option but a military one.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif is to join political directors from the six powers negotiating a freeze to Iran’s suspect nuclear program for a new round of talks in the Swiss city from Wednesday.

The last session failed on Saturday to seal a first step deal which would halt Iran’s program in return for relief from crippling sanctions while all sides negotiate a final deal over the next six months.

At the end of marathon three-day talks in Geneva the so-called P5+1 group had presented a “stronger” and “improved” draft deal to Iran which had “greater clarity” on a number of issues.

But the negotiations ended early Saturday morning “because I think the parties, particularly Iran, felt they needed to go back and look at this document which was quite tough, consider it and come back to negotiations,” the US official said.

But the official downplayed reports of divisions among the P5+1, which is comprised of the five nuclear powers Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States, as well as Germany, saying it was normal that each capital had weighed in with changes to the document.

And while officials stuck to an agreement not to reveal any details of the proposal, it is understood it would give Iran access to “a very small fraction” of its assets frozen in bank accounts around the world.

Another senior administration official said as much as $100 billion in revenues from Iranian oil sales was stuck in global banking accounts.

Iranian oil exports have fallen to around a million barrels a day, “dramatically down from an average of about two and a half million barrels a day in 2011,” he said.

“These declining exports are costing Iran up to $5 billion a month, and have cost Iran along with our other sanctions about $120 billion,” he said.

“So the relief that we are considering as part of the initial phase would be limited, temporary, targeted and reversible,” he said, insisting the core structure of sanctions would stay in place.

Shooting down reports that the US and P5+1 were planning a major, valuable package of sanctions relief, he said “it would come nowhere near helping Iran escaping the hole that we’ve put them in.”

Officials from the administration of President Barack Obama have been leading what they described as “hard” discussions with US lawmakers seeking to head off a new round of American sanctions which they fear could scupper the delicate negotiations.

“Further sanctions as this moment, not for all time perhaps because we don’t know what Iran will do, but at this moment, further sanctions threaten the good faith of that negotiation, not just with Iran but with our partners,” the first administration official said.

All the P5+1 members had asked the official to convey to Congress their desire for a pause to any more sanctions.

“The P5+1 believes these are serious negotiations, they have a chance to be successful. For us to slap a new set of sanctions in the middle of it they see as bad faith with them.”

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

Most Israeli Jews oppose current deal on Iran’s nuclear program and back possible military action

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 15, 2013 6:58 EST

Nearly two-thirds of Israeli Jews oppose a deal being reached between world powers and Iran on Tehran’s controversial nuclear program, the results of a survey published on Friday said.

When asked “Should Israel support or oppose the nuclear agreement being discussed with Iran?” 65.5 percent said they were against it, and 16.2 percent expressed backing for an accord.

The remainder of those asked in the poll conducted by the daily Israel Hayom were undecided.

The question was put to 500 people estimated to be a representative sample of the country’s Jewish population, and the survey had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

No Israeli Arabs — who make up 20 percent of the population — were among the 500.

Israel and world powers suspect the Islamic republic’s program of uranium enrichment to be a covert drive to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, an allegation vehemently denied.

The survey also showed 52.4 percent supported an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities in the event of a “bad deal” and if Tehran pursued its nuclear ambitions.

But 26.8 percent said they would oppose such an attack.

A strong majority of 68.8 percent said they believed the Israeli military was capable of going it alone in a strike on Iran, however.

Israel is widely thought to be the Middle East’s sole — albeit undeclared — nuclear power.

It has clashed publicly with the United States on the draft deal being negotiated between Iran and the so-called P5+1 — Britain, China, France, Russia, the U.S. and Germany.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants international sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program to be tightened even further.

But US President Barack Obama favors the option of talks along with a gradual easing of sanctions.

Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, sent by Netanyahu to Washington to campaign against the nascent nuclear deal, accused the U.S. on Thursday of gambling with Israeli security.

With Iran’s economy squeezed “now is the precise time to tell them, ‘either or.’ Either you have a nuclear weapon program, or you have an economy, but you can’t have both,” the leader of the far-right Jewish Home party said in a speech.

The Jewish state fears that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to its very existence, and has not ruled out carrying out a pre-emptive assault against Tehran’s nuclear facilities.


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« Reply #10033 on: Nov 16, 2013, 07:17 AM »

UN envoy: Iraqi security forces need ‘massive amounts of re-training’ in human rights

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 15, 2013 6:52 EST

Iraq’s security forces require “massive amounts of re-training” in human rights to better conduct operations and combat the country’s deadliest violence since 2008, the UN’s new envoy to Baghdad said.

Nickolay Mladenov, UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s special representative, also said he did not expect any long-term political problems to be addressed before elections due on April 30, but voiced hope that authorities could make progress on key issues such as the delivery of basic services.

“There is a culture within the security forces, and the way they do things, which needs to change,” Mladenov told a group of foreign journalists in Baghdad.

Asked what he meant by a change in culture, he replied: “One that is more respectful of human rights.

“If you want to talk about the immediate security response to the crisis, the police, the army, etc. need massive amounts of re-training … in relation to human rights, and how they respect international standards of human rights, how they undertake operations.”

Mladenov, a former Bulgarian foreign and defense minister, added: “A very big investment needs to be made in rule of law, human rights, both across the judiciary but also in the police and the security forces.”

Iraq’s security forces have been criticized, particularly by the Sunni Arab community, over allegations that soldiers and police unfairly target the minority.

The claims range from accusations of warrantless and mass arrests, to extended periods of unlawful detention, as well as physical abuse in detainee facilities, often in a bid to extract confessions.

Human Rights Watch, for example, said in a statement published on Friday that Iraq’s security forces had been “surrounding and closing off majority Sunni neighborhoods, effectively shutting residents inside, raiding homes, and carrying out mass arrests” ahead of recent religious celebrations.

While officials admit that some individuals are wrongly arrested, they insist security operations are making progress in curtailing a protracted spike in violence that has sparked fears the country is on the brink of slipping back into all-out sectarian war.

The UN envoy did not blame any particular group in his critique of the security forces, noting that since now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted in the US-led invasion of 2003, Iraq has “been embroiled in conflicts, it’s been fighting a terrorist threat.”

“I come from a transition country myself,” he said. “I know how difficult this is to change without the context in which Iraq is.”

Mladenov said Baghdad would need to focus on a handful of key issues in order to reduce the bloodshed.

“You need to find ways to re-integrate the Sunni community; you need to find ways to deliver services; you need to find ways of doing your security operations in a way that effectively counter the threat.”

‘Glimmer of hope’

He said that although some of those issues could be resolved in the months before Iraq’s upcoming parliamentary elections, longer-term issues would have to wait.

“Obviously, there are things that can be done in terms of the effectiveness of security operations,” he said. “There are a number of programs that can be put in place in relation to social services.

“You can do things before the election, but in (terms of) really getting a renewed mandate from the people for major changes looking forward, you do need the election.

“The big political issues, all will be addressed in the spring of next year.”

However, Mladenov said he saw a “glimmer of hope” in the recent passage of an electoral law, setting the framework for the polls, which he said offered the prospect of increased cooperation among Iraq’s political factions.

Political squabbling has paralyzed the government, while parliament has passed almost no major legislation in years.

Iraqi authorities have also been criticized for not doing enough to address the underlying causes of the surge in violence and instead focusing on the security aspect of the unrest.

While failing to stem the bloodshed, authorities have also struggled to provide adequate basic services such as electricity and clean water, and corruption is widespread.

“You can’t really say, ‘well, I’ll start with one and then I’ll deal with the others,’” Mladenov said of Iraq’s multiple problems. “You need to start with all of them.”


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« Reply #10034 on: Nov 16, 2013, 07:21 AM »

India buys third aircraft carrier amid rivalry with China

Refurbished Soviet-era vessel purchased for £1.4bn as India modernises military to counterbalance Chinese expansion

Conal Urquhart and agencies
theguardian.com, Saturday 16 November 2013 12.42 GMT   

India has heightened its rivalry with China by taking possession of its third aircraft carrier, a refurbished Soviet-era vessel.

The £1.4bn ($2.3bn) aircraft carrier, handed over on Saturday at a north Russian shipyard, will help India to counterbalance the expansion of the Chinese navy.

The 45,000-tonne ship, built in the final years of the Soviet Union and named the Admiral Gorshkov, will be escorted by warships to India on a two-month voyage from Russia's northern coast. It has been renamed INS Vikramaditya.

A recent upgrade means the carrier, originally designed to carry Yak-38 vertical take-off aircraft, has been re-equipped to carry Mig-29K fighter jets. It can carry up to 30 aircraft and will have a crew of around 2,000.

China and India, the world's most populous countries, co-existed peacefully for centuries but relations became strained after the Communist party won the Chinese civil war in 1948. There were three conflicts between the neighbours in the second half of the 20th century, although since 1987, Sino-Indian trade has grown rapidly. India views China's relations with Pakistan with suspicion and China is concerned over Indian activity in the South China Sea. In March this year, tensions between troops were defused after a three-week standoff along their disputed border.

India signed the deal to buy the carrier in 2004 after a decade of negotiations. Its reconditioning was to be finished in 2009, but the price was increased and delivery postponed until 2012 under a new agreement, according to the Indian navy.

The handover was later delayed by another year.

India's first, British-built, aircraft carrier was bought in the 1960s and was decommissioned in 1997. Another ex-British carrier, the INS Viraat, is reaching the end of its service.

In August, India launched its first home-built carrier. The 37,500-tonne INS Vikrant is expected to undergo extensive trials in 2016 before being inducted into the navy by 2018.

India is the world's largest arms buyer and Russia's biggest arms customer, buying about 60% of its arms needs from there. But it has started to look for new suppliers and aims to build more hardware itself as part of plans to spend $100bn in the next 10 years on modernising its military. It has recently rolled out new military purchase rules to attract local companies into the sector.

The INS Vikramaditya was commissioned into the Indian navy at the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk, on the White Sea, in a ceremony attended by the Russian deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, and Indian defence minister, AK Antony.

China put its first-ever aircraft carrier, another retooled Soviet-made craft called the Liaoning, into service in 2011 amid tensions with Japan over contested islands and a show of strength in the South China Sea.

In the past year China has been involved in a series of territorial spats with Japan over islets in the East China Sea; and with the Philippines, Vietnam and others over the South China Sea, the location of essential shipping lanes and important natural resources, including oil and gas.

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

Indian swami's dream inspires hunt for buried gold but yields bricks and bones

Hindu priest told minister a king came to him in a vision and told him of riches – 1.6m rupees later they found nothing

Associated Press in Lucknow
theguardian.com, Friday 15 November 2013 14.25 GMT   

A search for treasure beneath a 19th-century Indian fort has ended, yielding a few bones and terracotta bricks but none of the gold predicted by a Hindu holy man's dream, an official said on Friday.

The search began in October in the state of Uttar Pradesh, northern India, after a Hindu swami, Shobhan Sarkar, told a government minister that a former king had appeared to him in a dream and told him of a hidden cache worth more than 3bn rupees (£29m).

The leader of the dig, Praveen Kumar Mishra, said the hunt had been suspended. The government spent 1.6m rupees (£15,700) on digging at the site, said Durga Shankar, a local magistrate.

The opposition said the government search was prompted by the swami's dream.

However, the Geological Survey of India said it had found signs of heavy metal about 20 metres (66ft) underground before deciding to dig in the area around Unnao district, about 50 miles south-west of the state's capital, Lucknow. Mishra said on Friday that apparent discovery appeared to have been an error.

The state-run Archaeological Survey of India found some artefacts and reached sediments of calcium carbonates in the first trench, Mishra said.

There was no hope of finding any archaeological objects beyond that as the diggers had hit rocks in the second trench, he told AP. "There is no indication of [the presence of] any alloy as reported by the GSI team," Mishra said in his report.

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

Indian treasure hunt sparked by holy man's dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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