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« Reply #10215 on: Nov 25, 2013, 06:55 AM »


November 24, 2013

Merkel’s Quest for Consensus

By ALISON SMALE
IHT

BERLIN — More than two months after she triumphed in national elections, Chancellor Angela Merkel still has no new government. Even in a nation attuned to much political theater before dueling parties reach consensus, patience is wearing perilously thin.

Ms. Merkel, her conservative allies in Bavaria and the center-left Social Democrats have set a target of midweek for finally hammering out a so-called grand coalition. As if to emphasize the need to wrap up negotiations, Ms. Merkel dressed accordingly for a big speech on Friday: a black pantsuit, the color of her conservative party, with a red shirt underneath.

Her optimism belies a big risk. The leaders of the Social Democratic Party, known as the SPD in Germany, have promised that their entire party membership of about 470,000 will vote on the coalition agreement — and there are strong signs that they could reject it, breaking with Germany’s post-1945 practice of putting stability and the state ahead of political emotion.

The newsmagazine Der Spiegel wrote “Best of greetings from the rank and file” on its Sunday cover, which showed the Social Democrats’ chairman, Sigmar Gabriel, sitting in a red armchair marked “SPD” as a saw completed a circle underneath it that would sink him.

Ms. Merkel, in a green jacket and black pants, stands in the background. In Germany’s color-coded politics, Der Spiegel was signaling that, if Mr. Gabriel goes down, Ms. Merkel and her Christian Democrats would have to turn to the Greens to form a government, a process that would involve more weeks of negotiation and uncertainty.

It is not so much the policy details that might sink a center-right, center-left partnership, but rather the bad mood emerging as the Social Democrats hold party meetings across the country to debate the new coalition.

It has been clear for weeks, for example, that the chancellor would have to concede on a minimum national wage, probably of 8.50 euros an hour, about $11.50, to secure an agreement. The Social Democrats, in turn, will get no tax increases; Ms. Merkel and her Christian Democrats point to record tax income and the highest number of Germans ever now employed — just over 42 million — to insist that no new taxes are needed.

These and other smaller quarrels (over pensions for nonworking mothers, or the ban on dual citizenship for young Turks born in Germany) fade against the main problem: the lopsided power relationship between the would-be government partners.

The Christian Democrats built their campaign for the elections on Sept. 22 solely around their chancellor, and they won big, taking 41.7 percent of the overall vote, and 236 of 299 directly elected constituency seats (against 58 for the Social Democrats). But they ended up five seats short of an absolute parliamentary majority.

The Social Democrats got 25.6 percent of the vote but accepted negotiations to govern with Ms. Merkel, even though their first such coalition, from 2005 to 2009, ended with their worst-ever result, just over 23 percent. In a country always mindful of its violent 20th century, there was a consensus, at least among Social Democrat leaders, that this was the only responsible course.

Opinion polls also showed that most Germans favored a “grand coalition.”

Since then, the mood has soured, and the Social Democrats, often querulous, are filled with doubt and strife. If party members reject a coalition, Mr. Gabriel has warned, the party may lose its weakened grip in Germany. As one Social Democrat deputy, Hans-Peter Bartels, put it: “The membership vote is an extraordinarily big opportunity to get additional legitimacy for a difficult coalition after a difficult election result. But it is also an extraordinarily large risk.”

The triumphant conservatives are happy to make hay with the left’s disarray. “I think in the next 14 days it is not just the coalition agreement that will be voted on, but the future of the SPD leadership, and possibly even the future of the whole SPD,” Volker Kauder, the leader of the Christian Democrats’ faction in Parliament, told Der Spiegel.

But not all is well in the conservative camp. Business figures, particularly from Germany’s all-important Mittelstand, the small and medium-size enterprises that are the backbone of the country’s export success, fear that Ms. Merkel will make a deal that will force them to raise wages, cut jobs and face higher energy costs. Kurt Lauk, the leader of the Christian Democrats’ influential business council, spoke of “a mood of alarm” in a letter to Ms. Merkel made public on Sunday.

Such feints and jabs, or the sight of 75 politicians from the left and the right seated around giant tables in Berlin, are all part of European coalition theater.

But Bild, Germany’s best-selling tabloid newspaper, captured the rare impatience last week with a simple giant headline: “When are you going to finally govern?”

Ms. Merkel, Mr. Gabriel and Horst Seehofer, the leader of the Christian Democrats’ sister party in Bavaria, are supposed to huddle and come up with an answer by Wednesday.

The chancellor, in a strong 45-minute speech to Mr. Seehofer’s party on Friday, said the guiding principle should be forming policies that make Germans feel better off in 2017, when the next elections roll around, than they do now. The conservatives’ success this year, she argued, was possible because Germans felt better off in 2013 than they did 2009.

The contrast between Ms. Merkel’s buoyant assurance of future success and Mr. Gabriel’s somber assessment, at his party congress nine days earlier, was striking. The center-left has lost its traditional hold on workers, he noted, and, worse still, party leaders mingle with the wealthy class, not the disadvantaged they once represented.

Germany’s Social Democrats are proudly celebrating their 150th anniversary this year, and are also honoring Willy Brandt, a former chancellor who would have turned 100 next month. Whether they survive their latest big test is something they alone will decide.


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« Reply #10216 on: Nov 25, 2013, 07:12 AM »


Secret talks helped forge Iran nuclear deal

Meetings that ran parallel to official negotiations help achieve most significant Washington-Tehran agreement since 1979

Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan in Geneva
The Guardian, Monday 25 November 2013   
   
A historic agreement on Iran's nuclear programme was made possible by months of unprecedented secret meetings between US and Iranian officials, in further signs of the accelerating detente between two of the world's most adversarial powers, it emerged on Sunday.

The meetings ran parallel to official negotiations involving five other world powers, and helped pave the way for the interim deal signed in Geneva in the early hours of Sunday morning, in which Iran accepted strict constraints on its nuclear programme for the first time in a decade in exchange for partial relief from sanctions.

The Obama administration asked journalists not to publish details they had uncovered of the secret diplomacy until the Geneva talks were over for fear of derailing them. The Associated Press and a Washington-based news website, Al-Monitor, finally did so on Sunday.

The nuclear agreement – arguably the most important foreign policy achievement of Barack Obama's presidency – was struck at 4.30am at a Geneva hotel on day five of the third round of intensive talks. It amounts to the most significant agreement between Washington and Tehran since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

The deal releases just over $4bn in Iranian oil sales revenue from frozen accounts, and suspends restrictions on the country's trade in gold, petrochemicals, car and plane parts. In return, Iran undertakes to restrict its nuclear activities. Over the next six months Iran has agreed:

• To stop enriching uranium above 5% reactor-grade, and dilute its stock of 20%-enriched uranium – a major proliferation concern.

• Not to increase its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.

• To freeze its enrichment capacity by not installing any more centrifuges, leaving more than half of its existing 16,000 centrifuges inoperable.

• Not to fuel or to commission the heavy-water reactor it is building in Arak or build a reprocessing plant that could produce plutonium from the spent fuel.

• To accept more intrusive nuclear inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, including daily visits to some facilities.

"While today's announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal," Obama said in an address from the White House. "For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear programme, and key parts of the programme will be rolled back."

Iran welcomed its negotiators as heroes at Tehran's Mehrabad airport. Its currency, the rial, which has been pulverised by a gruelling succession of economic sanctions, jumped more than 3%. "This is only a first step," Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign affairs minister, said. "We need to start moving in the direction of restoring confidence, a direction in which we have managed to move against in the past."

But there was silence from Iran's regional rival Saudi Arabia and dismal warnings from Israel that the deal would merely embolden its fiercest adversary. "Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world," said Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

David Cameron said the deal "demonstrates how persistent diplomacy and tough sanctions can together help us to advance our national interest". In a tweet from Downing Street, he said: "Good progress on iran - nowhere near the end but a sign pressure works".

Sunday morning's deal was agreed after a diplomatic marathon of three intensive rounds, culminating in a late-night session in the conference rooms of a five-star hotel in Geneva, chaired by the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, a former Labour peer and CND official, for whom the deal represents a personal triumph.

Last night, it was announced that Obama has phoned Netanyahu to discuss the deal with Iran. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters travelling on Air Force One with Obama that the US "looks forward to consulting with its ally Israel on international negotiations with Tehran". Earnest says the White House understands Israel's scepticism.

Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, and their German, Russian and Chinese counterparts, Guido Westerwelle, Sergey Lavrov and Wang Yi, also took part in a six-nation group mandated by the UN security council to handle the nuclear negotiations since 2006. Some of the complications involved in coming to a deal stemmed from the need to keep the six powers together.

However, the key overnight sessions that clinched the deal involved Kerry, Zarif and Ashton alone.

"This deal actually rolls back the programme from where it is today," Kerry said. However, he added: "I will not stand here in some triumphal moment and claim that this is an end in itself."

The bigger task, he said, was to go forward and negotiate a comprehensive deal.

The six-month life of the Geneva deal is intended to be used to negotiate a comprehensive and permanent settlement that would allow Iran to pursue a peaceful programme, almost certainly including enrichment, but under long-term limits and intrusive monitoring that would reassure the world any parallel covert programme would be spotted and stopped well before Iran could make a bomb.

That agreement would lead to the lifting of the main sanctions on oil and banking that have all but crippled the Iranian economy, and the eventual normalisation of relations between Iran and the US for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The difficulties facing the negotiators in the coming months were highlighted by the different interpretations that Zarif and his US counterpart, John Kerry, had over the fiercely disputed issue of whether the deal represented a recognition of Iran's right to enrich uranium in principle. Zarif pointed to a line in the preamble in the text which said that an eventual comprehensive settlement "would involve a mutually defined enrichment programme with practical limits and transparency measures". American argued that the phrase "mutually defined" implied Iran would still require international consent to pursue enrichment.

The Associated Press said preliminary and secret talks were held in Oman and other locations. The US envoys for the meetings were the deputy secretary of state, William Burns, and Jake Sullivan, a foreign policy adviser to Joe Biden. Al-Monitor reported that a senior national security council official, Puneet Talwar, also took part. AP said there had been five meetings since March, implying the first contacts came three months before the election of the reformist Hassan Rouhani as president. It is not clear which Iranian officials were involved in the talks.

The talks help explain why the US and Iran were able to strike a deal relatively quickly after Rouhani's election. But it also helps explain the irritation of the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, at the previous round of negotiations a fortnight ago when he was presented with an agreement that the US and Iran had worked out independently.

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

Obama admits Israel has good reason for scepticism over Iran nuclear deal

White House courts critics as president seeks support for nuclear deal with Iran with a flurry of phone calls to foreign allies

Dan Roberts in Washington
The Guardian, Monday 25 November 2013      

Barack Obama sought to cement a rare policy breakthrough over Iran this weekend with a flurry of phone calls designed to shore up support in Congress and reassure sceptical foreign allies.

After months of domestic policy setbacks, the agreement in Geneva of a deal to place strict restraints on Iran's nuclear programme, in return for an easing of sanctions and with the aim of preventing the country developing a nuclear weapons capacity, promises to mark a turning point in the president's troubled second term. But the White House must first convince critics in Washington that negotiators have not conceded sanctions relief too readily, and Obama is anxious to deter efforts in the Senate to impose fresh economic sanctions.

Efforts to win over key lawmakers began within hours of the deal being struck in Geneva on Saturday night and continued on Sunday with a phone call to Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, an arch-critic of the agreement.

The White House said "the two leaders reaffirmed their shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon" during the phone call, and said that Obama "told the prime minister that he wants the United States and Israel to begin consultations immediately regarding our efforts to negotiate a comprehensive solution".

The White House added that Obama "underscored that the United States will remain firm in our commitment to Israel, which has good reason to be skeptical about Iran's intentions. The president and prime minister agreed to stay in close contact on this issue as the P5+1 [the US, China, Russia, France, Great Britain and Germany] and Iran negotiate a long-term solution over the next six months".

Early reaction in Washington suggested that the six-month deal's package of more intrusive inspections and enrichment restrictions, while not enough to persuade all Republicans, may prove sufficiently robust to avoid an embarrassing rebellion on Capitol Hill.

"Well, the deal's been made," said Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate foreign relations committee. He argued that the pact must not "become the norm" for a longer-term agreement with Iran.

"I think it's now time for Congress to weigh in," Corker told Fox News Sunday, "because I think people are very concerned that the interim deal becomes the norm, and that's why I've crafted legislation to hold the administration and the international community's feet to the fire over the next six months to ensure that this interim deal is not the norm.

"I think you will see a bipartisan effort that this will not be the final agreement."

Senior Democrats in the Senate were more supportive, suggesting that Obama will have sufficient political backing to prevent the deal from being undermined in Washington. "By any standard, this agreement is a giant step forward and should not be undermined by additional sanctions at this time," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, who had previously voiced suspicion of Iranian motives.

More hawkish Republicans expressed their scepticism. Saxby Chambliss, the vice-chair of the Senate intelligence committee, told ABC's This Week: "Nothing in the details [of the deal] moves us in the direction of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon." On CNN's State of the Union, Ed Royce, the chair of the House foreign affairs committee, said: "They [Iran] are a state sponsor of terrorism, trying to get a bomb."

For Obama to successfully trumpet the diplomatic breakthrough as a personal achievement will require days of careful political messaging. A similar White House success, in removing chemical weapons from Syria, was undermined domestically by a widespread perception that Obama had stumbled upon a solution thanks to help from Russia rather than deserving praise as the primary architect of the deal.

Within minutes of the Iran deal being struck, Obama made a surprise late-night appearance before cameras in the White House, to insist that his brand of compromise was the key to progress this time around.

"Ultimately, only diplomacy can bring about a durable solution to the challenge posed by Iran's nuclear program," he said. "As president and commander-in-chief, I will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But I have a profound responsibility to try to resolve our differences peacefully, rather than rush towards conflict."

He also paid tribute to Congress for creating an environment for the deal to happen.

"Over the last few years, Congress has been a key partner in imposing sanctions on the Iranian government, and that bipartisan effort made possible the progress that was achieved today," Obama said. "Going forward, we will continue to work closely with Congress. However, now is not the time to move forward on new sanctions – because doing so would derail this promising first step, alienate us from our allies and risk unraveling the coalition that enabled our sanctions to be enforced in the first place."

White House officials were also keen to stress that the public talks in Geneva were only the tip of a wider diplomatic effort to reach out to Iran's new president, Hasan Rouhani, that had been underway for months in private.

"Over the course of the last several months of very intensive diplomacy in September, October and November of this year, we had some limited bilateral discussions with the Iranians," said a senior administration official on Saturday night. "[It is] important to understand that this builds on a several-year effort, one of the leading priorities for President Obama".

The White House also sought to counter arguments that it was naive in its dealings with Rouhani, insisting that a staged approach to containing the Iranian nuclear threat was the only practical way to proceed.

"We, frankly, just believe that you weren't going to get to an end state from a standing start, so we needed to put this in place to halt the progress of the Iranians while we negotiate that final step," said another official.

Sceptics in Washington will demand further signs of progress before crediting Obama with the lasting diplomatic achievement he craves, but for the first time since his re-election last year the president is on the verge of a major public success.

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

For Iran, peaceful diplomacy has delivered what sabre-rattling could not

Iran's nuclear deal with the west owes far more to the recent growth of democracy than sanctions

Simon Jenkins   
theguardian.com, Monday 25 November 2013 10.20 GMT   

Good news so far on Iran. Western intervention in the Muslim world at the start of the 21st century has seemed nothing but the orchestration of failure. Yesterday's Geneva agreement on Iran's nuclear capacity hints at a chance that the onward march of nuclear armaments might be halted. Coming on top of the Syrian chemical weapons deal, diplomacy appears hesitantly ascendant.

The stumbling blocks remain what they always were: the opposition of Iran's hardliners, and of their opposite numbers in Israel and the US Congress. Those blocks have always existed. What is exciting about Geneva is that they have, for the moment, been circumvented. Diplomacy's "confidence-building measures" are to be given their head. One of the world's great countries, Iran at least might be re-admitted to the community of nations.

There was always too much fantasy posturing in the west's Iran policy. It was never possible to stop an Iranian nuclear arsenal by confrontation. There are too many arms salesmen around, too much money and too much Iranian pride for that. Only by Iran's politics opening up to change, freeing its democracy and allowing its people to feel safe, would its leaders dare foreswear these weapons.

The west never had the power to conquer Iran or bomb it into submission. A military strike would merely speed an arms race and drive that country back into the embrace of its fundamentalists. Only soft power was ever going to de-escalate the conflict.

Nor is it true that "sanctions have worked". What changed in Iran was democracy, however rudimentary. Last year's surprise election of a moderate leader, Hassan Rouhani, tipped the balance against confrontation and towards negotiation. Sanctions may have worsened the economic chaos that helped him to power, but they were far outweighed by the sheer incompetence of the previous Ahmadinejad regime.

Iran should now benefit from the peaceful development of nuclear energy and a reopening to world trade. The region should benefit from a less interventionist and destabilising Iran. The world should benefit from falling oil prices and the evidence that sometimes peaceful diplomacy can deliver what decades of sabre-rattling could not. The next round of diplomacy must be aimed at those with no interest in such outcomes.

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

Iran nuclear deal shows US is now prepared to act independently of allies

Historic partners of US – Saudi Arabia and Israel – circumspect and angry over deal hailed by Syria and tolerated by Russia

Ian Black in Riyadh
The Guardian, Sunday 24 November 2013 19.45 GMT   

It is too early to tell whether the Geneva nuclear agreement heralds a genuinely new phase in the tangled and troubled web of relations between the west and the Middle East. But initial reactions suggest it is a big deal – and one that has the potential at least, over time, to change the status quo of more than 30 years.

Israel responded angrily, Saudi Arabia with sulky silence and Syria with a swift welcome as the dramatic news from Switzerland triggered the rumbling of what may yet come to be seen as a tectonic shift in the political landscape of the region.

Mutual hostility between Iran and the US has formed the backdrop to much that has happened since the great rupture of 1979, when the staunchly pro-American shah was toppled by the Islamic revolution. The eight-year war launched by Saddam Hussein against Ayatollah Khomeini and the subsequent Iraqi invasion of Kuwait took place in the shadow of that estrangement.

Efforts at peace-making between Israel and its Palestinian and other Arab enemies have also faced complications because of Iranian hostility to the US and Israel – whose own undeclared (but internationally-tolerated) nuclear arsenal is a significant element of this story. Lebanon's Hezbollah, the strongest non-state actor in the region, remains one of Tehran's most potent assets.

And the Middle East's worst current crisis, the devastating war in Syria, is in some ways the frontline of a strategic and sectarian confrontation, fought both directly and by proxy, between Iran and the US-backed conservative monarchies of the Gulf.

It was no coincidence that President Bashar al-Assad's government was so quick to hail what it called an "historic accord" in Geneva. Russia, his main international ally and protector, has also come out well of the P5 + 1 negotiations, enhancing its role as a mediator.

So the nuclear agreement may create some movement in the Syrian stalemate if – still a big if – Tehran and Moscow use their influence with Damascus. That may make it easier to convene the long-delayed Geneva II conference, though prospects for a diplomatic end to the war remain slim as long as the rebels insist Assad must go. Opposition supporters fear he will now feel emboldened – condemning Geneva as "another Munich".

There are plenty of other reasons for caution. The deal is an interim one for six months and the sanctions relief it brings will be reversible. It faces threats from hardliners in Tehran and Washington. It is also still hard to envisage the often-mentioned "grand bargain" between these old enemies – because there are so many other contentious issues that have not been addressed.

Israel, looking uncomfortably isolated, has made its position clear, with Binyamin Netanyahu lambasting the agreement as an "historic mistake" – and perhaps, ironically, thus helping President Hassan Rouhani sell the deal at home.

But Israel's ability to attack Iranian nuclear facilities – without overt or covert US help – now looks like a hollow threat, for political reasons as well as the limited capabilities of even its formidable air force. It will also fear renewed pressure to come clean about its own nuclear arsenal – still a regional monopoly.

Elsewhere the discomfort is most obvious in Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states, which have long seen Iran as a greater threat and strategic rival than Israel. Pejorative talk of a "Zionist-Wahhabi" alliance reflects that. King Abdullah, as revealed by WikiLeaks, famously urged Barack Obama to "cut off the head of the (Iranian) snake". Instead the US president has done a deal with it.

The silence in Riyadh on Sunday was thunderously eloquent. It would be smart of the Iranians to extend their current charm offensive to the Gulf neighbours but it will be difficult to allay suspicions. The UAE, interestingly, gave the agreement a terse welcome.

Viewed from the heartlands of the Middle East, the most striking conclusion of the Geneva drama is that the US is now prepared to act more independently of its traditional allies – the Israelis and Saudis – than ever before. That appears to confirm the dawning realisation that Obama is simultaneously pivoting away from the region – while helping craft its new realities.

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

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/25/2013 12:55 PM

The World From Berlin: Don't Lift Iran Sanctions 'Prematurely'

Although German commentators applaud Iran's interim deal with the West to halt its nuclear program as a significant step forward, they also argue Tehran must now prove itself. The bulk of the sanctions must remain in place until a full agreement is reached, they say.

Iran and the West reached a deal on Sunday to curb the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for a loosening of sanctions, launching a rapprochement that could end a long standoff and avert the threat of war.

The interim pact between Iran and the US, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia runs for six months and halts Iran's higher-grade enrichment of uranium and the construction of the Arak heavy-water reactor. It also increases the frequency of United Nations inspections.

In return, Iran could obtain access to revenue from trade in gold and precious metals and oil exports.

But the agreement will not allow any extra Iranian oil into the market or let Western energy investors into the country, US officials said. The sanctions system will remain in place, including a ban on Iranian use of the international banking system, until a final deal is reached that aims to remove all risk of Iran building an atomic bomb.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday's deal was only a start.

"Now the really hard part begins and that is the effort to get the comprehensive agreement, which will require enormous steps in terms of verification, transparency and accountability," Kerry said at the start of a meeting in London with British Foreign Minister William Hague, Reuters reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the agreement was a "historic mistake." US President Barack Obama reassured him in a phone call on Sunday that the US would remain firm in its commitment to Israel.

German media praise the agreement but caution that the bulk of the sanctions must remain in place until Iran has proven its commitment not to build a nuclear bomb.

Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Iran's concessions are significant but don't mean the end of the nuclear program. The Western protagonists likely decided that they couldn't get any further than that through negotiation, which is probably a realistic assumption. It's worth noting that the sanctions imposed on Iran worked by causing the leadership in Tehran to embark on a charm offensive. It is now prepared to meet demands made by the international community for, for example, unrestricted inspections and a limit on uranium enrichment. In return, some sanctions are being loosened, but the core of the sanction regime will remain intact. That's a good thing. Any further loosening must be linked to whether and how Iran actually cooperates. If an instrument is working, one shouldn't abandon it prematurely."

Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The rapprochement that has been achieved is still only incremental. But since President Hassan Rohani's election, power in Tehran is in the hands of a group of politicians who see the end of the three-decades-old confrontation with the West as the solution to all problems.

"If the first step towards a comprehensive relationship of trust can be built on, America's Middle East policy will get a whole lot easier. This applies to Lebanon and Palestine, and even more to Iran's neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan, from where most of the US troops are to be withdrawn over the coming year. Iran's good will -- or its potential to be disruptive -- can have a lot of impact everywhere in the surrounding region."

Conservative Die Welt writes:

"So far, the Geneva agreement is just a test of Tehran's seriousness. Everything, truly everything, now depends on Obama not getting carried away by grand historic, global political visions. There must be complete certainty that Iran is opening up all its centrifuges and letting the inspectors do their work without obstruction. There are too many historical examples of deceitful dictatorships and betrayed democracies not to remain very suspicious regarding Tehran. Even if President Rohani does turn out to be a Shiite Gorbachev, it must be established beyond any doubt that he really is in charge in Tehran, and not groups who embrace the terrorist strategies of the Al-Quds Brigades. It's an exceedingly bold assumption that six months will suffice to achieve this certainty."

Left-wing Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Just a year ago, the world feared that an Israeli air strike could tip the whole region into a war; now there is hope of a peaceful settlement. This is the second time in a short period that there has been an unexpected change for the better in the Middle East. Less than three months ago, Syria reached an agreement with the international community to destroy its chemical weapons. No one would have thought that possible, especially in the middle of a civil war. In both countries, the application of pressure played a major part.

"It's part of the irony of history that Obama is celebrating his biggest foreign policy successes at a time when his reputation at home and around the world is at a low point. Four years after the US President was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize so prematurely, he's well on the way to earning it."

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

November 24, 2013

Praise in Iran All the Way to the Top, Where Efforts Reportedly Preceded a President

By THOMAS ERDBRINK
IHT

TEHRAN — The smiling started early in Tehran on Sunday, when President Hassan Rouhani kissed a young schoolgirl in an Islamic head scarf before dozens of cameras, signaling that Iran’s future had taken a new turn.

After years of seemingly endless bad tidings of more international sanctions, more inflation and more saber rattling, many in this capital received the news of the first nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers in more than a decade like an awakening from a bad dream, and they shared their emotions on social media.

“When I checked my Instagram when I woke up, someone had posted a picture of an Iranian and American flag,” said Asal Khalilpour, 29. “After I read the comments saying a deal was made, tears started rolling down my cheeks of happiness. I couldn’t believe it.”

People from across the Iranian political spectrum, including many hard-line commanders and clerics who had long advocated resistance and isolation from the West, told state news media on Sunday that the deal that Mr. Rouhani’s negotiating team had made was a good start.

One man’s nay could have undone it all. But Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been working for some time to engineer a way out of the economic and diplomatic quagmire of sanctions. Soon after Mr. Rouhani spoke to reporters, Ayatollah Khamenei issued a short message online saying he considered the deal a success.

“The nuclear negotiating team deserves to be appreciated and thanked for its achievement,” Ayatollah Khamenei said, according to the semiofficial Fars News Agency. He added that “their behavior can be the basis of the next wise measures.”

Ayatollah Khamenei had spoken of negotiating directly with “the great Satan,” the Iranian ideological label for the United States, as long ago as March, three months before Mr. Rouhani was elected president promising better relations with the West. “I am not opposed,” Ayatollah Khamenei said on the subject during his annual address on the first day of the Iranian year, March 21. “But first the Americans must change their hostility towards Iran.”

At the time, few observers thought the remark, made amid a flurry of verbal attacks on the United States, reflected a serious change in policy. But Ayatollah Khamenei apparently allowed a group of Iranian diplomats to begin secret preparatory talks with American officials in Oman, according to an Associated Press report citing American officials. He also assured that the next president of Iran would follow a line different from the prickly hostility of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose comments about Israel and the Holocaust had helped make Iran a pariah.

“It is clear that any international outreach could not be handled by someone like President Ahmadinejad,” said Amir Mohebbian, a political strategist who advises Iranian leaders and is often briefed on Iran’s relations with America. “I think the leader helped bring Mr. Rouhani to power to make the public ready for a policy change.”

Noting the long friendship between Ayatollah Khamenei and Mr. Rouhani, a career diplomat, Mr. Mohebbian said that “nobody is better suited to bring Iran back to the world community than Mr. Rouhani.” He compared the handling of the talks to a construction project, with Ayatollah Khamenei as the architect and Mr. Rouhani as the contractor executing the design. “The leader has shaped this situation and paved the way for Mr. Rouhani to be the right person at the right time,” Mr. Mohebbian said

Others in Tehran said they had had inklings of what was coming. “Rumors of secret talks started circulating in Tehran in March,” said Nader Karimi Joni, a journalist and commentator close to Mr. Rouhani’s administration. Mr. Joni said he had heard the rumors from someone in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and that although he could not confirm them at the time, “later it became clear the leader had sent trusted aides, instead of people close to Ahmadinejad, to conduct the talks.”

One man who was widely thought to have been involved was Ali Akbar Salehi, a foreign minister under Mr. Ahmadinejad who now heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Asked on Sunday about secret negotiations in Oman, Mr. Salehi appeared surprised; he smiled and said, “You must understand that I cannot comment on this right now.”

In the early hours of Monday, an Iranian Foreign Ministry official denied the Associated Press report about secret bilateral talks, the state-controlled Islamic Republic News Agency reported. The agency said the official, whom it did not name, warned the news media against publishing reports that “would create ambiguity over Iran’s clear-cut stances.”

Whether Tehran’s change of heart about a deal with the West grew from the pain Iran felt from sanctions or a new strategic calculation about its nuclear program, one factor appears to have been the Obama administration’s publicly stated desire to resolve the issues related to the Iranian nuclear program.

Ayatollah Khamenei said in March that “the Americans constantly send us messages, telling us they are sincere.” Though the leader dismissed them in his speech as a public relations tactic, Mr. Mohebbian said, letters that Mr. Obama had sent to Ayatollah Khamenei “created the start of a better atmosphere,” and Ayatollah Khamenei responded.

After the country’s Guardian Council, which vets prospective candidates, decided on the field for the presidential race, Mr. Rouhani emerged as the only candidate who was not considered a hard-liner like Mr. Ahmadinejad. Dissatisfied middle-class Iranians who felt alienated by the intrusive security state that Iran had become flocked to Mr. Rouhani’s standard, and he won the election comfortably without a runoff.

“I am so happy I voted for Mr. Rouhani at the time,” Sajad Motaharnia, a student of English, said on Sunday as he watched a news broadcast about the nuclear agreement, which was given extensive coverage on state television. “But I’m also sad when I think how we have lived under pressure for the past 10 years because of the bad decisions of some politicians.”

Mr. Rouhani himself seemed to want to draw a line under the past, by bringing the families of Iranian nuclear scientists who were killed in recent years to his news briefing on Sunday; the schoolgirl he kissed for the cameras was the daughter of one of them, Darioush Rezai-Nejad.

Some opposition to the agreement was evident on Sunday among Iranian hard-liners. The Raja News website quoted several lawmakers warning that Parliament had the power under the country’s Constitution to ratify or reject the agreement, and that they were dissatisfied with several elements of it.

One well-known hard-liner, Hamid-Reza Taraghi, an official interpreter of Ayatollah Khamenei’s speeches, was among the skeptics, saying he was disappointed that the deal did not call for the lifting of all sanctions.

He dismissed the notion that Ayatollah Khamenei had approved secret talks between Iran and the United States. “What is clear is that the supreme leader did not agree with the way the previous negotiating team operated,” Mr. Taraghi said, referring to the Ahmadinejad administration. “But bear in mind that Ayatollah Khamenei is honest and does not believe in duplicity in politics.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 25, 2013

An earlier version of this article misspelled, in some instances, the surname of the former Iranian president. He is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, not Ahmedinejad.

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

The Caucus - The Politics and Government blog of The New York Times
November 24, 2013, 10:04 am

Kerry Defends Nuclear Pact With Iran

By MARK LANDLER

Secretary of State John Kerry offered a robust defense of the interim nuclear agreement with Iran on Sunday, rejecting comparisons to North Korea and insisting that the deal would make Israel and Persian Gulf allies of the United States more secure, not less so.

Speaking on three Sunday news programs, Mr. Kerry said the deal, signed early Sunday morning in Geneva, would lock in place nuclear activities that bring Iran closer to having a bomb and subject its nuclear facilities to unprecedented international inspections.

“From this day, for the next six months, Israel is in fact safer than it was,” Mr. Kerry said on the CNN program “State of the Union.” “We’re now going to expand the time by which they can break out, rather than narrow it.”

Mr. Kerry acknowledged that Israel, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region had a right to be skeptical of Iran’s intentions. But he said the United States and its negotiating partners had taken steps to address that by insisting on strict monitoring and verifications.

“You don’t trust,” he said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” “It’s not based on trust. It’s based on verification. It’s based on your ability to know what is happening.”

Lawmakers expressed skepticism of the deal on Sunday, with members of Congress from both parties arguing that it should have taken a harder line against Iran’s ability to enrich uranium.

Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CNN that the agreement gave a “dangerous” nation an out from mounting sanctions that were just starting to show results.

“The only thing that has changed is that you have now given them a permission slip to continue enrichment,” he said.

There were already indications that Iran and the West were interpreting crucial parts of the six-month agreement differently. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has asserted that the agreement explicitly recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium. He also said the agreement effectively removed the threat of an American military strike.

Mr. Kerry rejected both of those contentions. “The fact is, the president maintains” the option to use force “as commander in chief, and he has said specifically, he has not taken that threat off the table,” he said on CBS.

Administration officials reaffirmed on Saturday night that the United States has not yet recognized a right to enrich uranium by Iran. But in the interim agreement, the language is more ambiguous, saying that a “comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits.”

The treatment of this question is likely to be a major focus of the next six months of negotiation. Israel and other countries have flatly opposed Iran’s right to enrich uranium because of its violation of several resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.

Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that in his reading of the interim deal, enrichment is “respected in practice but not acknowledged just yet.”

Emmarie Huetteman contributed reporting.

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

November 24, 2013

Longer-Term Deal With Iran Faces Major Challenges

By MICHAEL R. GORDON
IHT

LONDON — The Obama administration’s successful push for an accord that would temporarily freeze much of Iran’s nuclear program has cast a spotlight on the more formidable challenge it now confronts in trying to roll the program back.

For all of the drama of late-night make-or-break talks in Geneva, the deal that Secretary of State John Kerry and his negotiating partners announced early on Sunday was largely a holding action, meant to keep the Iranian nuclear program in check for six months while negotiators pursue a far tougher and more lasting agreement.

By itself, the interim pact does not foreclose either side’s main options or require many irreversible actions — which was why the two sides were able to come to terms on it. That was also a reason for the sharp negative reaction the deal elicited on Sunday from Israel, an American ally that is deeply suspicious of Iranian intentions.

Named the “Joint Plan of Action,” the four-page agreement specifies in terse language the steps Iran would initially take to constrain its nuclear effort, and the financial relief it would get from the United States and its partners.

A few technical details are left to footnotes. The agreement’s preamble says that a more comprehensive solution is the eventual goal, and the broad elements of that solution are given in bullet points on the final page. The agreement allows Iran to preserve most of its nuclear infrastructure, and along with it the ability to develop a nuclear device, while the United States keeps in place the core oil and banking sanctions it has imposed.

The questions that the United States and Iran need to grapple with in the next phase of their nuclear dialogue, if they want to overcome their long years of enmity, are more fundamental.

“Now the difficult part starts,” said Olli Heinonen, the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Even the planned duration of the comprehensive follow-up agreement is still up in the air. It will not be open-ended, but there is as yet no meeting of the minds on how many years it would be in effect. The interim agreement says only that it would be “for a period to be agreed upon.”

“The terms of the comprehensive agreement have yet to be defined, but it is suggested that that agreement will itself have an expiration date,” said Ray Takeyh, a former State Department official and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It would be good if the comprehensive agreement was more final.”

Iran’s program to enrich uranium also needs to be dealt with in detail. The Obama administration has made clear that it is not prepared to concede at the start that Iran has a “right” to enrich uranium. But the interim deal, reflecting language proposed by the American delegation, says the follow-up agreement would provide for a “mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency.”

So the question appears to be not whether Iran will be allowed to continue enriching uranium, but rather what constraints the United States and its negotiating partners will insist on in return, and how large an enrichment program they are willing to tolerate. The interim accord makes clear that it must be consistent with “practical needs.” Iran and the United States are likely to have very different ideas of what those needs are.

“This, of course, will be one of the central issues in the negotiations for a comprehensive agreement,” said Gary Samore, who served as senior aide on nonproliferation issues on the National Security Council during the Obama administration and is now president of United Against Nuclear Iran, an organization that urges that strong sanctions be imposed on Iran until it further restricts its nuclear efforts.

“We will want very small and limited,” Mr. Samore said, referring to Iran’s enrichment efforts. “They want industrial scale.”

The negotiators will confront other difficult questions regarding elements of a comprehensive agreement that would be difficult to reverse. Will the underground Fordo enrichment plant have to be shut down? Will the heavy-water reactor that Iran is building near the town of Arak, which could produce plutonium for weapons, have to be dismantled or converted into a light-water reactor that is not useful for weapons development?

The interim deal “did not do enough to narrow down the limitations that will be in a final deal,” said David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security.

Hoping to reassure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who called the easing of sanctions on Iran “a historic mistake,” President Obama told him that the United States would press for a comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear question in the months ahead.

The diplomats who worked out the interim agreement left open the possibility that it might be extended beyond six months. The text of the deal says it is “renewable by mutual consent.”

Some analysts said that hammering out a comprehensive solution seems so onerous that there may never be an enduring accord but only a succession of partial agreements. Even if a more comprehensive agreement is never reached, experts say, a limited agreement can still be useful.

The interim deal includes improved verification, constraints on Iran’s installation of new centrifuges, and the requirement that Iran dilute its existing stock of uranium enriched to 20 percent, or else convert it to oxide, a less readily used form. Moreover, the cap imposed on Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 5 percent would increase the time that Iran would need to make a dash for a bomb, adding several weeks or perhaps a month. “This may seem a small time,” Mr. Albright said. But because the interim deal also includes provisions that would make it easier to spot cheating swiftly, the added time “would be significant,” he said.

The United States successfully opposed Iran’s demand that it be allowed to continue installing components at the heavy-water plant at Arak. The interim pact also stipulates that Iran cannot test or produce fuel for that reactor or put it into operation. As it sought to strengthen the accord, the United States added a sweetener. As the talks progressed, the amount of oil revenue frozen in foreign banks that Iran would be allowed to retrieve was raised to $4.2 billion from $3.6 billion.

Mr. Kerry said on Sunday that he was as committed to “the really hard part,” obtaining a comprehensive follow-up agreement, “which would require enormous steps in terms of verification, transparency and accountability.” Speaking in London before a meeting with William Hague, the British foreign secretary, he said, “We will start today, literally, to continue the efforts out of Geneva and to press forward.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 24, 2013

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Saudi Arabia’s stance on the nuclear agreement reached in Geneva. Though it has opposed a rapprochement with Iran, it did not issue a sharp public reaction on Sunday.


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« Reply #10217 on: Nov 25, 2013, 07:16 AM »


Afghanistan considers reintroduction of public stoning for adulterers

Proposal to bring back one of the most repugnant symbols of Taliban regime is in draft revision of country's penal code

Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
theguardian.com, Monday 25 November 2013 08.40 GMT      

Afghan government officials have proposed reintroducing public stoning as a punishment for adultery, Human Rights Watch said, even though the practice has been denounced both inside and outside the country as one of the most repugnant symbols of the Taliban regime.

The sentence for married adulterers, along with flogging for unmarried offenders, appears in a draft revision of the country's penal code being managed by the ministry of justice.

There are several references to stoning in a translated section of the draft seen by the Guardian, including detailed notes on judicial requirements for handing down the sentence.

"Men and women who commit adultery shall be punished based on the circumstances to one of the following punishments: lashing, stoning [to death]," article 21 states. The draft goes on to specify that the stoning should be public, in article 23.

News that the government is contemplating bringing back a much-reviled punishment is unlikely to go down well with the western governments that back Kabul.

"It is absolutely shocking that 12 years after the fall of the Taliban government, the Karzai administration might bring back stoning as a punishment," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"President Karzai needs to demonstrate at least a basic commitment to human rights and reject this proposal out of hand."

The penalty violates international human rights standards that ban torture and cruel and inhuman punishment, the rights group said in statement.

When a video surfaced a year ago of a 21-year-old woman being stoned to death in an insurgent-controlled village just a few dozen miles from Kabul, it was strongly condemned by government officials as well as rights groups and diplomats.

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

Hamid Karzai refuses to sign US-Afghan security pact

President's call for delay stuns US and assembly he convened to approve deal critical to paying Afghan army and police salaries

Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
theguardian.com, Sunday 24 November 2013 13.43 GMT   

A security pact with the US, which is critical to Afghanistan's ability to pay its soldiers and hold off the Taliban, is in limbo, after President Hamid Karzai shrugged off the recommendations of a national council that has approved the deal and said he would continue talks with Washington.

After a year of negotiations, the Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, of 2,500 delegates approved the agreement to keep US troops in the country after the current combat mission ends in 2014.

But Karzai stunned US diplomats and many of his own security officials when he told the opening session of the jirga that the bilateral security agreement should not be signed until after presidential elections in April.

Washington quickly announced that a deal had to be agreed by the end of the year, but on Sunday Karzai said that the US had to prove its good intentions by keeping its soldiers out of Afghan homes, ensuring the vote was transparent and promoting peace talks with the Taliban.

"If I sign and there is no security, then who is going to be blamed for it?" he told delegates, who interrupted his speech several times to both question and support him.

The agreement will allow US soldiers to stay on at nine bases, mentoring the still ill-equipped and patchily trained Afghan police and army, and pursuing al-Qaida and linked groups.

It is politically sensitive for many reasons, not least because it undermines Afghanistan's reputation as the "graveyard of empires", with the ignominious withdrawal of Soviet forces referenced several times in jirga speeches on Sunday.

But without a deal, the US is unlikely to part with the $4bn (£2.50bn) a year needed to pay the Afghan army, or provide the helicopters and other equipment promised.

Many Afghans feel that the imperfect deal is the only protection they have against powerful neighbours. One of Karzai's security advisers warned parliament that without the agreement the country would be isolated "among wolves", and his military chief asked opponents of the deal to say where else they would come up with police and army funding.

At the end of the Loya Jirga, which has no legally binding powers, a string of delegates came up to the podium to commend the deal, some to ask for small changes, but the majority to urge Karzai to sign the agreement by the end of year.

Karzai chose to ignore those requests, warning his audience that "Afghanistan has always won the war but lost in politics". He added that he planned to carry on with negotiations because the US had broken previous commitments to protect the country and support the peace process.

"Lack of trust is the core of the problem," his spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said before the speech, adding that Karzai thought American officials were bluffing when they warned of a total pullout by the US. "We don't believe there is a zero option," he said.

But many in Washington and Afghanistan fear Karzai is underestimating the exhaustion of both the US public and the Obama administration with a long and costly war, and that he is taking a huge risk by delaying the deal.

After Karzai finished, Sebghattulah Mojaddidi, the chairman of the gathering, took to the podium again to give an emotional speech aimed at the leader who he said is like "my own child".

Afghanistan had kicked out a superpower before, Mojaddidi said, and could do the same if they did not stick to their side of the deal. "This is good for us. If the Americans don't follow the agreement, I will be responsible."

Mojaddidi warned that he would go into voluntary exile if Karzai did not sign the deal.

The US embassy in Kabul declined to comment on the status of the agreement. "We are studying the president's remarks. We continue to believe that concluding the agreement as soon as possible is in the interests of both nations," a spokesman said.


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« Reply #10218 on: Nov 25, 2013, 07:20 AM »


Gay rights activists take to streets in India

Demonstrators in Delhi call for end to all forms of discrimination in India against gay men, lesbians and transgender people

Associated Press in Delhi
theguardian.com, Sunday 24 November 2013 17.26 GMT

Gay rights activists sang songs and carried rainbow-coloured flags while marching to the beat of drums on Sunday, as they paraded through India's capital to demand an end to the stigmatisation of gay people in the deeply conservative country.

The demonstrators urged an end to all forms of discrimination against gay men, lesbians and transgender people in India, four years after a colonial-era law that criminalised gay sex was overturned.

One group of activists carried a 15-metre (50ft) rainbow-coloured banner, while others waved placards demanding the freedom to lead dignified lives.

The march ended with a public meeting at Jantar Mantar, the main area for protests in Delhi. Many gay rights activists and their families danced and sang as drummers and musicians performed. Others distributed rainbow-coloured flags and badges to members of the public who had gathered to watch and listen to the speeches.

Many demonstrators had come to the march to express their support for the gay community in the city.

Ashok Chauhan, an advertising executive in his mid-40s, said he cycled 8km (five miles) to the parade to support his friends in their choice of sexuality. "It's a matter of choice, and I think each one of us has the right to choose," Chauhan said.

The activists also demanded that people be allowed to record the gender of their choice in the national census, voter identity cards and other government documents.

In 2009, the Delhi high court decriminalised gay sex, which until then had been punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

In some big Indian cities, homosexuality is slowly gaining acceptance, and a few high-profile Bollywood films have dealt with gay issues.

Still, many at the march on Sunday covered their faces with scarves or wore masks because they have not told their friends and families about their sexuality.


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« Reply #10219 on: Nov 25, 2013, 07:25 AM »


Thousands of demonstrators call for resignation of Thai PM

Anti-government protesters force their way into Thailand's finance ministry, calling for Yingluck Shinawatra to step down

Agencies in Bangkok
theguardian.com, Monday 25 November 2013 09.34 GMT      

More than 1,000 anti-government protesters forced their way into Thailand's finance ministry as thousands of demonstrators called for the resignation of the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

A crowd of protesters swarmed into the compound's courtyard on Monday and entered buildings, including the ministry and the budget bureau, in the boldest act yet of opposition-led protests that started last month. The intrusion was one of several tense encounters on a day when protesters fanned out to 13 locations across Bangkok, stopping traffic and raising fears of violence in Thailand's continuing political crisis.

Hours later, demonstrators also broke into the Foreign Ministry compound.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister and opposition lawmaker, urged the crowd to enter the budget bureau and to cut electricity and water to put pressure on the agency to stop financing government projects.

"Go up to every floor, go into every room, but do not destroy anything," Suthep told the crowd, standing on a truck and speaking through a megaphone. "Make them see this is people's power."

With riot police looking on, about 30,000 protesters chanted "get out!" as they spread their protest to include government offices, military bases and state television channels.

Protesters say they want Yingluck to step down amid claims that her government is controlled by her older brother, ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra. Monday's rally came a day after about 100,000 people marched in Bangkok, staging the largest rally Thailand has seen in years.

More than two dozen Bangkok schools along the protest route closed and police tightened security at the protest sites, which included the military and police headquarters and the five television stations controlled by the military or the government.

Despite the heavy police presence at most protest sites, there was limited security at the finance ministry, which allowed protesters easy access. There was no immediate report of clashes or moves to evict the protesters.

Many fear that clashes could erupt between the anti-government protesters and Thaksin's supporters, who are staging their own rally at a Bangkok stadium and have vowed to stay put until the opposition calls off its demonstration.

Thaksin's supporters and opponents have battled for power since a 2006 military coup ousted the former prime minister, who was toppled following street protests accusing him of corruption and disrespect for the country's constitutional monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thaksin has lived in self-imposed exile for the past five years to avoid a prison sentence on a corruption conviction.


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« Reply #10220 on: Nov 25, 2013, 07:28 AM »


Indonesia boosting spying capabilities following phone tapping controversy

Central Intelligence Committee will co-ordinate intelligence gathering across all agencies, including police and military

Oliver Laughland   
theguardian.com, Monday 25 November 2013 02.19 GMT    

Indonesia is bolstering its intelligence capabilities in the wake of the phone tapping revelations, as the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, awaits a reply from Jakarta after sending a letter to the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, on Sunday.

Yudhoyono issued a presidential decree over the weekend appointing the head of Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency (BIN) Lieutenant General Marciano Norman as the chief of a new Central Intelligence Committee that will co-ordinate intelligence gathering from other agencies including the police force and the military.

The Central Intelligence Committee will open a headquarters in Jakarta as well as branches throughout Indonesia, according to the Jakarta Globe.

Last Monday, Guardian Australia and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation revealed that Australian spy agencies had targeted the personal mobile phones of Yudhoyono, his wife and eight other senior ministers in 2009.

The revelations have caused a diplomatic storm between Australia and Indonesia, with Yudhoyono suspending all military cooperation, intelligence sharing and halting cooperation on people smuggling as he awaits a response from Canberra.

Yudhoyono wrote to Abbott last week, after using a public address to call for clarity on the phone tapping. On Sunday, Abbott said he had responded to the letter but declined to give details of the response.

Abbott’s decision not to offer a public apology has been criticised by many in Indonesia, including senior opposition politician and ex-intelligence chief Tubagus Hasanuddin who said he was "lacking in diplomacy skills".

On Thursday and Friday last week there were protests outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta, with many of those present calling on Abbott to apologise.

The phone tapping revelations have led the news in Indonesia since the story began last week.

On Saturday, Indonesian newspaper Rakyat Merdeka published a front page cartoon depicting Abbott as a “peeping Tom”. The cartoon shows Abbott peering through a door labelled Indonesia and masturbating. The caption runs: “Ssst! Oh my god Indo … so sexy.


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« Reply #10221 on: Nov 25, 2013, 07:30 AM »

Japan's PM demands China revoke claim to air zone over disputed islands

China, Japan and US exchange increasingly testy accusations, as airlines say they will have to notify China of flight plans

Agencies in Tokyo
theguardian.com, Monday 25 November 2013 06.37 GMT   

China's new maritime air defence zone is unenforceable, Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday, in a continuing war of words over air space that includes the area above islands claimed by both countries.

Asian aviation officials said airlines would have to inform China of their flight plans before entering its newly declared "air defence identification zone", forcing carriers to acknowledge China's authority over it.

Abe told a parliamentary session that China's declaration of the zone above the islands (known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China) altered the state of affairs in the East China Sea and escalated a tense situation.

"The measures by the Chinese side have no validity whatsoever on Japan, and we demand China revoke any measures that could infringe upon the freedom of flight in international airspace," Abe said during an upper house session. "It can invite an unexpected occurrence and it is a very dangerous thing as well."

Abe said the measures one-sidedly imposed rules set by the Chinese military on all flights in the zone, and violate the freedom to fly above open sea, a general principle under the international law.

Earlier on Monday, China's foreign ministry said it had complained to the United States over its "irresponsible remarks" about China's drawing up of the zone for the disputed islands, which are administered by Japan.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, and secretary of defence, Chuck Hagel, have both said the US is "deeply concerned" about China's unilateral action.

"This unilateral action constitutes an attempt to change the status quo in the East China Sea," Kerry said in a statement released on Saturday. "Escalatory action will only increase tensions in the region and create risks of an incident."

China's defence ministry called Japan's objections to the proclamation of its identification zone "absolutely groundless and unacceptable" and said it had made solemn representations to the Japanese embassy in Beijing.

On Saturday, Beijing issued a map of the zone and a set of rules, which say all aircraft must notify Chinese authorities and are subject to emergency military measures if they do not identify themselves or obey Beijing's orders. The area, about two-thirds the size of the UK, covers most of the East China Sea.

Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement on Sunday that the zone's aim was to defend China's sovereignty and the security of its airspace and land. He said it was not aimed at any country and it did not affect freedom of overflight.

Qin said China made solemn representations on Sunday through the ambassador in Beijing, Gary Locke, for the US "to correct its mistakes and stop making irresponsible remarks on China".

Defence ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said the ministry had complained to the US embassy's military attache on Sunday evening.

While China said the new rules would not affect "normal operations" for international flights, it said it would take "defensive emergency measures" against aircraft that failed to identify themselves properly.

A transport ministry official in Seoul said South Korean planes flying in the new zone would notify China's civil aviation authorities of their flight plans.

Yi Shin-Juang, deputy director of the air-traffic service division of the Taiwan Civil Aeronautics Administration, said Taiwanese carriers would issue similar notifications, but would not be required to adjust flight paths.

An official at the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau said Japanese airlines flying through the region to non-mainland Chinese destinations would probably need to inform China of their plans.

Korean Air said China's proclamation meant flight plans would have to be delivered to Chinese authorities but the routes its pilots took would not be affected.

"No one wants to be in a position where by following Chinese instructions you are giving tacit acknowledgement of their sovereignty over a disputed area," one Asian diplomat said.

"And there is a fear that is precisely the game that is being played – it seems no accident that the disputed Senkaku islands are now in the heart of overlapping zones," the diplomat said.

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

Islamist group claims responsibility for attack on China's Tiananmen Square

Group releases eight-minute audio clip which warns of future attacks in Beijing

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
theguardian.com, Monday 25 November 2013 12.03 GMT       

A radical Islamist group has claimed responsibility for an attack on Tiananmen Square last month and warned of future attacks in the Chinese capital, according to an eight-minute audio clip obtained by a US-based internet monitoring organisation.

The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) is the first group to claim responsibility for the attack on 28 October, when a four-wheel drive vehicle ploughed through a group of pedestrians near the iconic square in central Beijing, crashed into a stone bridge and caught fire, killing five people and injuring dozens. Chinese authorities quickly identified the driver as Uighur, a Muslim ethnic minority hailing from Xinjiang, a sparsely populated, restive region in the country's far north-west.

"O Chinese unbelievers, know that you have been fooling East Turkistan for the last sixty years, but now they have awakened," the organisation's leader Abdullah Mansour said in the clip, which was posted online this weekend by the Search for International Terrorist Entities Institute (SITE), a Bethesda, Maryland-based website which monitors jihadist forums. Uighur separatists call the region East Turkistan.

Mansour warned of future attacks by Uighur fighters, including one targeting the Great Hall of the People, a granite edifice flanking Tiananmen Square where the ruling Communist party holds many of its highest-level meetings. "The people have learned who is the real enemy and they returned to their religion," he said. "They learned the lesson."

Chinese authorities have blamed the Tiananmen Square attack on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a shadowy Xinjiang-based group with ostensible ties to al-Qaida.

On Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said ETIM was the same as the TIP, and said the government would "continue the assault" on the group.

"This lays bare the terrorist essence of this organisation and it also allows those people who recently suspected the nature of the incident to clearly see the truth," Qin told a regular press briefing.

But many Xinjiang experts responded with scepticism. They say that the attack was probably motivated by China's hardline regional policies, which place severe restrictions on religious practice. Some doubt that ETIM is organised enough to carry out a sophisticated terrorist attack.

Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in Hong Kong, said that ETIM has reformed as the TIP in recent years; in 2012, its leader was killed by a CIA drone strike in Pakistan. The US department of state labelled ETIM a terrorist organisation in 2002, he said, and the Chinese government continues to use the appellation to lend international credibility to its anti-terrorism programme.

The TIP has claimed responsibility for bus bombings in the Chinese cities Kunming and Shanghai, and threatened attacks on the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. "The problem is that their credibility is dodgy at best," Bequelin said in an interview earlier this month.

"It's not clear whether they are a real outfit that is actively planning things, or just a bunch of people who are sort of agitating."

On Monday, the state-controlled magazine Oriental Outlook reported that Xinjiang experienced 190 "violent terrorist" incidents in 2012 – a "substantial" increase over 2011, it said, citing Xinjiang public security statistics. Because authorities severely restrict the flow of information in Xinjiang, the details of most cases remain murky.

The TIP's statement may allow the authorities to "point to the international community and say yes, we have a serious jihadist problem in Xinjiang", said Michael Clarke, a Xinjiang expert at Griffith University in Australia. They could use it "as an attempt to justify China's hard line" in the region.

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


China has lost its soul in the chase for wealth, says magnate's daughter

Kelly Zong, heir to £6.9bn beverage firm fortune, says children of tycoons lack character and have been over-indulged

Tania Branigan in Hangzhou
theguardian.com, Friday 22 November 2013 17.11 GMT   
  
China has lost its soul in the frantic chase for wealth, the daughter of its second-richest man has declared. Kelly Zong, the only child and heir apparent of Zong Qinghou – whose assets are estimated by Forbes at £6.9bn – also said the country's first generation of tycoons had over-indulged their children, who lacked character.

Though her family have ridden China's economic tide to immense wealth, Zong, 31, said development had come at a cost. "I think we lost our soul. In the US, they have beliefs: Christianity, Catholicism. China has Buddhism but I don't think people really believe it in their heart."

Sitting at a vast conference table in Wahaha's headquarters in Hangzhou, Zong said a country should be judged not just by its economy, but by broader social standards, such as the cleanliness of its streets and the friendliness of its people.

"I think the government is aware of this issue; that's why we see the China Dream [the slogan promoted by president Xi Jinping]. People realised what's missing. But I think it will take maybe two generations at least to recover," she added.

Zong Qinghou, founder of the beverage giant, is known for his colloquial speech – once saying if his daughter had problems he would "go and wipe her butt". She prefers maxims from eight years of study in the US – "never be good, always be better" – but is equally capable of bluntness.

"I've always been direct. That's why they say I don't fit in with society here," said Zong. "Living abroad gave me a lot of independent thinking. I don't like to follow the rules," she added.

The conspicuous wealth and arrogance of some of the children of China's rich has led to widespread resentment, with many attacking them as spoilt, selfish, crass and badly behaved.

A recent commentary carried by state news agency Xinhua said their "offences against social order" had demoralised the country's working spirit.

"I'm lucky. I didn't stay with my parents when I was young. I learned my own character," Zong said. A series of "aunties" raised her because her parents were always travelling.

"My parents' generation always want to provide a business for their children. It's very understandable but they forget to teach the children to have character."

Does she mean that the second generation is spoilt? "I think so."

She also worries that society is becoming less safe in general; her father was recently injured when a migrant worker knifed him near his home, reportedly after his request for a job was refused.

Zong acknowledged some feel left behind by China's boom: "I understand where the anger is coming from, but they misunderstand that we also need to work to earn our money. It's not like the money will flow from the skies," she said.

"I think everyone is equal here. Even though I have better resources than other people, I still need to work hard to fulfil my dream."

Will that include taking over Wahaha one day? At present she handles aspects of production line supplies and imports and exports.

"I think I'm running my own business. We are together with Wahaha but I have my own philosophy and the company I want to build in my own heart."

Two days after Zong's interview with the Guardian, her father told Chinese reporters: "Because she was influenced by foreign culture when young, she's not clear about the present situation of Chinese companies, nor about what's going on overseas. I let her do what she likes to do... If my daughter takes over, she will need more tempering."

The entrepreneur works even at New Year, his daughter said, while she seeks work-life balance. She believes in delegating and thinks companies should focus more on issues such as sustainability.

Women think more about the long term and are more willing to listen and learn, she argued, while men do not want to admit when they're wrong.But business is harder for women – especially in China. "Even if we have such a big empire [as Wahaha] behind us, we're still not equal, When I'm attending meetings they don't listen to [my] points," she said.

Last year Zong made headlines by revealing she had never had a boyfriend.

"It's not a problem because I'm the daughter of a wealthy man in China; it's a problem because, for me, it's difficult to trust someone," she explained.

"The only one I can rely on is myself. "


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« Reply #10222 on: Nov 25, 2013, 07:36 AM »


Australian shift on Israel 'part of more balanced approach' to Middle East

Canberra to abstain on UN resolutions relating to Israeli settlement in occupied territories in stance that goes against long-held national position

Oliver Laughland
theguardian.com, Monday 25 November 2013 08.38 GMT   
   
Foreign minister Julie Bishop and Secretary of State John Kerry at a press conference in Washington on November 20 outlining Australia's commitment to a stable and peaceful Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean region. The foreign minister, Julie Bishop, with the US secretary of state, John Kerry, in Washington on November 20. Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has described the Australian government’s shift in favour of Israel on two key UN resolutions, including softening its stance on settlement expansion in the occupied territories, as part of a move towards a more “balanced” approach to the Middle East.

Australia now abstains on whether the Palestinian territories should be subject to the Geneva convention and on defining Israeli annexation of land in the occupied territories as in breach of international law. Under both previous prime ministers Australia had upheld the general assembly resolutions.

“This shift reflected the government’s concern that Middle East resolutions should be balanced,” the foreign minister said through a spokeswoman. “The government will not support resolutions which are one-sided and which prejudge the outcome of final-status negotiations between the two sides.”

Australia is now one of only eight nations to abstain on the resolution relating to Israeli settlement in the occupied territories and one of five to abstain on the Geneva convention resolution.

The stance has been criticised by the shadow foreign affairs minister, Tanya Plibersek, who said Australia’s position had shifted without debate or consultation.

“We voted yes to a proposition that has suggested that the unlimited building of settlements in land that is considered Palestinian land is not helping with the peace process,” Plibersek told the ABC on Sunday.

“If the Australian government have a different position now, I think it would be very important for them to explain to Australians why that position's changed.”

The foreign minister added that Australia still “strongly supports” a “lasting two-state solution” between Israel and the occupied territories.

“Australia stands ready to assist in any way it can to support the efforts of Israel and the Palestinians to achieve lasting peace including supporting Palestinian development as an important contribution to the Middle East peace process,” the spokeswoman said.

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

NSW and SA warn Coalition to honour Gonski school funding deal

Both states warn they will fight attempts to back out of agreement and that changes may leave schools worse off

Bridie Jabour   
theguardian.com, Monday 25 November 2013 06.42 GMT    

New South Wales and South Australia have warned the federal education minister, Christopher Pyne, they will fight any attempts to back out of Gonski school funding arrangements as he flagged a review of all agreements.

New South Wales education minister, Adrian Piccoli, says the state signed a six-year binding agreement under the previous Labor government’s reforms and will not return to the previous “broken” school funding model.

Pyne, the federal education minister, announced he was planning to review all aspects of the Gonski funding models after discovering the agreements Victoria, Tasmania and the Catholic schools sector struck with the federal government before the election were not finalised.

However, the executive director of the National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC) said the Coalition committed to funding before the election and should see it through.

Piccoli said he expected the federal government to fulfil all the obligations under the six-year agreement signed in April.

“NSW will not agree to returning to the broken SES funding model,” he said in a statement.

“The new funding model has secured additional resources for classrooms across NSW, with the majority going to schools in most need.

“Any attempt to change the model now may see both government and non-government schools lose funding.”

Piccoli said New South Wales had already implemented the new funding model for the state’s 2,200 schools and it had been met with wide acclaim from the education sector.

South Australian premier, Jay Weatherill, joined Piccoli in calling on the federal government to keep their Gonski funding commitments calling Pyne’s assertions that the entire model needed to be reviewed “extraordinary”.

“Christopher Pyne has put it out there he wants to walk away from the Gonski funding, what does that mean for South Australian schools? There’s over $1bn of funding for South Australian schools at stake,” he said.

Weatherill said programs in physical education, language, science were at risk of being cut if Pyne withdrew the funding agreement.

The NCEC executive director, Ross Fox, said the Catholic sector needed certainty in funding arrangements for their schools and the government was yet to advise of any changes to funding next year.

“While there are aspects of this school funding model that we believe could be improved, the Coalition’s commitment has delivered important funding certainty to Catholic education,” he said.

“Any proposals to change funding arrangements would need to be carefully considered.”

Fox said schools need at least six months notice of changes to funding arrangements and any changes must improve on funding arrangements the schools currently operate under.

“Catholic education looks forward to working with the government to ensure funding certainty for all schools well beyond 2014,” he said.

The opposition leader, Bill Shorten – who was education minister when the deals were struck with Victoria, Tasmania and the Catholic sector – mocked Pyne’s suggestion that they were not finalised and accused the government of using “weasel words” to back out of election commitments.

"What we're being told by Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne is that all of us have collectively imagined that there was a press conference with the state minister for education of Victoria, that there was a press conference with the Tasmanian minister, that there were statements from the National Catholic Education Commission," Shorten said in Melbourne.

Before the September election the Coalition said it would honour all school funding arrangements reached with states, territories and education sectors for four years.

"Before the election the government said it is not an issue, it's a unity ticket, no daylight between Liberal and Labor," Shorten said.

"Now we see the Coalition government saying, ‘Well, actually we don't mean what we said then, and that we're reopening agreements, we're reopening deals with state governments, we're reopening deals with the Catholic education system in Australia.”

The Labor federal government under Julia Gillard initially committed to an extra $14.5bn in school funding over the next six years and asked states and territories to contribute about 35% of the funds, but different deals were reached with each state and territory.

It was announced an agreement had been reached with Victoria the day before the election was called which would see the state receive more than $12bn in extra funding over six years. NSW, the first state to sign on, was supposed to receive $5bn in extra education funding, with the state chipping in about $1.7bn, while Tasmania was said to have secured an extra $380m in funding.

South Australia and the federal government were together to contribute $1.1bn in extra school funding to the state over the next six years and the Australian Capital Territory signed on to receive an extra $190m.

Legislation passing the education funding reforms into law went through in June despite not all states and territories signing on.

Non-government and Catholic schools in the states and territories that did not sign up to the reforms were supposed to still receive extra funding as their organisations had announced deals with the federal government.

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

Labour call in Australian strategist to advise on rightwing media attacks

Labor strategist Bruce Hawker to address negative campaigning as Ed Miliband accuses David Cameron of mud-slinging

Patrick Wintour   
The Guardian, Sunday 24 November 2013 19.17 GMT    

Labour is to receive advice this week from an Australian Labor campaign manager on how to combat negative election campaigning by rightwing media. On Sunday the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, claimed the Tories were back as the "nasty party" and prepared to use tactics that Sir John Major would never have condoned.

Ed Miliband went further, accusing David Cameron of demeaning his office and devising a political strategy "to sling as much mud as possible in the hope that some of it sticks".

Referring to the attacks on Labour for its links to the troubled Co-op group, Cooper said: "What we've seen recently is a real deterioration in the nature of the politics the Tory party is pursuing. It is a return to the nasty party. I don't think John Major would ever have done this. I don't think Margaret Thatcher would have done this".

The education secretary, Michael Gove, hit back, saying Cameron wanted an election campaign focused on policy, and claimed that Ed Miliband was showing a pattern of behaviour in which he adopts a "coquettish reticence" when asked legitimate questions.

Labour sources argue that they are trying to expose the Conservatives' negative campaign now so the public will recognise the tactics deployed by Tory spin chief Lynton Crosby, another Australian, in the months ahead.

The Australian Labor campaign strategist Bruce Hawker is due to speak to the Labour party this week on the impact of the Murdoch press in defeating Labor's Kevin Rudd. In an article in the magazine Progress, he says the Murdoch press always had major stories ready to distract the public from Labor's positive messages.

He advises Labour: "It is important to hang a lantern on any media-led campaign against Labour well before the election is called so you do not waste precious campaigning time exposing the motivation behind their attacks, as we were forced to do. Second, enlist allies and third parties to reinforce your message about media bias. Research and publicise the concrete examples early and often. Put together a team to 'war-game' possible attacks by hostile media outlets and how to pre-empt them or respond effectively. Utilise social media as a strong alternative means of disseminating your message.

"It is also a very effective medium to lampoon and expose media bias. And enlist their competition to expose bias. Remember, your enemy's enemy is your friend".

Gove said: "I think that Ed Miliband wants to fight a clean election campaign. I certainly do. I know that David Cameron does. I think that the election campaign should be conducted on the basis of policy versus policy. One of my worries is that actually so far quite a lot of the critique of the government from Labour has been very personal and I remember the ways in which at different times my colleague Edward Timpson in the Crewe byelection or David Cameron were attacked for their background, not for their beliefs. I think that's wrong."


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« Reply #10223 on: Nov 25, 2013, 07:46 AM »


Uganda: no country for gay men

Briton Bernard Randall and his partner Albert Cheptoyek could be jailed for being homosexual, the latest victims of church-encouraged homophobia

Patience Akumu   
The Observer, Saturday 23 November 2013 21.00 GMT          

Bernard Randall, the British gay man charged with homosexuality-related offences in a Ugandan court, glances up sceptically when I walk into his lawyer's chambers. His Ugandan partner, Albert Cheptoyek, sits protectively in front of him, closer to the door, on a rickety wooden bench. Cheptoyek's white shirt illuminates his dark sweaty skin, while Randall's oversize dull-coloured clothes match his face, making him almost invisible.

And that perhaps may just be the effect he needs to get through the ordeal of having the content of a sex tape of him and his 30-year-old partner splashed over newspapers and across the media here. And not just any media, but the media of a country that has declared homosexuality to be an evil practice, a cancer imported from the west that must be stamped out no matter what the cost.

In 2009, Ugandan MPs proposed the death penalty for certain homosexual acts. The anti-homosexuality bill was shelved after international pressure, but it remains on parliament's order paper and could be debated and passed at any time.

In Uganda the media routinely out gay people in an attempt to "protect" the moral fabric of society. In 2010 a tabloid called the Rolling Stone printed the names and addresses of people perceived to be gay and called on the public to hang them.

Randall, 65, says that he became a victim of such an outing after his computer was stolen, a video of him and his partner leaked and pictures from it published in a tabloid. He faces the possibility of two years in prison. His partner faces the more serious charge of carrying out acts of gross indecency that carries a seven-year prison sentence.

The charges are visibly weighing down on them. Randall's eyes, fatigued and bloodshot, have big bags under them. He involuntarily sits on the edge of the seat, as far from me as possible, protecting himself subtly with his arms. He seems to age before my eyes.

Certainly it is easy to see that Cheptoyek, perhaps more familiar with Uganda's anti-homosexuality outbursts, is his protector. He declares there will be no interview, even though I have an appointment.

"How do I know you are who you say you are? How do I know that you are not from NTV?" he says, referring to one of the TV stations that he feels covered their story unfairly.

Their eyes are pleading. Cheptoyek asks me firmly to leave them alone. And then out of nowhere, almost weeping, he says: "We have been through so much. Those people put my photos all over the place. We do not know what to do."

They are lost. Life after this ordeal will be almost impossible. They know that the Ugandan public, an estimated 90% of whom support the anti-homosexuality bill, will not welcome them back. Like other outed Ugandans before them, they risk threats, evictions, even death. As a result, Cheptoyek and Randall will trust only foreign journalists. Their only hope lies in the west after the country they call home – in Randall's case, chose to call home – has become hostile beyond their imagination.

Uganda has been called the worst nation in which to be gay. It was its anti-homosexuality bill that first brought its homophobic attitudes to the attention of the world, attracting powerful criticism from Europe and America, where it was dubbed barbaric and a violation of fundamental human rights. Britain and the US both threatened to cut aid to Uganda if it passed the bill. Uganda interpreted this reaction as evidence that the west was imposing a "gay agenda" on Africa.

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda's president for the last 27 years, described homosexuality as a decadent culture from the west and a threat to African values and Christianity. He showed open support for the bill but later backed down in the face of widespread international pressure. However, his ministers have continued to preach anti-gay rhetoric, urging gays to leave the country.

But Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, thinks that the accusation that the west is promoting homosexuality is misguided. "People are exaggerating the influence of foreigners in the gay rights campaign in Uganda. The same people who fund other activities fund gay rights organisations. We do not have special donors," he says. "When we started our campaigns in 2007, we did not have any foreign funders. It was a naive gamble rather than a foreign-aided campaign."

In fact, the greatest foreign influence in the gay rights debate in Uganda comes from the western evangelical movement that is spreading radical ideas rejected in their own countries, Mugisha says. His organisation is suing evangelist Scott Lively in a US court for his involvement in what Mugisha calls persecution of gays and abuse of their fundamental rights.

Homosexuality is a common theme in churches in Uganda, with religious leaders castigating gay people at every opportunity. The country has held national prayers against homosexuality. In 2010 a pastor, Martin Ssempa, showed videos in his church of gay people having sex in a bid to convince his congregation of the dangers and to try to trigger disgust about gays.

Funded by evangelical movements from America, anti-gay churches have linked the high prevalence of HIV and Aids in the country to homosexuality. They have accused homosexuals of going to school and "recruiting" underage children.

Mugisha says evangelists have played on the psyche of many Ugandans. "They come here with their own agenda. It is like colonialism."

But to the ordinary Ugandan the Randall trial is yet more proof that there are foreigners who come to Uganda with one mission – to spread homosexuality. Mugisha argues that the socio-legal regime that sanctions homophobia and the idea that homosexuality is foreign has made foreigners an easy target for extortionists.

"We have seen this before. Many people blackmail white men and even rich black people known to be gay. Randall is unfortunate that his story reached the public."

Frederick Juuko, a Ugandan law professor and critic of foreign influence in Ugandan politics, agrees that homosexuality is a pawn for many in times of desperation, including government. He says Uganda is a failed state and that blaming foreigners for homosexuality is a handy distraction.

My encounter with Randall and Cheptoyek comes to a rapid end; it is soon time for them to make their daily trip to the police station – a condition of their bail.

"We have to go and deal with this," Cheptoyek says. They drive off, stopping after a few metres to let a guard slither into the back seat, just in case.


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« Reply #10224 on: Nov 25, 2013, 07:49 AM »

November 24, 2013

Israeli Leaders Denounce Geneva Accord

By JODI RUDOREN
IHT

JERUSALEM — Having failed to stop Sunday’s signing of a nuclear deal between Iran and six Western powers despite a relentless campaign of criticism, Israeli leaders say their mission now is to ensure that, as several put it, this first step is not the last step.

To influence the final deal that the Obama administration and its partners in the Geneva talks intend to hammer out over the next six months, Israel will supplement its public and private diplomacy with other tools. Several officials and analysts here said Israel would unleash its intelligence industry to highlight anticipated violations of the interim agreement.

At the same time, with many Israelis viewing the United States as having abandoned its credible military threat against Iran, they have stepped up talk of a strike of their own.

Though the White House insists the deal signed Sunday is an interim move intended only to buy time to negotiate an agreement that would prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Israel is deeply worried that there will be little further progress. The sanctions relief in the interim accord relieves the pressure that brought Iran to the table, Israeli officials argue, so Iranian leaders might not stay. Further, they say, the so-called P5 + 1 nations that negotiated the pact have not agreed on or clearly identified their final goals, nor outlined the parameters for punitive measures if progress is not made within the deadline.

“The focus has to be on what happens at the end of those six months,” said Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economy minister and a member of its inner security cabinet. “A, define what our objective is, and B, define now, in advance, as soon as possible, what happens if we don’t meet those objectives,” he said. “If it’s just some open-ended vague negotiations, it’s pretty clear that Iran will retain its nuclear program and revive its economy — the worst-case scenario.”

Amos Yadlin, director of the Institute of National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said that much of the vitriol of the last few weeks was misplaced and that a shift in strategy was overdue. “They call it the deal, the deal, the deal — they should call it the initial deal that leads either to an acceptable deal or to the failure of the deal,” he said. “Then Israel should be ready, if sanctions will not be ratcheted, to go to the option that we try to avoid all the time.”

For now, Israel is expected to continue its denunciation of the agreement. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared it a “historic mistake” on Sunday, while some of his top ministers deemed it “a surrender” and “the greatest diplomatic achievement for the Iranians.”

But the reality is that the weeks of harsh and personal condemnations leading up to the agreement on Saturday left Israel sidelined in the Geneva process, and its relations with Washington under severe strain.

With its ability to influence the deal through diplomatic channels accordingly limited, Israel will now deploy its intelligence resources to monitor the process.

Among the expected areas of scrutiny will be whether construction at the heavy-water reactor in Arak is halted as demanded in the interim deal; whether Iran installs new centrifuges or uses its advanced ones in violation of the agreement; how the Obama administration enforces the remaining sanctions; and the seriousness of the promised increased inspections.

“Israeli intelligence will be required to make a double effort,” Ron Ben-Yishai, an analyst for the Israeli news site Ynet, wrote Sunday. “Ensure that Iran is not deceiving,” he explained, “and that the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are not cutting corners.”

Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, predicted a “carefully timed injection of intelligence-derived information into the public space” to put pressure on the talks.

While most experts here said they could not imagine Israeli military action while the Geneva negotiations are underway, officials from Mr. Netanyahu on down were already raising the specter of a potential Israeli military strike on Iran. Mr. Netanyahu on Sunday repeated his mantra that “Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.” Mr. Bennett added, for good measure, that Israel “is capable of defending itself.”

Indeed, Yaakov Amidror, who until last month was Israel’s national security adviser, told the Financial Times last week that Israel’s air force had been conducting “very long-range flights” to prepare for an attack on Iran, and that there was “no question” that Mr. Netanyahu was prepared to make the decision to strike if necessary. Mr. Amidror also said Israel’s military could stop Tehran’s nuclear program “for a very long time.”

Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University, published a paper on Thursday describing an Israeli strike as “complex, but possible.” He said the number of facilities that would have to be hit to “deal a significant blow to Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is generally overestimated” and that Iran’s ability to retaliate “is quite limited.” Arab states whose airspace Israel would need to fly over, Professor Inbar added, “would turn a blind eye or even cooperate” because of their own concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“At a time when appeasing Iran seems to be in vogue, an Israeli strike could invigorate elements in the international arena who are unwilling to accept an Iran with a nuclear breakout capability,” he wrote. “In addition, many people around the world would be reminded that muscular reactions to evil regimes are often truly necessary.”

There has been near-unanimity among Israeli leaders across the political spectrum that the interim deal was a major setback. There is mounting division, though, on whether the public prosecution of the case put too much stress on Jerusalem’s relationship with Washington or only highlighted its diminishment.

One radio host on Sunday repeatedly played clips of President Obama, during his visit here in March, reassuring Israelis, in Hebrew, that “you are not alone,” and then said ominously, “We are in fact alone.” Mr. Spyer, the Herzliya analyst, described the communication between the White House and the prime minister’s office in recent weeks as “a dialogue of the deaf” that revealed a growing gulf in approach to Middle East policy.

Mr. Obama called Mr. Netanyahu on Sunday to discuss the agreement with Iran, the White House said in a statement, adding that the two men “agreed to stay in close contact on this issue.”

Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, two centrist ministers in Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet, both called Sunday for better cooperation with the United States and a quieter, more dignified diplomacy campaign in the days ahead.

“We’ve lost the world’s ear,” lamented Mr. Lapid, the finance minister and head of Parliament’s second-largest faction. “We have six months, at the end of which we need to be in a situation in which the Americans listen to us the way they used to listen to us in the past.”

Isabel Kershner contributed reporting.


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« Reply #10225 on: Nov 25, 2013, 07:52 AM »

Honduras election for new president begins

Country racked by drug violence and instability goes to the ballot boxes but pollsters predict no clear winner

Associated Press in Teguigalpa
theguardian.com, Sunday 24 November 2013 17.38 GMT   

The presidential election in Honduras was heading towards a stalemate, according to the latest polls, in a country reeling from violence, poverty and the legacy of a 2009 coup.

The election pits Xiomara Castro, whose husband Manuel Zelaya was overthrown in a military-backed coup, against Juan Orlando Hernández, the candidate of the ruling conservative National party, but indications were that there would be no clear winner.

Voters went to the bakllot boxes on Sunday morning and no problems were reported after polling stations opened at 8am.

Polls show the two candidates in a statistical tie, raising fears of a disputed result that could produce more instability and protests in a failing state with 8.5 million people and the world's highest murder rate.

Many, including the US ambassador to Honduras, Lisa Kubiske, have called on both candidates to wait for official results before declaring victory, a process that could take several days.

Castro, 54, had been leading for months as the candidate for change, promising relief from the violence and poverty that have only increased in the four years since President Porfirio Lobo took office.

Hernandez, 45, has seen his numbers surge in recent weeks by casting himself as the candidate of law and order, the top issue for most voters in a country overrun by gangs trafficking much of the cocaine heading from South America to the US.

As president of congress, Hernandez has pushed through legislation creating a military police force to patrol the streets instead of the National police, which is penetrated by corruption and often accused of extrajudicial killings.

About 250 international observers from the European Union, the United States and the Organisation of American States are monitoring the election. The constitution says the victor needs to win by only one vote. There is no run-off, and the electoral tribunal decides whether a recount is necessary.

Zelaya, a wealthy rancher, was deposed by his own Liberal party after he started taking a populist line and aligned himself with the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez. He was attempting to hold a referendum on whether to reform the constitution, something the supreme court called illegal, when he was whisked out of the country at gunpoint.

The National party won regularly scheduled elections later that year.


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« Reply #10226 on: Nov 25, 2013, 07:56 AM »


Twitter adds more security to thwart predators – and government agencies

Company joins Google and Facebook in using 'perfect forward secrecy' to protect data of its 218 million users

Jemima Kiss   
The Observer, Saturday 23 November 2013 21.58 GMT   
   
Twitter has announced a significant increase in its data security as it moves to protect users from attacks by the "apex predators" of the internet.

An internal team of security engineers has spent several months implementing "perfect forward secrecy", which adds an extra layer of security to the widely used https encryption deployed by banks online, by retailers and, increasingly, consumer web services.

Google, Facebook, Dropbox and Tumblr have all implemented forward secrecy already, and LinkedIn is understood to be introducing it in 2014.

Users may not immediately notice any difference, other than a barely perceptible time lag as they use the service across desktop, mobile and through third-party services, but for Twitter the move asserts its credentials as a company fiercely protective of its users' data.

That data includes not only messages that users choose to publish publicly, but also direct, private messages, protected tweets and data on what users say, who they comment on and who else they read. Collectively, large datasets, such as those of Twitter's 218 million users, can be analysed to identify connections between people, locations and interests.

Announcing the new implementation, which has been running as a trial since 21 October, a detailed post on Twitter's engineering blog encouraged other sites to "defend and protect the users' voice" by implementing https and forward secrecy.

Documents released by Edward Snowden, a former contractor to the US National Security Agency, have shown that the agency and its affiliates are storing vast amounts of encrypted consumer data so that it can later attempt to decrypt it, either by accessing unencrypted data or by using specific court orders to force data owners to hand over the private SSL keys. But forward secrecy means data would still be secure, even if the agency obtained the keys to the encrypted data.

First developed in 1992, perfect forward secrecy creates a new, disposable key for each exchange of information, which means the key for every individual session would have to be decrypted to access the data.

Twitter engineer Jacob Hoffman-Andrews said implementation on Twitter was complex because of its scale, which meant that extra work was done to ensure the process did not slow the site. He wants to encourage smaller sites to introduce forward secrecy and said it could take just two weeks to implement. "We are trying to create a new norm for what it means to be a secure website," he told the Observer. "It makes it harder for anyone attempting a large-scale cryptographic attack, but this is not just about the NSA. There's more than one apex predator on the internet, including terrorists and groups outside of government – anyone well funded could use the same techniques."

Fellow engineer Jeff Hodges said Twitter's policy of asserting its users' right to privacy marked it out from other services, and that the Snowden revelations had an impact inside the company. "It was a surprise, and it inspired a lot of work," he said. "There's a gap to be bridged between what developers know to be the correct thing to do next, and that becoming policy at companies so that they invest the time to make it happen. But that process is percolating up."

Chester Wisniewski, senior security adviser at software security firm Sophos, said that several mainstream consumer sites have moved to improve security of user data in the wake of the Snowden revelations, but doubted that the move was due to consumer demand.

"This is good news for Twitter users," he said. "Not many companies of this scale are using perfect forward secrecy and this is good news for privacy advocates. Even if Twitter is compromised or compelled by a government to disclose its private keys, user communications that were intercepted on the wire will remain safe."

Wisniewski said that the technical community is exploring how to establish web standards that will make encryption of web traffic a default. He said: "Most of the movement towards improved security and privacy is long overdue. For a couple of years, Google redesigned parts of its networks to offer https encryption for all of its services, and Yahoo! announced it will begin using [the secure protocol] https everywhere it can from 2014. The public pressure is welcomed by those of us who are concerned about the privacy of the average individual. It is simply unfortunate that it took a leak like this for companies to do the right thing."


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« Reply #10227 on: Nov 25, 2013, 07:58 AM »

Scientists wonder what the weakest solar cycle in 50 years means for Earth

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, November 24, 2013 11:15 EST

The surface of the sun has been surprisingly calm of late — with fewer sunspots than anytime in in the last century — prompting curious scientists to wonder just what it might mean here on Earth.

Sunspots have been observed for millennia — first by Chinese astronomers and then, for the first time with a telescope, by Galileo in 1610.

The sunspots appear in roughly 11-year cycles — increasing to a daily flurry and then subsiding drastically, before amping up again.

But this cycle — dubbed cycle 24 — has surprised scientists with its sluggishness.

The number of spots counted since it kicked off in December 2008 is well below the average observed over the last 250 years. In fact, it’s less than half.

“It is the weakest cycle the sun has been in for all the space age, for 50 years,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association physicist Doug Biesecker told AFP.

The intense electromagnetic energy from sunspots has a significant impact on the sun’s ultraviolet and X-ray emissions as well as on solar storms.

Solar storms can interrupt telecommunications and electronic networks on Earth. Sunspot activity can also have an impact on the Earth’s climate.

Cycle 23 hit its maximum in April 2000 with an average of 120 solar spots a day. The cycle then wound down, hitting bottom around December 2008, the point at which scientists marked the start of the current cycle.

The minimal solar activity at the end of cycle 23 led astronomers to predict a slow cycle 24. But the reality fell even below expectations.

In the first year of the cycle, during which solar activity should have risen, astronomers counted 266 days without a single sun spot.

“The forecast peak was 90 sunspots,” Biesecker said, noting that even though the activity has risen over the past year, “it’s very clear it is not going to be close to 90.”

“The sunspots number peaked last year at 67, almost half a typical cycle,” he added.

The last time a sunspot cycle was this slow was in February 1906, the peak of cycle 14, with just 64 spots a day.

The “very long minimum: three years, three times more than the previous three cycles of the space age” was a major surprise, said University of Montana physicist Andres Munoz-Jamillio.

A magnetic switch

Cycle 24 has also diverged from the norm in another surprising way.

Typically, around the end of each 11-year sunspot cycle, the sun’s magnetic fields switch direction. The northern and southern hemispheres change polarity, usually simultaneously.

During the swap, the strength of the magnetic fields drops to near zero and reappears when the polarity is reversed, scientists explain.

But this time, something different seems to be happening. The north pole already reversed its polarity several months ago — and so it’s now the same polarity as the south pole.

According to the most recent satellite measurements, “the south hemisphere should flip on the near future,” said Todd Hoeksema, director of the Wilcox Solar Observatory at Stanford University.

He didn’t seem concerned about the phenomenon.

But scientists are watching the sun carefully to see whether cycle 24 is going to be an aberration — or if this solar calmness is going to stretch through the next cycle as well.

“We won’t know that for another good three or four years,” said Biesecker.

Some researchers speculate this could be the start of a prolonged period of weak solar activity.

The last time that happened, during the so-called “Maunder Minimum” between 1650 and 1715, almost no sunspots were observed. During the same period, temperatures dropped sharply on Earth, sparking what is called the “Little Ice Age” in Europe and North America.

As the sunspot numbers continue to stay low, it’s possible the Earth’s climate is being affected again.

But thanks to global warming, we’re unlikely to see another ice age. “Things have not started to cooling, they just have not risen as quickly,” Biesecker said.

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« Reply #10228 on: Nov 25, 2013, 08:27 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Iran nuclear deal shows US is now prepared to act independently of allies

Historic partners of US – Saudi Arabia and Israel – circumspect and angry over deal hailed by Syria and tolerated by Russia

Ian Black in Riyadh
The Guardian, Sunday 24 November 2013 19.45 GMT          

It is too early to tell whether the Geneva nuclear agreement heralds a genuinely new phase in the tangled and troubled web of relations between the west and the Middle East. But initial reactions suggest it is a big deal – and one that has the potential at least, over time, to change the status quo of more than 30 years.

Israel responded angrily, Saudi Arabia with sulky silence and Syria with a swift welcome as the dramatic news from Switzerland triggered the rumbling of what may yet come to be seen as a tectonic shift in the political landscape of the region.

Mutual hostility between Iran and the US has formed the backdrop to much that has happened since the great rupture of 1979, when the staunchly pro-American shah was toppled by the Islamic revolution. The eight-year war launched by Saddam Hussein against Ayatollah Khomeini and the subsequent Iraqi invasion of Kuwait took place in the shadow of that estrangement.

Efforts at peace-making between Israel and its Palestinian and other Arab enemies have also faced complications because of Iranian hostility to the US and Israel – whose own undeclared (but internationally-tolerated) nuclear arsenal is a significant element of this story. Lebanon's Hezbollah, the strongest non-state actor in the region, remains one of Tehran's most potent assets.

And the Middle East's worst current crisis, the devastating war in Syria, is in some ways the frontline of a strategic and sectarian confrontation, fought both directly and by proxy, between Iran and the US-backed conservative monarchies of the Gulf.

It was no coincidence that President Bashar al-Assad's government was so quick to hail what it called an "historic accord" in Geneva. Russia, his main international ally and protector, has also come out well of the P5 + 1 negotiations, enhancing its role as a mediator.

So the nuclear agreement may create some movement in the Syrian stalemate if – still a big if – Tehran and Moscow use their influence with Damascus. That may make it easier to convene the long-delayed Geneva II conference, though prospects for a diplomatic end to the war remain slim as long as the rebels insist Assad must go. Opposition supporters fear he will now feel emboldened – condemning Geneva as "another Munich".

There are plenty of other reasons for caution. The deal is an interim one for six months and the sanctions relief it brings will be reversible. It faces threats from hardliners in Tehran and Washington. It is also still hard to envisage the often-mentioned "grand bargain" between these old enemies – because there are so many other contentious issues that have not been addressed.

Israel, looking uncomfortably isolated, has made its position clear, with Binyamin Netanyahu lambasting the agreement as an "historic mistake" – and perhaps, ironically, thus helping President Hassan Rouhani sell the deal at home.

But Israel's ability to attack Iranian nuclear facilities – without overt or covert US help – now looks like a hollow threat, for political reasons as well as the limited capabilities of even its formidable air force. It will also fear renewed pressure to come clean about its own nuclear arsenal – still a regional monopoly.

Elsewhere the discomfort is most obvious in Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states, which have long seen Iran as a greater threat and strategic rival than Israel. Pejorative talk of a "Zionist-Wahhabi" alliance reflects that. King Abdullah, as revealed by WikiLeaks, famously urged Barack Obama to "cut off the head of the (Iranian) snake". Instead the US president has done a deal with it.

The silence in Riyadh on Sunday was thunderously eloquent. It would be smart of the Iranians to extend their current charm offensive to the Gulf neighbours but it will be difficult to allay suspicions. The UAE, interestingly, gave the agreement a terse welcome.

Viewed from the heartlands of the Middle East, the most striking conclusion of the Geneva drama is that the US is now prepared to act more independently of its traditional allies – the Israelis and Saudis – than ever before. That appears to confirm the dawning realisation that Obama is simultaneously pivoting away from the region – while helping craft its new realities.

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

Obama’s Diplomatic Approach Brings About a Landmark Deal Over Iran Nuclear Program

By: Sarah Jones
PoliticusUSA
Sunday, November, 24th, 2013, 9:52 am   

The war mongers aren’t digging the landmark deal that the United States and five other world powers (P5 plus 1 partners: the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China, as well as the European Union) announced on Sunday to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief. It’s called diplomacy, and it’s what Obama ran on regarding his preferred approach to most foreign policy.

The President’s sanctions against Iran and hopes for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear program have had a rather large first step success with this deal. Announcing it, Obama said, “Today, that diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure — a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon.”

Watch here:

The President explained that he used diplomacy because he preferred to resolve this issue peacefully if possible, “Since I took office, I’ve made clear my determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. As I’ve said many times, my strong preference is to resolve this issue peacefully, and we’ve extended the hand of diplomacy. Yet for many years, Iran has been unwilling to meet its obligations to the international community. So my administration worked with Congress, the United Nations Security Council and countries around the world to impose unprecedented sanctions on the Iranian government.”

The sanctions that Republicans scoffed at have actually worked. Obama explained that they have had a “substantial impact on the Iranian economy”.

And the big deal (and it is a very big deal that the war mongers will try to play down in a desperate attempt to prove that peaceful diplomacy never works), “Today, that diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure — a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon.”

Obama explained that this is just a first step. “While today’s announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal. For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back. Iran has committed to halting certain levels of enrichment and neutralizing part of its stockpiles. Iran cannot use its next-generation centrifuges, which are used for enriching uranium. Iran cannot install or start up new centrifuges, and its production of centrifuges will be limited. Iran will halt work at its plutonium reactor. And new inspections will provide extensive access to Iran’s nuclear facilities and allow the international community to verify whether Iran is keeping its commitments.”

In exchange, the U.S. and her allies will provide Iran with “modest relief”. “Over the next six months, we will work to negotiate a comprehensive solution.”

The President made the case for diplomacy again and stuck it to the war mongers (many of whom have been trying to paint Obama as weak on this issue because he wouldn’t escalate matters with force), “Ultimately, only diplomacy can bring about a durable solution to the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program. As President and Commander-in-Chief, I will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But I have a profound responsibility to try to resolve our differences peacefully, rather than rush towards conflict. Today, we have a real opportunity to achieve a comprehensive, peaceful settlement, and I believe we must test it.”

Gee, this is being hailed as a landmark deal and yet we’ve been told that this president’s presidency is over because of website glitches. If that were even remotely true, he’d have no influence in foreign policy and yet here he is, bringing home the diplomatic solution he championed on this issue.

While many are unhappy with this deal and Republicans will pick it apart until you want to tear your hair out in frustration, don’t miss the salient point that diplomacy and sanctions worked to bring parties to the table. Yes this is just a first step, but it’s also a BFD.

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

November 24, 2013

Court Confronts Religious Rights of Corporations

By ADAM LIPTAK
NYT

WASHINGTON — Hobby Lobby, a chain of crafts stores, closes on Sundays, costing its owners millions but honoring their Christian faith.

The stores play religious music. Employees get free spiritual counseling. But they do not get free insurance coverage for some contraceptives, even though President Obama’s health care law requires it.

Hobby Lobby, a corporation, says that forcing it to provide the coverage would violate its religious beliefs. A federal appeals court agreed, and the Supreme Court is set to decide on Tuesday whether it will hear the Obama administration’s appeal from that decision or appeals from one of several related cases.

Legal experts say the court is all but certain to step in, setting the stage for another major decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act two years after a closely divided court sustained its requirement that most Americans obtain health insurance or pay a penalty.

“The stakes here, symbolically and politically, are very high,” said Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia, citing the clash between religious teachings and the administration’s embattled health care law.

In weighing those interests, the Supreme Court would have to assess the limits of a principle recognized in its 2010 decision in Citizens United, which said corporations have free speech rights under the First Amendment. The question now is whether corporations also have the right to religious liberty.

In ruling for Hobby Lobby, the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit said it had applied “the First Amendment logic of Citizens United.”

“We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression,” Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich wrote for the majority.

A dissenting member of the court, Chief Judge Mary Beck Briscoe, wrote that the majority’s approach was “nothing short of a radical revision of First Amendment law.”

But Judge Harris L Hartz, in a concurrence, said the case was in some ways easier than Citizens United. “A corporation exercising religious beliefs is not corrupting anyone,” he wrote.

Among Hobby Lobby’s lawyers is Paul D. Clement, who led the 2012 Supreme Court challenge to the health care law. The new case opened another front in a larger war on the law, which, as Hobby Lobby put it in its Supreme Court brief, “imposes massive obligations on individuals and corporations alike in the process of attempting to fundamentally reorder the nation’s health care system.”

Mr. Clement’s main adversary in the 2012 case, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., told the justices that the 10th Circuit’s “unprecedented ruling” in this case would allow “for-profit corporations to deny employees the health coverage to which they are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the individuals who own a controlling stake in the corporations.”

The Supreme Court is generally receptive to appeals from the solicitor general, especially when a lower court has effectively held a federal law unconstitutional. The justices are also apt to step in when, as here, lower courts are divided on an important legal question. Even Hobby Lobby, which won in the appeals court, agrees that the justices should hear the administration’s appeal.

“This is a perfect storm,” said Richard Garnett, a law professor at Notre Dame, adding that it is also a worrisome one. “Debates about campaign finance in Citizens United and abortion and Obamacare,” he said, “could distort the court’s analysis of religious freedom.”

Hobby Lobby was founded in 1970 in Oklahoma City by David Green, and it now has more than 500 stores and 13,000 employees of all sorts of faiths. Mr. Green and his family own Hobby Lobby through a privately held corporation.

The Greens told the justices in their brief that some drugs and devices that can prevent embryos from implanting in the womb are tantamount to abortion and that providing insurance coverage for those forms of contraception would make the company and its owners complicit in the practice. They said they had no objection to 16 other forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including condoms, diaphragms, sponges, several kinds of birth control pills and sterilization surgery.

But Hobby Lobby’s failure to offer comprehensive coverage could, it said, subject it to federal fines of $1.3 million a day. Dropping insurance coverage for its employees, it added, would be disruptive and unfair and lead to fines of $26 million a year.

Mr. Verrilli countered that requiring insurance plans to include comprehensive coverage for contraception was justified by the government’s interest in “the promotion of public health” and in ensuring that “women have equal access to health care services.” Doctors rather than employers should decide which form of contraception is best, he added.

The administration has excluded many religious organizations from the law’s requirements; it has grandfathered some insurance plans that had not previously offered the coverage; and, under the health care law, small employers need not offer health coverage at all. In June, a federal judge in Tampa, Fla., estimated that a third of Americans are not subject to the requirement that their employers provide coverage for contraceptives.

But the administration drew a line at larger, for-profit, secular corporations.

“Congress has granted religious organizations alone the latitude to discriminate on the basis of religion in setting the terms and conditions of employment, including compensation,” the Justice Department told the 10th Circuit appeals court, in Denver.

“No court has ever found a for-profit company to be a religious organization for purposes of federal law,” the brief went on. “To the contrary, courts have emphasized that an entity’s for-profit status is an objective criterion that allows courts to distinguish a secular company from a potentially religious organization, without conducting an intrusive inquiry into the entity’s religious beliefs.”

The appeals court disagreed, ruling that Hobby Lobby is a “person” for purposes of the relevant federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

Religious liberty, Judge Tymkovich wrote, cannot turn on whether money changes hands. “Would an incorporated kosher butcher really have no claim to challenge a regulation mandating non-kosher butchering practices?” he asked.

Other federal appeals courts considering challenges to the health care law’s so-called contraception mandate have ruled that the 1993 law does not apply to corporations.

After finding that Hobby Lobby was entitled to the law’s protections, the 10th Circuit went on to say that the company’s sincere religious beliefs had been compromised without good reason, noting the limited number of contraception methods at issue and the many employers exempt from the law’s requirements.

Professor Laycock said that only one thing was certain about the issues presented in the case, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, No. 13-354.

“They’re almost sure to take it,” he said of the justices, “and no one has any idea how it’s going to come out.”

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

November 24, 2013

Medicaid Expansion Faces Major Logistical Challenges Among the Homeless

By ANNIE LOWREY

CHICAGO — In a back room at the Franciscan House of Mary and Joseph, one of the largest homeless shelters in Chicago, a social worker named Sheena Ward guided Terry Cannon through a Medicaid application.

A wet cough punctuated Mr. Cannon’s often wry answers to Ms. Ward’s questions about his disability status, military service and marital history. “I have glaucoma, I’m going blind. I have lung disease, I’m dying,” he said. “How can they deny me? If they do, give me a couple years and I’ll be gone.”

Today, most state Medicaid programs cover only disabled adults or those with dependents, so Mr. Cannon and millions of other deeply impoverished Americans are left without access to the program. But starting Jan. 1, President Obama’s health care law will expand Medicaid coverage to adults with incomes under 138 percent of the federal poverty line, and enrollment is expected to increase by about nine million next year. Thousands of homeless people will be among the newly covered.

Housing advocates say they believe that the Medicaid expansion has the potential to reduce rates of homelessness significantly, both by preventing low-income Americans from becoming homeless as a result of illness or medical debt and by helping homeless people become eligible for and remain in housing.

“We really feel like this is the last piece of the puzzle that we need to end chronic homelessness,” said Steve Berg, the vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

But signing up homeless people for Medicaid is a huge logistical challenge, as housing advocates acknowledge. Homeless individuals often do not have an email address, phone number or permanent address. Many are unaware of the health care law or are skeptical of public programs.

Housing advocates and social workers across the country are now on a major push to inform impoverished and homeless people that they are eligible for Medicaid in the 25 states that are expanding the program and in the District of Columbia, and to enroll them.

For homeless people, experts said, the Medicaid expansion will mean more consistent treatment for medical conditions, including alcoholism, drug addiction, chronic pain and depression. For states and cities, they said, it will mean a more effective safety net, and perhaps even a cheaper one.

“You cannot successfully treat someone for diabetes if they’re living under a bridge,” said Ed Blackburn, the executive director of Central City Concern, a nonprofit agency in Portland, Ore. “And serious mental illness and chronic health conditions are barriers to getting housing.”

To help spread the word, Heartland Alliance, the nonprofit organization where Ms. Ward works, has stationed employees in soup kitchens, shelters and medical clinics to increase awareness and encourage enrollment. “They’re accustomed to a no,” Ms. Ward said of her homeless clients. “You really have to encourage them and let them know it’s their right to be covered.”

The conditions of homeless life can also make it difficult to enroll. At the House of Mary and Joseph, Julie Nelson, associate director of outreach, benefits and entitlements at Heartland Alliance, huddled with 48-year-old Marvin Cosper. “I heard about Obamacare,” he said, nodding, as Ms. Nelson walked him through the basics of the available plans.

But when she explained that it might take 60 days for him to be enrolled, he bristled. “I’m just passing through,” he said.

Mr. Cosper is a former drug addict and onetime crack cocaine dealer who has spent much of the past 20 years homeless, moving from state to state. “I was under the impression it was federal,” he said. “I thought it was federal, so whatever state you were in, you could use that card.”

“That’s a really good question,” Ms. Nelson said. “It goes state by state.” About half of states have opted out of the Medicaid expansion, a decision made possible by the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling on the law.

Mr. Cosper decided to sign up for Medicaid anyway.

Another client, Donna Terrell, who is 54 and has been homeless for a decade, worked with Ms. Nelson to sort out whether she was enrolled already.

“I’m in limbo,” Ms. Terrell said, settling onto a cot with a plastic mattress in a room that would hold about 40 women that night. She said she had filled out the paperwork but had never received an enrollment card, ending up with $6,000 in medical bills instead. She and Ms. Nelson determined that Ms. Terrell did have coverage, but her card had been sent to a shelter that had shut down months before.

If the logistical challenges of signing up homeless people for Medicaid can be mitigated, housing advocates and social workers say, the Medicaid expansion could provide profound benefits for them, even though some experts caution that finding doctors who accept Medicaid will continue to be a challenge in many states.

Studies suggest that most chronically homeless Americans are uninsured. It can be logistically difficult for people with very low or nonexistent incomes to gain access even to charity care and free clinics, because getting there costs money and because clinics’ hours and ability to provide care are limited.

The Medicaid expansion is expected to greatly improve access to care for hundreds of thousands of homeless Americans, who would be able to see physicians and specialists, often at no cost.

It might also shift the burden of care from emergency rooms to doctors’ offices, with benefits for state budgets. Homeless people tend to use health care services in the most expensive ways, said Jennifer Ho, a senior adviser at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “They show up when they’re sicker,” she said. “They stay longer. And it’s harder to discharge them because they don’t have a place to go.”

Housing advocates emphasized that the Medicaid expansion would not directly help homeless people find housing. But officials at federal agencies, national housing organizations and local nonprofit organizations pointed to several ways it could reduce rates of homelessness.

In addition to helping prevent homelessness due to medical debt or untreated illness, the expansion could free up money for nonprofit groups to spend on housing, rather than on health care, officials at the National Alliance to End Homelessness said.

The expanded coverage might also make it easier for homeless people to find and stay in housing. For instance, some housing units require prospective tenants to have Medicaid, Ms. Nelson said. Moreover, the expanded Medicaid program would “pay for services that help people become stable so that they can remain in housing,” said Karen Batia, the executive director of Heartland Alliance’s health outreach operations.

“It’s a means to an end,” said Ms. Ward, the social worker, adding that it would help organizations like Heartland “treat the person holistically.”

Some states might try to bring down medical costs by asking the federal government for waivers to spend Medicaid dollars on supportive housing, experts said.

But first, the challenge is expanding Medicaid to a fragile and hard-to-reach population.

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

Mark Zuckerberg Smacks Down the Media Myth That The Website Rollout Has Doomed the ACA

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Sunday, November, 24th, 2013, 1:27 pm   

It took just a couple of sentences for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to destroy the media myth that the Affordable Care Act is doomed on ABC’s This Week.

Transcript:

    WRIGHT: And there’s the program where the president himself admits the government blew it, big time. The troubled website, health care.gov. What advice would you have for the president on his poor website?

    ZUCKERBERG: You know, sometimes stuff doesn’t work when you want it to. We’ve certainly had plenty of mistakes and things that haven’t worked the way that we want to. The right thing here is just to keep on focusing on building the service that you think is right in the long-term.

Well, that certainly wasn’t the answer that ABC News was looking for. Notice the bias in the ABC News piece. ABC called the website troubled without admitting that most of the problems have already been fixed. ABC was hoping that Zuckerberg would feed into their narrative that website is a horrible disaster, but instead the Facebook founder told them the truth.

The problems that the website had really aren’t a big deal. Anyone who works online knows that sometimes things break. Sometimes things don’t work the way you want them to, but people don’t abandon their long term goals because of a tech problem. You fix the problem, and move on.

The media refuses to move on.

To them, the website hasn’t changed at all since the first week of October. They keep acting like the ACA website is still broken even though it isn’t. The issues with the website were never going to be the end of the ACA. The website was always going to be fixed. People were and are going to sign up.

Zuckerberg was right. The problems with the website rollout have nothing to do with reforming the health insurance system. The media is wrong. The Republicans are wrong. The goal is still there, and Democrats are close to making the historic reform of our broken healthcare system a reality.

The media is rooting for the ACA to fail, but just like the Republicans that they are taking their lead from, they will be the ones who live with the bitter taste of failure.

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

Corporate Welfare Republican Hypocrites Claim the ACA is Economic Redistribution

By: Sarah Jones
PoliticusUSA
Sunday, November, 24th, 2013, 2:32 pm      

With website glitches going nowhere and the GOP playbook almost played out, Byron York, chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner and Fox News contributor, is busy trying to concern troll the “redistribution” structure of ObamaCare to the mainstream media like John Harwood (a very sane, responsible journalist). York is not alone in this venture.

York tweeted Harwood, “Obama totally misrepresented plan, ignoring its redistributive structure in his public appeals.”

And again, “BTW, you are absolutely right to say that ‘the redistribution of wealth has always been a central feature of [Obamacare].’”

But Harwood, who covers Washington and national politics for CNBC and the New York Times, is not new to politics, nor is he a drama king/concern troll like many of these fools. He wondered, “what does it say abt our politics that saying “economic justice requires redistribution of resources” is red flag? http://nyti.ms/1h9OPPu

Harwood linked to his NYT article that discusses redistribution of ObamaCare in depth. He noted:

    “Redistribution is a loaded word that conjures up all sorts of unfairness in people’s minds,” said William M. Daley, who was Mr. Obama’s chief of staff at the time. Republicans wield it “as a hammer” against Democrats, he said, adding, “It’s a word that, in the political world, you just don’t use.”

York had a very silly answer, “It says ‘economic justice’ is incredibly slippery, potentially dangerous concept. Reasonable to view as red flag.”

Harwood, “OK. But pretty much every political idea or value can present slippery slope problems”.

And there you have it. The truth.

Let’s take Republican ideas like Republicans’ defense of oil company subsidies and of Walmart’s refusal to pay a living wage thereby forcing employees on government programs (subsidizing Walmart’s profits with our tax dollars) — both of these are a redistribution of wealth – a socialization of corporate losses while refusing to let the people in on the profits.

ObamaCare returns the people’s money to the people.

Citizens want other citizens covered a lot more than they want to subsidize oil company losses and Walmart’s cheapness with their employees while getting screwed on the profits. And no matter what Republicans say or how entitled they act to make decisions about our money, it is OUR MONEY and OUR VOTE. We already voted on this issue and the polls back it up. The only real issue with ObamaCare is some liberals don’t think it goes far enough.

ObamaCare benefits those of us with private insurance already by cutting costs because those without insurance won’t be using hospitals as healthcare visits. Those with private insurance will still benefit from free well tests like mammograms and protection from insurance companies dropping us when/if we get sick.

All of this ObamaScare fear mongering is meant to justify scraping ObamaCare:

    I don't believe Obamacare can be fixed to lower premiums and expand access. We need to scrap it & start over: https://t.co/LlBcNOK4SE

    — Kevin McCarthy (@GOPWhip) November 24, 2013

Republicans want to scrap ObamaCare and start over – but not really. If they really wanted to start over, they’d have an idea and they don’t. But whatever they come up with will be a corporate giveaway that doesn’t protect patients, if their previous “solutions” are any indication.

So they’re going to rattle up so “redistribution” fears while totally ignoring their own very costly and dangerous welfare/redistribution to corporations. Republicans are the ultimate backseat drivers — yelling without telling the driver what the problem is, just so they can hopefully cause an accident in the service of stopping progress. Their hypocritical, Machiavellian “ends justify the means” tactics know no bounds.

This America – the one where other citizens want their fellow citizens to have access to affordable care, is not the GOP’s America. These are the same people who mock the sick and shame the poor, while cheering the death of the uninsured. Of course they think any monies going to the poor instead of Shell Oil Company is a very bad thing.

But the American people don’t share the GOP’s vision for America. And that is the real reason they won’t stop back-seat screeching and concern trolling.

It’s true – there’s redistribution in ObamaCare. Of course there is. Any time we spend tax dollars we are redistributing the wealth. The questions are, who benefits and what are the other ramifications/costs/benefits to society.

Don’t be afraid of “redistribution” charges, because this accusation is a phony distraction with very big holes for the party of Corporate Welfare. It just shows their rampant hypocrisy and feelings of entitlement to our money – which is ironic, since many of the corporations and very rich (Mitt Romney) don’t even pay taxes, so why should they have any say in how we redistribute them.

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

Wealthy Libertarians Are Driving Poverty, Unemployment, and Anti-Government Discontent

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Sunday, November, 24th, 2013, 8:17 pm   

For all the conservative’s claims that America is an exceptional nation, they are taking extraordinary steps to destroy everything that made this country exceptional by following Europe’s austerity agenda that is giving rise to neo-fascism gaining power and influence across the continent. The difference between Europe and America is that where European governments embraced austerity based on flawed economic data that is driving  the threat of fascism, America is suffering a concerted effort by wealthy libertarians using austerity to create conditions driving high unemployment, poverty, anti-government discontent, and misplaced anger to foster an environment conducive to the rise of fascism.

The players behind the drive toward corporate and, to a lesser degree, religious fascism in America are rumored to have historical ties to, and were complicit, in Nazism’s rise in 1930s Germany and Stalin’s fascism in 1920s Soviet Union. Their support for government privatization is setting the stage for their particular brand of corporate fascism by funding efforts to gut social programs, increase joblessness, neuter the federal government, and incite anger among those most affected by their austerity economics. Some scholars consider fascism an ultra-right wing agenda due to its adherence to social conservatism and abject opposition to egalitarianism’s premise that all human beings are “equal in fundamental worth or social status.”

Corporate fascism entails “principles, doctrines, or a system of corporative organization of government founded on privatization and corporate ownership.” It is important to note that under Nazism, the needs of the individual were subordinate to the needs of the state, and in 21st century America there has been a definite trend towards giving preference to the needs of corporatists like the Koch brothers and Wall Street over the needs of the people. Subsequently, the Republican push to decimate government investment, eliminate social programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and other crucial safety nets, combined with killing jobs and increasing poverty among the population is leading America down the same austerity path giving rise to the dangerous neo-fascism threatening Europe. For a portent of what awaits America if its addiction to austerity economics is not broken soon, a brief history of how Europe is falling victim to the threat of fascism is reported here. It is a cautionary tale that both describes what lies in store for America if it continues pandering to corporatists and religious extremists, and reinforces what economists and liberals have proposed is a solution to save America from the threat of corporate and religious fascism.

A little over two weeks ago in Kansas, a neo-Nazi group held an event to commemorate a travesty in 1938 Germany when paramilitary and non-Jewish civilians swept through streets across Germany destroying and ransacking Jewish homes, synagogues, schools, and businesses to protest conditions many Americans are facing today as a result of Republican economic austerity. For the neo-Nazis, the Night of Broken Glass is an auspicious event and the white supremacist party that claims to be “the party for every patriotic white American” teamed up with white supremacist groups such as the white Christian Aryan Nations, the Sadistic Souls Motorcycle Club, and the Traditionalist American Knights (a KKK affiliate) to protest against granting amnesty to “illegal aliens” they claim are responsible for the “nation drowning in a free fall of economic collapse.” The group passed out leaflets for the rally that said, “If you are working for a slave’s wage, making barely enough to feed your family, and are tired of seeing the corruption that is crippling our land, the time to get active in this fight is now.”

The neo-Nazis have bought in to right-wing extremists’ (Republican) ploy to assign blame to immigrants (among others) for the nation’s economic woes characterized by pitiful wages and no jobs that make it impossible for millions of Americans to feed their families. However, it is not because of undocumented workers, it is the Koch brothers’ and Republican austerity they see is successfully contributing to the threat of fascism in Europe, and soon in America if it continues according to their plan. Like Hitler’s propaganda machine in Germany, there is a concerted effort by Republican conservatives, libertarian corporatists, and religious extremists to place blame for the nation’s ills on immigrants, atheists, gays, women, and particularly government regulations and taxation as the sole reason the masses are not thriving economically.

There is a reason the Koch brothers and their cohort ALEC are funneling millions to anti-government teabaggers and religious right anti-choice activists, and it is part of their plan to stir up opposition to equal rights, religious freedom, and particularly the federal government and social programs. Inciting discontent and division among the population, coupled with their job-killing austerity economics, stagnating wages, and domestic spending cuts is the recipe for the growth of fascism and at some point the people will look to a champion who will promise a path to economic prosperity if they are given authority to transform America according to the Koch brothers’ libertarian vision of no federal government, no regulations, no taxation, a return to Christian moral values, and free market capitalism that is code for corporate owned-and-operated government.

America is afforded a measure of protection from fascism because there are still social programs and protections set in place to prevent the entire population from falling into abject poverty, but they are under assault from surrogates for corporations and Wall Street. Republicans have attempted to destroy social programs under the guise of deficit reduction and instilling personal responsibility into the population, but their policies are responsible for the peoples’ economic plight that Kansas neo-Nazis protested against two weeks ago. For their part, conservatives have openly driven a wedge between the population that is crucial to the rise of fascism, and whether it is opposition to immigration reform, religious freedom, women’s rights, or workers’ rights, the goal is always to pit one set of Americans against another to distract attention away from the real culprits; Republicans, corporatists, and religious extremists all funded by the real advocates and benefactors of corporate fascism; the Koch brothers.

The people of this country are being given a preview of what lies in their future if they allow Republicans to continue doing the bidding of the Koch brothers. The teabaggers, religious extremists, and racists are all being manipulated to do the will of the Koch brothers, and when their corporate fascism does come to America, it will be wrapped in a corporate flag emblazoned with Koch Industries’ logo and no bible, guns, or copy of the Constitution will save them.

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

The Big Oil and Gas-Owned Republican House Trying to Do the Fracking Bidding of Big Gas and Oil

By: Dennis S
PoliticusUSA
Sunday, November, 24th, 2013, 9:28 pm   

Today, I’m addressing a political and corporate war that’s been out of the headlines of late due to the relentless Republican distortions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) replete with vicious criticisms of the president and HHS when in fact a bombastically incompetent trio of outside private contractors were essentially responsible for 99% of the mess and had the gall to blame the government for not realizing how incredibly lacking in skills they truly were.

So while Issa, Gowdy and the rest of the so-called Government and Oversight Committee clown-car passengers continue to waste time and money to get to the “bottom” of HealthCare.gov, an issue that could truly be the target of the committee sails blissfully along, its deadly byproducts ignored by today’s dubious crop of “compassionate conservatives.”

Yes, I’m talking about the recent phenomenon called “fracking” and how the health and well-being of Americans means precious little to Teapublicans and their Representatives in the House. Here’s a wonderful layman’s working definition of fracking from a splendid Website appropriately entitled “the Dangers of Fracking”; “Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas inside.”

The site goes on to present tidbits of information about fracking that inspire “shock and awe” in anybody with a brain and conscience. There’s stuff that leaches into wells, groundwater and aquifers that can mess you up; even kill certain people. But the baby-starvers proved long ago that they have much more in common with a pathetic young mother from the cable show “Lockup” than they do with caring human beings no matter the potentially deadly consequences of respiratory and neurological effects, especially in children and the elderly.

In Lockup, a mid 30′s crack-addicted mother of two, who was once an attractive former school secretary and president of her senior class, is in jail on some drug charges. When asked what was more important to her, crack or her two girls, she gave a devastatingly sad but honest answer. “Crack!” As in the Tea Party obsession with vast wealth and hatred of all things Obama, theirs is a ‘crack’ answer to the question of money over the health of the victims of the awesomely irresponsible practices of the major oil and gas companies.

The companies, at least as long as the House blocks any attempts to stop this offensive and dangerous juggernaut, drill away (37 states at last count), full speed ahead. When challenged, they reference a 2004 George Bush era multi-year EPA ‘study’ that concluded that “The drilling process poses “little or no threat” and “does not justify additional study at this time.”

Ben Grumbles, an EPA assistant administrator at the time, oversaw the study. He finally came clean in two interviews with ProPublica in 2009 and 2011 (also reported in the NY Times), admitting that these fraudulent assurances were proffered in spite of the fact that the agency had actually determined that fracking may release potentially hazardous chemicals into drinking water. It was also revealed that EPA staffers at the time cut an exception deal with Halliburton (Dick Cheney was an active participant in the talks) that eventually allowed drillers to piggyback on this squalid back-room devilry and bypass the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act passages applicable to fracking. And, five of the seven members of the EPA’s ‘review panel’ had conflicts of interest.

The 2004 version has pretty much been discredited by objective environmental scientists and a new EPA study is underway. The final report on the latest extraordinarily comprehensive EPA effort is not expected until 2014. That due date is, of course, another reason for billionaires to pour crazy money into Republican campaigns; probably second only to funding the destruction of the Affordable Care Act. You can background what’s involved in the latest study here. A point to be made; A site PDF covers all the areas of inquiry and analysis, including a list of chemicals involved. The list runs on for 44 pages with roughly 30 entries per most pages.

Meanwhile, it’s comforting to know that members of our House of Representatives will be doing everything in their power to protect us from those unfeeling oil and gas interests. Spoiler alert; I’m kidding! Let’s take a look at recent votes to see how the “Live by the Bible” crowd is protecting the health of the children and elderly, not to mention everybody else, including, interestingly enough, the rurals whose wells near drilling sites are playing host to any number of God-awful chemicals.

There’s HR 20 the GOP loves. That would prohibit federal fracking regulations on federal and tribal lands. What the hell, we’ve historically killed millions of Native Americans anyway, what’s a few more? The bill would anoint states as the sole regulatory authority (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). I know all the House vacuum-headed sellouts from my South Carolina Teapublican delegation heartily agreed with HR 20.

House Democrats tried to slide a requirement through to provide detailed public disclosures about fracking on federal and non-federal lands. Such esoteric considerations as chemicals used, disposal of fluids and assorted other information of interest to those possessed of love for their fellow man, woman and family members. Teapublicans were stunned. WHAAAA? They screamed in unison as they s**t-canned the Dems naïve assumption that their GOP colleagues might actually give a damn about their constituents. Again, the Republican menaces “serving” my state were unanimous in their desire to keep the negative affects of fracking a secret.

The next kissing oil’s ass vote saw mass Teapublican approval for HR 1900 setting deadlines for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and other agencies to act on natural gas pipeline applications. A one-year approval time-frame would be instituted. If no action was taken, there would be “legal consequences.” Other involved agencies would be given a totally impractical 90 days to complete environmental reviews and other evaluations. Wanna bet the agencies would be overwhelmed with applications? There’s also the matter of the key 2014 elections that might not be particularly friendly to the Tea Party set giving added urgency to deliver for the big boys.

Finally, there was a Democratic legislative attempt via motion to delay the above favor to the oil and gas industries. That was a 180 yea, 233 nay vote. Let’s see, how many Teapublicans are in the House? Yep, 233! Don’t know if all the nay votes were Teapublicans, but I suspect an overwhelming majority obeyed their oil and gas masters.

I guess it could be worse. A bunch of House members want to abolish the EPA. Michele Bachmann is one of them. She’s apparently not running again in 2014. Few colleagues will even realize she’s gone. Old school inveterate skirt-chaser Newt Gingrich, wants to erase the EPA as well. Last Republican Presidential primary, it was Newt who was erased.

There’s yet another bottom line here. Ruined drinking water? Time to go private!

So the wheels of billionaire-owned government trundle on, and, at least until 2014, thanks to Teapublicans, to the benefit of a very few.

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

The Audacity of Dope: Ted Cruz Claims Democrats Poisoned The Atmosphere of the Senate

By: Sarah Jones
PoliticusUSA
Sunday, November, 24th, 2013, 4:48 pm   

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) wailed about losing the ability to fundraise on the Senate floor, saying that Harry Reid change to the filibuster rule will “poison the atmosphere of the Senate,” in an interview with Bloomberg TV’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” that aired this weekend.

Yes, as if Cruz’s government shutdown that caused his own party to hate him even more didn’t poison the atmosphere of the Senate.

Transcript via Bloomberg TV:

    HUNT: Big fight in the Senate this week over the rules change. Republicans are furious at what Harry Reid did. The atmosphere was pretty bad, anyway. This isn’t really going to change anything, is it?
    CRUZ: Well, it’s unfortunate. It’s yet another abuse of power by the Democrats. And, frankly, it’s continuing the same pattern we’ve seen with Obamacare. It is a pattern of smoke and mirrors.
    HUNT: Will it complicate passing budgets or debt ceilings or anything?
    CRUZ: Of course it will. I mean, it will poison the atmosphere of the Senate, but, you know, it’s also an illustration of the Democrats breaking their word. Just like President Obama said, if you like your plan, you can keep it. And he said it over and over again. We now know that at the time he said that, he knew it was false.

Freshman Cruz was busy poisoning the atmosphere in the Senate on day one. In March, having been in the Senate for ten weeks, the brand new Senator told a Dallas paper that he was busy teaching veteran Republicans a thing or two. As if predicting Cruz’s future, the reporter asked him how he would get things done after burning so many bridges.

Cruz took refuge in “I can’t control what they do” answers and then pivoted.

In September, before Cruz shutdown the government and thereby ripped the last remaining shred of dignity from his fellow Republicans, the Republican Party has turned on Ted Cruz:

    New York Republican Congressman Peter King: “My sound bite is to say he’s a fraud…I start with that, and then I go on. It takes me two or three minutes to explain it.”

    Arizona Senator, and failed 2008 Republican Presidential Candidate, John McCain: “I spoke to Senator Cruz about my dissatisfaction.” I’m going to go out a limb here and characterize the famously fiery McCain’s paraphrase as the understatement of the month. McCain once publicly described his fellow lawmaker as a “wacko bird.”

    Anonymous GOP Aide: “Some people came here to govern and make things better for their constituents. Ted Cruz came here to throw bombs and fundraise off of attacks on fellow Republicans. He’s a joke, plain and simple.”

No, Democrats didn’t “grab” any power by removing Ted Cruz’s ability to fundraise for himself instead of doing the job our tax dollars pay for — and that is what he’s really complaining about. Obama isn’t “stacking the courts” by getting a vote on his nominees and it’s hardly Democrats’ fault that the five year Republican war on Obama and the nation finally backfired.

Ted Cruz shut down the government over ObamaCare, but he doesn’t even have a suggestion or an idea for an alternative to ObamaCare. He is very, very good at blaming others for his actions though — to wit, pretending that it’s Democrats who poisoned the atmosphere in the Senate, which was obstruction central but still polite…

… Until this year when an unstoppable id with a penchant for grifting blew in with his big mouth, closed mind and a gaping hole of endless, childish need.

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

Sarah Palin Humiliates Herself On Fox News By Not Knowing What the Nuclear Option Is

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Sunday, November, 24th, 2013, 11:15 am   

Sarah Palin hit a new low even for her today, by apparently not knowing what the nuclear option is during an interview on Fox News Sunday.

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikXvjRDyxMs

Palin said,

    Well, there are a lot of wild outside the mainstream nominees and pals of Barack Obama that he wants to see help him usher in an agenda to transform America, so that is one thing that Congress has done right, and that is oppose some of these nominees. As for this rule change that some people are calling the nuclear option under Senate rules, you know, I guarantee this week, Thanksgiving dinner, people sitting around their tables, we’re not going to be talking about the president blessing this thwarting of the balance of power in Congress with new Senate rules called the nuclear option.

    People are going to be talking about our failed big government policies that will bankrupt this country, so this distraction, this new talking point in the media, and with Congress, with Senators and with the president blessing this action. It’s a distraction. It’s a lot of double standard and Democrat hypocrisy, because just a few years ago they so anti antinuclear option. They were against thought of Republicans ever considering changing these rules, and yet now it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.

    American people they don’t care about distractions like that. There not in that inside baseball, Senate rules stuff. They want government to be back on our side. They want it to get out of our lives, and uh, in order to do that we need those who will not fundamentally transform America, but will fundamentally restore what’s right about America. We do that by having good judicial nominees, and nominees in these regulatory agencies and elsewhere. So this new rule change, it stinks.

I don’t think Palin knows exactly what the nuclear option is. She seems to know that it was a rules change, and that it impacts nominees, but the president had nothing to do with the nuclear option. The president didn’t get to vote on it, or have a say in the change. Palin seemed to be suggesting that the nuclear option was some kind of Obama conspiracy to distract America.

Palin also claimed that Congress was involved in the nuclear option. The nuclear option had nothing to do with the House. When she was the Republican vice presidential nominee, Palin claimed that the vice president ran the Senate, so her statements today aren’t a surprise.

You can tell that Palin was on unstable ground because she kept repeating the fact that this was a rule change in the Senate as she searched her mind for 2008 talking points to link the nuclear option to.

She has no clue, which is why she should never be asked her opinion on anything. Sarah Palin doesn’t follow politics, but the media keeps propping her up and asking her for an opinion about things that she knows nothing about.

If Sarah Palin was capable of humiliation and embarrassment, she should be feeling those emotions right now. However, Palin is a narcissist who continues to defend her incorrect definition of slavery. Sarah Palin represents the stupidity of the Republican Party. She is an embarrassment who should not be given one second of airtime anywhere.

The media needs to be held accountable for giving her attention. The best way to do that is to call out her lack of knowledge every time they give her airtime. Her ignorance needs to be reflected back on the media.

Joe Lieberman could have been vice president too, but no one is asking him for his opinion on anything. It is time for the Palin madness to stop.


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 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/25/2013 07:16 PM

Pig Putin's Gambit: How the EU Lost Ukraine

By SPIEGEL Staff

The inability of European bureaucrats to keep up with the Kremlin's manipulations -- or Kiev's political calculations -- has cost the EU a trade deal with Ukraine, and severely damaged its foreign policy.

Russian President Pig Putin's decisive move came on Nov. 9. That day, after years of courtship, and several months of promises and threats, he met with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych at a military airport near Moscow. The meeting was so clandestine the Russians initially denied that it had taken place at all.

Before that point, the plan had been for Yanukovych to sign a 900-page association agreement, a sort of engagement contract, with the European Union in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius on Nov. 29. But in early November near Moscow, Putin seems to have sealed an alliance with Ukraine, preempting his rivals in Brussels. And last Thursday Yanukovych postponed the signing of the EU agreement indefinitely.

After giving temporary asylum to whistleblower Edward Snowden and brokering a deal to have Syria give up its chemical weapons, it was Putin's third recent victory over the West, albeit probably not a permanent one. After all, Yanukovych's agreement with Putin is a marriage of convenience, not a marriage of love.

Europe's 'Eastern Partnership' Dream

This tug-of-war began four years ago, when the EU proposed an "eastern partnership" with Ukraine as well as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Belarus. The EU offered cooperation, free trade and financial contributions in exchange for democratic reforms. Officials in Brussels spoke enthusiastically about the emergence of an historic Eastern European policy not unlike former German Chancellor Willy Brandt's rapprochement with the Warsaw Pact countries in the 1970s. The planned partnership agreements were intended to facilitate visa-free travel, reduce tariffs and introduce European norms. The only thing that was not offered was EU membership.

The EU's other goal, even though it was not as openly expressed, was to limit Russia's influence and define how far Europe extends into the east. For Russia, the struggle to win over Ukraine is not only about maintaining its geopolitical influence, but about having control over a region that was the nucleus of the Russian empire a millennium ago. The word Ukraine translates as "border country," and many feel the capital Kiev is the mother of all Russian cities.

This helped create Cold War-style grappling between Moscow and Brussels. The Russian president, hardened by his fights in the Kremlin, is more adept than EU bureaucrats at manipulating people with venality and affections. None of the top European politicians made a serious effort to win over Ukraine, with neither German Chancellor Angela Merkel nor European Commission President José Manuel Barroso flying to Kiev to convince its wavering president.

'Unprecendented Pressure' from Russia

"I believe the unprecedented pressure from the Russians was the decisive factor," says former Polish Prime Minister and intermediary Aleksander Kwasniewski. "The Russians used everything in their arsenal." Elmar Brok, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the European Parliament, says: "Yanukovych kept all options open until the end, so as to get the best possible deal."

The official reason for the agreement's failure is Yulia Tymoshenko, the opposition politician who has been in prison for the last two years. The EU had made her release a condition of the agreement. Yanukovych was unwilling to release his former rival, and last week the parliament in Kiev failed to approve a bill that would have secured her release.

But then there are the financial incentives. In the end, the Russian president seems to have promised his Ukrainian counterpart several billion euros in the form of subsidies, debt forgiveness and duty-free imports. The EU, for its part, had offered Ukraine loans worth €610 million ($827 million), which it had increased at the last moment, along with the vague prospect of a €1 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Yanukovych chose Putin's billions instead.

The EU had been banking on its radiant appeal, and on its great promise of prosperity, freedom and democracy, but now Brussels must confront the fact that, for the first time, an attempt at rapprochement was rebuffed because the price was wrong. "If Yanukovych doesn't want to make a deal, then he simply doesn't want to," says Brok.

Battle of the Unions

The EU's eastern partnership had gotten off to a rocky start even before the Ukrainian incident. Belarus dashed the EU's hopes it would join when protesters were violently suppressed after the reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko in 2010. Armenia called off an association agreement with the EU this September.

In the case of Ukraine, it initially seemed as if the Europeans' rational arguments would prevail over Russia's threatening gestures. According to an internal EU analysis, joining the "Eurasian Union" -- a Russia-backed proposed political and economic union including Russia, Tajikistan, Kazahkstan, Belarus and others -- would severely limit Ukraine's sovereignty. Once such a union had been formed, Kiev would no longer be able to enter into any other free trade agreements without Moscow's approval. An alliance with Moscow would thus have the exclusive nature of a marriage. The EU's eastern partnership, in contrast, would still allow Ukraine to enter into other alliances.

And Yanukovych, who has been considered a puppet of the Kremlin, even implemented many of the reforms demanded by the EU. The legal system and criminal law were modernized, trade restrictions were reduced and a few political prisoners were released. "He implemented more reforms than the pro-Western predecessor regime under Tymoshenko," says an EU negotiator.

EU Hopes Dashed

But it turns out those reforms didn't go as the EU hoped. According to the Freedom House organization, democratic basic rights in these eastern partnership candidate nations have not been strengthened in the wake of EU reform demands. Instead, they claim, many of the reforms were implemented half-heartedly and governments only consolidated their power.

The Europeans had mistakenly believed Kiev would automatically turn to the West. After all, isn't half of the population in favor of closer ties with the EU? And aren't there more Ukrainian immigrant workers living in the West than in Russia? They based their argument on economic sustainability, believing they could convince Yanukovych with the prospect of long-term growth rates of at least 6 percent. By contrast, a customs union with Russia would reduce Ukraine's economic growth in the long term.

But in truth, the most important goal for Yanukovych -- who may come across as unsophisticated, but is in fact a shrewd poker player -- is to hold onto power. In order to be reelected in 2015, he needs rapid economic improvement. Ukraine has slid into recession and could even be insolvent soon. The rating agencies have repeatedly downgraded the country's credit rating. Besides, Ukraine is dependent on Russian natural gas, and Moscow has already flexed its muscles by turning off supplies in the winter on three occasions.

Ominous Russian Threats

This is why Yanukovych needs the the Pig who in recent months has made the consequences of an EU deal unmistakably clear to Ukraine. In August, Russian officials began painstakingly inspecting trucks from Ukraine bringing goods across the border into Russia. Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuck was barred from importing steel pipes to Russia, and a former cabinet minister was prevented from selling his chocolate in the country.

These measures have led to a 25 percent decline in exports since 2011. Ukraine exports a third of its goods to Russia and other former countries of the former Soviet Union, and only 25 percent to the EU. Russia also threatened that it would require Ukrainians to apply for visas to travel to the country in the future.

Three days after the secret meeting in Moscow, Ukrainian oligarchs, apparently in consultation with the Kremlin, asked Yanukovych to postpone signing the EU association treaty by a year.

Zurkov the Manipulator

The Kremlin made it clear the harassment could become permanent. Sergei Glazyev, Pig Putin's advisor for the economic reintegration of the republics that gained their independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union, predicted that Kiev would experience an "economic disaster" if it signed the agreement with the EU. "Ukraine is sacrificing its sovereignty," he said threateningly at a conference on the Crimean Peninsula, which is former Russian territory.

Vladislav Surkov -- the Kremlin's former main ideologist, who had fallen out of favor but was brought back by Putin two months ago -- was sitting in one of the back rows. His mission was to help Moscow regain its control over the countries of the former Soviet Union.

When someone like Zurkov appears at a meeting, it means intrigues are under way. In Russia, Zurkov has founded parties and let them fade away based on Putin's needs. He could do the same thing in Ukraine, by siphoning off Yanukovych's pro-Russian voters and all but destroying Yanukovych's chances of reelection.

It is unclear whether the Pig had to voice all of these threats in his meeting with Yanukovych. It was probably no longer necessary. Yanukovych had already understood that his only hope for political survival was to throw in his lot with the Russians.

The threats were also accompanied by promises. Putin held out the prospect of loans, lower gas prices and debt forgiveness with Russian energy giant Gazprom, to which Ukraine owes $1.3 billion.

Pipeline Under Threat

Another project could suffer a fate similar to that of the association agreement: a natural gas contract, negotiated under the auspices of the EU, which was supposed to be signed on Nov. 22. Once again, everything seemed to have been agreed upon, but then the Ukrainians were suddenly saying minor technical details had yet to be ironed out. "This has already been going back and forth for a year now," says one of the frustrated lead negotiators.

Everyone had expected the agreement to be signed, because it would have enabled the Ukrainians to liberate themselves, gas-wise, from the clutches of the Russians, especially as they now pay significantly more for Russian gas than major Western companies, such as German energy conglomerate RWE. Under the new agreement, pipelines in EU member-state Slovakia would be rebuilt to allow for reverse gas flows, so gas destined for Western Europe could also be transported to Ukraine in the future.

But Yanukovych is hesitating. Because of the necessary upgrading work, the gas from the West could not begin flowing to Ukraine until next September. This would make the Ukrainians vulnerable to blackmail, at least this winter. And the negotiations over the new contract already seem to have helped Yanukovych, with the Russians signaling significant price cuts for Ukraine. It appears Yanukovych has played his cards right once again.

That is, if he can contain the political anger within Ukraine. On Sunday, the largest demonstration in the country since 2004's Orange Revolution took place in Kiev. According police estimates, 23,000 people protested the withdrawal from the EU pact negotiations, including boxing champ Vitali Klitschko. Organizers place the number at over 100,000. Yulia Tymoshenko's daughter, Eugenia, personally reached out to Angela Merkel for help in an interview with Germany's Bild tabloid, saying that, if nothing was done, her mother would die.

What Now?

In Brussels, European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle tried to compose himself last Friday. "Only when the summit officially begins will we know, once and for all, whether or not Ukraine intends to sign." But no one expects a quick agreement anymore. Even Füle is already thinking about possible next steps. He also seems somewhat at a loss when he says that the EU has no interest in engaging in a competition with Russia -- as if one hadn't already happened.

"It's difficult to say when the negotiations will be resumed," says middleman Kwasniewski. The European Parliament will be elected next year, there will be changes at the European Commission, and a presidential election in Ukraine in 2015. "It seems to me that the pause is going to be longer rather than shorter," Kwasniewski adds.

REPORTED BY CHRISTOPH PAULY, JAN PUHL, MATTHIAS SCHEPP, GREGOR PETER SCHMITZ AND CHRISTOPH SCHULT

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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

Yulia Tymoshenko declares hunger strike over Ukraine's EU snub

Government decided last week to shelve association and trade deal with EU and forge closer ties with Russia instead

Agencies in Kiev
theguardian.com, Monday 25 November 2013 18.55 GMT

Ukraine's jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has declared a hunger strike in an attempt to press the government to sign a landmark deal with the EU.

Tymoshenko's lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, announced the decision on Monday, at a protest against the government's move to shelve the association and trade deal with the EU and forge closer ties with Russia instead.

The EU considers Tymoshenko's imprisonment politically motivated and has said it will not sign any deal unless Tymoshenko is freed. It is not her first hunger strike.

Ukraine' president, Viktor Yanukovych, has resisted the EU pressure, apparently fearing that Tymoshenko, whom he closely defeated in elections in 2010, would challenge him again in the 2015 vote.

Last week, Tymoshenko said in an open letter that she was ready to ask the EU to drop the demand for her release if it could help persuade Yanukovych to sign the deal.

Meanwhile on Monday, Yanukovich acted to defuse pro-Europe street protests, saying a decision to suspend moves towards a trade pact with the EU had been difficult, and vowing to bring "European standards" to the country.

In a television address, Yanukovich said the decision had been forced by economic necessity.

"Today I would like to underline this: there is no alternative to the creation of a society of European standards in Ukraine and my policies on this path always have been, and will continue to be, consistent," he said.

Yanukovich's government stunned European leaders last Thursday by announcing it was suspending preparations for the signing of the deal in Vilnius and declaring it would revive dialogue instead with Russia, which had objected to the deal.

The announcement triggered pro-Europe demonstrations on the streets of the capital, Kiev, and isolated clashes with police.


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