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« Reply #10980 on: Dec 31, 2013, 07:43 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
12/30/2013 04:52 PM

March to The Top: Risky Opportunity for New Defense Minister

Ursula von der Leyen has clinched the defense ministry and positioned herself as potential heir to Chancellor Angela Merkel. She's the star of the new cabinet, but she also has formidable rival in Thomas de Maizière, whom she ousted to get her new job.

Ursula von der Leyen smiles the smile of someone who made it. Relaxed, almost nonchalant, she approaches German President Joachim Gauck, who has in his hand the document officially naming her Germany's first female defense minister. Gauck gives von der Leyen a firm handshake. Von der Leyen smiles. Both turn to face the photographers.

The cameras click for four seconds, she holds the pose longer than any of the other ministers. Von der Leyen thanks Gauck. Next, she turns to Angela Merkel who says, "I look forward to working with you." Soon after, she's standing in front of Thomas de Maizière, her predecessor as defense minister.

De Maizière wants to simply extend his hand and offer brief congratulations -- for him, that would be enough. But von der Leyen is faster: She takes him by surprise, opening her arms and enveloping her colleague in a hug. De Maizière is startled, but then plays along, valiantly smiling as the cameras click away. A kiss on each cheek, then von der Leyen moves on.

It takes quite an amount of chutzpah to hug a man after you've just taken away his beloved job. But von der Leyen is capable of doing whatever it takes to get a good photo op, and did so at the Bellevue presidential palace, in Berlin on December 17, when she was officially appointed to her new post. Von der Leyen has always had a talent for easing the bitter taste of her ambition with a sweet coating of harmony. It's a method that has brought her far.

Germany now has a new government -- it has a few surprises in store, and one of them has been Ursula von der Leyen. Not only has she battled her way up to become the first female defense minister in German history, she has also managed along the way to reorganize the hierarchy of her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Within the CDU, two women are in charge now. Merkel at the top, and von der Leyen as her second in command. Then there's a considerable gap between them and the next in line. De Maizière, who had been all set to slip into the role of crown prince, was forced to make way so that von der Leyen could receive a ministerial post. That step fits in with her ambition and her desire to invent a new story for herself.

Political Minefield For von der Leyen

De Maizière is now interior minister, a position of power in any government, yet he is the loser in this situation and he knows it. He doesn't want to give up, though. Merkel is entering her third term in office and remains undisputed within the CDU, but there's a debate developing over who should one day succeed her. Any politician who aspires to do so needs to start getting into position now. Von der Leyen has done so, and de Maizière plans to do so.

One plus point from de Maizière's point of view is the fact that his rival has just taken on a politically risky ministry. Any file at the Defense Ministry's Berlin headquarters might turn out to contain the next arms scandal, any skirmish in Afghanistan could trigger an avalanche of critical questions, every closure of a base could bring about a storm of public outrage. There's no doubt about it, as the person who now holds the power of command over Germany's armed forces, von der Leyen is marching into a political minefield, and the word from within party circles is that not a few people within the CDU, including de Maizière, are watching eagerly to see whether von der Leyen will prove herself or fail.

But this is what she wanted. And she got her way.

Since the fog surrounding the formation of the new cabinet lifted, an ugly word is making the rounds in Berlin -- extortion. That word was tossed around once before in the context of these two women, when von der Leyen forced the chancellor to change course this spring on the issue of a gender quota. Merkel hasn't forgotten that.

Is that history now repeating itself? Extortion is a strong word, but a look at the steps that went into the formation of the new government makes it clear that no one in the CDU has put as much pressure on Merkel in recent weeks as von der Leyen. Merkel knew she would ultimately have to grant von der Leyen's wish.

Von der Leyen's path to the Defense Ministry began a couple days after the federal election on September 22. At that point, it was unclear with which of its potential partners the CDU would ultimately form a governing coalition. In a one-on-one discussion, von der Leyen and the chancellor ran through all the possibilities, as well as addressing the question of what should become of von der Leyen herself.

Both politicians knew that if they formed a grand coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SPD), that party would lay claim to the Labor Ministry, which von der Leyen has headed for the last four years. In her conversation with Merkel, von der Leyen indicated her willingness to consider various options, but made one thing unambiguously clear -- she did not want to be health minister. In fact, the implication was, she would rather have no post at all than have that. The Chancellery was left with the impression that, if push came to shove, von der Leyen would go without a cabinet post entirely. These days, though, no one is willing to describe what passed between the two politicians that day as a "threat."

Von der Leyen is a qualified doctor, but doesn't think that would be of any benefit in the Health Ministry. The work there, she says, isn't about treating illnesses but about managing the complicated system of funding health care. That's certainly true, but von der Leyen's real motive is a different one. After heading the Labor Ministry, with its €120 billion ($160 billion) budget, moving to the Health Ministry would be a step to the side, or perhaps even a step down. Von der Leyen doesn't want to end up with the country's newspapers announcing that she is the great loser in the new government. So far, her career has moved in only one direction, and that direction is up.

Icon of the Working Mother

Part of the secret of von der Leyen's success lies in her ability to continually reinvent herself. When the CDU was in opposition, she was a fervent supporter of Merkel's neoliberal reform plans. As family minister in the first great coalition under Merkel, von der Leyen became the icon of the working mother. Then, in the Labor Ministry under a coalition of the CDU and the Free Democratic Party (FDP), she was the compassionate conservative, deeply concerned about the fate of poor retirees, the kind of politician who would have liked to personally bring every schoolchild a warm lunch each day. And now, the politician once nicknamed "Röschen" ("Little Rose") is responsible for rifles and cannons.

When Merkel and von der Leyen parted following that conversation in late September, the minister had no clear answer as to what her future would hold. But she came away with the impression that Merkel would not shunt her into an unimportant ministry.

The relationship between Merkel and von der Leyen is a complicated one. They keep a wary eye on one another, but at the same time they need each other. Merkel took it as disloyalty when, in the quarrel this spring over the gender quota, von der Leyen went behind her back to initiate an alliance with the SPD and the Green Party. Ultimately, though, the chancellor didn't relieve von der Leyen of her post, in part because the minister draws young, modern women to the party.

In recent weeks as well, Merkel seems to have watched von der Leyen's actions with mixed emotions. She understood von der Leyen's desire for a ministry with substance. On the other hand, the chancellor didn't want to allow herself to be pressured, not even by one of her most important ministers. There is nothing Merkel hates more than to feel she's being forced to make a decision.

Still, the chancellor did want to promote von der Leyen -- at least, that's what Merkel's aides say. Her problem was simply that for quite a while it looked like she would have nothing to offer. It became clear in the course of the coalition negotiations with the SPD that Frank-Walter Steinmeier would return to the Foreign Ministry, one post that would otherwise have appealed to von der Leyen. De Maizière, meanwhile, was determined to remain on as defense minister, seeing this as the only way to smooth back out the dent the recent drone scandal had left in his reputation.

The idea that a woman could be appointed defense minister is one Merkel has carried with her for a while. Once, years ago, she told her confidante Annette Schavan she felt it was time to finally place this last bastion of masculinity into female hands.

At the time, it was nothing more than chat. Now, though, in the course of the coalition negotiations, it became a concrete option. All that remained was for Merkel to find another place for de Maizière. That was the sticking point. So she initiated a conversation on the matter with Horst Seehofer, head of the CDU's sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU). Even before the coalition negotiations were complete, the chancellor pulled Seehofer aside and said, "We need to talk."

For some time now, Merkel told Seehofer in a one-on-one conversation, she had been less than happy with the work of Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, also of the CSU. That sort of comment is usually taken as a provocation. According to the unwritten rules of politics in Berlin, the head of the CDU isn't entitled to pass judgment on the politicians its sister party appoints ministerial posts.

But here Merkel was in luck, because Seehofer took a similarly critical view of Friedrich's track record. Since Seehofer didn't have a suitable replacement candidate to offer to replace Friedrich, by the end of the coalition negotiations it had been determined that the CSU would give up its claim to the Interior Ministry.

The way was now clear.

On the evening of Thursday, December 12, Merkel summoned von der Leyen to the Chancellery and offered her the post of defense minister. The conversation lasted 20 minutes. Von der Leyen eagerly accepted. A woman in command of over 180,000 soldiers -- that is the stuff from which great stories are made.

Now all that was left was for de Maizière to go along with the plan. The morning after her conversation with von der Leyen, the chancellor called the incumbent defense minister to the Chancellery. De Maizière arrived at 9 a.m. When Merkel broke the news that he would be made interior minister, he was flabbergasted.

In the preceding weeks, de Maizière had repeatedly stated in conversations with those close to him that he wished to remain defense minister. For him, it was partly a question of honor. He didn't want to leave the field as the minister who had screwed things up, with the sole legacy of his time in office being that he was the man who drove the several-hundred-million-euro "Euro Hawk" drone project into the ground.

For de Maizière, the Defense Ministry is an unfinished mission, and he argued as much in his conversation with Merkel. He didn't want to be shuffled around yet again. He was frustrated at the way he's painted as a bureaucrat whom those who hold the real power can order about from one place to another as they choose. He had served this way his entire career, de Maizière said. Now he wanted the chance to see one thing through to the end.

Ministerial Rivalry

But Merkel stood firm. She had given von der Leyen her word. De Maizière could see that someone else was more important to his boss than he was, and eventually he gave in.

This ministerial thriller will leave a mark, that much is certain. The long-distance duel between von der Leyen and de Maizière will color the coming years, as they tussle to determine who is the second in line after Merkel and who will be her successor once she leaves office.

The first round went to von der Leyen, the woman for whom two men had to step aside, former Interior Minister Friedrich and former Defense Minister de Maizière.

But that doesn't mean things will necessarily remain that way. In Berlin, the word about de Maizière's view of the situation is making the rounds. Von der Leyen, he says, must first prove herself in a "tough ministry, on the front line." Her previous ministerial posts, de Maizière suggests, were comparatively easy options. The Defense Ministry has indeed spelled the end of many a minister, and the list of those who have resigned from the post is long, extending from Franz Josef Strauss to Manfred Wörner to Rudolf Scharping. Only a few have managed to convert a stint as defense minister into a move on to greater things. One such exception is Helmut Schmidt, who held the office from 1969 and 1972 before continuing on to become finance minister and later chancellor.

De Maizière, for his part, has a plan as to how he will score over von der Leyen. Within the Interior Ministry, he plans to present himself as a conservative -- on the chancellor's instructions, it's said. The CDU has ceded socio-politically important ministries to the SPD, including the Family Ministry and the Labor Ministry. In his new post, de Maizière is to serve as a counterbalance, with socially conservative and economically liberal positions.

There is a quiet longing within the CDU for just such an approach. Many traditional CDU voters remain disconcerted by Merkel's modernizing approach. The idea is for de Maizière not to reverse these changes, but to offer skeptics among the party's conservative voters something to hold onto. He tried out this approach once before, at the CDU's 2011 party convention in Leipzig, when he outlined his overall principles in just a few sentences. Being conservative, de Maizière said, is practically speaking a question of style, attitude and decency. He offered no concrete content, yet garnered plenty of applause. Now de Maizière wants to carry that approach further. "Serve" is one of his favorite words.

But will his new ministry yield the opportunity he seeks? In his time as interior minister from fall 2009 to spring 2011, by and large de Maizière confused his party's traditionalists. He wasn't exactly seen as a tough champion of domestic security. His primary topic was rifts in German society, rather the needs of the country's security authorities. In this parliamentary term he will initiate a law allowing dual citizenship. This too doesn't exactly qualify him as the CDU's top conservative.

But the race is not yet run.

In a headcount of the two rivals' friends and supporters within the CDU and its parliamentary group, at the moment de Maizière would likely come out ahead, while von der Leyen is more of a solitary figure. Everyone knows how important she is in elections and how well-liked she is among the general population, but she can't seem to shed her reputation as a lone wolf willing to leave aside loyalty if it will make a good headline. Von der Leyen may be deputy party chair, but she has no support base within the CDU.

Then there's her new job and all its attendant risks. Von der Leyen has already made the first personnel changes within her new ministry. Experienced politician Rüdiger Wolf, a state secretary within the Defense Ministry, is out, replaced by Gerd Hoofe, von der Leyen's confidant of many years, who was at her side during her time at the Family Ministry and Labor Ministry. But Stéphane Beemelmans, the other tenured state secretary, until now always at de Maizière's side, was allowed to stay. Beemelmans does bear part of the responsibility for the drone scandal, but he is also familiar with all the ministry's pitfalls, which makes von der Leyen reluctant to do without him just yet.

Besides, Beemelmans serves as the perfect lightning rod. If von der Leyen is forced to admit to mistakes in the coming months, Beemelmans is there as a convenient pawn to sacrifice. He is also to continue to hold responsibility for the Defense Ministry's scandal-prone armaments division and here, too, the new minister can shift responsibility at any time.

The question that remains is whether von der Leyen in fact wants to be chancellor. When asked about this, she replies that every generation in Germany produces just one chancellor, and in her generation that chancellor is Merkel. Yet no other CDU politician has fought so hard to get ahead in recent years as von der Leyen. This constant speculation as to her true goals flatters her. She likes being considered chancellor material. Many of those close to Merkel, too, assume that if the opportunity presents itself, the mother of seven will grab it.

In any case, von der Leyen is enjoying the sensation that her new position has caused. When she arrived at the Bundestag on December 17 to elect the new chancellor, few were in as high spirits as von der Leyen, who was thronged by a crowd of well-wishers. As she made her way through the east lobby, she joked with colleagues, "First I need to learn how to stride." That applies to the minefield ahead of her as well."

NIKOLAUS BLOME, MATTHIAS GEBAUER, ANN-KATRIN MÜLLER; PETER MÜLLER; RENÉ PFISTER; GORDON REPINSKI

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein


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« Reply #10981 on: Dec 31, 2013, 07:45 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
12/30/2013 03:51 PM

NSA's Secret Toolbox: Unit Offers Spy Gadgets for Every Need

The NSA has a secret unit that produces special equipment ranging from spyware for computers and cell phones to listening posts and USB sticks that work as bugging devices. Here are some excerpts from the intelligence agency's own catalog.

Editor's note: This is a sidebar to our main feature story on the NSA's Tailored Access Operations unit. You can read the main text here .

When agents with the NSA's Tailored Access Operations (TAO) division want to infiltrate a network or a computer, they turn to their technical experts. This particular unit of the United States intelligence service is known internally as ANT. The acronym presumably stands for Advanced Network Technology, because that's what the division produces -- tools for penetrating network equipment and monitoring mobile phones and computers. ANT's products help TAO agents infiltrate networks and divert or even modify data wherever the NSA's usual methods won't suffice. You can read more about the TAO division, its strengths and tricks in a SPIEGEL feature that was published in English on Sunday.

SPIEGEL has obtained an internal NSA catalog describing ANT's various products, along with their prices. A rigged monitor cable, for example, which allows "TAO personnel to see what is displayed on the targeted monitor," goes for $30 (€22). An "active GSM base station" that makes it possible to mimic the cell phone tower of a target network and thus monitor mobile phones, is available for $40,000. Computer bugging devices disguised as normal USB plugs, capable of sending and receiving data undetected via radio link, are available in packs of 50, for over $1 million.

Intelligence agencies, incidentally, are not the only ones using these types of devices. The same kind of modified USB plug played a role, for example, in a recent high-tech drug-smuggling case uncovered at the port of Antwerp, Belgium.

Spying on Allies

It has become clear that the ANT arsenal isn't used exclusively to track suspected terrorists. GSM base stations, for example, make it possible to monitor mobile phones, such as that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Radar systems such as the one known as "DROPMIRE" have also been used to spy on allies, for example EU representatives in Washington. And the hardware "implants" found in the ANT catalog evidently have been used, for example, to tap encrypted faxes.

NSA malware has also been used against international telecommunications companies, such as partially state-owned Belgian company Belgacom and mobile phone billing service provider MACH. One internal NSA document dating from 2004 describes a spyware program called "VALIDATOR" by saying that it provides "unique backdoor access to personal computers of targets of national interest, including but not limited to terrorist targets."

In the graphic in this article, you can browse nearly 50 pages from the ANT catalog, sorted by where these devices would potentially be used and purged of the names and email addresses of agents. There are "implants," as the NSA calls them, for computers, servers, routers and hardware firewalls. There is special equipment for covertly viewing everything displayed on a targeted individual's monitor. And there are bugging devices that can conduct surveillance without sending out any measurable radio signal -- their signals are instead picked up using radar waves. Many of these items are designed for subverting the technical infrastructure of telecommunications companies to exploit them, undetected, for the NSA's purposes, or for tapping into company networks.

Spyware for mobile phones was even on offer in the 2008 version of the catalog. A Trojan for gaining total access to iPhones, which were still new at the time, was still in development, though its specifications are listed in the catalog.

'Implants' for Cisco, Juniper, Dell, Huawei and HP

The catalog is not up to date. Many of the software solutions on offer date from 2008, some apply to server systems or mobile phone models no longer on the market, and it is very likely that the portions SPIEGEL has seen are far from complete. And yet this version still provides considerable insight both into the tools the NSA has had at its disposal for years and into the agency's boundless ambitions. It is safe to assume that ANT's hackers are constantly improving their arsenal. Indeed, the catalog makes frequent mention of other systems that will be "pursued for a future release."

The NSA has also targeted products made by well-known American manufacturers and found ways to break into professional-grade routers and hardware firewalls, such as those used by Internet and mobile phone operators. ANT offers malware and hardware for use on computers made by Cisco, Dell, Juniper, Hewlett-Packard and Chinese company Huawei.

There is no information in the documents seen by SPIEGEL to suggest that the companies whose products are mentioned in the catalog provided any support to the NSA or even had any knowledge of the intelligence solutions. "Cisco does not work with any government to modify our equipment, nor to implement any so-called security 'back doors' in our products," the company said in a statement. The company has also since commented on SPIEGEL's intitial reporting on a Cisco blog. "We are deeply concerned with anything that may impact the integrity of our products or our customers' networks and continue to seek additional information," the company wrote.

A representative of Hewlett-Packard wrote that the company was not aware of any of the information presented in the report and that it did "not believe any of it to be true." Contacted by SPIEGEL reporters, officials at Juniper Networks and Huawei also said they had no knowledge of any such modifications. Meanwhile, Dell officials said the company "respects and complies with the laws of all countries in which it operates."

TAO's implants, in place around the world, have played a significant role in the NSA's ability to establish a global covert network consisting partly of the agency's own hardware, but also of other computers subverted to serve its purposes.

Intercepting Packages and Manipulating Computers

ANT's developers often seek to place their malicious code in BIOS, software located directly on a computer's motherboard that is the first thing to load when the computer is turned on. Even if the hard drive is wiped and a new operating system installed, ANT's malware continues to function, making it possible to later add other spyware back onto the computer.

Along with the BIOS software of computers and servers, the NSA's hackers also attack firmware on computer hard drives, essentially the software that makes the hardware work. The ANT catalog includes, for example, spyware capable of embedding itself unnoticed into hard drives manufactured by Western Digital, Seagate and Samsung. The first two of these are American companies.

Many of these digital tools are "remotely installable," meaning they can be put in place over the Internet. Others, however, require direct intervention, known in NSA jargon as "interdiction." This means that brand new products being delivered by mail are secretly intercepted, and hardware or software implants installed on them. The package is forwarded to its intended destination only after this has been done.

Windows Error Messages Potential Sources of Information

One example of the creativity with which the TAO spies approach their work can be seen in a hacking method that exploits frequent errors on Microsoft Windows. Every user of the operating system is familiar with the window that pops up on screen when an internal problem is detected, asking the user to report the error to Microsoft with a click of the mouse. The window promises this communication will be "confidential and anonymous."

For TAO specialists, these crash reports either were or continue to be a welcome source of potential information. When TAO selects a computer somewhere in the world as a target and enters its unique identifiers (an IP address, for example) into the corresponding database, intelligence agents are then automatically notified any time the operating system of that computer crashes and its user receives the prompt to report the problem to Microsoft.

The automated crash reports are a "neat way" to gain "passive access" to a targeted machine, the presentation continues. Passive access means that, initially, only data the computer sends out into the Internet is captured and saved, but the computer itself is not yet manipulated. Still, even this passive access to error messages provides valuable insights into problems with a targeted person's computer and, thus, information on security holes that might be exploitable for planting malware or spyware on the unwitting victim's computer.

Although the method appears to have little importance in practical terms, the NSA's agents still seem to enjoy it because it allows them to have a bit of a laugh at the expense of the Seattle-based software giant. In one internal graphic, they replaced the text of Microsoft's original error message with one of their own reading, "This information may be intercepted by a foreign sigint system to gather detailed information and better exploit your machine." ("Sigint" stands for "signals intelligence.")

In response to a query from SPIEGEL, NSA officials issued a statement saying, "Tailored Access Operations is a unique national asset that is on the front lines of enabling NSA to defend the nation and its allies." The statement added that TAO's "work is centered on computer network exploitation in support of foreign intelligence collection." The officials said they would not discuss specific allegations regarding TAO's mission.

One trail also leads to Germany. According to a document dating from 2010 that lists the "Lead TAO Liaisons" domestically and abroad as well as names, email addresses and the number for their "Secure Phone," a liaison office is located near Frankfurt -- the European Security Operations Center (ESOC) at the so-called "Dagger Complex" at a US military compound in the Griesheim suburb of Darmstadt.

BY JACOB APPELBAUM, JUDITH HORCHERT, OLE REISSMANN, MARCEL ROSENBACH, JÖRG SCHINDLER AND CHRISTIAN STÖCKER

WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ANDY MÜLLER-MAGUHN


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« Reply #10982 on: Dec 31, 2013, 07:49 AM »

December 30, 2013

Deadly Clashes Between Iraqi Forces and Tribal Fighters in Anbar

By YASIR GHAZI
IHT

BAGHDAD — Heavy fighting erupted on Monday between government security forces and tribal gunmen when the police moved to dismantle a Sunni protesters’ camp in Ramadi, west of Baghdad in Anbar Province, police and local officials said. At least 17 people died in the clashes, according to a security official.

Battles also broke out in other parts of the province, including Falluja. The security official, who asked not to be identified, said 12 civilians had been killed and 26 wounded in fighting in Ramadi and Hit, a nearby city. In Falluja, the official said, five soldiers were killed and 15 people were wounded.

In scenes reminiscent of 2005, when Anbar was under the control of militants, tribal fighters in Ramadi deployed two tanks and seven Humvees they had seized from the military.

“We will not kneel to the army of Maliki — he should know that dealing with the people of Anbar is no picnic,” a tribal fighter in Ramadi said, referring to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq. “He thought that he can deceive the world by fighting Al Qaeda, but in reality he is fighting the Sunnis.”

Sheikh Abdul Malik al-Saadi, a leading Sunni cleric, asked Shiite tribes in southern Iraq not to send their sons to participate in “this blatant aggression on their brothers” in Anbar. He also asked the minister of defense, the local governments in Sunni provinces and Sunni members of Parliament and ministers to resign and stand with their people.

Nikolay Mladenov, the United Nations representative to Iraq, expressed concern and urged restraint, calling on political leaders “to immediately come together to discuss the serious challenges facing the country.”

Police officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said security forces had pulled out of Falluja and Ramadi and were shelling the areas where the militants were gathered. The forces cut off communications networks and Internet access across Anbar Province.

An official at the Ramadi hospital said many of the wounded were women and children. The official said that the hospital expected to receive more victims, but that ambulances were unable to reach some areas because the heavy fighting was continuing.

A government spokesman, Ali Musawi, said in a statement that “the local police and the tribes in coordination with the local government in Anbar have completed the removal of tents in the sit-in site and opened the streets, and found two car bombs.”

An Iraqi employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Anbar Province.


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« Reply #10983 on: Dec 31, 2013, 07:51 AM »

Iran resumes talks with world powers over its nuclear program

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, December 30, 2013 10:58 EST

Closed-door talks resumed Monday between Iran and world powers on implementing a landmark deal to rein in Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme in exchange for easing sanctions.

European Union foreign policy spokesman Michael Mann told AFP that the Geneva meeting began at 8:30 am (0730 GMT) but that no further details would be available immediately.

Technical experts from Iran and the EU-chaired “P5+1″ group — comprising the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — also held a session two weeks ago in Geneva amid efforts to fine-tune a deal reached by their foreign ministers in the Swiss city on November 24.

The latest talks were set to last for one day, before a break for New Year, Iran’s official news agency IRNA quoted deputy foreign minister and nuclear pointman Abbas Araqchi as saying.

On December 22, Araqchi said progress towards implementing the November deal was proving slow because of differing interpretations over its terms, but that the goal was to have it in force by the end of January.

Earlier this month, experts held four days of talks in Vienna — home of the International Atomic Energy Agency — but the Iranians walked out after Washington expanded its sanctions blacklist against Tehran.

Under the Geneva deal, Iran agreed to roll back parts of its nuclear programme for six months in exchange for modest sanctions relief and a promise by Western powers not to impose new sanctions.

During the six-month nuclear freeze, Iran and world powers aim to hammer out a long-term comprehensive accord to decisively end the standoff over Iran’s contested nuclear programme, after a decade of failed attempts and rising tensions.

Iran denies wanting nuclear weapons but many in the international community suspect otherwise, and neither Israel — widely considered to be the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state — nor Washington have ruled out military action.

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« Reply #10984 on: Dec 31, 2013, 07:52 AM »

Pakistan appoints first female judge to sharia court

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, December 30, 2013 10:51 EST

Pakistan’s national sharia court, which hears cases under the country’s Islamic legislation, on Monday appointed a female judge for the first time in its 33-year history.

Ashraf Jehan, 56, who was serving as an additional judge at the high court in southern Sindh province, made history as she took the oath in Karachi.

“It was a historic oath-taking ceremony today when an able lady judge had joined the Shariat Court,” Agha Rafiq Ahmed, the chief justice of the Federal Shariat Court of Pakistan, told AFP.

The court was established in 1980 during the rule of military dictator Ziaul Haq as part of a sweeping Islamisation of Pakistan’s institutions.

It examines the country’s laws to check them for conformity with Islamic injunctions and hears appeals under religious legislation known as the “Hudood Laws”, which run parallel to the penal code.

“There was no bar in the constitution to make a woman the judge of Shariat Court and there is no discrimination between men and women,” Ahmed said.

The chief justice of the Shariat Court, who rarely speaks to the media, said he was pleased to comment on an historic moment.

“I took the initiative as it would send the message in the world that we are enlightened people and would dispel many misconceptions,” he said.

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« Reply #10985 on: Dec 31, 2013, 07:55 AM »

December 30, 2013

No Meeting With Leader of Japan, Chinese Say

By EDWARD WONG
IHT

BEIJING — China’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that Chinese leaders, angered over a visit last week by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan to a contentious war shrine in Tokyo, would not meet with Mr. Abe.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, said at a regularly scheduled news conference in Beijing that Mr. Abe’s visit to the Yasakuni shrine, which pays tribute to some war criminals among the dead, was tantamount to honoring “fascists” and “the Nazis of Asia.” Mr. Qin’s statements were the strongest public remarks made by China against Mr. Abe.

Mr. Abe has been asking for high-level talks with China to discuss points of tension in East Asia. In recent years, the China-Japan relationship has worsened because of disputes over territory in the East China Sea. Most recently, Japan and other countries expressed surprise and anger over China’s efforts to expand its flight identification zone in the region.

Japan has also encountered friction with South Korea, which, like China, expressed anger at Mr. Abe’s visit to the shrine. The visit was the first by a sitting head of government in Japan since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi went there in 2006. That visit also stirred rage in the region.

Mr. Qin said that the visit by Mr. Abe “betrayed” previous agreements and understandings that had been reached by China and Japan and damaged “the political foundation between the two countries.”

“It is Abe himself who closed the door of conversation with Chinese leaders,” Mr. Qin added.

The Yasakuni shrine, an institution of the Shinto religion, honors ordinary soldiers who died fighting in World War II but has long generated enmity among the Chinese because among its honorees are Class A war criminals.  These former officials were convicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East after Japan’s defeat in the war, and the Class A designation means that they had taken part in top-level decisions on the war’s execution.

“Since Abe stepped into power, he has made many mistakes in his relations with China, especially in his visit to the shrine where many Class A war criminals are worshiped,” Mr. Qin said. “They are the historic sinners of the Far East Military Tribunal. Their hands are stained with the blood of the people of victimized nations. They are fascists. They are the Nazis of Asia.”

Mr. Abe, in formal dress, visited the shrine on Thursday, with news helicopters flying overhead. The event was broadcast live on television, though TV cameras were not allowed into the shrine’s inner sanctum.

Mr. Abe is known for holding conservative views on Japanese history. Though he did not visit the shrine during his first period as prime minister, from 2006 to 2007, he has since expressed regret over that.

Ye Fanfei contributed research.


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« Reply #10986 on: Dec 31, 2013, 07:58 AM »


South Sudan: fresh fighting erupts around Bor

Clashes still taking place as deadline looms for opposing sides to lay down arms or face intervention by African neighbours

Reuters in Juba
theguardian.com, Tuesday 31 December 2013 07.34 GMT   

A South Sudan army soldier stands next to a machine gun mounted on a truck amid continued clashes between government forces and rebels. A South Sudan army soldier stands next to a machine gun mounted on a truck amid continued clashes between government forces and rebels. Photograph: James Akena/Reuters

South Sudanese forces fought rebels on the outskirts of the flashpoint town of Bor on Tuesday, its mayor said, as a deadline imposed by east African nations for an end to hostilities neared.

Two weeks of fighting have killed more than a thousand people in the world's youngest country, raising the spectre of civil war and unnerving oil markets.

The African Union threatened targeted sanctions late on Monday against those inciting the violence and hampering international efforts to negotiate an end to the fighting that risks drawing in the wider region.

"We are fighting the rebels now," Mayor Nhial Majak Nhial told Reuters by phone from the edge of Bor, 120 miles (190km) to the north of the capital, Juba, by road.

Nhial said he was positioned on the frontline. As he spoke he gave orders to the government soldiers around him. "Go, go. Do it," he shouted, with sustained volleys of gunfire audible in the background.

The clashes erupted on 15 December with fighting among a group of soldiers in the capital, Juba. The violence quickly spread to half of the country's 10 states, cleaving the nation along the ethnic faultline of rebel leader Riek Machar's Nuer group and President Salva Kiir's Dinka.

The scene of a massacre of Dinka in 1991 by Nuer fighters loyal to Machar, Bor is inaccessible to journalists. It was briefly seized by the rebels early in the conflict before being retaken by government troops after several days of heavy fighting.

South Sudan's neighbours have given the warring factions until the end of Tuesday to lay down their arms and begin negotiations – but there has been no sign of the hostilities ending.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said on Monday that east African nations had agreed to move in and defeat Machar, the former vice-president, if he rejected a government ceasefire offer. There was no immediate confirmation of the pact from other nations.

But Museveni's words demonstrated the scale of regional worry over the fighting, which has reached some of South Sudan's oil fields, forcing a cut in output.

At a meeting in Gambia in west Africa, the AU said it was dismayed and disappointed by the bloodletting that comes two years after South Sudan won independence from its northern neighbour, Sudan.

"[Council] expresses its intention to take appropriate measures, including targeted sanctions, against all those who incite violence, including along ethnic lines, continue hostilities [and] undermine the envisaged inclusive dialogue," the AU's peace and security council said.


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« Reply #10987 on: Dec 31, 2013, 08:00 AM »


Israel frees 26 Palestinian prisoners

Latest group goes free as condition of peace talks being brokered by John Kerry, the US secretary of state

Reuters in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Tuesday 31 December 2013 02.17 GMT   

Israel has freed a further 26 Palestinian prisoners as part of US-brokered peace efforts after pledging to press ahead with plans to build more homes in Jewish settlements.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state whose shuttle diplomacy led to a resumption of the negotiations in July after a three-year break, is due to return on Thursday to seek a framework agreement in talks that have shown few signs of progress.

Israel agreed to release a total of 104 long-serving Palestinian prisoners – the latest group is the third of four to go free – as part of the US-led efforts that coaxed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas back to negotiations after a three-year break.

In tandem with the prisoner releases in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel has announced new construction in settlements in occupied territory Palestinians seek for a state.

Most of the 26 inmates going free were convicted of killing Israelis and almost all were jailed before the first Israeli-Palestinian interim peace deals were signed 20 years ago.

Palestinians have jubilantly welcomed the return home of brethren they regard as national heroes. The families of Israelis they killed or injured have voiced anger and mounted unsuccessful court challenges against their release.

Last week an Israeli official said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government – which includes pro-settlement parties – would announce plans after the latest release to build 1,400 more homes for settlers in the West Bank.

Palestinian officials have cautioned the settlement push could kill chances for a peace deal. Israel says the housing projects are in areas it intends to keep in any future agreement.

In another move that drew Palestinian anger, an Israeli ministerial committee on Sunday endorsed proposed legislation to annex an area of the West Bank likely to be the eastern border of a future Palestinian state.

The step, promoted by far-right members of Netanyahu's Likud party, could weigh on the peace negotiations. But Tzipi Livni, the justice minister acting as Israel's chief negotiator, said she would use her powers to stop the legislation being voted on in parliament.


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« Reply #10988 on: Dec 31, 2013, 08:02 AM »


Congo TV talkshow stormed by armed intruders

Dozens die after state broadcaster, airport and military base in Kinshasa attacked by machete-wielding assailants

David Smith, Africa correspondent
theguardian.com, Monday 30 December 2013 16.31 GMT

Congolese television viewers watched stunned on Monday as the presenter of a morning talkshow was cut off mid-sentence by armed intruders who stormed the studio and appeared to be staging a coup.

About 70 assailants wielding machetes and automatic weapons attacked the state broadcaster, airport and main military base in Kinshasa, the sprawling capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), before being repelled by the army, officials and witnesses said.

The surprise assault at the heart of sub-Saharan Africa's biggest and unwieldiest state highlighted the fragility of President Joseph Kabila's central government. The assailants declared themselves loyal to a Christian evangelical prophet.

Lambert Mende, a government spokesman, said about 40 people were killed in the exchange of fire on Monday morning, including 16 at the military base, 16 at the airport and eight at the TV station.

Six other people were captured, he added.

"These are terrorists, you can't call them anything else," Mende told the Associated Press.

The first most residents knew of the attack was during a programme on Radio Television Nationale Congolaise, the state broadcaster. The hosts of Le Panier, or The Breadbasket, talkshow were speaking when when attackers with knives burst in. Footage of the incident shows a young male and young female presenter sitting at a table with alarmed facial expressions, while a man in a blue T-shirt stands behind them.

Before transmission was shut down, two gunmen appeared on camera to deliver a political message against Kabila. "Gideon Mukungubila has come to free you from the slavery of the Rwandan," it said. A voice off camera could be heard to say in the Lingala language: "Kabila, it's finished for him from today. He will be mocked."

Gideon is the nickname used for Paul Joseph Mukungubila by his followers. Calling himself "The prophet of the Eternal", he ran unsuccessfully for the presidency against Kabila in 2006 and has built up a following with broadcasts on local TV and radio.

Mukungubila has been an outspoken critic of a peace deal signed this month with the M23 rebel group in eastern Congo,accusing Kabila's government of bowing to Tutsi interests and pressure from neighbouring Rwanda.

Kabila, derided by his opponents as being "Rwandan", came to power in 2001 after the assassination of his father, warlord Laurent Kabila, who had seized power in a coup with Rwandan backing.

Several journalists were reportedly held hostage at the state TV station. An employee who was inside the building at the time described scenes of confusion and terror.

"There were around 30 armed men who burst into the headquarters of the television station," the employee, who did not wish to be named, told AP. "They started firing, and we hid."

Between 7am and 8am, gunmen also attacked the international airport and the military camp in the capital housing the country's senior army leaders, officials said. An army colonel was killed.

In an emergency message, the US embassy said it had received reports of fighting throughout Kinshasa, as well as indications that numerous police and military checkpoints had been erected.

"The embassy urged all US citizens to stay in place and not travel around the city until further notice," it said.

Hours later the Congolese army also clashed with Mukungubila's followers in the eastern mining city of Lubumbashi. Witnesses said the clashes erupted after government troops attacked Mukungubila's church in the centre of Lubumbashi in the copper-rich Katanga province.

With a population of nearly 66 million, Congo spans a territory as large as western Europe. Millions of people have died in conflict over the past two decades. It has twice gone to war with its smaller neighbour to the east, Rwanda, which was accused of backing the M23 insurgents.

Kinshasa, in the west, witnessed an apparent coup bid in 2003, blamed by police on troops loyal to ousted dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. A second coup bid attributed to renegade forces in the presidential guard took place in June 2004, but was also swiftly put down.

Elections in 2011 gave Kabila a second term, but the vote was widely criticised as flawed.


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« Reply #10989 on: Dec 31, 2013, 08:03 AM »

Major tourist destination Luxor transformed into ghost town by Egypt turmoil

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, December 31, 2013 7:14 EST

Tourists once flocked to Luxor for its ancient treasures, but as Egypt witnesses sweeping political upheavals, the visitors have simply vanished from this famed temple city.

Christmas used to be particularly busy, as tens of thousands of visitors thronged Luxor’s famous temples, but fresh unrest that followed the army’s ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July has virtually stopped tourist arrivals.

Egypt’s political unrest first began with the 2011 uprising that toppled long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak and triggered a wave of events that has rocked the tourism industry, which was vital to the country’s economy.

Salah, 51, earned a living showing tourists around Luxor in his horse carriage, but now the father-of-four, the youngest of whom is just 18 months old, has no customers and his cart has lain idle for months.

“Before, I used to earn 2,000 to 3,000 (Egyptian) pounds (up to $420 or 300 euros) a month. Today, I am happy if I have 10 pounds in my pocket,” Salah said.

Luxor, a city of around 500,000 residents on the banks of the Nile in southern Egypt, is one of the country’s main tourist hubs that has born the brunt of the upheavals of the past three years.

It is an open-air museum of intricate temples, tombs of pharaonic rulers and landmarks such as the Winter Palace hotel where crime novelist Agatha Christie is said to have written “Death on the Nile.”

Before 2011, it attracted several million tourists annually, drawn by the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens, and the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut — scene of a 1997 massacre that killed dozens of foreign tourists.

The 1997 attack by radical Islamist militants dented tourism, but in the years leading up to 2011 the industry was on the rise again and Luxor was once again a popular destination.

Most families like Salah’s live on earnings from tourism, a sector that makes up over 11 percent of Egypt’s gross domestic product and until recently employed more than four million.

But the days when about 10,000 tourists arrived daily in Luxor have gone.

One could barely walk through the crowded streets three years ago, but now idle guides loiter between the towering columns of historic structures.

Vendors dispute recovery

Salah lives in a three-room house with a courtyard where his horse is tethered.

“I had another horse, but I sold it,” he said, dressed in a traditional gallabiya.

“The choice was between feeding my children or the two horses,” Salah said, adding that among the 340 horse-carriages in Luxor, 20 saw their animals starve to death.

He is not the only one facing difficulties in city. The once thriving tourist hub has become into a virtual ghost city.

The airport is empty and taxis wait outside of hotels that hardly have any occupants.

In one hotel lobby, about six employees light up a tall Christmas tree, but unfortunately the festive period is not promising at all.

The bloody government crackdown on Morsi’s supporters after his ouster has left more than 1,000 people killed in clashes and derailed any chances of a pick-up in tourist arrivals, with many foreign governments issuing travel warnings for Egypt.

Although Luxor has been unaffected by the unrest, local guides and tourist operators accuse Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood of scaring away the tourists.

For “stability” to return, Luxor residents want Egypt’s interim authorities to quickly carry out the democratic transition they had promised after ousting Morsi.

The transition envisages a referendum on a new constitution next month, to be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections in mid-2014.

But Luxor governor Tareq Saadeddine is optimistic.

“For the past three months the (hotel) occupancy rate was less than one percent. Today, it is 18 percent and continues to grow,” he said, adding that 28 of the 255 boats are already operating.

But local vendors are less cheery, like Mohamed Hussein, 23, who swears he has not made a single sale in months.

Hussein said vendors like him were surviving on savings or by selling their wives’ jewellery. He said that for “six months” he had not paid his shop’s electricity bills.

Another seller said the mantra to survive these days was to sell cheap.

“It is so cheap now that you can buy gifts for even those you dislike,” he said in fluent French.

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« Reply #10990 on: Dec 31, 2013, 08:13 AM »

December 30, 2013

Beyond Camps, Aiding Syrians Is Even Harder

By NORIMITSU ONISHI
IHT

BAALBEK, Lebanon — In a typical refugee camp, the tents or trailers would probably be all white and bear the donor’s logo. Here, the shacks that hundreds of Syrian refugees have built themselves are draped with discarded billboard tarps that, in their second lives, still go on advertising the Emirates airline, Silkor Laser Medical Center, Sea Pros Yachts and Khoury Home Wedding List.

A Lebanese charity called Sawa equipped some of the shacks with toilets and water reservoirs. But most of the Syrians on the outskirts of Baalbek, a town in central Lebanon with one of the highest concentrations of refugees, were on their own.

Of the 2.3 million people who have fled Syria’s civil war, only about 20 percent live in camps. The rest are what aid organizations call urban refugees, whether they are in cities, towns or villages. In Lebanon, where there is no single formal refugee camp, 850,000 registered refugees are scattered throughout the country in 1,600 locations.

In one settlement, 33 families were squeezed into 30 shacks. None of the children were going to school. Only a quarter of the residents were registered with the United Nations refugees agency and thus eligible for food assistance, the refugees said.

To a certain extent, the situation in Lebanon is a result of policy choices. Generally, the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations have in recent years moved refugees outside camps, which often become crucibles of social problems. The theory was that urban refugees would lead healthier, more normal lives, and keep acquiring skills that would help them after their eventual return home. Services could be provided, just as inside a camp.

But the scale of Syria’s refugee crisis has also shown the difficulties and cost of catering to a largely urban refugee population, and now the United Nations is pressing for the establishment of camps in Lebanon.

Aid groups have strained to provide the kind of basic services found in all camps to the more than 1.8 million registered urban refugees dispersed throughout Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere. Yet neither the United Nations nor governments know how many urban refugees there really are. Hundreds of thousands remain unregistered.

“The Syrian crisis poses a real challenge for the humanitarian agencies, which are much more used to dealing with refugees inside camps, where everybody is in one place,” said Jeff Crisp, a senior director at Refugees International, an advocacy group in Washington, and the former head of policy development at the United Nations refugees agency.

While Ninette Kelley, the agency’s representative in Lebanon, said refugee camps should be “a last resort,” the United Nations, overwhelmed with the influx of Syrians, has been lobbying the Lebanese government to establish them. So far, Lebanon has refused, citing its tortured history with its Palestinian camps.

Direct comparisons are hard to make. But in Jordan, where a fifth of the refugee population resides in camps, the United Nations has appealed for help equivalent to about $980 per refugee; in Lebanon, that number is $1,210.

Part of the extra cost goes to helping communities overwhelmed by the flood of refugees, who end up competing with local people for apartments, jobs and services. In Turkey, the richest of the host nations, the presence of a cheap, though illegal, foreign work force may be tacitly encouraged.

But in the smaller, fragile economies of Lebanon and Jordan, jobs are scarcer.

Mohammed Mafaalani, 35, a refugee from Dara’a in southern Syria, lived for six months in an area north of Amman, the Jordanian capital, paying about $240 a month for a two-room apartment for his wife and two sons. He found sporadic work as a house painter but was called in several times by the Jordanian authorities for working illegally — exposed, he believed, by Jordanian house painters angry that he was willing to work for less.

Unable to afford his rent, Mr. Mafaalani and his family stood in Zaatari, the huge refugee camp run by the United Nations in Jordan, waiting for a bus to the Syrian border. The family was going back to Dara’a despite the fighting there. “I’m scared and happy at the same time,” his wife, Maha, 29, said.

The family did not consider staying in Zaatari, which, as the refugees agency itself has acknowledged, is lawless in many ways, with criminal and rebel groups operating beyond the control of agency officials.

While the legions of urban refugees present challenges to humanitarian groups, the conditions inside the camps are generating an array of other problems. As the United Nations and regional governments work on the assumption that Syria’s civil war will last years and are ready to open new camps or expand existing ones, many worry that the worst camps are becoming incubators of despair and Islamic extremism.

“If I were in Zaatari, I’d become a jihadist,” said Hassan Abu Hanieh, a Jordanian expert on Salafist jihadism.

A small camp in Jordan, Mrajeeb al-Fhood, financed by the United Arab Emirates and run by the Emirati Red Crescent, prides itself on catering to all the needs of its 3,000 residents. Token jobs are available, but officials do not allow the refugees to set up small businesses. By far the most organized, cleanest and safest of the camps, it also has the tightest security and is the strictest in granting permits to leave, even for a day.

“Zaatari is dirty and dangerous, so we are happy to be here,” said Sahar Karazan, 37, who was living there with her five children.

But Ziyad al-Heimid, 40, beckoned a reporter to his trailer to complain about the lack of freedom. “I want to go to Zaatari,” said Mr. Heimid, who had a cellphone store in Dara’a before the war. “There I’ll be free. I can start my own business.”

Talib Abu Talib, an Emirati Red Crescent official who had been listening to the conversation, said: “Think of your wife and daughters. You’re being selfish. You don’t know what Zaatari is like.”

In Turkey, the government has spent $2 billion to house 200,000 refugees in 21 camps. It directly manages the camps and allows very limited access to outsiders.

In Kilis, a Turkish border town, about 14,000 refugees live in trailers and have access to a full range of facilities in what is considered one of the best camps. Entrepreneurship is permitted.

Mazin Murad, 24, a maker of dental appliances in Syria before the war, was now operating a small stand selling scarves. Every morning, he crosses into Syria to stock up and then opens his stand in Turkey by late morning. Mr. Murad said he also fought regularly in Idlib, Syria, for a battalion under the Western-backed Free Syrian Army.

Mr. Murad’s example underscores a prominent criticism of the Turkish camps. Tightly controlled by the Turkish government, which backs the rebel movement against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, they effectively serve as rear bases for Syrian rebels and have few, if any, Alawites, members of the Shiite offshoot who tend to support Mr. Assad.

“We support Bashar, and everybody else in the camps is going to fight him,” said Mohammed al-Mahmoud, 27, who had gathered with other Alawites at a center in Istanbul. “I don’t think we could hide the fact that we are Alawites inside the camps.”


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« Reply #10991 on: Dec 31, 2013, 08:15 AM »

Central America migrants flee turf wars and corrupt states for refuge in Mexico

By Jo Tuckman, The Guardian
Tuesday, December 31, 2013 0:48 EST

Activists say Mexican authorities faced with most dramatic rise in refugees since 1980s era of right-wing dictatorships

Extreme violence in Central America is sending a surge of refugees fleeing north to Mexico where they are caught between official indifference and yet more danger if they continue to the United States, human rights activists say.

Activists in Tapachula describe a dramatic increase in the number of women and children arriving in southern Mexico this year. Though precise numbers are hard to come by, it seems clear that Mexico has not witnessed such a refugee flow since the 1980s when the region was beset by a series of vicious civil wars involving rightwing dictatorships and leftwing guerrillas.

“There is an undeclared civil war in Central America,” said Father Flor Maria Rigoni, who runs a migrant shelter in Tapachula, near the border with Guatemala. “The refugees are coming, but the Mexican institutions aren’t taking the problem seriously.”

The violence behind today’s exodus stems from turf wars between street gangs such as the M-18 and Mara Salvatrucha, the growing power of drug cartels and woefully weak and corrupt state institutions across the region.

Many of the refugees tell stories like that of Mirta, a 24-year-old Honduran woman travelling with her two small sons. After years living in New York, Mirta was so desperate to spend time with her mother she moved her family back to Honduras, even though it had become the most violent state outside a war zone.

The country’s murder rate currently hovers around 90 per 100,000 people, compared to one in 100,000 in the UK and five in 100,000 in the US.

The pressure began when masked and armed men she described as “little local narcos” forced her husband to sign over his car and demanded her children’s US passports. It became unbearable when they narrowly escaped a kidnapping attempt.

The family fled to Tegucigalpa, the capital, but found themselves in the middle of an open gang war, where they faced regular demands for “war taxes” they could not afford. They moved through El Salvador and Guatemala, but felt vulnerable in both countries, so eventually crossed into Mexico on one of the many rafts made from giant tyres and planks which cross the Suchiate river dividing the two countries, often in full view of the authorities.

Waiting for a decision on her asylum claim, Mirta said she preferred not to think what would happen if it were turned down. Instead she focused on feeding her children. “We just want to find somewhere safe to be and to look for work,” she said. “We have received no support. Not even a meal.”

Mexico received 860 asylum requests in the first eight months of 2013, about two thirds of them from Hondurans and Salvadorans. About 80% of claims in Mexico are usually turned down.

Direct comparisons of official figures for 2012 were not available, but activists say this year’s increase is obvious.

“There are queues to request asylum that never existed before, and many don’t apply because they know they could get deported anyway,” said Diego Lorente, of the Tapachula-based Fray Matías human rights centre.

The size of the phenomenon is particularly hard to pin down because refugees from violence blend into the broader flow of Central Americans heading to the US for economic reasons.

Many asylum applications are only lodged after migrants have been detained and are being held in centres where Lorente says they suffer obvious mental and physical distress as they wait out the resolution of their cases.

Migration through Mexico peaked in 2005 when the authorities deported around 240,000 Central Americans. Since then a sluggish US economy and tighter controls on the US border have reduced the attractions of going north, as has the knowledge that Mexican drug cartels prey on migrants en route. Reports of kidnapping, rape, murder and forced recruitment are common.

Even so, the Mexican authorities still detained more than 88,000 Central American migrants last year during a journey that has become the preserve of the particularly determined and the desperate.

Emilio is both. “I saw something that I shouldn’t have seen,” the 43-year-old vendor said to explain his decision to leave El Salvador, his wife and their three children. “Almost all the Salvadorans I have met here are in a similar situation.” Emilio shook as he described how he initially tried to lie low but soon realised the gangs were everywhere and his only hope was to leave the country.

Once in Mexico he discounted applying for asylum after an initial interview left him convinced the authorities had no real interest in his story. This left him more focused than ever on joining his brother in the US, whatever the risks he might face on the way.

“I never wanted to leave my beautiful country,” he said. “But if I go back now I will die.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #10992 on: Dec 31, 2013, 08:16 AM »

Say farewell to an iconic symbol of nomadic hippydom: The Volkswagen Type 2 Kombi van

By Oliver Wainwright, The Guardian
Monday, December 30, 2013 13:53 EST

It was the defining image of nomadic hippydom, gracing Bob Dylan album covers, hauling surfers and their boards in search of killer waves and serving as the vehicle of choice for Scooby-Doo and his hapless, ghost-busting gang. But this month the last ever Volkswagen camper van rolled off the production line, 63 years after it was first unveiled at the Geneva motor show – because it can’t be fitted with an airbag.

Brazil is the last remaining country where the iconic Type 2 Kombi van is still produced, where more than 1.5m have been made since 1957. But new health and safety laws to be introduced in 2014, requiring every vehicle to have airbags and anti-lock braking, mean it is no longer compliant. Production in Germany was halted as far back as 1979, when the Kombi no longer met European safety requirements. It seems strangely fitting that the symbol of 60s freedom has gradually been hounded from existence by bureaucratic regulations.

The curvaceous minivan won hearts and minds after being promoted as not just a vehicle, but more of a holistic lifestyle choice. “Do you have the right kind of wife for it?” asked adverts for the van in 60s America. “Will she let your daughter keep a pet snake in the backyard? And invite 13 people for dinner even though she has service for 12?” Hell, with that kind of free spirit, you’re clearly suited to driving a Kombi!

Transporting revellers to Woodstock and innumerable gap year travellers around Australia – all at the stately pace of no more than 60mph – more than 10m Kombis have been made since they were first manufactured in postwar Germany. Following the success of the Beetle, the Kombi was the second vehicle produced by VW, its name short for “Kombinationsfahrzeug”, or “cargo-passenger van”, a multipurpose shed on wheels.

The origins of the nine-seater love wagon are credited to the Dutch Volkswagen importer Ben Pon, who spotted an improvised vehicle while on a visit to the car plant in Wolfsburg – a Beetle chassis, jury-rigged for moving parts around the factory floor. He thought others could benefit from the flexibility of a big movable box, and so the Type 2, also known as the Transporter, was born.

With is trademark profiled wings that sweep around the front and down into a point, forming a valley beneath the split windscreen, it was an instant hit. Numerous iterations followed, including the Camper version, with a cooker, sideboard and folding bench seat, as well as models with trapdoor sunroofs and concertina pop-tops, which rose dramatically above the van like a great inflated accordions. To mark the momentous end of the beloved minibus, Volkswagen is releasing a final limited edition of 1,200 priced at about $43,000 (£26,000), which are expected to be snapped up by eager collectors.

A little house on wheels, the Type 2 has proved as versatile as the standard semi, being converted into everything from mobile restaurants to libraries and miniature music venues. In Brazil it has long been the workhorse of choice, used for everything from shuttling schoolchildren to transporting mail – and even used by funeral directors for carrying corpses. Anyone for a flower-power fun-hearse?

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013


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« Reply #10993 on: Dec 31, 2013, 08:18 AM »

Chelyabinsk meteorite hit the Earth like a warning shot fired from space

By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Monday, December 30, 2013 13:40 EST

Just after sunrise on 15 February 2013, as commuters made their way along snow-covered roads to Chelyabinsk in south-west Russia, the clear blue sky was torn by a hurtling lump of space rock.

The meteorite appeared without warning, out of the sun, on a shallow trajectory. It thumped into the atmosphere at 12 miles per second and became a fireball. For a moment, the rock burned 30 times brighter than the sun.

Viktor Grokhovsky, a researcher at Ural Federal University, 200km to the north of Chelyabinsk, missed the beautiful, terrifying spectacle that morning, but within minutes was watching video of the event. He spent the rest of the day assembling a search party. The first of several set out at first light the next morning to interview eyewitnesses and recover pieces of the fallen rock.

“It was rather easy to find fragments in the first days after the meteorite fell, because the chunks left holes in the snow,” Grokhovsky told the Guardian. But as more snow fell over the next two weeks, the holes became covered over. The search was called off until the snow began to melt in the spring.

Nothing the size of the Chelyabinsk meteorite had fallen to Earth in 100 years, and never over an urban centre where its dramatic arrival would be captured by CCTV and dashboard video cameras installed by Russians wary of insurance scams and crooked police.

“This was the first time in modern, medieval or ancient history when a meteorite fell in an area with a high density population. This type of meteorite is rare and a lot of material fell. All these factors give excellent opportunities for extraterrestrial substance research. The hazard from asteroids and comets, people’s behaviour in emergencies, and the shortage of astronomical education are all on the agenda,” said Grokhovsky.

After the flash came the bang. The meteorite exploded with a force around 30 times that of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, or 500 kilotonnes of TNT. The shockwave knocked people off their feet and shattered windows in thousands of apartments. The Earth rang to the blast, with vibrations picked up by seismic sensors 4,000km away.

Nobody was killed, but the blast injured more than 1,200 people. Many had cuts from flying glass. Others suffered retinal burns from watching the fireball, or burns that left their skin peeling. The toll was slight because the 20-metre-wide meteorite exploded so high, more than 20km above the ground.

Grokhovsky’s search parties came back with more than 700 fragments of meteorite and scores of eyewitness accounts from locals. One of his expeditions had skied 50km, from village to village, beneath the meteorite’s path. He used the information they gathered, along with public video footage, to piece together the trajectory of the rock and predict where much of it must have landed.

On the back of that work, a search party was sent to investigate a large hole that had appeared in ice covering a lake on the slopes of the southern Ural mountains. The team collected fragments of chondrite that matched other chunks of the meteorite. When Grokhovsky called on colleagues to measure the magnetic field at the lake, they found an anomaly in their readings near the hole. “Their analyses convinced us that exactly this meteorite had landed in the lake,” Grokhovsky said.

It was October before a team of professional divers finally searched the lake, but the wait was worthwhile. “They found a 650kg meteorite fragment deep in the sludge,” said Grokhovsky. The lump was so fragile it split in three when they weighed it. The heaviest chunk is now on display in the Chelyabinsk museum of local history.

“The most powerful impression for me personally was work on the night of 17 to 18 February. It was that moment when me and my colleagues from Ural Federal University’s nanotech centre determined the meteorite’s origin and the substance of the chunks which were collected not far from the hole in the ice,” Grokhovsky said.

The recovery of so much of the meteorite will transform research in the field. Scientists can use the fragments to understand the rock’s cosmic origins and its properties, all useful information to protect against a larger rock that might pose a serious threat to Earth in the future. Ominously, researchers have already discovered that there must be ten times as many potentially dangerous asteroids out there with sizes of the order of tens of metres as previously thought.

“It is very hard to overestimate the importance of the meteorite’s recovery from the lake. The total mass of extraterrestrial substance that was pulled up weighed more than all the samples which were delivered to Earth by the [US] Apollo and [Soviet] Luna missions,” said Grokhovsky.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013


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« Reply #10994 on: Dec 31, 2013, 08:45 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Republicans Devastate The Lives of 1.3 Million Americans as the Media Stays Silent

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Monday, December, 30th, 2013, 12:14 pm

It is typical that when economically devastating events occur that affect big business and corporations it is front page news and dominates the 24/7 news cycle for days. However, if something happens that wreaks havoc on the population there is little notice in corporate-owned media because Republicans likely deliberately caused the damage. Over the weekend, another Republican assault on the people passed with hardly a mention despite well over a million Americans are slated to join 50 million Americans in the ranks of poverty. Of course, throughout all of 2013 Republican austerity decimated the people, so the lack of reporting on one more assault on the poor is likely business as usual and nothing to remark about. However, for the 1.3 million long-term unemployed who lost their benefits, and others approaching the end of their allotted time for regular benefits, the expiration date is an auspicious moment certain to cause more distress and despair that informs the causal effects of Republican economic policy.

On Saturday, 1.3 million Americans lost their unemployment benefits because Congress failed to extend the benefits before adjourning for the year. According to Democrats they tried in vain to include an extension in the bicameral budget deal going into effect next week, but Paul Ryan would not have it; not when he could lay waste to 1.3 million “takers.” Senate Democrats intend on broaching the subject of reinstating the extensions in two weeks, but Senate Republicans are still able to filibuster legislation, and House Republicans have said for a month that extending the benefits is wasteful and counterintuitive while job numbers improved and GDP rose in the third quarter. It is unlikely the unemployed will see any relief, particularly because John Boehner said he will not even consider extending the benefits, and if he did he demands equal cuts to other domestic programs. One thing Republicans can be counted on doing is causing economic damage for some segment of the population for the sake of austerity, sheer pleasure, and to avoid affecting the rich and corporations.

There were ulterior motives for Republicans to reject extending unemployment benefits besides sending well over 1.3 million Americans into poverty. The Council of Economic Advisers estimated that not extending the benefits will kill an extra 240,000 jobs in 2014 that is reason enough for Republicans to reject helping the already unemployed; especially if they can add a quarter-of-a-million Americans to the ranks of the unemployed.  If that is not damage enough, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and JP Morgan projected that not extending benefits will cut from 0.2 to 0.4 percentage points off GDP growth that has been a recurring theme and feature of Republican austerity throughout 2013.

For example, Republicans benefited when they prevailed in the fiscal cliff deal last December because it took money out of the economy, slowed GDP growth, and cut the number of jobs that could have been created. Predictions at the time of the deal estimated it would shave between 0.4 and 0.6 percent off of GDP growth in 2013 as well as hamper job creation that could have trimmed the number of Americans requiring unemployment benefits. The sequester alone cost approximately 750,000 jobs that would have been created or retained if not for the cuts that could have seriously reduced the number of unemployed that lost benefits on Saturday.  The CBO said between the sequester and other fiscal tightening due to Republican austerity measures, the cost to the economy was approximately 1 ¼ percentage points in growth over the course of 2013, and if Republicans had cancelled sequestration cuts the economy would have grown faster by about 0.6 of a percentage point and spared the loss of three-quarters-of-a-million jobs.

It is true third quarter statistics appeared to show improved growth in the economy, but the growth rate did not reflect true economic activity and primarily reflected businesses building up their inventories. The real gross domestic income, an alternative measure for GDP that measures all incomes of the economy, grew by a much lower 1.8% and not the 4.1% reported last week. Plus, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD),  the economy remained about 3.1% below its potential output in 2013, and about 5 million jobs short of decent employment numbers according to the CBO. The loss in potential growth and job shortages are directly attributable to Republican austerity measures and their deliberate attempt to sabotage economic recovery with an African American man in the White House.

Republicans did more damage to the economy and increased the ranks of the unemployed when food stamp benefits were cut on November 1 by $5 billion that affected 47-million working, unemployed, elderly, and young Americans. It is true Republicans rejoiced that millions of Americans would have less food to eat, but the economic cost was far more than just taking $5 billion out of the economy and killing nearly 70,000 jobs. According to Moody’s Analytics, every additional dollar spent on food stamps generates approximately $1.74 in economic activity that JPMorgan Chase Chief Economist estimated cut 0.1% off the annual growth rate of the nation’s GDP in 2013. Of course Republicans are not as concerned about restricting economic growth and killing jobs as they are increasing the number of Americans living in poverty.

Any American that does not believe Republicans are not working to drive more Americans into poverty did not see Paul Ryan’s poverty advisor tell noted economist Robert Reich that he did not “think there’s much reason to be concerned about” income inequality strangling the economic life out of 98% of the population and creating poverty. The man advising Ryan, renowned for his defense of makers versus takers, said the remedy for the widening income gap sending Americans into poverty is more tax cuts for the rich and corporations. The idea that Ryan has a poverty advisor who is a fierce advocate of supply side trickle-down economics at the Manhattan Institute is a sign he is advising Republicans how to retard economic growth, kill jobs, increase the number of Americans in poverty through tax cuts for the rich and not investing in creating jobs and growing the economy.

According to the last election and recent polls, the overwhelming majority of Americans disagree with Republicans’ and their Draconian cuts to reduce the deficit instead of increasing taxes on the richest Americans. All the Republican austerity measures over the past year have hampered real economic growth, sent more Americans into poverty, and killed well over a million jobs that increased the number of unemployed Americans.

Republicans ended 2013 exactly the way they started it and have already indicated they are not about to change course in 2014.  Without their sequester, job killing cuts, and economy retarding austerity economics the 1.3 million unemployed Americans would likely have jobs, but like their promised $40 billion cuts to food stamps, threats to extract more cuts in the next debt ceiling crisis, and counsel to get more tax breaks for the rich, the economy and jobs are going to continue suffering if for nothing else than to increase the income gap creating a population living in poverty. Americans can depend on the corporate-owned media to continue keeping devastating economic news out of the public consciousness because there is a midterm election on the horizon. The media is not about to damage Republican’s electoral chances by telling Americans the reason they are in poverty, not finding good jobs, and losing their unemployment benefits is because Republicans in Congress successfully executed their economic agenda.

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Lack of Diversity on Display as White Male Republicans Dominated the Sunday Shows in 2013

By: Justin Baragona
PoliticusUSA
Monday, December, 30th, 2013, 1:30 pm      

With the final Sunday in the books for 2013, we can now take a look at who appeared the most on the Sunday talk shows in 2013. When discussing the Sunday shows, we are focusing on five programs: Meet the Press, This Week, State of the Union, Fox News Sunday and Face the Nation. These are all on broadcast networks and, due to their format of being panel discussion shows with solo interviews, are supposed to offer a wide range of diverse opinions about the hot political topics of that week.

Well, when looking at the most frequent guests on these shows in 2013, it is apparent that the opinions that were most valued by these shows were from older, white, male Republicans. As Steve Benen at MSNBC so kindly highlighted on his blog Monday morning, when looking at guests who appeared 10 or times on the Sunday shows, 10 of the 13 were Republican. Only one was a woman (Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte) and only one could be considered non-white (half-Cuban Republican Senator Ted Cruz.)

Surprisingly, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) did not top this list. He ‘only’ appeared 24 times on a Sunday show in 2013, placing second. (McCain made 21 appearances in 2012.) The most frequent guest on Sunday was actually Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), who made 27 appearances. Rogers is the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, so he was a go-to guest pretty much every week as the Republicans pushed the Benghazi ‘scandal’ to the hilt. For some reason, Newt Gingrich, who holds no office and hasn’t since the late ’90s, was scheduled the third most times, making a total of 19 appearances.

Only three Democrats appeared 10 or more times on the Sunday shows: Sen. Dick Durbin, Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Joe Manchin. Other frequent Republican guests were Sen Lindsay Graham (natch), Sen. Rand Paul (of course) and Rep. Peter King (who is always on the hunt for media attention.) Other Republicans that made 10 or more appearances were the aforementioned Cruz and Ayotte, as well as Sen. Bob Corker and Rep. Michael McCaul.

As Media Matters pointed out in October, the Sunday shows lacked diversity throughout the first three quarters of the year. During that time, 63% of the guests on the shows were white men. Of those, conservatives outnumbered liberals by a two-to-one margin. Based on the final guest numbers provided by Benen, it doesn’t appear that the fourth quarter numbers will change much. Basically, if you want to get on a Sunday show, the main criteria is to be white, male and Republican.

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Pew Poll Shows That Republicans Are Devolving On Their Views On Evolution

By: Justin Baragona
PoliticusUSA
Monday, December, 30th, 2013, 6:51 pm   

Pew Research just released a poll on Monday showing the American public’s views towards evolution. The poll showed that 60% of Americans agree with the statement that humans and other living things have evolved over time. Meanwhile, 33% stated that humans have existed in their present form since the beginning of time. This is pretty much on par with the results of this same poll four years ago.

However, where the gaps have started to widen more is when we look at political affiliation and religion. In 2009, 64% of Democrats believed in evolution while a majority, 54%, of Republicans also believed in the theory. Fast forward to today and 67% of Democrats believe in the theory of evolution while only 43% of Republicans feel that humans evolved from lower life forms. That is a remarkable 24-point gap between the two political parties. Independents saw virtually no change, as 67% believed in 2009 and 65% believe now.

Some of this can probably be explained by religious views. The vast majority of white Evangelicals (64%) do not believe in evolution. This group makes up a large base on the current Republican Party. However, while a large percentage of black Evangelicals (50%) do not believe in evolution, a much larger percentage (44%) do believe in the theory over white Evangelicals (27%.) Non-religious or unaffiliated people by a wide margin (76-20) believe in evolution.

Two other factors that seemed to play in how people view evolution were age and education. Only 51% of those with a high-school education or less believe in evolution. That percentage moved up to 62% for people with some college education. 72% of people with at least a college degree said that they believe humans have changed over time. Only 49% of people over 65 said they believe in evolution. The percentages got higher as the respondents got younger. For 18-29 year-olds, 68% said they believe in the theory.

The thing is, these numbers are all pretty much in line with the 2009 poll other than the differences between the two parties. Perhaps what this poll is telling us is that the Republican Party is becoming more and more centered around older, white Evangelicals. Essentially, the GOP is devolving into a religious group. The more educated members of the party are jumping ship, while the uneducated and the ones who cling hard to their Bibles are making up more and more of the ‘base.’

Sure, Bobby Jindal, Reince Priebus and others may not want the GOP to be the Stupid Party. However, as its made up of more and more people who wholly reject science, they may not have a choice but to accept that reality. Especially when you have elected officials out there saying that evolution is nothing but ‘lies straight from the pit of hell.’ 

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Republicans Insist al Qaeda Behind Benghazi Attack Because all Terrorists are al Qaeda

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
PoliticusUSA
Monday, December, 30th, 2013, 8:47 am      

Fox-news-BenghaziA Republican member of the House of Representatives, which has backed politically motivated scandal after politically motivated scandal against the Obama administration, suggests that The New York Times report on Benghazi might be politically motivated.

In response to the Times’ report, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) reassured “Fox News Sunday that the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was indeed an “al-Qaida-led event.”

That’s all well and fine – a member of our government telling the mainstream media what at least some in our government believe – but a circular sort of argument taking place here as it was Fox News that told Mike Rogers and others like him what to believe about Benghazi in the first place.

These people enjoy repeating the same lies to each other (they can hardly repeat a truth they have never acknowledged). There is a sense of comfort to be had in shared lies, each reinforcing the other in the face of those nasty liberal facts – like those given by the New York Times.

Rogers, who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (I know, the oxymoronic combination of “House” and “Intelligence” makes me cringe every time, too), said his committee made a more exhaustive investigation than the New York Times. What he means, of course, is that unlike the Times, his committee was prepared to ignore uncongenial facts.

He further suggested that there might be political motivations at work, a means to “clear” the already clearly innocent Hilary Clinton, in time for 2016. As opposed, you know, to the politically motivated scandal crafted by Republicans designed to smear Clinton in advance of the 2016 elections. He finds the timing “suspicious.”

So did we, Rep. Rodgers. So did we. And we still do.

“I don’t want to speculate on why they might do it,” Rogers speculated.

Right. No Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives has EVER speculated on fabricated misdeeds by any liberal.

On the related subject of who did it, the New York Times report stressed al-Shariah but Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who is a member and former chairman of the House’s Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said “Shariah-Shmariah”:

“It’s misleading,” King said. “It’s a distinction without a difference.”

Well, if they insist. And they do:

The author of the Times report, David Kirkpatrick, told Fox News in response that “If you’re using the term al-Qaida to describe even a local group of Islamist militants who dislike democracy or have a grudge against the United States, If you’re going to call anybody like that ‘al-Qaida,’ then, okay.”

And they do call anybody like that al Qaeda. They have to do so in order to avoid lamely apologizing like Lara Logan.

It’s hard to go wrong when you call any attacker, whoever they are, whatever connections they might or might not have al Qaeda. Al Qaeda did it, even if they didn’t. We’re right, no matter what, even if we’re not.

Fox News and its pet Republicans have a strategy that is childish in its brilliance: they simply shield their eyes and plug their ears and say “I’m not hearing this!” They don’t want it to be true; it therefore cannot be true.

In fact, Fox News is telling us that there is “growing outrage” over the Times report. Of course, as Fox News admits, it is Fox News sources who are outraged. Not the American people. Because those Fox News sources “on the ground” when the attack took place, knew at once through some mystical means who launched the attack and why.

Like Rogers, I am not going to speculate on how that might be true. I’ll just end by saying that it’s all so much easier when you’ve predetermined your answers before actually examining the evidence.

Which brings us around to why Fox News exists in the first place.

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Fox News Still Freaking Out Over NY Times Benghazi Story

By John Amato December 30, 2013 6:20 pm
CrooksAndLiars

Fox News is in crisis mode after the NY Times published and investigative report saying that Al-Qaeda was not involved in Benghazi attack.

Since David D. Kirkpatrick published his six part investigative report on the Benghazi report entitled, A Deadly Mix in Benghazi, Fox News has been on DEFCON-1 and lining up as many conservative Benghazi hoaxers as possible to try and deflect the new report's information.

David Kirkpatrick said this on MTP debunking the al-Qaeda myth:

    There is just no chance that this was an al Qaeda attack if, by al Qaeda, you mean the organization founded by Osama bin Laden. Now I've tried to understand some of the statements coming out of United States Congress blaming al Qaeda for this, and the only way that they make sense to me is if you're using the term al Qaeda a little differently.

    If you're using the term al-Qaeda to describe even a local group of Islamist militants who may dislike democracy or have a grudge against the United States, if you're going to call anybody like that al Qaeda, then okay. Certainly there were some anti-western Islamist militants involved in this attack. But to me that's a-- that's a semantic difference and not a useful way of answering the original question

That al-Qaeda did mastermind the Benghazi attack has been one of the major contentions Republicans have been using to prop up this phony scandal even though it's not a scandal at all. On the Sunday Talk Shows, Rep. Darrell Issa, the ringleader of the Benghazi Liars Cub was on Meet The Press to try and deflect the new information as much as possible. He looked like a babbling baboon doing it.

    REP. ISSA: What we do know is September 11 was not an accident. These are terrorist groups, some of them linked to or self-effacing or self-claimed as al Qaeda linked, but I think David made a-- and before I go on, I wanted to make a very good point that David put out. Look, it is not about al Qaeda as the only terrorist organization any more than Palestinian, Islamic, jihad or Hamas or Hezbollah.

    GREGORY: But you-- no, no, but you said repeatedly that it was al Qaeda, and the reason that matters is that…

    ↓ Story continues below ↓

    REP. ISSA: No…

    GREGORY: …you and other critics said the president specifically won't acknowledge it's al Qaeda because it's an election year and he wants to say that after bin Laden, it's been decimated and would make him look bad if it were al Qaeda.

    --
    MS. MITCHELL: We still call it the annex. But to the point of why use the-- the term al-Qaeda. Because you and other members of Congress are sophisticated in this and know that when you say al Qaeda, people think central al Qaeda. They don't think militias that may be inspired by bin Laden and his-- and his other followers. So it-- it is a hot button for political reasons from the administration's view.

    REP. ISSA: But Andrea, it was accurate. There was a group that was involved that claims an affiliation with al Qaeda. Now, al Qaeda is not a central command in control. It was, in fact, a loose group that could take general statements and act on them.

The NY Times report was so thorough that Rep. Issa was forced to admit that Kirkpatrick did an excellent job in his report.

Next up was Rep. Mike Rogers, who has the dubious distinction of being the most booked man in 2013 on the Sunday Talk shows. He was already scheduled to appear on Fox News Sunday to attack Edward Snowden already so why not include Benghazi.

    WALLACE: What did they get wrong?

    ROGERS: That al Qaeda was not involved. There was some level of preplanning, we know that. There was aspiration to conduct an attack by Al Qaeda and their affiliates in Libya. We know that.The individuals on the ground talked about a planned tactical movement on the compound even -- this is the compound before they went to the annex. All of that would directly contradict what the "New York Times" definitively says was an exhaustive investigation, tells me they didn't talk to the people on the ground who were doing the fighting, the shooting and the intelligence gathering.When you put that volume of information, I think it proves that story is just not accurate.

    WALLACE: Well, let me ask you one specific thing. There was one group that everybody says was involved, Ansar al-Sharia. They say it's really an independent radical Islamic group, but it doesn't have links to Al Qaeda.

    ROGERS: I dispute that, and I think the intelligence to a large volume disputes that al-Sharia.Now, did they have differences of opinion with Al Qaeda core? Yes. Do they have affiliations with al Qaeda core? Definitely.

Fox News has been having kinipshits over this piece and is now reporting that Kirkpatrick's piece is 'Completely false'.

Fox News host Bill Hemmer led off his segment by saying there was more outrage about the report and had on another Benghazi liar, Rep. Chaffetz to smear it.

NSA hack and former General Hayden was on Fox News too attacking the report vociferously.

Subbing for Bill O'Reilly on Monday evening, Laura Ingraham had on Rep. Mike Rogers to again try and debunk Kirkpatrick's report.

    Ingraham: Congressman there's not a lot that takes my breath away in this town after having been here for almost twenty years now, but this certainly took the cake.
    ---

    ...and since it seems so out of sync with what the NY Times has reported why do it? What's motivating it? Is it a bald faced attempt to help Hillary Clinton?

The Fox News talking point is that the NY Times put out a propaganda piece to try and help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 election. Are you surprised?

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

In Less Than a Minute Bernie Sanders Destroys GOP Opposition to Raising the Minimum Wage

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Monday, December, 30th, 2013, 4:10 pm   

It took Sen. Bernie Sanders less than a minute on MSNBC to completely destroy the Republican arguments against raising the minimum wage.

Sen. Sanders said,

    Look. Here’s the story. The story is that the national minimum wage is seven and a quarter an hour. I think most people understand that’s a starvation wage. Individuals can’t live on it. Families can’t live on it. If we raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, which to my mind doesn’t go as far as it should, that would be a raise for 30 million Americans, vast majority of them are adults. And that’s just not people making seven and a quarter an hour. It’s people making eight bucks an hour, nine dollars an hour.

    And at a time when almost all new income is going to the top 1%, it is time that working people, lower income workers get a raise, and we have got to do that. Now if the Republicans refuse to go along with that, and I very much hope that they will go along with it. I hope they understand that the overwhelming majority of the American people across the political spectrum understand that we have got to raise the minimum wage, so I hope that we can get this done.

Sen. Sanders (I-VT) took apart the major myths that form the backbone of the Republican opposition to raising the minimum wage. The Vermont senator pointed out that most minimum wage workers are adults. There are families who are trying to live off of the minimum wage. These people can’t live off of $7.25 an hour, and that minimum wage earners are working are the working poor.

Americans who are earning the minimum wage aren’t students who are working after school jobs. They aren’t living with mom and dad. These are adults who are working in mostly service industries to support themselves, and/or their families. Raising the minimum wage would be a huge step towards lifting millions of people out of poverty.

If Republicans want to lessen the need for food stamps and other assistance programs, the best way to do this would be to reward work by increasing the minimum wage.

It took Bernie Sanders about a minute to destroy the Republican rationale for not raising the minimum wage, and if Republicans try to argue this issue they will face a similar kind of humiliation as political leaders on the left will easily dismantle their conservatives myths and old wives’ tales surrounding the economic damage that is caused by increasing the minimum wage.

As Sen. Sanders demonstrated, Republicans don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to the minimum wage. House Republicans never met an unpopular position that they couldn’t embrace, but if they choose to fight this losing battle it could cost them their seats in 2014.

America’s low wage workers have had enough, and Senators like Bernie Sanders are leading the charge against income inequality born out of starvation wages.

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President Obama is the Most Admired Man in the World for 6th Year in a Row

By: Sarah Jones
PoliticusUSA
Monday, December, 30th, 2013, 10:01 am   

A new Gallup poll will be more bitter medicine for the Right. After a solid year of harping on Benghazi lies in an attempt to bring down both President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a new Gallup poll finds both ranked as the number one man and woman Americans most admire.

Every year since 1948, Gallup asks Americans to name the man and woman living anywhere in the world they admire most. This year’s poll was conducted December 5-8, and for the 6th year in a row, Obama has been named the Most Admired Man.

Yes, that’s Most Admired Man, over Senator Ted Cruz and former President George Bush and empty chair man Clint Eastwood and the President won over Mitt Romney. Again. Of course, it’s a trend that the sitting President wins the Most Admired category, and even George W. Bush won it year after year when he was in office. But Hillary Clinton was often the Most Admired Woman while Bush was President.

The top ten Most Admired Men this year include former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter. Clint Eastwood and Ted Cruz finished in the top 10 for the first time, at 1% to Bush’s 4% to Obama’s 16%.

Right wing nemesis Hillary Clinton has been named Most Admired Woman 18 times, “more than any other woman in Gallup’s history, including each of the last 12 years.” This year she won with 15%. Next up is Oprah Winfrey at 6%, Michelle Obama at 5% and Sarah Palin at 5%, followed by Condoleezza Rice and Angela Merkel.

In other words, the noise you hear constantly is right wing agitation. It might bring the President and Clinton down a few notches in polls, but it does not defeat them. Not by a long stretch. And if it did, there is no right wing political personality who comes close to replacing them as Most Admired.

While the Right manages to bring down the President’s poll numbers with their Benghazi lies and relentless accusations, these things won’t stick to him because they aren’t true. Yes, the President won last year with 30% but the year before, he won with 17%. These numbers bounce around, but he still won re-election by a large margin.

Whereas it’s true that the ObamaCare website had glitches, those glitches will not override the need for the President’s signature legislation of healthcare reform nor the ultimate success of it. It’s not human nature to remember a glitch over getting a basic human need met. Obama will be remembered as the President who weathered consistent hate and still managed to get affordable healthcare for the people.

So far, Obama has not had a Katrina or an Iraq WMD in spite of the desperate efforts of Republicans and the media and there’s nothing Republicans can do about that except keep manufacturing accusations and putting on Witch Hunt plays with the taxpayers’ dollars.

The President is the Most Admired Man in the World again, and that has to hurt when you’ve banked the success of your party on destroying him.


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