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« Reply #12960 on: Apr 11, 2014, 06:01 AM »

Suu Kyi in Germany Hopes Myanmar Can Overcome Strife

by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 April 2014, 18:10

Myanmar pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi said on a trip to Germany Thursday that she hoped her country could also overcome its internal divisions amid deadly Buddhist-Muslim strife.

Suu Kyi, 68, said ahead of her first face-to-face talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Myanmar sought the support of "all countries that believe in democracy" as it makes it transition from iron-fisted military rule.

"For me Berlin is not just a symbol of success in development but success in political negotiation, a success in achieving unity," Suu Kyi, who has said she is considering a bid for the presidency next year, told reporters.

"Because our country, Burma, is a union and we would like it to be a truly democratic union," she said, where it is possible for "our people to overcome all differences that may exist between us and be the kind of nation that will ensure security, freedom and hope for all of us who live there."

Myanmar, formerly called Burma, has been shaken by religious unrest in recent years with at least 250 people killed in Buddhist-Muslim clashes since 2012.

Its reformist government promised Wednesday to protect international aid groups targeted by Buddhist mobs in the violence-torn western region of Rakhine, after criticism from foreign governments and the United Nations.

Merkel welcomed Suu Kyi's active role in Myanmar politics and said Germany, which this year celebrates the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, was willing to offer assistance to the country "on its path to a better future."

She said Suu Kyi had "experienced an unbelievable time under house arrest and nevertheless never gave up her ideals and convictions."

"I am pleased of course that Aung San Suu Kyi, despite this difficult time, decided to play a key political role in the transformation of her country," Merkel said.

The Nobel Peace laureate is on a European tour that will also take in France.

German media reports noted that the visit was seen in Berlin as an important step toward improving relations between Germany and Myanmar following Suu Kyi's reported displeasure over German diplomatic dealings with the former military junta.

Suu Kyi met earlier with President Joachim Gauck, a former East German democracy activist, and was to hold talks with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

She will on Friday accept the Willy Brandt prize from the co-ruling Social Democratic Party, named for the late West German chancellor and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner and honoring work for democracy, freedom and human rights.

Suu Kyi has expressed a readiness to take on the presidency if her National League for Democracy party wins key parliamentary elections due in 2015.


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« Reply #12961 on: Apr 11, 2014, 06:04 AM »


Drinking water in China's Lanzhou city unsafe to drink, say authorities

Water in city found to contain levels of benzene, a cancer-inducing chemical, at 20 times above safety levels

Reuters in Beijing
theguardian.com, Friday 11 April 2014 11.36 BST   

China's western city of Lanzhou saw a rush for supermarket bottled water on Friday after authorities said the city's drinking water contained levels of benzene, a cancer-inducing chemical, at 20 times above national safety levels.

With Beijing having identified the environment as one of its top priorities after years of unfettered economic growth, the government has struggled to make local governments and industries comply with laws.

Lanzhou, a heavily-industrialised city of 3.6 million people in Gansu province, ranks among China's most polluted cities.

The government found 200 micrograms of benzene per litre of water, it said, triggering the rush to stock up on bottled water. The national safety standard is 10 micrograms per litre.

Water supply was turned off in one city district, and the government warned citizens not to drink the city's water for the next 24 hours.

"Lanzhou has shut down the contaminated water supply pipe and deployed activated carbon to absorb the benzene," the government said in a statement. Activated carbon has small pores that enable it to absorb chemicals.

Preliminary inspection showed the benzene came from nearby chemical factories, the local government said on its website, although no culprit was named. The environmental bureau is carrying out further investigations.

The water supply company is majority-owned by the local city government, with British firm Veolia Water, a unit of French firm Veolia Environnement, holding a 45% stake.


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« Reply #12962 on: Apr 11, 2014, 06:05 AM »

Syria chemical weapons inspection team not to investigate new claims

No plans for inspectors to act after rebels accused regime troops of using banned chemicals in three attacks since January

Martin Chulov in Beirut
theguardian.com, Friday 11 April 2014 10.44 BST   

The international body tasked with destroying Syria's chemical weapons arsenal says it has not been asked to investigate new opposition claims that regime troops have used banned chemicals on rebel groups in at least three attacks since January.

The Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it would need a referral from a state signatory to a treaty banning the use of such weapons before looking at the new allegations, which come amid a protracted withdrawal of Syria's 1,200 tonnes of sarin, mustard gas and the precursors used to make them.

A senior Israeli defence official said earlier this week that new chemical attacks had taken place in the Damascus countryside. The claim supported complaints by rebel groups in Harasta that at least three people had been killed in late March, with several dozen more taken ill, after shells landing near them discharged noxious fumes.

Israel concluded the effects were not caused by sarin or mustard gas. It said an industrial-strength substance, such as a pesticide, could have been to blame. Britain has also said it is investigating the claims.

The Syrian opposition leadership on Friday repeated a demand that the claims be examined, but as a non-state actor has no sway over the OPCW, which has so far supervised the surrender of 53% of Syria's arsenal.

Monzer Akbik, a senior opposition official, said: "The regime repeatedly uses chemical weapons on Syrian civilians, so many can testify to this. And with the regime way behind on resolution 2118 on chemical weapons removal, and constantly violating humanitarian resolution 2139 with its barrel bombs and starvation campaigns, it is time for the international community to start taking seriously their responsibility to protect Syrian civilians."

The use of chemical weapons has been one of the most contentious aspects of the Syrian war. A devastating attack in the Damascus countryside last August left up to 1,300 people dead and pushed the US close a military strike against the Assad regime, which was strongly suspected of being responsible.

The strike was averted after Russia brokered a deal for Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian leader, to surrender chemical weapons, the existence of which had until then been a closely guarded secret. The OPCW was then tasked with handling the transfer of the chemicals to ships now moored in the port of Latakia in Syria's northwest. The chemicals will be transferred to ships with specialised facilities that will render them safe for disposal.

UN officials said the chemical compound of the sarin used in the mass attack matched that of the supply held by the Syrian regime.

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

Warily, Jordan Assists Rebels in Syrian War

By BEN HUBBARD
APRIL 10, 2014
IHT   

IRBID, Jordan — When rebels want to return to Syria to fight, Jordan’s intelligence services give them specific times to cross its border. When the rebels need weapons, they make their request at an “operations room” in Amman staffed by agents from Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

During more than three years of civil war in Syria, this desert nation has come to the world’s attention largely because it has struggled to shelter hundreds of thousands of refugees. But, quietly, Jordan has also provided a staging ground for rebels and their foreign backers on Syria’s southern front. In the joint Arab-American operations room in Amman, the capital, for example, rebels say they have collected salaries as an incentive not to join better-funded extremist groups.

But this covert aid has been so limited, reflecting the Obama administration’s reluctance to get drawn into another Middle Eastern conflict, that rebels say they have come to doubt that the United States still shares their goal of toppling President Bashar al-Assad.

In fact, many rebels say they believe that the Obama administration is giving just enough to keep the rebel cause alive, but not enough to actually help it win, as part of a dark strategy aimed at prolonging the war. They say that in some cases their backers even push them to avoid attacking strategic targets, part of what they see as that effort to keep the conflict burning.

“The aid that comes in now is only enough to keep us alive, and it covers only the lowest level of needs,” said Brig. Gen. Asaad al-Zoabi, a Syrian fighter pilot who defected and now works in the operations room.

“They call it aid, but I don’t consider it aid,” he said. “I consider it buying time and giving people the illusion that there is aid when really there is not.”

While much attention has been focused on Syria’s northern front, where rebels move in freely from neighboring Turkey, the southern region has been far more controlled. And despite recent reports of an invigorated “southern front” of rebel forces, recent interviews with more than two dozen rebel commanders, fighters and Jordanian and foreign officials painted a picture of a largely stagnant southern battlefield, one that is heavily influenced by outside powers whose main goals are to limit the rise of extremists and preserve stability in Jordan.

Increasing the military threat against Mr. Assad is not part of the plan, rebels say.

Publicly, the United States is providing more than $260 million in “nonlethal support” to the Syrian opposition, including rebel groups it does not consider extremist. But the military aid is covert, and the countries involved have not disclosed what they provide.

None of this aid has significantly advanced the rebels’ cause or helped achieve the American goal of a negotiated end to the war. To the contrary, peace talks have been suspended indefinitely and Mr. Assad is likely to remain president, perhaps for a long time to come.

But a White House spokeswoman, Caitlin Hayden, said on Thursday that “the notion that the United States wants fighting to be drawn out is flat wrong. We are committed to building the capacity of the moderate opposition and seeking a way to end the bloodshed and the needless suffering of the Syrian people.”

She added: “There is no military solution to this conflict. What is needed is a negotiated political transition.”

The State Department and the C.I.A. declined to comment, and Jordan publicly denies helping any of Syria’s warring parties.

But in the towns near Jordan’s border with Syria where many rebels keep their families and take breaks from the war, the operations room, known as the Military Operations Command, is an open secret.

Rebel commanders say they travel to Amman to appeal to the officials there for arms and cash for their fighters.

“We go to them, we explain what we want to do, and they ask about the target and how many fighters we have,” said Brig. Gen. Abdullah Qarayiza, who leads a rebel group in the Syrian town of Nawa. His arms requests had been rejected twice, he said.

But for each of the last two months, he said he had received $25,000 in cash to pay his men $50 each.

“What is $50 for a fighter who has a wife and kids?” he said. “He can barely buy cigarettes.”

Rebels who have visited the operations headquarters say its decisions balance the interests of the main players: Saudi Arabia provides funding and pushes for greater rebel support; Jordan manages the border and urges caution; and the United States supervises, maintaining a veto on weapon shipments.

While the operations room has provided ammunition, rifles and antitank missiles, it refuses to provide the antiaircraft missiles that rebels say could stop the bombings of rebel towns that have killed thousands of civilians.

The center also coordinates a C.I.A. program to train rebel fighters that was authorized by President Obama in April of last year. It was supposed to provide 380 fighters a month with training, rifles, ammunition and antitank weapons so they could return to Syria and train their colleagues.

But officials and rebel leaders say the program is actually much smaller. General Zoabi said that there had been three sessions in the Jordanian desert with 15 to 30 fighters each, and that the training scarcely benefited fighters who already had extensive battlefield experience.

“It’s as if you take someone who runs the 100-meter dash in 10 seconds and you tell him, ‘I’m going to teach you to run it in 20,’ ” he said.

Other rebels estimated that a few hundred fighters had been trained, but even as the Obama administration considers expanding the program, Jordan imposes limits to try to keep the program secret.

“It has been essentially a check-the-box exercise that has not been large enough to make a difference on the ground or to prevent the exodus of Syrian men to jihadist groups that have food, money, ammunition and can take care of their people,” said Frederic C. Hof, a former State Department official who is now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

Rebels are of two minds about the support. They like the antitank missiles that have helped against Mr. Assad’s armor, and they acknowledge that Jordan’s border management has prevented the chaos seen in the north, where Turkey’s lax border controls have helped create a free-for-all zone of jihadists backed by private funds.

In the south, the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s main affiliate in Syria, is not a leading power, and the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has almost no presence.

“The situation is good: Jordan controls the border and arms are not brought in randomly,” said Bashar al-Zoabi, the head of the Yarmouk Division, a rebel group.

But he was frustrated that the rebels’ supporters seemed more interested in conflict management than in a victory.

“We know that if you wanted to, you could topple Bashar al-Assad in 10 days,” he said.

Jordan has approached the war cautiously, because its population is divided over the uprising and its leaders know they will remain next door to Syria regardless of who wins the war.

At times, Jordan has pressured the rebels to withdraw from strategic territory. Last year, rebels blocked the main highway between Amman and Damascus for more than a month, halting trade until Jordan intervened with rebel leaders to open the road, said General Zoabi of the Military Operations Command in Amman.

Now, cargo trucks ply the road daily and enter Jordan through a crossing still run by the Syrian government, which is surrounded by rebel forces who know that attacking the facility could jeopardize their own border access.

Some rebels played down the importance of the Military Operations Command, saying it had no role in rebel victories like the recent seizure of a prison. And General Zoabi acknowledged that its main job was to coordinate humanitarian aid and that its military support was minimal.

“If the revolutionaries need 100 percent, what they get is 10 percent,” he said. Other supplies are captured or purchased inside Syria, he said, but that still leaves the rebels with only 50 percent of what they need.

Like many rebels, General Zoabi said he suspected that the limited aid sought to prolong the war as a way to weaken Syria so that it could not threaten Israel.

When asked why he continued to work for the Military Operations Command, he compared himself to a man dying of thirst who can see clean water in the distance but can reach only dirty water.

“Do I die, or do I drink from the water that isn’t clean?” he said. “I am forced to drink dirty water, but it is better for me to live than to die.”


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« Reply #12963 on: Apr 11, 2014, 06:11 AM »


El Salvador groups accuse Pacific Rim of 'assault on democratic governance'

More than 300 organisations target multinational company that is suing the country for its refusal to grant a gold-mining permit

• El Salvador communities battle to keep their gold in the ground

   
Claire Provost in Cabañas
The Guardian, Thursday 10 April 2014 13.47 BST   

A multinational mining company has been accused of launching "a direct assault on democratic governance" by suing El Salvador for more than US$300m (£179m) in compensation, after the tiny Central American country refused to allow it to dig for gold amid growing opposition to the exploitation of its mineral wealth.

More than 300 NGOs, trade unions and civil society groups have signed a strongly worded letter accusing the Canada-based company Pacific Rim of using a little-known international tribunal to "subvert a democratic nationwide debate over mining and environmental health".

Pacific Rim, now owned by OceanaGold, a Canadian-Australian firm, applied in 2004 for a permit to start operations at its El Dorado mine in the northern province of Cabañas.

The company seeks $301m from El Salvador in a protracted investment dispute that began in 2009. Pacific Rim claims El Salvador violated its own investment law by not issuing it a permit to dig for gold at the El Dorado mine.

But El Salvador argues that the company not only lacked environmental permissions for the project, but that it did not own, or have rights to, much of the land covered by its concession request, and did not submit a final feasibility study for the mining operation.

Although mining has never played a large part in the Salvadoran economy, rising gold prices and the relative stability that followed the 1992 peace accords which ended the country's 12-year civil war have lured dozens of companies to explore its land. Although they were initially welcomed by a series of pro-business governments, the tide has turned against mining as a route to development.

Today, there is a widespread movement to keep El Salvador's gold and other metals in the ground, with politicians from all parties, the state's human rights office, civil society organisations and the Catholic church speaking out against mining. Since 2008, there has been a de facto moratorium on metal mining, with successive presidents committing not to issue new permits while in office.

Anti-mining campaigners argue that the Pacific Rim case, which is being heard at the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) at the World Bank, has served only to strengthen opposition to mining in El Salvador.

Signatories to the letter – addressed to the World Bank president, Jim Kim, on Thursday – include Oxfam, the Jubilee Debt Campaign, the International Trade Union Confederation and dozens of Salvadoran organisations. They accuse Pacific Rim of using ICSID to challenge El Salvador's moratorium on mining.

"When it comes to such issues, local democratic institutions should prevail, not foreign corporations seeking to exploit natural resources," it says. "These matters should not be decided by the World Bank's investor state arbitration tribunal or any other foreign tribunal."

The letter claims the investor-state dispute process has allowed corporations to "undermine the public interest laws and regulatory structures in countries of the global south", and calls on the World Bank to urgently review the role of ICSID in meeting the Bank's stated mission of ending poverty. Such a review should happen in public, it says, and should allow communities affected by mining to have their concerns recognised.

Before trying the case under El Salvador's investment law, Pacific Rim had tried unsuccessfully to do so under the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (Cafta-DR). This was dismissed by an ICSID tribunal, and brought accusations of "jurisdiction shopping" against the company.

El Salvador amended its investment law last year, so that companies with complaints have to go through local courts instead of international arbitration courts, though this does not apply retrospectively and has no impact on the current case.

The hopes of El Salvador, which has spent more than $6m on the case, rest on a hearing scheduled for 15 September, the country's independence day.

This timing is symbolic, according to Luis Parada, El Salvador's lawyer on the ICSID case. "This case stands for the principle that a country does not have a legal obligation to change its laws to please a foreign investor; rather, it is the foreign investor who has the obligation to comply with the laws of the host state," he said.

Pacific Rim is expected to submit its written arguments to the ICSID tribunal on 11 April; El Salvador will respond in July. A final decision is not expected before 2015.

A spokesman for the World Bank Group said cases at ICSID are
decided by expert arbitrators and are independent from the work of
other World Bank institutions. "ICSID provides an important service to
states and investors worldwide by offering impartial, cost-effective
and efficient facilities for the settlement of international
investment disputes, which under the ICSID convention are entirely
voluntary and require consent of both the investor and state
concerned," he said.

Announcing its acquisition of Pacific Rim in late 2013, the managing director and chief executive of OceanaGold, Mick Wilkes, said: "Our company has a long and successful track record of operating gold mines in partnership with local communities in a safe and sustainable manner and we look forward to working with our key stakeholders in El Salvador to unlock the significant opportunity that exists at El Dorado for the people of El Salvador."

The president and chief executive of Pacific Rim, Tom Shrake, said: "OceanaGold shares our high regard for the hard-working people of El Salvador and is committed to working hand in hand with the government and citizens of El Salvador to help build an economy without sacrificing the ecosystems or the rich culture that defines El Salvador."

In addition to its dispute with the government, Pacific Rim has been challenged by community activists who say the El Dorado project could have catastrophic consequences for local water supplies and the Rio Lempa, a river on which much of the Salvadoran population depends.

"It's essential to defend every drop of water," said Hector Barrios, a 40-year-old anti-mining activist in Cabañas. "The struggle here is in defence of life, in defence of water. That's why we are in conflict with mining companies."

The Pacific Rim dispute is seen by many as a landmark case, because of the costs that could be imposed on the country and the precedent it could set for other companies looking to mount cases against the government.

"There are so many permits on standby right now, so there is fear that these companies will follow the lead of Pacific Rim," said Yanira Cortez, deputy state attorney for human rights. "These tribunals, this type of arbitration … puts El Salvador in a dangerous situation because it means that investment is more important than the population and the environment."

Activists say the case also has wider implications. "[This case] demonstrates what happens when a poor country takes a decision and that is challenged by rules that privilege investor rights," said Manuel Pérez-Rocha at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington.

Known by some as the land of volcanoes, El Salvador is highly vulnerable to environmental threats and natural disasters. It is also one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with 304 people per sq km in 2011. Estimates suggest that El Salvador is the second most deforested country in the Americas after Haiti, and that 90% of surface water is contaminated, triggering fears of a growing water crisis.

The case comes as a raft of free trade agreements are being considered worldwide, with the role of investor-state arbitration considered a key debate around the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

• This article was amended on 11 April to include comment from the World Bank.


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« Reply #12964 on: Apr 11, 2014, 06:22 AM »

Testing reveals no evidence that ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ is a modern forgery

By Scott Kaufman
RawStory
Thursday, April 10, 2014 12:11 EDT

A papyrus fragment of “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” that was dismissed by the Vatican as a “clumsy forgery” has been dated as having originated in Egypt around 700 C.E.

In an article published Tuesday in Harvard Theological Review, Karen King provides evidence that “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” (GJW) cannot be a modern forgery.

The significance of GJW stems from the fact that it appears to be a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples about the role of women in the church. “The dialogue concerns family and discipleship,” King wrote, and “Jesus speaks of ‘my mother’ and ‘my wife’ in lines 1 and 4, and line 5 refers to a female person who is able to be Jesus’s ‘disciple.’”

The evidence that the work is not a modern forgery is of both the intellectual and scientific sort. The carbon “lamp black” pigments in which it is written “match closely those of several manuscripts from the Columbia [University] collection of papyri dated between 1 B.C.E. and 800 C.E., while they deviate significantly from modern commercial lamp black pigments.” Radiocarbon analysis of the papyrus fragment — conducted at the NSR-Arizona ANS Laboratory — indicated that the papyrus itself originated between 404 and 209 B.C.E.

The discrepancy between the date of the papyrus and the date of the ink on it is not unusual, as paper was a highly valued commodity that was often rewritten upon for hundreds of years. However, King had Noreen Tuross of Harvard and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute retest the papyrus, and she generated a mean date of 741 C.E. for GJW.

In either case, King wrote, all scientific “testing thus supports the conclusion that the papyrus and ink of GJW are ancient.”

Paleographic analysis of the orthography — the shape of the letters, which varied both from region to region and from century to century — and of the linguistic construction of the Sahidic sentences strongly suggest that the fragment is of early Coptic origin, and most likely translated from Greek.

Despite this physical evidence of its antiquity, scholars like Leo Depuydt, an Egyptologist at Brown University, still believe the work to be “a modern-day cut-and-paste job with several glaring grammatical blunders that a native speaker of Coptic would never commit.”

Depuydt told the Boston Globe that the forger “wanted to put his or her own spin on modern theological issues,” and “nothing is going to change [his] mind. “As a forgery, it is bad to the point of being farcical or fobbish…I don’t buy the argument that this is sophisticated. I think it could be done in an afternoon by an undergraduate student.”

At this point, King said that she is “basically hoping that we can move past the issue of forgery to questions about the significance of this fragment for the history of Christianity, for thinking about questions like, ‘Why does Jesus being married, or not, even matter? Why is it that people had such an incredible reaction to this?’”

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

The Gospel Of Jesus's Wife

Harvard School Of Divinity

On September 18, 2012, Karen L. King announced the existence of a papyrus fragment dubbed The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife at the International Coptic Congress in Rome. In the months following this announcement, papyrological examination, scientific analysis of the ink and papyrus, and various forms of imaging were performed by multiple professional teams. These usually included comparative testing of a fragment of the Gospel of John in Coptic. No evidence of modern fabrication (“forgery”) was found. The results of these analyses do helpfully demonstrate a number of points, including:

    The papyrus material is ancient, and can be dated to the seventh to eighth c.c.e.
    The carbon composition of the ink, too, is consistent with ancient inks.
    Microscopic imaging was used to investigate whether the ink might be pooled in damaged sections of the fragment in ways that would indicate it had been applied after the damage had already been done. No evidence of such pooling was found.

    Careful examination was also made of certain letters, especially the all-important alpha on the heavily inscribed side of the fragment (“recto”) in line 4, which reads "my wife". If a sigma had been overwritten by this alpha, the meaning would have been changed from “the woman” to “my wife.” No evidence of overwriting is evident.

    King has also done more research on the history of what early Christians had to say about Jesus’s marital status and on the interpretation of the fragment itself. She argues that the main topic of the fragment is to affirm that women who are mothers and wives can be disciples of Jesus—a topic that was hotly debated in early Christianity as celibate virginity increasingly became highly valued.

A critical edition, English translation, photographs, and an analysis of the material artifact, its language, meaning and history have now been published by Karen L. King in the Harvard Theological Review 107.2 (April 2014). The results of a papyrological examination, as well as Raman, FT-IR, and radiocarbon testing are summarized in reports also published there by the respective researchers.

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« Reply #12965 on: Apr 11, 2014, 06:35 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Democrats prepare to hammer Paul Ryan’s ‘Dracula in sheep’s clothing’ budget plan

By Reuters
Thursday, April 10, 2014 21:58 EDT

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats in the U.S. Congress can hardly contain their glee over the latest Republican budget plan, even though they loathe the details of the blueprint that would cut programs for the poor and funding of medical research.

Democrats view the document as a potent weapon in the November congressional elections and are betting that its emphasis on austerity and cuts to popular programs such as Medicare will provoke a backlash against Republicans.

Crafted by Representative Paul Ryan, the leading Republican voice on fiscal policy, the budget proposes to eliminate annual deficits within 10 years. It won approval on Thursday in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. Republicans overwhelmingly supported the document, which got no Democratic votes.

Democrats see in the budget a rich vein of material they can use in attack ads against Republicans in this year’s congressional elections.

Republicans have been focusing on the troubled rollout of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law in their campaign to retake the Senate.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday called it a “moral imperative” to make sure the public was aware of the budget cuts that Republicans are proposing.

“How we reduce it to a bumper sticker, well, we will see,” she added.

The House floor debate this week offered a preview of the attack lines Democrats will use on the campaign trail. They lambasted the document as the “worst-ever” Ryan budget and conjured up frightening descriptions of its impact.

“It’s like a Dracula in sheep’s clothing coming in to suck the blood out of the middle class,” said Representative Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat.

Added Democrat Hakeem Jeffries of New York: “It is like a heat-seeking missile aimed directly at the American people. It is a parade of horribles too numerous to catalog.”

RAMPING UP ATTACK ADS

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is quickly ramping up an attack campaign against Republican candidates in important swing districts, called “Battleground: Middle Class.”

An email message distributed by the Democratic National Committee warns of $2,000 in expected tax hikes in the Ryan budget for middle-class families with children. “We’ve beaten Paul Ryan and his budget before, and with your help, we’ll do it again,” it reads.

Democrats contend Ryan’s budget is evidence that Republicans are intent on giving tax breaks to the wealthy and big corporations, while cutting programs that benefit the middle class and aid the poor.

“This is a pretty clear signal of what would happen if the Republicans ran the table and were successful at taking back the Senate, keeping control of the House and taking the presidency. It’s pretty stark,” said Representative Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon.

Ryan’s prominence as the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate and a potential contender for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination bolsters the visibility of the budget. Democrats believe Ryan’s high profile could help energize people in their voting base who oppose the Wisconsin lawmaker’s budget policies.

But Ryan, who is expected to shift to the chairmanship of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee next year, has defended his fourth and final budget and says he believes it will appeal to Americans who want smaller government and “more control over their lives.”

Republican Representative Bill Cassidy, who is seeking to unseat Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, brushed off the idea the Ryan budget could serve as an effective weapon for Democrats in the congressional election.

Cassidy said he believed the rocky introduction of the healthcare law, known popularly as Obamacare, would overshadow Democrats’ message on the budget.

Concerns about Obamacare were the issues that voters in his state cared about, he said, adding: “Everything else is monkey dust.”

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

Ryan Budget Passes House Despite United Democratic Opposition

By: Keith Brekhus
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, April, 10th, 2014, 7:22 pm   

Paul Ryan’s budget plan that calls for savage budget cuts and for lowering tax rates for the wealthy, passed the House on a 219 to 205 vote today. The vote was largely symbolic as the resolution is merely a blueprint for GOP budget aspirations, rather than a bill that has any chance to be voted into law. Nevertheless, the symbolic vote illustrates the sharp partisan divide in the House. Democrats voted unanimously against the proposal 193-0. Republicans were less unified as a dozen GOP lawmakers defected and voted down the Ryan proposal.

A mixture of extreme conservatives and moderates jumped from Republican ranks to oppose the plan. The twelve dissenting GOP Representatives brought the measure embarrassingly close to defeat for Paul Ryan, especially since not a single Democrat was willing to support the plan. Republicans who voted no were Reps. Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston and Austin Scott of Georgia; Tom Massie of Kentucky; Rick Crawford of Arkansas; Chris Gibson of New York; Frank Lobiondo of New Jersey; Ralph Hall of Texas; Dave Jolly of Florida; Walter Jones of North Carolina; and David McKinley of West Virginia.

Three of the Georgia Representatives- Kingston, Gingrey, and Broun, voted no because the Ryan plan is not conservative enough. The three are in a hotly contested Senate primary where they are crawling over one another to prove which candidate is furthest to the right. In the alternate universe that is the GOP Senate primary in Georgia, no candidate wants to be saddled with the burden of having sided with Paul Ryan, for fear that Ryan is perceived as too liberal.

On the Democratic side of the aisle, opposition to the Ryan plan was universal with every single Democrat voting no. The Democratic caucus stayed loyal to the House Democratic leadership and to the American people by rejecting the Ryan plan by a 193-0 margin. Although it remains fashionable for cynics to argue that there are no substantive differences between the two major political parties in Congress, the unified Democratic opposition to the Ryan plan once again illustrates the folly of that tired and false argument.

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

Texas AG sides with hospital that allowed ‘sociopathic’ surgeon to maim, kill patients

By Travis Gettys
RawStory
Thursday, April 10, 2014 12:46 EDT

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is going out of his way to defend four civil lawsuits against a hospital accused of allowing a “sociopathic” neurosurgeon to treat patients.

None of the suits name the state, but the Dallas Morning News reported that Abbott has asked a federal court for permission to represent Baylor Regional Medical Center of Plano in the suits related to Dr. Christopher Duntsch.

The physician practiced medicine and performed “minimally invasive” spinal procedures in the north Texas area for two years before losing his license in 2013 after the deaths of two patients and the paralysis of four others.

The suits claim Baylor put revenue ahead of patient safety by overlooking the Duntsch’s substantial substance abuse issues and doing nothing to stop him from treating patients.

The physician told the newspaper Baylor made about $65,000 profit on each procedure he performed.

Former colleagues called Duntsch a sociopath and a “clear and present danger to patients,” and one doctor compared him to a serial killer.

Another surgeon was so alarmed by Duntsch’s actions that he took away his surgical tools in the middle of an operation.

The surgeon’s roommate and closest friend says Duntsch operated on him after a night of using cocaine, and he emerged from the surgery a quadriplegic.

Duntsch has since moved to Colorado and filed for bankruptcy, rendering him essentially judgment-proof, reported RH Reality Check.

State law requires the plaintiffs to prove Baylor acted with actual intent to harm patients, but the suits claim that statute is unconstitutional.

Abbott, who is running for governor, has asked the court permission to defend the statute, although he is not required to do so.

If the law is upheld, patients would have a difficult time winning a suit against Baylor and collecting damages, and one of the plaintiffs’ attorney strongly criticized Abbott’s position.

“I think it’s absolutely insane that he has chosen to defend the hospital that enabled this … sociopathic neurosurgeon to wreak havoc on its patients,” said attorney James Girards. “I hate to think he’s doing it to pander to the medical lobby.”

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

Obama Goes Off and Pulls No Punches While Tearing Republicans In Congress a New One

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, April, 10th, 2014, 11:01 am   

President Obama isn’t pulling his punches. At an event in Houston, the president ripped congressional Republicans on everything from equal pay to potholes.

At a Democratic fundraiser in Houston, the president said:

You would think that that at this point would not be a controversial proposition. And yet, the Republicans in the Senate uniformly decided to say no. Now, we had done an executive order yesterday facilitating federal contractors to provide basic information — (applause) — to make sure that if somebody shares their salary with a fellow employee that they couldn’t be retaliated against; that some data is provided — in aggregate, not in detailed ways — to make sure that people know whether or not they’re treating women the way they should on the job. But obviously the action I took through this executive order was restricted to federal contractors; it didn’t reach every employer.

Now, apparently, a lot of these Republicans during the debate said they just think that this idea there’s a gender pay gap is a fantasy, it’s not real, there are all these other reasons why this happens. And in fact, I think there was a candidate for the Senate, a Republican in Michigan, who voiced the opinion that women make other choices. And I think that’s certainly true; every individual makes other choices. Very rarely do you meet people who make the choice to be paid less for doing the same job. (Laughter.)

But I use this as just one example of the scores of issues that are critical to advancing this country’s future in which not only is the other side blocking progress but aren’t even offering a persuasive alternative vision for how we’re going to grow the economy and make sure that anybody who works hard in this country can get ahead. This has become the least productive Congress in modern history, recent memory. And that’s by objective measures, just basic activity. At a time when the economy is actually poised to take off, at a time where we finally have recovered from the most crippling economic crisis since the Great Depression, at a time when the private sector has created close to 9 million new jobs and the housing market is recovering and we’ve got an energy boom going on in this country like we’ve never seen in a very long time, and the dropout rate is coming down and we’ve just got a lot of things going for us — and yet we’ve still got a lot of competition from countries like China and Germany — and this can be the American Century just like the 20th century was if we make some good decisions. If we’re investing in early childhood education; if we’re investing in rebuilding our roads and our infrastructure — because I got to tell you, driving here from the airport, it was a little bumpy. (Laughter.) And if you think the potholes are bad here, imagine what they’re like where we had one of the worst winters in recent memory.



And that’s why I’m here today to talk to you, because we have to have a Congress that works — not one that is — march in lockstep, not one that agrees with every proposal I put forward, but a Congress that is serious about governance and is thinking about the next generation and not just the next election.

The president blasted congressional Republicans on everything from equal pay to the economy to pot holes. (When the federal government doesn’t spend on infrastructure maintenance, state governments don’t have the money to adequately maintain the roads, which leads to local governments being unable to fix that huge pothole on your street.) It is all part of the cost of Republican obstruction.

It is rare to see a president use such blunt language when describing Congress. Obama called out Boehner, McConnell and the entire Republican leadership in Congress for not taking their jobs seriously. Republicans in Congress have decided that their job is to halt all progress on every issue, but the GOP’s behavior is not what the Founders intended.

They would be horrified at what Republicans have done to their beautiful system of government. Obama was correct. The only way this nation is going to get a functional congress that is interested in something beyond their next reelection campaign is if voters throw the current Republicans out.

Obama has had enough and is going to fight with everything he has got to put an end to Republican obstruction once and for all.

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

40-50 House Republicans Are Plotting To Overthrow John Boehner Before Year’s End

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, April, 10th, 2014, 10:20 am

The insanity within the House Republican caucus has hit a new level as dozens of House Republicans are openly plotting to make John Boehner step down as speaker before the end of the year.

According to National Journal:

    Several dozen frustrated House conservatives are scheming to infiltrate the GOP leadership next year—possibly by forcing Speaker John Boehner to step aside immediately after November’s midterm elections.

    ….

    But there’s a more audacious option on the table, according to conservatives involved in the deliberations. They say between 40 and 50 members have already committed verbally to electing a new speaker. If those numbers hold, organizers say, they could force Boehner to step aside as speaker in late November, when the incoming GOP conference meets for the first time, by showing him that he won’t have the votes to be reelected in January.

    The masterminds of this mutiny are trying to stay in the shadows for as long as possible to avoid putting a target on their backs. But one Republican said the “nucleus”of the rebellion can be found inside the House Liberty Caucus, of which he and his comrades are members. This is not surprising, considering that some of the key players in that group—Justin Amash of Michigan, Raul Labrador of Idaho, and Thomas Massie of Kentucky—were among the 12 Republicans who refused to back Boehner’s reelection in January 2012.

    ….

    “There are no big ideas coming out of the conference. Our leadership expects to coast through this election by banking on everyone’s hatred for Obamacare,” said one Republican lawmaker who is organizing the rebellion. “There’s nothing big being done. We’re reshuffling chairs on the Titanic.”

The anonymous Republican quoted above offered an honest assessment of the House leadership. Boehner, Cantor, Ryan, and company have no ideas. Their entire plan is to run on Obamacare in both 2014 and 2016. As the law gets more popular, this strategy is already starting to weaken. By 2016, running against the ACA might be a fool’s errand.

This story is a reminder that our government is not broken. The Republican Party is broken. The dysfunction in the Republican caucus has paralyzed the House of Representatives. With the House unable to act, the legislative process has ground to a halt. The president can sign bills that the Senate passes if the House doesn’t have it together enough to do their job.

John Boehner keeps repeating that he is going to run for another term as Speaker, but it is getting increasing difficult to see him in the job. Boehner may hold on for another term in 2014, but by 2016 or soon, I suspect he will be gone.

It is difficult to believe that the same group of Republicans who can’t agree with each other enough to pass the most basic legislation will stick together and overthrow Boehner. The group is already fracturing over whether they should cut a deal with Eric Cantor, or support totally new leadership.

The only way that the House of Representatives is going to function again is if all of these Republicans are voted out. The best way to get this government working is to vote Democrat in November.

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

Worried About His Job, Speaker John Boehner Uses Twitter To Kowtow To The Tea Party

By: Justin Baragona
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, April, 10th, 2014, 5:20 pm   

On Thursday, Jason Easley posted an article here stating that Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) is in actual danger of losing his gavel after the midterm elections this November. Apparently, 40 to 50 House Republicans are conspiring to remove Boehner as Speaker. Assuming the Republicans hold onto the House this year, these conspirators are threatening to vote for someone else as Speaker if Boehner insists on pushing for another term. With these votes going to another Republican, other House Republicans will be forced to vote against Boehner rather than risk a Democrat being elected Speaker of a GOP-majority House.

Anyway, Boehner obviously is well aware of this mutiny taking place and decided to take to Twitter on Thursday to push forward some tried and true conservative talking points. I guess he figured better to try something than nothing at all. After having tweeted only once since April 3rd, Boehner unleashed a barrage of tweets early Thursday afternoon hitting on all of the GOP’s greatest hits.

First, to placate all of the conservatives who have been hoping that they can find a ‘scandal’ that will stick to the Obama Administration, Bohner sent this one out, which included a video clip from a press conference he gave earlier in the day:

    The American ppl have not been told the truth about #Benghazi, #FastandFurious, and the #IRS http://t.co/L6no64iooE

    — John Boehner (@johnboehner) April 10, 2014

He then followed that up with this tweet:

    The families of those who died in #Benghazi deserve the truth http://t.co/wMeuX1ERhf

    — John Boehner (@johnboehner) April 10, 2014

I guess he’s hoping to curry favor with the extremists in the House, and the likely mutineers, by pushing Benghazi, Fast and Furious and the IRS. However, even pundits at Fox News are now saying that Benghazi is a dead issue and Congress needs to move on. But, points for Boehner for making the effort.

Next for Boehner during his Twitter party was, you guessed it, Obamacare:

    How ObamaCare is leaving some patients without doctors http://t.co/U93nIus1sn #BrokenPromises

    — John Boehner (@johnboehner) April 10, 2014

He also touted the Ryan budget, passed by the House on Thursday, as being a way to repeal Obamacare:

    Our jobs budget repeals #ObamaCare to provide relief for families and #smallbiz

    — John Boehner (@johnboehner) April 10, 2014

Speaking of the Ryan budget, Boehner made sure to send out tweets hyping it as a way to get a balanced budget, cut and simplify taxes and slash government spending, all favorite Tea Party positions.

    Today, the House passed a #jobs budget that balances in 10 years

    — John Boehner (@johnboehner) April 10, 2014

    Our plan for a better future cuts more than $5 trillion in spending while protecting critical programs like Medicare and Social Security

    — John Boehner (@johnboehner) April 10, 2014

    Washington has a spending problem. A flatter, simpler tax code will boost wages and help manufacturers bring jobs home

    — John Boehner (@johnboehner) April 10, 2014

Obviously, all of these tweets came about as a way for Boehner to show the extreme wing of the GOP House that he has their best interests at heart. Basically, he wanted them all to know that he will make sure that they continue to be the Party of No. On top of that, the only ideas coming forward will be the same old tired ideas that they’ve been pushing for years now (Ryan budget, repeal Obamacare.) He also wants them to know that he is completely behind the continued and unnecessary investigations into Benghazi, Fast and Furious and the IRS.

On Thursday, Speaker John Boehner showed everybody who his daddy is. And his daddy is the Tea Party.

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

Bill Clinton Criticizes SCOTUS Voting Rights Act Decision And Calls It Vote Suppression

By: Adalia Woodbury
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, April, 10th, 2014, 2:22 pm   


    Bill Clinton on VRA

    “We all know what this is about. This is a way of restricting the franchise after 50 years of expanding it,”

Speaking at a 50th anniversary celebration of the Civil Rights Act in Texas, former President Bill Clinton told the audience everything you need to know about the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder in two sentences.  “We all know what this is about. This is a way of restricting the franchise after 50 years of expanding it.”

Protecting your vote entails knowing a bit more about the tricks and traps Republican legislators have set up since that ruling.

For one thing, registering to vote is much harder now.  If you move to a different district or a different state be prepared to spend several days navigating the bureaucratic nightmare that has become registering to vote.

Recently, I was told about the experiences of one person who recently moved to a different state and whose marital status had also changed.  When they went to register, they had their driver’s license issued from their previous state.  The license was still good.  They had their passport, which had admittedly expired a few days earlier.  They had utility bills. They also had their marriage certificate and birth certificate.  In all, this person had a paper trail establishing that they are a U.S. citizen and therefore they are eligible to register and vote.  Initially, they were told they need a valid passport to register.    After some discussion, my informant was allowed to register.  They told me that probably happened because they are white and wearing nice clothes because that would suggest they vote Republican.  They were convinced that had they been black or perhaps wearing less expensive clothing, the law would have been strictly enforced and they would have been disenfranchised.

The lesson of this person’s story is understanding that the days in which registering to vote and voting were easy, even when you are eligible to vote and have ID, are over.  These days registering to vote takes a lot of time, a lot of documentation and a lot of persistence.

The Republicans who passed these laws designed them hoping to discourage certain types of voters.  They’re hoping that laws reducing early votes and banning weekend voting will keep turnout low from certain kinds of voters.

This year’s election is as much about fighting for your vote as it is about choosing who best represents your views on the issues and who is most likely to protect your interests.

Republicans are counting on Democrats being apathetic, being disheartened by Republican obstructionism or intimidated by all that money the Koch brothers are pouring into the Tea Party and its clown car of crazy candidates.

This also means you need to get informed about the documents you need to register to vote and to vote. It means taking the time to contact your local election officials to confirm what documents you need to register and to vote.  It means checking to make sure you are registered.  It means finding out if your state still allows early voting and if so when.  It means making sure you go to the right poll place.  In several states, if you vote at the wrong poll place your vote doesn’t get counted.

It means, if you are a woman, your ID must match your name exactly.  If you are married, you government recognized ID must match your married name exactly as it appears on your marriage certificate.

The degree to which Republicans are out to suppress the vote wasn’t lost on former President Clinton.  That’s why he spoke so eloquently about it.

    Is this what Martin Luther King gave his life for? Is this what Lyndon Johnson gave his legendary skills for? Is this is what America has become — a great diverse American Democracy… to restrict the franchise?” “Here we are seriously considering undermining the spirit of both the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act because of what’s happening with the franchise — this is nuts, it doesn’t make any sense.

It is nuts but then we are talking about Republican policies.  Your voice matters.  You have every right to use it and fight to keep using it.

Be ready for the obstacles that come your way by being informed and prepared.  Be ready to wait in long lines.  Be ready for a “poll observer” from the Koch Brother financed Tea Party, the Koch financed True the Vote or other similar organizations.  In some states, you will need to be ready for that poll observer standing within 3 feet of you while you give your information to voting officials.

It sounds like a lot to do to be able to vote. Republicans are counting on you thinking just that and nothing would make them happier than if you stay home instead of making your voice heard.

I’ll be the first to admit that we shouldn’t have to fight this battle again. But we can win it by voting and we’ll definitely lose it if we don’t fight back.

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

Darrell Issa Started His IRS Investigation Because Karl Rove Was Denied Tax Exempt Status

By: Adalia Woodbury
PoliticusUSA
Friday, April, 11th, 2014, 8:12 am   

On Wednesday, the Republican controlled House Oversight and Government Control Committee voted to seek criminal charges against Lois Lerner for contempt of Congress.  In other words, the Republicans on the committee know there is no scandal.  However, in the name of keeping the theater alive, they’ve got to do something or at least look like they’re doing something.  And besides, Lerner’s actions made Darrell Issa look bad on Fox and just made Fox look the same as it usually does.

The odds of this resulting in a prosecution are pretty low.  Issa didn’t take the constitutionally necessary steps of overruling Lerner’s Fifth Amendment assertion and he wasn’t “clearly directing her to answer the committee’s questions.”

This doesn’t mean that Lerner is completely in the clear either because there is an ongoing investigation of the IRS’s handling of tax exempt groups and of Lerner’s role in it.

You may remember how Darell Issa embarrassed Fox when he was caught lying about Lerner’s next appearance before the committee.  You may also recall that when Lerner waved her rights, Issa took the unprecedented step of shutting down  the committee’s hearing without so much as allowing ranking member Elijah Cummings to speak. Issa wasted a year, millions of dollars and thousands of hours in labor desperately seeking an IRS persecution of right wing organizations where none existed.

Based on documents that were also released on Wednesday, and obtained by Pro Publica, the more likely motive for Issa’s obsession was a desire to intimidate the IRS into granting Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS tax exempt status. Crossroads was, by far, the Republican Party’s biggest source of dark money, giving $90 million to Republican candidates during the 2010 and 2012 elections.

This nexus between the IRS’s intent to deny Crossroads application for tax exemption status and the IRS “scandal” will come as no surprise to PoliticusUSA readers because Sarah Jones wrote about it back in May 2013.  In fact, she identified the nexus between the “investigation” and Crossroads in her May 22nd article on the subject.

By May 28th, Sarah identified the financial interest Republicans had in derailing existing audits  of Tea Party groups based on their violations of the rules by engaging in political activities.

Now we have documents  to prove that Sarah was correct on both p0ints.

In the application, Crossroads claimed that a small portion (30%)  of its resources would be used for “Activity To Influence Legislation and Policy Making” while 20% would be allocated to “research” and 50% of its finances would be used for “education”.

In fact, Crossroads spent $90 million to elect conservative politicians, raising red flags to election watchdog groups.  The IRS received 25 referrals or complaints about Crossroads activities.

By January 2013, the IRS was in the process of writing a letter of denial  to Crossroads.  Between May 13th and May 17th 2013, the IRS finished a draft of the letter and it was sent for review. Republicans began screaming IRS “scandal” on May 13th, 2013.

The documents also show that the IRS planned to deny the applications of 5 other conservative groups that had spent money on elections, after telling the IRS they wouldn’t do so.

Republicans claim that the IRS focused exclusively on conservative groups which only tells part of the story.  Most new Liberal counterparts don’t apply to the IRS.  In fact, the documents show that the most prominent liberal dark money group, Priorities USA did not apply to the IRS.

In other words, the IRS investigated conservative dark money groups who broke the rules because they broke the rules and because few Liberal dark money groups applied to the IRS.  It stands to reason that means conservative groups are therefore more likely to be scrutinized.

This wasn’t about going after conservative groups because they were conservative. Rather, it was about Issa and company trying to intimidate the IRS into breaking the very laws it is supposed to enforce for the benefit of right wing dark money groups.

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

Mitch McConnell and the Republican Party Go All Sexist Archie Bunker on Alison Grimes

By: Sarah Jones
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, April, 10th, 2014, 6:01 pm   

The McConnell campaign, the Kentucky Republican Party, and the Republican National Committee doubled down on misogyny until they were scraping the gutter when they shared a woman bashing conservative editorial so offensive, civilized people hope it’s satire. It’s not.

Laura Bassett at Huffington Post raised the alarm on an incredibly offensive Washington Times “editorial” (if by editorial, they mean a license to make up their own facts) shared by the Mitch McConnell campaign, which takes such sexist aim at Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes as to seem like a caricature of Republicans. Sadly, it’s not. They’ve become the Archie Bunkers of America, only it’s not a joke.

Bassett points out that these kinds of attacks are why many women don’t run for public office. I’d add that for the alleged “family values” party, these kinds of attacks send a horrible message to our children.

Here’s a smattering of their “editorial”:

    Hollywood is all about pretense and posturing — beautiful plastic people pretending to be someone else, declaiming against a backdrop of facades that look like buildings.

Clearly the editorial team has not worked in Hollywood, because this is as ignorant a statement as the rest of their editorial, as it’s based on an idea that all of Hollywood takes place on the MGM lot of yesteryear — just like their “ideas”.

    Mrs. Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state, has smiled and chirped her way across the state trying to avoid debate like a terrified Dracula dodging sunlight… She is short on experience, having served only two years as “secretary of state,” which sounds considerably grander than it actually is.

Bassett rightly takes issue with their framing Grimes as someone who hasn’t done anything, citing her work for domestic violence victims and a bill she championed to help our military overseas vote. But also, if anyone is guilty of doing nothing in their job in this scenario, it’s Senator Mitch McConnell, who is going on 30 years now without a jobs proposal and has done nothing but obstruct the economy on purpose (he admitted that his mission was to make President Obama a one term president and then when he failed at that, his mission became stopping Obama’s re-election) out of spite since President Obama got elected. It’s too bad for McConnell that Obama is more popular in his home state than the Republican Senator.

If anyone is avoiding debate “like a terrified Dracula dodging sunlight” (oh my God, how do these people live with their triteness?) it’s McConnell. McConnell keeps voting no on bipartisan things and then running away from the press while setting his somewhat incompetent campaign team into motion to attack his enemies for him.

And then conclusion, “Mrs. Grimes is no doubt a nice lady, but Hollywood values, such as they are, do not connect with Kentucky values.” Got it, nice lady? You might live in Kentucky, which is more than we can really say of McConnell, but you-so-Hollywood because you are pretty, and we all know that pretty ladies don’t actually do any work, even when they hold titles like “Secretary of State”.

Or are a lawyer.

Bassett pointed out that the Washington Times editorial “contains at least one factual inaccuracy.”

    It says McConnell “has few famous contributors, but nearly all of his contributors actually live in Kentucky,” in contrast with Grimes, who “has raised more money from Californians than Kentuckians.” But the Courier-Journal reported last fall that nearly 90 percent of McConnell’s contributions come from out of state. In addition, a super PAC supporting McConnell raised over $1 million from out-of-state donors.

So, that’s a lot of huff and puff from the Washington Times about an issue that is actually more applicable to McConnell. Which is the reason why they have to attack so hard, naturally.

What seems to have happened here is that Republicans had their attack ready for a different Democratic candidate, and just like they have trouble adjusting to facts and reality, so too they have trouble with all things that aren’t static. So they are attacking Alison Grimes as if she’s Hollywood. You know, like Ashely Judd.

The attacks still wouldn’t have been fair, but at least a reality based person might be able to trace their thought process. As it is, I’m not seeing how “plastic” refers to Grimes’s policies, and if not her policies, why are they discussing it? Oh, that’s right. Because their best shot is “empty dress” and “Obama girl”.

“Mitch McConnell and his campaign are going to desperate lengths to hide his horrendous voting record on behalf of the women of Kentucky,” Grimes spokeswoman Charly Norton said in a statement. “A day after McConnell blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act and exploited sexual harassment victims for his own political gain, it is deeply troubling his campaign now opts to spread such a derogatory editorial that demeans women. Kentucky’s women and families deserve a champion in the U.S. Senate — not a ‘guardian of gridlock’ who decides that protecting women from violence or paying them equal pay for equal work is not worthy of his support.”

Sexism and racism are but tools of the elite, and here we see sexism being deployed as bait for the Archie Bunkers of the GOP. Sexism is an easy punch, devoid of actual content. It plays on the emotions of the targets (ironically), but the people deploying it are doing it deliberately. What McConnell and the GOP are saying is that Grimes doesn’t belong in this race because she’s a woman. This fact discredits her in their eyes.

And that says everything about them, and is no reflection on Alison Grimes, or any other female candidate.


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Pro-Russian gunmen seize key buildings in eastern Ukraine

Armed men storm police station and state security service building in Slavyansk and distribute weapons

Staff and agencies
theguardian.com, Saturday 12 April 2014 11.08 BST   

Gunmen have seized a police station and other government buildings in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland amid a tense deadlock in the country's east, where armed pro-Russian protesters have barricaded themselves inside government buildings and demanded independence from Kiev.

Ukraine's interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said another group of gunmen tried to storm the Donetsk regional prosecutor's office but was repelled.

The early morning raid on the police station happened in Slavyansk, a town about 35 miles north of the regional capital, Donetsk. The men collected weapons and distributed them to their supporters. A second group later took the headquarters of the state security service.

"Armed men in camouflage fatigues have taken the police station in Slavyansk," Avakov wrote on his Facebook page. "Here, our response will be very severe."

A local police official told Kiev's private Channel 5 television that the raid was staged by six men who had fired several shots into the air before storming the station. It was not immediately clear how the local police responded or whether the gunmen had taken any hostages.

Avakov said that Ukrainian special forces had been dispatched to the scene.

"There is zero tolerance for armed terrorists," he said.

The interior minister added that a separate group of assailants had tried to take control of the prosecutor's office in Donetsk.

"They have all been expelled. The building has been clear of unauthorised personnel," he wrote.

"Another self-declared defence minister has been arrested."

Protesters in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk seized government buildings on Sunday. While police managed to clear the Luhansk office swiftly, protesters in Donetsk and Kharkiv remain entrenched.

The Donetsk adminstration centre remains under the control of several hundred gunmen who have proclaimed the creation of their own "people's republic" and called on the Russin president, Vladimir Putin, to send in troops.

In a further sign of growing tensions between the two countries, Ukraine's state-run energy company Naftogaz on Saturday suspended gas payments to Russia.

Russian gas giant Gazprom earlier this month increased gas price for Ukrainian consumers to $485 per 1,000 cubic meters (tcm) from $268 for the first quarter, saying Kiev was no longer eligible for previous discounts.

Naftogaz chief executive Andriy Kobolev told the Zerkalo Nedely weekly that payments would be suspended until the conclusion of price negotiations.

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

Ukraine fails to break stalemate with pro-Russian protesters in east

Arseniy Yatsenyuk promises devolution to local government in hope of staving off demands for their independence from Kiev

Alec Luhn in Donetsk, Oksana Grytsenko in Luhansk and agencies
The Guardian, Friday 11 April 2014 20.03 BST   
   
Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, attempted and failed on Friday to break a tense deadlock in the country's east, where armed pro-Russian protesters have barricaded themselves inside government buildings and demanded independence from Kiev.

Protesters in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk seized government buildings on Sunday. While police managed to clear the Luhansk protest site swiftly, protesters in Donetsk and Kharkiv remain entrenched.

Yatsenyuk met officials from the eastern regions in Donetsk and promised to expand the powers of local government bodies and preserve the status of Russian as a second official language. But he did not meet representatives of the protesters who have declared a "people's republic" from a Donetsk administrative building and demanded that a referendum on independence be held by 11 May

A 48-hour deadline to clear the occupied buildings announced by Ukraine's interior minister came and went without incident, despite persistent rumours of an impending assault by government forces. Protest leaders said negotiations to clear the building had come to a standstill.

In Luhansk, further east, dozens of men remained barricaded inside the state security service headquarters, armed with Kalashnikovs. They demand a referendum on federalising Ukraine.

"If we get federation, then people will decide whether they want to be inside of Ukraine or in Russia," said Aleksey Kariakin, one of the leaders of the group, who earlier held talks with Ukraine's security chief, Andriy Parubiy.

The protesters deny that they have been sustained, or prompted to action, by Russia, or have Russian nationals among their number. They claim they are backed only by hundreds of people who live in a tent camp set to protect and supply them.

"If they decide to arrest me, this group will act as a human shield," Kariakin said.

Tatiana Botsman, 29, is one of their hardcore supporters. She cooks meals for the occupiers and tea for participants of the tent camp. She is not afraid of a police attack. "If they come I will take a wooden stick and stand side by side with my husband," she said.

Protesters in Donetsk have called on Russia to deploy peacekeepers to facilitate a referendum on independence by 11 May.

Yatsenyuk did not agree to a referendum but suggested the system of regional administrations appointed by the president should be replaced by executive committees elected by regional parliaments, which would have "all financial, economic, administrative and other powers to control the corresponding region".

He also recommended that the parliament approve legislation that would change the constitution to allow for local referendums, a move strongly supported by the leaders of the Donetsk occupation.

Yatsenyuk said changes to the country's constitution should be approved before a presidential election planned for 25 May that the Kiev regime has said will fully legitimise the new government.

But Denis Pushilin, the chairman of the temporary government in Donetsk, told the Guardian on Friday afternoon he had not heard of these concessions and that any decision on them would have to be made by a loosely organised council of protest leaders.

"They haven't appealed to us with this offer," he said of the prime minister's promise of greater regional power.

The protesters refuse to recognise the new Kiev government, which they say is dominated by nationalists from western Ukraine. Their talks with the Kiev-appointed governor of the region have been mediated by Rinat Akhmetov – Ukraine's richest man and owner of many of the coalmines that form the core of Donetsk's economy.

Pushilin said talks broke down after the protesters' offer to give back two floors of the occupied 11-storey building so that regional officials could continue their work was rejected by Kiev officials who insisted they vacate the entire building: "Now it's all up in the air."

In another attempt to placate protesters, Yatseniuk said the government would not repeal a law that allows regions with ethnic minorities forming at least 10% of the population to declare a second official language. Language is an acutely sensitive political issue in eastern regions with large ethnic Russian populations such as Donetsk, where according to a 2001 census Russian is the native language of almost three-quarters of the population.

"No one will ever limit the Russian language and the right to speak it in Ukraine," Yatsenyuk said.

Shortly after President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted in February, Ukraine's parliament voted to cancel the second official language law. Although the acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, refused to sign the measure, the damage had been done. One of the main grievances voiced by protesters in Donetsk and Luhansk is a perceived campaign by the new nationalist regime in Kiev against Russian language and culture. The government has banned the broadcast of Russian television channels, further agitating many residents of Ukraine's southern and eastern regions.

Later on Friday, Yatsenyuk appeared on television in the eastern city of Dnepropetrovsk for a "dialogue with the east". During the interview, he promised that the poorest 30% of the population would receive assistance to compensate the cost of gas and heating, which is rising under an austerity program demanded by the International Monetary Fund.

Yatsenyuk has blamed Russia for exacerbating the crisis by doubling the price at which it sells gas to Ukraine.

"They understand that the gas price hike will lie on the shoulders of the population. Where is our brotherly relationship now?" he asked, referring to President Vladimir Putin's frequent comments that Russia and Ukraine were "brother peoples".

Putin tried to ease European fears of gas supply cuts on Friday after Brussels said it would stand with the new authorities in Kiev if the Kremlin carried out a threat to turn off the tap to Ukraine.

"I want to say again: we do not intend and do not plan to shut off the gas for Ukraine," Putin said in televised comments at a meeting of his security council. "We guarantee fulfilment of all our obligations to our European consumers."

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, also said that Russia did not want to take over more Ukrainian territory but repeated a call for Kiev to grant more powers to regional authorities. "We want Ukraine to be whole within its current borders, but whole with full respect for the regions."

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

U.S. Announces Four-Way Ukraine Talks in Geneva, Slaps Sanctions on Crimea Leaders, Gas Firm

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 April 2014, 16:55

Planned four-way talks on the crisis in Ukraine between the U.S., EU, Russia and Ukrainian government will take place in Geneva on April 17, a U.S. official confirmed Friday, as Washington unveiled sanctions against a number of Crimea breakaway leaders.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will attend the meeting to "continue efforts to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine and find a diplomatic path forward," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"The United States is committed to mobilizing the international community in support of Ukraine, and helping the Ukrainian people build the stable, democratic and prosperous country," she added in a statement.

The talks were first mooted at the beginning of the week, but US officials admitted it had been challenging to coordinate the schedules of four ministers.

Kerry is likely to join Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, as well as the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

On the Ukrainian side, it is believed that Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya will attend, but there has been no confirmation of that.

Kerry spoke again by phone Friday with Lavrov and also with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Psaki said.

The United States said earlier this week that it had only low expectations for the meeting which will be the latest step in a flurry of diplomacy aimed at de-escalating the worst European security crisis in decades.

"I have to say that we don't have high expectations for these talks, but we do believe it is very important to keep that diplomatic door open and will see what they bring," Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland told lawmakers.

Later on Friday, the United States unveiled sanctions against six of Crimea's breakaway leaders, including the official who signed the deal with Moscow to split the peninsula from Ukraine.

The new Treasury sanctions also targeted the former vice speaker of Ukraine's parliament who helped pave the way towards a referendum in Crimea on separating from Ukraine, and a gas company whose assets were seized by the Crimean parliament and are now being managed by Moscow.

Earlier on Friday, Putin said the United States had no business interfering in Russia's talks with Europe over Kiev's debt.

"We certainly guarantee the fulfillment of our obligations before our European customers in full," Putin said in comments released by the Kremlin. "The issue is not about us, the issue is about securing transit through Ukraine."

Putin on Thursday sent a letter to the heads of 18 European countries that receive Russian gas, saying Moscow could turn off supplies because Kiev has so far failed to repay its $2.2 billion energy bill.

He urged immediate talks, suggesting that Europe help pay Ukraine's debt.

Washington condemned Russia's efforts to use energy as "a tool of coercion against Ukraine."

But Putin on Friday suggested that Washington had no business meddling in European affairs.

"It's strange because reading other people's letters is not good. I did not write to them, I wrote to the consumers of gas in Europe," he said at a meeting of his Security Council.

"Everyone is used to the fact that our American friends are eavesdropping but peeping is really not nice (too)," he quipped.

Putin said the fact that Ukraine has not yet settled its gas debts was "absolutely intolerable."

The Russian strongman also suggested that Washington follow up its promises of support with real action.

"Pies on the Maidan will not be enough," Putin said. "This is not enough to deter the Ukrainian economy from slipping into complete chaos."

The assistant U.S. secretary of state, Victoria Nuland, was seen in December distributing cookies to pro-Western Ukrainian protesters in Kiev in a gesture of support.

Moscow has repeatedly slammed Washington for publicly supporting the protesters who in February ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych from power.

Meanwhile, Group of 20 finance ministers and central bank chiefs said Friday they were alert to risks to the global economy from the Ukraine crisis in a draft statement at talks in Washington.

"We are monitoring the economic situation in Ukraine, mindful of any risk to economic and financial stability," said the draft seen by Agence France Presse.

The draft confirmed the concerns that tensions over Ukraine are causing a stir in the leading 20 powers, which include the United States, Europe's major countries and Russia.

The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the U.S. and European Union have pledged some $27 billion to shore up the Ukrainian economy, but threatening posturing by Russia on the country's eastern border has raised the risks for that plan.

"We are monitoring the economic situation in Ukraine, mindful of any risks to economic and financial stability," the G20 said in the draft.

The group praised the IMF and World Bank for leading the economic rescue of the country.

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

Mystery Surrounds Death of Ukrainian Activist

By ANDREW HIGGINS
APRIL 11, 2014
IHT

BARMAKY, Ukraine — For more than 20 years, Oleksandr Muzychko battled and somehow survived Russian power, taking up arms against Moscow-backed rebels in Georgia and Moldova, against Russia’s army in Chechnya and finally against Ukraine’s pro-Russia president, Viktor F. Yanukovych.

Late last month, however, his luck ran out in a grove of oak trees just a few hundred yards from his parents’ house in this placid, dirt-tracked village. Shot in the heart, Mr. Muzychko — a militant activist in the nationalist group Right Sector — died fleeing the reach of a Ukrainian government he had helped bring to power just a month earlier.

Who fired the bullets is unclear and a matter of bitter controversy. The mystery reflects the deep rifts in Ukraine over a February revolution that toppled Mr. Yanukovych but left rival camps sharply and sometimes violently divided over its purpose.

Right Sector, with its pugnacious anti-Russian nationalism and celebration of long-dead Ukrainians who collaborated with the Nazis against the Soviets in World War II, lies at the heart of the debate. Will its members lay down their arms and accede to Kiev’s authority, as they say they will? Or are they determined to bring down the existing, corrupt order in a coup, as Russia’s fascist-baiting news media insist?

The tumultuous life and mysterious death of Mr. Muzychko, one of Right Sector’s most charismatic and mercurial leaders, speak directly to those questions, reflecting the sharp differences among those who cheered Mr. Yanukovych’s fall and now disagree on the shape and mission of Ukraine’s post-revolutionary order.

These resulted in the violent confrontation that claimed Mr. Muzychko’s life late at night on March 24. The new government, which saw Mr. Muzychko as an out-of-control extremist sent heavily armed police officers to try to arrest him at the Three Carp Cafe here. A report issued by the Interior Ministry last week said that the burly 51-year-old militant shot himself after a shootout with the police on a grassy hill behind the cafe. At the time of his death, he was under investigation by a police unit responsible for combating organized crime.

Mr. Muzychko’s family, friends and former comrades in Right Sector, a coalition of once-fringe Ukrainian nationalist groups, believe that he was killed in order to silence an uncompromising rebel who wanted to oust not only Mr. Yanukovych, but an entire class of politicians and civil servants he viewed as irredeemably corrupt.

“This is an unfinished revolution and he wanted to carry it through to its logical conclusion,” said Yuriy Shukhevych, a veteran Ukrainian nationalist leader whose father, Roman, commanded the Ukrainian Insurgent Army against the Polish and Soviet authorities in the 1930s and ’40s. Mr. Muzychko’s death, said Mr. Shukhevych, who spent more than three decades in Soviet prisons and labor camps, was a “pre-ordered hit” orchestrated by establishment forces fearful of a thorough break with the past and who were “afraid of him because he was so determined and so decisive.”

Mr. Muzychko certainly made many enemies, particularly among officials appalled by his gun-waving displays of bravado and his reputation as a man who took the law into his own hands and combined nationalist fervor with racketeering and revenge.

A week after Mr. Yanukovych fled Kiev on Feb. 21, for example, Mr. Muzychko, a holstered pistol on his belt, stormed into the state prosecutor’s office in Rivne, a city near his home village in northwestern Ukraine, and terrorized an official he accused of failing to prosecute a man accused of rape and murder.

“If you don’t sign an arrest warrant, I will beat you like a dog,” he screamed, grabbing the prosecutor’s tie and demanding to know why the judicial system let criminals with connections go free, but pursued innocent, ordinary people. A video recording of the scene was quickly posted on YouTube and was broadcast repeatedly by Russian television as proof that Ukraine had fallen into the hands of violent extremists.

He also waved an automatic rifle at leaders of Rivne’s regional council, defying a government order that Right Sector and other militant groups hand over their weapons. “No one tells us when to carry arms and when not,” Mr. Muzychko warned. “You did not give them to us and you won’t take them away.” A video of this also popped up on the Internet.

Russia Today, a state-controlled broadcaster, described Mr. Muzychko as a “shellshocked psychopath.”

The episodes embarrassed and infuriated Ukraine’s new government, which has been struggling to assert its authority and present itself as a responsible, stable power in the face of a barrage of Russian propaganda about fascists on the rampage.

But Mr. Muzychko’s antics struck a chord with some ordinary Ukrainians, who wonder when Ukraine’s revolution will bring tangible benefits and ask why law enforcement and other government agencies are still staffed mostly by people who served under Mr. Yanukovych.

When Mr. Muzychko was buried two days after his death, throngs from his village and Rivne flocked to mourn a man they knew as Sashko Bely, a nom de guerre meaning Sashko White. In Kiev, the capital, Right Sector militants besieged the national Parliament, retreating only after legislators promised to conduct an independent investigation into Mr. Muzychko’s death. Right Sector’s leader, Dmytro Yarosh, demanded that Ukraine’s interior minister resign and vowed revenge for Mr. Muzychko’s death.

The European Union, on the defensive against criticism from Moscow that it was coddling Ukrainian extremists, condemned Right Sector’s unruly pressure tactics. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, called on the group “to refrain from the use or threat of violence” and denounced its “intimidation of the Parliament” as a violation of “democratic principles and the rule of law.”

Roman Koval, the head of the Rivne branch of Right Sector, acknowledged that Mr. Muzychko’s methods perhaps played into Russian propaganda, but added that he understood and supported his comrade’s belief that peaceful protest alone could not always bring real change. Ukraine’s February revolution, said Mr. Koval, would never have happened without Right Sector and other militant groups.

This process, he added, needs to continue because the ouster of Mr. Yanukovych has so far “changed a few faces but not the structure of the system.” Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt traffic police force, for example, stopped extorting money for a few weeks, but has now started to demand bribes once again.

Mr. Muzychko’s rage against authority, particularly the judiciary, was not just political but also deeply personal. Born in the Russian region of Perm in 1962 to a mother from Belarus and a Ukrainian coal-miner father who had been forced to leave Ukraine by Soviet authorities, he grew up bitterly resentful of a Soviet system that he saw as a tool for Russian domination of its neighbors.

“He was always interested in politics,” said his 78-year-old mother, Olena. Wailing with grief as chickens clucked at her feet outside the family home, she cursed “criminals” for killing the older of her two sons.

“He could have liked Russians if they had lived with us in peace,” she said. “Maybe the Russians did not like him.”

Moscow’s dislike of Mr. Muzychko stretched back to 1994, when he joined Chechen separatists fighting for independence from Russia. A Russian human rights activist who knew Mr. Muzychko in Chechnya remembered the Ukrainian as a jocular, friendly character who showed little sign of the showy aggression that would later make him a hero for some and villain for many others. The Russian authorities, however, say that while in Chechnya, Mr. Muzychko was involved in a string of atrocities against Russian soldiers and issued a warrant for his arrest.

Shortly before his death, Mr. Muzychko released a video in which he predicted that Ukrainian authorities would either kill him or hand him over to Russian security services. Mr. Shukhevych, the son of the wartime nationalist hero, said Mr. Muzychko visited him about 10 days before his death and told him that an emissary from the government in Kiev had offered to pay him $20,000 if he disappeared for a few months and stopped causing trouble. “If he had taken the money and gone on a long holiday to the Bahamas he might still be alive,” Mr. Shukhevych said.

But Mr. Muzychko never retreated from a fight. As a young man he had repeated brushes with the law and was convicted on charges of brawling and extortion. An early marriage quickly fell apart.

Sergei Pandrak, a longtime friend and political ally, insisted that Mr. Muzychko was never a gangster. But in the 1990s Mr. Muzychko had combined activities in a nationalist youth movement with work providing “physical support,” or protection, in return for money from local businessmen who backed the nationalist cause and worried about their safety. “It was a very gray period,” Mr. Pandrak acknowledged.

As far as anyone can tell, Mr. Muzychko never held a regular job and, between his time on the battlefields of Chechnya and elsewhere, devoted himself to a string of Ukrainian nationalist organizations, notably the Ukrainian National Assembly, a political party that was led for a time by Mr. Shukhevych. He ran for Parliament on the party’s ticket in 2012 and came in sixth, with just 1.1 percent of the vote.

After Mr. Muzychko’s flop at the ballot box, he focused on street politics, pushing the Ukrainian National Assembly into cooperation with, and then in March absorption by, Right Sector.

Despite having no obvious source of income, Mr. Muzychko built himself a large two-story house in Barmaky. Unlike the ramshackle single-story home of his parents, located at the entrance to the village near the main road, Mr. Muzychko’s home, which builders finished shortly before he died, sits atop a secluded hill in a far more prosperous district. Local residents estimated that his house was worth more than $200,000, a hefty sum in this part of the world.

Mr. Shukhevych dismissed suspicions that the property was the fruit of criminal activity, recalling that the house took 15 years to build because Mr. Muzychko kept running out of cash to pay the builders. He acknowledged that Mr. Muzychko had a hot temper that pushed him into trouble with the law and even his friends. “He was very emotional, but always apologized afterwards when he did something stupid,” Mr. Shukhevych said.



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« Reply #12967 on: Apr 12, 2014, 06:46 AM »


The Irish state visit was a piece of public theatre, but also a catharsis

The people of Ireland and England have long acknowledged their common culture. Now the politicians have caught up

Joseph O'Connor
The Guardian, Friday 11 April 2014 19.12 BST          

On Monday night, an Irish friend long resident in London sent an email to me in Dublin. He'd noticed that Buckingham Palace had tweeted a welcome to the Irish president Michael D Higgins on the occasion of the beginning of the first state visit of an Irish head of state to Britain. What was remarkable was that the tweet was written in the Irish language, Gaelic. "I've seen everything now," my friend said.

Language is important. Nuance conveys respect. The Queen's visit to Ireland in 2011 was an immense success, in no small part because of the details. She visited Dublin's Garden of Remembrance, where the revolutionaries of 1916 are commemorated, laid a wreath, and bowed her head as she did so. To Irish people, especially older ones, it was a moving moment. All their lives they had felt not hated but belittled by England. As the Van Morrison song puts it, "the healing has begun". Small gestures, but possibilities were created.

It's significant that this week's state visit has taken place in the lead-up to Scotland's vote on independence, for, whatever the Scottish electorate decides, a new redefinition of the UK must happen, and soon. Weary of being ruled by the Westminster corruptariat – many of whose members have never even seen Scotland, except on a television screen – Scots are now having versions of exactly the same debates that the Irish had on the verge of independence a century ago: about culture, currency, laws, mores, constitutional and legal arrangements. If Scots decide to leave the UK, or by a small majority to remain, one thing is luminously certain. The 19th century definition of Britain is a work of wish-fulfilment fiction. It doesn't exist anymore, and it hasn't for decades. New stories are about to get written.

England's relationship with its westerly neighbour can be a part of that set of redefinitions. Indeed, it will be, whether we like it or not. The Irish and English are more mixed than they often acknowledge, a fact shown in the telephone directory of any English city, in which thousands of people bearing my own surname and every Irish surname will be found. At Thursday night's concert at the Albert Hall in honour of President Higgins, a remarkable line-up of artists from Glen Hansard and Imelda May to Elvis Costello and Fiona Shaw reflected the Irishness of England.

President Higgins is that rarest of figures in Irish politics, an intellectual who is fuelled by ideas. With a long electoral career as a radical human rights activist in a conservative country, he also inspires a widespread public respect that most politicians can only dream about. His public appearances in Ireland are greeted by standing ovations, at a time when most of his profession would be nervous of entering a room.

The Irish president is constrained by a nexus of constitutional provisos as to what she or he can say. But as was the case with former presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese, it's been clear that a rationalising of Irish-English relationships has been high on President Higgins's agenda. What is "England" anyway, and what is Britain? In one 10-day period recently, the Belfast Telegraph reported seven attacks on Polish immigrants. Indeed, the north of Ireland is currently the most dangerous sector in what is officially the United Kingdom to be a member of an immigrant family. I write as the son of an Ulster Presbyterian who is the least prejudiced person I have ever known, but it sometimes seems that the multicultural and less xenophobic Britain that actually exists isn't the one to which a small minority of Northern Irish loyalists feel loyalty.

And the Republic is undergoing a remaking itself, so radical that it might be characterised as an identity crisis. The once-omnipotent Catholic church has been reduced to deserved irrelevance by the appalling scandal of child sexual abuse. Decades will pass before we've paid for the rampage of the Celtic tiger and the damage left by its prowl. Mass emigration is back. So is rising child poverty. In Ireland we have socialism for the banks, whose every need is supplied while the rest are abandoned to the market.

At the same time, the death of ancient certainties has opened new ground. Public support for gay marriage in Ireland is high and rising by the day. There are far fewer women in politics than we need, but Joan Burton of the Labour party has proved an effective, fighting minister in the current government, and Mary Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin may be a future taoiseach.

Yeats wrote that independent Ireland was "no country for old men", but he was tragically wrong on that point. Old men ran the show and made Ireland a reflection of their inadequacies, trading fantasies of an Anglophobic pipe-smoking, cap-doffing theocracy while those they ruled left in multitudes for the land of the foe. Ancient lies don't play so well in Ireland any more. The awakening has been painful, but it's happened. And culture, always the best barometer of any society, has attuned itself to the fragility of borders. Edna O'Brien, John Lydon, Oasis, Elvis Costello, and my sister, Sinead O'Connor, are only some of the artists who display what Morrissey once termed "Irish blood, English heart".

This, for me, is the context of the state visit. It's a piece of public theatre, but so was the Easter Rising in its time, and theatre has its own shimmering importance. David Mamet said the purpose of storytelling is "cleansing awe". The state visit is a kind of catharsis.

As an immigrant to 1980s Britain, as a member by marriage of a London family, as the father of a London-born Irish child, the visit has been moving and meaningful. With all the quaint Gilbert and Sullivan of rite, the speeches and the observances of what are essentially tribal rituals, a truth is being acknowledged. It's a space unearthed by Irish and English people many decades ago now, in culture, intermarriage, sport, business and education, in the work of so many thousands of Irish women in the NHS, and the work of the Irish men who built England. In its own way, it's a homecoming, a telling of the truth.

The state visit is what Philip Larkin, a one-time Ireland resident himself, once described as the trees coming into leaf in spring, "like something almost being said". Many were saying it long ago. Politicians are saying it now. Better late than never.


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« Reply #12968 on: Apr 12, 2014, 06:47 AM »

Iranian official: Scuffle over U.N. ambassador won’t derail nuclear talks

By Reuters
Friday, April 11, 2014 15:16 EDT

ANKARA (Reuters) – An Iranian official said on Friday a U.S. decision to deny a visa to an Iranian diplomat to allow him to become Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations would not affect Tehran’s nuclear talks with world powers.

The official told Reuters it would be for the Iranian foreign ministry to “take the necessary measures” in any official response by the Islamic Republic to the U.S. decision to bar Hamid Abutalebi.

But the U.S. move “will have no impact on our talks with the P5+1 “, the official added, using a phrase that refers to the six powers involved in negotiating with Tehran. The official declined to be identified.

The U.S. government objects to Abutalebi because of his suspected participation in a Muslim student group that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days starting in 1979, when the group seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the Iranian capital.

The White House said on Friday that Abutalebi would not be issued a visa.

U.S. President Barack Obama had come under strong pressure from the U.S. Congress not to allow Abutalebi into the country. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United Nations and Iran had been told “that we will not issue a visa to Mr. Abutalebi”.

The decision effectively bars Abutalebi from taking up the U.N. position.

The announcement came a day after the U.S. House of Representatives joined the Senate in voting to bar the Iranian from entering the United States.

The six powers want Iran to curb its nuclear activity, which Western nations fear is aimed at giving Tehran the capability to manufacture an atomic bomb. Iran denies that and wants them to lift economic sanctions.
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« Reply #12969 on: Apr 12, 2014, 06:50 AM »


Iraq goes to the polls with war as an inescapable backdrop

Fear of extremism is the dominant theme as Nouri al-Maliki seeks third term and violence rages close to the capital

Martin Chulov in Baghdad
theguardian.com, Friday 11 April 2014 19.27 BST      

The last time Iraq went to the polls, in 2010, US forces were in town and insurgents hovered around the edges. Now, the foreign troops are gone, but extremism has returned to overshadow a democratic watershed in a divided country.

Banners pledging unity rise above traffic-snarled Baghdad crossroads. Politicians dominate the national airwaves with their promises of services. The 30 April election is framed as a vital self-reckoning and a chance for transformation in a society that is withered by uncertainty and the creep of regional chaos.

But few in Baghdad seem to believe the poll holds answers for voters fatigued by insurgency and held back by intractable issues, such as sclerotic public services and rampant corruption.

"Every four years, we hear from our so-called leaders when they want to hold on to their chair," said Abu Radwan, an engineer from the Karrada district in the capital. "So we give them again the power they want and they then start stealing all they want. There is nothing left for us."

Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's incumbent prime minister, is being hailed by Iraqi commentators as a frontrunner to win a third term. He is casting himself as Iraq's sole redeemer, staring down a blazing insurgency that has led him to lose control over much of Anbar province, almost one-third of the country, since December.

Another war in Anbar is testing Maliki's security credentials. Officials in Baghdad told the Guardian that by March the Iraqi military had lost close to 1,700 members in the province. The army has failed to shake extremists linked to the Islamic State of Iraq group from the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi and is attempting to safeguard the western approaches to Baghdad – 60 miles away – from what it fears will be an attempt to advance on the capital.

Fear of extremism is a strong current of pre-election discourse, with stability considered a prerequisite for reviving the dormant service sectors. There has been little talk of other issues, such as roads, sewerage, housing and electricity.

Reconciliation – another touchstone issue – has been largely ignored by almost all those vying for a place in the 328-seat parliament.

Nikolay Mladenov, the UN's envoy to Baghdad, recently warned that polarisation would jeopardise investment and could further inflame violence. Iraq's legislators say worsening violence is likely to favour Maliki's chances of a third term.

"They are working this [extremist] line very hard," said a supporter of the incumbent leader. "But this isn't getting very far with the Sunnis. They will be left out again and this is a very big problem."

Iraq's sectarian schism remains largely unreconciled, even seven years after the worst of the civil war, with its fratricidal violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims displacing millions of people.

Maliki has been accused by Iraq's Sunni minority – who held sway under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein – of doing little to re-empower them, or to address their basic demands. Sunni leaders say the Anbar insurgency is making it easier for supporters of Maliki's Shia-led government to disregard their interests.

The war across the border in Syria is fuelling the Anbar insurgency, which has taken on a regional dimension. Senior Iraqi officials talk of the Syrian war as an existential menace.

"It is, of course, of concern for all the nations of the region," said Hussein Shahristani, the deputy prime minister for energy. "Battle-experienced, international terrorists have been able to get political support and financial help from some countries. It has made them a serious security threat to us all, including Iraq.

"The regime committed strategic mistakes in the way they dealt with legitimate demands. This was a tragic and grave error. Those protests that started in Deraa three years ago gave the opportunity for popular resentment at the handling of the crisis.

"Now we have to face the current reality. How can we protect the people from being held hostage to such an extremist threat?"

Iyad Allawi, a former prime minister, said: "All of us are frightened by this. It is becoming very frustrating to see things moving in the wrong direction in all countries."

Allawi, a secular Shia with cross-sectarian appeal, fought a close race with Maliki in 2010, emerging with a similar primary vote that included large numbers of Sunnis. He was unable to form a majority coalition, eventually yielding to Maliki after 10 months of wrangling. This time around, he says he is running a low-profile campaign.

"I am appealing to the dignified people from across Iraq, from Irbil to Basra. We are trying to explain to those who stood against us last time exactly what is happening. We will not deal with those who laid their hands on the wealth of the nation. We are not being supported by any country. We have not stolen," he said.

"The judiciary here is controlled by the executive. We cannot accept a new dictatorship."

This story was relaunched owing to an error in the headline


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« Reply #12970 on: Apr 12, 2014, 06:56 AM »

India elections: subtle foreign policy could take tougher line under Modi

Election victory for BJP frontrunner could bring about readjustment in country's relations with China, US and south Asian neighbours

Jason Burke in Delhi
theguardian.com, Friday 11 April 2014 16.22 BST     

In the heart of Kathmandu, in the narrow lanes around the famous Durbar Square, a quiet transformation is taking place. The Chinese are coming. There are the tourists – almost 10% of the total visitors to Nepal in 2012 and more than eight times as many as a decade before. There are the new languages schools – generously subsidised by Beijing. And there are the shops full of Chinese goods, even those which India, long the dominant power in the small Himalayan state, can supply in abundance.

"Middle-class Nepali people can afford jeans if they are made in China," said Babu Dhakal, a 32-year-old shopkeeper who earns a living from cheap Chinese clothes, drinks Chinese beer and eats Szechuan cuisine when he can with new Kathmandu-based Chinese friends.

Beer, hotpots and trousers may not add up to a geopolitical shift but are nonetheless central to the success or failure of India's efforts to guide the vast, troubled but steadily less poor south Asian region towards stability and prosperity, all while countering the growing power of regional rivals and maintaining good relations with the US.

Writing in the local Indian Express newspaper last week, Amitabh Mattoo, a respected Indian foreign affairs specialist and academic, said those efforts were failing.

"India's military and economic prowess is greater than ever before, yet India's ability to shape and influence the principal countries in South Asia is less than it was … 30 years ago," Mattoo wrote.

Senior officials in India's ministry of external affairs say such criticism is misplaced and argue that the nation's foreign policy has followed sophisticated, coherent and realistic principles that brought considerable success.

"We understand that in a globalised world, there are just too many linkages between states to try to coerce people, even if you are the biggest in a region. Much better to be friends with everybody and watch them all then come to you," said one.

Such views explain why India, as its own diplomats readily admit, punches below its weight globally. A series of abstentions on key votes at the United Nations has frustrated western diplomats who complain of India's apparent lack of any guiding vision.

This too is rebutted by Indian officials. "The criticism is [that] we are not muscular enough. But when you are at our stage of development, economic and otherwise, you don't have the big visionary thing, you stay below the radar, and you focus on your own backyard," one said.

But India's backyard is a thicket of thorny problems, even if huge opportunities for commerce and other exchanges do exist. Growing trade between India and its neighbours – even hostile Pakistan – has not been matched by closer relations between the two states. Nepal, Bangladesh and the Maldives lurch from one political crisis to another. India cultivated the ruling military regime in Burma where, with a haphazard reform process now under way, it has found itself wrong-footed. Leader and Nobel prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi delivered a stern reprimand to her hosts when visiting Delhi in 2012. Relations with Pakistan, despite hopes of a reboot following the election of commercially-minded Nawaz Sharif, remain poor. There are fears for Afghanistan after most US troops leave at the end of the year.

One problem for Indian mandarins is the impact of domestic politics on the "subtle, complex, balanced" foreign policy they say they would like to pursue. Sometimes India's regions have exploited the apparent drift at the centre to pursue external relations independently – or have sufficient electoral significance for policy to be made to suit them.

Last year the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was forced to skip the meeting of Commonwealth heads of government in Colombo. Coming amid allegations that the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had failed to properly investigate allegations of war crimes committed by his army in the final phases of the bloody war against Tamil separatists or to move forward political reconciliation with the Tamil minority of the island nation, attendance would have incensed India's own more than 70 million Tamils. Singh had hoped to divert anger by visiting Jaffna, capital of the Tamil-dominated north, officials told the Guardian, but under pressure from strategists within his own party chose eventually not travel to Sri Lanka at all.

"He had to choose sides," said an Indian official. Relations with Pakistan are also hostage to a vociferous rightwing and an often jingoistic media.

China, which remains the biggest rival and example to India of apparently successful development, can exploit such weaknesses. Beijing, which according to Delhi-based analyst Manoj Joshi "systematically challenges the very idea of an Indian sphere of interest", has used commerce, soft loans and technical assistance for major projects to make inroads in Sri Lanka as well as Nepal. China has made a push in Bangladesh too.

Though hawkish Indian policymakers worry about encirclement by Chinese client states, Mohan Guruswamy, an expert on Chinese-India competition, says Beijing's influence is "exaggerated".

One potential ally to help stem competition from China might have been the US. But after a sudden warming a decade ago which resulted in a landmark nuclear agreement, relations have chilled. A spat over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York revealed a friendship that was at best frayed and fractious.

The flagging Indian economy – around a third of the size of China's –may be one reason for Washington's lack of interest. A second may be the absence, since 2009, of key individuals committed to the relationship in the White House. Officials in Delhi say the relationship has become "transactional, not strategic" and that has allowed "petty disputes to dominate". However, defence sales and joint military exercises are thriving. As for the European Union and the UK, both appear more interested in India than vice versa.

Wholesale change now looks likely. Singh and the left-leaning Congress face defeat in the ongoing elections by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party, led by the controversial and polarising Narendra Modi. Though Rajnath Singh, the party president, told the Guardian last month that the BJP wanted to be "friends with all nations in the world", the BJP manifesto also talks of stopping unnamed countries running "roughshod" over Indian interests and hints at a revision of India's doctrine of "no first use" of its nuclear weapons. A reference in the Congress manifesto to encouraging friendly relations with "socialist" countries was dismissed by analysts as a throwback to the 1970s.

While campaigning, Modi has already signalled a tougher line on ongoing border disputes with China and has said that he wants to see a "strong" India that cannot be "stared down" by other powers.

In reality this may clash with a desire to build commercial partnerships regionally, said Michael Kugelman, an analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington.

"His pro-business and pro-trade qualities will lead him to cultivate strong relations across the board … Yet at the same time, he will certainly react more strongly to provocations from neighbours than did the Congress-led government," Kugelman said.

One conflict Modi may have to fight is with his own diplomats, most of whom see the subtle, pragmatic complexity of policy over the last decade as in tune with "Indian", and their own, sensibilities.

"It is about being mature and readjusting to the new reality. It is about growing up," said the Indian official.

Additional reporting by Ishwar Rauniyar in Kathmandu

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Indian elections: 10 things we have learned so far

There are 3D hologram campaigns and Modi's phantom marriage, just two of the top 10 things we have learned from the world's biggest democratic election

Carmen Fishwick, James Walshand Emma Howard   
theguardian.com, Friday 11 April 2014 16.51 BST   

Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Prime Ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, A huge crowd turns out to greet the Bharatiya Janata party's Narendra Modi in Vadodara, India. Photograph: Divyakant Solanki/EPA

1. You can campaign to be PM as a 3D hologram

Having been rescheduled several times, on Friday evening, Narendra Modi will address audiences across India as a 3D hologram. The prime ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata party, will be projected via hologram technology to 100 locations simultaneously across the country . Modi made the announcement on Twitter and published a map marking locations where the hologram can be seen. The party claims the digital rally will be the first of its kind in the history of global electoral campaigning.

2. Huge constituencies

The average constituency size is bigger than the entire population of Estonia (1.3m people). The average Indian MP has 23 times the number of constituents of his UK counterpart. That’s a lot of people to keep happy.

3. Narendra Modi

The candidate widely expected to become India's next prime minister actually entered politics via a grassroots Hindu organisation that prizes celibacy. Odd then that it was publicly stated for the first time that Modi had an arranged marriage at 17 to Jashoda Chiman Modi – four years before the legal age of 21 for men.

According to the Indian Express newspaper in February, Jashoda said Modi had left her three years after the marriage to pursue a political career, that they had spent three months together but parted amicably.

Now a retired schoolteacher, she lives on a monthly pension of 14,000 rupees ($232).

4. Personal laws

India's laws governing matters such as marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption and inheritance differ between each community, meaning that inheritance laws for Hindus, for example, differ to those governing Muslims or Christians.

The Hindu nationalist opposition BJP, which launched its manifesto on Monday, pledged to draft a uniform civil code unifying these laws.

The legislation has proved controversial. Here's what Guardian readers in India had to say...

5. It's very difficult to predict the outcome

Some view the election as a battle between the classes or point to the significance of regional identities. Others say it will be won on the ideals of what India’s future should look like. If the much-expected general swing to the BJP takes place, Modi's party would take over Congress but without a majority, making the outcome dependent on talks between coalition partners.

This interactive illustrates the different scenarios of the outcome.

6. Six weeks of polling

Although voters started going to the polls on 7 April, it will take six weeks and nine stages before the process is complete. In a country that boasts the world’s second largest population, organising the election is no mean feat, especially given that the electoral commission pledged that no voter would have to travel more than 2km to reach a ballot box. Around 5 million people will help administer the elections and 5 million more policing it.

7. Literary demand

Salman Rushdie and Anish Kapoor are among a dozen artists and academics to sign a letter to the Guardian expressing 'acute worry' at the anticipated BJP victory. More than a dozen respected Indian writers and artists refer to Modi’s controversial past. They wrote that his victory would "bode ill for India's future as a country that cherishes the ideals of inclusion and protection for all its peoples and communities".

8. First-time voters

The number of India's first time voters alone – around 150 million – is more than the entire electorates of virtually every other democracy, save for the US's 210 million voters and the 180 million-strong electoral roll of Indonesia.

A third of India’s population is under 15, more than half under 24; every third person in an Indian city today is between 15 and 32; the median age in India is 27.

9. Inked fingers

An inked finger is a symbol of democracy and will get you some pretty handy discounts. India's polling stations mark the finger of each voter with a dot of silver nitrate solution to help the fight against voter fraud. Images of Indians proudly showing their fingers after having voted have proved popular across social media. And there’s an extra incentive: Young Indians, a group linked to the Confederation of Indian Industry, has launched the "Show the ink, see prices sink" campaign, which rewards voters with discounts at petrol stations, restaurants and even hospitals.

10. Multilingual

With 814m voters, 29 languages spoken by at least 1m people, and 447 mother tongues, India's election is a test of linguistic, as well as political, skills.

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Indians abroad seek to bring worldly experiences to bear on their return

Returning diaspora expresses hope of having not just an impact on business or politics but also on its day-to-day values

Anu Anand in Delhi
The Guardian, Friday 11 April 2014 19.38 BST     

After eight years studying and working in the US with companies such as Deutsche Bank and Amazon, Anand Ahuja returned to India in 2011.

"I wanted to start my own line of clothes – good denims, good T-shirts and dresses which are not really available in India," said the 28-year-old, who speaks with an American twang.

"The lifestyle in the US is great, but here, my total investment is a quarter of what it would have been there, and even if there are bigger challenges in India, there are also bigger opportunities."

Since the global economic crisis of 2008, which plunged most economies into recession and led to a shrinking foreign job market as well as visa restrictions for Indian students, increasing numbers have returned home to pursue better opportunities. India's population of 1.2 billion and its huge middle classes represent potentially rich pickings. But the current general election comes at a delicate time, with growth having fallen from almost 9% in 2010 to 4.5% last year.

"I see many Indians who have come back and joined Indian firms or they have struck out on their own," said Malini Goyal, senior editor for the Indian newspaper the Economic Times. "Some are bringing back the ecosystems India needs in business, IT, energy and technology. Some have connected the dots between the US and India."

She says ambitious parents will continue to send their children overseas owing to a shortage of elite universities, but as the economy strengthens, even more Indians will seek stints back home.

The list of the most well known returnees includes actors, authors and entrepreneurs. Katrina Kaif, one of the most successful Bollywood actors, is British-Indian and was born in Hong Kong. Sunny Leone is an Indo-Canadian-American adult film star, who has made millions in California, but is now starring in popular Indian films such as Ragini MMS 2. The governor of India's central bank, Raghuram Rajan, is an award-winning former professor from the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. And author Chetan Bhagat left behind a high-flying investment banking career in Hong Kong to become one of India's best-selling novelists.

India received an estimated $71bn (£42bn) in remittances last year from nonresident Indians (NRIs), according to the World Bank.

While foreigners are often confounded by the way business is conducted in India, with its official red tape, corruption, systems of patronage and restrictions that still dominate despite economic liberalisation, NRIs can tap into family and social connections to negotiate those obstacles.

What young returnees like Ahuja would really like to see is for India to live up to its potential, shedding the nepotism and corruption in favour of transparency and accountability.

"The US has an incredible culture of giving back," he said, adding that he admired the philanthropy of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft's Bill Gates and billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

Shanthala Damle spent 12 years in the suburbs of Washington, working in software and applications development. But she is far more interested in what America's democratic institutions, rather than its business ones, can offer India.

"I always wanted to come back to India and try to help clean up politics," she said. She volunteered for local campaigns in her adopted country and returned to India armed with grassroots political lessons. "I want to see a society where policies are intellectually debated and honesty and integrity are the minimum requirement of a candidate," she said in Bangalore, where she stood for public office but lost.

Damle is now a volunteer for the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) party, the underdog in the current general election, which which won a stunning political victory in Delhi in local elections in December, but managed only 49 days in power.

"We are too comfortable with our flawed democracy in India. I want to bring in more transparency and citizen participation," she said. "The US wasn't built by magic, it happened because ordinary people got involved. This [India] is my motherland and I'd like to have an impact."

The impact of NRIs is already starting to be felt in India, said Malini Goyal of the Economic Times. "People are taking frequent holidays, they talk more about work-life balance. Indians never went out for breakfast, but lots of restaurants are now doing brunches.

"I went to a company whose Harvard-educated founder insisted on a canteen in which everyone washed their own plates. I don't think it will catch on, but you see all these efforts."

NRIs have the right to vote in elections, which started this week, but few are likely to because there is no provision for absentee ballots or for voting booths in Indian embassies. They must be physically present in India to vote. Yet, however piecemeal, they are contributing to changing values in India, whether in business or just in day-to-day expectations.

"Confidence is something I value a lot," Ahuja said, fidgeting with something blue around his wrist. "Oh sorry, this is just a really great rubber band I brought back from the US. They're hard to find here."

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

Indian PM Manmohan Singh 'not in charge', new book claims

Criticism of outgoing PM grows amid allegations that Congress party president Sonia Gandhi has been calling the shots

Anu Anand in Delhi
theguardian.com, Friday 11 April 2014 19.05 BST   

A former aide to India's outgoing prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has alleged in a new book that the leader of the world's biggest democracy has not been in charge of his own country.

In The Accidental Prime Minister, Sanjaya Baru, a former newspaper editor who served as Singh's spin doctor from 2004 to 2008, writes that the PM was "defanged" in his second term starting in 2004, deferring on cabinet appointments and major policy decisions to Sonia Gandhi, president of the Congress party which leads Singh's coalition government.

If true, the allegations would shed fresh light on an administration that has appeared asleep at the wheel while India's growth rate plummeted and the country was racked by a string of multibillion-pound corruption scandals concerning, among others, the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the allocation of 2G telecoms licences and undervalued coal mining rights sold off by the government which purportedly cost the public purse more than £156bn in lost revenue.

An excerpt from the book gives a damning assessment of Singh's attitude towards corruption: "Dr Singh's general attitude towards corruption in public life, which he adopted through his career in government, seemed to me to be that he would himself maintain the highest standards of probity in public life, but would not impose this on others … In practice, this meant that he turned a blind eye to the misdeeds of his ministers."

A statement released by the prime minister's office dismissed the book. It said: "It is an attempt to misuse a privileged position and access to high office to gain credibility and to apparently exploit it for commercial gain. The commentary smacks of fiction and coloured views of a former adviser."

The statement added that when senior Indian editors met Singh in October and raised Baru's allegations, Singh replied: "Do not believe all he is saying."

Such an intimate portrait of dysfunction will certainly have political ramifications. India is in the midst of voting in a general election, a poll in which Congress is expected to fare badly. The allegations could further damage Sonia Gandhi, one of India's most powerful politicians, as well as her son and political heir, Rahul Gandhi, who is leading the current Congress campaign.


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« Reply #12971 on: Apr 12, 2014, 07:02 AM »

Fresh Protests Rock Taiwan's Police and Parliament

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 April 2014, 21:09

Hundreds of demonstrators surrounded a police station before staging a sit-in outside parliament late Friday to demand a top police official resign for removing protesters from parliament earlier in the day.

About 500 people surrounded a police station in downtown Taipei to voice their anger at its chief Fang Yang-ning, who had removed dozens of protesters who had refused to leave parliament after student activists ended their occupation of the main chamber.

"Step down," they shouted as Fang tried to appease the crowd while dozens of riot officers guarded the station.

The protesters, mainly young people, posted signs reading "state violence" and "police violate constitution" on the station's wall. There were also some minor scuffles between protesters and police.

"If I made any mistakes I definitely will resign," Fang told protesters.

Around 200 people later walked to the parliament to continue their protest with a sit-in.

Taipei mayor Hau Lung-bin called for calm and promised to listen to the voice of the people.

"Emotions are high now and we can have a rational dialogue after everybody calms down, in order to revolve the situation," he told reporters.

The latest protest came less than a day after student-led protesters ended their occupation of parliament, three weeks after taking over the main chamber to protest a contentious trade pact with China.

"We came here with ideals, now we leave with more burden," student leader Lin Fei-fan said Thursday shortly before dozens of demonstrators clad in black t-shirts walked out of the building.

Holding sunflowers, the symbol of the movement, the protesters -- mostly young students -- were surrounded and warmly greeted by thousands of supporters as they moved out of the building.

The demonstrators occupied the main chamber of parliament on March 18 in the island's first-ever such protest.

The occupation came to an end after parliament's Speaker Wang Jin-pyng pledged not to preside over further debate on the trade pact until a law has been introduced to monitor such agreements with China -- a key demand of the protesters.

But they have vowed to push on with their campaign to force the ruling Kuomintang party to retract the trade deal, a demand which President Ma Ying-jeou has flatly rejected.


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« Reply #12972 on: Apr 12, 2014, 07:04 AM »

Japan Minister Visits Controversial War Shrine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
12 April 2014, 07:21

A Japanese cabinet minister visited a controversial war shrine in Tokyo on Saturday, in a move likely to cause anger in China and South Korea, which see it as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

Yoshitaka Shindo, minister for internal affairs and communications, paid homage Saturday morning at the Yasukuni shrine, Jiji Press and the Yomiuri Shimbun said.

China and South Korea see it as a brutal reminder of Tokyo's imperialist past and wartime aggression, and its failure to repent for its history.

In December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made his first visit as premier to the shrine, which honors Japan's war dead including several high-level officials executed for war crimes after World War II.


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« Reply #12973 on: Apr 12, 2014, 07:07 AM »

China Takes On Big Risks in Its Push for Shale Gas

By KEITH BRADSHERAPRIL 11, 2014

China’s largest energy company has made the country’s first commercially viable shale gas discovery, but the path to energy independence is fraught with risks, as one town has seen first-hand.

JIAOSHIZHEN, China — Residents of this isolated mountain valley of terraced cornfields were just going to sleep last April when they were jolted by an enormous roar, followed by a tower of flames. A shock wave rolled across the valley, rattling windows in farmhouses and village shops, and a mysterious, pungent gas swiftly pervaded homes.

“It was so scary — everyone who had a car fled the village and the rest of us without cars just stayed and waited to die,” said Zhang Mengsu, a hardware store owner.

All too quickly, residents realized the source of the midnight fireball: a shale gas drilling rig in their tiny rural hamlet.

This verdant valley represents the latest frontier in the worldwide hunt for shale gas retrievable by the technology of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. It is a drilling boom that has upended the energy industry and spurred billions of dollars of investment.

Like the United States and Europe, China wants to wean itself from its dependence on energy imports — and in Jiaoshizhen, the Chinese energy giant Sinopec says it has made the country’s first commercially viable shale gas discovery. Its efforts could also help address another urgent issue, as Beijing looks to curb an overwhelming reliance on coal that has blackened skies and made China the largest contributor to global warming.

But the path to energy independence and a cleaner fossil fuel is fraught with potential pitfalls. Threats to workplace safety, public health and the environment all loom large in the shale gas debate — and the question is whether those short-term risks threaten to undermine China’s long-term goal.

The energy industry around the world has faced criticism about the economic viability of vast shale projects and the environmental impact of the fracking process. But interviews with residents of six hamlets here where drilling is being done, as well as with executives and experts in Beijing, the United States and Europe, suggest that China’s search poses even greater challenges.

In China, companies must drill two to three times as deep as in the United States, making the process significantly more expensive, noisier and potentially more dangerous. Chinese energy giants also operate in strict secrecy; they rarely engage with local communities, and accidents claim a high death toll.

The still-disputed incident in Jiaoshizhen has raised serious concerns among its residents.

Villagers said that employees at the time told them that eight workers died when the rig exploded that night. Sinopec officials and village leaders then ordered residents not to discuss the event, according to the villagers. Now villagers complain of fouled streams and polluted fields.

“There was a huge ball of fire,” said Liu Jiazhen, a mustard greens farmer with three children who lives a five-minute walk from the site. “The managers here all raced for their lives up the hill.”

Ms. Liu said that the flames rose higher than the pines on a nearby ridge, covering the steel frame of the rig, which is nearly 100 feet high. The flames burned for hours, she said.

Sinopec describes the incident as a controlled flaring of gas and denies that anybody died. While the company would not speak in detail about its shale projects, Sinopec said it ran its operations safely and without harm to the environment.

Li Chunguang, the president of Sinopec, said in an interview in late March that nothing had gone wrong in Jiaoshizhen. “There is no basis for this,” he said.

The bustling activity in Jiaoshizhen indicates a significant find for Sinopec.

Feeder pipes connect some of the dozen or so drilling sites, and 100 more wells are planned. Bright blue, boxy equipment for gas compression is being installed on large, flat lots next to at least two of the drilling rigs. A two-lane road has been paved across a mountain pass from Fuling, the nearest city, to help carry the 1,100 truckloads of steel, cement and other supplies needed for each well.

The valley has been so isolated for centuries that residents of its 16 hamlets still speak a dialect that is distinct even from Fuling, 13 miles away. Jiaoshizhen had only two-story concrete buildings and single-story mud brick farmhouses last August; Sinopec workers lived in trailers while managers rented the upstairs of concrete homes. On a visit six months later, at least 20 tower cranes were erecting high-rises.

The gas field in Jiaoshizhen “is the closest we have in China to a breakthrough project,” said Gavin Thompson, the head of Asia and Pacific gas and power research at Wood Mackenzie, one of the largest energy consulting companies. He noted, however, that Sinopec was providing few details and that he, like most Western experts, had not been able to visit the valley.

Chris Faulkner, the chief executive and president of Breitling Energy, a Dallas company that has advised Sinopec on its drilling in western China for four years, said that the energy giants’ reluctance to have open discussions about health, safety and environmental issues might prompt communities to fear the worst.

“If they think that they’re going to go out and drill 1,000 wells, and no one is going to Google ‘fracking,’ they’re fools,” he said, adding that even in China, “the days of ‘shut up and be quiet’ are gone.”

The Chinese energy giants have plenty of money to fund their efforts. Sinopec has one million employees and is the world’s fourth-largest company by revenue after Royal Dutch Shell, Walmart and Exxon Mobil; the fifth-largest is China National Petroleum. With their deep pockets, the companies have been investing heavily in North American shale businesses; Sinopec paid $2.2 billion in 2012 for a 30 percent stake in Devon Energy’s shale gas and oil operations in the United States.

In China, workplace safety is a significant concern. Thousands die each year in coal mines, according to government statistics that have prompted a successful national crackdown over the last decade.

Scant information is publicly available about the safety and environmental records of the politically powerful, mostly state-owned oil and gas industry. But Sinopec has acknowledged two deadly accidents in the last year, albeit not related to fracking. An oil pipeline explosion in Qingdao killed 62 and injured 136, and a cooking gas explosion in Dongguan killed one.

In Jiaoshizhen, after the blast, worries linger about the impact on the residents’ health and their fields.

Villagers said in interviews in August and February that the fast-spreading gas they encountered last year had been foul-smelling. Sinopec said that it had done air tests and not found any toxic pollution, although it declined to identify the gas.

The gas evoked particular fear here because drilling by China National Petroleum in 2003 about 120 miles to the northeast released toxic gases that killed 243 people and sickened thousands. That accident involved conventional gas exploration, however, not fracking.

Residents here also worry about diesel runoff from the drilling sites, tainting local streams and at least one shallow well. The drilling “makes so much noise and the water that comes down the mountain has become so much dirtier to drink; now it smells of diesel,” said Tian Shiao Yung, a farmer.

Sinopec said that it temporarily provided drinking water to residents after drilling foam surfaced in a nearby cave last spring, and it changed its drilling practice. The company said that subsequent tests had shown the local water to be “drinkable.”

Despite her complaints, Ms. Tian, like every other resident interviewed, welcomed the drilling for one reason: money.

Sinopec rents land from farmers for 9,000 renminbi, or $1,475, per acre each year. Farmers earn that much money from growing crops only in the best years, and then after hundreds of hours of labor.

“Farmers don’t mind; now they can buy their rice instead of having to grow it,” Ms. Tian said, adding: “I’m still drinking the water.”


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« Reply #12974 on: Apr 12, 2014, 07:09 AM »

Philippines Aims for U.S. Defense Deal before Obama Visit

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 April 2014, 21:01

The Philippines said Friday it hopes to complete a new defense accord with the United States ahead of a visit by President Barack Obama this month, as a territorial dispute with China simmers.

The chief Philippine negotiator, defense undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, said in a statement the latest round of discussions about an increased U.S. military presence in the country was "very productive."

"This round brought us much closer to finding full consensus and the draft provisions on key points of an enhanced defense cooperation will be submitted to the president for his review," Batino said.

Philippine negotiators on Friday said the eighth round of talks on a proposed military agreement had seen both sides "finding consensus on key points of a draft."

The agreement proposes allowing more U.S. troops, aircraft, and ships to pass through the Philippines, as well as storing equipment in this country that could help mobilize American forces faster - particularly in the case of natural disasters.

The accord would provide "critical and timely support to the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (and the) achievement of the country's minimum credible defense posture," Batino's statement said.

The deal would not allow the U.S. military to "establish a permanent military presence or base" or bring nuclear weapons into the country, in line with the Philippine Constitution.

The proposed agreement could be signed before President Obama visits the Philippines this month, a foreign department spokesman said.

"We aim to conclude the negotiations before the Obama visit," foreign department spokesman Charles Jose told Agence France Presse.

Washington has said Obama will visit the Philippines at the end of April as part of a four-nation tour of East Asia.

The United States had two large military bases near Manila until 1992, when it gave both up amid growing anti-U.S. sentiment and a rental dispute.

However the Philippines has been seeking greater U.S. support in recent years after China began asserting its claim to disputed territory in the South China Sea.

China claims almost all of the strategically important body of water, even up to the coasts of its neighbors.

Last month, Chinese ships blocked Philippine vessels that were bringing supplies to a Philippine military outpost, and in January Chinese ships used water cannon on Filipino fishermen near a disputed shoal.

The Philippines has responded by filing a case with a United Nations tribunal to challenge China's territorial claim.

China has refused to participate in the case and has warned that the Philippines' action has "seriously damaged" bilateral ties.


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