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« Reply #13410 on: May 15, 2014, 06:13 AM »

India in Security Crackdown on Eve of Election Results

by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 May 2014, 12:56

India authorities banned victory processions and imposed a curfew in a southern city on Thursday in stepped up security on the eve of national election results expected to vault Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi to power.

Hundreds of police and paramilitary forces patrolled Hyderabad city to prevent fresh religious violence, one day after three people were killed when officers fired during clashes between Muslims and Sikhs.

Police said a curfew would remain in place in the old quarter of Hyderabad, an IT hub home to giants Google and Microsoft, following the clashes on Wednesday that saw mobs destroy homes and other property.

"About 500 police are patrolling the area. The situation is calm and quiet now," local joint police commissioner Y. Gangadhar told AFP.

"Our personnel are talking to the residents and trying to reassure them on their safety and security," he said.

The move comes as India awaits the results on Friday of a mammoth general election in which Modi and his opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are expected to sweep to power over the left-leaning Congress party.

Critics fear that a BJP victory, with Modi as prime minister, could stoke tensions across the officially secular but Hindu-majority country between religious communities.

Election commission officials banned victory processions in India's holiest Hindu city of Varanasi and throughout the electorally critical northern state of Uttar Pradesh after results are announced.

India has a long history of religious violence including in Muzaffarnagar district of the state last September between Muslims and Hindus that left some 50 people dead and forced thousands to flee their homes.

The state's chief election official, Umesh Sinha, said Thursday the decision was "ultimately aimed at maintaining law and order in the state".

Sinha said the decision was not targeting individuals, amid local media reports that Modi was planning a massive street parade for supporters on Saturday if he won the seat of Varanasi.

Modi has been locked in a high-profile battle in the sacred city with anti-corruption hero Arvind Kejriwal from the new Aam Aadmi (Common Man) that has drawn tens of thousands to rallies.

Modi's decision to stand in Varanasi was rich in religious symbolism and seen as reinforcing his Hindu nationalist credentials during the five-week election in which he steered clear of hardline rhetoric.

Modi has struggled to shake off perceptions of prejudice against India's 150 million Muslims following religious riots in Gujarat in 2002 when he was chief minister.

The violence left some 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead and allegations that he did too little to control the unrest. A Supreme Court investigation found no case against him and he denies wrongdoing.

According to local media, Wednesday's clashes in Hyderabad erupted after a group allegedly torched a flag raised at a Sikh temple.

Mobs armed with swords and sticks then stormed a Muslim-majority area of the city, prompting retaliatory violence, the Times of India said.


Ganges River: Revered, Soiled and Symbol of an Indian Election Campaign

MAY 14, 2014

VARANASI, India — For centuries, Hindus have brought their dead to banks of the Ganges River in this ancient city, with the promise that if their bodies are burned on the riverfront, their souls will escape the constant cycle of rebirth and attain moksha, or salvation. Transporting their souls is the goddess of the river, whose ebbs and flows have run through thousands of years of civilization.

There was a time in living memory when the water in the river was clean enough to drink, said Shyamlal Eshad, a boatman in his 50s. Today, three hundred million liters of raw sewage mixed with industrial pollutants are dumped in the Ganges here every day, according to B.D. Tripathi, an environmental scientist and an advocate for cleaning the Ganges. The stench along the uneven cobblestone steps in parts of Varanasi is overpowering, and Mr. Eshad laments his goddess in decline.

“Ganga Ji is crying,” said Mr. Eshad, using a term of respect for the river.

Now this city’s holy waters are at the center of one of the most important elections in India’s modern history as Narendra Modi, the front-runner in the race for prime minister, has made the cleanup of the sacred river a metaphor for his campaign. He says he wants to restore the river’s purity just as he will revive a nation sullied by corruption and stalled by mismanagement and bureaucratic sloth.

“I feel Mother Ganga has called me to Varanasi,” Mr. Modi said to a sea of caps, masks and flags in saffron, the color of his Bharatiya Janata Party, at a rally leading up to the voting here on Monday. Results are expected Friday. “I feel like a child who has returned to his mother’s lap,” he said.

He is not the only politician drawn to this metaphor. Arvind Kejriwal, the firebrand leader of the Aam Aadmi Party, is also running for Parliament from Varanasi, pledging to stamp out corruption. He is not from the city, either, having recently served as Delhi’s chief minister. Though he resigned after just 49 days, Mr. Kejriwal remains a symbol of the challenge to the entrenched politics dominated by the governing Indian National Congress and the B.J.P. for the past two decades. Mr. Kejriwal’s campaign against Mr. Modi is quixotic and largely symbolic.

A sputtering economy and corruption scandals under the Congress party, which has governed India for much of its modern history, has made Mr. Modi the beneficiary of a collective populist anger. But Mr. Modi’s role as chief minister of Gujarat during the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots that left more than 1,000 people dead, most of them Muslims, has shadowed his ascent to the national stage and alienated many Indian Muslims.

Cleaning up the Ganges, a river on which 450 million people depend, is a cherished goal that spans religious divisions.

“There’s some sort of symbolic confession to Hindu nationalism, but cleaning the Ganga is a project that Muslims would embrace, too, except that they wouldn’t vote for him for his record,” said Ashutosh Varshney, a political scientist at Brown University.

Varanasi in many ways symbolizes the entwining of the Hindu and Muslim faiths in India. Pilgrims, philosophers, poets and performers have flourished amid the rise and fall of the city’s Hindu and Muslim conquerors, who dotted its labyrinth of alleys with thousands of temples and mosques. Like India, Varanasi has a Hindu majority, but it has a larger than average number of Muslims. The two faiths are bonded by the silk industry, music and cultural practices, creating what is often viewed as a model for communal harmony.

The 15th-century mystic Sufi poet Kabir was born into the Muslim weaver community in Varanasi. He was so revered for his tolerance and insight into the essence of all religions that when he died, Muslims and Hindus fought over his body. Legend has it that he turned into flowers: Muslims buried half of them; Hindus cremated the rest.

The parties of both Mr. Modi and Mr. Kejriwal have tried to woo the city’s 60,000 weavers by promising to rejuvenate the dying handloom industry and connect it to international markets, which now are flooded with imitation garments and Chinese competition.

Haji Mohammed Shamin, a Muslim weaver whose family has been making the city’s famous silks for at least five generations, said the Muslim vote was firmly against Mr. Modi, though split among his rivals. He voted for Mr. Kejriwal.

But the pull of Mr. Modi and his pledge to rejuvenate the river is strong here. Mr. Eshad, the boatman, said that if Mr. Modi could preserve the Ganges, he could “remain in power for another 20 years.”

Mr. Modi, the son of a tea-stall owner, traces his political awakening to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu-nationalist organization that provides an ideological foundation for his party. He recently acknowledged that he abandoned an arranged marriage 45 years ago because of the organization’s requirement of celibacy. He spent much of his career rising through the party’s ranks. Many of its members are the foot soldiers of his campaign, worrying minorities and liberals.

Vishwambhar Nath Mishra, who is head of one of the city’s most visited temples and an engineering professor, said he talked with Mr. Modi and Mr. Kejriwal about the river’s problems.

“We have tried our very best, but it wasn’t until this election that we’ve seen the issue resurface as a focus issue,” said Mr. Mishra, caretaker of the home of the 16th-century poet Tulsidas, who retold the Ramayana, an ancient epic poem. He said Mr. Modi “wants to convey a message that he leads this society.”

Mr. Kejriwal has criticized Mr. Modi’s environmental record. He sent workers to take samples of the Sabarmati River in Gujarat, which Mr. Modi said he had cleaned up in the same way he promises to clean up the Ganges. According to the party’s test, the Sabarmati river is polluted.

Dr. Tripathi, an environmental science professor at Banaras Hindu University and a member of a government panel studying the Ganges, said the flow of the Ganges is being blocked by dams for irrigation and electricity, limiting its ability to clean itself. Ninety-five percent of the pollution comes from the raw sewage and industrial pollutants pouring into it; the rest is half-burned flesh and religious items, he said. Officials claim they lack the money to build proper water-treatment facilities.

“We are converting a river into a pond due to our actions,” said Dr. Tripathi, blaming mismanagement for the many hundreds of millions of dollars invested in the river with little to show for it. Like many here, he believes Mr. Modi is the only candidate decisive enough to save the river.

“Modi’s approach with Varanasi, is definitely for a lot of Hindus, a call to the ancient past,” said Nilanjana S. Roy, a writer. “It’s an attempt to create a Hindu symbol and it’s a call to clean up the pollution of the culture.”

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« Reply #13411 on: May 15, 2014, 06:15 AM »

Malaysian Police Foil Terror Attack in India

by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 May 2014, 14:46

Malaysian police have foiled a plot to attack foreign missions in two Indian cities and arrested a South Asian terror suspect, a senior security official said Thursday.

The arrest comes just days after police launched an investigation into whether Al-Qaida-linked Somali rebels were seeking to set up a base in the Southeast Asian country after a suspected insurgent was arrested.

Police deputy inspector general Bakri Zinin said the South Asian man was arrested on May 14 by the anti-terrorism unit just outside the capital Kuala Lumpur.

Police had kept the suspect under surveillance since December last year, he said.

"It (police monitoring) revealed that the suspect was involved in a plan to attack foreign consulates in Chennai and Bangalore, India," he said.

Bakri said Indian security forces were informed of the impending terror attack and they succeeded in arresting three suspects in India on April 29.

Last week police detained a 34-year-old Somali man in Kuala Lumpur who was wanted by Interpol for alleged links to Shebab rebels blamed for a string of violent attacks in East Africa.

Earlier, Malaysia arrested 11 people suspected to be involved in Islamic militant activities under the guise of humanitarian work.

Bakri said the latest arrest was not related to the other two cases.

Muslim-majority Malaysia practices moderate Islam and has not seen any notable terror attacks in recent memory.

But it has been home to several suspected key figures in militant Islamic groups, such as the Al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah blamed for the deadly 2002 Bali bombings.

Malaysian police are investigating possible terrorism in the March 8 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 but have so far given no indication that they have solid leads.

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« Reply #13412 on: May 15, 2014, 06:16 AM »

One Dead, 100 Hurt in Anti-China Riot in Vietnam

by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 May 2014, 07:50

A riot at a steel plant in Vietnam has left one Chinese worker dead and over 100 injured, officials said Thursday, as an angry Beijing accused Hanoi of "connivance" in the worst anti-China unrest in decades.

Long-simmering enmity between the communist neighbors has boiled over in Vietnam with protests in major cities and mobs torching foreign-owned factories after China deployed an oil drilling rig in contested waters.

Worker demonstrations have spread to 22 of Vietnam's 63 provinces, the government said, calling for "tough measures" to bring the situation under control before alarmed foreign investors pull out of the country.

Hundreds of Chinese nationals have fled across the border into neighboring Cambodia, according to police there.

The latest riots broke out Wednesday at a steel mill owned by Taiwanese group Formosa Plastics in Vietnam's central Ha Tinh province, around 500 kilometers from Hanoi.

Formosa said the trouble had begun when Vietnamese workers at its plant staged a strike which quickly became violent.

Workers began "attacking some Chinese workers and damaged offices and equipment," it said in a statement.

"One Chinese male worker was killed in the chaos," local official Dang Quoc Khanh told AFP, adding that three houses at the Formosa plant for Chinese workers had been destroyed.

At least 149 people were injured, Khanh told state-run VTV, adding that police had arrested 76 people and opened an investigation.

"The rioters have gone but we are all still concerned they might come back," Taiwan's de facto ambassador Huang Chih-peng said, adding that no Taiwanese nationals were hurt.

China accused Hanoi of acting in concert with the protesters.

The violence in Vietnam had "a direct link with the Vietnamese side's indulgence and connivance in recent days with some domestic anti-China forces and lawbreakers," Beijing's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.

China's official news agency Xinhua said that around 10 Chinese remained unaccounted for after rioters attacked four Chinese companies in the central province of Ha Tinh, citing a Chinese manager.

Beijing also issued a warning to tourists planning trips to Vietnam, advising them to "carefully consider" their plans.

The backdrop is a history of rivalry between the communist neighbors, who have close economic ties but often fraught diplomatic relations, particularly over the contested Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea.

In 1974, as U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam, China invaded the Paracel Islands, which were held by the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese regime.

The neighbors fought a brief but bloody border war in 1979 after China invaded following Vietnam's intervention in Cambodia to oust Beijing's Khmer Rouge allies.

They came to blows again in 1988 in the contested Spratly islands in a naval battle in which more than 70 Vietnamese sailors were killed.

However, the two countries normalized relations in 1991 and their economic fortunes have become increasingly intertwined.

Beijing's increasing assertiveness in staking its claim to almost all of the South China Sea also has caused concern for other neighboring countries, particularly the Philippines.

Tensions flared earlier this month after Beijing moved a deep-water drilling rig into waters that Hanoi claims -- a move Vietnam has denounced as "illegal".

There have been repeated skirmishes near the controversial oil drilling rig in recent days involving vessels from the two countries, with collisions and the use of water cannon.

The widespread unrest has broken out since Vietnam's communist rulers -- who usually tightly control dissent -- allowed rallies against Beijing at the weekend.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung described the situation as "very serious" and said that, while the recent groundswell of patriotism was "the correct thing", instigators who broke the law would be punished, according to an official statement.

In the southern province of Binh Duong, riot police were deployed Wednesday after anti-China riots and arson attacks forced several factories to temporarily suspend operations, including a supplier for Nike and Adidas.

Police said they had detained some 500 people after nearly 20,000 workers poured onto the streets Tuesday and a hardcore began looting and attacking security guards and factory management before setting fire to at least 15 factories.

Export-orientated manufacturing is a key pillar of Vietnam's economy, with high-profile firms -- from electronics giants such as South Korea's Samsung to U.S. sportswear companies -- producing goods there.

Taiwan is one of the top foreign investors in Vietnam.

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« Reply #13413 on: May 15, 2014, 06:18 AM »

Abe Pushes for More Active Japanese Military

by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 May 2014, 07:14

Nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set out his case Thursday for beefing up pacifist Japan's rules of engagement, saying he wants the armed forces to be able to enter battle in defense of allies.

Citing a rising climate of disquiet in north and southeast Asia, Abe said Japan needs to cast off constitutional strictures that have prevented its so-called Self Defense Forces from firing a shot in combat since 1945.

"As prime minister, I have the responsibility to protect the lives of people under any circumstances," he told reporters in Tokyo.

"I don't think the constitution says we have to abandon the responsibility to protect the lives of people.

"If we can enhance our deterrence, it will prevent our country from being involved in war."

Around 500 people demonstrated against the prime minister's plans near his official residence, with some carrying banners that read "Exercising collective defense is equal to waging war."

The prime minister has long nurtured a desire to see more flexibility in Japan's pacifist constitution, which was imposed by the occupying United States in the aftermath of Tokyo's World War II defeat.

Article 9 of the document -- which has reportedly been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize -- says Japan forever renounces the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

For decades, governments have held that this means Japan's military may only open fire if fired upon, even if that entails leaving U.S. counterparts in danger on the same battlefield.

Unable to change the constitution because of deep domestic resistance, Abe has argued for the next-best thing: a reinterpretation of the laws to permit "collective defense".

A panel of academics, diplomats and military advisers convened by the prime minister has come up with a series of proposals on possible legal frameworks for military action.

Over the coming months, Abe will use this document to persuade a sometimes-skeptical public of his case as he looks to shepherd his plans through the labyrinth of Japan's political system.

The move is controversial and risks forcing a split with his ruling party's coalition partner, New Komeito, secular Buddhists without whom Abe does not have an outright majority in the upper house of parliament.

"It will be the first reinterpretation of the constitution by a politician in Japan," said Tomoaki Iwai, professor of Japanese politics at Nippon University in Tokyo.

"It's going to be a turning point in the country's politics," Iwai said, adding he expected the formal reinterpretation that Abe wants by the end of the year.

Voters are lukewarm on the idea; a poll of more than 2,000 adults nationwide showed 63 percent oppose the concept of collective defense, the Asahi Shimbun reported last month.

That was up from 56 percent last year and more than double the 29 percent who support the idea, the poll showed.

Abe wastes no opportunity to remind his audience, both at home and abroad, of Japan's track record since 1945.

"We have consistently walked on the path of pacifism for 70 years after the war and there will no change to this," he said Thursday.

Despite this repeated reassurance, Abe's drive to strengthen the military triggers intense emotions in China and on the Korean peninsula, where memories linger of Tokyo's brutal expansionism in the last century.

Beijing has sought to paint the prime minister as an atavistic militarist, bent on resurrecting the warmongering of imperialist Japan.

However, his position is welcomed in Washington, where there have long been calls for Japan to pull its own weight in a very one-sided security alliance.

U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed the move when he held a summit with Abe in Tokyo last month.

Unease in Japan about China's increasing assertiveness, and specifically its strident claims to disputed islands in the East China Sea, has helped bolster Abe's push to enhance the role of the military.

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« Reply #13414 on: May 15, 2014, 06:26 AM »

Military operation launched to locate kidnapped Nigerian girls

Canada sends special forces to assist Nigerian troops, joining teams from the US, UK, France and Israel

David Smith in Abuja and Harriet Sherwood, Thursday 15 May 2014 01.03 BST   

The Nigerian government has confirmed that a military operation has been launched with international backing to locate and rescue more than 200 girls, who have been held captive for a month.

The government also signalled that it is ready to negotiate with Boko Haram, the Islamist militant group that snatched the girls from a school in Chibok, in the north-east of the country, although it appeared to rule out any prisoner exchange.

"International operations have commenced in collaboration with the Nigerian military … The operations are being carried out in conjunction with Nigerian troops," Mike Omeri, coordinator of the national information centre, told a press conference.

"Surveillance? Yes. Intelligence? Yes. And knowledge and experience sharing will be applied," he added. He declined to give further details.

As international assistance to the search and rescue efforts intensified, Mark Simmonds, Britain's minister for Africa, held talks with Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan in the capital, Abuja. Jonathan "made it very clear that there will be no negotiation with Boko Haram that involves a swap of abducted schoolgirls for prisoners," Simmonds said. But Nigeria's government will talk to the militants to seek reconciliation, Simmonds added.

Meanwhile, "The point that also was made very clear to me is that the president was keen to continue and facilitate ongoing dialogue to find a structure and architecture of delivering lasting solution to the conflict and the cause of conflict in northern Nigeria."

David Cameron told parliament on Wednesday that Britain had offered to step up its assistance by sending surveillance aircraft and a military team. A UK team of military advisers and family liaison officers, led by brigadier Ivan Jones, has been in Abuja since Friday.

The prime minister told MPs: "I can announce we have offered Nigeria further assistance in terms of surveillance aircraft, a military team to embed with the Nigerian army in their HQ, and a team to work with US experts to analyse information on the girls' location."

The abduction of the girls was, Cameron said, "an act of pure evil", adding: "The world is coming together not just to condemn it but to do everything we can to help the Nigerians find these young girls."

Canada became the latest country to disclose that it has sent special forces to Nigeria, joining teams from the US, UK, France and Israel. The Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, said his country's forces would not engage in combat but were "to provide liaison and to assist Nigerian authorities in their search".

In Abuja about 200 people wearing red #BringBackOurGirls T-shirts gathered for a vigil marking 30 days since the girls' abduction. Among the speakers was pastor Enoch Mark of Chibok. "I lost my two daughters," he told the audience. "Today is 30 days. I have not been sleeping well. There is no night from 14 April when I can sleep more than three hours. I am not eating well. But seeing you this evening, you give me hope and you give me courage."

Amid chants of, "Bring back our girls now," a group of teenage girls read out the names of the missing. One said: "The only reason I was not captured that night is that I was not in Chibok."

Hadiza Bala Usman, coordinator of #BringBackOurGirls, earned cheers and a standing ovation as she declared: "I feel empowered as a Nigerian to see people across religious lines, across ethnic lines, standing together. We will say no to insurgency. No one will divide us along political and ethnic lines. We retain these core values as Nigerians."Earlier the special duties minister, Taminu Turaki, said the government was open to talks with Boko Haram. "Nigeria has always been willing to dialogue with the insurgents," he told AFP. "We are willing to carry that dialogue on any issue, including girls kidnapped in Chibok."

A group of about 130 of the kidnapped girls appeared on a video released this week by Boko Haram. After a special viewing for parents, all the girls were confirmed as students of the Government Girls secondary school in Chibok. Although most of the abducted girls are Christian, all were wearing Muslim dress and two were singled out to say they had converted to Islam.

The Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, said the girls could be released in exchange for jailed militants. "I swear to almighty Allah, you will not see them again until you release our brothers that you have captured," he said in the video.

Omeri refused to confirm that channels of communication with Boko Haram were open. "We said all options are on the table, and we will adopt international best practice in this regard," he said.

He rejected criticism that the government had not yet found the girls. "When the Americans wanted to get their hostages in Iraq, they knew where they were and it took 200 days. We don't want it to take 200 days. One thing I feel certain of: the mystery will be unravelled."

The government believed all the girls were still alive and in Nigerian territory, rejecting reports that some had been sold into slavery.


Nigerian vigilantes kill scores of militants

Residents of Kalabalge ambush two truckloads of gunmen who were suspected of planning an attack

Associated Press in Bauchi, Wednesday 14 May 2014 14.55 BST   

Villagers in northern Nigeria have killed and detained scores of Islamist militants who were suspected of planning an attack, the residents and a security official said.

Vigilante groups have been forming to resist Boko Haram, which is holding more than 270 schoolgirls captive. In Kalabalge, in Borno state, residents said they were taking matters into their own hands because the Nigerian military was not doing enough to stem militant attacks.

On Tuesday morning after learning about an impending attack by militants, locals ambushed two truckloads of gunmen, detaining at least 10 and killing scores, a security official said. It was not immediately clear where the detainees were being held.

Ajid Musa, a trader in Kalabalge, said the vigilante group had made it impossible for militants to successfully stage attacks there. "That is why most attacks by the Boko Haram on our village continued to fail because they cannot come in here and start shooting and killing people," he said.

This year in other parts of Borno, some extremists launched more attacks in retaliation against vigilante groups.

Borno is where more than 300 girls were abducted last month and one of three Nigerian states where President Goodluck Jonathan has imposed a state of emergency, giving the military special powers to fight the extremist group, whose stronghold is in north-east Nigeria.

This week Jonathan sought to extend the state of emergency for six more months in the states of Yobe, Adamawa and Borno. That move is being opposed by some leaders in northern Nigeria who say the emergency measure has brought no success.

Yobe's governor, Ibrahim Gaidam, said his government "takes very strong exception" to attempts to extend the state of emergency – a period that he described as "marked more by failure than by success." The measure was imposed on 14 May 2013 and extended in December.

Boko Haram has killed more than 1,500 people this year. Although the security forces have forced the militants out of urban centres, they have struggled for months to dislodge them from hideouts in mountain caves and the Sambisa forest.


Boko Haram: six reasons why the Nigerian militant group is so powerful

Not long ago, few Nigerians had heard of Boko Haram. Now, the whole world is talking about the extremist group that kidnaps school girls and bombs cities. How did it become so formidable?

Max Siollun, Wednesday 14 May 2014 14.40 BST   

Six years ago, most Nigerians had not even heard of Boko Haram. Now the whole world is talking about the extremist group that has kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in the north of the country. Founded in 2002, how did it rise to become such a threat to national security in such a short period of time?

1. Political connections

It would be naive to think that this kidnap happened in a vacuum, or that the Boko Haram has no connection to the powers that be in Nigeria's Game of Thrones-style politics. Spikes in violence and insecurity took place on a suspiciously recurring basis in the 12-18 months preceding Nigerian presidential elections: the next election is scheduled for 2015.

This tends to be the time that politicians allegedly deploy armed militia to harass, intimidate, or even assassinate their rivals.

In 2012, a senior member, Kabiru Sokoto, was found in a state governor’s house after escaping from police captivity. The year before, a Nigerian senator was arrested on suspicion of aiding the group after claims that he telephoned a militant more than 70 times in one month.

The extremist group is also automatically linked to all kidnappings, violence, and assassinations committed in northern Nigeria – even acts of armed banditry and political assassinations are attributed to it, whether the group claims responsibility for them or not, adding to its reputation and aura.

2. Imbalance between north and south

Seemingly disconnected historical events over the past 60-70 years started the slide into poverty and inequality that eventually led to the formation of Boko Haram. Before Nigeria’s independence in 1960, British colonial authorities ruled the north (where most Muslims live) and south of Nigeria (where most Christians live) separately. Western schools started by Christian missionaries flourished in the south, but Muslim leaders were reluctant to allow Christian mission schools to open in the north.

The long-term result is a massive economic and educational imbalance between the north and south which persists today. In many southern states more than 90% of women are literate. The corresponding percentage is below 5% in some states in the far north. Less than 10% of Nigerian university applicants (pdf) come from the 12 Muslim majority states in northern Nigeria (where Boko Haram’s insurgency rages). Boko Haram draws its members from the legions of uneducated, unemployed, poor and disenchanted young northern men.

3. Sharia law

An overlooked catalyst for Boko Haram’s evolution occurred in 2000 when Ahmed Yerima, the governor of Zamfara state in Nigeria’s north-west, extended the jurisdiction of Muslim sharia law to criminal cases, prescribing punishments such as stoning for adultery, amputation for theft and flogging for drinking alcohol. This became a super-charged political issue in the north, as sharia was popular among Muslims who hoped it would lead to a social and moral revival. Eight other states in northern Nigeria also enacted sharia in full and Boko Haram’s then leader, Mohammed Yusuf, anticipated it would also be implemented in his home state of Borno. They became disaffected and increasingly hostile to the government when Borno did not implement sharia in full.

4. Government crackdown

When Boko Haram clashed with police in 2009, the government responded with a military iron fist. Security forces destroyed Boko Haram’s mosque, killed hundreds of its members, and arrested, then summarily executed, its leader Yusuf and his father-in-law. The routing of Yusuf and his followers radicalised Boko Haram even more by eliminating the conciliatory faction within the group, and paving the way for its takeover by its most implacable faction led by Yusuf’s deputy, Abubakar Shekau.

5. Nigeria’s complicated ethnic and religious mix

Sensitive ethno-regional issues make it difficult to fight Boko Haram. A massive elephant in the room is that the vast majority of the army’s fighting troops have historically been recruited from ethnic groups in northern Nigeria. Such ethnic groups include the Kanuri – to which most Boko Haram members belong. Unleashing the army on militants means soldiers may be ordered to commit fratricide against communities they come from, who they are not hostile to, and leaves the army vulnerable to infiltration.

Also, an attack by Nigeria's president Goodluck Jonathan (a Christian from the south) on a northern Islamic group with unrestrained force in the year before a presidential election, would surely result in lost votes amid accusations of being heavy handed with people of another faith.

6. Military limitations

The Chibok schoolgirls are unlikely to be rescued in a spectacular military raid. The Nigerian army is trained for conventional warfare and peacekeeping operations. Elaborate hostage rescues are not its forte. It is having to make ad hoc adaptations to train cadets to carry out counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations.

Military offensives can only buy temporary breathing space for politicians to devise permanent solutions to the problem posed by Boko Haram. Some in the military establishment acknowledge that the military alone cannot eliminate the group. Nigeria’s former chief of defence, staff General Martin Luther Agwai (who commanded the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur), said: “You can never solve any of these problems with military solutions… It is a political issue; it is a social issue; it is an economic issue, and until these issues are addressed, the military can never give you a solution.”

A likely outcome to the current stand-off is that the government will negotiate an unwieldy deal with Boko Haram that will see the girls released in instalments.

This would not be unprecedented as the Nigerian government has a history of paying off or reaching uncomfortable opaque compromises with its opponents. When militants waged an armed insurgency in the oil-producing areas of southern Nigeria to protest against economic exploitation, the government ended it by granting amnesty and cash stipends to the militants in exchange for them giving up violence. This has created a “money and amnesty for guns” precedent. Muslim leaders from northern Nigeria have urged the government to similarly negotiate with Boko Haram and to grant it amnesty. With more money and more guns, the group might become more powerful still.

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« Reply #13415 on: May 15, 2014, 06:28 AM »

Qatar promises to reform labour laws after outcry over 'World Cup slaves'

Move follows Guardian investigation into abuse and exploitation of migrant workers preparing emirate for 2022 tournament

Ian Black in Doha, Owen Gibson and Robert Booth   
The Guardian, Wednesday 14 May 2014 15.56 BST      

Qatar has promised to scrap key elements of its controversial labour laws, in the wake of an international outcry over conditions for migrant workers before the 2022 World Cup, which followed a Guardian investigation into workplace abuse in the Gulf state.

Officials said they would replace the country's "kafala" sponsorship system, which tethers workers to a single employer, who can therefore treat his workforce with impunity, pending the approval of a draft law.

But human rights groups, which had hoped this would be a watershed moment, feared the lack of detailed proposals represented "a missed opportunity to tackle the key issues". Amnesty International said it suspected it amounted to a "change of name rather than a reform to the system".

One significant change is to make it less difficult – though not necessarily easy – for foreigners to leave the country and change jobs. However, altering the rules on "exit visas", which restrict a worker's ability to leave Qatar, and other reforms will have to be ratified by the shura (advisory) council, and businesspeople in Qatar are expected to oppose them vigorously.

"We are going to abolish the kafala system and it will move to the legislative institutions," said Colonel Abdullah Saqr al-Mohannadi, human rights director of the Qatari interior ministry. "It will be replaced by a contractual relationship between employer and employee. We hope that the exit visa will be abolished completely."

The investigative report for which the Guardian won a Webby award. Link to video: Qatar: the migrant workers forced to work for no pay in World Cup host country

Under the new rules, a Qatari employer would have to show "compelling" proof of any objection to a worker leaving the country. Disputes would be resolved within three days. Other possible changes include mandatory employee welfare contracts, sanctions against employers who fail to meet their obligations, and closer bilateral regulatory links with the workers' countries of origin. Experts say tighter implementation across the board will be the key.

The reforms are based on recommendations by the London law firm DLA Piper, which was commissioned to review the legislative and enforcement framework of Qatari labour laws after the Guardian's investigative reports last autumn. The firm has had a 10-strong team working on the 140-page report for six months.

"This shows willing on the part of the highest levels of government, after a huge amount of international pressure, to reform the kafala system," said a western diplomat. "There will be significant domestic pressure to water down these proposals. Still, things can happen quite quickly if they have the emir's full backing." Sepp Blatter, president of Fifa, which awarded Qatar the 2022 World Cup, claimed it was a "significant step in the right direction for sustainable change in the workers' welfare standards in Qatar".

But Amnesty's James Lynch said: "Promises to fully review sponsorship and exit permits in the long term don't help workers on the ground. The government has been announcing a law on domestic workers' rights since 2008 but we still haven't seen it."

Nicholas McGeehan of Human Rights Watch said: "The notion that the kafala system can be abolished by no longer referring to a 'sponsor' but an employer/employee relationship is utterly preposterous."

Rima Kalush, at Migrant-Rights.Org, said the reforms unveiled amounted to "an announcement of an announcement". "My worry is that Qatar will follow Bahrain's footsteps in renaming the sponsorship system without actually abolishing the majority of the exploitative laws and practices that encompass the system."

Qatar has an expatriate community of 1.39 million people, which forms more than 85% of the country's total population of 2.1 million – the highest ratio of migrants to citizens in the world. The largest foreign community is about 500,000 Indians, with large contingents from Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Philippines. Qatar, with vast reserves of gas, is officially the world's richest country according to GDP per capita. Doha's many glittering new buildings and massive construction projects are concrete testimony to its immense wealth and ambition.But its construction boom has come at the expense of the safety and wellbeing of many thousands of migrant workers. Investigations by the Guardian, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have revealed cases of workers toiling for little pay in unsafe and insanitary conditions. Some have been prevented from leaving the country and others have had their wages withheld. Some end in a kafkaesque nightmare, on the run from the brutality of their official "sponsor", unable to work and so to subsist, unable to leave. Hundreds die.

The International Trade Union Confederation has warned that 4,000 workers could die before a ball is kicked in 2022 if nothing is done to protect their rights.

The DLA Piper report carried confirmation from the Qataris that hundreds of migrants die in the emirate on construction projects each year. The government said 964 workers from Nepal, India and Bangladesh had died while living and working in the Gulf state in 2012 and 2013. A minority of the deaths happened on building sites; in 2012, 246 were recorded as "sudden cardiac death" – the biggest killer among the largest groups of migrant workers in Qatar, according to statistics provided by the state's Supreme Council of Health.

Another 72 were killed in road traffic accidents, and 35 died in falls or by being struck by a "thrown, projected or falling object". In 2012, 28 workers killed themselves by "hanging, strangulation and suffocation and intentional self-harm, by sharp object", the classification states.

Doha still insists no workers have died on World Cup construction projects. Officials like to describe the 2022 Fifa soccer tournament as a "catalyst for change". But DLA Piper warned that increased transparency and communication were crucial.

Changes to the labour laws will be closely scrutinised. The exit visa requirement has already been abolished in the nearby UAE, another huge employer of foreign workers. But an ongoing review is not expected to include agreement to collective bargaining rights.

The fanfare surrounding Wednesday's announcement suggested the Qataris were keen to improve an image that has been tarnished by revelations about migrant labour deaths and conditions.The changes – officially described as "far-reaching labour market reforms" – were announced at a joint ministry of interior and ministry of labour press conference in one of many Doha's luxury hotels, where journalists were welcomed with a groaning buffet before proceedings began. But the speakers were officials rather than ministers – suggesting a lack of confidence in the future of the reform programme.Still, foreigners involved in the migrant labour issue point to improved levels of cooperation. "There's been a change of attitude by the Qataris," said one European legal expert. "They have openly engaged with people. They have allowed themselves to be criticised in their own press. They have some good civil servants but like everyone else they also have some time servers. The scale of the issue is huge."

Shadow international development secretary Jim Murphy, who recently travelled to Qatar, said: "Today's announcement is a small step on a very long journey – and it is absolutely vital that the reforms promised today are implemented quickly and fully. But Fifa must insist that more is done. Football fans will be sickened if the industrial scale exploitation of workers is allowed to continue"

Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the ITUC, was more peremptory.

"Modern slavery will still exist in Qatar despite the announcement of cosmetic reforms to the labour law today. The changes are designed to make it easier for employers to find migrant workers, but the announcement fails to address the multiple violations of international labour standards found by the International Labour Organisation in March. The announcement was made by civil servants and the military, without a government minister present. It gives no guarantee for workers in Qatar."

Further announcements about new legislation and reforms were promised "in the coming months".

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« Reply #13416 on: May 15, 2014, 06:29 AM »

Assad regime targets Syrian healthcare system

Physicians for Human Rights says 460 health professionals have died over the past three years, according to study

Foreign staff, Wednesday 14 May 2014 14.00 BST

Syrian government forces have systematically attacked the healthcare system in opposition-held areas of the country over the past three years, resulting in the deaths of more than 460 health professionals and widespread destruction to hospitals and clinics, according to a major study.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a US-based international NGO, has found that government forces were to blame for 90% of the confirmed 150 attacks on 124 facilities from the start of the Syrian uprising in March 2011 to March 2014, as plotted on an interactive map that will be regularly updated.

"The systematic nature of these attacks reflects the government's indifference to the health and life of civilians, which has created a public health crisis that will haunt Syria for years," said Erin Gallagher, PHR's director of emergency investigations and response. "Doctors and nurses who are committed to caring for everyone, regardless of political beliefs, are being killed while trying to save lives under gruelling circumstances."

According to UN estimates, 245,000 people in Syria are living in besieged areas, cut off from food, water, and medical supplies. Almost half of all public hospitals have been partially or totally destroyed. The overall death toll in the crisis so far exceeds 150,000. Up to 2.5 million people have fled abroad and 9 million people inside Syria need help in what the UN has described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis in modern times.

"As doctors, we are often perceived to be the enemy because we treat everyone regardless of their political views," said a physician in Aleppo, who did not want to be identified for security reasons. "We take great risks to do our jobs at a time when our skills are greatly needed. War has ravaged our country's health system, and attacking hospitals and doctors has made this horrible situation even worse."

Attacks on medical professionals, facilities, and supplies during armed conflict violate the Geneva conventions. When the attacks are widespread or systematic, they constitute a crime against humanity.

"Syria is among the worst examples of targeting medical care as a weapon of war," said Donna McKay, PHR's executive director. "We must not allow these rampant abuses to become the new norm in conflict."

PHR said it hopes the information in its map will prompt the UN security council to implement the resolution demanding increased humanitarian aid to people living in besieged areas, including medical supplies. PHR also calls on all parties to the conflict to demilitarise hospitals and honour international humanitarian laws protecting medical personnel and facilities.

Syrian government forces are responsible for the majority of violations, but the map indicates that attacks by anti-government rebels are increasing, with nine of the 10 attacks committed by opposition groups occurring since March 2013.

PHR collected the data from sources inside Syria as well as open sources in English and Arabic, including UN, government, and non-governmental reports; news articles; and social media. Given the volatile conditions on the ground, PHR was unable to collect comprehensive data on all the attacks and killings of healthcare providers. PHR identified 150 attacks using multiple sources to corroborate the data.

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« Reply #13417 on: May 15, 2014, 06:31 AM »

S.Sudan Ceasefire Crumbles as Battles Rage in Oil-State

by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 May 2014, 11:13

Warring forces in South Sudan battled on Thursday, trading blame for breaking a ceasefire as the civil war entered its sixth month amid warnings of famine if bloodshed continues.

Both sides reported heavy fighting in the key oil-producing state of Upper Nile, which now pumps almost all of South Sudan's crude after intense battles shut down most fields in the other main area of Unity state.

Both army spokesman Philip Aguer and his rebel counterpart Lul Ruai Koang reported heavy artillery barrages and fierce gun battles at Dolieb Hill, south of Upper Nile's war-ravaged state capital Malakal, and in the northern Renk district.

"We will continue to strictly abide by the peace agreement, but we will not allow this ceasefire to be used by rebels to continue moving and attacking our positions," Aguer said.

Rebel spokesman Koang charged government troops Thursday of "relentless and intensive shelling" of their positions at Dolieb.

He claimed government troops had fired shells as rebels gathered for a morning military parade to listen "to agreement messages being read out to them by their respective field commanders."

The war in the world's youngest nation has claimed thousands -- possibly tens of thousands -- of lives, with more than 1.2 million people forced to flee their homes.

In the Renk district, a strategic region just north of the main oil-field still left pumping, Palouch, the rebels said government troops were "continuously attacking".

Aguer said it had been the guerrillas who had attacked.

President Salva Kiir and rebel chief Riek Machar signed a fresh ceasefire last week but fighting broke out hours later, the second time a truce has failed to stick.

The ceasefire agreement, signed Friday in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, was the fruit of weeks of mounting international pressure and shuttle diplomacy.

But fighters on the ground appear to have paid little if any notice to it.

The United States on Wednesday called for an immediate deployment of African troops from regional nations to safeguard the ceasefire, with Washington seeking a U.N. resolution to ensure the force is in place as "quickly as possible," said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs.

Thomas-Greenfield warned of possible dire consequences should the shaky peace deal fall apart.

"There is a famine that is looming if this fighting does not stop," she said.

U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay, a former head of the U.N. genocide court for Rwanda, has said she recognized "many of the precursors of genocide" listed in a report on atrocities released last week by the organization.

The war erupted on December 15 when Kiir accused Machar of attempting a coup. Machar then fled to the bush to launch a rebellion, insisting that the president had attempted to carry out a bloody purge of his rivals.

Aid agencies warned Thursday the young nation faces a catastrophic "tipping point" amid famine and genocide warnings.

"We either act now or millions will pay the price," Oxfam chief executive Mark Goldring said.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon this week warned half of the country's population will suffer if war continues.

"If the conflict continues, half of South Sudan's 12 million people will either be displaced internally, refugees abroad, starving or dead by the year's end," Ban said.

Many fear that political leaders can no longer hold back their warring forces as communities spiral into cycles of revenge attacks.

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« Reply #13418 on: May 15, 2014, 06:32 AM »

HRW Says Violations 'Surge' after Uganda's Tough Antigay Law

by Naharnet Newsdesk
15 May 2014, 11:27

Uganda's tough new anti-gay law has sparked a "surge in human rights violations", including arrest, job loss, eviction, and the killing of at least one transgender person, campaign groups said Thursday.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people have "faced a notable increase in arbitrary arrests, police abuse and extortion, loss of employment, evictions and homelessness, and scores have fled the country," Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International said in joint report.

"At least one transgender person has been killed since the bill was signed, in an apparent hate crime," the report added.

President Yoweri Museveni in February signed a bill that calls for "repeat homosexuals" to be jailed for life, outlaws the promotion of homosexuality and obliges people to denounce gays to the authorities.

The law drew international condemnation, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry likening it to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany.

Critics have said Museveni signed the law to win domestic support ahead of a presidential election scheduled for 2016, which will be his 30th year in power.

At least 17 people had been arrested since parliament passed the bill in December on "allegations of consensual same-sex conduct with other adults or, in some cases, simply on the suspicion of appearing to be LGBTI," the groups said.

Most have since been released with charge, some after paying bribes, the groups said. Others said they were sexually assaulted in custody, and at least one was forced to undergo anal examinations as police sought to prove he was gay.

With tabloid newspapers printing pictures of scores of people alleged to be gay, at least 100 have fled the country, and many more have been forced to move home.

One transgender activist was evicted from home and is now living with nine friends who faced similar pressures.

"The people staying with me are traumatized, they are like slaves in their own country," the activist was quoted in the report as saying.

The new law means many gay people fear accessing health services in case it leads to their arrest, said HRW's Neela Ghoshal.

"Within just five months of the passage of the anti-homosexuality bill through parliament, we are seeing its dramatic effects on the health and well-being of LGBTI people," Ghoshal said.
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« Reply #13419 on: May 15, 2014, 06:37 AM »

Astronomers discover how super-dense ‘magnetars’ are formed

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, May 14, 2014 16:30 EDT

Astronomers said Wednesday they may have found the answer to a cosmic riddle called the magnetar — a star so dense that just a teaspoonful of it would have a mass of about a billion tonnes.

Magnetars are mysterious phenomena whose magnetic fields are millions of times greater than that of the Earth.

They also erupt with storms of gamma radiation when their crust undergoes sudden modification, a change called a starquake.

How these oddities are formed, though, has until now been unclear.

They are considered to be a type of neutron star, which is one of two potential outcomes when a massive star collapses under its own gravity and rips apart to form a supernova.

Of some two dozen known magnetars in the Milky Way, a favoured target for astronomers is called CXOU JI64710.2, located in Westerlund 1, a star cluster about 16,000 light years away in the constellation Ara (The Altar).

Previous work determined this magnetar was born from the supernova of a mega-star 40 times as massive as the Sun — but that finding posed a headache in itself.

“We did not understand how it could have become a magnetar,” said Simon Clark of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), who led the latest probe into CXOU J164710.2.

“Stars this massive are expected to collapse to form black holes after their deaths, not neutron stars.”

Using ESO’s Very Large Telescope, located in the arid highlands of the Chilean desert, Clark’s team found a clue for the conundrum in a massive star called Westerlund 1-5 in the same star cluster.

It is travelling at ultra-high velocity out of the cluster, expelled by the force of the supernova.

Its trajectory and speed provide evidence that it somehow played a part in creating the magnetar CXOU J164710.2, the astronomers said.

According to their simulation, Westerlund 1-5 was once a nearby companion to another massive, though slightly smaller, star.

- Cosmic pass-the-parcel -

The bigger of the two started to run out of fuel and transferred its outer layers to the other — the future magnetar — causing it to rotate fiercely and develop a powerful magnetic field.

The transfer caused the smaller star to become so big that it shed a large chunk of its newly acquired mass, according to the theory.

Gravitational pull transferred this mass back to the original star, which is shining today as Westerlund 1-5.

The companion star exploded, becoming a magnetar-type neutron star, and Westerlund 1-5 was kicked into the great beyond, the reconstruction suggests.

Spanish astrophysicist Francisco Najarro described the process as “a game of stellar pass-the-parcel with cosmic consequences.”

He explained: “It is this process of swapping material that has imparted the unique chemical signature to Westerlund 1-5 and allowed the mass of its companion to shrink to low enough levels that a magnetar was born instead of a black hole.”

The explanation may apply to all magnetars, ESO said.

“It seems that being a component of a double star may… be an essential ingredient in the recipe for forming a magnetar,” it said in a press release.

“The rapid rotation created by mass transfer between the two stars appears necessary to generate the ultra-strong magnetic field, and then a second mass transfer phase allows the magnetar-to-be to slim down sufficiently so that it does not collapse into a black hole at the moment of its death.”

The study will be published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #13420 on: May 15, 2014, 06:51 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

After decades of exodus, companies returning production to U.S.

Although no one keeps precise statistics, the retreat from offshoring is clear from various sources, including federal data on assistance to workers hurt by overseas moves.

By Don Lee
Los Angeles Times

WHITEWATER, Wis. — In 2001, Generac Power Systems joined the wave of American companies shifting production to China. The move wiped out 400 jobs in southeast Wisconsin, but few could argue with management’s logic: Chinese companies were offering to make a key component for $100 per unit less than the cost of producing it in the United States.

Now, however, Generac has brought manufacturing of that component back to its Whitewater plant — creating about 80 jobs in this town of about 14,500 people.

The move is part of a sea change in American manufacturing: After three decades of an exodus of production to China and other low-wage countries, companies have sharply curtailed moves abroad. Some, like Generac, have begun to return manufacturing to U.S. shores.

Although no one keeps precise statistics, the retreat from offshoring is clear from various sources, including federal data on assistance to workers hurt by overseas moves.

U.S. factory payrolls have grown for four straight years, with gains totaling about 650,000 jobs. That’s a small fraction of the 6 million lost in the previous decade, but it still marks the biggest and longest stretch of manufacturing increases in a quarter century.

Harry Moser, an MIT-trained engineer who tracks the inflow of jobs, estimates that last year marked the first time since the offshoring trend began that factory jobs returning to the U.S. matched the number lost, at about 40,000 each.

“Offshoring and ‘reshoring’ were roughly in balance — I call that victory,” said Moser, who traces his interest in manufacturing to his parents’ work at the long-closed Singer Sewing Machine plant in New Jersey. (He once worked there, too.)

He now runs the Reshoring Initiative, a Chicago nonprofit that works with companies to bring manufacturing jobs back to the United States.

Several factors lie behind the change.

Over the last decade, Chinese labor and transportation costs have jumped while U.S. wages have stagnated. The average hourly pay for nonsupervisory manufacturing workers in the United States has barely kept up with inflation, rising on average just 2.3 percent over the last 10 years and by only half that since 2010, according to Labor Department figures.

Factoring in the rise in value of its currency, China’s base wage, measured in dollars, has risen 17 percent a year, according to an April report by Boston Consulting Group.

Manufacturing also has become more automated, further reducing labor’s weight in the cost equation.

The boom in natural gas production in the United States, largely driven by fracking and other new drilling techniques, has led to a 25 percent decrease in gas prices in the United States, contrasted with a 138 percent increase in China, Boston Consulting found.

And the rise of online commerce has made local control of supply chains more important, especially because many U.S. manufacturers report growing problems with quality control of goods made in China.

“We got to the point where everything we were bringing in had to be inspected,” says Lonnie Kane, president of Los Angeles apparel maker Karen Kane, noting that his company used to check just 10 percent of goods from China.

“Now prices are escalating, quality is dropping and deliveries are being delayed,” he says. In the last three years, Kane has shifted 80 percent of his production from China back home.

Expansion in the domestic apparel industry remains unusual because the labor-intensive work can be done in many low-wage countries. But in other industries, a growing number of domestic and foreign companies — including General Electric, Caterpillar, Toyota and Siemens — are opting to build or expand their facilities in the U.S., particularly in the Southeast, where labor costs are relatively low.

For the first time, some small contract manufacturers in the U.S. are beating bigger rivals in Asia, the center of global industrial production.

At Zentech Manufacturing in Baltimore, the company’s president, Matt Turpin, recalls his skepticism when salesmen told him two years ago about their efforts to land a contract making 5,000 to 10,000 wireless printers. He was sure an overseas competitor would get the work.

“I don’t know why you’re wasting your time chasing that business,” he says he told the sales force.

Zentech ultimately won the contract, and Turpin says the company added at least five full-time employees to his shop, where the front office window is draped with a large American flag.

William Davidson, a test technician at Zentech, now earns $17.50 an hour working on those printers and other company products. Before getting hired at Zentech three years ago, Davidson, 62, had been unemployed for 18 months. His previous employer, a Delaware repairer of cable boxes, had moved its operations to Mexico.

“The worst part of it was we had to help them pack things up for the move,” he says.

In Wisconsin, Aaron Jagdfeld, Generac’s chief executive, said offshoring “didn’t feel right” because of the families affected by layoffs, but the company needed to make the move to remain competitive.

Its sales rose to $1.5 billion last year, and it now has about 3,300 workers, including 720 in Whitewater, its largest plant. But the last decade also saw costs surge in China while they increased little in the United States.

What began as a $100 gap in the cost of producing an alternator narrowed as the Chinese yuan jumped in value and Chinese wages and other costs soared.

The tipping point came when Generac had enough sales to justify investing millions of dollars in new equipment for the Whitewater plant. The company can now produce an alternator with one worker in the time it took four workers in China.

Although a small price gap remains, Jagdfeld figured that having greater control over delivery would make up the difference.

More frequent power outages — from Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, not to mention this past winter’s ice storm in the South — have brought bursts of orders for portable generators, challenging the company’s inventory and delivery capabilities.

“We were constantly fighting a battle for what product was needed, and we were always guessing wrong,” Jagdfeld said. “We kept saying: ‘If we could just control the alternator, we’d have a better opportunity to respond more effectively.’ ”

Those sorts of calculations lead experts who have studied reshoring to see potential — particularly for makers of appliances, transportation equipment, electronics and machinery — to return jobs to the United States.

Led by these industries, 21 percent of large manufacturers in the United States said they were already returning production or would do so over the next two years, according to a survey Boston Consulting conducted last summer.

“In 2012, companies told me ‘you’re crazy,’ ” said Hal Sirkin at the consulting group’s office in Chicago. “Now they’re doing it — maybe not all the way, but they’re testing the waters.”


Gay? Fascism Blooms Full Flower in the South Carolina Academic Community

By: Dennis S
Wednesday, May, 14th, 2014, 10:37 pm   

The fine for daring to practice academic freedom in the state of South Carolina has just been levied. And unlike fines for polluters and financial industry crooks, this punitive money action is accompanied by a significant punishment.

Regular visitors to Politicus know the back story. A couple of South Carolina colleges offer incoming freshmen the chance to academically learn, first-hand, that unlike the Republican perception of homosexuals, the population of gays and lesbians does not consist of monsters and child-stalkers, anymore than the population as a whole. The plan of the University of South Carolina Upstate and College of Charleston was to have incoming students read a book on each campus, “Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio” on the USC Upstate campus and “Fun Home” at Charleston, the latter hugely praised by the nation’s literary critics back in 2006. Students would then talk about the books and meet a few real-live members of the LGBT community and chat with them face-to-face about their experiences as a repressed minority. There was even a multi-day gay-themed symposium called Bodies of Knowledge on the schedule. The symposium has been around since 2007.

The right-wing immediately started waving their own good book in the air. Their elected homophobic state legislators went to work in earnest. And since election season (the primaries are June 10th) was fast approaching, these snooty academic liberals were going to be the perfect vote-grabbing foil and were going to pay the price while the politicians collected their prize at the ballot box.

As a consequence of relentless pressures, the University of South Carolina Upstate has just announced $450,000 in cuts and “changes” to save money. Their prime target was the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, though the money saved by their action was miniscule. As of July 1, the Center is closed forever or at least until the fascist legislators retire permanently from the General Assembly. It gets even more Mussolini-esque. The legislature that was preparing to pull $17,000 in funding for a “gay” book to be read by those incoming freshmen I mentioned, is now mandating (but I thought Republicans hated mandates) that the money be spent to “teach” the U.S. Constitution, ironically something that’s been done in every college history class forever, plus the Declaration of Independence, also a staple of every history class and the Federalist Papers, 85 delightfully controversial essays written by the really big names present at our countries founding and also bound to be taught and hotly discussed in any and all higher education history classes, not to mention subsequent law school classes.

Methinks the underlying scheme here is to encourage right-wing profs to give much extra classroom attention to the Federalist Society under the guise of the federalist papers. The Federalist Society is an august group of radicals that included the likes of late Robert Bork and features four of the still kicking current right-wing Supreme Court justices as members.

Of one thing you can be certain. South Carolina’s higher education institutions have been forewarned by the political power structure to adhere to Republican Party-line propaganda in all historical matters, brainwash your students and keep out the gays. If you don’t follow these warnings, we’ll essentially defund your school and you’re on your own. There’s no other way to interpret these most recent actions.

Caught squarely in the middle, Upstate’s relatively new Chancellor, Dr. Tom Moore. He said the cuts are needed due to “increasing costs and declining state support.” Moore, in an extremely disingenuous statement, said closing the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies is not in response to external pressure (ROTFLMAO)!!!

Two state senators, Lee Bright and Michael Fair, sadly within spitting distance of my domicile, insisted that the ‘Bodies of Knowledge’ symposium was pure indoctrination designed to recruit gays on campus. Yes, Virginia, there are legislators who are that clueless. I went to both days of the symposium, and if it were any comfort to this pair, I’d say 95% of the audience was already gay and frankly, the gathering was mostly an excuse to feel accepted in the hateful setting that identifies itself as South Carolina.

What’s puzzling is that while the brick and mortar facility that housed the Women and Gender Studies Center is being closed, the course work will still supposedly continue. It was, after all, housed in the College of Arts and Sciences and included an office and a lounge area. So, on one level, it’s closing doesn’t amount to a hill of beans fiscally. It was just a vehicle to transport a message of hate of the school’s gay population and by extension, women in general. A university spokesperson was quoted in the local paper as saying there are no plans to use that space in a different way, telling the press that, in fact, “We hope to expand course offerings and closing the center will allow the director to return to the classroom and teach on a full-time basis.” Double-talk? Triple-talk? Pure you know what?

The chancellor said closing the center will actually strengthen interdisciplinary minors like women’s and gender studies. Let’s cut to the chase here. The message is, none of that LGBT stuff at USC Upstate. No more Bodies of Knowledge. Nothing about Women and Gender Studies will touch on anything to do with lesbians. Here’s the headline: USC UPSTATE CAVES TO HOMOPHOBES – WE DON”T WANT THE GAY OR LESBIAN COMMUNITY WITHIN A THOUSAND MILES OF OUR CAMPUS or if they are, they’d better find the most hidden of closets to hide in. I’m Tom Moore, PhD and I make a boatload of money (around $200,000) and I’m not risking it for a lifestyle that the locals hate. Ergo: I’ve cast my lot with the bible-thumping gay-bashers!

A rare reasonable response came from Democratic (of course) state Senator, Brad Hutto. Hutto is highly respected as a man of integrity and is running against bought and paid for, U.S. Senator, Lindsey Graham who has a war chest in excess of seven million big ones. Hutto talked about the Republicans obsession with sexuality and homosexuality and opined, “Until we get over it, we’ll continue to invite upon ourselves publicity that is unmerited.” I agree with the part about getting over it. I couldn’t disagree more with the suggestion that the publicity is unmerited. These are fascist actions and have no place in a democratic (as in democracy) legislative body, ever.

A closing note; $200,000 is apparently the going rate for political acquiescence in the South Carolina academic community.


Sarah Palin Hits the Dumpster as Alaskans Prefer Hillary Clinton for President

By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, May, 14th, 2014, 3:09 pm

And now for a break, we head over to the Daily Fail section where Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican Vice Presidential nominee, is so hated in her own state that it would go for Hillary over her. Only 19% of Alaskans think Sarah Palin should run for President, 74% want her to sit 2016 out, according to a PPP poll.

The place where they know her best hates her the most.

    Only 19% think she should seek the White House, compared to 74% who think she should sit it out. Even among Republicans just 24% want her to run while 70% believe she should take a pass. Palin is actually so weak that she would trail Hillary Clinton 44/41 in a hypothetical contest, even as the rest of the Republican field would lead Clinton. Mike Huckabee has a 43/42 advantage over her, Chris Christie is up 44/41, Rand Paul is up 46/40, and Jeb Bush is up 47/41.

Half of you are already screaming “Who cares!” for good reason — the media’s long obsession with Palin’s alleged “charisma” (of which we saw little after Blood Libel tapped her out) is only now starting to dwindle. But there is a valid and important political point to make upon Palin’s long-wished for exit.

Palin stands for all that is wrong with the current Republican Party. Once voters got to know her, they really didn’t like her. She motivated the GOP base but ultimately helped Democrats, just as she continues to do every time she opens her mouth; while the snide contempt born of the heady and dangerous combination of ill-informed arrogance that Palin specializes in is popular among conservatives, it is not often appealing to the masses — even when it’s hidden behind a pretty face.

The Republican base worshiped her, and some still do. She fed red meat directly into their quivering rage, and made Obama hate viral among a certain set. God had picked her to be President, after all, and only Obama and democracy were standing in the way. But in the end, she was nothing more than yet another puppet, to be used and tossed away when the party was done with her.

Palin was easy to use because she never questioned why the GOP would elevate someone they knew so little about. A more astute person, less blinded by ambition and ego, might have noticed the desperation and asked themselves what end their presence achieved. In Palin’s case, she was the “real conservative” (in spite of her record) and the attack dog, as VP nominees often are, but it went to her head. Instead of understanding her role, she got high off of the rarefied air and became deluded as to her purpose.

The Republican Party chose Palin because of her charisma, beauty and personal story. She was a perfect short term poster girl to distract from and disguise their Bush policies. As the GOP sinks deeper in denial instead of addressing and facing their inherent problems, they will be forced to rely more and more upon people as egomaniacal and deluded as Palin (see Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, et al). No one else would let themselves be used, unless they were so embedded in the establishment that they knew their family would benefit in the long term.

And this matters, because the faces change but the policies do not. The Republican Party keeps searching for the right puppet. The one who can fool the people. They’ve tried true believers and craven cons, they’ve tried a common woman who is not a witch (!) and a plumber. They’ve tried Richie Rich and they’ve tried their Policy Nerd (aka, the guy who can’t do math and bases policy on a work of fiction).

So Sarah Palin matters because she represents all that is wrong with the GOP, and until they fix it, they should not be allowed to forget her so quickly.


Fox News Reveals Their Real Agenda By Congratulating Karl Rove On Hillary Clinton Smear

By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, May, 14th, 2014, 7:14 pm   

Fox News is revealing their true agenda by congratulating Karl Rove for smearing Hillary Clinton by claiming that she has brain damage.

Video of Fox News praising Rove:

Eric Bolling said on The Five, “I think he’s an evil genius. I love Karl…Look, he planted a seed, and now the left and the right are watering it like crazy, and guess what? It’s starting to sprout, and you have to ask the question. Is she capable? Is she okay? What’s with the lens on that left eyeglass after her head bump? Bolling went on to claim that Rove was actually wrong, because President Clinton said she was injured for 6 months, not three.

However, former President Clinton never said that his wife was injured for six months.

Video of former President Clinton:

Clinton said, “They went to all this trouble to say that she staged what was a terrible concussion that required six months of really serious work to get over. It’s something that she never lowballed with the American people, never tried to pretend it didn’t happen.”

Remember, Karl Rove and Fox News are claiming that former Sec. of State Clinton was hospitalized for three months. Former President Clinton said that she had to work for six months to recover. That doesn’t mean that she was hospitalized, incapacitated, or not capable of doing her job.

The only seed that is growing is the seed of new conspiracy theory that has sprouted up on Fox News and talk radio. Rove has been widely mocked to the point where he had to try to walk back his comments by claiming that he never said that Hillary Clinton has brain damage.

I’ll bet the Koch brothers and the other right wing billionaires don’t think Rove is such a genius after he wasted $300 million of their money on a completely losing effort in 2012. Rove got a 1.3% return on the billionaires’ investment in 2012. That means that only 1% of the money got the supported candidate elected, or the opposed candidate defeated. To put it another way, 99% of the money that Rove spent lost. Those aren’t exactly genius results.

Fox News’ willingness to give ol’ Turd Blossom a hearty pat on the back shows what the pretend news organization is all about. Fox News is shifting gears away from President Obama and is becoming more and more about stopping Hillary Clinton. Fox is trying to push the brain damage conspiracy under the disguise of news.

This is a three part fail. Karl Rove isn’t a genius. Fox News isn’t news, and Hillary Clinton does not have brain damage.


Toxic? Not So Much. President Obama’s Daily Approval at 50%

By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, May, 14th, 2014, 2:05 pm   

Don’t stand so close to me!

That’s the siren song playing about Democrats running from “toxic” President Obama.

Rasmussen is not exactly high on our list of reliable polling companies. But we work with what we have and what the media uses to judge things, and within that context, it’s worth noting that your President — the one that the media keeps tittering Democrats must distance themselves from because he is so hated — has a 50% approval rating in Rasmussen’s daily presidential tracking poll Wednesday.

    The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Wednesday shows that 50% of Likely U.S. Voters approve of President Obama’s job performance. Forty-eight percent (48%) disapprove (see trends).

    The latest figures include 24% who Strongly Approve of the way Obama is performing as president and 34% who Strongly Disapprove. This gives him a Presidential Approval Index rating of -10.

Fifty percent approval, and since more people hate him with a passion than love him with a passion (according to this poll and per the year of fake scandals your media though it would be good for democracy to pass on as fact), he has a negative 10 approval index. In the scheme of things, this means little. Yet, every time the presidential approval dips below 50%, the media and Republicans jump all over it to prove that their dreams really can come true.

No one brings up Bush’s approval numbers for context, with his low of 25% according to Gallop and the high of 90% after the terrorist attacks forever skewing his two term average. It helped Bush that the Democrats didn’t spend the years after 9/11 accusing Bush of the truth, after all, he really had been warned in advance that terrorists planned to use a plane to attack the US. Since Nixon, the media can’t seem to find their bravado and courage during a Republican administration, so it all comes rushing to the fore during a Democratic administration in an effort at redemption. Perhaps this explains why they have passed on Republican lie after Republican lie as fact (“IRS scandal”, “Benghazi emails” etc.).

Also, Democrats lead Republicans by two points on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot according to a Rasmussen telephone survey. Forty percent of likely voters would vote for the Democrat in their district’s congressional race, while 38% would choose the Republican instead. This number is too close to mean much, but it does defy all of the conventional wisdom going around town. Of course, the results of generic polls can change dramatically when well known names are dropped in the mix, let alone a lot of dirty money. But the idea here is that voters right now prefer what they are hearing from Democrats in general.

How this is possible when the media has assured us that Republicans have this locked up because Obamacare sucks so badly, I have no clue, except we notice that suddenly no one is talking about Obamacare anymore, now that it’s working. Apparently, the punditry couldn’t quite sort that glitches would be fixed and people would selfishly put their own lives ahead of partisan politics and dirty money induced hatred.

But to be fair, there are some states where both Obamacare and the President have been attacked so consistently and the people so misinformed about both that the well has been poisoned. So there are some states where a Democrat might judiciously distance themselves from the President. But this is not an overall trend, as is being claimed.

Remember these same people told you that the Obama coalition wouldn’t show up in 2012 because they were so “disappointed” in him. It turns out the media didn’t know who the Obama coalition were, and they not only showed up, but in record numbers. The trick is to get those folks to turn out in the midterms.

The media suffers from Hollywood syndrome — if it happened before it will happen again, the existence of all other variables is denied. So here we are being treated to all Presidents are like W, which means that W wasn’t so bad. All second term presidents’ party lose the midterms because the people like balance. Etc.

And Obama is toxic. We have been told this by the same people who told us how we all hated affordable healthcare because there was a glitch in the online sign up program. Yet, even after six years of endless smears about his birth certificate, his alleged Socialism, his race, and lies about his religion, Obama is consistently well liked and trusted by the people.

Obama did win two elections, the last one in a landslide, even as he was being relentlessly maligned. And the media told us that was a real horse race with King Romney who hated half the country. The media just doesn’t get the Obama coalition. They’ve been wrong about them from the beginning and they continue to be wrong, because they listen to the loudest voices instead of the majority.

Maligned? Yes. Toxic? Not so much.


Liberal States Outperform Conservative Ones as Republicans Push More Trickle Down

By: Rmuse
Wednesday, May, 14th, 2014, 10:17 am      

It is not like Republicans have an affinity for science, but they appear to be applying a bastardized form of the scientific method to their perpetually failed economic policy in order to prove it works as advertised despite it is indeed a raging fail. The Oxford Dictionary defines the scientific method as “a method or procedure that consists of systematic observation, measurement and experiment, and the formulating, testing, and modification of hypotheses” to reach a fact-based conclusion. It is beyond question that after over thirty years, the Republican “trickle down” economic experiment continues providing the same empirical data and living results of starving government of revenue, depressing economic growth, increasing debt and deficit, and retarding job creation.

The trickle down “theory” was more than adequately tested for eight long and painful years during the George W. Bush administration, and all it proved to Republicans was the theory needed more experimentation and trials even after it piled up debt and deficit, killed jobs, and sent the economy into a severe recession. At the federal level, Republicans led by Paul Ryan have passed House legislation reverting to failed Bush-era economic policies of massive unfunded tax cuts for the rich, increased defense spending, and job-killing domestic program cuts as if there will be any different outcome than during Bush-Republican years. Similar “experiments” have been enacted in Republican states such as Kansas, and it is no surprise the economic devastation resulting from huge unfunded tax cuts for the rich and corporations coupled with domestic spending cuts killed and prevented job creation, halted economic growth, and left the state with revenue shortfalls due to reach over a billion dollars within a year.

Kansas is a particularly interesting “experiment” because the state’s “extremely conservative” Governor Sam Brownback had the temerity to blame the state’s budgetary woes and financial meltdown on “the failed economic policies of the Obama Administration” he asserted “are affecting states throughout the nation.” However, not only are Brownback and Kansas Republicans shifting blame for their economic ineptitude on President Obama, they are lying through their teeth and ignoring empirical data revealing that the President’s economic policies are great success stories because they are the polar opposite of Brownback and Republicans’ economic disasters. In fact, Democratic states like California that enacted economic policies Brownback claims are failures are thriving in every category and, like on the national level, were necessary to reverse the damage of eight years of a Republican administration following Bush and now Brownback’s failed economic policies.

On the national level, instead of a crushing budget shortfall, job losses, and a Moody’s credit downgrade Brownback’s trickle down tax cuts produced, the Congressional Budget Office reports that the Treasury Department posted a $114 billion surplus in April alone that is the largest for that month since 2008. The Congressional Budget Office also projected the 2014 shortfall declined to 2.8% of GDP, or $492 billion that is $23 billion below its own forecast a few months ago. The surplus is partly due to a minute tax increase on the richest one percent as well as more Americans leaving the ranks of the unemployed that eviscerates the thirty-plus year contention that greater tax cuts for the rich equals more jobs and increased revenue; an assertion that Kansas’ economic meltdown, job losses, and budget shortfall disproves. Brownback asserted that “economic policies of the Obama Administration are affecting states throughout the nation,” but like his claim Kansas’ economic disaster if proof tax cuts for the rich are working as planned, it is more lies to cover Republican economic policy failures.

California suffered an eight year Brownback-Bush-Kansas economic agenda under a Republican governor and legislature that killed jobs, blew up the deficit, and devastated the state’s economy, but the state rebounded magnificently with a Democratic governor and legislature. According to a recent comprehensive study, states that embrace conservative economic policies far underperform states enacting liberal economic policies, and California is a prime example of what liberal success looks like. California barely raised taxes on the rich similarly to federal policies and the result is within a year it is posting record budget surpluses, paying down its Republican deficit, increased spending for education, infrastructure, and domestic programs, and adding jobs at a rate outpacing the federal numbers and most states in the nation. In fact, the more liberal California economic agenda is producing more jobs, economic growth, and deficit reduction than any Republican “pro-business” agenda that is wreaking havoc on the Kansas economy.

Despite overwhelming empirical data proving that the Kansas and Bush economic agenda is  the quickest path to decimate an economy and kill jobs, House Republicans passed Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity (for the wealthy elite) budget that makes Brownback’s budget disaster look tame in comparison. In fact, Ryan’s budget is far worse for the economy, jobs, and debt and deficit than anything Bush or Brownback could possible impose and yet Republicans claim it is a job-creation, economy-growing, poverty halting, and deficit reducing bonanza despite projections it will increase the deficit and bring economic growth to a screeching halt. Still, Republicans could not help themselves from recently passing two permanent and unfunded tax cuts for the rich and corporations that add to the deficit and create no jobs. Republicans are not experimenting any longer because they know precisely what their “pro-business” tax cutting agenda will produce; more wealth for the one percent, higher debt and deficit, and annual budget shortfalls for the nation’s economy.

It is a travesty that racial animus prevents conservative, teabagger, libertarian, religious right, and Republican voters from spending even one minute perusing empirical data from the Bush-Republican era and states such as Kansas to comprehend their economic policies are disasters. However it is likely they know conservative economic policies are a path to poverty, job losses, and budget shortfalls regardless they are at the state or federal level, but their racial hatred of President Obama drives them to support the conservative economic agenda simply because it is the opposite of Obama’s.

Sam Brownback’s claim that Kansas’ revenue shortfall, economic underperformance, credit downgrade, and job losses are due to Obama’s economic policies is a bald-faced lie. The President’s economic policies have far outperformed Kansas or Bush-Republicans’ pro-business economic failures, and like California’s liberal economic policies are producing revenue surpluses, jobs, debt and deficit reduction in spite of minute tax hikes conservatives claim is the death knell for economic growth or job creation.

Still, Republicans are determined to repeat the same failed economic policies that have proven time and time again to retard economic growth, increase debt and deficit, kill jobs, and starve government  of revenue, but they can never claim their “experiment” needs more time to produce the desired results. Their scientific experiment in trickledown theory has been peer-reviewed, replicated ad nauseum, and studied to death with the same conclusions; Republican, libertarian, and Koch brother economic policies just fail.

If any American needs a real world, data-rich example of what America’s economy would look like with Republicans in charge, they can either harken back to eight years of Bush-Republicans’ economic disaster, or look at Kansas’ current economic catastrophe. If, however, they want to see the success of  liberal economic policies and cannot put aside their racial hatred of President Obama to see the nation’s declining debt and deficit, job creation successes, revenue surpluses, and economic growth they can look to California’s successes. Only a fool, or anti-Obama racist, would opt for Republican’s failed economic policies and unfortunately states like Kansas and Missouri, and every former Confederate state are overflowing with racists and fools who will vote for Republicans because they oppose the President and economic growth, job creation, and budget surpluses the rest of the nation are weary of sharing with self-loathing cretins supporting their own economic demise.

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US threatens to 'bleed' Russia if it disrupts Ukraine vote


Ukraine's interim leaders are battling to keep the country together for the May 25 vote in the face of a bloody insurrection in the east and a tense standoff with former master Russia.

Kiev on Wednesday hosted the first round of so-called national unity talks under an OSCE initiative to try to resolve the crisis on Europe's eastern flank and allow the vote to go ahead.

Crucially however, the pro-Moscow rebels fighting against Kiev's rule in the industrial east of the country were not at the table, despite Western calls for inclusive talks.

A US official told reporters in London that Washington and its allies are working "to send a unified message to pro-Russian separatists and Moscow that any disruption of these elections will result in the next round of costs for Russia including sectoral sanctions".

President Barack Obama has already drafted an executive order to impose sanctions across key sectors such as banking, energy, defence and mining, adding to punitive measures already imposed by Washington and Brussels.

"There are a lot of things we can do to create bleeding," the official said, adding that the aim was "to use a scalpel rather than a hammer".

Facing the very real prospect of Ukraine's partition, interim President Oleksandr Turchynov had said Wednesday that his administration was ready to reach out to pro-Russians in the east but that the separatists must first lay down their arms.

"We will not yield to blackmail," he said. "We are ready to listen to the people of the east but they must not shoot, loot or occupy government buildings."

- Another round of talks -

Without the rebels there was no progress reported at the Kiev talks, but the US official said Ukrainians were working to hold another round in the restive east on Monday.

Western leaders see the May 25 vote as crucial for the future of Ukraine after Russia's much criticised annexation of Crimea in March, which plunged relations between Moscow and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.

Dozens of people have been killed in the southeast since mid-April as government troops battle rebels now occupying over a dozen towns and cities.

Fears are growing that Ukraine could tear apart after the separatists declared independence in the industrial regions of Donetsk and Lugansk following weekend referendums branded illegitimate by Kiev and the West.

"When Ukrainians kill Ukrainians I believe this is as close to a civil war as you can get," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.

"In east and south of Ukraine there is a war, a real war," he said, voicing "strong suspicions" Western mercenaries were operating on Ukrainian soil but insisted Russia had no intention of sending in troops.

President Vladimir Putin said last week Russia had withdrawn its estimated 40,000 troops from the border, but the West says it has seen no sign of a major pullback.

- Fears on gas -

Russia and Europe are also locked in a dispute over Ukraine's gas debt after Moscow threatened to turn off the taps if Kiev fails to pay a $1.6 billion bill by June 3.

Putin said Thursday that Russia was still open to talks on the issue but complained that Brussels had failed to make any specific proposals.

Nearly 15 percent of all gas consumed in Europe is delivered from Russia via Ukraine, which is already facing further economic gloom despite a $17 billion IMF aid package.

The International Crisis Group think-tank said the Kiev government, set up in February after months of pro-EU protests triggered the ouster of the Kremlin-backed administration, faced an "uphill struggle" to make it to the election.

It said the "weak" interim leadership -- often depicted as fascists by Moscow -- appeared incapable of keeping order in the southeast and called on it to urgently reach out to the people there to listen to their demands for minority rights and self-government.

The White House said it understood Kiev's reluctance to invite "those with blood on their hands" to the talks but said those with concerns about self-rule and constitutional reforms deserved to be heard.

The east of Ukraine remains on edge, with fighting flaring almost every night around rebel flashpoints and reports -- difficult to confirm -- of attacks on election centres and government officials.

Kiev says almost 50 people have been killed in the east since mid-April, including members of the armed forces as well as civilians and separatists.

Another 42 perished in clashes and a building inferno in the southern port city of Odessa in early May.

On the ground, an AFP photographer reported that scores of armed men had stormed a town hall in the city of Antratsyt, part of the Lugansk region.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe roadmap calls for "restraint from violence, disarmament, national dialogue, and elections".

OSCE-appointed mediator Wolfgang Ischinger said the talks should contribute to an "electoral process that is inclusive, honest and transparent".

While voicing support for the OSCE plan, the Kremlin insists Kiev first halt so-called "reprisal raids" in the east and hold negotiations over regional rights.

Moscow has however rolled back its vehement opposition to the election, with the speaker of the State Duma, Sergei Naryshkin, describing it as "the lesser of two evils".


U.N. Warns of 'Alarming Deterioration' of Rights in East Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 May 2014, 12:13

The United Nations warned Friday of an "alarming deterioration" of human rights in eastern Ukraine, where the government is battling an insurgency by armed pro-Russian separatists.

In a new report, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay also voiced deep concern about "serious problems" of harassment and intimidation facing the Tatar community in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in March in the face of international outrage.

The report catalogues a litany of "targeted killings, torture and beatings, abductions, intimidation and some cases of sexual harassment" which it said was carried out by anti-government groups in the east of Ukraine.

In a veiled reference to Russia, Pillay called on "those with influence on the armed groups responsible for much of the violence in eastern Ukraine to do their utmost to rein in these men who seem bent on tearing the country apart".

The West has repeatedly warned Russia about the situation in the east, threatening further sanctions if Moscow or its "proxies" disrupt the election.

Moscow swiftly denounced the findings of the report, which was issued just days before a May 25 presidential election in Ukraine the West sees as crucial for the country's survival.

"The complete lack of objectivity, blatant discrepancies and double standards leave no doubts that (the report's) authors were performing a political put-up job aimed at clearing the name of the self-declared authorities in Kiev," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Kiev's interim leaders have for a month been waging a military offensive against the separatists who took up arms against the central government after the ouster of the Kremlin-backed president in February.

Moscow, which routinely refers to the Kiev offensive as a "reprisal" raid, accused the U.N. report of "suppressing information about civilian casualties and trying to lay the blame for human rights violations on 'pro-Russian forces'."

Ivan Simonovic, the U.N. assistant secretary general for human rights who presented the report in Kiev, said the global body had also received a long Russian list of violations allegedly committed by the Ukrainian side.

"We pay extreme attention to all allegations," said Simonovic.

Fighting rages almost every night, particularly around the rebel flashpoint of Slavyansk, and dozens of people have been killed since Kiev launched what it called its "anti-terrorist operation" in mid-April.

In the east, the U.N. report said there has been a "worrying" rise in abductions and unlawful detention of journalists, activists, local politicians, representatives of international organizations and members of the military.

It said while some people have been released, the bodies of others have been dumped in rivers or other areas and some remain unaccounted for, particularly in the Slavyansk area.

Another 83 people are also still missing after the original pro-EU protests which erupted in Kiev in November last year, with dozens killed in several days of bloodshed.

The report highlighted concerns about the deteriorating climate for the media operating in the east, where rebels have proclaimed independence in two regions following weekend referendums branded illegal by Kiev and the West.

In Crimea, the report said the annexation of the Black Sea peninsula by Russia in March following a similar independence vote was causing problems for many residents, particularly the ethnic Tatar community.

It listed cases of physical harassment and intimidation, restrictions on media and fears of religious persecution among practicing Muslims in Crimea.

The annexation of the territory -- considered illegal under international law -- is "creating difficulties" for Crimean residents, including the halting of an HIV/AIDS program, the difference in Ukrainian and Russian laws and thorny citizenship issues.

More than 7,200 people from Crimea -- mostly Tatars -- have become internally displaced in Ukraine, it added.


Workers Seize City in Eastern Ukraine From Separatists

MAY 15, 2014

MARIUPOL, Ukraine — Thousands of steelworkers fanned out on Thursday through the city of Mariupol, establishing control over the streets and banishing the pro-Kremlin militants who until recently had seemed to be consolidating their grip on power, dealing a setback to Russia and possibly reversing the momentum in eastern Ukraine.

By late Thursday, miners and steelworkers had deployed in at least five cities, including the regional capital, Donetsk. They had not, however, become the dominant force there that they were in Mariupol, the region’s second-largest city and the site last week of a bloody confrontation between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian militants.

While it was still far too early to say the tide had turned in eastern Ukraine, the day’s events were a blow to separatists who recently seized control here and in a dozen or so other cities and who held a referendum on independence on Sunday. Backed by the Russian propaganda machine and by 40,000 Russian troops just over the border, their grip on power seemed to be tightening every day.

But polls had indicated that a strong majority of eastern Ukrainians supported unity, though few were prepared to say so publicly in the face of armed pro-Russian militants. When President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia withdrew support for the separatists last week, calling for a delay in the referendum and for dialogue on Ukraine’s future, the political winds shifted, providing an opening that the country’s canny oligarchs could exploit.

The workers who took to the streets on Thursday were among the hundreds of thousands in the east who are employed in metals and mining by Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, who only recently went beyond paying lip service to Ukrainian unity and on Wednesday issued a statement rejecting separatism.

Critics say Mr. Akhmetov could have prevented much of the bloodshed in the east if he had taken a strong stance sooner. But his lieutenants say he decided to confront the separatists out of a deep belief that independence, or even quasi-autonomy, would be disastrous for eastern Ukraine. Mr. Akhmetov urged his employees, whose jobs were at risk, to take over the city.

The workers, who were wearing only their protective clothing and hard hats, said they were “outside politics” and were just trying to establish order. Faced with waves of steelworkers joined by the police, the pro-Russian protesters melted away, along with signs of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic and its representatives. Backhoes and dump trucks from the steelworkers’ factory dismantled the barricades that separatists had erected.

Metinvest and DTEK, the metals and mining subsidiaries of Mr. Akhmetov’s company, System Capital Management, together employ 280,000 people in eastern Ukraine, forming an important and possibly decisive force in the region. They have a history of political activism stretching back to miner strikes that helped bring down the Soviet Union. In this conflict, they had not previously signaled their allegiance to one side or the other.

It remains possible that the separatists could regroup and challenge the industrial workers, though few were to be found in and around Mariupol on Thursday, even in the public administration building they had been occupying.

“We have to bring order to the city,” Aleksei Gorlov, a steelworker, said of his motivation for joining one of the unpaid and voluntary patrols that were organized at Ilyich Iron and Steel Works. Groups of about six steelworkers accompanied two police officers on the patrols.

“People organize themselves,” he said. “In times of troubles, that is how it works.”

Workers from another mill, Azovstal Iron and Steel Works, took one side of the city, while the Ilyich factory took the other. Both groups were trying to persuade longshoremen to patrol the port, Mr. Gorlov said.

The two steel mills fly Ukrainian flags outside their headquarters, though like so much else in Ukraine, the lines of loyalty are muddled. At least a portion of the police in the city mutinied last Friday, leading to a shootout with the Ukrainian National Guard that killed at least seven people.

The chief executive of Ilyich Steel Works, Yuri Zinchenko, is leading the steelworker patrols in the city. He said the company had remained on the sidelines as long as possible, while tacitly supporting unity with Ukraine by conveying to workers that a separatist victory would close export markets in Europe, devastating the factory and the town.

Though the workers had differing views of the new government in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, on the whole they supported the patrols to restore order, employees and managers said. “Everybody can have their own opinion, but not at work,” Sergei Istratov, a shift boss at the factory, said. “At work, you have to do what the factory demands.”

Yuri Ryzhenkov, the chief executive of Metinvest, which is ranked among the top five steel producers globally, said managers had been conveying to workers: “The most important thing you have is the steel mill. If you have the steel mill, you have jobs, salaries and stability for your families.”

Once patrols began, he said, representatives of the Donetsk People’s Republic visited the Ilyich factory, demanding to know what was happening. “They were not very friendly at first,” Mr. Ryzhenkov said. But the patrols were welcomed in town, he said, and militants had little option but to acquiesce, at least in Mariupol.

“The Donetsk People’s Republic understands if they attack unarmed local people, they will lose all support here,” he said.

The effort is more than ad hoc. The coal and steel workers will soon have uniforms for the street patrols, Metinvest executives said, with patches identifying them as members of the “Volunteer People’s Patrol.”

If the patrols are successful, they said, they will try the tactic in most major cities in the Donetsk region, though not in Slovyansk, a stronghold of pro-Russian militants where Metinvest and DTEK have no factories or mines.

Ilyich Iron and Steel, a grimy scene of mid-20th-century industrial sprawl, is one of Ukraine’s most important factories, producing five million tons of slab steel a year. About 50,000 people work in the steel industry in Mariupol, a city of 460,000. So far, 18,000 steelworkers have signed up for the patrols, Metinvest executives say.

“There’s no family in Mariupol that’s not connected to the steel industry,” Mr. Zinchenko said in an interview at his desk, which was decorated with a miniature Ukrainian flag. He said he had negotiated a truce with local representatives of the Donetsk People’s Republic, but not with the group’s leaders.

Mr. Akhmetov’s statement detailed the daunting problems facing the regional economy — and his assets — if the Donetsk People’s Republic were to win its struggle with Kiev.

“Nobody in the world will recognize it,” he said in a videotaped statement. “The structure of our economy is coal, industry, metallurgy, energy, machine works, chemicals and agriculture, and all the enterprises tied to these sectors. We will come under huge sanctions, we will not sell our products, cannot produce. This means the stopping of factories, this means unemployment, this means poverty.”

Russia itself exports steel, so it has never been a significant market for the output of the Donetsk region.

Residents welcomed the steelworker patrols for bringing an end to chaos and insecurity. They said masked men had robbed four grocery stores, a shop selling hunting rifles and a jewelry store, and that they had burned down a bank.

The crowds of pro-Russian protesters who had jeered and cursed Ukrainian soldiers last week were nowhere to be seen. On the city’s central square Thursday afternoon, a pro-Russian rally drew a few dozen protesters, who were watched over by a group of steelworkers.

The government in Kiev rebutted reports that the police chief had been found hanging and dead in the town. He had indeed been kidnapped by gunmen and was severely beaten, the Interior Ministry said, but he was eventually rescued.

“There are a lot of idiots with guns in my city,” said Aleksey Rybinsev, 38, a computer programmer who added he welcomed the new patrols, though he feared they might develop into another informal militia group. “I haven’t seen a policeman all day. I didn’t see them, and I didn’t want to see them.”


Russia Tells Ukraine: Cash in Advance for Gas

MAY 15, 2014

MOSCOW — Russia said on Thursday that it would stop supplying gas to Ukraine at the end of the month unless the country paid for it in advance, increasing the pressure on Kiev’s financially pressed government as it struggles to contain a growing rebellion in the country’s east.

In a letter to European leaders on Thursday, President Pig V. Putin of Russia said that Ukraine’s gas debt had ballooned in the last month and that Russia had received “no specific proposals” for Ukraine to “meet its contractual obligations and ensure reliable transit.”

“Given the circumstances, the Russian company has issued an advance invoice for gas deliveries to Ukraine, which is completely in accordance with the contract, and after June 1 gas deliveries will be limited to the amount prepaid by the Ukrainian company,” the letter, which was released on the Kremlin’s website, read.

The Pig first warned that Gazprom, the Russian state energy company, would demand payment in advance for deliveries to Ukraine in a letter to European leaders in mid-April.

“Undoubtedly, this is an extreme measure,” he squealed at the time.

On Thursday, the Pig snorted that Ukraine’s debt to Gazprom, had grown from $2.237 billion in early April to $3.508 billion by mid-May.

The new numbers reflected a sharp and controversial increase in gas prices for Ukraine that has been seen as a punitive reaction to the ouster of President Viktor F. Yanukovych in February.

In a deal signed by the Pig and Mr. Yanukovych in December, Russia agreed to sell gas to Ukraine at a price of $268 for 1,000 cubic meters. Last month, after Mr. Yanukovych’s ouster, Gazprom raised the price to $385 for 1,000 cubic meters, the standard measure for gas in Europe and a severe blow to the fledgling government as Ukraine teetered on the verge of bankruptcy.

Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s interim prime minister, said earlier this month that Ukraine would be willing to repay its gas debt under the strict condition that it pay the lower price.

At a news conference in Kiev earlier on Thursday, Ukraine’s deputy energy minister, Igor Didenko, said the country was ready to pay $4 billion for gas to Gazprom by the end of May but only at $268.50 for 1,000 cubic meters, the Interfax news service reported.

In his letter, the Pig snorted that Ukraine’s failure to pay the debt came despite the country receiving $3.2 billion from the International Monetary Fund as the first tranche of a $17 billion loan to the country.

“I would like to emphasize once again that we were forced to make this decision,” the Pig squealed. “We also hope that the European Commission will more actively engage in the dialogue in order to work out specific and fair solutions that will help stabilize the Ukrainian economy.”


Russian Businessman Under Sanctions Fires Broadside at West

MAY 15, 2014

BERLIN — The president of Russian Railways, Vladimir I. Yakunin, a longtime associate of the Pig president, Putin, is persona non grata to Washington. Sanctioned by the United States in retaliation for support of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, he has been banned from entering the country and any assets there have been frozen.

But Mr. Yakunin, a familiar figure in European and Asian capitals as he seeks to expand his rail network, is under no such restrictions in Europe. On Thursday in Berlin, he co-hosted a conference titled “Europe: Lost in Translation?” at which he treated Germans still advocating dialogue with Russia to a blast of icy condemnation direct from Moscow.

With language and tone that recalled the rhetoric of the Cold War, Mr. Yakunin criticized Germans as kowtowing to the United States, assailed the West for what he saw as devotion to unbridled capitalism and warned above all against trying to force Russia to adopt Western cultural values.

Pointing to the victory of the bearded Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst last weekend in the annual parade of kitsch that is the Eurovision song contest, Mr. Yakunin stoutly defended Russia’s law against what Moscow considers gay propaganda and accused the West of seeking to impose “vulgar ethno-fascism.”

“The antique definition of democracy had nothing to do with bearded women,” said Mr. Yakunin, who was sanctioned by the United States on March 20.

Mr. Yakunin, a patron of the Russian Orthodox Church, also criticized same-sex marriage and same-sex families. “I will believe in this only on the day when I see a pregnant man,” he said. The relative openness in the West to gay and lesbian relationships rankles many Russians.

Citing research that he said showed teenagers are highly vulnerable on questions of sexual identity, Mr. Yakunin rose to the defense of Yelena Mizulina, a deputy in Russia’s state Duma who wrote the law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relationships to minors,'’ which set off an international outcry, including calls to boycott the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Matthias Platzeck, a German Social Democrat who is the chairman of the German-Russian Forum, a generally pro-Moscow business group, in turn said that the Russian law was detrimental to community values and urged Russia to be more self-critical in its handling of the Ukraine conflict in order to enable a fresh start in relations with the West.

About 200 people attended the meeting, mostly Germans and Russians. Such meetings take place on almost a weekly basis in Germany, which has traded and warred with Russians for centuries and even during the Cold War hosted a stream of senior Soviets unseen in other NATO countries.

Since the crisis in Ukraine erupted, many of the meetings have been downgraded, but polls show that at least half of Germans support a continuing dialogue with Russia, some citing Germany’s guilt for the deaths of millions of Russians and Ukrainians in World War II.

German business is by no means alone in Europe in defending dealings with Russia, which often involve years of investment, personal ties, exchange of know-how and energy dependency. So far, the West has threatened more severe sanctions on Russia only if Moscow invades Ukraine or significantly disrupts its scheduled presidential election on May 25.

Mr. Yakunin found himself in unlikely agreement with Western conservatives in assessing sanctions so far. “Pure propaganda” that had not hurt business, he said.

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« Reply #13422 on: May 16, 2014, 06:21 AM »

05/16/2014 01:04 PM

Turkey Mine Disaster: Erdogan Loses His Grip

An Analysis By Raniah Salloum

This week's mine explosion in Soma, Turkey has killed almost 300 people and galvanized the country. Now Erdogan's insensitive outbursts, and a video of him calling a man an "Israeli brute," are spurring widespread anger.

This Tuesday's explosion in a coal mine near Soma, Turkey, is the worst industrial disaster in the Turkish history. So far, the bodies of 284 people have been recovered, but no end to the horror is in sight.

At least 55 people are still missing, and relatives wait nervously for news while a fire, sparked by the explosion, supposedly still burns deep down in the mine. Nobody has been pulled out alive since Wednesday. The anger of the friends and families of the victims is growing.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has brought economic growth to Turkey. But at what price? The opposition and unions are accusing government security and health inspectors of neglecting their duties as the country's business community seeks ever greater profits.

"This disaster is unlike the events that we've seen in Turkey thus far -- the Gezi protests, the corruption scandals, the police violence against demonstrators," says Umut Ozkirimli, a Turkey expert at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the Sweden's Lund University. "Not only because of the scope of the tragedy, but because of the people that lost their lives."

Those who suffocated in the mine shafts were common people, people with whom everyone in Turkey can sympathize. "So far Erdogan has always managed to convince a part of the country that what is happening is merely a conspiracy to bring down the government," says Ozkirimli. "This time, the government's failures are clear."

Accusations of Corruption

Even those who usually stick with Erdogan are outraged, and commentators close to the Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) are asking for the resignation of those ministers responsible, especially Taner Yildiz, the minister of energy and natural resources.

Apparently, there were warning signals: Ozgur Ozel, a representative from the region's Kemalist opposition, had pushed for more inspectors in the mines just a few weeks earlier, because many people from his electoral district had complained about the mine's safety situation. But the AKP turned a deaf ear to the request on April 29, 13 days before the cataclysmic disaster.

The Ministry of Labor had never noticed anything abnormal in the mine. In March it had explained that inspections had detected nothing to find fault with. Yoldiz had personally praised the mine as exemplary.

The unions have made it clear what they see as the cause of the failure: corruption. They would like the mine inspectors to be independent and no longer on the payroll of the mining company in the future.

Critics accuse the Erdogan government of having a close relationship to the mining sector. They are already investigating possible ties between Erdogan's party and the company behind the mine.

Footage of Erdogan Attack

For his part, the prime minister is blundering and teetering. The normally charismatic man held a catastrophic speech in which he downplayed the disaster, arguing that these kinds of things have happened before, citing examples from 19th-century England. Liberal commentators scoffed that Erdogan himself had just admitted that under his government, Turkey is at least 100 years behind.

On Wednesday, AKP party headquarters were attacked with stones. The prime minister can't take a step in public without being scolded. And Erdogan's supporters can't seem to get a grip on the situation -- one of his confidants was photographed on Wednesday angrily kicking a protester.

Now another video has emerged of Erdogan himself insulting a young man standing in front of a supermarket in which the prime minister was planning on taking refuge from protesters in Soma on Wednesday. At one point, Erdogan grabs the man by the nape and yells, "Why are you running away, you Israeli brute?" Taner Kuruca, who claims to be the man in the video, told TV channel Kanal D that he "didn't think the prime minister did it on purpose," but would nevertheless like an apology.

The incident not only confirms the prime minister's notoriously temperamental character and testifies to the dramatically worsened relationship between Turkey and Israel, it also raises the question: Is this man still suited to lead a country?

On August 10, Erdogan will have to confront voters' anger during the presidential election. "He will win, because there aren't enough alternatives," Ozkirimli, the Turkey expert, predicts. "But he'll hardly be able to continue ruling as he has."

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« Reply #13423 on: May 16, 2014, 06:22 AM »

France gives itself new takeover rights

French government can block foreign takeovers in 'strategic' industries threatening US group General Electric's plans to bid for French assets

Reuters, Thursday 15 May 2014 17.16 BST   

The French government has given itself a new power to block any foreign takeovers of French companies in "strategic" industries.

A decree, published in the official state gazette on Thursday will allow the state to block foreign takeovers in the energy, water, transport, telecoms and health sectors. Any such acquisition will now need the approval of the economy minister.

The new decree could be an obstacle to US group General Electric's planned $16.9bn bid for the energy assets of French industrial group Alstom .

The government had not previously given any hint it was considering such a measure, although economy and industry minister Arnaud Montebourg has openly criticised the Alstom-GE proposal and instead advocated a European tie-up with Germany's Siemens .

Cash-strapped Alstom, which also builds France's high-speed trains, was bailed out by the French government a decade ago and is seen by many in France as an embodiment of the country's engineering prowess.

A source close to Montebourg said the veto will not necessarily be used, but is aimed at giving France a seat at the table.

The powers granted are similar to those that already exists in other European countries and in the US, where the president has powers to block certain deals.

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« Reply #13424 on: May 16, 2014, 06:25 AM »

Eurozone voters have been blackmailed and betrayed. No wonder they're angry

The financial crisis led to a eurozone shaped by Germany's narrow interests as a creditor. We need a freer, fairer Europe

Philippe Legrain   
The Guardian, Thursday 15 May 2014 19.56 BST   

The European Union was often unpopular even before the financial crisis. But the long slump and eurozone policymakers' blunders have created a political firestorm. Support for the EU has plunged to all-time lows. Most Europeans now associate it with austerity, recession and German domination, with constraints on what they can do, rather than on how we can achieve more together. Anti-EU parties, often xenophobic and comprising reactionary extremists, are set to do well in next week's European elections. Europe urgently needs to change course.

But while critics such as Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen are generally wrong, and their solutions worse, it is foolish to deny that terrible mistakes have been made in recent years, especially in the eurozone. As I know first hand, having worked directly with the European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso, EU institutions are often dysfunctional, unduly dominated by Germany, and not democratic enough. To start to put things right – and thus win back support for the EU – one needs to be unflinchingly honest about what has gone wrong.

The crisis has shredded trust in mainstream politicians' competence and motives. They failed to prevent the crisis and have proved incapable of resolving it. They bailed out banks and their creditors while slashing spending on poor schoolchildren. They inflict suffering on others, while remaining largely unscathed themselves. No wonder voters are angry.

In Britain they can at least throw the rascals out. But in the eurozone, flawed and unjust policies have been imposed by policymakers in Berlin, Brussels and Frankfurt who are unaccountable to local voters.

When Greece's debts became unbearable in 2010 they should have been written down, with the French, German and other banks that had recklessly lent to the Greek government taking losses.

But to bail out those banks, eurozone governments instead compounded the problem, lending their taxpayers' money to Greece. The bad lending of private banks thus became obligations between governments. To try to recover their loans, eurozone policymakers then imposed brutal austerity, causing a longer and deeper slump than that which Germany suffered in the 1930s.

Blackmailed by the threat of being forced out of the euro, local taxpayers in Ireland, Portugal and Spain were also bullied into paying for foreign banks' mistakes. In late 2010, the Irish government tried to backtrack on its foolish guarantee of all Irish bank debt, largely owed to German, British and French banks. But Germany, the European commission and, above all, the European Central Bank strong-armed Ireland into continuing to repay foreign banks with taxpayers' money. The bill for bailing out the foreign creditors that financed Ireland's bust banks is €64bn – €14,000 for every person there.

Abusing the desire of the Greeks, the Irish and others to be part of Europe – and their fear of being forced out of the euro – to impose iniquitous conditions on them is the very opposite of the solidarity on which the European project is meant to be based.

Thus, a crisis that could have united Europe in a collective effort to curb the banks that got us into this mess has instead divided it, pitting creditor countries – primarily Germany – against debtor ones, with EU institutions becoming instruments for creditors to impose their will on debtors.

Policymakers also wrongly concluded from Greece that Europe as a whole faced an immediate fiscal crisis – and while failing to tackle the banking and private debt problems they lurched into collective austerity, depressing demand so much that they worsened public finances. When their further mistakes sparked panic, they demanded ever more austerity. A study by a European commission official using its own economic model concludes that this collective, excessive austerity caused a cumulative loss of nearly 10% of eurozone GDP – and nobody has been held to account. That the ECB – finally – halted the panic, austerity has been eased off and economies have stabilised hardly excuses the earlier mistakes, while unemployment remains extremely high.

The enduring legacy of bailing out the banks that lent to Greece is a rigid system of centralised fiscal controls. Because Angela Merkel agreed to breach the legal stipulation that eurozone governments cannot bail out their peers, German taxpayers suddenly feared they were liable for everyone else's debts. So she demanded much greater control over other countries' budgets – and the commission was delighted to oblige.

This EU straitjacket is economically dangerous, because countries that share a currency need greater fiscal flexibility, not less. And it is politically poisonous, because when voters throw out their government, EU fiscal enforcer Olli Rehn pops up on television to insist the new one stick to the previous one's failed policies. Denying voters democratic choices about tax and spending alienates people from the EU. And if voting for mainstream politicians doesn't lead to change, it is no surprise that people turn to the extremes.

Instead of a eurozone shaped by Germany's narrow interests as a creditor, we need one that works for all its citizens. Zombie banks need to be restructured; excessive debts written down.

More investment is needed, along with reforms to boost productivity (and thus wages). Elected governments need much greater discretion over their budgets, constrained by markets' willingness to lend and, ultimately, by the possibility of default. A fairer, freer and richer eurozone is in Germany's enlightened self-interest too.

The EU as a whole also needs to be more open, accountable and democratic. Europeans need a much greater say over the very political decisions that the EU takes – and the right to change course. To save the EU, we need to fix it.

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