05/15/2014 02:59 PM
Civil Servants Circled By Foes: Misunderstood at the Helm of the EU
By Christoph Pauly and Gregor Peter Schmitz
The highly qualified civil servants at the EU Commission wield tremendous power, but their frequent lack of political savvy has turned many Europeans against them. SPIEGEL profiles the EU's executive in advance of the European election.
It's barely nine hours into the new working week, and the European idea is, at least figuratively, already in need of a new bailout package. A handful of officials sit at a square table in the office of the European Commission's chief spokesman, discussing the fact that the press, as usual, hasn't been very friendly in recent days.
One press officer notes that a report is circulating in French newspapers claiming that the European Commission has issued a new regulation on how high children are permitted to climb on ladders. It's obviously a misinterpretation, he says -- the Commission will have to issue a correction. Meanwhile, the British media is fulminating against Brussels' red tape, even though the rules in question were imposed by the British. It seems yet another correction is needed. Finally, they address the Financial Times' editorials on the state of the euro zone. "Predictably skeptical," says one official.
Moods only seem to brighten at one point during the meeting, when they discuss an interview EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger gave the Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper. In the article, Oettinger argues that the number of EU Commissioners -- 28 -- may seem high, but a country like Germany has 180 ministers and state secretaries at the federal and state level. The headline of the interview is a direct quote from Oettinger: "In Brussels, People Work Until 8 p.m. on Fridays." There's eager nodding of heads in the room. At least they got that right, one says.
Afterwards, the civil servants disperse into their honeycomb-like offices, where alerts constantly tell them when something critical about "Brussels" pops up in Google News.
An Indefinable Mishmash
This is just a glimpse into the everyday schizophrenia at the European Union's Brussels central nervous system. The Commission's 33,000-plus employees are overseen from Berlaymont, a 13-story high, flashy building in the heart of Brussels' European District. The European Commission is an enormously powerful institution, but it is a strength that its workers try their best not to flaunt. The halls here are, instead, permeated by the fear that it could lose its power.
The Commission is an indefinable mishmash of government and public agency -- one that conducts foreign policy like a foreign ministry and regulates competition in the manner one would expect from a national cartel office. Most of the policies and directives that are ultimately applied in national law in European Union member states originate with the European Commission. And because the Commission has responsibility for monitoring adherence to European law, it also has the ability to levy billions of euros in fines. These punitive measures can be applied against Internet companies like Google or Microsoft if they go afoul of EU competition rules, but also against a state like Germany if the Commission finds it has violated regulations by, for example, providing an illegal state-funded bailout of a company like carmaker Opel, whose days appeared to be numbered several years ago when its US parent company General Motors hit the worst of its crisis.
The Commission is a highly attractive place to work: For every position it fills, it receives hundreds of job applications from across the Continent. If a high-flying 27-year-old lands a job there, then it is not unusual for him or her to be negotiating issues relating directly to the interests of a powerful CEO or government leader -- a phenomenon more typical of a place like elite global consulting firm McKinsey. If they succeed in working their way up to the highest staff positions in the Commission, civil servants in Brussels can even manage to take home more pay each year than a German chancellor -- largely due to higher allowances and lower taxes.
A Focus on Modesty
But the focus among Commission employees is on modesty. They're fond of mentioning that, in contrast to other European leaders, their boss, Commission President José Manuel Barroso, doesn't have his own jet and flies on commercial airliners. Official state meetings are held in a "reception hall" whose leather furniture is so shabby that an Asian visitor once offered to send more respectable furnishings. They also like to brag that the Commission, which has administrative responsibilities for around 500 million EU citizens, has only about the same number of employees on its payroll as the city of Munich.
There's also good reason for EU officials to diminish themselves to the outside world. They're fully aware of the extent to which they have become the scapegoats of a Europe that has become increasingly unsure of itself amid the global financial and European debt and euro crises. The center-left Social Democrats, conservative Christian Democrats, business-friendly liberals and euroskeptics with parties like the upstart Alternative for Germany -- whether in Berlin, Athens or Rome -- all seem ready to pounce on the Commission's eurocrats in the run-up to the European Parliament elections, which commence next Thursday. They allege the Commission members are overzealous in their work, slapping regulations down on everything from pickles to shower heads.
The subject came up in the most recent televised debate between the two leading candidates in the elections for the European Parliament, Christian Democrat candidate Jean-Claude Juncker, and Social Democratic Party contender and current president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz. On multiple occasions, Schulz angrily stated that he was "not a eurocrat," a word he considers to be a pejorative.
People don't seem to want to differentiate. Even if EU member states or local communities are responsible for pushing new regulations, it's easier for many to just blame Brussels. They don't seem to care much that it sometimes makes sense to forge single, EU-wide regulations out of a tangle of national ones -- rules that, for example, eliminate steep roaming fees when people travel from one European country to the next or standardize mobile phone charging cables. Whatever gains the applause of national voters always seems to have the greatest currency.
Inevitably, entities subjected to such great external pressure turn inward, and over the decades, the eurocrats have developed a true esprit de corps. They view themselves as misunderstood people who are the only ones capable of protecting the European idea because, they believe, they are the only ones who understand it.
'Tunnel Vision' and 'Overeagerness'
Few are more familiar with this dichotomy than Johannes Laitenberger, 49, Barroso's chief of staff. He has a youthful face, a receding hairline and wears the kind of muted suit that officials on the European Commission seem to purchase by the dozen when they start their jobs. Laitenberger was born in Hamburg and raised in Portugal. When he and his boss are alone, they speak Portuguese.
Laitenberger is also fully perceptive of how many people imagine everyday life in Brussels to be. "They think we all drive eco-friendly cars to our giant offices and consider among ourselves each morning how we can create new regulations for the citizens of Europe," he says. Laitenberger openly admits that there is the occasional bout of "tunnel vision" or "overeagerness" in his administration, but he says that EU regulations generally address issues for which legislative debates are already happening at the national level. He also notes that key decisions can only be made by the commissioners -- with one representing each member state -- and that legislative proposals must be approved by both the European Parliament and the European Council, the powerful body representing the leaders of the 28 member states.
"As EU officials, we work like sailors," he explains. "It's the politically legitimated commissioners who stand on the captain's bridge, and they are very visible to everyone."
But how visible are they? Politicians like Androulla Vassiliou, the Cypriot commissioner for education, culture and multilingualism, or Maros Sefcovic, the Slovak commissioner for inter-institutional relations and administration, are hardly household names. The current organizational arrangement -- one commissioner for each member state -- will remain in place because the 28 EU nations scuppered the original plans to reduce the number of seats on the Commission. This means that the cacophony created by many unknown, inexperienced commissioners will likely continue.
'Well-Meaning Bureaucrats Who Often Lack Political Sense'
They are up against a highly disciplined corps of civil servants led by Catherine Day, 59, whom many regard to be the most powerful woman in Brussels. The razor-sharp blonde-haired Irish national was appointed secretary general of the Commission in 2005. When EU leaders spent long nights in meetings during the euro rescue, it was self-evident that Day should sit right at the negotiating table with Merkel and other EU leaders.
Colleagues have even come up with the nickname "Catherine Day and Night" because of her tireless engagement. Like many top EU civil servants, Day doesn't feel the need to explain her actions publicly, and she has given virtually no interviews to the media.
She is also typically aware of her own power. "Her word is law," says one senior EU official, who compares Day's role to that of the great inquisitor in Schiller's drama "Don Carlos," a man who holds all the strings in the king's court in his hand.
One of Day's implemented rules is that the Commission's civil servants are only permitted to answer queries made by members of the European Parliament with a maximum of 20 lines. When a member of parliament expressed her doubt that every political question could properly be answered so tersely, the Irish secretary general rebuked: "I have yet to see a question that cannot be answered in 20 lines."
Inverting Brussels' Political Hierarchy
If an individual commissioner is unhappy with her initiatives, Day can make life uncomfortable. When former Health Commissioner John Dalli wanted to create stricter tobacco regulations, she informed his most senior staffer that she would like to see analysis on whether less severe measures could be used. Of course, she ultimately got her way. The fact that top civil servants within the EU Commission have the ability to make a commissioner's life more difficult or keep him or her on a tight rein can at times invert the political hierarchy in Brussels.
Day also coordinates the weekly meetings of the cabinet chiefs, where numerous decisions are made before the commissioners even meet. Lengthy discussions aren't desired in those meetings, according to Günter Verheugen, who was the German commissioner in Brussels until 2010. "Many Commission decisions are made without any real involvement by the commissioners," he claims. "We are partly giving command of Europe over to well-meaning bureaucrats who often lack political sense."
Verheugen quickly experienced just how complicated internal dynamics can be within the Commission. When he entered into office, his chief of staff openly told him that, as director general, he would be the one making the decisions and that the commissioner could take over the public relations work if he wanted. This didn't fly well with Verheugen. The German soon learned that commissioners do not have decision-making capacity over choosing their own personnel and he had trouble getting rid of the man.
The top officials' superiority complex is part of their esprit de corps, tied to serving European unity. Their career paths cross again and again over the years -- they know all the tricks for maneuvering politically in Brussels, while commissioners from national capitals are usually only there for a few years and have to learn things the hard way.
"The role of the Commission is to identify common European interests and act accordingly. And that's what we do," says Jonathan Faull, who's been in the service for 36 years. As secretary general of the European Single Market, Faull has an important role in Brussels. Last year, he managed to come up with the backbone of the banking union almost by himself. He says that he and his close coworkers locked themselves into one of the Commission's typically poorly decorated offices with a blank sheet of paper. They emerged with a mechanism that makes owners, instead of taxpayers, pay for the liquidation of ailing banks.
Uncoupled from National Politics
But the specialized talents of EU experts like Faull also harbor a serious weakness: Their expertise is uncoupled from national politics, where it is public opinion and votes -- and not just theories -- that matter. The bureaucrats' shock at the notion that their long-gestating ideas and suggestions might horrify people can be almost endearing at times.
This is illustrated by the current disagreement over Europe-wide water use in shower heads. EU regulations will likely also soon extend to electricity-intensive vacuum cleaners and new coffee dispensers whose heating pads keep coffee warm for longer than 40 minutes.
Some of these initiatives can be explained in retrospect, but only then. The EU Commission had been tasked by EU member states to lower energy consumption, and in order to reach this goal, the producers of, for example, vacuums were forced to abide by new technical standards. The German government wants to use the European Ecodesign Directive to reach its climate protection goals as well -- "it's even in the coalition agreement," people at the Commission say, proudly, referring to the deal between Merkel's conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats to govern together in Berlin.
However, as the Green Party discovered during the last German election, when they suggested meat-free "Veggie Days," voters tend to loathe excessive paternalism, and don't want Brussels telling them how much water can come out of their shower heads.
The Commission has an early warning system in order to guard against these problems, but it doesn't always work.
When, for example, the southern EU countries wanted to boost olive oil production, they suggested that Agriculture Ministry officials should ban open olive-oil carafes from European restaurant tables, supposedly to protect customers from substandard oil -- but really to make more money. Then, about a year ago, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper found out about the eager Commission officials' attempt to take over European restaurant tables and, on a Friday morning, the newspaper's article about the project landed on Marianne Klingbeil's desk.
The German spends up to 14 hours a day in her office, evaluating reports -- at least 120 per year, each 30 pages long -- about the possible outcomes of EU legislation. But in this case, she was outwitted by another part of the Brussels apparatus: "When experts from the member states couldn't agree, the Commission immediately stopped this politically."
Does the EU Commission Take People Into Account?
These communication breakdowns often become points of attacks for euroskeptics. "It's exasperating how little this EU Commission takes into account the daily reality of people in Europe," complained Horst Seehofer, the head of Germany's right-leaning Christian Social Union.
In moments like that, the Commission's clerks, who must be able to explain the complex political issues, could benefit from the support of member country government. Instead, politicians in European capitals cities often prefer to rail against Brussels. Former Social Democratic Chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück once fulminated against the "EU energy-saving light bulb," even though it was his own party colleague Sigmar Gabriel who initially proposed phasing out the classic incandescent light bulb in Europe.
Even during the euro crisis, member countries celebrated moments of progress as if they were national triumphs while blaming almost every setback on the Commission's failure. The Brussels authority has already been burdened with the unpopular task of supervising countries' economic and budgetary policy -- a trade-off countries made in exchange for euro bailout funds. All EU states had to submit their 2014 budgetary plans to the Commission in October of last year. The plans were then dissected by about 700 staffers at the Directorate General for Economic and Financial Affairs (Efcin), a Commission unit that can request that crisis countries cut health expenditures or pension funds if money is missing from the budget.
Inherently Limited Power
And that case in point also highlights the inherent limits of the Commission's power in Europe. Firmer sanctions against countries who fail to meet the standards must first be approved by the European Council. There, the large member states can organize a blocking minority, which is how France repeatedly got an extension of the deadline to push its budget deficit to below 3 percent of gross domestic product as stipulated by euro-zone rules. President François Hollande said he wouldn't allow interference into his country's matters.
Even Germany long ago stopped being shy about pushing its own interests through, at the expense of the Commission. Angela Merkel's decision to allow an already negotiated compromise on limiting future CO2 car emissions to fall apart -- because it didn't suit BMW and other car German carmakers-- is legendary in Brussels.
As a result, many Brussels officials hope that the winner of the European election could, as the expected new head of the Commission, emerge as a counterweight to Merkel. In the past few months, Schulz, the Social Democrat, has already met with secretary generals, like Faull, who are presenting him with lots of ideas about what the next Commission should tackle -- against the will of some member states, if necessary.
Faull has seen lots of leaders come and go, and seems to be depending, more than anything, on the strength of the apparatus. The Brit says, "I have dedicated my life to the European Union." Like the majority of his 33,000 colleagues, he is expected to stay in Brussels.
Translated from the German by Daryl Lindsey and Thomas Rogers
Russia halts rocket exports to US, hitting space and military programmes
Russia announces decision to halt export of crucial rocket engines in response to US sanctions over annexation of Crimea
theguardian.com, Thursday 15 May 2014 17.57 BST
Russia's deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, has announced it will halt the export of rocket engines crucial to the US military defence and space programmes.
The move marks a serious deterioration in US-Russian cooperation in space, which for two decades had remained largely above Earthly politics. It could prove a serious set back for the ailing US space programme.
The Russian RD-180 engine has been in production since 1999. The US has imported more than forty of them to power its Atlas V rockets into space.
Designed to be expendable, the RD-180s are not recovered and refurbished after use, so a constant supply is needed to keep up with the US launch manifest.
Although Nasa relies on the Atlas V to launch some of its deep space probes, such as the Curiosity rover currently operating on Mars, most are used to put AmericanUS spy satellites and other classified payloads into space.
Under the new restrictions, it is only rockets for military rather than civilian launches that would be disallowed. But in practice it will make it difficult for the US to import any of the engines because it will hard to prove the hardware is not destined for a military programme.
Russian's move is the latest step in an escalating series of sanctions affecting space co-operation brought about by the Russian annexation of Crimea.
On 3 April, Nasa announced it was suspending its partnership with Russia over all space activities apart from the International Space Station (ISS).
It was a risky move because the US lost the ability to launch its own astronauts with the abandonment of the space shuttle programme in 2011.
Private companies are now developing replacement capsules but flights carrying astronauts will not happen until December 2015.
Until then, the US has no choice but to rely on the Russians.
Now Moscow has signalled the end of the ISS collaboration, too. Russian news agency Interfax reported on Tuesday that Moscow would not extend its collaboration on the ISS beyond 2020.
The countries have been working together on the ISS since 1993, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. "After 2020, we would like to divert these funds [used for ISS] to more promising space projects," said Rogozin. These could include collaborations with the Chinese on other space stations or even moon bases.
While the space station is the most visible sign of the superpowers' collaboration, it is the loss of the RD-180 engines that will really hurt, according to space commentator Brian Harvey, who has reported on the Russian space programme since the 1970s.
"For the Americans not to take RD-180s any more would probably be quite disruptive of their space programme in the medium-term," he says. This is because of the time it would take to develop a replacement.
"Most people don't realise just how advanced and powerful Russian rocket engines are," says Harvey.
He estimates that it would probably take five years for the US to build up the necessary technologies and manufacturing expertise to replace the engines. But it does open another opportunity for private companies including PayPal founder Elon Musk's Space X which is developing the Dragon Capsule to ferry people and cargo to the ISS.
On 30 April, Space X filed a protest with the US court of federal claims over bulk-buying of the Russian rockets. A temporary ban on importing the RD-180s was ordered because the company responsible for their manufacture, NPO Energomash, was said to be under the control of Rogozin, who is on the US sanction list over Ukraine.
Following an appeal by the US State, Treasury and Commerce departments, the US federal court dissolved the ban but now Rogozin has announced his own prohibition, the US may be forced to develop a replacement engine after all.
In the meantime the US must rely on already bought RD-180s and stocks are dwindling. The US was expecting the delivery of another five this November but the restriction places these in doubt.
"With a bit of sense, the present episode in Ukraine will be over before that happens," says Harvey.
Iran Says Nuclear Talks 'Very Slow and Difficult'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 May 2014, 08:27
Iran's lead negotiator in high-stakes nuclear talks with world powers in Vienna said Friday that discussions were moving forward only "very slowly and with difficulty".
"It's a good atmosphere and discussions are moving forward in a spirit of goodwill, but they are moving very slowly and with difficulty," the IRNA news agency quoted Abbas Araqchi as saying.
The comments came as a fourth round of talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany neared its scheduled end in the rainy Austrian capital.
The negotiators aim to nail down an exceedingly complex lasting accord limiting Iran's nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of sanctions by the time a November interim deal expires on July 20.
Failure could have calamitous consequences, potentially sparking conflict -- neither Israel nor Washington rules out military action -- and creating a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
Negotiators could in theory extend the July 20 deadline to win more time, but Presidents Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani could struggle to keep skeptical and impatient U.S. and Iranian hardliners at bay.
After three rounds that Washington said helped both sides to "understand each other's positions", the United States and Iran have said this time they wanted to start drafting the actual agreement.
Even though there have been indications of some narrowing of positions, for example on the Arak reactor, both sides are sticking to the mantra that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
The biggest issue and main sticking point is uranium enrichment, a process making uranium suitable for peaceful uses like power generation but also, when highly enriched, for a bomb.
Multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions have called on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, as has the U.N. atomic agency's board of governors.
The powers want to extend the time Iran would need to enrich its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to weapons-grade by slashing the number of centrifuges from the current 20,000, of which half are operating.
The Islamic republic denies wanting nuclear weapons, saying it needs the enriched uranium to fuel a fleet of nuclear reactors that it is years away from having, and other peaceful uses.
"Even with just a few thousand first generation (IR-1) centrifuges... Iran would have more than sufficient capacity for its foreseeable 'practical' nuclear power reactor fuel needs," said Daryl Kimball from the Arms Control Association.
Iran is also developing faster centrifuges that a spokesman in Tehran said Wednesday could enrich 15 times faster and which are undergoing "final mechanical testing".
Another problem issue is Iran's development of ballistic missiles, something which Tehran has said should not be part of the nuclear talks.
Washington disagrees, saying that the November deal committed Iran to address all U.N. Security Council resolutions, one of which -- passed in 2010 -- called on Iran to stop missile development.
Also to be resolved is the International Atomic Energy Agency's long-stalled probe into alleged past "military dimensions" to its program before 2003 and possibly since.
A Thursday deadline for Iran to clear up one small part of this -- its stated need for certain detonators -- passed without comment from either the IAEA or Iran.
After a meeting on Monday, a terse IAEA statement said only that it had "noted that Iran has taken several actions and that some related work continues."
"This is hard. This is difficult. If it weren’t difficult, it would have been resolved a long time ago," a senior U.S. official said at the start of the talks.
Congress Party Concedes Defeat as India Backs Modi
By ELLEN BARRY
MAY 16, 2014
NEW DELHI — The Indian National Congress, which has headed India’s government for nearly all the country’s post-Independence history, conceded defeat to the opposition leader Narendra Modi on Friday, as voters rendered a crushing verdict on their country’s flagging economic growth and a drumbeat of corruption scandals.
Election officials had not yet finished counting the 550 million votes cast in the five-week general elections, but the contours of Congress’s defeat quickly became clear. Rahul Gandhi, the heir apparent to the political dynasty that forms the Congress party’s backbone, appeared headed for a narrow victory in his own home constituency, a stronghold he won by more than 300,000 votes in 2009.
In a humiliation for Mr. Gandhi, 43, a group of workers gathered around party headquarters in the capital city, chanting “Bring Priyanka, Save Congress,” a reference to his younger sister, who is seen as the more charismatic politician. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a Congress spokesman, conceded that the party had been defeated.
“If the leads are correct, the results are conclusive,” he said, in a telephone interview. Another spokesman, Randeep Singh Surjewala, also confirmed the loss, saying “We humbly accept the verdict of the people of India. We shall continue to play with rigor the role of a constructive and meaningful opposition – the role that the people of India have assigned to us.”
After two hours of counting Mr. Modi’s Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, was assured of winning more than 272 seats, enough to form a government without brokering a coalition deal with any of India’s fractious regional leaders. If that happens, Mr. Modi will take power with the strongest mandate of any Indian leader since Rajiv Gandhi of the Indian National Congress took office in 1984, riding the wave of sympathy that followed the assassination of his mother, Indira Gandhi.
Drummers, stilt-walkers and women in colorful saris had converged at B.J.P. headquarters in Delhi, where party workers had laid out 100,000 laddoos, the ball-shaped sweets ubiquitous at Indian celebrations. Among the revelers was Surinder Singh Tiwana, 40, a lawyer.
“I can equate my jubilation today, probably, to my mother’s on the day I was born,” Mr. Tiwana said. “This is a huge change for our country, a change of guard. A billion plus people have announced their mandate in no uncertain terms. They have voted for a progressive, stable government.”
The elections came during a period of rapid transition in Indian society, as urbanization and economic growth break down generations-old voting patterns. With his conservative ideology and steely style of leadership, Mr. Modi, who came from a humble background and rose through the ranks of a Hindu nationalist group, will prove a stark departure from his predecessors in that office.
Mr. Modi is a regional leader — only the second ever to take the prime minister’s seat — known for maintaining tight control over the bureaucracy and political system in Gujarat, the state he has led for 13 years. His image as a stern, disciplined leader has attracted vast throngs of voters, who hope he will crack down on corruption, jump-start India’s flagging economy and create manufacturing jobs.
But it also worries many people. He is blamed by many of India’s Muslims for failing to stop bloody religious riots that raged through his home state in 2002, leaving more than 1,000 people dead. Others fear he will try to quash dissent and centralize authority in a capital that has long been dominated by the Indian National Congress and the liberal internationalists around it.
“He is very much the man who came from nowhere,” said Swapan Dasgupta, a senior journalist who supports Mr. Modi. “There is a great deal of nervousness that the old establishment which ruled, that it will somehow be threatened. That may not be a bad idea, in terms of encouraging a greater deal of social mobility.”
“I think over all we are going to see a churning process,” he added.
Last summer, when Mr. Modi’s campaigners insisted that the B.J.P. could win the 272 seats necessary to form a government, the ambition seemed far-fetched.
After a decade in power, Congress had succeeded in introducing a package of generous new welfare programs for poor and rural Indians, who still make up the majority of the electorate. Congress and its allies had a proven track record of campaigning in India’s villages, in contrast to the B.J.P., which has long been seen as a party of urban traders.
But Mr. Modi seemed to benefit from changes in the electorate. Nearly 100 million new voters were registered ahead of this vote, including a vast influx of young people, and turnout broke all previous records, hitting 66.4 percent.
Despite a period of rising incomes, a tide of economic discontent has helped make the challenger Narendra Modi the front-runner for prime minister.
Compared with their elders, these young voters were unmoved by the decade-old history of the Gujarat riots, which had prompted many Western governments, including the United States, to impose visa bans on Mr. Modi. They also proved far less emotionally bound to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has served as the backbone of the Congress party since India won its independence, surviving the wrenching assassinations of two of its members.
Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express, a daily newspaper, called them “post-ideological Indians.”
“These people are born after Indira Gandhi’s assassination,” he said. “For a lot of them, the 2002 riots are not even a faint blur. What is imprinted on their memory is five years of nongovernance, and a massive loss of white-collar jobs. Once you have gotten used to 7 percent growth, to go down to 4.5 is a real recession.”
The Congress-led government has often seemed rudderless in its second term.
Its prime minister, Manmohan Singh, a distinguished economist, was a barely audible figure on the national stage, and often appeared subordinated to the party’s president, Sonia Gandhi, who was setting the stage for her son, Rahul, to take over.
The party’s leaders responded slowly, if at all, to bursts of social media-driven street activism that coalesced around the issue of corruption, and after a brutal gang rape that shook Delhi in 2012. The party’s presumed prime ministerial candidate, Mr. Gandhi, was a stilted campaigner who always appeared reluctant to take the reins of the political dynasty. In the final stage of the campaign, he ceded the spotlight to his more charismatic sister, Priyanka.
In the end, Mr. Modi’s victory will be seen largely as a function of his opponents’ weakness, said the historian Ramachandra Guha.
“The context here is the opposition: His rival is an heir apparent who is a bad orator, unwilling to take administrative responsibility,” he said. Though Congress has, in the past, regularly returned to power after being voted out, Mr. Guha said he thought the dynasty’s younger generation might have trouble regrouping.
“The larger sociological shift is that Indian society is becoming more democratic and less feudal, less deferential to family privilege,” he said. “It’s possible that Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi cannot revive Congress, because India has moved on.”
Narendra Modi: the controversial embodiment of a changing India
Simple beginnings, ascetic ways and unapologetic Hindu nationalism help sweep BJP's leading candidate to victory
Jason Burke, south Asia correspondent, in Delhi
theguardian.com, Friday 16 May 2014 07.53 BST
Who is Narendra Modi? Phoebe Greenwood profiles India's next prime minister
Narendra Modi's journey to the front step of the prime minister's office in the heart of New Delhi has been long – and unlikely. Born in a small town in Gujarat, the western state two hours' flight from the capital, Modi comes from a caste near the bottom of the tenacious Indian social hierarchy. His parents were poor and conservative and the future prime minister helped out on the family tea stall after school. At around the age of 10 he started attending meetings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a vast and influential Hindu revivalist conservative movement that has been banned three times in India. He only joined formally at a later date.
His first job for the RSS involved sweeping for a senior official. Later assigned to the Bharatiya Janata party, the affiliated but independent political party, Modi forged his own path, ousting opponents one by one until he was appointed chief minister of Gujarat in 2001. He has gone on to win three elections there, largely rooted in the consistent economic growth in the state, and these victories have given him a platform from which to outflank the entrenched old guard of the BJP itself.
The charges that he allowed or even encouraged mob violence in 2002 in Gujarat – which he denies and which a supreme court investigation found were not supported by the evidence it was able to examine – reinforce his status as a man who is separate from the political establishment. Around 1,000 people, largely Muslim, died after 59 Hindu pilgrims were killed in an arson attack. A similar stain on a reputation would have finished the career of some – and indeed for many years he was a political pariah, internally as well as internationally. Only in the last two years have the UK, the EU and finally the US ended boycotts.
Hartosh Bal Singh, political editor of Caravan magazine, argues Modi's record, in 2002 and subsequently, boosted his appeal to a large rightwing Hindu constituency who “are not unsympathetic to the view that [Hindu] culture has not received its due and that here is a man who can stand up for Hindus and assert that they can and will rule in their country”. If Modi largely escaped judicial censure, at least one close aide was convicted of having a role in the violence, and some campaign rhetoric fuelled fears that India's likely new leader might either be prejudiced himself or happy to exploit the prejudices of others.
But there are many other factors that have contributed to Modi's victory. There is the unprecedented organisation and technical proficiency of his campaign. There is the support of the RSS, which has mobilised its millions of members to canvass as for no other candidate. There is massive funding too, which opponents say is coming from businesspeople who are close to Modi or the BJP. And there is his opposition – a Congress party that is tired after 10 years in office, tarred by successive corruption scandals and faltering growth, whose campaign has been led by the uninspiring and inexperienced Rahul Gandhi, the 43-year-old great-grandson, grandson and son of former prime ministers.
Then there is Modi himself. The 63-year-old is celibate, has no children, and is ascetic and honest. He has had no powerful relatives looking out for him. He has not been to the best Indian schools and is not interested in big cars or showy status symbols. The nearest to luxury is a taste for thin-rimmed designer frames for his glasses. He is a small-town boy who has little of the cultural capital of the old guard within his own party, let alone the grandees of the Congress party. He is not comfortable speaking in English, communicating with his close associates in Gujarati and addressing crowds across the country, very effectively, in Hindi. He is also from the caste categorised as Other Backwards – as are perhaps a third of his compatriots. This is low down the hierarchy and underlines his humble origins.
Few Indian politicians have these characteristics and none combines them like Modi. The rapid rise of this outsider from little-known provincial politician to a prime ministerial contender who launched an unprecedented effort to win himself the highest executive office in the land has rattled the Delhi power elite. Early in this election campaign Mani Shankar Aiyar, a veteran congress politician who was educated at the Doon school, St Stephen's college and Cambridge, derided Modi's origins as a tea-seller, saying he should serve Indian's favourite beverage at party meetings. Aiyar, who styles himself as something of a wit, has defined democracy in America as “the right of the lower orders to be rude to their social superiors”. It is this kind of attitude – or the paternalism of the Gandhis – that seems increasingly anachronistic in India and is one reason for the space that has opened up for Modi.
Ashok Malik, a commentator, sees this election as determined by the intersection of two major changes: the flow of rural Indians into towns and the first impacts of the world's biggest ever youth bulge. Both factors are drastically changing the country, bringing new values, behaviours and conflicts. They are also pushing up expectations, that the outgoing Congress-led government was unable to fulfill, to stratospheric altitudes. It is unclear whether Modi will be able to do so either.
But those expectations, and the fear that they may be disappointed in coming years, is why Modi's fusion of nationalism, apparent executive ability and culture is so powerful. Each facet promises a different resurgence: of India as a great nation on the world stage, secure at home and respected abroad; of clean and competent government providing efficient services, honest administration and jobs; and of a particular vision of authentic local identity, of what it is to be an Indian, that does not necessarily fit perfectly with the old idea of a pluralistic, secular India. And, without it needing to be said, Modi's message also includes social mobility, and the representation in the walled and distant city of Delhi of the patriotic poor provincial nobody.
Now in power, however, he will need a new narrative.
The new face of India
With the rise of Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi culminating in this week's election, Pankaj Mishra asks if the world's largest democracy is entering its most sinister period since independence
The Guardian, Friday 16 May 2014 06.00 BST
Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), shows his ink-marked finger to his supporters after casting his vote at a polling station during the seventh phase of India's general election in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad.
Narendra Modi shows his inked finger after casting his vote in Ahmedabad. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters
In A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth writes with affection of a placid India's first general election in 1951, and the egalitarian spirit it momentarily bestowed on an electorate deeply riven by class and caste: "the great washed and unwashed public, sceptical and gullible", but all "endowed with universal adult suffrage". India's 16th general election this month, held against a background of economic jolts and titanic corruption scandals, and tainted by the nastiest campaign yet, announces a new turbulent phase for the country – arguably, the most sinister since its independence from British rule in 1947. Back then, it would have been inconceivable that a figure such as Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist chief minister of Gujarat accused, along with his closest aides, of complicity in crimes ranging from an anti-Muslim pogrom in his state in 2002 to extrajudicial killings, and barred from entering the US, may occupy India's highest political office.
Modi is a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary Hindu nationalist organisation inspired by the fascist movements of Europe, whose founder's belief that Nazi Germany had manifested "race pride at its highest" by purging the Jews is by no means unexceptional among the votaries of Hindutva, or "Hinduness". In 1948, a former member of the RSS murdered Gandhi for being too soft on Muslims. The outfit, traditionally dominated by upper-caste Hindus, has led many vicious assaults on minorities. A notorious executioner of dozens of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 crowed that he had slashed open with his sword the womb of a heavily pregnant woman and extracted her foetus. Modi himself described the relief camps housing tens of thousands of displaced Muslims as "child-breeding centres".
Such rhetoric has helped Modi sweep one election after another in Gujarat. A senior American diplomat described him, in cables disclosed by WikiLeaks, as an "insular, distrustful person" who "reigns by fear and intimidation"; his neo-Hindu devotees on Facebook and Twitter continue to render the air mephitic with hate and malice, populating the paranoid world of both have-nots and haves with fresh enemies – "terrorists", "jihadis", "Pakistani agents", "pseudo-secularists", "sickulars", "socialists" and "commies". Modi's own electoral strategy as prime ministerial candidate, however, has been more polished, despite his appeals, both dog-whistled and overt, to Hindu solidarity against menacing aliens and outsiders, such as the Italian-born leader of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, Bangladeshi "infiltrators" and those who eat the holy cow.
Modi exhorts his largely young supporters – more than two-thirds of India's population is under the age of 35 – to join a revolution that will destroy the corrupt old political order and uproot its moral and ideological foundations while buttressing the essential framework, the market economy, of a glorious New India. In an apparently ungovernable country, where many revere the author of Mein Kampf for his tremendous will to power and organisation, he has shrewdly deployed the idioms of management, national security and civilisational glory.
Boasting of his 56-inch chest, Modi has replaced Mahatma Gandhi, the icon of non-violence, with Vivekananda, the 19th-century Hindu revivalist who was obsessed with making Indians a "manly" nation. Vivekananda's garlanded statue or portrait is as ubiquitous in Modi's public appearances as his dandyish pastel waistcoats. But Modi is never less convincing than when he presents himself as a humble tea-vendor, the son-of-the-soil challenger to the Congress's haughty dynasts. His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer – through privatisation or outright gifts – of national resources to the country's biggest corporations. His closest allies – India's biggest businessmen – have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced.
Not long after India's first full-scale pogrom in 2002, leading corporate bosses, ranging from the suave Ratan Tata to Mukesh Ambani, the owner of a 27-storey residence, began to pave Modi's ascent to respectability and power. The stars of Bollywood fell (literally) at the feet of Modi. In recent months, liberal-minded columnists and journalists have joined their logrolling rightwing compatriots in certifying Modi as a "moderate" developmentalist. The Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati, who insists that he intellectually fathered India's economic reforms in 1991, and Gurcharan Das, author of India Unbound, have volunteered passionate exonerations of the man they consider India's saviour.
Bhagwati, once a fervent supporter of outgoing prime minister Manmohan Singh, has even publicly applied for an advisory position with Modi's government. It may be because the nearly double-digit economic growth of recent years that Ivy League economists like him – India's own version of Chile's Chicago Boys and Russia's Harvard Boys – instigated and championed turns out to have been based primarily on extraction of natural resources, cheap labour and foreign capital inflows rather than high productivity and innovation, or indeed the brick-and-mortar ventures that fuelled China's rise as a manufacturing powerhouse. "The bulk of India's aggregate growth," the World Bank's chief economist Kaushik Basu warns, "is occurring through a disproportionate rise in the incomes at the upper end of the income ladder." Thus, it has left largely undisturbed the country's shameful ratios – 43% of all Indian children below the age of five are undernourished, and 48% stunted; nearly half of Indian women of childbearing age are anaemic, and more than half of all Indians still defecate in the open.
Who is Narendra Modi? The Guardian's Phoebe Greenwood explains his rise. Link to video: Who is Narendra Modi?
Absurdly uneven and jobless economic growth has led to what Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze call "islands of California in a sea of sub-Saharan Africa". The failure to generate stable employment – 1m new jobs are required every month – for an increasingly urban and atomised population, or to allay the severe inequalities of opportunity as well as income, created, well before the recent economic setbacks, a large simmering reservoir of rage and frustration. Many Indians, neglected by the state, which spends less proportionately on health and education than Malawi, and spurned by private industry, which prefers cheap contract labour, invest their hopes in notions of free enterprise and individual initiative. However, old and new hierarchies of class, caste and education restrict most of them to the ranks of the unwashed. As the Wall Street Journal admitted, India is not "overflowing with Horatio Alger stories". Balram Halwai, the entrepreneur from rural India in Aravind Adiga's Man Booker-winning novel The White Tiger, who finds in murder and theft the quickest route to business success and self-confidence in the metropolis, and Mumbai's social-Darwinist slum-dwellers in Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers point to an intensified dialectic in India today: cruel exclusion and even more brutal self-empowerment.
Such extensive moral squalor may bewilder those who expected India to conform, however gradually and imperfectly, to a western ideal of liberal democracy and capitalism. But those scandalised by the lure of an indigenised fascism in the country billed as the "world's largest democracy" should know: this was not the work of a day, or of a few "extremists". It has been in the making for years. "Democracy in India," BR Ambedkar, the main framer of India's constitution, warned in the 1950s, "is only a top dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic." Ambedkar saw democracy in India as a promise of justice and dignity to the country's despised and impoverished millions, which could only be realised through intense political struggle. For more than two decades that possibility has faced a pincer movement: a form of global capitalism that can only enrich a small minority and a xenophobic nationalism that handily identifies fresh scapegoats for large-scale socio-economic failure and frustration.
In many ways, Modi and his rabble – tycoons, neo-Hindu techies, and outright fanatics – are perfect mascots for the changes that have transformed India since the early 1990s: the liberalisation of the country's economy, and the destruction by Modi's compatriots of the 16th-century Babri mosque in Ayodhya. Long before the killings in Gujarat, Indian security forces enjoyed what amounted to a licence to kill, torture and rape in the border regions of Kashmir and the north-east; a similar infrastructure of repression was installed in central India after forest-dwelling tribal peoples revolted against the nexus of mining corporations and the state. The government's plan to spy on internet and phone connections makes the NSA's surveillance look highly responsible. Muslims have been imprisoned for years without trial on the flimsiest suspicion of "terrorism"; one of them, a Kashmiri, who had only circumstantial evidence against him, was rushed to the gallows last year, denied even the customary last meeting with his kin, in order to satisfy, as the supreme court put it, "the collective conscience of the people".
"People who were not born then," Robert Musil wrote in The Man Without Qualities of the period before another apparently abrupt collapse of liberal values, "will find it difficult to believe, but the fact is that even then time was moving faster than a cavalry camel … But in those days, no one knew what it was moving towards. Nor could anyone quite distinguish between what was above and what was below, between what was moving forward and what backward." One symptom of this widespread confusion in Musil's novel is the Viennese elite's weird ambivalence about the crimes of a brutal murderer called Moosbrugger. Certainly, figuring out what was above and what was below is harder for the parachuting foreign journalists who alighted upon a new idea of India as an economic "powerhouse" and the many "rising" Indians in a generation born after economic liberalisation in 1991, who are seduced by Modi's promise of the utopia of consumerism – one in which skyscrapers, expressways, bullet trains and shopping malls proliferate (and from which such eyesores as the poor are excluded).
Nehru Gandhi A civilising mission … Jawaharlal Nehru with Mahatma Gandhi. Photograph: Max Desfor/AP
People who were born before 1991, and did not know what time was moving towards, might be forgiven for feeling nostalgia for the simpler days of postcolonial idealism and hopefulness – those that Seth evokes in A Suitable Boy. Set in the 1950s, the novel brims with optimism about the world's most audacious experiment in democracy, endorsing the Nehruvian "idea of India" that seems flexible enough to accommodate formerly untouchable Hindus (Dalits) and Muslims as well as the middle-class intelligentsia. The novel's affable anglophone characters radiate the assumption that the sectarian passions that blighted India during its partition in 1947 will be defused, secular progress through science and reason will eventually manifest itself, and an enlightened leadership will usher a near-destitute people into active citizenship and economic prosperity.
India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, appears in the novel as an effective one-man buffer against Hindu chauvinism. "The thought of India as a Hindu state, with its minorities treated as second-class citizens, sickened him." In Nehru's own vision, grand projects such as big dams and factories would bring India's superstitious masses out of their benighted rural habitats and propel them into first-world affluence and rationality. The Harrow- and Cambridge-educated Indian leader had inherited from British colonials at least part of their civilising mission, turning it into a national project to catch up with the industrialised west. "I was eager and anxious," Nehru wrote of India, "to change her outlook and appearance and give her the garb of modernity." Even the "uninteresting" peasant, whose "limited outlook" induced in him a "feeling of overwhelming pity and a sense of ever-impending tragedy" was to be present at what he called India's "tryst with destiny".
That long attempt by India's ruling class to give the country the "garb of modernity" has produced, in its sixth decade, effects entirely unanticipated by Nehru or anyone else: intense politicisation and fierce contests for power together with violence, fragmentation and chaos, and a concomitant longing for authoritarian control. Modi's image as an exponent of discipline and order is built on both the successes and failures of the ancien regime. He offers top-down modernisation, but without modernity: bullet trains without the culture of criticism, managerial efficiency without the guarantee of equal rights. And this streamlined design for a new India immediately entices those well-off Indians who have long regarded democracy as a nuisance, recoiled from the destitute masses, and idolised technocratic, if despotic, "doers" like the first prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew.
But then the Nehruvian assumption that economic growth plotted and supervised by a wise technocracy would also bring about social change was also profoundly undemocratic and self-serving. Seth's novel, along with much anglophone literature, seems, in retrospect, to have uncritically reproduced the establishment ideology of English-speaking and overwhelmingly upper-caste Hindus who gained most from state-planned economic growth: the Indian middle class employed in the public sector, civil servants, scientists and monopolist industrialists. This ruling class's rhetoric of socialism disguised its nearly complete monopoly of power. As DR Nagaraj, one of postcolonial India's finest minds, pointed out, "the institutions of capitalism, science and technology were taken over by the upper castes". Even today, businessmen, bureaucrats, scientists, writers in English, academics, thinktankers, newspaper editors, columnists and TV anchors are disproportionately drawn from among the Hindu upper-castes. And, as Sen has often lamented, their "breathtakingly conservative" outlook is to be blamed for the meagre investment in health and education – essential requirements for an equitable society as well as sustained economic growth – that put India behind even disaster-prone China in human development indexes, and now makes it trail Bangladesh.
Dynastic politics froze the Congress party into a network of patronage, delaying the empowerment of the underprivileged Indians who routinely gave it landslide victories. Nehru may have thought of political power as a function of moral responsibility. But his insecure daughter, Indira Gandhi, consumed by Nixon-calibre paranoia, turned politics into a game of self-aggrandisement, arresting opposition leaders and suspending fundamental rights in 1975 during a nationwide "state of emergency". She supported Sikh fundamentalists in Punjab (who eventually turned against her) and rigged elections in Muslim-majority Kashmir. In the 1980s, the Congress party, facing a fragmenting voter base, cynically resorted to stoking Hindu nationalism. After Indira Gandhi's assassination by her bodyguards in 1984, Congress politicians led lynch mobs against Sikhs, killing more than 3,000 civilians. Three months later, her son Rajiv Gandhi won elections with a landslide. Then, in another eerie prefiguring of Modi's methods, Gandhi, a former pilot obsessed with computers, tried to combine technocratic rule with soft Hindutva.
The Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), a political offshoot of the RSS that Nehru had successfully banished into the political wilderness, turned out to be much better at this kind of thing. In 1990, its leader LK Advani rode a "chariot" (actually a rigged-up Toyota flatbed truck) across India in a Hindu supremacist campaign against the mosque in Ayodhya. The wildfire of anti-Muslim violence across the country reaped immediate electoral dividends. (In old photos, Modi appears atop the chariot as Advani's hawk-eyed understudy). Another BJP chieftain ventured to hoist the Indian tricolour in insurgent Kashmir. (Again, the bearded man photographed helping his doddery senior taunt curfew-bound Kashmiris turns out to be the young Modi.) Following a few more massacres, the BJP was in power in 1998, conducting nuclear tests and fast-tracking the programme of economic liberalisation started by the Congress after a severe financial crisis in 1991.
The Hindu nationalists had a ready consumer base for their blend of chauvinism and marketisation. With India's politics and economy reaching an impasse, which forced many of their relatives to emmigrate to the US, and the Congress facing decline, many powerful Indians were seeking fresh political representatives and a new self-legitimising ideology in the late 1980s and 90s. This quest was fulfilled by, first, both the post-cold war dogma of free markets and then an openly rightwing political party that was prepared to go further than the Congress in developing close relations with the US (and Israel, which, once shunned, is now India's second-biggest arms supplier after Russia). You can only marvel today at the swiftness with which the old illusions of an over-regulated economy were replaced by the fantasies of an unregulated one.
According to the new wisdom – new to India, if already worn out and discredited in Latin America – all governments needed to do was get out of the way of buoyant and autonomous entrepreneurs and stop subsidising the poor and the lazy (in a risible self-contradiction these Indian promoters of minimalist governance also clamoured for a big militarised state apparatus to fight and intimidate neighbours and stifle domestic insurgencies). The long complex experience of strong European as well as east Asian economies – active state intervention in markets and support to strategic industries, long periods of economic nationalism, investments in health and education – was elided in a new triumphalist global history of free markets. Its promise of instant and widespread affluence seemed to have been manufactured especially for gormless journalists and columnists. Still, in the last decade, neoliberalism became the common sense of many Indians who were merely aspiring as well as those who had already made it – the only elite ideology after Nehruvian nation-building to have achieved a high degree of pan-Indian consent, if not total hegemony. The old official rhetoric of egalitarian and shared futures gave way to the media's celebrations of private wealth-creation – embodied today by Ambani's 27-storey private residence in a city where a majority lives in slums – and a proliferation of Ayn Randian cliches about ambition, willpower and striving.
Nehru's programme of national self-strengthening had included, along with such ideals as secularism, socialism and non-alignment, a deep-rooted suspicion of American foreign policy and economic doctrines. In a stunning coup, India's postcolonial project was taken over, as Octavio Paz once wrote of the Mexican revolution, "by a capitalist class made in the image and likeness of US capitalism and dependent upon it". A new book by Anita Raghavan, The Billionaire's Apprentice: The Rise of the Indian-American Elite and the Fall of the Galleon Hedge Fund, reveals how well-placed men such as Rajat Gupta, the investment banker recently convicted for insider trading in New York, expedited close links between American and Indian political and business leaders.
India's upper-caste elite transcended party lines in their impassioned courting of likely American partners. In 2008, an American diplomat in Delhi was given an exclusive preview by a Congress party factotum of two chests containing $25m in cash – money to bribe members of parliament into voting for a nuclear deal with the US. Visiting the White House later that year, Singh blurted out to George W Bush, probably resigned by then to being the most despised American president in history, that "the people of India love you deeply". In a conversation disclosed by WikiLeaks, Arun Jaitley, a senior leader of the BJP who is tipped to be finance minister in Modi's government, urged American diplomats in Delhi to see his party's anti-Muslim rhetoric as "opportunistic", a mere "talking point" and to take more seriously his own professional and emotional links with the US.
A transnational elite of rightwing Indians based in the US helped circulate an impression of an irresistibly "emerging giant" – the title of a book by Arvind Panagariya, a New-York-based economist and another aspiring adviser to Modi. Very quickly, the delusional notion that India was, as Foreign Affairs proclaimed on its cover in 2006, a "roaring capitalist success-story" assumed an extraordinary persuasive power. In India itself, a handful of corporate acquisitions – such as Tata's of Jaguar and Corus – stoked exorbitant fantasies of an imminent "Global Indian Takeover" (the title of a regular feature once in India's leading business daily, the Economic Times). Rent-seekers in a shadow intellectual economy – thinktank-sailors, bloggers and Twitterbots – as well as academics perched on corporate-endowed chairs recited the mantra of privatisation and deregulation in tune. Nostrums from the Reagan-Thatcher era – the primary source of ideological self-indoctrination for many Americanised Indians – about "labour flexibility" were endlessly regurgitated, even though a vast majority of the workforce in India – more than 90% – toils in the unorganised or "informal" sector. Bhagwati, for instance, hailed Bangladesh for its superb labour relations a few months before the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Dhaka; he also speculated that the poor "celebrate" inequality, and, with Marie Antoinette-ish serenity, advised malnourished families to consume "more milk and fruits". Confronted with the World Health Organisation's extensive evidence about malnutrition in India, Panagariya, ardent patron of the emerging giant, argued that Indian children are genetically underweight.
This pitiless American free-marketeering wasn't the only extraordinary mutation of Indian political and economic discourse. By 1993, when A Suitable Boy was published, the single-party democracy it describes had long been under siege from low-caste groups and a rising Hindu-nationalist middle class. (Sunil Khilnani's The Idea of India, the most eloquent defence and elaboration of India's foundational ideology, now seems another posthumous tribute to it.) India after Indira Gandhi increasingly failed to respect the Nehruvian elite's coordinates of progress and order. Indian democracy, it turned out, had seemed stable only because political participation was severely limited, and upper-caste Hindus effectively ran the country. The arrival of low-caste Hindus in mass politics in the 1980s, with their representatives demanding their own share of the spoils of power, put the first strains on the old patrimonial system. Upper-caste panic initially helped swell the ranks of the BJP, but even greater shifts caused by accelerating economic growth after 1991 have fragmented even relatively recent political formations based on caste and religion.
Rapid urbanisation and decline of agriculture created a large mass of the working poor exposed to ruthless exploitation in the unorganised sector. Connected to their homes in the hinterland through the flow of remittances, investment, culture and ideas, these migrants from rural areas were steadily politically awakened with the help of print literacy, electronic media, job mobility and, most importantly, mobile phones (subscribers grew from 45 million in 2002 to almost a billion in 2012). The Congress, though instrumentally social-welfarist while in power, failed to respond to this electorally consequential blurring of rural and urban borderlines, and the heightened desires for recognition and dignity as well as for rapid inclusion into global modernity. Even the BJP, which had fed on upper-caste paranoia, had been struggling under its ageing leaders to respond to an increasingly demanding mass of voters after its initial success in the 1990s, until Modi reinvented himself as a messiah of development, and quickly found enlarged constituencies – among haves as well as have-nots – for his blend of xenophobia and populism.
A wave of political disaffection has also deposited democratic social movements and dedicated individuals across the country. Groups both within and outside the government, such as those that successfully lobbied for the groundbreaking Right to Information Act, are outlining the possibilities of what John Keane calls "monitory democracy". India's many activist networks – for the rights of women, Dalits, peasants and indigenous communities – or issue-based campaigns, such as those against big dams and nuclear power plants, steer clear of timeworn ideas of national security, economic development, technocratic management, whether articulated by the Nehruvians or the neo-Hindus. In a major environment referendum last year, residents of small tribal hamlets in a remote part of eastern India voted to reject bauxite mining in their habitats. Growing demands across India for autonomy and bottom-up governance confirm that Modi is merely offering old – and soured – lassi in new bottles with his version of top-down modernisation.
Modi, however, has opportunely timed his attempt to occupy the commanding heights of the Indian state vacated by the Congress. The structural problems of India's globalised economy have dramatically slowed its growth since 2011, terminating the euphoria over the Global Indian Takeover. Corruption scandals involving the sale of billions of dollars' worth of national resources such as mines, forests, land, water and telecom spectrums have revealed that crony capitalism and rent-seeking were the real engines of India's economy. The beneficiaries of the phenomenon identified by Arundhati Roy as "gush-up" have soared into a transnational oligarchy, putting the bulk of their investments abroad and snapping up, together with Chinese and Russian plutocrats, real estate in London, New York and Singapore. Meanwhile, those made to wait unconscionably long for "trickle-down" – people with dramatically raised but mostly unfulfillable aspirations – have become vulnerable to demagogues promising national regeneration. It is this tiger of unfocused fury, spawned by global capitalism in the "underdeveloped" world, that Modi has sought to ride from Gujarat to New Delhi.
"Even in the darkest of times," Hannah Arendt once wrote, "we have the right to expect some illumination." The most prominent Indian institutions and individuals have rarely obliged, even as the darkness of the country's atrocity-rich borderlands moved into the heartland. Some of the most respected commentators, who are often eloquent in their defence of the right to free speech of famous writers, maintained a careful silence about the government's routine strangling of the internet and mobile networks in Kashmir. Even the liberal newspaper the Hindu prominently featured a journalist who retailed, as an investigation in Caravan revealed, false accusations of terrorism against innocent citizens. (The virtues of intelligence, courage and integrity are manifested more commonly in small periodicals such as Caravan and Economic and Political Weekly, or independent websites such as Kafila.org and Scroll.in.) The owners of the country's largest English-language newspaper, the Times of India, which has lurched from tedium to decadence within a few years, have innovated a revenue-stream called "paid news". Unctuously lobbing softballs at Modi, the prophets of electronic media seem, on other occasions, to have copied their paranoid inquisitorial style from Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Santosh Desai, one of contemporary India's most astute observers, correctly points out that the "intolerance that one sees from a large section of society is in some way a product of a 'televisionised' India. The pent-up feelings of resentment and entitlement have rushed out and get both tacit and explicit support from television."
A spate of corporate-sponsored literary festivals did not compensate for the missing culture of debate and reflection in the press. The frothy glamour of these events may have helped obscure the deeper intellectual and cultural churning in India today, the emergence of writers and artists from unconventional class and caste backgrounds, and the renewed attention to BR Ambedkar, the bracing Dalit thinker obscured by upper-caste iconographies. The probing work of, among others, such documentary film-makers as Anand Patwardhan (Jai Bhim Comrade), Rahul Roy (Till We Meet Again), Rakesh Sharma (Final Solution) and Sanjay Kak (Red-Ant Dream), and members of the Raqs Media Collective outlines a modernist counterculture in the making.
But the case of Bollywood shows how the unravelling of the earliest nation-building project can do away with the stories and images through which many people imagined themselves to be part of a larger whole, and leave only tawdriness in its place. Popular Hindi cinema degenerated alarmingly in the 1980s. Slicker now, and craftily aware of its non-resident Indian audience, it has become an expression of consumer nationalism and middle-class self-regard; Amitabh Bachchan, the "angry young man" who enunciated a widely felt victimhood during a high point of corruption and inflation in the 1970s, metamorphosed into an avuncular endorser of luxury brands. A search for authenticity, and linguistic vivacity, has led film-makers back to the rural hinterland in such films as Gangs of Wasseypur, Peepli Live and Ishqiya, whose flaws are somewhat redeemed by their scrupulous avoidance of Indians sporting Hermès bags or driving Ferraris. Some recent breakthroughs such as Anand Gandhi's Ship of Theseus and Dibakar Banerji's Costa-Gavras-inspired Shanghai gesture to the cinema of crisis pioneered by Asian, African and Latin American film-makers. But India's many film industries have yet to produce anything that matches Jia Zhangke's unsentimental evocations of China's past and present, the acute examination of middle-class pathologies in Kleber Mendonça Filho's Neighbouring Sounds, or Nuri Bilge Ceylan's delicate portrait of the sterile secularist intellectual in Uzak.
The long artistic drought results partly from the confusion and bewilderment of an older, entrenched elite, the main producers, until recently, of mainstream culture. With their prerogative to rule and interpret India pilfered by the "unwashed" and the "gullible", the anglophones have been struggling to grasp the eruption of mass politics in India, its new centrifugal thrust, and the nature of the challenge posed by many apparently illiberal individuals and movements. It is easy for them to denounce India's evidently uncouth retailers of caste and religious identity as embodiments of, in Salman Rushdie's words, "Caligulan barbarity"; or to mock Chetan Bhagat, the bestselling author of novels for young adults and champion tweeter, for boasting of his "selfie" with Modi. Those pied-pipering the young into Modi-mania nevertheless possess the occult power to fulfil the deeper needs of their needy followers. They can compile vivid ideological collages – made of fragments of modernity, glimpses of utopia and renovated pieces of a forgotten past. It is in the "mythological thrillers" and positive-thinking fictions – the most popular literary genres in India today – that a post-1991 generation that doesn't even know it is lost fleetingly but thrillingly recognises itself.
In a conventional liberal perspective, these works may seem like hotchpotches, full of absurd contradictions that confound the "above" with the "below", the "forward" with the "backward". Modi, for instance, consistently mixes up dates and historical events, exposing an abysmal ignorance of the past of the country he hopes to lead into a glorious future. Yet his lusty hatred of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty excites many young Indians weaned on the neo-liberal opiates about aspiration and merit. And he combines his historical revisionism and Hindu nationalism with a revolutionary futurism. He knows that resonant sentiments, images, and symbols – Vivekananda plus holograms and Modi masks – rather than rational argument or accurate history galvanise individuals. Vigorously aestheticising mass politics, and mesmerising the restless young, he has emerged as the new India's canniest artist.
But, as Walter Benjamin pointed out, rallies, parades and grand monuments do not secure the masses their rights; they give them no more than the chance to express themselves, and noisily identify with an alluring leader and his party. It seems predictable that Modi will gratify only a few with his ambitious rescheduling of India's tryst with destiny. Though many exasperated Indians see Modi as bearing the long-awaited fruits of the globalised economy, he actually embodies its inevitable dysfunction. He resembles the European and Japanese demagogues of the early 20th century who responded to the many crises of liberalism and democracy – and of thwarted nation-building and modernisation – by merging corporate and political power, and exhorting communal unity before internal and external threats. But Modi belongs also to the dark days of the early 21st century.
His ostensibly gratuitous assault on Muslims – already India's most depressed and demoralised minority – was another example of what the social anthropologist Arjun Appadurai calls "a vast worldwide Malthusian correction, which works through the idioms of minoritisation and ethnicisation but is functionally geared to preparing the world for the winners of globalisation, minus the inconvenient noise of its losers". Certainly, the new horizons of desire and fear opened up by global capitalism do not favour democracy or human rights. Other strongmen who supervised the bloody purges of economically enervated and unproductive people were also ruthless majoritarians, consecrated by big election victories. The crony-capitalist regimes of Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand and Vladimir Putin in Russia were inaugurated by ferocious offensives against ethnic minorities. The electorally bountiful pogrom in Gujarat in 2002, too, now seems an early initiation ritual for Modi's India.
The difficulty of assessing his personal culpability in the killings and rapes of 2002 is the same difficulty that Musil identifies with Moosbrugger in his novel: how to measure the crimes, however immense, of individuals against a universal breakdown of values and the normalisation of violence and injustice. "If mankind could dream collectively," Musil writes, "it would dream Moosbrugger." There is little cause yet for such despair in India, where the aggrieved fantasy of authoritarianism will have to reckon with the gathering energies below; the great potential of the country's underprivileged and voiceless peoples still lies untapped. But for now some Indians have dreamed collectively, and they have dreamed a man accused of mass murder.
Myanmar Brushes Off Limited U.S. Sanctions Renewal
by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 May 2014, 12:19
Myanmar on Friday shrugged off U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to renew some sanctions against the country in order to spur continued reform, in a move that highlighted fears over continued rights abuses.
Obama said sanctions restricting certain investments should be renewed because the former junta-run nation still poses "an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States" in a letter to Congress on Thursday.
But the U.S. leader, who made a groundbreaking visit to Myanmar in 2012, also noted that the country had made significant progress on key reforms, which have swept the country onto the international stage since a quasi-civilian government replaced outright military rule in 2011.
Myanmar government spokesman Ye Htut said the sanctions, which also bar business dealings with Myanmar leaders identified as having repressed pro-democracy activists, would have a limited impact.
"No problem. We will do our best with what we have be given. I do not think Myanmar's development will be harmed because of it," he told AFP.
Most international sanctions against Myanmar have been removed or frozen as a response to the country's widespread changes, creating hopes of an investment boom in the impoverished nation.
Foreign firms, drawn by rich natural resources and an estimated 60 million potential consumers, have begun to dip their toes into what has been dubbed Asia's next frontier market.
After years cut off from Western brands, the streets of the commercial capital Yangon are now plastered with adverts for international products, including big U.S. names Coca Cola and Pepsi.
Obama praised key changes including the release of over 1,100 political prisoners, progress towards a nationwide ceasefire, legalization of unions and allowing greater freedom of association and expression.
But he said the U.S. was keen to ensure that it continued to support further reform and to "ensure that the democratic transition is sustained and irreversible".
"The political opening remains nascent, and concerns persist regarding ongoing conflict and human rights abuses in ethnic minority areas, particularly in Rakhine State, and the continued role of the military in the country's political and economic activities," he said.
A growing humanitarian crisis is gripping parts of western Rakhine state, where tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims are trapped in camps after fleeing their homes in communal clashes with local Buddhists in 2012.
Many of the displaced are now without access to healthcare and other help after attacks on international humanitarian groups by Buddhist extremists earlier this year.
At least 21 dead in Vietnam anti-China protests over oil rig
Riots spread from south the central part of Vietnam as crowds set fire to industrial parks, sparked by rig in disputed territory
Kate Hodal in Bangkok and Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
theguardian.com, Thursday 15 May 2014 20.05 BST
At least 21 people were killed and nearly 100 injured in Vietnam on Thursday during violent protests against China in one of the deadliest confrontations between the two neighbours since 1979.
Crowds set fire to industrial parks and factories, hunted down Chinese workers and attacked police during the riots, which have spread from the south to the central part of the country following the start of the protests on Tuesday.
The violence has been sparked by the dispute concerning China stationing an oil rig in an area of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam. The two nations have been fighting out a maritime battle over sovereignty and that battle has now seemingly come ashore.
Early Thursday morning a 1,000-strong mob stormed a giant Taiwanese steel mill in Ha Tinh province, central Vietnam, where they set buildings ablaze and chased out Chinese employees, according to a Taiwanese diplomat, Huang Chih-peng. He said both the head of the provincial government, and his security chief, were at the mill at the time of the riots, but did not "order tough-enough action".
Five Vietnamese workers, and 16 others described as Chinese, were killed during the rioting, a doctor at a hospital in Ha Tinh told Reuters. An additional 90 people were injured in the attack.
"There were about 100 people sent to the hospital last night. Many were Chinese. More are being sent to the hospital this morning," the doctor said.
The attack on the steel mill comes just two days after other mobs burned and looted scores of foreign-owned factories in south Vietnam, believing they were Chinese-run, though many were actually Taiwanese or South Korean.
No deaths were reported in those initial attacks, and the Vietnamese government has since tried to crack down on protesters. More than 600 have been arrested since Tuesday.
The protests have sparked an exodus of Chinese nationals, many of whom have fled to neighbouring countries or further.
More than 600 are believed to have gone to Cambodia, while scores gathered at Ho Chi Minh airport and bought one-way tickets to Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore and China.
On Thursday, China's embassy in Vietnam urged the police to take "effective measures" to protect Chinese citizens' safety and legal rights. China's tourism administration urged Vietnam-bound tourists to carefully consider their plans, while Taiwan's ministry of foreign affairs was printing thousands of stickers saying "I am from Taiwan" in Vietnamese and English and distributing them to local Taiwanese business owners, to help them avoid the wrath of anti-China mobs.
Anti-Chinese sentiment, while never far below the surface in Vietnam, has hit a formidable peak since Beijing's deployment of the oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea on 1 May.
In an attempt to assert sovereignty Vietnam quickly sent a flotilla of ships to the area; these became involved in skirmishes with 80 Chinese boats sent to protect the oil rig. China accused the Vietnamese ships of ramming its vessels after the Chinese fleet deployed water cannon against the Vietnamese. On Wednesday China reportedly sent two amphibious ships equipped with anti-air missiles as further defence.
The Vietnamese government has issued stark warnings to the Chinese that this "aggression", which had to date been met with Vietnamese diplomacy, would turn ugly if it continued.
Vietnam would "make no concession to China's wrongful acts", Major General Nguyen Quang Dam, the coast guard commander, told local media. He said: "Their violent acts have posed serious threats to the lives of Vietnamese members of law enforcement."
An article in the English-language daily Vietnam News was just as blunt: "The Vietnamese people are angry. The nation is angry. We are telling the world that we are angry. We have every right to be angry. "
"Over thousands of years we have shown we never cease fighting aggressors. We are proud of our freedom-fighting forefathers, and resistance is in our blood. We are a small country, but we are not weak. We will stand as one, united in the cause of protecting our motherland's integrity."
China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, urged Vietnam "not to attempt to further complicate and aggravate the current maritime friction", according to the state-run Global Times newspaper.
The paper said that Wang told Indonesia's foreign affairs minister, Marty Natalegawa: "China's position on safeguarding its legitimate sovereign rights and interests is firm and clear and will not change." .
On Thursday night China's top military leader blamed the Obama administration's new focus on Asia for various disputes in the East and South China seas, saying "some neighbouring countries" are using it as an opportunity to provoke problems.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, People's Liberation Army's chief of the general staff Gen Fang Fenghui also warned that the US must be objective about tensions between China and Vietnam or risk harming relations between Washington and Beijing. He defended China's deployment of an oil rig in the South China Sea and said Beijing has no intention of abandoning the drilling despite the protests it has spawned in Vietnam.
While China and Vietnam have considerable political and economic ties, anti-Chinese sentiment in Vietnam goes back more than 1,000 years to when it was a Chinese colony.
The quest for sovereignty and self-rule has long been a theme, as has what Vietnam sees as China's endless provocation over maritime boundaries around the Paracel and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea – an area that about 10 countries lay full, or partial, claim to – because of its rich oil and gas reserves.
The recent attacks on Vietnam's factories and industrial parks could damage the country's economy. Industrial zones, like the Ha Tinh area where the mill was set ablaze, generate a third of Vietnam's total export revenue, according to Reuters.
Vietnam's prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, issued a message Thursday urging Vietnamese authorities to protect foreign investors. Businesses are expected to receive payouts for incurred damages.
While it seems the Vietnamese and Chinese governments each want to downplay the severity of the situation – a leaked Chinese government circular obtained by the online China Digital Times urged media to "not report on any news" regarding the protests – the repercussions are most closely felt on the ground.
"People don't feel safe here," Xu Wen Hong, a Chinese national who works at one of Vietnam's iron and steel companies and bought a one-way ticket to China, told Reuters. "We just want to get out of Vietnam. We're scared, of course. With all the factories burning, anyone would be scared."
Vietnam's fury at China's expansionism can be traced to a troubled history
China's energy needs and a weak Asean bloc are fuelling its aggressive pursuit of oil off the disputed Paracel Islands
theguardian.com, Thursday 15 May 2014 15.56 BST
China's provocative decision to station a $1bn (£600m) deep-sea oil drilling rig in disputed waters 120 miles off Vietnam – well within Hanoi's 200-mile exclusive economic zone, in clear breach of a 2011 bilateral maritime pact and in defiance of regional and international agreements – can be explained, though not justified, in several ways.
The most prosaic explanation is that China's state-owned National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), the rig's owner, is keen to develop sources of oil and gas for the country's energy-hungry economy that do not depend on exploration agreements with western oil companies.
China regards the Paracel Islands, near the drilling site, as its sovereign territory. It takes a similar view of 90% of the 1.35m sq mile (3.5m sq km) South China Sea. The fact that nobody else agrees does not seem to bother Beijing.
"Large deep-water drilling rigs are our mobile national territory," said Wang Yilin, CNOOC's chairman, in 2012.
At the other end of the spectrum, China's move can be seen as a direct rebuff to Barack Obama, who recently completed a four-country Asia "reassurance tour" designed to strengthen regional alliances as part of his administration's so-called "tilt" to Asia.
In Tokyo, the US president warned China against forcibly pressing its maritime claims, following Beijing's unilateral declaration last autumn of an air exclusion zone over Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea. Obama offered specific security guarantees to Tokyo and stepped up US military co-operation with the Philippines, which is embroiled in similar disputes.
Obama denied his intention was the "containment" of China. Whatever the truth, China plainly is not ready to be contained. Its response to his strictures was to send a flotilla of 80 ships to escort the oil rig. When Vietnamese vessels challenged them, they were rammed and fired upon with water cannon.
China's action may alternatively be viewed as a warning to the 10-country Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean), with which it has repeatedly failed to agree a long-awaited, legally binding code of conduct on maritime disputes. China is also in effect ignoring the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
In response to Beijing's growing assertiveness, Asean member states such as Indonesia and Malaysia have been upgrading their weapons arsenals and pursuing new defensive alliances both within the bloc and with the US and Australia.
"South-east Asian states are working to enhance their so-called 'anti-access/area-denial' capabilities. Vietnam [for example] has ordered six Kilo-class submarines," said an analysis by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Singapore and Thailand have also joined this mini-arms race.
All the same, China's scare tactics appear to be working. Last weekend's Asean summit in Burma failed to agree on language criticising China for the final communiqué. An earlier, separate statement called only for "self-restraint" in the South China Sea without mentioning China or Vietnam by name.
This disarray reflects ongoing disagreements within Asean on how to handle an overbearing, militarily superior neighbour that is also their biggest trading and investment partner.
The current China-Vietnam confrontation can also be seen as the by-product of a troubled past. That both countries are in effect one-party, Communist-run states, and that China supported Hanoi during the Vietnam war may give a misleading impression of their overall historical relationship.
In truth, there is no love lost between the two. Vietnam was repeatedly invaded and occupied by imperial China for hundreds of years. The first Vietnamese nationalists defined their cause in relation to the threat posed by Beijing. After Vietnam's reunification in 1975, strains quickly emerged and the two countries went to war briefly in 1979. China again occupied the north while the Soviet Union backed the Vietnamese.
More recently, Vietnam's lurch into Beijing-style communist-capitalism has been accompanied by deliberate attempts to mend fences with the arch-capitalists of the US. George W Bush visited in 2006, following in Bill Clinton's footsteps. Bilateral trade has grown rapidly in recent years, as has a tentative security relationship.
The US remains wary of closer ties, however, maintaining that Vietnam must first improve its human rights record. The fact that John Kerry, the US secretary of state, and Chuck Hagel, the defence secretary, are both Vietnam war veterans may also be a factor.
This caution may be discarded if China continues to menace Vietnam and others in the region. Less than one year ago Li Keqiang, the Chinese premier, signed agreements with Vietnam on trade, infrastructure and maritime security, including recommitting China to a 2011 bilateral pact to manage peaceably their differences in the South China sea.
The deals were supposedly part of a charm offensive by China's new leadership to woo Asean countries. This seems forgotten now, as old enmities and present-day ambitions create new grounds for confrontation.
Vietnam riots: China accuses US as military chiefs meet in Washington
Beijing's top general says US is worsening South China Sea tensions as Chinese in Vietnam are attacked over oil rig
Staff and agencies in Washington
theguardian.com, Friday 16 May 2014 03.55 BST
Top military leaders of China and the US have exchanged firm warnings in Washington over the escalation of tensions in the South China Sea, where Beijing's deployment of an oil rig has sparked violence in Vietnam against Chinese people and foreign commercial interests.
The US vice-president, Joe Biden, told the visiting General Fang Fenghui that the US was "seriously concerned" about China's unilateral actions in the territorial dispute with Vietnam.
Biden told Fang the US did not take a side in the confrontation between China and Vietnam but no nation should take provocative steps that undermined stability and peace.
In a subsequent press briefing Fang, the Chinese army's chief of general staff, was unapologetic and accused the US of inflaming South China Sea tensions with its military "pivot" to Asia, saying "some neighbouring countries" were using it as a chance to provoke problems.
Speaking at the Pentagon, Fang defended China's deployment of the oil rig, declaring the Chinese "cannot afford to lose an inch" of what he called the their ancestral territory. He warned that the US must be objective about tensions between China and Vietnam or risk harming relations between Washington and Beijing.
Fang was at the Pentagon to meet with the US joint chiefs of staff chairman, General Martin Dempsey.
Dempsey struck a more diplomatic note than his counterpart, describing his meetings with Fang as "refreshingly frank and open discussion on our mutual concerns and differing opinions".
Dempsey said that broadly they discussed "the tensions in the South China Sea and how provocative actions can lead to confrontation".
"We made note of the ongoing negotiations and we made note of the alliance obligations of the United States," Dempsey said.
The session comes on the heels of mob riots targeting Chinese at a Taiwanese steel mill and other facilities in the country. More than 20 people have reportedly been killed.
The anti-China protests began after Beijing deployed a deep sea oil rig about 150 miles (240km) off Vietnam's coast. In response Vietnam sent a flotilla of boats to the area, which continue to bump and collide with Chinese vessels guarding the rig.
Speaking through an interpreter, Fang blamed any provocation on other nations in the region, including Vietnam and Japan. He said America's so-called pivot to Asia had "stirred up some of the problems which actually make the South China Sea and East China Sea not so calm as before".
The increased focus by the US on Asia has included an increase in military troops, ships and other assets.
Thursday's meeting was the second between Chinese and US defence leaders in about five weeks.
In Beijing early in April the US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, and his Chinese counterpart had a stern exchange over the escalating tensions in the South China Sea. Wagging his finger, Hagel told the Chinese defence minister Chang Wanquan that China did not have the right to unilaterally establish an air defence zone over disputed islands in the East China Sea with no consultation. In return Wanquan told Hagel that China was prepared to use its military if needed to safeguard its territory.
Both men talked about increased communication and cooperation between China and the US. They said they hoped to establish direct, secure telecommunication between military leadership and were exploring the idea of conducting joint exercises in a third country.
Fang's visit to Washington was heralded with a rare full military honours ceremony on the Pentagon's parade field, complete with a US navy band, formations of troops from all of the services and a 19-gun salute. There have only been four such ceremonies during Dempsey's more than two years as chairman.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
New N. Korea Warships Raise Sanctions Doubts
by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 May 2014, 07:08
Satellite images have picked out two new North Korean warships -- the largest it has constructed in 25 years and an important "wake-up call" on the effectiveness of sanctions, a U.S. think-tank said Friday.
Recent commercial satellite pictures showed two new helicopter-carrying frigates separately berthed at shipyards in Nampo in the west and Najin in the far northeast.
Launched sometime in 2011-12, the two vessels were primarily designed to counter what Pyongyang sees as a growing threat from South Korea's acquisition of submarines that began in the early 1990s, the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said.
But they may also be destined for a role in patrolling regional fishing zones -- with security implications for South Korea, Japan and China, the institute said in an analysis on its website 38 North.
While it might still take several years to fully integrate the frigates into fleet operations, the institute said their introduction suggested an "evolutionary step" in the North's naval strategy to include helicopter anti-submarine operations.
The analysis also noted that the construction of the two warships and other new naval classes had been achieved during a period of prolonged international economic sanctions.
"North Korea's deployment of new helicopter frigates may be an important wakeup call about the overall effectiveness of sanctions and the need to carefully and realistically reevaluate reports of its conventional military decline," it said.
The development of the North's conventional weaponry has largely been overshadowed by concerns over its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.
U.S. Says Brunei Sharia Violates International Norms
by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 May 2014, 06:54
Brunei would violate international standards on human rights if the oil-rich sultanate presses ahead with stoning and other punishments under sharia law, an incoming U.S. official said Thursday.
Nina Hachigian, nominated to be the U.S. ambassador for the 10-nation ASEAN bloc, told her Senate confirmation hearing that it was "important that a nation's laws conform with its international obligations on human rights."
"Some of the physical, corporal punishments associated with law, if implemented as you point out, would be inconsistent with international obligations," she said in response to a question by Senator Chris Murphy.
The sultan of the tiny petro-state announced last month that he would go ahead with enforcement of Islamic sharia law that will eventually include flogging, severing of limbs and death by stoning.
The news has sparked a furor in the entertainment industry with celebrities including U.S. talk show hosts Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres, and British tycoon Richard Branson, advocating a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel and other properties in the Dorchester Collection, a hotel chain owned by Brunei's sovereign wealth fund.
The U.S. State Department earlier said that the U.S. ambassador to Brunei, Daniel Shields, raised his concerns to Brunei.
Hachigian is expected to be confirmed as the second U.S. ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Brunei is a member.
U.S. President Barack Obama's administration established a U.S. mission to the regional body in 2010 as part of a policy of paying more attention to Southeast Asia.
Hachigian, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress think tank, said that she would encourage ASEAN to make stronger joint statements and repeated U.S. criticism of China's "provocative" steps in the dispute-ridden South China Sea.
Into Africa: China’s Wild Rush
By HOWARD W. FRENCH
MAY 16, 2014
NAIROBI, Kenya — For nearly a decade, as China made a historic push for business opportunities and expanded influence in Africa, most of the continent’s leaders were so thrilled at having a deep-pocketed partner willing to make big investments and start huge new projects that they rarely paused to consider whether they were getting a sound deal.
China has peppered the continent with newly built stadiums, airports, hospitals, highways and dams, but as Africans are beginning to fully recognize, these projects have also left many countries saddled with heavy debts and other problems, from environmental conflict to labor strife. As a consequence, China’s relationship with the continent is entering a new and much more skeptical phase.
The doubts aren’t coming from any soured feelings from African leaders themselves, most of whom still welcome (and profit from) China’s embrace. The new skepticism has even less to do with the hectoring of Western governments, the traditional source of Africa’s foreign aid and investment (and interference). In a 2012 speech in Senegal, Hillary Rodham Clinton, then secretary of state, implicitly warned Africa about China. The continent needs “a model of sustainable partnership that adds value, rather than extracts it,” she said, adding that unlike other countries, “America will stand up for democracy and universal human rights even when it might be easier to look the other way and keep the resources flowing.”
Some Africans found Mrs. Clinton’s remarks patronizing. What’s most remarkable, however, is how passé this now seems, given skepticism about China from Africa’s own increasingly vibrant civil society, which is demanding to know what China’s billions of dollars in infrastructure building, mineral extraction and land acquisition mean for the daily lives and political rights of ordinary Africans.
This represents a tricky and unfamiliar challenge for China’s authoritarian system, whose foreign policy has always focused heavily on state-to-state relations. China’s leaders demonstrate little appreciation of the yawning gulfs that separate African people from their rulers, even in newly democratic countries. Beijing is constitutionally uneasy about dealing with independent actors like advocacy groups, labor unions and independent journalists.
After a decade of bland talk about “win-win” partnerships, China seems finally aware that it needs to improve both the style and substance of its push into Africa. Last week, at the start of a four-country African trip, Prime Minister Li Keqiang acknowledged “growing pains” in the relationship, and the need to “assure our African friends in all seriousness that China will never pursue a colonialist path like some countries did, or allow colonialism, which belongs to the past, to reappear in Africa.”
This language came in belated response to a sea change that arguably began with an op-ed essay last year in The Financial Times by Lamido Sanusi, who was recently suspended as Nigeria’s central bank governor. He wrote: “In much of Africa, they have set up huge mining operations. They have also built infrastructure. But, with exceptions, they have done so using equipment and labor imported from home, without transferring skills to local communities. So China takes our primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism.”
Mr. Sanusi’s commentary prompted critical assessments of China’s involvement in countries like Botswana and Namibia, over issues like the takeover of local construction industries, or the proper execution of building projects, working conditions, and the proliferation of Chinese newcomers — many of them illegal migrants — who have begun to dominate low-level commerce in a number of countries.
In Ghana, an estimated 50,000 new migrants, most of whom are said to have hailed from a single county in southern China, showed up recently to conduct environmentally devastating gold mining. This set off a popular outcry that forced the Ghanaian government to respond, resulting in arrests of miners, many of whom are being expelled to China.
In Tanzania, labor unions that have historically been close to the ruling party have strongly criticized the government for opening the floodgates to Chinese petty traders.
In Senegal, neighborhood associations blocked a giant property deal that would have handed over a prime section of downtown real estate to a Chinese developer with a scant track record.
Independent media have played an important role in demanding more scrutiny of government deals with Beijing. A recent op-ed article in one of Kenya’s leading newspapers, The Daily Nation, questioned whether a huge new Chinese investment in a railroad that would run from the coast all the way to landlocked Uganda and beyond was truly a good deal. The project’s first phase will increase Kenya’s external debt by a third.
The writer, David Ndii, noted that Kenya could have sought the financing for a project like this through the World Bank, which would have cost as little as a third of the Chinese commercial loan. But that would have required time-consuming processes, from competitive bidding to rigorous environmental and feasibility studies. Kenya’s Constitution insists on “intergenerational equity,” but also requires that “public money be used in a prudent and responsible manner.” Mr. Ndii asked whether the deal with the Chinese was consistent with either provision.
As someone who recently spent a year traveling widely in Africa to research a book about Beijing’s relations with the continent, I find Mr. Sanusi’s assessment too pessimistic. Yet a dose of caution for Africa, and of public scrutiny about the high-level deal-making underway, was clearly long overdue.
The booming, fast-changing China offers potentially extraordinary upsides to Africa. Without question, the continent is badly in need of more and better infrastructure. Competition among foreign investors holds the prospect of better returns for African states. Immigration, which is the central topic of my own reporting, has begun to create serious tensions between China and its new African partners, but even this is insufficiently recognized for its potential dividends. The spread of trading and business diasporas throughout history, including that of China, have a deep and proven track record for wealth creation, and properly managed, this could prove true for Africa as well.
But because China seems to be in such a hurry, and is so often seen to be looking out for itself, the potential downsides for many Africans have begun more and more to stand out: accelerated environmental destruction via mining and other activities; disregard for labor rights; the hollowing out of local industry; and even the stalling of the continent’s democratization.
This isn’t simply a matter of Beijing’s doing business with odious dictators, whether Omar al-Bashir of Sudan or Robert G. Mugabe of Zimbabwe. From Zaire to Equatorial Guinea to Rwanda, the West clearly has its own deep and insufficiently acknowledged history of doing much the same.
Rather, the problem (though not limited to China) is relying on shady arrangements made at the very top of the political system, often in the president’s office itself. Contracts are greased with monetary bribes and other enticements like expense-paid shopping trips to China and scholarships there for elite children. Adding to the opacity, China typically favors its state-owned companies for African projects and bypasses open, competitive bidding procedures.
The best way for the United States and other rich countries that have economic and political interests in Africa to respond is not by warning Africans about the advance of China — but rather, helping to strengthen African civil society and, thereby, governance. Washington should also encourage China and other up-and-coming players in the international economy, from Brazil to Turkey to Vietnam, to abide by higher transparency standards — and to rigorously abide by them, too.
In the end, though, what will minimize any downsides of China’s involvement in Africa is the deepening of African democracy. Grass-roots activism and vibrant independent media are, everywhere, the ultimate check on corrupt legislators and on foreigners who get lucrative but unsound deals by handing over bags of cash.
Howard W. French is an associate professor of journalism at Columbia University, a former correspondent for The New York Times and the author, most recently, of “China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa.”
Mideast Peace Effort Pauses to Let Failure Sink In
By MARK LANDLER
MAY 15, 2014
WASHINGTON — On May 2, a week after peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians fell apart, senior American diplomats gave an interview to a prominent Israeli journalist in which they said Israel’s aggressive pursuit of new Jewish settlements had sabotaged the negotiations.
While the officials were not identified, one was widely assumed to be Martin S. Indyk, the Obama administration’s peace envoy. But it might as well have been President Obama himself, a senior administration official said, since the White House cleared the interview and the critical remarks faithfully reflect the president’s own views.
Mr. Obama, stung by his second failed attempt to broker a peace deal, has decided to take a conspicuous breather from the Middle East peace process, this official said, “to let the failure of the talks sink in for both parties, and see if that causes them to reconsider.”
While the president believes there is time for another American-led peace initiative before he leaves office, the official said, he is determined to wait until the Israelis and Palestinians approach the United States with their ideas for how to revive a process that has stumbled along, in a familiar cycle of futility, for more than three decades.
That means it is unlikely that Mr. Obama will lay down principles for resolving the conflict, as he did in May 2011 after his last major effort to forge a peace agreement deal foundered. At that time, he proposed a formula for negotiating the borders of a new Palestinian state.
Publicly, Mr. Obama has said that both sides bear responsibility for the latest collapse. But the president believes that more than any other factor, Israel’s drumbeat of settlement announcements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem poisoned the atmosphere and doomed any chance of a breakthrough with the Palestinians.
“At every juncture, there was a settlement announcement,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “It was the thing that kept throwing a wrench in the gears.”
For now, Mr. Obama has instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to shift his attention to nuclear negotiations with Iran, which are heading into a decisive phase; the crisis in Ukraine; and the longer-term American strategic shift to Asia — a policy that has gained urgency with the president’s recent trip to the region.
During a recent trip to Israel, Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser, focused mainly on the nuclear diplomacy, which is also a priority for the Israeli government.
The White House has not undertaken a review of its peacemaking effort, the senior official said, because the reasons for its failure are straightforward. The administration also wants to make clear to both parties that “they have a door that’s open,” he said. “If they want to walk through that door, we’ll be there to work with them.”
That has left Mr. Indyk and his small team of State Department negotiators in a kind of limbo. Officials said it was likely that he would return to the Brookings Institution, where he has been vice president and director of foreign policy, in the coming weeks. But he is likely to remain “on call,” should the negotiations be revived.
For Mr. Kerry, who made the peace process the capstone of his diplomatic agenda, the question is whether he will make public any of the framework that he hammered out over the nine months of talks. That has not yet been decided, an official said.
On Wednesday, Mr. Kerry met the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in London. State Department officials said it was not an effort to jump-start the talks, but a “touch base” encounter, in part to manage tensions that have risen since the Palestinian Authority began reconciliation talks with Hamas, the militant Islamic group.
Mr. Kerry also met with Tzipi Livni, the Israeli justice minister who led the nation’s negotiating team and was in London for meetings with British officials. But the secretary of state has no plans to visit the region, an official said, and is focused on two trips to Asia this summer.
The Palestinian reconciliation talks prompted the Israelis to suspend the negotiations. Both sides have since furiously blamed the other for the breakdown: The Palestinians point to settlements; Israeli officials insist that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had made significant concessions while Mr. Abbas basically “shut down.”
The White House is sympathetic to that criticism. In a March meeting with Mr. Abbas in the Oval Office, Mr. Obama tried to sell him on Mr. Kerry’s framework. The Palestinian leader, officials said, did not respond, preferring to reiterate his rejection of the Israeli demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
“The president was skeptical about a deal after that meeting,” the official said. “Abbas was more comfortable pivoting to public grievance than focusing on a private negotiation.”
In a speech last week at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Mr. Indyk drew a distinction between the Israeli government and Mr. Netanyahu, who he said took substantial risks. “He moved; he showed flexibility,” Mr. Indyk said. “We had him, I think, by the end of that process, in the zone of a possible agreement.”
But Mr. Netanyahu, he said, was undermined by members of his coalition, who pressed ahead with settlement announcements that he said “had a very damaging effect.”
“And, by the way, it was intended to have that damaging effect,” Mr. Indyk said. “The promoters of the settlement activity were the ones who were adamantly opposed to the negotiations, even though they were in a government that was committed to the negotiations.”
That analysis closely tracks the comments by American officials to Nahum Barnea, a widely read correspondent for the Hebrew-language paper Yedioth Ahronoth. That interview caused ripples in Israel that have spread since Mr. Indyk’s speech.
Last Friday, an unnamed senior Israeli official complained to Reuters that Mr. Indyk had done little to advance the Israeli-Palestinian talks and was guilty of hypocrisy, since he knew Israel would continue settlement construction during the negotiations.
On May 4, two days after the White House-sanctioned interview appeared, Mr. Indyk took his staff to see “Camp David,” a new play about the 13 days of intense diplomacy, brokered by President Jimmy Carter, that produced the Camp David treaty between Israel and Egypt.
The parallels between that negotiation and the one that just ended were uncanny, according to one of the people in the group. “The characters change,” he said. “The issues don’t.”
U.S. Officials Question Ability of Nigeria to Rescue Hostages
By ERIC SCHMITT and BRIAN KNOWLTON
MAY 15, 2014
WASHINGTON — Obama administration officials on Thursday questioned whether the Nigerian military is able to rescue, even with international help, more than 260 schoolgirls abducted last month, giving impetus to a social media campaign calling for the United States to do more to free the hostages.
That campaign is supported by some members of Congress, but has made the Pentagon increasingly uneasy. Military leaders worry that they might be ordered to send in commandos to undertake a mission they regard as unacceptably risky.
The administration quickly offered its help to President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria in taking on the kidnappers, the extremist group Boko Haram. But the United States has not sent troops, and is unlikely to do so, in part because the girls are not believed to still be in one place, and because of the risks in attempting such a large-scale rescue over a vast expanse.
“At this point, we’re not actively considering the deployment of U.S. forces to participate in a combined rescue mission,” the White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, administration officials on Thursday offered an unusually candid and public assessment of the Nigerian military.
“We’re now looking at a military force that’s, quite frankly, becoming afraid to even engage,” said Alice Friend, the Pentagon’s principal director for African affairs. “The Nigerian military has the same challenges with corruption that every other institution in Nigeria does. Much of the funding that goes to the Nigerian military is skimmed off the top, if you will.”
The testimony also served as an opportunity for administration officials to pre-empt Republican criticism that the White House was slow to respond to the crisis. The problem, they said, rested more with Nigerian officials who ignored past American warnings to soften brutal tactics that only fueled Boko Haram’s insurgency.
American surveillance aircraft, both manned and unmanned, are making flights over the heavily forested region in northeastern Nigeria where the girls are believed to be held. So far, there are few if any clues about the girls’ location.
“We’re basically searching for these girls in an area that’s roughly the size of West Virginia,” Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said Thursday. “So it’s a tough challenge, to be sure.”
The administration has also sent about 30 specialists from the State Department, the F.B.I. and the Pentagon to advise Nigerian officials. About half are military personnel with medical, intelligence, counterterrorism and communications skills. Two officers with experience supporting a mission in Uganda to track down the Lord’s Resistance Army, another rebel force, have joined the effort.
Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the top general overseeing American missions in Africa, met with other senior American and Nigerian officials this week in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, to analyze Nigerian operations as well as the military’s “gaps and shortfalls,” Ms. Friend said.
Asked whether Nigerian forces were capable of rescuing the hostages, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told CBS News on Thursday, “That’s an open question.”
“We just don’t know enough yet to be able to assess what we will recommend to the Nigerians, where they need to go, what they need to do, to get those girls back,” Mr. Hagel said.
Gen. Carter F. Ham, a retired head of the military’s Africa command, said, “My sense is that U.S.G. will remain in a supporting role to Nigeria,” referring to the United States government. “I do not think the U.S.G. will seek unilateral action.”
Even as terrorist groups throughout the world have engaged in more kidnappings for ransom to finance their operations, Pentagon officials have worried that the success in killing Osama bin Laden and a movie like “Captain Phillips,” which depicted the capture and killing of Somali pirates, have placed unrealistic expectations on the American authorities.
“The United States of America doesn’t have the capacity, the capability to go rescue every kidnapped person around the world,” Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff, said in an interview this week.
But the Nigerian kidnappings have touched a nerve, setting off a campaign on Twitter and calls for action by all 20 female senators as well as such traditional proponents of American power as Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona.
At Thursday’s hearing, administration officials condemned the kidnappings and committed American aid to help rescue the girls. But they also voiced frustration at Nigeria’s political and military leaders for failing to heed Washington’s warnings about the extremist group.
“We have been urging Nigeria to reform its approach to Boko Haram,” said Robert P. Jackson, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs. “From our own difficult experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, we know that turning the tide of an insurgency requires more than force. The state must demonstrate to its citizens that it can protect them and offer them opportunity. When soldiers destroy towns, kill civilians and detain innocent people with impunity, mistrust takes root.”
Administration officials say they have tried to persuade the Nigerian authorities to adopt a more holistic approach to fighting Boko Haram, which the State Department branded a terrorist organization last year. The Pentagon, for instance, has supported programs to counter improvised explosive devices and build greater cooperation between the Nigerian military and the public, in part to help generate tips on suspected terrorists. The efforts have had mixed results, at best.
Moreover, finding Nigerian army units that have not been involved in gross violations of human rights has been a “persistent and very troubling limitation” on American efforts to work with the Nigerians, Ms. Friend said.
The Leahy Law, named after Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, bars the United States from providing training or equipment to foreign troops or units who commit “gross human rights violations” like rape, murder or torture.
Groups like Human Rights Watch say the Nigerian military has at times burned hundreds of homes and committed other abuses as it battled Boko Haram and its presumed supporters. A State Department inspector general’s report last year said that of 1,377 Nigerian soldiers vetted in 2012 to receive training, 211 were rejected or suspended because of human rights concerns.
“We have struggled a great deal in the past to locate units we can deal with,” Ms. Friend said, although training has now begun with one unit of rangers deemed to have met the Leahy standard.
Senator after senator, of both parties, expressed outrage at how long it has taken the Nigerian government to respond effectively to the abductions. Only on Thursday, Mr. Jackson said, was President Jonathan finally traveling to Chibok, the town where the abductions occurred.
But Ms. Friend was unable to assure the committee chairman, Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, that the Nigerian military had the capacity for a rescue operation, even if it had “actionable intelligence” on the girls’ whereabouts and help from other countries.
Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan cancels visit to kidnapped girls' town
No reason given for president's cancellation of visit to Chibok, which would have been his first since abductions on 14 April
Harriet Sherwood and Judith Soal
theguardian.com, Friday 16 May 2014 13.57 BST
The Nigerian president has cancelled a visit to the northern town from where more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped last month, as the US said the rescue mission was proving tough.
Goodluck Jonathan had been preparing to make his first visit to Chibok since the mass abductions were confirmed. He has been criticised for a slow response to the crisis and for failing to visit the girls' home town.
No reason was given for the cancellation, but security is likely to have been a major concern. The area is a stronghold of Boko Haram, the Islamic militant group which snatched the girls from a school on 14 April. Insurgents killed at least four soldiers in an ambush on Monday.
Relatives in Chibok were angry at the cancellation, saying they had no confidence that the government was doing everything possible to find the missing girls.
"You begin to question what could be more important to the president than the lives of these students," said Dr Allen Manasseh, whose 18-year-old sister Maryamu Wavi was abducted from the Chibok government girls secondary school.
"The parents were hoping he would come with some information for them about where the girls may be and what efforts are being done to recover them, but instead to be told he is not coming was not easy for them. It's not an easy thing to have a missing child."
Manasseh said his sister was not one of the girls pictured in the video released by Boko Haram. "It makes me very worried for her because I do not know whether she is alive or where she might be."
He said the families were upset that it had taken more than a month for Jonathan to schedule a visit to Chibok, but that promising to come and then postponing without an explanation gave them even less faith in the authorities.
In Washington, the state department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said Nigerian and international teams attempting to find the girls in the remote Sambisa forest faced "a tough challenge".
The US has deployed manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft over the area. According to the New York Times, 30 specialists from the state department, FBI and Pentagon, with medical, intelligence, counter-terrorism and communications expertise, have been sent to Nigeria.
The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, said there would be no active deployment of US forces in Nigeria.
The US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, told CBS News it was an open question whether Nigerian forces were capable of rescuing the girls.
The US general David Rodriguez met Nigerian officials in Abuja this week, as did the British Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds.
Jonathan was due to fly to Paris later on Friday for a summit hosted by the French president, François Hollande, to discuss the security threat posed by Boko Haram. Nigeria's neighbours, Benin, Cameroon, Niger and Chad, were expected to attend, along with US, UK and EU representatives.
Gunmen Raze Two Schools in North Nigeria
by Naharnet Newsdesk
16 May 2014, 06:48
A group of gunmen razed two schools in Bauchi state, northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram gunmen previously attacked a girls' school, a police spokesman said on Thursday.
Dozens of gunmen in cars and on motorcycles stormed the neighbouring villages of Shadarki and Yelwan Darazo, setting two primary schools ablaze, one in each village, said officer Haruna Mohammed.
"The attackers came in a group of around 30 and set fire to Shadarki Primary school before proceeding to Yelwan Darazo where they also burnt another primary school and a telecoms mast."
No one was hurt in the attacks, which happened at about 11:00 pm (2200 GMT) on Wednesday when the schools were empty, he added.
None of the gunmen was arrested and Mohammed declined to say if the attackers were from Boko Haram, which has carried out deadly attacks in the area.
Boko Haram, which translates from the Hausa language spoken widely in north Nigeria as "Western education is forbidden", has destroyed hundreds of schools in the northeast in the past two years.
Scores of students have been killed in their dormitories in a series of school raids and on April 14, 276 girls were abducted from their school in the remote town of Chibok in northeastern Borno state.
A total of 223 are still missing and are the subject of an international rescue mission after global outrage fuelled by a social media campaign.
On April 20, scores of suspected Boko Haram Islamists burnt down the teachers accommodation in a girls boarding school in Yana village in the same area but left the around 200 students unharmed.
Cuban blogger to launch island's first independent digital newspaper
Yoani Sánchez's online publication called 14ymedio will challenge communist-ruled country's state-controlled media
Reuters in Miami
theguardian.com, Thursday 15 May 2014 16.44 BST
Cuba's prize-winning blogger, Yoani Sánchez, is launching the island's first independent digital newspaper next week to challenge the communist-ruled country's state-controlled media.
Sánchez said the online publication will be named 14ymedio, in honour of the year of its launch and the 14th-floor Havana apartment where she writes her popular Generation Y blog on daily life and politics in Cuba.
Going up against Cuba's heavy media restrictions will not be easy, she admitted in an announcement on her blog on Wednesday.
"It will be a difficult road. In recent weeks we have seen a preview of how official propaganda will demonize us for creating this medium," Sánchez wrote, adding that several of her online team have already received warning calls from Cuban state security officials prior to the official launch on 21 May. Public criticism of Cuba's communist system can be considered enemy propaganda, punishable by jail sentences.
Sánchez, 38, has won several prestigious media awards in the United States and Europe and has been included on Time magazine's annual list of 100 most influential people.
Vowing to be totally independent and transparent, Sánchez said she opted for online journalism to voice her criticism of Cuba's one-party system, rather than becoming an opposition politician. "A reporter should not have any kind of militancy," she said.
Instead, she hopes 14ymedio "will support and accompany the necessary transition that is going to take place in our country".
Brazilian cops enlist FBI’s help in quelling unrest around World Cup sites
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 15, 2014 19:33 EDT
Brazilian police compared notes with U.S. law enforcement officers here Thursday as they geared up for a mammoth security operation at next month’s World Cup.
With fresh protests against the tournament rippling across Brazil, a gun-toting shock battalion of Rio military police held a mock crowd control drill complete with helicopter and fake tear gas.
Military police Colonel Andre Vidal said input for US advisers had been useful as Brazil prepares to drape a 170,000-strong World Cup security blanket across the June 12-July 13 tournament.
“We will not be changing our modus operandi for the World Cup,” Vidal stressed, while adding information-sharing was a useful means of determining “how to act in the best way possible” during the World Cup.
“This is an exchange of experiences to learn from different countries,” said Vidal. The Brazilians have also studied riot policing techniques in European countries including Spain and Germany.
Vidal reiterated that peaceful protests against the cost of the World Cup would be tolerated provided they did erupt into violence.
“Demonstrations are permitted in Brazil, but what is not permitted is civil disturbances,” the colonel told reporters in Rio.
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents present declined to comment.
In March, the Brazilians oversaw a week-long training session with FBI agents in the city of Belo Horizonte, covering topics such as organized crime, peacekeeping techniques and respecting marchers’ human rights.
Brazil’s branch of Amnesty International this week expressed concern that a planned crackdown on protests may comprise human rights such as freedom of expression.
“Protesting is not a crime, it is a human right,” said Amnesty’s Brazil director Atila Roque.
The Brazilian senate is due to vote on proposals to pass a law making public “disorder” a crime.
But Amnesty fears the move could criminalize people simply attending a protest.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Discovering ‘Naia’: 12,000-year-old teen’s skeleton offers clues into first Native Americans
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 15, 2014 16:39 EDT
A teenage girl who fell into a hole more than 12,000 years ago in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is offering new clues about the origins of the first Native Americans, researchers said Thursday.
Named “Naia” by scientists, her skeleton is among the oldest known and best preserved in the Americas.
Her remains were found in 2007, submerged in an underwater cave along with the bones of saber tooth tigers, giant sloths and cave bears, some 135 feet (41 meters) below sea level.
At the time she fell, some 12,000 to 13,000 years ago, the area, called Hoyo Negro, or Black Hole in Spanish, was dry and above ground.
Melting glaciers caused sea level rise that covered the pit with water for the last 8,000 years.
The girl was aged 15 to 16 and may have slipped into what appeared to her, and to the animals who met the same demise, to be a watering hole.
Her pelvis appears to have broken on impact, suggesting she died quickly after her fall, said Jim Chatters, an archeologist and forensic anthropologist in Bothell, Washington.
Her skull shows she had a small, narrow face, wide-set eyes, a prominent forehead and teeth that jutted outward.
Her appearance was “about the opposite of what Native Americans look like,” Chatters told reporters.
But a genetic marker found in the girl’s rib bone and tooth shows that her maternally inherited lineage was the same as that found in some modern Native Americans.
- Origins in Asia -
The report in the journal Science suggests she descended from people who migrated from Asia across the Bering Strait, over a land mass that was known as Beringia.
“What this study is presenting for the first time is the evidence that paleo-Americans with those distinctive features can also be directly tied to the same Beringian source population as contemporary Native Americans,” said Deborah Bolnick, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
That goes against theories held by some experts that Native Americans were descendants of people who migrated later, perhaps from Europe, southeast Asia or Australia.
“I used to be one of those advocates of multiple immigration events,” said Chatters, an archeologist who is best known for his work on Kennewick Man, a 9,800-year-old skull and skeletal remains found in the US state of Washington.
Chatters initially believed that the Kennewick Man descended from European settlers, because his skull did not resemble a typical Native American face.
But subsequent research, including the DNA analysis on Naia, has changed his way of thinking about where the earliest Native Americans came from.
The international team of researchers working on Naia has identified just one genetic marker from her mitochondrial DNA, called mtDNA haplogroup D1.
“Haplogroup D1 is derived from an Asian lineage but is found only in the Americas today,” explained Bolnick.
“Approximately 11 percent of Native Americans exhibit this genetic lineage,” she added.
“It’s found throughout North, Central and South America and this D1 lineage is especially common in some South American populations.”
Bolnick said their analysis at this point cannot exclude the possibility that other early peoples, known as paleo-Americans, came from places other than Beringia, but that so far the evidence does not support that possibility.
Naia is the sixth oldest human found in the Americas, said Chatters.
Future research aims to sequence her nuclear DNA, which should reveal more details about her ancestry.
In the USA...United Surveillance America
This is what American is degenerating into ..........This GOP primary debate for Idaho governor is so bonkers, we don’t know where to start
By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, May 15, 2014 14:53 EDT
“Folks, you have a choice: A cowboy, a curmudgeon, a biker or a normal guy. Take your pick.”
That is what Harley Brown, a Republican candidate for governor, told the people of Idaho during a primary debate on Wednesday evening — and it’s an entirely apt description of the situation. Before you’re mistaken, Brown doesn’t consider himself the “normal” candidate in that list. He’s the leather-clad fed-fightin’ biker.
Brown has joined Walt Bayes and state Sen. Russ Fulcher in challenging two-term Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter in the GOP primary.
The debate for Idaho governor was so crazy and colorful, we don’t know where to start.
So we will just start from the beginning.
Brown opened by complaining about taxes — nothing unusual for a political debate. He then remarked that “the child is the father of the man” — quoting the poet William Wordsworth — and claimed that after leaving the military, God told him he would one day be commander-in-chief. “Don’t think I’m crazy, because I’m not,” he assured all of Idaho.
Brown was followed by Bayes, who bragged that he was jailed for homeschooling and had 77 descendants. The GOP candidate explained he wanted to become governor so that he could stop abortion, since he didn’t want to follow the Supreme Court to hell.
After the candidates delivered their opening statements, they were questioned about their views on same-sex marriage. Fulcher and Otter both said he opposed discrimination against gay and lesbian people, but insisted they didn’t have the right to marry their same-sex partners.
Fulcher warned that “redefining marriage” undermined the religious freedom of Americans.
Brown had a far more colorful take on the subject. He said he experienced discrimination as a biker, linking the issue to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “We [bikers] are cop magnets like a Playboy bunny wearing a mini-skirt gets hit on all the time,” he explained. His experience as a taxi driver had proven to him that gay and lesbian couples truly loved each other, and therefore should be allowed to be married. His passionate defense of same-sex marriage, however, was cut short by the moderator. “Sorry, I didn’t see the lights going,” he apologized.
Bayes responded to the question by reading a Bible verse, which warned about the “unnatural uses” of our sexual organs and other “unseemly” acts. That was his entire response.
And things got even crazier. Later in the debate, the moderator asked Brown why he posted “bigoted” jokes about woman, gays, Jews, Asians, and Polish people on his campaign website.
Brown told the moderator he made fun of bikers and the Irish, too. The jokes, he explained, were meant to attack the “bondage” of political correctness. “I hit everybody,” he remarked. “I’m about as politically correct as your proverbial turd in a punch-bowl, and I’m proud of it.” He wanted to connect with real voters, not the “bondage” people — who apparently are ignorant about “picking up strangers at night and hauling them God knows where.”
The moderators gave Bayes a chance to pontificate further on his view of abortion. But instead of talking about the issue, he complained that his TV talked to him about homeschooling for hours and he threatened to shoot anyone who tried to take away his children. Bayes said that — like Brown — he didn’t care about political correctness. He finally got around to the issue of abortion, calling it murder, before the moderators moved on.
The issue of wolves was also raised during the debate. Bayes proudly claimed that he killed a wolf while it was still on the Endangered Species List.
But things got really interesting when Bayes was asked about his view on taxation. The candidate said the real problem was that the U.S. government had taken over the land in Idaho. Bayes called on Idaho to take its land back from the federal government and “start using it.”
“Our forests are kind of like someone raising tomatoes,” he explained. “They are pretty, red, don’t pick em. Well, what good is it?”
Brown also said he wanted to take on the federal government. He outlined his plan of attack, which involved himself — “because I’ve got a masters in raising hell” — an actor from a John Wayne movie and a lieutenant governor.
“You go in there and you use spiritual warfare. Everybody talks about the natural, but I’m going to talk about the other realm we exist in. Buying those evil spirits that are behind the feds with the blood of Jesus, the name of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of agreement, the word of God. Take air superiority and then roll in with your tanks on the ground.”
His glorious plan, however, was interrupted by the moderator, who noted that the question was about taxes.
“Well, he brought up the land thing,” Brown replied, pointing to Bayes, “and I coat-tailed on him. Taxes are a drag! I don’t even like to think about it. Fightin’ the feds is more exciting for me.”
Bayes — like some other conservatives — also said he thinks the Democratic Party is harboring communists.
“I honestly think half of the Republican Party is Democrats and half of the Democratic Party is communists,” he said.
Brown and Bayes didn’t disappoint with their closing remarks.
Brown said that after God told him he was going to be president, he got the presidential seal tattooed on his shoulder and launched his presidential campaign. Unfortunately, that campaign got him kicked out of the basement he was living in. Brown showed a note from an alleged prophet that stated the conversation with God was the real deal. He explained he was only running for governor because he needed practice.
Bayes concluded by saying that the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 was a sign of the apocalypse. Idaho needed to stock up on potassium iodide to protect themselves from radiation, he remarked.
“My Bible says it’s going to get worse and worse and worse,” he shouted, while banging his podium. “We better get us some.”
If you want to watch the absolute stupidity that now passes of politics in the USA click here: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/05/15/this-gop-primary-debate-for-idaho-governor-is-so-bonkers-we-dont-know-where-to-start/
If you are an American and wonder at the dumbing down of your country that allows stupidity to manifests as above please read here .............Republicans Go Berserk and Accuse Scientists of Bullying Them With Facts
Friday, May, 16th, 2014, 8:53 am
It is highly likely every American, at some point in their life, encountered a blustering, quarrelsome, overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people. There have always been bullies that prey on weaker people, but it is unlikely that when most Americans think of a bully they would hardly consider nerdy scientists bullies under any circumstances. However, according to Republicans, conservatives, and the religious right, the biggest bullies on the metaphorical block are scientists they claim intimidate weaker people (aforementioned evangelicals, Republicans, and conservatives) with facts, empirical data, and real-world occurrences that only ignorant right-wing morons and bible-clutching yokels find intimidating.
Over the past few weeks, the above mentioned weaker people have been intimidated more than usual by scientists whether it is Neil deGrasse Tyson’s weekly beat-down of creationists’ absurd belief that Earth and the Universe were blinked into existence 6,000 years ago, or climate scientists overwhelming evidence that man-mad global climate change is responsible for extreme weather events plaguing every region of the nation. One does not have to be a scientist, or even understand what science is, to comprehend that the entire globe is being ravaged by the exact extreme weather-related events climate scientists warned ten years ago were going to occur, and yet Republicans and their conservative pundits claim scientists are perpetrating a massive liberal hoax to portray seasonal weather as global climate change. However, a report this week revealed that climate change’s effects on Antarctica are Earth-changing and will adversely affect every continent on the planet.
According to new research from NASA, warmer ocean currents have set off an unstoppable, unpreventable, and irreversible chain of events that are melting a major section of west Antarctica’s ice sheet that will raise sea levels by about four feet and displace tens, if not hundreds-of millions of people from coastal and inland areas on every continent in the world. What conservative idiots and evangelical morons cannot fathom about global climate change is that it is the significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns due to warming oceans that under normal conditions occur over millions of years. It is the warmer ocean temperatures due to manmade CO2 and methane emissions that are responsible for global “ocean warming” that is melting Antarctica’s glaciers as well as changing weather patterns responsible for extreme weather events affecting the entire globe. Republicans have decided that climate scientists are using the empirical data and recorded severe weather to bully climate deniers with what they have labeled superstition, religion, and lies.
Between last week’s report on climate change and the devastation at home from super-storms, flooding, droughts, wild fires, tornados and this week’s news Antarctica is melting, conservatives went berserk and accused scientists using data, reason, and knowledge to bully people. That is the charge from CNN’s S.E. Cupp who was not to be outdone by Heritage Foundation economist Nicholas Loris who argued that “we haven’t seen these extreme weather events because the data doesn’t prove that.” S.E. Cupp continued that “Isn’t it a problem when science guys attempt to bully other people? The science group tries to shame anyone who questions facts, and it’s not working with the public.” Except conservatives are not questioning facts, they dispute they are real and it is stunning that anyone, even morons in the religious right or conservative movements, could dispute that the severe droughts, extreme flooding, super-storms, or drought-related wildfires are not real.
Conservative Charles Krauthammer avoided the “scientists are bullies” route and asserted that their data-driven certainty that global climate change is a reality is scientists’ version of religious superstition. The freak of nature said, “It’s always a result of what is ultimately what we’re talking about here, human sin with pollution of carbon. It’s the oldest superstition around. It was in the Old Testament, it’s in the rain dance of Native Americans – if you sin, the skies will not cooperate.” Krauthammer is an idiot because like the preponderance of morons decrying global climate change is a hoax, he obviously lacks rudimentary understanding that warm oceans is what changes what happens in the skies where weather is manifest. There is nothing remotely superstitious about that simple fact that every eighth-grade student in America learned in science class during the unit on weather.
Interestingly, bible-as-science advocate Pat Robertson had to weigh in and went straight to conspiracy theory and warned that efforts to combat climate change will destroy America and that scientists are part of an “anti-American socialist agenda that goes back to the playbook of Obama’s mentor.” According to Robertson’s tiny religious mind, curbing fossil fuel emissions “is high on the agenda of the radicals (scientists) who want to destroy America, it isn’t high on the agenda of those who really care about what goes on in life.” It must be beyond Robertson’s ability to comprehend that a great number of Americans “really care about what goes on in life” including taking steps to curb the devastating effects of global climate change to prevent more devastation that economists, the military, and scientists say will destroy America without intervention.
It is hardly reasonable that many Republican politicians, or their conservative media hacks, doubt for one minute that man-made climate change is real because they, like the great majority of Americans, have seen and felt the effects of extreme weather events firsthand. However, they know for a fact that for a large segment of the population, primarily their religious right and oil industry supporters, science is frightening because they lack the cognitive abilities of dirt and depend on superstition and fear to inform their worldview. A great number of Americans hate science, whether it is delivered by Neil deGrasse Tyson on Cosmos or NASA reporting a major part of Antarctica is melting because it makes them feel as abominably stupid as they really are and contradicts their faith whether it is faith in the bible or the dirty energy industry.
There is no hope of convincing climate change deniers that scientists, or science, is not their enemy and they will likely go to the grave hating science and the scientists attempting to save their pathetic lives from the effects of climate change. The reality is their contempt for science and scientists is very selective because they love the science that discovered and developed technological and medical advancements that make their pathetic lives better. If there was any real justice, they would be forbidden from using anything science and scientists are responsible for until they admitted their only problem with science is that they are intimidated by it because they are too stupid and superstitious to understand it.
****************FCC votes: Welcome to the Internet 'fast lane' (for now)
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 15, 2014 14:10 EDT
Federal Communications Commissioner Tom Wheeler won this round in the fight to change the Internet as we know it.
In a 3-2 preliminary vote, the FCC voted in favor to formally propose new net neutrality rules. Part of the new rules are aimed at allowing Internet service providers (ISP) to charge content companies more money for a fast-lane of service.
Protesters argue the Facebooks and the Googles of the world might not have a problem paying more for the fast lane, but what about the small start-up company? If the start-up doesn't have money for the fast lane, does that put them in the loser lane with a site that keeps its consumers waiting longer than necessary?
The FCC says that won't happen. Wheeler insists if someone acts to divide the Internet between the haves and have-nots, the FCC will use every power to stop it.
"Most Internet traffic I think would be unaffected by your Twitter, your email is pretty much going to work as it will and part of these proposed rules is a base-lined level of service so they're talking about a fast lane, not necessarily a slow lane," said Pete Pachal, technology editor at Mashable. "But that said, with Netflix paying more to operate in a fast lane, that would mean potentially your Netflix bill is going to go up, but not necessarily your Comcast bill,"
The plan is currently open for public comment. Pachal added, "We're not going to get a full answer on this until the end of the year."
**************Al Franken Blasts Net Neutrality Vote, Warning It Could Hand Corporations the Internet
By: Sarah Jones
Thursday, May, 15th, 2014, 3:24 pm
After the Federal Communications Commission passed newly proposed net neutrality rules on Thursday that would allow broadband providers to charge companies for faster delivery of their content, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who has called this issue “the free speech issue of our time,” blasted the FCC’s vote. He said it could lead to fast lanes on the Internet and hand the Internet to corporations.
“Today’s vote, plain and simple,” Senator Franken (D-MN) said in a statement. “Because of net neutrality, the Internet has been a tremendous platform for innovation and connectivity. But the FCC has taken a woefully misguided step toward handing the Internet over to big corporations who can pay boatloads of money for preferential treatment. Anyone who values a free and open Internet should be deeply troubled by the FCC’s vote, and I plan to do everything I can to convince them that they need to change course.”
Net neutrality means that all legal content on the Internet is treated equally. President Obama was one of the earliest supporters of net neutrality (as he should be given how he used the Internet to run a campaign of the people). Franken’s office explained the Senator’s position on net neutrality, saying Franken believes the Internet belongs to the people:
Sen. Franken has said net neutrality is the principle that the Internet belongs to the people, not huge corporations. That means Internet service providers can’t pick and choose what content will reach consumers. Net neutrality prevents Internet service providers from charging for preferential access to their customers. Sen. Franken has also said that net neutrality is the free speech issue of our time, calling the Internet the public square of the 21st century and a marketplace for new businesses and new ideas.
Democratic FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has been pushing the plan to replace the rules that were overruled by a federal court in January. This vote is not the changing of the rules, but rather marks the commencement of the formal, four month comment period. In other words, weigh in now if you want to be heard.
Of course corporations want to appropriate the Internet; it is the one place where the people’s voice can be heard without corporate spin. The Internet saved us from a President Romney. If corporations are allowed to buy fast lanes on the Internet, the Internet will lose the democracy inherent in it right now. And while that would be a tragedy for democracy, the corporations need to understand that it will only push innovative young minds to come up with a new way to communicatate without the interference of corporate agendas.
***************Harry Reid Sends Republicans Reeling By Proposing a Koch Killing Constitutional Amendment
By: Jason Easley
Thursday, May, 15th, 2014, 6:17 pm
Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today that Democrats are about mount an effort to amend the constitution to get the Koch brothers and other billionaires out of our politics.
Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) asked the big question, “Let me pose a question to everyone, including my friend the Republican Leader. If this unprecedented spending is free speech, where does that leave our middle-class constituents? The poor? It leaves them out in the cold. How could everyday working families afford to make their voices heard if money equals free speech?”
After describing how the Koch brothers are trying to reshape the Republican Party, and buy democracy, Reid said:
Elections in the United States should be decided by voters, Americans who have a constitutional, fundamental right to elect their representatives. Yet, more and more we see non-voters, like Koch Industries and Americans for Prosperity, dictating the results of primaries and elections across the country. Behind these non-voting organizations are the massively wealthy men and women, hoping for a big monetary return on their political donations. When the candidates they bankroll get into office, the winners inevitably begin to legislate their sponsors’ business plans – less regulation and less oversight for corporations. Let me state this plainly for all to hear: No one should be able to pump unlimited funds into political campaigns, whether they are a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent.
As one political observer noted, we currently have a campaign finance system in place which compels each party to pick which billionaires they like best. That is exactly why the system needs to change. There’s no question the Koch brothers are in a category of their own, in both degree and kind. No one else is pumping as much money into shadowy campaigns to promote issues that make themselves richer. No other individuals are recreating the role of a national political party. I understand that some people may disagree with my assessment. So I say: why not level the playing field for everyone? Let’s get this money out of our political system. Let’s undo the damage done by the Citizens United decision. Let’s do it now.
The Supreme Court has equated money with speech, so the more money you have the more speech you get, and the more influence in our democracy. That is wrong. Every American should have the same ability to influence our political system. One American, one vote. That’s what the Constitution guarantees. The Constitution does not give corporations a vote. And the Constitution does not give dollar bills a vote. From what I’ve heard recently, my Republican colleagues seem to have a different view. Republicans seem to think that billionaires, corporations and special interests should be allowed to drown out the voices of Americans. That is wrong and it has to end.
I oppose the notion that a big bank account should give billionaires, corporations or special interest groups a greater place in government than American voters. That is why I support the constitutional amendment proposed by two Senate Democrats, Senators Tom Udall and Michael Bennet, that curbs unlimited campaign spending. This amendment grants Congress the authority to regulate and limit the raising and spending of money for federal political campaigns.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell responded to this modern day cry of one person, one vote by hysterically arguing that Democrats are out to destroy the First Amendment, “Proposing to take away this fundamental right from the American people and vest it in the federal government instead is the ultimate act of radicalism, and it should concern all Americans who care about their right to speak their minds and to participate freely in the political process. Washington Democrats have shown again and again how determined they are to shut down the voices of anyone who disagrees with them, whether it’s targeting groups through the IRS or looking over the shoulders of reporters at local newspapers and on news radio. But this latest proposal goes beyond everything they’ve attempted previously. No politician from either party is above the Constitution, and this crass attempt by Democrats to shut down any opposition to their plans should be rejected swiftly and decisively by everyone in this country who prizes the free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.”
The First Amendment does not give mega rich billionaires like the Koch brothers more free speech than other Americans. The problem with the Republican argument that money is speech is that it ignores all reality. Money is not speech. Money is money. The Koch brothers aren’t buying free speech. They are attempting to buy control over the democratic process.
Sen. Reid was correct. The playing field is not level. It isn’t a coincidence that as the floodgates have opened on unlimited contributions, Republicans in Congress have increasingly ignored the will of the people. Money is no longer just buying access. Those Koch dollars are elected representatives of the people.
Passing a new campaign finance law will not be enough. The Koch owned Supreme Court majority will find any law that regulates campaign contributions to be unconstitutional. The only way to be sure that the Koch brothers are removed from our elections is to amend the constitution.
Republicans are banking everything on the Koch brothers and their money. Republicans are scared, because if the people ever catch on, the Koch brothers will be gone.
*******************Morning Joe Team Defends Kochs' Right To Corrupt Politics
By karoli May 15, 2014 10:30 am
Chuck Todd and Joe Scarborough led the charge against Harry Reid in their quest to save the billionaires from Reid's relentless attacks against money in politics.
What to do when you're a billionaire with the leader of the Senate breathing down your neck? Get that librul media on the case, of course! Chuck Todd and Joe Scarborough were at the ready, breathing fire down the necks of 'crazy bloggers' who dared to expose them back in the early days and aiming slings and arrows at Harry Reid.
At one point, they used Reid's discussion of Sheldon Adelson during an interview with Todd to say Reid is a liar with selective values when it comes to billionaires. But if you watch what Reid said, he didn't defend Adelson. He simply said his motives came from ideology rather than a lust for billionaire bucks. He also pointed out that Adelson doesn't go after social issues.
It was an awkward moment in that interview, and one that you might expect would come back to haunt him. But that doesn't excuse Scarborough coming out and calling Reid an outright liar, which is what he did.
No one disagreed, by the way, including our erstwhile Chuck Todd, who took a moment to declare Reid and McConnell the 'worst Senate leadership in his lifetime.' Why? Because they won't appear together on Meet the Press like in the old days. Of course, he forgot that the reason there's less collegiality in the Senate is because Republicans refuse to even sit at the table and talk, much less get anything done.
Then again, Chuck's job isn't to fact-check, it's just to let things roll the way he sees them, right?
The point Reid was trying to make in that segment was that there's just too much money in politics and the Kochs get credit for that, since they're the ones funding and coordinating right-wing Billionaire Bucks. That point was lost in the "both sides do it" dance that ensued, along with Chuck and Joe's factless slams on everyone from "crazy bloggers" to Harry Reid.
For the record, I was one of the "crazy bloggers" who first wrote about the Koch brothers back in early 2009 when I was trying to figure out who was behind all of the astroturf opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Nothing I wrote has been proven untrue, so I would like to challenge Chuck to defend his characterization of us as crazy.
He won't, nor will he and Scarborough retract their unfair characterization of Harry Reid as a liar. In the end, those Billionaire Bucks help sign a paycheck for Chuck Todd and the whole Morning Joe crew. That should disqualify all of them from engaging in judgment on those of us who object, but instead viewers get even more propaganda.
Perspective is everything. Let's see how quick Chuck and Joe would be to defend the Kochs if they found themselves in ordinary folks' shoes trying to fight against the constant barrage of lies and misinformation intended to lead people into voting for Koch interests instead of their own.
****************Progressive House Members Stand In Solidarity With Striking Fast Food Workers
By: Justin Baragona
Thursday, May, 15th, 2014, 5:12 pm
On Thursday, thousands of fast food workers across the nation walked out on their shifts to protest the low wages and lack of union representation in their industry. Over the past year-plus, there has been a movement among workers in the fast food industry to push for an increase in their pay. The movement, which started in New York City in November 2012, is known as Fast Food Forward. Besides fighting for an increase in their wages, fast food workers are also looking for the right to form a union without fear of retaliation from the corporations they work for.
In addition to the protests in many major American cities, the movement has expanded globally. In countries as far-reaching as Japan, New Zealand and Great Britain, protesters gathered to express sympathy with the US workers, gathering outside McDonald’s and other fast food franchises to make their voices heard. Many of these global protests were organized by either unions or young activists.
In a show of solidarity with the striking fast food workers, the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus released statements on Thursday. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) had the following to say:
“Working people have been treated like pawns in an economic experiment long enough. It’s time they were paid what they earn and allowed to work and live with dignity. It shouldn’t matter where they live or how big their CEO’s bonus was this year. No one should work two or three jobs and still be unable to pay rent or feed a family. The rights and needs of working people are too important to wait any longer, and today’s strikes are about making that known once and for all. I’m glad to stand with them, here in the U.S. and everywhere they demand justice, and I’m looking forward to continuing this fight until working people win the economic future they deserve.”
His colleague and fellow chairman, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), released the following statement in conjunction with Grijalva’s:
“Where Congress is failing to take action to address inequality, these workers are leading the way. Their fight for $15 and a union is a shining light that will ultimately benefit all workers in the country and help lift up our economy. It’s clear this movement isn’t going to stop until fast-food companies listen to the voices of these workers, who are struggling to support families on as little as $7.25 an hour.”
Thursday’s strikes affected 150 US cities. As Fast Food Forward works closely with the Service Employees International Union, don’t think that this is going to be the last of these strikes. In December 2013, a strike was held in about 100 US cities with thousands of workers walking out. Now, it has expanded to 150 with protesters showing their support around the world. If places like McDonald’s and Burger King won’t move to provide at least close to a livable wage for their workers, then we will continue to see these protests and strikes grow larger and more frequent.
************Republicans Have Made America a Dangerous Place To Be an Expectant Mother
Thursday, May, 15th, 2014, 11:03 am
Republicans and conservatives love touting American exceptionalism that in recent years has taken some devastating and eye-opening direct hits disproving claims that this country is anything but exceptional. Oh it is true America is number one in gun ownership and gun-related deaths, defense spending, greatest income inequality, and most citizens incarcerated, but in every other category America lags behind most other developed nation on Earth and even some still-developing countries. To assert America is barely mediocre is even is a stretch and something to aspire to, but at best it is wishful thinking. The latest news that America reached parity with countries such as Iran, Romania, and is twice as bad as Saudi Arabia and China is a serious pox on the reputation of richest nation on Earth, but it certainly warmed the black hearts of Republicans and particularly evangelical fundamentalists.
There were two reports out last week from a highly respected medical journal and an international organization that revealed America is a dangerous place to be an expectant mother, and for women-hating Republicans and Christian extremists it was welcomed news and a sign their anti-women efforts are a raging success. According to Save the Children’s list of best places to be a mother; “America plummeted from 6th place to 31st out of 178 countries” within a decade. The president and CEO of Save the Children announced that “In the U.S., the lifetime risk of maternal death has risen more than 50 percent since we launched our first report in 2000 — from 1 in 3,700 to 1 in 2,400. Today, an American woman faces the same lifetime risk of maternal death as a woman in Iran or Romania.”
However, that was not the only news Republicans and Christians celebrated because according to one of the most widely-respected health research journals on the planet, The Lancet, “the United States of America now ranks 60th out of 180 countries on maternal deaths occurring during pregnancy and childbirth.” That puts American women giving birth in the unenviable position as being twice as likely to die giving birth as women in Saudi Arabia or China. The sad facts are that for every 100,000 births in America just last year, 18.5 women died compared to 8.2 women who died during pregnancy and birth in Canada, 6.1 in Britain, and only 2.4 in Iceland; three countries boasting universal healthcare Republicans decry as “inferior socialized medicine.”
To get an accurate portrayal of the increasing danger to expectant mothers in the richest country on Earth compared to other nations, while America’s maternal death rate is climbing, the rate has dropped in in nearly all other nations. In fact, there are only eight countries with a rising mortality rate that puts America in a league with Belize, El Salvador, Afghanistan, and South Sudan; some of the poorest nations on the planet. It is worth noting, too, that America has been measuring the rate of maternal deaths the same way for decades so Republicans cannot claim the numbers are being manipulated, but it is probable that they are too busy celebrating with personhood and fetal-enamored evangelical pro-life advocates to take time to comment on the success of their anti-women handiwork.
There is a misperception that increased maternal mortality rates are due to younger girls becoming pregnant where childbirth and pregnancy is more dangerous, but the data show that the biggest rise is in the 20-24 age group. Researchers are almost unanimous in citing the lack of access to health care coupled with rising levels of poverty as the culprit to rising maternal mortality rates. Although lacking access to pre-natal care is a major contributing factor, a large number of women perish during pregnancy and childbirth due to pre-existing health issues before becoming pregnant that were exacerbated because they were carrying a fetus draining their body’s life-force. To make sure poor women suffering from undiagnosed and untreated diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease that are stressful enough without a parasitic fetus adding unnecessary stress to a woman’s body, Republicans cut funding for family planning (contraception and health screening) to prohibit poor women’s access to the means to prevent a pregnancy they should not have had in the first place.
Republicans and extremist Christian’s solution is restrict access to healthcare that would diagnose and treat existing health problems, prohibit access to contraception, close down women’s and expectant mother clinics, and if it is a former Confederate state, reject free Medicaid expansion to prevent poor women from having access to any healthcare. According to a study by the Roosevelt Institute, states with high poverty rates have maternal death rates 77% higher than states with lower levels of poverty, and women without health insurance are four times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than women who are insured. For women without prior health issues Christian Republicans have blocked access to prenatal care that every woman, rich or poor, requires to enhance their chance of a safe pregnancy and childbirth.
The two sickening reports were good news to conservative Christians and their Republican facilitators who worked diligently over the past three years to put an end to family planning agencies such as Planned Parenthood, closed countless women’s health clinics in Republican states, restricted access to abortion services, slashed funding for aid to expectant mothers, and rejected Medicaid expansion to prohibit poor women gaining from access to healthcare. One of the overriding, and hardly discussed, reasons behind Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act was its expanded coverage for women’s health and maternity services, including the provision forbidding higher premiums for women just because they are women. In fact, one of the reasons evangelical maniacs like Hobby Lobby are fighting to prevent women’s access to contraceptives is because extremist personhood advocates love a fetus but hate the woman carrying it and blocking access to contraception, closing women’s clinics and family planning agencies like Planned Parenthood provides the religious right with more fetal love to accompany more unhealthy mothers. It is a win-win situation for conservative Christians and Republicans who believe fetal rights trump those of the woman carrying the developing organism. Draconian cuts to services for expectant mothers coupled with inaccessibility to birth control and healthcare is finally producing the results religious right Republicans have long sought to achieve.
Add to the Christian Republicans closing down access to family planning, women’s health clinics, and pre-natal care the former Confederate GOP states deliberately promoting poverty due to slave wages, job-killing tax cuts for the rich, and rejecting Medicaid expansion due to ideological, and not fiscal reasons, and they have created the conditions that are killing off women at a rate closer to that of war-ravaged Afghanistan than the richest nation on Earth. What Americans can take away from another report condemning America as a declining second-rate nation is that like America’s high child poverty, infant mortality, and now maternal mortality rates rivaling third-world nations is that Republicans hate, in equal amounts children, infants, and expectant mothers nearly as much as they love a fetus; until it breathes air and becomes a human being.
***************Chris Christie Is Cooked as Former Campaign Manager Says Gov Knew About Bridgegate
By: Jason Easley
Thursday, May, 15th, 2014, 1:14 pm
As Chris Christie delusionally continues to believe that he can be president, his former campaign manager says that he personally told him about the GWB lane closures the day before they happened.
According to the New York Daily News:
Gov. Chris Christie’s former campaign manager says he told the governor about plans to close lanes on the George Washington Bridge in December, contradicting Christie’s claims he had no prior knowledge.
Bill Stepien, who lost his job in the scandal, contends he told Christie about the GWB traffic plans on Dec. 12, a day before the governor told reporters his staff didn’t know about them.
Meanwhile, Gov. Christie told the Fiscal Summit that he expects Bridgegate to blow over before the 2016 election, “I think this will be a footnote by the time any of these decisions are made.”
As Christie was blowing off Bridgegate, his Wall Street donors were pronouncing him dead, and shopping for another candidate. According to the AP, “Shortly after Christie discussed his White House ambitions in Washington on Wednesday, Republican donors gathered for a hedge fund conference in Las Vegas shared a decidedly pessimistic view of Christie’s presidential prospects. Even self-proclaimed Christie fans said his political brand probably has suffered permanent damage, acknowledging they’ve been forced to look elsewhere for a business-friendly presidential contender.”
To summarize, Chris Christie thinks that he can still be president while the staffers that he threw under the bus are letting the world know that he is a liar. At the same time, Christie’s base of financial support has completely abandoned him and is off looking for another candidate.
If Christie does run for president, it will be a disaster of epic proportions. Much like Mitt Romney did in 2012, Chris Christie seems to have convinced himself that it is his turn to be the Republican nominee. The whole post-Sandy PR image that Christie built up has been destroyed, as the ads that can be used against him write themselves. Because of Bridgegate, Gov. Christie will never be known as a straight talking politician who gets things done and fights for the common man.
It’s over and everybody knows it, except for Chris Christie.