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« Reply #14460 on: Jul 13, 2014, 06:34 AM »

Mandalay’s Chinese Muslims Chilled by Riots

JULY 12, 2014

MANDALAY, Myanmar — When hundreds of Buddhist men carrying clubs and swords marauded through the streets of this old royal capital earlier this month, the owner of a Muslim-Chinese restaurant took down the Koranic scriptures and the image of Mecca hanging above the cashier and removed the Arabic writing from signs on the street.

“I don’t know when I will put them back up, maybe never,” said Jian Hao Yang, whose restaurant is a short walk from the mosque where Chinese Muslims have worshiped for close to a century and a half.

Mandalay, the city that evokes the romance of Kipling for Westerners, has been a center of Buddhist learning since its founding in the 19th century by a broad-minded Burmese Buddhist king. It has also been a conglomeration of complexions, religions and ethnicities, a trading post and halfway point between the great civilizations of China and India.
But the historical tolerance shown by bygone Buddhist rulers is unraveling in Mandalay, the country’s second largest city, as antipathy between Buddhists and Muslims continues to spread across Myanmar, fomented by a radical Buddhist movement that is partly based here.

The riots in Mandalay, which left two people dead and prompted a nighttime curfew, brought religious hatred to the doorstep of one of the country’s best assimilated minorities, Chinese Muslims known here as the Panthay.

The Panthay are distinct from the broader Muslim population, which is in large part made up of Indian Muslims. But in a measure of how ubiquitous antipathy toward Muslims has become today, the Panthay, after decades of lives interwoven into Burmese and Buddhist society, now fear for their safety.

“We are now among the hated,” said U Maung Maung Lay, the great-grandson of a Panthay leader who moved here from southern China in the 1850s.

For a week after the riots, the board of trustees of the Panthay mosque, among them jade merchants, a pediatric surgeon and timber barons, suspended the festivities that normally accompany the breaking of the fast during Ramadan. They also turned down the volume of the loudspeakers announcing the call to prayer.

The mosque has since resumed the ceremonial breaking of the fast, but the celebration is muted and more sparsely attended than in years past.

“We are now living a lower profile,” said U Win Aung, one of the trustees of the mosque. “It’s for our own good.”

The Panthay mosque, with thick, fading ocher walls and a minaret built from Burmese hardwood, was erected in the 1860s with the blessings of a great Burmese king, Mindon, who although a devoted patron of Buddhism, welcomed the Muslim community and provided the land where the mosque remains.

Mandalay today is a sprawling city dotted with Buddhist pagodas, churches and mosques. But it is also home to the radical teachings of Ashin Wirathu, a monk who has preached hatred toward Muslims and is the spiritual leader of a movement to boycott Muslim businesses.

When bands of young Buddhists prowled the streets carrying clubs and shouting anti-Muslim slogans on the night of July 1, Mr. Maung Maung Lay, the descendant of the Panthay leader, fled to a hotel with his family.

He advised Panthay women to remove head coverings and told Muslim friends with beards to shave.

“I told them: ‘Shave it off. It endangers you. The beard is not important. What is important is how you practice your religion.’ ”

Violence against Muslims in Myanmar began two years ago along the border with Bangladesh, as a dispute between Buddhists and the million-strong community of Muslims known as Rohingya.

Many Rohingya have lived in the country for several generations but are considered illegal immigrants by the Burmese government, denied citizenship, and seen as a demographic threat by Buddhists, who make up the vast majority of the country’s population of about 60 million.

Anti-Muslim riots have spread to towns and villages across Myanmar as old resentments toward Muslim immigrants that were buried during five decades of military rule resurfaced amid the new freedoms of the country’s budding democracy.

The riots in Mandalay signaled a new level of threat in the religious strife: for the first time a big metropolis was at risk.

“No one really knows how the violence could escalate and who could be the next target,” said Thant Myint-U, one of the country’s leading historians. “There’s deep-seated prejudice against many minority communities, extremely high unemployment, rampant rumor mongering and a lot of general anxiety about the future. It’s an environment that’s very easy for anyone to exploit.”

U Thein Win Aung, the imam of a mosque on the outskirts of Mandalay, says the city “is like a pile of wood ready to burn.”

“It will take just one spark,” said Mr. Thein Win Aung, who is active in interfaith groups that are trying to stave off conflicts in the city.

The violence in Mandalay, which was set off by unconfirmed reports on Facebook of a rape of a Buddhist woman by two Muslim men, could have been much worse had it not been for the intervention of a Buddhist monk and former political prisoner, Mr. Thein Win Aung and others say.

The monk, Galonni Sayadaw, approached the roving bands of young Buddhist men and urged them to return to their homes. The monk also publicly exhorted the chief of police, who as in previous bouts of religious unrest did not immediately intervene, to disperse the crowds.

At the end of two nights of violence, the damage to property was not as severe as in some other cities racked by religious violence: a number of cars in Indian Muslim neighborhoods had been burned and mosques had been attacked with stones but were not seriously damaged. But the two men killed — a Buddhist, U Tun Tun, and a Muslim, U Soe Min — were brutally murdered. The body of the Muslim man was identifiable by his wife only by a distinctive blemish on one of his toes.

In an interview, Galonni, the monk, expressed the widely held view that the violence was backed by forces allied with conservative factions of the government that are trying to slow the country’s moves toward democracy ahead of landmark elections next year. “As we come closer to elections there will be more conflict,” he said.

David Scott Mathieson, an analyst with Human Rights Watch in Myanmar, wrote after the Mandalay riots that it appeared that the “violence was not just an organic eruption of communal resentment” and noted that it may have been linked to a planned visit to Mandalay on Sunday by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader. Burmese analysts have speculated that the violence might be associated with efforts to slow her ascension in politics and ultimately derail her attempts to become president.

Mr. Thein Win Aung, the imam, says religious strife is also being aggravated by what he describes as radical Muslims trained in India and the Middle East, who are preaching separation from Buddhist society.

Moderates in the city, both Muslims and Buddhists, are resigned to the reality that its live-and-let-live ethos, the greater tolerance of years past, is gone for now.

The restaurant owner, Mr. Yang, says that as tensions have risen over the last two years, he hides his religion from all but the closest of his Burmese friends. “If they serve pork, I say, ‘No, I can’t eat it — I’m allergic.’ ”

Mr. Yang, who also has a Burmese name and whose family has been in Myanmar for several generations, says he feels most comfortable within the Panthay community, which is feeling increasingly ostracized by the Burmese.

“We feel like foreigners,” he said, “and they treat us like immigrants.”

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« Reply #14461 on: Jul 13, 2014, 06:36 AM »

In Inquiry in China, Police Detain Star Anchor

JULY 12, 2014

BEIJING — A prominent Chinese state television anchor known for his strident efforts to champion China’s political and economic systems has been detained by the authorities, the state news media reported on Saturday.

The television anchor, Rui Chenggang, a popular host of a financial news program on China Central Television, or CCTV, was taken away by officials on Friday, along with Li Yong, the vice director of financial news for the network, according to People’s Daily, the official organ of the Communist Party. People’s Daily posted the news on Saturday evening on Twitter and on its Chinese microblog.

The detention of Mr. Rui appears to have taken place abruptly on Friday. That evening, his program, “Economic News,” was broadcast with an empty anchor’s chair and microphone, which immediately alerted Chinese political observers to the fact that something was amiss. For weeks, rumors had circulated that a widening government investigation into corruption at CCTV would implicate Mr. Rui. The co-anchor of “Economic News,” Xie Yingying, hosted the program alone on Friday.

A senior journalist at CCTV said Saturday that colleagues had told him in the morning that they had been ordered to remove content related to Mr. Rui from the network’s website and to scrap on-air advertisements featuring him and his show.

Mr. Rui is the most well-known celebrity to have been ensnared in a broad anticorruption campaign being overseen by President Xi Jinping. Mr. Xi, who is also the leader of the Communist Party, has said the party has been weakened by lack of discipline among its more than 80 million members. Last month, the party announced that Xu Caihou, a former top general, was being stripped of party membership and handed over to investigators looking into allegations of corrupt practices, including the selling of military posts. Mr. Xu’s purge was the biggest one in the ranks of the People’s Liberation Army in many years.

Fluent in English and partial to Zegna suits, Mr. Rui, who is in his mid-30s, has been heralded by fans as the face of modern China’s aspirations. A biography on a CCTV English-language website said Mr. Rui had interviewed more than 30 heads of state and more than 300 top executives of Fortune 500 companies. The biography said that in 2005, Richard C. Levin, then the president of Yale University, nominated Mr. Rui to be a Yale World Fellow. Mr. Levin wrote in an introduction to one of Mr. Rui’s books, “Life Begins at 30,” on China’s economic rise, that he was “an energetic young standard-bearer of the New China.”

Critics of Mr. Rui have long denounced him for his nationalistic campaigns and outrageous, confrontational statements. Mr. Rui achieved widespread fame in 2007 when he used his blog to successfully start a populist campaign to compel the government to remove a Starbucks coffeehouse from the historic Forbidden City in Beijing. A Chinese cafe replaced it. In 2010, Mr. Rui became the subject of Internet mockery over a comment he made when President Obama called for questions from the Korean news media at a Group of 20 summit meeting in South Korea. “I’m actually Chinese, but I think I get to represent the entire Asia,” he said.

The next year, at the World Economic Forum in Dalian, China, Mr. Rui asked Gary Locke, then the United States ambassador: “I hear you flew here coach. Is that a reminder that U.S. owes China money?” Mr. Locke replied that it was standard practice for American diplomats and other American officials to fly in economy class.

Mr. Rui is known for his well-groomed appearance. A 2009 profile in The New York Times said he drove a Jaguar. The same article quoted Guo Zhenxi, president of CCTV’s Channel 2, the network’s financial news channel, saying: “He’s our star anchor,” and “for the first time we’re examining the health of the nation with a television program.”

Mr. Guo was detained in May on suspicion of taking bribes, and other CCTV executives have been detained in recent months.


China’s top paper says no place for a ‘new cold war’ with U.S.

By Reuters
Saturday, July 12, 2014 10:02 EDT

China and the United States must avoid a “new cold war” in their international relations, China’s top newspaper said on Saturday, in the wake of high level talks in Beijing between senior leaders of the world’s two largest economies.

China and the United States agreed on Thursday to boost military ties and counter-terrorism cooperation during annual talks in Beijing, but there was little immediate sign of progress on thorny cyber-security or maritime issues.

“Both China and the United States realize that today’s world has already undergone profound changes, and there is no longer a market for a “new cold war”, the People’s Daily, the ruling communist party’s official paper, said in a commentary.

It was published under the pen name “Zhong Sheng”, meaning “Voice of China”, often used to give views on foreign policy.

The commentary said that the gravest risk to relations between the two countries was “misunderstanding”, and called for both sides to strengthen channels of communication as they looked to shake off a “hazy” period of bilateral relations.

The U.S. Department of Justice charged a Chinese businessman on Friday with hacking into the computer system of airplane maker Boeing Co and other companies to obtain data about military projects, the latest in a string of spying allegations between the two countries.

The commentary added that complex Sino-U.S. ties were unlikely to get easier to manage any time soon. Positive steps would include boosting bilateral investment, deepening cooperation on environmental issues, strengthening military ties and making travel easier between the two countries.

“If we deal with (the relationship) well, it could benefit both sides. But if we deal with this badly, that could be a slippery slope to terrible competition and even conflict,” the commentary said.

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« Last Edit: Jul 13, 2014, 06:56 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #14462 on: Jul 13, 2014, 06:46 AM »

Israel calls on residents to leave northern Gaza as death toll continues to spiral

Commandos sent in to destroy rocket site, says army, while Palestinians count more than 150 dead and UN seeks ceasefire

Staff and agencies in Gaza, Sunday 13 July 2014 08.23 BST   

Israel has called on residents of the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate their homes, suggesting a coming attack after its naval commandos earlier launched a brief raid in which soldiers exchanged direct fire with Hamas gunmen.

The death toll passed 160 on Sunday on the Palestinian side, with no Israeli fatalities reported. The United Nations called on Israel and Hamas to end hostilities. Instead the violence escalated with more exchanges of rocket fire from Gaza and missiles from Israel.

The Israeli air force dropped leaflets on Sunday morning calling for the evacuation. Israel's military spokesman said troops would begin a "short and temporary" campaign against northern Gaza sometime after 12pm local time (0900 GMT) on Sunday.

The military said four Israeli navy commandos were lightly wounded in a shootout with Gaza-based Hamas fighters as they carried out a raid to destroy a rocket launching site on Sunday morning. It marks the first time the sides have directly clashed since Israel began a devastating bombardment in response to rocket fire. Hamas said its fighters had fired at the Israeli force offshore, preventing them from landing.

Both sides have dismissed calls for a truce and Israel has continued to build up troops along the Gaza border ahead of a possible ground invasion.

The UN security council unanimously urged Israel and Hamas to respect "international humanitarian laws" and stop the loss of life. The 15-member council urged a return to calm "and restitution of the November 2012 ceasefire", referring to Gaza's last deadly full-scale conflict.

Israel's aerial campaign – the largest and deadliest since 2012 – saw strikes start early on Saturday, including one that hit a centre for the handicapped and another that killed two nephews of Gaza's former Hamas premier, Ismail Haniya.

Rockets fired from Gaza targeted Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with several intercepted over Israel's commercial capital and Jerusalem-bound projectiles hitting two southern West Bank cities.

Hundreds of rockets have so far caused no Israeli deaths and many have been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system.

An attack on the northern Gaza Strip hit a centre for the handicapped, killing two disabled women and wounding four, the centre's director said. "They didn't understand what was happening and they were so frightened," Jamila Alaywa said of those inside the care home.

"They fired the rocket and it hit us without any warning."

Later on Saturday night an Israeli warplane flattened the home of Gaza police chief Taysir al-Batsh and damaged a nearby mosque as evening prayers ended, killing at least 18 people and wounding 50, officials said.

Hamas unleashed a barrage of rocket fire after issuing a rare warning that it planned to fire at the Israeli city of Tel Aviv. Three rockets apparently targeting Jerusalem fell short, hitting Hebron and Bethlehem, the army and Palestinian security sources said, with no reports of casualties.

Of four fired at Tel Aviv, three were intercepted above the city and another hit open ground south of it, the army said. Well over 500 projectiles have struck Israel during the conflict, and on Saturday evening two rockets fired from Lebanon hit uninhabited areas in northern Israel, the army said.
Israel responded with artillery fire.

Amid international efforts to mediate a truce the Egyptian government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi's was in touch with both sides, his spokesman said.

Sisi met Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair in Cairo on Saturday to discuss the crisis and later warned any escalation would cause further loss of "innocent lives".

Washington has said it is willing to "leverage" its relationships in the region to bring about a ceasefire.
The chief diplomats of Britain, France, Germany and the United States are due to discuss how to achieve a truce when they meet in Vienna on Sunday.

The Italian foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, planned to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories from 14-17 July and Egypt on 18 July, her ministry said.

There has been little sign that either side is interested in an immediate end to the hostilities, which appeared to be ramping up over Saturday night. The Israeli army said it was sending messages to residents of northern Gaza "urging them to leave their homes for their own safety".

"It's unsafe to be near Hamas," it said.

On Friday Cairo said its efforts to mediate a return to a 2012 ceasefire agreement "have met with stubbornness".

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, said on Friday that "no international pressure will prevent us from striking, with all force, against the terrorist organisation which calls for our destruction".

Hamas's Haniya sounded a similar tone, saying: "[Israel] is the one that started this aggression and it must stop, because we are [simply] defending ourselves."

The latest conflict unfolded after last month's kidnap and murder of three young Israelis in the occupied West Bank and the brutal revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists.
Israel cracked down on Hamas, though the Islamist group declined to confirm or deny involvement in the abductions, and Gaza militants hit back with intensified rocket fire.

Israel says preparations are under way for a possible ground incursion, with tanks and artillery massed along the border and 33,000 reservists mobilised out of 40,000 approved by the cabinet. The foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said he expected a political decision on a possible ground operation to be taken by Sunday.


As Israel Hits Mosque and Clinic, Air Campaign’s Risks Come Home

JULY 12, 2014

BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip — As Israel’s air war against Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters in Gaza entered its sixth day on Saturday, a pair of bombings threw the difficulties of the campaign into painful relief: Israel bombed a mosque, which its aerial photos indicated was harboring a weapons cache, and a center for the disabled, killing two residents and wounding three, as well as a caretaker.

A separate strike on the house of a police commander killed at least 18 people, the highest toll so far this conflict, bringing the total number of dead to at least 140, Palestinian officials said.

In response, Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, garnering much attention despite causing no deaths or injuries, as three of them were intercepted.

There were also signs of imminent escalation as the Israeli military said it was going to send messages to northern Gaza residents to vacate their homes “for their own safety,” amid preparations for a possible invasion.

Major Strikes So Far

Here are approximate locations of 19 major airstrikes that resulted in deaths since Israel began its air campaign on Tuesday. The Israeli military says it has struck more than 1,100 targets since it started the operation in response to waves of rockets being fired from Gaza.

The Interior Ministry in Gaza urged Palestinians to ignore the warnings, calling them psychological warfare.

But the Israeli military said early Sunday that four soldiers were slightly wounded during a brief incursion into northern Gaza to destroy a rocket launching site, according to The Associated Press. It is the first time that Israeli ground troops are known to have entered Gaza in this offensive, The A.P. said, but the raid was carried out by special forces and did not appear to be the beginning of a broad ground offensive.

The Israeli bombing of the center for the disabled, the Mabaret Palestine Society here in northern Gaza, occurred just before dawn, when a missile crashed through the roof and exploded. Because it was the weekend, only five of the 19 severely disabled residents were at the center, while the rest were with their families, said Jamila Elaiwa, who founded the center 20 years ago.

She spoke at Al Shifa hospital’s burn unit, while she was visiting the wounded, including Mai Hamada, 30, and Salwa Abu al-Qomssan, 53, the caretaker, both of them with severe burns. Two more residents were in intensive care. The dead were identified as Ula Wisha, 31, and Suha Abusada, 39, whose family said she had been born severely disabled and unable to speak.

Muhammad Abu al-Qomssan, 32, the caretaker’s eldest son, said that his mother “has a soft heart,” and felt fortunate to have found this new job only three weeks ago. She had been to predawn prayers and told him she had arrived only a few minutes before the bomb struck, he said.

Ms. Elaiwa, 59, said that her center was well-known in the neighborhood and that it had been in the same building for almost a decade. She said she had no idea why it would be bombed. “No one lived there except us,” she said. “There was no one else in the building.”

At the site, neighbors picked through the rubble of modest medical equipment and scattered children’s books, from the small neighborhood children’s library Ms. Elaiwa ran. There was a seared copy of “Jane Eyre,” condensed, in English with Arabic translation, and an English-language copy of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.”

Neighbors like Yasir Abu Shoodq, 32, stared up at the sky through the holes the missile cut through the roof and each floor before making a crater in the ground. Children picked up the chunks of sharp steel from the crater and made off with them.

Mr. Abu Shoodq said, and Ms. Elaiwa confirmed, that there had first been a warning rocket, “a knock on the roof,” a few minutes before the missile hit. “But no one understood what it meant,” she said. “No one could imagine the center would be a target for anyone.” In any case, she said, the severity of the residents’ disabilities would have prevented them from fleeing on their own.

Azzedin Ali, 26, another neighbor, said angrily: “They are bankrupt of targets and of pity. What would the handicapped have been resisting? This is the enemy striking civilians in the places they think they are safe.”

As he spoke, perhaps a mile away, a rocket was launched from Gaza toward Israel, its contrail slightly wobbly in a hot, hazy sky.

In a rare Saturday briefing for reporters at Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv, a senior military official said, when asked, that the army was looking into what happened at the center for the disabled. “A group is investigating now what was the target, what was the intelligence,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with military protocol.

The briefing was an apparent effort to rebuff growing international alarm at the rising death toll from the airstrikes in Gaza and the calls for restraint.

The official spoke of the difficulties the air force faced in minimizing collateral damage in the densely populated environment of Gaza, describing the mission as “very challenging,” and showed video clips from the air that he said demonstrated the military’s care in targeting.

One clip showed a mission that was aborted because civilians, including children, were spotted in the vicinity of the target. Another showed a strike on a three-story house the official said belonged to a Hamas brigade commander in a crowded neighborhood of Khan Younis, which set off huge secondary explosions, indicating a weapons cache.

“Hamas’s operational infrastructure is not in specific military camps or posts,” he said. A building with two floors may have a weapons storage site on the first floor, he said, “and above it, regular families.”

At the mosque that was bombed on Saturday, in the Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, only the minaret was left standing. Young men joined the junior imam, Muhammad Hamad, 25, in digging through the rubble to save copies of the Quran and other religious works.

But this attack, one of two mosques hit on Saturday, was no mistake. Here Israeli intelligence was convinced, and issued photographs to support its case, that the mosque also served as “a Hamas rocket cache and a gathering point for militants,” the army’s spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, said in a statement.

Mr. Hamad, the young imam, denied categorically that any weapons had been in the mosque, but it was impossible for an untrained eye to tell, in part because it was considered too dangerous to try to enter the collapsed structure. “That charge is baseless,” he said. “This is the house of God.”

Neighbors said that there had been a “knock on the roof,” followed by the bomb a few minutes later, and that only four people were wounded because it was still too early for the predawn Ramadan prayers.

Mr. Hamad said he had found a Quran open to a page with a particular sura that he felt had special meaning. “Victory is imminent for those who remain steadfast,” he read.

The strike on the house of the police commander killed people in the house, in eastern Gaza City, as well as people coming out of a nearby mosque after evening prayers. The apparent target, Gen. Tayseer al-Batsh, was seriously wounded, medics said.

A rocket strike outside an apartment building in Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighborhood killed six Palestinians. The son of a local Hamas leader, Ismail Haniya, said the attack had targeted his aunt’s home and two of the dead were her children.

The United Nations Security Council issued a statement on Saturday calling on both sides to return to a 2012 cease-fire. The statement did not point a finger, but called for “respect for international law including the protection of civilians.”

The statement, endorsed by all 15 members of the Council, was largely symbolic; it does not have the force of a resolution, which Arab countries have called for.

The difficulties for Hamas and its allies in Gaza were also on display on Saturday as they fired at least 90 rockets at Israel, causing no deaths or injuries, two of them even falling into the West Bank towns of Hebron and Bethlehem.

In its most audacious attack yet, the military wing of Hamas announced at 8 p.m. that it would fire rockets at Tel Aviv an hour later. The news set off a flurry of air-raid sirens and people running to shelters but the rockets caused no injuries or damage, according to initial reports.

Hamas said it fired 10 J-80 rockets at Tel Aviv and central Israel. At least three of them were intercepted above the city while others fell in open areas.

Earlier, a rocket struck a residential neighborhood of Netivot, a southern Israeli town, causing property damage.

At least two rockets were fired from Lebanon into northern Israel late Saturday, the military said. In response, Israeli forces fired artillery rounds toward the launch site in Lebanon.


Ramadan in Gaza: life under missile-fire

More than 100 have died – often women and children in their own homes – and food prices are rising fast as supplies dry up

Peter Beaumont in Gaza City
The Guardian, Friday 11 July 2014 17.56 BST   

In Gaza's largely deserted streets, the first thing you notice is the absence of children.

The beach, usually crowded on Friday afternoons, is empty save for a handful of fishermen casting hand nets into the surf next to the harbour wall.

Al-Azhar park – next to the university of the same name – and Barcelona park with its climbing frames, lawns and basketball courts, are empty.

The few children who are outside play in the sheltered spaces between tall apartment blocks and the narrow lanes of the poorer neighbourhoods, a few feet from their doors under the watchful eyes of their parents: places deemed safer from bomb blasts.

It is the fourth day of Israel's intensive bombing campaign of the Gaza Strip, and more than 100 Palestinians have been killed, many of them children. More than 670 are injured. Families here have settled into a tense wartime regime, a daily routine hard-learned from Israel's previous military campaigns of 2008-09 and 2012.

Unlike Israel, there are no bomb shelters in Gaza. There are no sirens to warn of incoming missiles and no Iron Dome to shoot them down. The only warning, and one provided only intermittently, is that from those dropping the bombs – supplied by phone, text or a warning shot to the roof.

Under the ever-present hum of circling drones, squeal of jets, bomb-blasts and the thud of naval gunfire from the sea, most women and children are stuck indoors, often in buildings without electricity.

These families have been caught in a tragic catch-22. Afraid to leave their homes when the Israeli warplanes do drop their bombs on Gaza's neighbourhoods, it is the women and children sheltering in the buildings where they instinctively feel safest who are dying.

Israel has said it is training its missiles on Gaza's homes – a practice the United Nations Human Rights Office says may violate international law – because Hamas and other militants are hiding inside.

"We have received disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes," Ravina Shamdasani, a UN spokeswoman said on Thursday. "Such reports raise doubts about whether the Israeli air strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law."

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has rejected the criticism of international and local human rights groups and vowed to continue with the campaign. "No international pressure will prevent Israel from continuing its operation in Gaza … The leaders of Hamas are hiding behind the citizens of Gaza, and they are responsible for all casualties," he said.

For the 1.8 million people living in Gaza, this means that long Ramadan days – from before dawn until the late bedtime traditional during the fasting month – will continue to be defined by limited exposure to the open air.

Gaza City's central Firas market is usually packed with shoppers shoulder to shoulder, looking for fruit and vegetables after noon prayers. This Friday a few people were bustling along its lanes. Hamdi Haboush, 63, sat outside the hardware store where he sells brush heads and squeegees, spice racks and spades. "I haven't had any customers at all today," he said. "I only opened because I couldn't bear staying in the house. There are 50 of my family in our building, including twenty grandchildren.

"It's only really me who is going to early prayers at the moment [at four in the morning]. But it's the most frightening time for bombs so I walk close to the walls on my way to mosque.

"Otherwise no-one is going out. There's no work and nothing to do. Nowhere safe to go. Everyone is in a state of panic wondering when a bomb will fall.

"We have two metres square of space where the younger children can play. Last night some of the grandchildren came to me and said: 'Why are you going to open your shop? It's scary.' But I have to come out to change my mood."

Other men standing or sitting by their empty shops and stalls said the same. There is no money to be made – only relief from households going "crazy".

If, as Haboush says, early morning prayers are quiet, a steady stream of men and older boys filed in to the main mosque in Radwan for Friday prayers.

Mahmoud Karazem, 30, arrived late and in a hurry. He has grown used to the bombs over the years and different campaigns: "It's normal." Life under advanced missile-fire is not yet normal for his wife and two young toddlers.

"My wife is at home with the children. They are one and a half and almost three. I try to reassure them but when a bomb explodes it bursts the bubble. I cuddle them to get them used it, but sometimes it doesn't work."

The imam began his sermon with a message to worshippers that they were engaged in a fight of "good against evil". Ramadan "is a time of victories" he said before condemning the complicity of America and the international community and "the silence of the Arab world".

Mahmoud Khalija went to buy groceries after midday prayers. A worker at Gaza City's Shifa hospital, he said he is attempting to go about his life as "normally as possible".

"My wife is going to work too," he said. "Our older children stay at home with the youngest. The prices are the biggest problem. There is no fish," he added, indicating a shuttered fish stall. "And because it is so hard for the farmers to harvest and bring their produce to the market, some prices have quadrupled."

Others who had ventured out explained the judgment call: roads exposed to the sea, and therefore to Israel's naval gunships, are to be avoided. Roads bordering farmland where rockets are launched, are driven through quickly, if at all.

In Gaza, wealth cannot inoculate you from fear. In affluent neighbourhoods, where the buildings are taller and more widely spaced, the sound of the dropping missiles rings more loudly and clearly than in the huddled, poorer neighbourhoods and refugee camps. They are also closer to the naval boats pounding the coast with artillery fire.

In Tal al-Hawa, a neighbourhood hit hard in the 2008-09 conflict, Hazem Farwana, 38, a baker, is making Ramadan pancakes. He and his son Samir, 12, sell them for a £1.50 a kilo from a stall in front of a falafel takeaway.

Pancakes are the treat of any Iftar meal at the end of a day of fasting. They are served with nuts, cheese or dates and normally eaten before families go out visiting, sitting up late into the night. But Farwana and his wife have not gone visiting this week: "We are not living a normal life.

"People are stuck indoors. All they can do is eat. I have four children under 16 – I won't let them go too far from home."

As he spoke, a bomb exploded in the distance, close enough for a shockwave to rattle the window frames overhead.

Suddenly philosophical, Farwana added: "If I am going to die then I will die. I can die in the open as easily as I can indoors."


Disabled Palestinians unable to escape Israeli air strike

International pressure to curb civilian casualties is mounting as a charitable centre in Gaza is destroyed in an Israeli attack targeting a suspected militant

Peter Beaumont in Beit Lahia
The Observer, Saturday 12 July 2014 14.36 BST   

Who knows who lived in the two first-floor apartments above a home for eight disabled adults in a neighbourhood of eastern Gaza? Perhaps, as a neighbour suggests, one was a militant with Islamic Jihad who lived there with his family. But the neighbour says he is not sure. What is certain is that the occupant was absent early on Saturday when two Israeli drones "knocked on his roof" – firing warning shots to encourage civilians to vacate the building prior to a strike.

A few minutes later, an Israeli warplane fired a missile into the house. But it did not detonate on the first floor. Instead, it smashed through to the ground floor, where the explosion ripped through the room where five of the disabled people were sleeping, killing two and injuring the others.

A neighbour found one of the dead after he noticed flies buzzing around where she was buried. "A body! A body!" the man shouted. Gingerly he lifted the piece of concrete concealing a curly head of hair, face down in the debris.

Atef Abed, a supervisor with the private charity that runs the home, recognised Suha Abu Saada, 47, as her body was dug out of the rubble, one of her legs missing. As small as a child, she had been thrown out of the room where she was sleeping by the blast and buried beneath a concrete wall.

"That's Suha," Abed said as the body was carried past on a mattress covered in a blanket. "Ola Wishaa was 30. She was killed as well. And Ahmed was injured along with Mai and Sali. Luckily two of the other residents were away visiting their families."

It seemed a miracle that anyone could have survived a missile that exploded in the very centre of a room where a fin and part of its guidance system remained embedded in the concrete. A scorched bed stood to one side, damaged by the blast, which blew out the walls and left palm trees in the garden as truncated stumps standing among the rubble. "The bomb came straight through the roof," said Mohammad Bahri, 22, who lives next door. "About 4.30am two drones fired warning shots and then the jet came in and bombed."

The residents were barely mobile, said neighbours, spending their time in bed or in wheelchairs, and could not escape. Imad Abu Shedek denied there had been Palestinian missile fire nearby. "There was no resistance here. The guy upstairs, I heard he was maybe affiliated with Islamic Jihad, but he wasn't there. The first I knew was when I heard the air strike and got here and saw the bodies." An Israeli military spokeswoman said she was looking into why the centre was targeted.

The latest deaths came on the deadliest night so far of the campaign, in which an Israeli air strike on the home of Gaza's police chief claimed 15 lives. The target, situated near a mosque, was struck just as people were ending evening prayers. A source in Gaza's dominant Hamas group said the police chief, Tayseer Al-Batsh, was in a critical condition and most of the dead were from the same family. Other civilian infrastructure damaged in the past 24 hours, according to the UNWRA spokesman Chris Gunness, included nine schools.

The death toll in Gaza, which included a significant number of civilians, rose overnight to more than 130 after five days of bombing and artillery bombardment, with almost 1,000 injured. There have been no fatalities in Israel.

Israel's defence minister, Moshe Ya'alon, warned in a security briefing that "long days of fighting" were ahead. "We are working to push forward our next objectives. Achievements are accumulating, and we are continuing to destroy significant targets belonging to Hamas and other terrorist organisations."

Both militant factions in Gaza and Israel continued to trade fire with the sound of artillery, guns and air strikes echoing through almost empty streets amid the periodic whoosh of rockets into Israel.

There is growing international concern, and criticism of Israel, over the rapidly rising death toll. The US and European leaders have stressed Israel's right to defend itself, but the UN has expressed its concern over the civilian deaths and called for the restoration of calm and reinstitution of the November 2012 ceasefire. Anti-Israel protests have also been held in Europe.

William Hague said on Saturday that he would discuss with US, German and French foreign ministers the need for a ceasefire between the Palestinians and Israelis when they meet in Vienna for talks on Iran's nuclear programme.

"It is clear that we need urgent, concerted international action to secure a ceasefire, as was the case in 2012. I will discuss this with John Kerry, Laurent Fabius and Frank-Walter Steinmeier," the foreign secretary said in a statement. Issues that needed to be addressed included "the restoration of Palestinian Authority control, the opening up of legitimate movement and access and a permanent end to the unacceptable threat of rocket attacks and other forms of violence from Gaza against Israel".

A senior Arab League official said Arab foreign ministers would hold an emergency meeting in Cairo on Monday to discuss the Israeli offensive and measures to urge the international community to put pressure on Israel. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has urged the UN security council to order an immediate ceasefire.

Two mosques were among buildings hit for the first time overnight, according to Hamas. "The bombing of two mosques in Gaza overnight shows how barbaric this enemy is and how much it is hostile to Islam," said Husam Badran, a Hamas spokesman in Doha, Qatar. "This terrorism gives us the right to broaden our response to deter this occupier."

The Israeli military released an aerial photo of one mosque, saying it concealed rockets next to another religious site and civilian homes. It said Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Gaza militant groups used religious sites to conceal weapons and establish underground tunnel networks, deliberately endangering its own civilians.

"Hamas terrorists systematically exploit and choose to put Palestinians in Gaza in harm's way and continue to locate their positions among civilian areas and mosques, proving once more their disregard for human life and holy sites," said Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman.

Israel has insisted it is determined to end the cross-border rocket attacks that intensified last month after its forces arrested hundreds of Hamas activists in the West Bank following the abduction there of three Jewish teenagers who were later found killed. A Palestinian youth was then killed in Jerusalem in a suspected revenge attack by Israelis.

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« Reply #14463 on: Jul 13, 2014, 06:47 AM »

Libya airport hit by heavy fighting between militias

Flights halted as Islamist militias attack rival Zintan group, which controls Tripoli international airport

Staff and agencies in Tripoli, Sunday 13 July 2014 09.22 BST   

Heavy fighting between militias with anti-aircraft guns and rocket-propelled grenades has broken out near the airport of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Islamist militias attacked the rival Zintan group, which controls Libya's international airport in Tripoli, triggering fierce clashes that halted flights, officials said.

The exchanges with heavy weapons, which rival armed groups retain from the 2011 Nato-backed uprising that toppled the longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi, were heard in the city centre, 15 miles (25km) away.

British Airlines and Turkish Airways cancelled their flights, while thick smoke could be seen near the airport, residents said. An airport official said rockets had struck inside the airport perimeter at about 6am local time, interrupting flights. "Clashes followed between the Zintan militia who control the airport and rivals who want to drive them out," the official added.

The former rebel militia from Zintan, a hill town south-west of the capital, is the main supporter of liberals in parliament who are trying to resist attempts by powerful Islamists hoping to gain power in the vacuum left after Gaddafi was ousted.

The attack was claimed by the Operations Cell of Libyan Revolutionaries, a coalition of Islamist militias considered the armed wing of Islamists in parliament. "The revolutionary forces arrive within the perimeter of Tripoli airport and clash with armed groups inside," it said on its Facebook page.

The fighting comes weeks after a general election. Libya has been plagued by growing lawlessness while on the political front rival cabinets are jostling for power.

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« Reply #14464 on: Jul 13, 2014, 06:49 AM »

France Ends Mali Offensive, Redeploys Troops to Restive Sahel

by Naharnet Newsdesk
13 July 2014, 13:32

France said Sunday its military offensive that freed northern Mali from the grip of Islamists would be replaced by an operation spanning the wider, largely lawless Sahel region to combat extremist violence.

The so-called Serval offensive kicked off in January last year when French troops came to the help of Malian soldiers to rid the country's vast desert north from Islamists and Tuareg rebels who seized control after a coup.

France had initially planned to put an end to Serval and redeploy troops to the Sahel region in May but a fresh bout of clashes between rebels and the army in the flashpoint northern town of Kidal forced Paris to delay the pull-out.

"The president wanted a reorganization of our troops in the (Sahel) zone," Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday in a television interview.

He said French-led Serval had been successful. "Now there is a concern for us and for the countries in the area to make sure there is no upsurge (in terrorism) as there are still major risks that jihadists will develop in the zone that goes from the Horn of Africa to Guinea-Bissau."

The new operation, codenamed Barkhan, will kick off in the coming days and is being implemented in partnership with five countries in the Sahel-Sahara region, Le Drian said, without detailing which nations these were.

He added the operation would consist of around 3,000 soldiers, and drones, helicopters and fighter jets would be used.

Le Drian did not mention what nationality the troops would be, but he had said in May that this "counter-terrorism" operation would consist of 3,000 French soldiers who would be present in northern Mali, the north of Niger and in Chad.

"The aim is to prevent what I call the highway of all forms of traffics to become a place of permanent passage, where jihadist groups between Libya and the Atlantic Ocean can rebuild themselves, which would lead to serious consequences for our security," Le Drain said.

"It's our security which is at stake."

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« Reply #14465 on: Jul 13, 2014, 06:53 AM »

Pig Putin and Argentine Leader Agree on Nuclear Power Project

JULY 12, 2014

BUENOS AIRES — President Pig V. Putin of Russia and his Argentine counterpart signed deals on nuclear energy and other projects on Saturday in an effort to expand his country’s influence in Latin America.

Russia will help build the third reactor of a nuclear power plant in Argentina, Pig snorted after meeting with the Argentine president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, here on Saturday.

Both leaders said the nuclear projects would be for peaceful purposes.

Russia also hopes to build bases in Argentina for its satellite system and cooperate over the use of military technology, the Pig snorted, including the use of Russian planes and helicopters in the sector of Antarctica claimed by Argentina. Russian companies may also take part in the construction of two hydroelectric plants here.

On Friday, Pig brokered deals between Russian and Cuban energy companies in Havana, and waived 90 percent of Cuba’s Soviet-era debt.

He is also expected to sign a nuclear agreement with Brazil, a Russian official said, and he will hold talks with President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil before a meeting next week of the emerging market nations known as the Brics group: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The Pig and Mrs. Kirchner did not announce an agreement for Russian investment in Vaca Muerta, a vast shale oil and gas field in Patagonia, but Mrs. Kirchner said that a Russian delegation would visit the field.

The Russian leader’s Latin American tour comes as the West weighs strategies to prod Moscow to defuse conflict in Ukraine after its annexation of Crimea.

Mrs. Kirchner has accused Western leaders of hypocrisy over Crimea: She said they refused to acknowledge the result of a referendum in Crimea, in which people voted to join Russia, but they did not complain about a similar vote held last year in which residents of a British-controlled archipelago that is claimed by Argentina chose to remain British.

The Pig squealed he “highly valued” Argentina’s stance on international issues, and noted that the growth in trade between the countries had increased by double digits in the past year.

But the Pig's decision to meet leaders in the region should not be interpreted as a geopolitical maneuver, said Jorge Castro, an analyst of international politics in Buenos Aires. “The chief issue at play is energy strategy,” Mr. Castro said. “The problem of Ukraine will be solved in a different arena.”

Pig planned to have dinner with Mrs. Kirchner and the presidents of Venezuela, Bolivia and Uruguay on Saturday.
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« Reply #14466 on: Jul 13, 2014, 07:14 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Conservatives On Supreme Court Lied and Immediately Violated Their Hobby Lobby Ruling

By: Rmuse
Saturday, July, 12th, 2014, 10:06 am      

Americans have been led to believe that of all the institutions in government, they can depend on honesty from the members of the highest court in the land. However, since the justices on the Supreme Court are above the law, and ethics requirements every other judge in the nation are held to, it is not surprising the conservatives on the Court lied and immediately violated their own ruling to fit their religious worldview.

In the Hobby Lobby ruling, Justice Samuel Alito stated the ruling was narrow in scope, and “should” only apply to religious corporations opposed to certain forms of birth control. That sentiment lasted less than twenty-four hours until the High Court quietly ordered all lower courts to rehear any cases in which private for-profit religious companies sought to deny coverage for any type of contraception; not just the specific types Hobby Lobby was opposed to because in their religious minds, they are abortion.

Under the Affordable Care Act, there are 20 forms of contraception that were required to be covered as preventive services and necessary to women’s health. Although the Court did not dispute the science, or a compelling need for women’s health, they agreed with Holy Hobby Lobby that Plan B, Ella, and two types of IUD were abortion and violated the corporate religious principles. Justice Samuel Alito, in writing for the majority, used several questionable qualifiers he claimed limited the ruling’s scope, but the very next day they issued a series of orders contradicting the “narrow interpretation” of the decision.

The Justices vacated two separate decisions by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Autocam Corp. v. Burwell and Eden Foods v. Burwell, and ordered the appeals court to rehear the cases and issue rulings in accordance with the Catholics’ Hobby Lobby decision. The Sixth Circuit rejected requests from Catholic-owned businesses that demanded exemptions because Catholicism considers artificial birth control abortion and is therefore a sin against god. The Court also ordered the District of Columbia Appeals Court to reopen a similar case, Gilardi v. Department of Health & Human Services, and waste taxpayer money because “the conservative majority endorsed the idea that religious objections to insurance that covers any form of preventative healthcare for women have merit” according to Catholic Church doctrine.

It is relevant to note that the five male conservatives, who agreed with Hobby Lobby, as Catholics believe that any form of “unnatural birth control” is abortion. This is despite all known medical science, and fundamental common sense to the contrary. The Court’s Catholics rejected claims filed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and several other medical associations that “there is no scientific evidence that contraceptives, emergency or otherwise, available in the United States and approved by the FDA affect an existing pregnancy. Instead, they prevent ovulation, so there is no egg to fertilize, and no egg, like no implantation, means no pregnancy and no abortion.” But that is medical science and the Church speaks for god and Catholics have the documentation to prove it.

According to the Catholic Humanae Vitae (n.14 [3]) and not the Christian bible, the Church holds that “any unnatural or artificial means of birth control are immoral, blameworthy, sinful, and violate god’s law because they are abortion.” The Catholics also claim that at one time all Protestant religions in the world obeyed Catholic dogmata regarding “unnatural birth control” and they are on a crusade to rein in all Protestant denominations to dutifully adhere to Church doctrine; precisely as the High Court’s conservatives intended.

There is nothing that will sway Catholics from their belief that as religious rulers, when they say no contraceptives, they mean no contraceptives; even if they are provided by a third party at no cost to Catholics. For example, Notre Dame was given an exemption from providing contraception coverage in health plans, and the cost of providing them was shifted to a third-party to completely isolate the Catholic University from dealing with, or providing, contraception. It was not enough for the Catholics and they argued that it was immoral for a third party outside administrator to provide the objectionable coverage they regard as abortion. The Seventh Circuit Appellate Court denied Notre Dame’s demand to, as Judge Richard A. Posner wrote, “Forbid any insurer and plan administrator from providing any contraceptive coverage to Notre Dame staff or students.”

Notre Dame is appealing the ruling to the High Court because now that the conservatives ruled according to Catholic dogma, they will get the ruling, and control over students and staff, they demand. A spokesman for the Catholics said, “Our concern remains that if government is allowed to entangle a religious institution of higher education like Notre Dame in one area contrary to conscience, it’s given license to do so in others.” Many Americans’ concern is that if Catholics are allowed to enforce their birth control dogma contrary to women’s conscience’s regarding their own reproductive health, it will take license to do so in others. Catholics are already attempting to take license to discriminate against hiring gays or employees that do not share the employers’ faith.

Interestingly, according to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2011 98% of self-identified Catholic women of reproductive age (15-44) have used a method of contraception other than natural family planning at some point during their reproductive lives making them sinners in the eyes of the Catholic Church. Further, 88% of Catholic women are currently using contraceptives the Catholics consider unnatural, sinful, immoral, murder, and a violation of god’s Catholic doctrine. Now that the Catholics reined in Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, and other evangelical fundamentalists, the five conservatives on the High Court increased the chances their crusade to ban contraceptive use in America is one step closer to realization.

As Americans are witnessing, regardless what Alito and the other conservative Catholic justices claimed, their decision set a deliberate precedent the religious right and United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will use to affect the change Church dogma demands. Besides giving lower courts permission to expand their logic in the Hobby Lobby decision, they immediately broadened their decision’s scope by ordering other appeals courts to rehear and reopen (rule according to Catholicism) prior cases to issue the correct (Catholic) ruling. The Supreme Court’s conservatives are doing precisely what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg predicted in her dissent noting the logic in Alito’s decision went far beyond the limited scope the conservatives claimed. When she wrote that, “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield,” she misread the intent of the conservatives.  They did not randomly “venture into a minefield,” they planted the mines and opened the floodgates for Catholics and the religious right cohort to do what they yearned after all along; ban contraceptives and put an end to married and single women alike from having “consequence free sex.”

For centuries, the Catholic Church ruled the so-called Christian world unchallenged until England’s King Henry VIII broke the cycle of religious tyranny when he informed the Pope in Rome that his authority ended at England’s borders. Unfortunately for American women, and soon the gay community, there is no King Henry to hold the Catholic Church in check. Now that the conservative Court empowered the Church to define contraceptives as murder and abortion, the GOP gained a powerful ally in their war on women. With assistance from the religious right, Catholics are a step closer to impose personhood on a zygote and ban contraceptives they, and Papal Supremacy, regard as murder.


President Obama Uses His Weekly Address To Annihilate John Boehner and His Lawsuit

By: Jason Easley
Saturday, July, 12th, 2014, 11:25 am   

President Obama used his weekly address to unload on John Boehner’s partisan lawsuit by calling it, “a political stunt that’s going to waste months of America’s time. And by the way, they’re going to pay for it using your hard-earned tax dollars.”

The president said:

    These are the things we should be doing to grow the middle class and help folks work their way into the middle class. And it’s pretty uncontroversial stuff. I hope we can work together on it. And I’m always willing to compromise if folks have other ideas or if it advances generally the interests of working Americans.

    But so far this year, Republicans in Congress have blocked every serious idea to strengthen the middle class. Lifting the minimum wage, fair pay, student loan reform – they’ve said no to all of it. And that’s when I’ve acted this year to help working Americans on my own- when Congress won’t act.

    I’ve taken actions to attract new jobs, lift workers’ wages, help students pay off their loans, and more. And the Republican plan right now is not to do some of this work with me – instead, it’s to sue me. That’s actually what they’re spending their time on. It’s a political stunt that’s going to waste months of America’s time. And by the way, they’re going to pay for it using your hard-earned tax dollars.

    I have a better idea: do something, Congress. Do anything to help working Americans. Join the rest of the country. Join me, I’m looking forward to working with you.

There has been some hand-wringing based on a recent article on The Daily Beast that stated that Boehner’s lawsuit could be successful. The article was written by Ron Christie, who was a member of Dick Cheney’s staff during the Bush administration. Christie is also a Republican strategist who specializes in communications. His whole theory that the lawsuit will be successful is centered around the idea that since the Supreme Court said Obama overstepped on his recess NLRB appointment, any court will rule that the president overstepped on the ACA.

The problem with this argument is that it leaves out why the Supreme Court said Obama overstepped on the recess appointments. The Court didn’t rule that Obama doesn’t have the authority to make these appointments but that the Senate wasn’t in full recess when he made them. Republicans won on a technicality that had nothing to do with the legitimacy of presidential recess appointment power.

Being that Christie worked in the Bush White House, it isn’t surprising that he left out the most likely reason why Obama will win if this lawsuit goes to court. If Obama wins it will be in part because George W. Bush did the exact same thing with the rollout of Medicare Part D, “With pressure mounting to extend next Monday’s enrollment deadline for the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, the Bush administration took another small step in that direction Tuesday, waiving penalty fees for very low-income seniors and people with disabilities who sign up late….The move follows a recent administration decision to allow the same impoverished beneficiaries to sign up for Medicare drug coverage until Dec. 31.”

The president was correct. Boehner’s lawsuit is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. Remember, the same crowd who think that Boehner could win his lawsuit were also certain that the Supreme Court would find the ACA unconstitutional. The reason why Boehner is so desperate to fast track his lawsuit to the Supreme Court is that the Koch controlled High Court is the only place where he might win. The problem is that his bill to fast track the lawsuit will never pass the Senate as long as Harry Reid is Majority Leader, so it is just another Republican gimmick.

In the meantime, Boehner has handed Obama a club and he is beating the Republican Party over the head with it. Republicans and the Supreme Court have given Obama and the Democrats their themes for 2014. Democrats are using the Hobby Lobby decision to remind women why they can’t stay home this year, and they using Boehner’s lawsuit to run against the current do less than nothing Congress.

Somebody needs tell John Boehner that this isn’t Judge Judy. He isn’t going to get a quick and easy win. His lawsuit stunt will cost the taxpayers millions while making sure that nothing gets done that will actually help the American people. Speaker Boehner has set his own Republicans up, and Obama and the Democrats are prepared to knock them down.


Romney For POTUS? Dead Weight Finds New Life in GOP’s Desperate Scramble For A Leader

By: Eric Shapiro
Saturday, July, 12th, 2014, 7:28 pm

On November 6, 2012, Willard Mitt Romney lost what many Republicans had considered a winnable election to President Barack Obama with 47.2% of the electoral vote to the incumbent’s 51.1%. Even after Romney lurching right in a divisive Republican race, the Tea Party never embraced their party’s “severe conservative” standard bearer. He didn’t have much better luck with the general electorate; despite a few spikes in popularity, he never caught on with an American public that could not get past his stiffness and perceived lack of empathy for the 99%.

And so, despite the disbelief of conservatives up until the very end (Karl Rove furnishing a particularly memorable example) that their candidate could lose resoundingly to a President who had been struggling mightily in the polls leading up to the election, Romney went down hard.

One would think that after such a devastating electoral drubbing, the GOP would want America’s least favorite vulture capitalist to keep his head down and his mouth shut. Not so. Owing to the lack of a credible frontrunner in the 2016 GOP presidential crop, a small but vocal minority from the GOP’s business and “moderate” wings are calling for Romney to run again. Case in point: a WMUR poll released on Friday places Mitt Romney at 39% in New Hampshire, 22 points ahead of all other GOP presidential contenders. Yes, that Mitt Romney. The one who badly lost a presidential primary in 2008 and a presidential race in 2012. The one whom few Republicans could bring themselves to like in 2011-12. The one who tarnished the GOP brand by telling the truth about conservative ideology with his 47% remarks. The one who was unable to carry Massachusetts after serving as its governor for a full term. And perhaps worst of all, the cruel pet owner who trapped his poor dog to the roof of a car for a long road trip.

What accounts for this incredible reversal, one that even Mitt Romney’s relative popularity in New Hampshire can’t explain? Romney himself deserves some credit. Following his defeat, he kept silent for a while, allowing voters a chance to forget why they disliked him. Gradually, he eased his way back into the game, using his connections, fundraising potential and clout in the corporate world to raise gobs of money for the GOP. He has also been generous with high-profile, headline-grabbing endorsements. For example, Romney endorsed former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who is currently running in New Hampshire against Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. Brown, perhaps emulating Romney’s sterling record of losing “winnable races,” trails Shaheen by double digits at 50% to 38%, a 6-point increase from the New Hampshire Democrat’s lead as of April. With a mixed record of endorsements and an impressive record as a fundraising piggy bank, Mitt Romney has cultivated an “elder statesman” image, an impressive feat considering that his biggest accomplishment was laying the foundation for the Affordable Care Act with Massachusetts’ “Romneycare.” All of this goes to show that even with the Tea Party braying about ideological purity 24/7, there is always a spot at the table for anyone who can bring home the bacon like good ol’ Mitt Romney.

For some Republicans, Romney deserves more than a spot at the table; they think he should sit at the head of it. Enter the draft Mitt campaign. Henry Decker published an informative article for the National Memo compiling recent instances of Mitt-mania in the GOP, complete with a number of revealing quotes. On Monday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) took to MSNBC’s Hardball, boldly proclaiming: “A hundred times he says he’s not, but Mitt Romney has always accomplished what he’s set out to do. I think he’s proven right on a lot of stuff. I happen to be in the camp that thinks he’s actually going to run, and I think he will be the next President of the United States.”

Chaffetz is not the only one getting a tingle up his leg from the prospect of a Mitt Romney comeback. Former GOP Congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, fundraiser Harold Hamm and other prominent Republicans have also jumped on the bandwagon. And it’s not only party big shots that are on board; 51,100 have signed a petition asking for Mitt to run again. That’s probably more voters than genuinely wanted to shake his hand in 2012.

At times, Romney cheerleading has gone beyond wishful thinking and taken a turn for the absurd. In an op-ed for Politico, former Assistant Treasury Secretary Emil Henry compared Romney’s prospects to Richard Nixon’s following the latter’s loss to John F. Kennedy in 1960. Never mind that Nixon was an experienced politician with a distinguished (for good or ill) career in the Senate and a tenure as Vice President under his belt (working alongside American hero Dwight D. Eisenhower, no less). Never mind that Nixon, for all his flaws, possessed a deep and comprehensive knowledge of foreign policy. Romney diehards will draw on even the most tenuous historical comparisons to breathe new life into a political dead man.

To be fair, many if not most Republicans are not keen on a Mitt Romney revival; he is far too moderate for the Tea Party base, and the cynical GOP establishment will probably think twice before giving a two-time loser with massive baggage a second chance. Nevertheless, the mere fact that the idea is being entertained in prestigious polls and given voice in prominent publications like Politico and popular channels like Fox News and MSNBC is a testament to the vacuum that no GOP presidential prospect has been able for fill. According to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Tuesday, no Republican has surpassed 10% from voters with the exception of Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who holds a narrow lead at 11%.

With Hillary Clinton’s favorability drifting down to earth, it is conceivable that the eventual Republican nominee could enter the race with less of a disadvantage than previously assumed. However, the GOP seems nowhere close to uniting behind a candidate, and the prospect of another long, divisive primary campaign looms large. This is the reality that gave rise to a “draft Mitt” delusion. A party at war with itself desperately grasps at the old and familiar to alleviate the anxiety that comes with an uncertain, likely chaotic future. Republicans don’t want to draft Mitt because they suddenly like him. They want to draft because he’s a security blanket, something solid and comforting to grasp (hence, his illusory lead in New Hampshire). Alas, security blankets are quickly discarded. Soon, the GOP will be back to feuding over which prospective 2016 candidate deserves over 10% approval.

To his credit, Romney has repeatedly claimed that he will not run for president in 2016, perhaps realizing that any nostalgic feelings of affection that segments of the GOP have for him would evaporate if he actually threw his old-fashioned, “aw shucks,” 1950s-style hat in the ring again. If Mitt Romney sticks to his guns for once, he might make the most sensible decision of his political career: passing on 2016.


Pro-Republican Bias Causes Meet The Press Ratings To Crumble To Lowest Level Since 1992

By: Jason
Saturday, July, 12th, 2014, 5:53 pm   

The ratings for Meet The Press continue to crumble as the American people continue to show no interest in the pro-Republican Sunday morning show format.

Last week Meet The Press finished third in Sunday show viewership with just over two million viewers. The program trailed both CBS’ Face The Nation, and ABC’s This Week in viewership. Meet The Press has struggled with David "I am not a used corporate condom"  Gregory as host, and nothing they are doing to revive the show is working. NBC has contemplated dumping host David "I am not a used corporate condom"  Gregory, but the rumored swap of "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory for Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough could take a bad situation and make it exponentially worse.

There have been reports of conflicts among the Meet The Press staff with David "I am not a used corporate condom"  Gregory over the style and substance of the show. NBC has tried to reinvent Meet The Press by doing more taped segments outside of their Washington, D.C. studio, but viewership isn’t turning around. The problems surrounding David "I am not a used corporate condom"  Gregory’s disconnect with the audience and issues with guests are well known. A deeper issue the fact that the guest structure of Meet The Press is turning off a large segment of the political audience.

Most of the Sunday morning shows are heavily biased towards Republicans. In 2013, three of the four English language broadcast network Sunday shows gave the majority of their solo interviews to conservatives. Face The Nation, Meet The Press, and Fox News Sunday all favored conservatives. Meet The Press favored the right over the left by a margin of 48%-35%. Right-wing guests outnumbered left-wing guests on Face The Nation, Meet The Press and Fox News Sunday for the entire year last year.

Many blamed David "I am not a used corporate condom"  Gregory for this pro-Republican bias, but Republicans outnumbered Democrats 2 to 1 when Tim Russert hosted Meet The Press. The difference between "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory and Russert is that Russert was better at giving off an air of objectivity, even if his show was fundamentally the same as "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory’s.

Meet The Press is declining because the country is changing. Shows that are dominated by conservative and Republican guests are reflective of a majority of the country. As the Republicans have moved more to the right, the Sunday shows have become a platform for their radical views. Instead of keeping up with the leftward social shift in America, the Sunday shows are interviewing Rick Perry and giving John McCain a virtually weekly slot on national television.

David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory is just a symptom. The disease that will eventually kill Meet The Press is pro-Republican bias.


GOP Hits a New Level of Crazy: Quitter Sarah Palin Implies President Obama is High

By: Sarah Jones
Saturday, July, 12th, 2014, 1:32 pm

If she doesn’t get to impeach President Obama, can the bitter quitter from Alaska at least growl at him daily?

Yes, she can! Because Fox News will find a way to make a buck off of their failed Palin investment if it kills them. So on Friday they published an “op-ed” from Palin in which Palin called Obama a teenager and repeatedly inferred that he was high, because only real adults quit their job half way through in order to chase after taxpayer-funded reality TV shows that bomb.

Clearly jealous that the President is able to fundraise so easily off of the crazy Palin used to have a trademark on but Speaker John Boehner has encroached upon, Palin sniped about Obama eating pizza. How dare he. “President Obama was absolutely swamped the other night, staving off the munchies at a pizza party in the Mile High city, hobnobbing as headliner at numerous Democrat shindigs, collecting big bucks from big donors all day.”

In case you missed that you’re supposed to picture him as a high, lazy loser now who, and this is a bit of a problem for her imagery, sits around being fed big dollars by lobbyists, she spells it out for the reader later, “Whew. Racking balls, getting buzzed on suds, maybe humming ‘Rocky Mountain High’ while kicking it in those Rockies, hard choices had to be made – stripes or solids?”

So in Palin world, Obama is both high and collecting big bucks. Collecting big bucks is always a good thing when a rich white man does it for the GOP. Then it’s because they are good at their job and anyone who objects to CEOs getting million dollar bonuses while Americans starve is just lazy and jealous. But when Obama does it, well, he’s high.

The person who quit her job just accused the person who is doing his job of being high. For no reason.

“After watching what’s going on, does anyone else feel an urgency to take away the proverbial teenager’s car keys to prevent the inevitable crash down the road? But maybe that’s just the mama in me,” the GOP’s “pitbull” wrote. Here’s hoping spittle-encrusted jealousy is not actually “the mama” in her.

Palin had a bit about hairballs because really, what serious political operative doesn’t? “The president conveniently disparages these fat cats in public, but in private their group hugs are a whole lot of cuddlin,’ purrin’ and rolling over for more tummy tickling from the one who feeds them. And it wasn’t hairballs any felines coughed up Tuesday just to hear Obama talk…and talk…and talk some more.”

And then she destroyed the GOP’s attempts to seem less crazy by claiming Obama has so numerous impeachable offenses — this coming from the woman who was found guilty of abusing her power as governor, “The attention deficit that prohibits this administration from tackling even ONE serious problem, resolving even ONE impeachable scandal or self-made crisis, is probably due to having so much on the plate at once, including one heck of a high priority project currently underway.”

Like what she reads, Palin couldn’t name any specific impeachable offenses, so she tossed out the ever mocked “any and all of ‘em” approach, “But Barack Obama has most certainly engaged in impeachable offenses. Many. That’s a given.” Oh,yes, a “given”; aka, don’t ask for deets because she ain’t got ‘em! Any and all of ‘em, Katie.

Being found guilty as Palin was is not the same thing as having political opponents who lost to you like Palin lost to Obama claim that you are guilty. Just saying.

Then Palin drifted off into a frenzy of rage about a White House bowling alley refurbishment project, as if she had never put Wasilla into millions of dollars in debt over a sports center located conveniently near her home, or redone her entire office when elected as Mayor of Wasilla. Or had a recall campaign threatened against her for being a bit of a tyrant.

People say Sarah Palin is stupid. Sarah Palin is immature, petty, misinformed and really, really angry. But she’s not stupid. The GOP would give anything for her to shut up on cue, but she won’t, and that’s part of what makes her so great for the Democratic Party. Whenever the GOP is trying to sell the public that they are not crazy, up pops Sarah Palin from her Facebook Bunker or Breitbart or Fox News to remind everyone of when they sold her as the average Hockey Mom Next Door.

The GOP is full of crazy. She’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Sarah Palin is exactly what the GOP wants America to forget: Sarah Palin is the living and breathing debunking of every Republican myth. Sarah Palin is Ted Cruz who is Scott Walker who is George W Bush who is… the next Republican who tells you they are a moderate, small town, just-like-you average hockey mom/dad. The individual puppets get debunked but the shell game continues.

So there’s your Saturday hee-haw moment. It can only go up from here.

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« Reply #14467 on: Jul 14, 2014, 05:48 AM »

Ukrainian Forces Close In on Rebel-Held Luhansk

JULY 13, 2014

DONETSK, Ukraine — Ukrainian forces battered the outer suburbs of the rebel stronghold of Luhansk on Sunday, pushing deeper than ever but falling short of retaking the city.

The Ukrainian forces pounded rebel positions in an area called Yuvileiny just west of Luhansk, a rebel spokeswoman and residents said. Some accounts said the forces had established a checkpoint there, though a Ukrainian military spokesman could not confirm that.

Some news reports said that the government forces had retaken the city, which is crucial for the survival of the pro-Russian insurgency here in part because of its proximity to the Russian border. But residents and rebels said Sunday evening that the city was still in rebel hands.

“So far our forces are holding them back,” said a spokeswoman for the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic who asked not to be identified by name for her safety.    

Andrei Anoshin, a journalist for Realnaya Gazeta, a newspaper in Luhansk, said that the city had been shelled intensely for the past week, and that many civilians had been killed. “Today wasn’t that different from other days,” Mr. Anoshin said, adding that in the city center, “it is tense, but militarily calm.”

The military advances came as relations between Ukraine and Russia fell to a new low. On Sunday, a Russian citizen was killed on Russian soil by what the Russian government said was an errant Ukrainian shell. Ukraine denied firing a shell into Russian territory. Russia said the episode could have “irreversible consequences.”

Also on Sunday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia met with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany in Brazil and discussed the Ukraine crisis, Reuters reported. Citing a Putin spokesman, Reuters said the two leaders had called for the resumption of political negotiations on Ukraine but had added that for that to happen, a cease-fire needed to be declared and honored by all sides. Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko, declared a unilateral cease-fire last month but then called it off, saying the rebels had refused to abide by it and had used the truce merely to regroup and rearm.

Ukraine is trying to quell a pro-Russian insurgency that has inflamed its southeastern edge since spring. Luhansk, a region of coal mines and industry that is poorer and grittier than Donetsk, another rebel stronghold, is critical for the insurgents because it shares a long border with Russia, which the West believes is quietly supporting the rebels. Ukraine has been hitting rebel positions for days and has gained considerable ground in areas south and west of the city.

The Russian news agency Interfax cited an unnamed rebel in Luhansk as saying the Ukrainian forces had begun to storm the city from an area called Alexandrovka. The rebel said the attack included not only artillery fire, but also dozens of tanks and two fighter helicopters. It was impossible to verify the report. Three residents interviewed on Sunday said they had seen neither tanks nor helicopters.

In Donetsk, a local emergency worker, Alexander Ryaboshapka, said seven people were killed Saturday in a rocket attack in the Petrovsky district. One of them was a young girl. The Ukrainian military denied responsibility for the attack.

The rockets landed in such a way that suggested that they had been fired from the south, where Ukrainian forces are based. Still, some residents said on Sunday that the rockets had been fired from rebel positions.

The attack caused residents to flee the neighborhood, and on Sunday, it was silent. Vera Alexeyevna, a retired nurse, was cleaning debris in her small, tidy house on Bank Street. A window had been blown in by the blast, and a bed with yellow sheets was covered with shards of glass. She and her husband, both pensioners, did not have the money to leave, she said, so they had nothing to do but sweep up and hope.


Ukraine's President Says Russian Officers Fight Alongside Rebels

JULY 14, 2014, 7:32 A.M. E.D.T.

KIEV — Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused Russian military staff officers on Monday of fighting alongside separatists in the east of the country and said a newly-developed Russian missile system was being used against government forces.

Poroshenko was speaking at an emergency meeting of his security chiefs after a weekend of Ukrainian air strikes on rebel positions near the border with Russia and charges by Moscow that Kiev killed a Russian man with a cross-border shell.

The war of words between Kiev and Moscow and the intense fighting, in which Ukrainian forces say they inflicted heavy losses on the rebels, marks a sharp escalation in the three-month conflict in which several hundred Ukrainian servicemen, civilians and rebels have been killed.

"Information has ... been confirmed that Russian staff officers are taking part in military operations against Ukrainian forces," Poroshenko said, adding to his charges on Sunday of movements of heavy military equipment into the country from Russia.

He said Ukrainian forces were now coming under attack from a new Russian missile system and that Ukrainian forces would have change tactics on the border, though he gave no details.

Earlier on Monday, a military spokesman in Kiev said Russia was building up forces on its border with Ukraine, and separatists, backed by Russian "mercenaries", were firing on Ukrainian border guards in an attempt to bring armoured vehicles into the country.

Accusing Russia of embarking on a course of escalation in Ukraine's eastern regions, National and Security Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists:

"In the past 24 hours, deployment of (Russian) units and military equipment across the border from the Sumy and Luhansk border points was noticed. The Russian Federation continues to build up troops on the border."

In the early hours of Monday, separatists had fired on border guards and the armed forces near the border settlement of Dyakove, one of several attacks on border guards as "terrorists and Russian mercenaries" tried to bring in armoured vehicles and equipment, he said.

Lysenko accused rebel fighters of being behind the cross-border shelling of a Russian residential area in which a Russian man was killed on Sunday and which Moscow says was the work of Ukrainian forces.

"The (rebel) fighters systematically fire mortar and shoot into Russian territory which killed a Russian citizen," Lysenko said.


Ukraine Situation 'Deteriorating', Merkel, Putin Agree

by Naharnet Newsdesk
13 July 2014, 19:52

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed in talks in Brazil on Sunday that the situation in Ukraine, where Kiev is continuing an offensive against pro-Russian separatists in the east, is "deteriorating," the Kremlin said.

"Putin and Merkel had a constructive, very thorough dialogue during which they discussed in detail possible options for resolving the situation in Ukraine," Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov told the Russian news agency Ria Novosti. "The two leaders agreed that unfortunately the situation is deteriorating."

They also "stressed the need for the urgent resumption of a contact group on Ukraine, possibly via videoconference," Peskov said.

"According to (Putin and Merkel), for this to happen there needs to be a statement as soon as possible concerning a ceasefire, a prisoner exchange, and the return of (international) monitors" in eastern Ukraine, he added.

The talks between the two leaders came as fresh clashes between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces killed 18 civilians and forced Kiev's new Western-backed President Petro Poroshenko to cancel a crucial meeting with Putin at the World Cup in Brazil.

Over three months of fighting in Ukraine's restive east have claimed more than 550 lives so far.

“How long will this go on? Please tell me how long,” she said, wiping tears from her face.

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« Reply #14468 on: Jul 14, 2014, 05:49 AM »

07/11/2014 04:55 PM

NATO's Rasmussen: 'Active Role' for Germany 'Decisive for Europe's Future'

Interview Conducted By Christiane Hoffmann and Christoph Schult

In an interview, outgoing NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen discusses Germany's postwar tradition of pacificism and his belief the country is now ready, and indeed has the responsibility, to take on a greater role in global affairs.

SPIEGEL: Twenty-five years after reunification and almost seven decades after the end of World War II, has Germany become a country just like every other in terms of security policy?

Rasmussen: Germany is a normal country today, with the kinds of rights and duties other countries have. That's why Germany should play an important role in foreign and security policy, be it in the EU, NATO or in international politics.

SPIEGEL: So he spoke directly to your heart when German President Joachim Gauck recently called for a more active German foreign policy, military means included?

Rasmussen: I don't want to interfere with a domestic German debate. But I do very much agree with the position expressed by the German president. I welcome this debate. And not only as NATO secretary general, but also as the former prime minister of Denmark, the small neighbor country once occupied by Germany. Germany needs this debate. I can understand Germany being very cautious when it comes to international military deployments because of its past. But the time has come in Germany for this debate. Europe is ready for it, too. The goal should be to develop a common understanding for how Germany's new role might look.

SPIEGEL: Gauck has been badmouthed as a "warmonger" for his push. Are the Germans a pacifist people?

Rasmussen: The Germans are still very conscious of their past and are therefore reserved in terms of their international engagement. I respect this position. At the same time, Germany has become such an important actor on the world stage economically and politically that it can't simply sit back when it comes to international affairs. Germany is strong, and everyone expects it to take on an active role. That is decisive for Europe's future.

SPIEGEL: During the Ukraine crisis, many Germans expressed understanding for Russia's approach. How certain are you of Germany's ties with the West?

Rasmussen: The polls available to us show that it's not just the political leadership, but also the people who have faith in the trans-Atlantic partnership. The view held by most Germans is that Europe's security is based on the alliance with North America. This is also emphasized in the contract stipulating the goals of the grand coalition government between Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats.

SPIEGEL: But the Ukraine crisis has also shown that many Germans don't want ties to the West that are too strong. Many would like to see Berlin take on a mediating role between the West and the East.

Rasmussen: That doesn't surprise me. The Germans are still thankful that reunification was possible so quickly after the collapse of Communism. Hence the notion that Berlin ought to be a bridge between East and West. In this sense Germany has a special role to play. At the same time, given the current events in Ukraine, I would also say: The best way to find a political solution is for the West to demonstrate unity and strength.

SPIEGEL: Is Germany being too tolerant toward Moscow? Should it take on a tougher position through sanctions, for example?

Rasmussen: So far we have succeeded in speaking with one voice within the EU and NATO in the Ukraine crisis. The real test still lies ahead of us, when the European Union discusses the so-called third round of sanctions.

SPIEGEL: Even within NATO opinions about what needs to be done are already drifting apart.

Rasmussen: We have unanimously agreed on all important steps - that's the basis for all decisions in the alliance. We have strengthened our surveillance of air space, dispatched naval ships in the Baltic and Black seas and turned national military exercises into joint NATO maneuvers. As it did in Afghanistan or in Kosovo, Germany also played a very active role.

SPIEGEL: Within NATO, some are pushing for the stationing of more troops in Eastern Europe. Others, including Germany, do not want to provoke Russia.

Rasmussen: We have to be realistic. Past experiences play a different role in every country. The Baltic states and Poland are fearful for their security in light of Russia's illegal actions in Ukraine. The Russian actions evoke how Russia treated them in the past. Germany, for its part, remembers the constructive role that leaders in Moscow played at the time of reunification. We have to understand that the nations are coming with different perspectives.

SPIEGEL: Do you believe that German soldiers are prepared to die for Estonia or Latvia?

Rasmussen: That's a very pointed question and a hypothetical one on top. Let me just say this: I have no doubt that a NATO country, if it is attacked, can count on the aid of all other 27 member states.

SPIEGEL: So you're saying Article 5 of the NATO treaty, under which an attack on one is considered an attack on all, is not an empty promise?

Rasmussen: Definitely not. Article 5 is the essence of NATO. If we do not honor this obligation 100 percent in an emergency, then this alliance will be dead.

SPIEGEL: Is NATO even capable of defending the Baltic states with its current makeup?

Rasmussen: Yes, we can. At the same time, Russia's actions in Ukraine also taught us that we need to improve our ability to react rapidly. We are currently developing plans for that.

SPIEGEL: Russia will perceive that as a provocation.

Rasmussen: That can't be an argument, because if the Kremlin wants to, it can view anything as a provocation.

SPIEGEL: There is a current discussion about the procurement of combat drones in Germany. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has announced she would seek approval from parliament before any drone deployment takes place. Is that even possible in practice if it effects allies?

Rasmussen: I think so. It is normal in democracies for parliament to monitor the use of military means.

SPIEGEL: But many other NATO countries don't have this strict requirement of parliamentary approval. In France, for example, the president can make his own decisions on deployments by his army abroad.

Rasmussen: The distribution of power may be handled differently in constitutions from country to country, but this principle of political checks and balances exists everywhere. Nevertheless, your question still points to a challenge. We need more multilateral cooperation, which we call "smart defense" here at NATO. Some countries are having growing difficulties procuring military equipment on their own because of sinking defense budgets. That's why they will need to group together.

SPIEGEL: And that will disrupt the strict requirement of German parliamentary approval?

Rasmussen: In a multilateral context, every country must accept that the others also have a say. It must be ensured that these military capabilities can also truly be deployed. If there's a risk that a country will issue a veto against the deployment of such weapons, the other partners will hesitate in investing in such projects. So parliaments need to make sure that the processes work smoothly. However: Where there's a will, there's also a way.


07/14/2014 01:00 PM

World Cup Triumph: Germany Earned It

A Commentary By Christian Gödecke

Over the past eight years, Germany has worked hard to transform its football team. Sunday night's dramatic extra-time World Cup win shows that, while you can never plan for good luck, hard work and doggedness will go a long way in fostering it.

Perhaps this was the goal Jürgen Klinsmann was picturing when he spoke about Germany winning the World Cup back in July 2004, when he was being introduced as Germany's new head coach. During Sunday's World Cup finale, Mario Götze was running full speed as he hit the ball with his chest and turned to shoot it into the net. It was a technically brilliant, fast, goal that was as spectacular as the new German football Klinsmann had imagined.

When Klinsmann spoke in 2004, the prospect of winning the trophy sounded as believable as a tobacco ad. But now Germany is world champion, and German football has been given a completely new face.

Rarely has an objective been pursued with such consistency as Germany's fourth World Cup trophy. Klinsmann and his successor, Joachim Löw, prepared the team with the same doggedness and thoroughness for five big football events. Again and again, Team Manager Oliver Bierhoff fostered the best outside conditions for a German win. Head Scout Urs Siegenthaler obsessively traveled to Germany's World Cup and European Championship opponents, not only to study their game, but also their mentality. The Germans lost four times.

But those looking for progress could see it. In 2006, the team's game was raw, wild, unpolished. Spectacular wins were always as likely as spectacular defeat (in extra time against Italy). In 2010, the team had progressed, but still wasn't mature enough for the title. On good days it could win against England and Argentina, but didn't have enough experience or self-confidence to beat Spain. Along the way there was the European Championship loss against the overpowering Spaniards in 2008 and the European Championship loss against the clinical Italians in 2012.

This World Cup boasted the best German team of the Löw era. The winning team was made up of great players -- tactically flexible, physically robust, technically brilliant -- with a game that is dominating, powerful, direct and, when it needs to be, patient. It's not always beautiful -- it's the way it needs to be. It's no coincidence that the finale against Argentina included a bloodied Sebastian Schweinsteiger, a Mats Hummels stricken by cramps and an artful Götze, who's been called the "German Messi." It's the perfect mixture of rule-abiding and ambitious football, of hurrah and heave ho.

Given that Germany won the World Cup finale in extra time with the goal of the year, luck also played a factor in their win. But the lead up to that moment demonstrates that you can create luck through hard work. Löw and his team have earned their triumph.


07/11/2014 05:50 PM

Angry Germans: Big Projects Face Growing Resistance

By Sven Böll, Horand Knaup and Paul Middelhoff

In recent years, a new protest culture has made it more difficult for to complete big infrastructure projects in Germany. Now leaders are growing increasingly frustrated with protesters' unwillingness to compromise, and worry they're endangering the country's future.

Back when 75-year-old Hartmut Binner worked as a policeman in Bavaria, he saw himself as a guardian of the peace. In the 1970s, he was deployed during protests against the building of Munich's new airport. But now, as the leader of AufgeMUCkt, an association of over 80 public protest groups, he's spent the last few years campaigning against the third runway at the airport.

"I'll be a policeman until the day I die, but I lost my faith in politicians and the rule of law a long time ago," he says in his garden in the district of Friesing, gesturing to a plane roaring overhead. For his last birthday, he asked for a noise meter.

Binner's entire life revolves around the campaign. He monitors the routes of departing and landing planes. He plays his self-designed noise simulator on market squares. He kicks off his court appearances by singing the Bavarian national anthem. "If you want to be heard as a member of the public, you need to push the envelope," he shrugs.

Binner has a number of arguments up his sleeve -- from the airport's dwindling traffic to its increasingly badly paid jobs - and he's not interested in compromise. Binner's form of protest has a radical undercurrent: Well-informed, confrontational and devoid of respect for authority, he is typical of the new grassroots activism spreading across Germany. Wherever ambitious construction ventures loom on the horizon in Germany -- from the cities to the countryside, from the coastlines in the north to the Black Forest in the south -- opponents are taking to the streets.

More often than not, the demonstrators are protesting against projects that stand for change: extensions to airports, railways, new wind farms or power lines. Not even new subways or sports stadiums are exempt.

"Infrastructure developments have always been society's flagship projects, a symbol of progress," says Torsten Albig, governor of the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. But as the public's enthusiasm for constant innovation has lessened, so has the appeal of these sorts of projects, and, as a result, they now inevitably come accompanied by picketers.

Germany's graying society, it seems, is so cozy and settled that it resists anything threatening to upset the status quo. In the process, it has lost sight of the bigger picture. All that matters to these "Nimbies" -- as opponents of new developments have been dubbed (an acronym for the phrase "Not in My Back Yard") -- are their own interests, seemingly oblivious to the fact that German industry relies on intact infrastructure, new roads and train tracks, apartments and power plants, supply lines and shipping routes in order to function.

New Resistance for Politicians

The most spectacular of these kinds of disputes was over Stuttgart's main railway station -- a bitterly fought battle against a venture few actually wanted. The Stuttgart 21 project aimed to replace the city's current 17-track station with a below-ground facility, as well as build new above-ground and underground lines, but it prompted thousands to take to the streets in protests over the project's cost and effect on public spaces, only to be met by water cannons and police batons.

The Stuttgart 21 conflict illustrates just how much has changed in the relationship between governments and constituents. Today, local politicians are faced with fundamental skepticism about their competence and vision when it comes to everyday matters. These disputes over infrastructure projects aren't so much about the bricks and mortar as they are about whether representative democracy still works.

Political and bureaucratic bodies are partly to blame for their own diminished authority. Every major venture seems to entail spiraling costs. Berlin's new airport was supposed to cost €1.7 billion, a price tag that has shot up to well over €5 billion. Meanwhile, the €187 million earmarked for the Elbphilharmonie concert hall under construction in Hamburg is expected to exceed €865 million by the time the project is completed. Albig is well aware how bad this looks. "People see us as financially incompetent," he says.

For the time being, he and other politicians have no ready solution to all this public resentment. Alexander Dobrindt, a member of the Christian Democrats and Germany's transportation minister, is looking to institutionalize grassroots activism with a four-phase plan but it remains to be seen if the strategy will take off given how helpless and insecure it leaves most politicians. Some of them remain impervious in the face of opposition, while others attempt to be conciliatory -- reducing, for example, the number of turbines in a new wind park, investing in noise barriers or relocating a planned power mast. But the public has increasingly managed to preempt them with referendums and petitions, often torpedoing their jobs in the process.

In Berlin for example, a recent vote on the future of the former Tempelhof airfield proved disastrous for the local government, putting a stop to its plans to build on the perimeter of the park. The public similarly quashed Munich's bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics last year. In early 2013, plans for a light-rail system in Aachen were derailed and residents of Bielefeld vetoed a new subway system. Nothing seems to pass muster these days.

Battle Over a Runway

"In my opinion the third runway at Munich airport is the last runway that will get built in Germany," says Michael Kerkloh, the CEO of Munich Airport and sworn enemy of Hartmut Binner. The venture has become an acid test of whether it remains possible "to get anything at all done in this country," he says. He doesn't bother making excuses for the noise pollution that Binner is so enraged about. "Of course a new runway is unpopular with residents but should the world's fourth largest economy give up on international air traffic?" he asks.

As usual, it's a question of priorities and of what is more important -- the interests of a few hundred or thousand residents, or the greater good of the nation. "The protesters don't think about how the country might benefit, they just think about themselves," complains Kerkloh.

He has his own explanation for the growing resistance movements. Many of the protestors are pensioners with no vested interest in Germany's future. "It's striking that the leader of the protests against the Munich runway is a 75-year-old and not someone in the middle of his working life," he points out.

The term "Wutbürger" ("enraged citizen") was coined during the Stuttgart 21 fiasco to describe people like Hartmut Binner, and much has been written about them since. They often aren't the "common man." According to the Göttingen Institute for Democracy Studies, they tend to be highly educated people with steady incomes and white collar jobs. And while protests movements of the past were often steered by sociologists, today their leaders are more likely to stem from the technical professions, the researchers found.

They're a familiar breed not only to Kerkloh and his kind but also to politicians. As North Rhine-Westphalia's Transport Minister Michael Groschek says, "Germany is increasingly dominated by a pre-retirement mentality... the people who are most vocal in their protests are ones who just want to be left in peace for the last 10 to 20 years of their lives."

'Not Interested in Consensus'
If Hartmut Binder's journey has turned him from a rule enforcer to an anti-authoritarian, Dieter Salomon's has done the reverse. Now the 53-year-old mayor of Freiburg in southwestern Germany, he joined the Green Party 35 years ago when protest was the cornerstone of its identity. Salomon demonstrated against four-lane highways and the construction of the Freiburg Congress Center. Then Salomon opted to move away from grassroots activism and into politics, which is all about making compromises. "If I want to make a change then I need to be in government and assume responsibility," he says. "And that involves being willing to make concessions. Interest groups don't define the common good, elected bodies do."

These days, he sees grassroots protests, activism and political responsibility from a different perspective. "The typical protesters are gray-haired, know-it-alls and very networked," he says. "But they're not remotely interested in consensus-building, political processes and pluralism."

Salomon's nemesis is Gerlinde Schrempp, a determined and argumentative 67-year-old retired teacher with attitude to spare. She's the leader of the Freiburg Lebenswert movement, which translates roughly to "make Freiburg worth living in. The movement just got elected on to the district council and is first and foremost opposed to any new building in the city.

This includes a new stadium for the local football club. The team has done much to boost Freiburg's image in the last 20 years, but it needs a new arena. Its current pitch is four and a half meters too short and in the heart of a residential area, making it less than ideal. Salomon has pulled out all the stops in his attempts to win the public over to the club's cause.

The site chosen -- out of 24 possibilities -- is on the outskirts of the city, not far from the autobahn and Freiburg's airport. The mayor, the district council, the club and its fans were all in favor of the location, but then Schrempp and the 3,500 members of her grassroots initiative took to the barricades. A lengthy mediation process proved fruitless and Schrempp continues to harp on about her opponents' "arrogance" and how they "don't understand how to deal with power." "We won't accept this any longer," she says categorically.

Even Merkel Faces Wrath

Grassroots groups have become so livid, intransigent and single-minded that even the most respected politician in the country, Angela Merkel, is feeling their sting. In early May, hundreds of furious residents had gathered in central Ingolstadt to protest against the construction of a power line from Bad Lauchstädt in Sachsen-Anhalt to Meitingen in Bavaria. As Merkel looked out across a sea of banners and flags, her speech was drowned out by the braying crowd. Merkel knows full well there is no alternative to the power line if her government's planned nuclear phase-out has a chance of working. But instead of spelling this out, she did what she so often does when a conflict arises -- evaded the issue. "Together we will solve this problem," she said.

North Rhine-Westphalia Governor Groshek believes politicians need to put their foot down and say when they see a project as necessary. "I am responsible for the survival of my state's industry and that means I need to make some unpopular decisions sometimes," he says.

Much of the infrastructure in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, dates back to the post-war years and is literally in danger of falling apart. Built in 1965, the Rhine Bridge near Leverküsen, for example, is one of the busiest stretches of autobahn in the country, but trucks are frequently prevented from crossing its narrow road, most recently in mid-June.

A new bridge was slated to be built by 2020, but many locals would prefer a tunnel instead. "I can't kowtow to the bridge opponents -- I need to tell them the truth, which is that a tunnel only solves their own problem." Were a tunnel to be built, he knows all to well, it would draw its own protests.

Local and statewide referenda are no solution. Only those immediately affected by the issue tend to take part -- usually, with a view to vetoing a project. Schleswig-Holstein's governor Albig is pushing for nationwide votes on major infrastructure projects. But these could actually strengthen local resistance movements, who would rail against outsiders having a say in their issue.

Railway Tries New Approach

This ultimately means all interests need to be brought under one tent. That, at least, is the conclusion that Deutsche Bahn, the German national railway, reached after the Stuttgart 21 fiasco. "Back then we swore that from that point forward no railway project would be allowed to escalate that dramatically," says Volker Kefer, the company's head of infrastructure.

The resistance, Kefer knows, becomes more intense the more advanced a project gets. By that point, the decision to pursue a project is usually already made. That's why the railway is trying to talk to the people affected by a project early on. That's the case for a new railway line to be built between Bremen, Hamburg and Hanover. It's unclear if the project will ever come to fruition, but the company is traveling around the region in order to present locals with the preliminary drafts.

"It's better to talk to too many locals than not to talk to enough," is the new motto. This also applies to a new railway link to the Fehmarnbelt Tunnel in Schleswig-Holstein. The railway originally wanted to expand the existing line through the Baltic Sea spa region, but the locals feared it would hurt tourism. The company relented, and now a new line is supposed to be built along the A1 highway. "If citizen involvement is taken seriously, it means that things will become more expensive," says Kefer. "But it means we can build in the first place and also have peace in the long term. That's a prize society should be willing to pay."

Transportation Minister Dobrindt sees things similarly. In the past few months, his officials have developed a four-point-plan for citizen involvement. Depending on a project's advancement, there are to be information events, planning discussions, citizen forums and project advisers and a "reform commission for large projects" is supposed to examine the planning process.

This means that the construction of a bridge, which would have previously required the involvement of only a couple of engineers, has now become a social-political super project. But there's no way around it. "We need to be able to push forward important projects. In order to do that, we need a different project management, especially in the early phase," says Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz. "If you give up wanting something, then you've already lost."


07/11/2014 04:29 PM

El Dorado in the Amazon: A Deluded German and Three Dead Bodies

By Alexander Smoltczyk

A German man claims to be an Indian chief in the Amazon rainforest. His tales of El Dorado even impressed Steven Spielberg and Jacques Cousteau. His tales would be harmless if there weren't three unsolved deaths connected to his fantasy world.

In the late 1960s, a man turned up in the Brazilian state of Acre, deep in the Amazon region. He was wearing a loincloth and a feather, carried a bow and claimed he was Tatunca Nara, chief of the Ugha Mongulala. No one had ever heard of an Indian tribe with that name. In addition, the man bore no resemblance whatsoever to an Indian. He was white and spoke with a strong French accent.

He said he had inherited the accent from his mother, explaining that she was a German nun who had been taken by the Indians. His people, he said, lived in an underground city called Akakor, and that German was one of the languages spoken there -- a byproduct of the offspring of 2,000 Nazi soldiers who had once traveled up the Amazon in U-boats.

His story would have raised eyebrows anywhere else. But outlandish stories are not uncommon in the Amazon region, so no one paid much attention to Tatunca Nara. Otherwise, he made a friendly impression, and nothing much would have come of his appearance if it hadn't come to the attention of Karl Brugger, a correspondent with Germany's ARD television network at the time. He visited Tatunca Nara in Manaus and recorded his story on 12 audiotapes. Brugger called it: "The most unusual story I have ever heard." It was a tale of extraterrestrial visitors, secret rites of the "ancient fathers" and incursions of the "white barbarians," all described copiously and in great detail, and without interruption "from the year zero to the present."

Even more surprising was the fact that Brugger's book, "The Chronicle of Akakor," enjoyed a certain level of success. In New Age circles, Tatunca's stories were studied as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls. They included lines like, "Five empty days at the end of the year are dedicated to worshipping our gods."

Oceanographer Jacques Cousteau hired Tatunca as a guide when he explored the region with his boat, the Calypso, in 1983. The 2008 adventure film "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is about a sunken city in the Amazon called Akator, and an Indian tribe called the Ugha Mogulala. The action figure for the film is dressed in a loincloth and a feather.

Does the original exist? Is Tatunca alive? This reporter recently traveled to Brazil in an effort to find the legendary man.

The Almirante Azevedo II, a river steamer, has been traveling up and down the Rio Negro for more than 30 years. The trip upstream from Manaus to Barcelos takes 35 hours, a journey through black waters turned acidic by decaying vegetation. It is the rainy season and the rainforests are flooded, transforming the Rio Negro into a vast, watery network of tributaries and putrid swamps.

Raimundo Azevedo, the captain, is squatting next to a stack of tires on the lower deck, having his back massaged by a physical therapist who came on board at some point. When asked about Tatunca, he says, "The Indian from Germany? Of course I know him. Everyone on the river knows him. Of course he's still alive -- as long as no one shot him last week."

The Almirante Azevedo II has traveled through the inky black night, in a bubble consisting of the sounds of water rushing past and the numbing chug of its diesel engine, sounds reflected by the wall of rampant, tangled vegetation along the riverbank. Captain Azevedo puts on a shirt and hauls himself up the stairs to the upper deck to play cards.

Sinister Rumors

The few dozen passengers are lying in their hammocks, packed together like sausages in a smokehouse. A Pentecostal Christian crosses himself and prays, while the boy next to him is engrossed in pictures of vaginas on his mobile phone. It seems each person has a different way of starting out the day. The captain, who has heard about Tatunca's jungle fortress, says: "No one dares go there, because he has installed booby traps and attached guns to trees. No one knows what he is hiding there." An occasional shrieking noise can be heard as the boat slides past the shore.

"There was a German who wrote a book about Tatunca," says the captain. "He even had a turtle tattooed over his heart, just like Tatunca. They killed him in Rio."

"The bullet went straight into the turtle," adds Lucio, a fat taxi driver with a piece of his elbow sticking out of his wrist, the result of a motorcycle accident.

"But that wasn't Tatunca."

"Maybe not."

The riverboat creeps up the river, pushing its way through prehistoric organic matter, and the longer it evades drifting tree trunks and floating islands, the more the group discusses rumors about this German living upstream -- and the more sinister they become.

Some bones were found seven years ago, says Lucio. "Long bones. It was no Amazonian. Probably a German." Tatunca killed him, says Lucio, to gain access to his money and his wife. "That's what people say. But Tatunca says it wasn't him."

"Maybe not. They say he's on the run from the police in his country," says the captain. By now, Tatunca must be well into his seventies. And yet, the captain notes, he is still strong and fit. "He hates gringos," says another man. He pauses for a moment, looks at the others, and says: "You're gringos."

The shore glides by, empty and yet promising. A shadow occasionally slips out of the water, one of the pink dolphins native to the Rio Negro, which are said to go on land at night and impregnate women.

German adventurer Rüdiger Nehberg also encountered this white Indian, Tatunca Nara, during an expedition among the Yanomami Indians. The two men hated each other at first sight and accused each other of lying, murder and delusion. Their mutual animosity apparently persists to this day. "Tatunca wants to personally drown me in the Rio Negro," Nehberg wrote in an email in May.

Murders and Disappearances

The animosity stems from the fact that Nehberg published a book in 1991 titled "The Self-Made Chief." In it, he revealed that Tatunca Nara's real name is Hansi Richard Günther Hauck, and that he was born in Grub am Forst, a town near Coburg in Bavaria and not on the Rio Negro, in 1941. According to Nehberg, Hauck, who had read a lot of "Tarzan" books as a young boy, abandoned his wife and children in 1966, took a job on board the freighter Dorthe Oldendorff and eventually disappeared in Brazil. Former friends said that, as a child, Hauck once claimed to have witnessed the landing of extraterrestrial beings.

This would all be harmless if there weren't three deaths that remain unexplained to this day, deaths that occurred along the upper reaches of the Rio Negro. All three victims had been drawn to the region after reading "The Chronicle of Akakor," and had asked a certain Tatunca Nara to lead them to the sunken city. And, according to witnesses, he had made the same promise to all three: "I will show you Akakor."

The German Federal Criminal Police Office launched an investigation into the suspected murder and disappearance of three individuals "against German citizen Günther Hauck, who lives in Brazil, under a false identity." But the investigation came to nothing.

After 35 hours of painfully slow-moving travel, Barcelos appears on the left bank like a prophecy some 500 kilometers (312 miles) upstream from Manaus. There are 30 Evangelical churches in this town of 15,000 residents, some of whom drive around proclaiming salvation into the motionless, dusty air from sound systems mounted onto their pickup trucks: "God does not deny you any miracles!" It is the religion of the up-and-coming, those who prefer to believe in the future and not the hereafter.

The Lure of the Amazon

The Amazon and its tributaries have always held an attraction for people disgusted with the ordinary, fortune hunters and gold prospectors -- among them German actor Klaus Kinski, 19th century geographer Alexander von Humboldt, a Nazi explorer named Otto Schulz-Kampfhenkel and countless rescuers of the rainforest. The most recent incarnation of Amazon adventurer is a gaunt Texan with watery eyes, whose friends call him "The Amazing Faltermann," and who is just pushing his bicycle past the Café Regional.

At 20, Patrick Faltermann left his parents' house in the deeply conservative US Bible Belt, boarded a freighter to Belém, a city on the Amazon, and traded his laptop for a kayak. Then he began paddling up the river. He did it the old-fashioned way, as he puts it, without GPS, against the current and with little more than Teddy Roosevelt's "Through the Brazilian Wilderness" in his luggage. It was a journey of lonely, dark nights, razor grass, poison spitting spiders and being lost for days. Now, four years later, Faltermann has traveled 4,500 kilometers and says: "I met Tatunca four weeks ago. He must be in his mid-70s, but he's tougher than I am. People seem to be afraid of him, right?"

Tatunca has booby-trapped his hut in the rainforest with dynamite, says Faltermann. "He has friends in the military. That's helpful, because lots of people would like to shoot him dead. He apparently told a girl he was her father and that she had to come with him, in his boat. The man is incredible."

A cool breeze occasionally drifts over from the river on this hot day. Faltermann opens another can of Skol beer, waits until a flatbed truck thunders by and says: "His stories sound like a whole lot of bullshit. And his Portuguese is lousier than mine. It's like a big ego trip. But he knows the area better than anyone else. And he's on to something in the Indian region, up on the Rio Araçá."

On to something? "El Dorado. It's supposed to be up by the two mountain peaks, above the waterfall. Tatunca is the only one who's been there so far." To the people of Barcelos, "El Dorado" seems to be a place just like any other.

'Bom Dia, I'm Tatunca'

Until recently, Barcelos was the world capital of the ornamental fish trade, as well known in the fishkeeping world as Cognac is among brandy aficionados. In 1831, Austrian researcher Johann Natterer discovered the Symphysodon discus, or red discus, in the brackish waters around Barcelos. The species, dubbed the "king of aquarium fish," populates millions of living rooms today, usually together with the neon tetra, the most popular ornamental fish of all and also a native of the Rio Negro.

In Barcelos, the telephone booths are designed in the shape of ornamental fish, and during Carnival the population is divided into two groups, the Neons and the Discuses, who then attack one another wearing homemade fish costumes.

But now that ornamental fish are being bred on a large scale in Asia, the trade has declined by 70 percent.

Some time ago, two German aquarium lovers were arrested for bio-piracy. They had believed the assurances of their guide, a native who, to their great surprise, spoke German fluently and called himself Tatunca Nara.

At the town hall, a moldy building on the river, we learn that the "Chronicle of Akakor" triggered an entire tourism industry. In addition to fish keepers, various friends of the jungle and of Indians began coming to the area -- but not after there were reports of three deaths.

The first person to disappear was John Reed, a young American. That was in late 1980.

Swiss forestry expert Herbert Wanner vanished in 1984. His sneakers, some bones and a skull with a bullet hole in it were found a year later. It was these bones that the men on the river had spoken about.

Reed had treated the "Chronicle" as a manual for his own life. In his last communication, a letter to his parents, he wrote: "I believe in Tatunca's honesty more than ever."

The third person to go missing was Christine Heuser, a yoga instructor from Kehl am Rhein, a town in southwestern Germany. She too had devoured the "Chronicle of Akakor," and she was convinced that she had been Tatunca Nara's wife in a past life. She visited him in the summer of 1986. A photo exists depicting her swinging bare-breasted from a vine. Otherwise, there are no traces of Heuser.

Murky Waters

Since the trade in ornamental fish has virtually ground to a halt, boat owners on the upper reaches of the Rio Negro have had to search for other work. Many serve as guides for American anglers who come to the region in search of the Oscar fish. Others sail up the Rio Negro, into the tributaries along the Colombian border, where they use their boats to smuggle packages of cocaine.

"I asked Tatunca if he killed those three. He says no." For Mamá, Tatunca's word was good enough. Mamá, a haggard man with a tattoo of a seahorse and a bandanna over his head, is greeted in Barcelos as "o Pirata." He flies a Jolly Roger on his boat and is at home in all murky waters. "Just no drugs," Mamá notes, without having been asked. When he smiles, he flashes a red ceramic tooth in the upper right-hand corner of his mouth.

Mamá says that he is Tatunca's only friend. "I told him that I wasn't interested in his stories. I just want some of the gold." According to Mamá, the two men traveled up the Rio Araçá together in November.

"To a point beyond the waterfall. There you see two cave entrances. Perhaps they were also tunnels built by the Nazis. We tried, unsuccessfully, to rappel down from above. Tatunca also started saying some really strange things." What could possibly seem strange to a pirate named Mamá? "He said: King Solomon is about to come riding out." And then? "He wanted me to kill him." But the king failed to materialize. It must have been the wrong cave opening. "Tatunca is probably sitting in his hut now. I'll take you there."

After the night's torrential rains, the dirt road to Ajuricaba is hardly negotiable. There is a snake in the middle of the road at kilometer 8, and after another two kilometers the trail ends in red, knee-high mud. If Tatunca Nara is truly sitting in his jungle hut, there is no way to reach him. "Perhaps it's better for you," says Mamá the pirate.

'Tatunca? No, He Isn't Here'

But then there is Tatunca's mother-in-law, Elfriede Katz, 88.

Her riverside house is on Estrada de Nazaré, on the outskirts of the town. As in all Jewish houses, a Mezuzah containing Hebrew verses from the Torah is nailed to the doorframe. Katz is in a good mood as she sits in a rocking chair on her veranda. "Tatunca? No, he isn't here," she says in a Bremen accent. Her parents, she explains, immigrated to Brazil shortly after she was born. Later, Katz married a piano maker whose family had fled from the Holocaust.

Katz became a soprano and sang in "La Traviata" at the opera houses of São Paulo and Porto Alegre. There was no indication that she would spend her golden years in the world capital of the ornamental fish trade, with a German-Indian man as a son-in-law, who told her that his name was Big Water Snake.

"My daughter told me that she had met a German Indian. Tatunca sent her love letters by military mail. They were stamped Top Secret. Then the two of them moved to the Rio Negro and lived among the Yanomami Indians for years, until their two children had to go to school." Katz appears to have no doubts about the origins of her son-in-law. She and her husband followed their daughter to Barcelos, where they opened a small hotel. Most of Tatunca's children ended up in Barcelos, including the three who were not supposed to return to the rainforest.

Katz notes offhandedly that Tatunca isn't in the area at the moment, but has traveled down the river to Manaus with his wife Anita. She doesn't know when he will return she says, humming Violetta's aria in her high voice: "È strano ...".

It must be terribly difficult to keep the stories going. It takes a lot to maintain a web of lies, no matter how cleverly constructed they are. Constant revisions, additions and renovations are needed. Some lies fall apart while new ones are added. All of this requires constant attention, especially when new visitors arrive, people who have to be shown around and who ask questions. Caution is needed before visitors are led into a new and possibly even more fantastically embellished story. Telling tall tales can be even more difficult than life itself.

And life has a way of choosing its own path. It stages the encounter with Tatunca Nara in accordance with its improbable laws. We finally discover him in Amazonas, a shopping center in Manaus, between Bob's Burgers and C&A clothing store. He's wearing a shopping bag. But it's him, complete with the actor's face, the hands, the leathery skin and a full head of hair. Speaking with an accent from the Franconia region of Bavaria, he says: "Bom dia, I'm Tatunca."

After all the stories, rumors and attempts to demonize the man, it feels as if we were facing some fictional Indian chief -- or perhaps Jack the Ripper. This is the story of our encounter: Photographer Johannes Arlt needed a new shirt, and Tatunca had accompanied his wife Anita to Manaus for an eye operation. The two events happened to coincide. This is the first time he has been in Manaus in six years, he says. It's the sort of coincidence that sounds like one of the stories about Tatunca.

"Let's sit down," he says. "I don't like being in the city. I prefer to be in the forest, with my Indians."

He doesn't seem to care who is sitting across from him. He isn't interested in hearing other people's stories, just his own. He talks about his days among the Yanomami Indians, when he and Anita ran an infirmary and a school. The Indians taught him how to survive in the forest, he says. And then, after sizing up his listener to discover how likely he is to believe him, he makes a detour into a labyrinth of fantasies: "I turned over the office of chief in November. The head priest had two of these three-meter-tall servants of God with him. He said the ancient fathers were returning, and that they had opened the tunnel." He talks about walls in the shape of a turtle, and a cave with the Star of David above it.

Whenever he makes these claims his wife, Anita, places a hand on his knee and says "sweetie," and he falls silent.

Perhaps it would have been better to simply allow this man to talk, the way he is talking now, in a flood of memories and fantasies, inventions, outrageous lies and detailed descriptions. Much of the "Chronicle of Akakor" was made up, he says. "Brugger wanted to write a new 'Papalagi.'"

"The Papalagi" was required reading in Germany during the hippie era. In it, an imagined Samoan chief delivers speeches critical of civilization to his people. At this point, Tatunca could dismiss the entire "Chronicle" as pure fantasy. But he doesn't. Of course, he cannot call its core statements into question because, as he says, they are true: "There are Germans among my people. Of course they didn't arrive by U-boat. The water there is too shallow for that. They had to switch to other boats first."

'Do You Want to Go to El Dorado? It's No Legend.'
We meet Tatunca again the next morning, this time without Anita, at the Manaus fish market, next to the black waters of the Rio Negro. "Do you want to go to El Dorado?" he asks. "It's no legend. I found walls like those at Machu Picchu. I can take you there." Without hesitation, he takes a pen and a pad of paper and starts drawing the path to El Dorado. It is somewhere on a plateau between the Rio Araçá and the Rio Demini.

His tales are endless and convoluted, and before long a suspicion arises: The lost city of Tatunca Nara isn't in the rainforest at all. It's along the Füllbach, a stream in Upper Franconia, in Grub am Forst, a place Günther Hauck once fled. He took himself as far away from it as possible, into the most remote tributaries of the Amazon, and into a new existence that could have nothing in common with his old life.

According to Brazilian investigative files, there was once an apparently confused German named Günther Hauck who never returned from shore leave. I psychiatrist diagnosed him as schizophrenic, and the German Embassy sent him back to Germany.

Does Tatunca know this Günther Hauck? Not personally, he says. He traveled to Germany once, he adds, and they addressed him as Günther Hauck when he was there. There was also a woman, and to avoid trouble he went to bed with her. But all of that was completely wrong, he says. "I am Tatunca. Period."

"Günther Hauck" is merely a skin that was shed long ago. As if to prove his point, Tatunca pulls out a Brazilian ID card, which identifies him as an "Indian" and contains a stamp from the Brazil agency in charge of Indian affairs. He must have been very convincing as an Indian.

If this man had simply been allowed to talk, it's likely that nothing would have happened. But his stories caught up to him. They attracted people to the region, people who wanted more than to listen to stories. They wanted to be guided up the river and to see the underground city with their own eyes and actually enter it.

Worlds that he had managed to keep apart had suddenly come together. Perhaps he felt cornered by all the admirers and treasure hunters, and by the curious. Rüdiger Nehberg was the worst of them all. He arrived with files and old photos in hand, and he wanted to know exactly who Tatunca really was. "He's schizophrenic, that Nehberg. A liar."

And then there was that yoga teacher who claimed to be his real wife.

'I Didn't Kill Those Three'

Perhaps, when all his excuses, warnings and incantations no longer worked, he decided to leave them alone with their expectations, to simply let them keep walking into thickets of poison and thorns. Without experience, a person can't survive for long in the forest, not even with the "Chronicle of Akakor" in his or her luggage.

When asked about the disappeared, Tatunca says: "I live with my conscience. I've killed many people, but I was a soldier and they were carrying weapons. I'm not innocent. But I didn't kill those three, as they've accused me of doing."

The story of what happened to John Reed and the others will likely remain a mystery. The German case against Günther Hauck, aka Tatunca Nara, has been dropped, due to the absence of the accused. This leaves nothing but suspicions.

But then there is something he says in passing at the Manaus fish market, as tilapia is being deboned at surrounding fish stalls. "My name, Tatunca, means Big Water Snake. It has a habit of only attacking its victims when there is nothing to disturb its activities far and wide."

So what's left other than the suspicion that the man is a daydreamer, an imposter and a gifted self-invented man, a person who sees the existence of his birth certificate as nothing more than a mere possibility?

One morning in Barcelos, a blue-and-white striped riverboat is docked at a pier next to the ice factory. It is carrying bales of piaçaba, a palm fiber material used to make brooms. A few Indians are dozing on the boat, until they are roused by an enormous, sunburned man and begin hoisting the bales onto the shore.

The boat's owner is Tatunca's son Seder Heldio, 36, who no longer speaks German. The town of Grub am Forst means nothing to him. But he does remember growing up among the Indians. "My father may have told you a lot of tall tales, but he is my father. None of the murder accusations have ever been proven. All that happened was that his tourist business was ruined."

And that, says Heldio, is unfair. "I saw the Indiana Jones film," says Heldio, the son of Tatunca. "It sounds a lot like my father's story about Akakor. He never got a cent for it. Maybe he concocted some of the stories. But he paid for it with his life."

Heldio also has stories to tell about Indians. His are about the Brazilian National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), which seeks to protect the indigenous people by barring them from working for wages and instead provides them with welfare checks. Heldio says that his company is in fact illegal, because he doesn't offer his employees working conditions mandated by the unions, including housing and fixed working hours. The problem, Heldio explains, is that Indians don't like sleeping in shipping containers and only come to work when there is nothing to hunt or gather. "They want to keep the Yanomami as if they were in a zoo. I give them money so they can buy things."

The son of a dreamer from Franconia, who wanted to be an Indian and not Günther Hauck, didn't become a chief himself. Instead, he works as foreman, someone who is leading an aboriginal people away from their natural state and into the monetary economy. And because his methods are fair, the Yanomami respect and perhaps even worship him. And, in his case, without the involvement of extraterrestrial beings, ancient fathers or an El Dorado.

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« Reply #14469 on: Jul 14, 2014, 05:58 AM »

Edward Snowden condemns Britain's emergency surveillance bill

Exclusive: NSA whistleblower says it 'defies belief' that bill must be rushed through after government ignored issue for a year

Ewen MacAskill   
The Guardian, Sunday 13 July 2014 17.33 BST    

Link to video: Edward Snowden: rush to pass British surveillance law is extraordinary

The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has condemned the new surveillance bill being pushed through the UK's parliament this week, expressing concern about the speed at which it is being done, lack of public debate, fear-mongering and what he described as increased powers of intrusion.

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian in Moscow, Snowden said it was very unusual for a public body to pass an emergency law such as this in circumstances other than a time of total war. "I mean we don't have bombs falling. We don't have U-boats in the harbour."

Suddenly it is a priority, he said, after the government had ignored it for an entire year. "It defies belief."

He found the urgency with which the British government was moving extraordinary and said it mirrored a similar move in the US in 2007 when the Bush administration was forced to introduce legislation, the Protect America Act, citing the same concerns about terrorist threats and the NSA losing cooperation from telecom and internet companies.

"I mean the NSA could have written this draft," he said. "They passed it under the same sort of emergency justification. They said we would be at risk. They said companies will no longer cooperate with us. We're losing valuable intelligence that puts the nation at risk."

His comments chime with British civil liberties groups who, having had time to read the small print, are growing increasingly sceptical about government claims last week that the bill is a stop-gap that will not increase the powers of the surveillance agencies.

David Cameron, searching for cross-party support, assured the Liberal Democrats and Labour that there would be no extension of the powers.

But internal Home Office papers seen by the Guardian appear to confirm that there would be an expansion of powers. Campaigners argue that the bill contains new and unprecedented powers for the UK to require overseas companies to comply with interception warrants and communications data acquisition requests and build interception capabilities into their products and infrastructure.

The interview with Snowden, in a city centre hotel, lasted seven hours. One of only a handful of interviews since he sought asylum in Russia a year ago, it was wide-ranging, from the impact of the global debate he unleashed on surveillance and privacy to fresh insights into life inside the NSA. The full interview will be published later this week.
Edward Snowden Edward Snowden with a framed piece of a computer that was destroyed in the Guardian basement at the request of the British government. Photograph: Alan Rusbridger

His year-long asylum is due to expire on 31 July but is almost certain to be extended. Even in the unlikely event of a political decision to send him to the US, he would be entitled to a year-long appeal process.

During the interview, Snowden was taken aback on learning about the speed at which the British government is moving on new legislation and described it as "a significant change". He questioned why it was doing so now, more than a year after his initial revelations about the scale of government surveillance in the US, the UK and elsewhere around the world, a year in which the government had been largely silent.

He also questioned why there had been a move in the aftermath of a ruling by the European court of justice in April that declared some of the existing surveillance measures were invalid.

He said the government was asking for these "new authorities immediately without any debate, just taking their word for it, despite the fact that these exact same authorities were just declared unlawful by the European court of justice".

He added: "Is it really going to be so costly for us to take a few days to debate where the line should be drawn about the authority and what really serves the public interest?

"If these surveillance authorities are so interested, so invasive, the courts are actually saying they violate fundamental rights, do we really want to authorise them on a new, increased and more intrusive scale without any public debate?"

He said there had been government silence for the last year since he had exposed the scale of surveillance by the NSA and its British partner GCHQ. "And yet suddenly we're told there's a brand new bill that looks like it was written by the National Security Agency that has to be passed in the same manner that a surveillance bill in the United States was passed in 2007, and it has to happen now. And we don't have time to debate it, despite the fact that this was not a priority, this was not an issue that needed to be discussed at all, for an entire year. It defies belief."

It is questionable how much impact his comments will have on parliamentarians, even though he is an expert witness, with inside knowledge of the surveillance agencies.

Snowden has become a champion for privacy campaigners. But, though his revelations prompted inquiries by two parliamentary committees, he has won little vocal support among parliamentarians.

The Conservatives deny there is any need for a debate on surveillance versus privacy. Labour and Liberal Democrats have been hesitant too about joining the debate, fearful of a backlash in the event of a terrorist attack.

Even backbench MPs who think the intelligence agencies have a case to answer hold back from public expressions of support for a whistleblower sought by the US government.

The British government is justifying the proposed new legislation on the grounds not only of the European court ruling but of US intelligence fears of a terrorist attack, in particular concerns of an attempt to blow up a transatlantic airliner said to be emanating from an alleged al-Qaida bombmaker in Yemen linked to hardline Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq.

Snowden said the Bush administration had used the threat of another terrorist attack on America after 9/11 to push through the Protect America Act. The bill had to be brought in after the New York Times disclosed the surveillance agencies had been secretly engaged in wiretapping without a warrant.

Snowden said: "So what's extraordinary about this law being passed in the UK is that it very closely mirrors the Protect America Act 2007 that was passed in the United States at the request of the National Security Agency, after the warrantless wire-tapping programme, which was unlawful and unconstitutional, was revealed."

He said the bill was introduced into Congress on 1 August 2007 and signed into law on 5 August without any substantial open public debate. A year later it was renewed and the new version was even worse, he said, granting immunity to all the companies that had been breaking the law for the previous decade.

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« Reply #14470 on: Jul 14, 2014, 06:09 AM »

Belfast parade ban 'unites unionism like never before' in peaceful protest

Orange Order leader speaks as loyalist marchers are barred from road to Ardoyne

Henry McDonald in Belfast, Sunday 13 July 2014 00.15 BST   

A protest against a year-long ban on a contentious Orange Order parade in north Belfast has united unionism like never before, a senior member of the loyalist marching institution has said.

The return leg of the parade by local Orangemen from Ligoneil passed off relatively peacefully, even though the loyalists remain banned from passing by the nearby republican Ardoyne district.

Unlike last year when dozens of police officers were injured in a barrage of missiles with water cannon and plastic bullets being fired to quell the riot, there was virtually no trouble at a barrier erected to prevent the Orangemen from marching up Woodvale Road and on to the Crumlin Road facing Ardoyne.

Instead, marshals from the Orange Order formed a cordon between local loyalists and bandsmen, and police lines preventing an outbreak of disorder.

There was a large security presence in the area with more than 40 Pangolin armoured police vehicles, two mobile water cannon and more than 1,000 officers deployed, many of them in protective body armour.

Addressing the crowds gathered on the loyalist side of the barrier, Spencer Beattie, the deputy grand master of the Orange Order for Belfast, said the cause of the Ligoneil Orangemen and the establishment of a "civil rights camp" in the area to highlight their demand to walk "had united unionism like never before".

Beattie repeated pleas from Orange leaders, mainstream unionist parties and the political organisations linked to loyalist paramilitaries that no loyalists should engage in any acts of violence in protest at the year-old ban on the parade.

Although the majority of loyalists dispersed from the Woodvale Road after the short speech, the Police Service of Northern Ireland maintained a large presence in the area. There was also a substantial police presence close to Ardoyne where about 100 republicans had gathered.

Tens of thousands of Orangemen, their bands and supporters took part in 17 demonstrations across Northern Ireland, on this the most sacred day in the Ulster Protestant calendar. The overwhelming number of the parades were non-contentious, with only a few opposed by nationalist residents because they pass by their areas.

Compared to 2013, this year's Twelfth of July celebrations were relatively peaceful across the region. The PSNI said six men had been arrested for offences including rioting and street disorder.

One man was stabbed in the early hours of Saturday after sectarian clashes on a bridge straddling the river Lagan in south Belfast. Up to 40 youths from rival Protestant and Catholic gangs clashed on the Ormeau Bridge at about 3am.

There were minor scuffles near Belfast city centre as another Orange Order feeder parade passed St Patrick's Catholic church in Donegall Street. A number of missiles were thrown from loyalist lines at police in nearby Union Street and mass goers in St Patrick's were caught outside the church as loyalist marching bands filed past.

The PSNI was investigating claims that a loyalist band broke a determination from the Parades Commission – the body that adjudicates on contentious parades in Northern Ireland – that barred music being played as the parade passed the church.

Sinn Féin welcomed the peaceful outcome to the banned parade on the Woodvale Road and called for talks to reach a long-term solution to the dispute.

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« Reply #14471 on: Jul 14, 2014, 06:13 AM »

Deadlock Blocks Iraqi Leadership Vote as ISIS Makes Gains Toward Baghdad

JULY 13, 2014

BAGHDAD — As Iraq’s deadlocked Parliament was again unable to reach a deal to name a new speaker on Sunday, Sunni militants carried out a raid near Baghdad, a symbolically significant attack signaling their intent to move closer, even if only by a few miles, toward the Iraqi capital.

Although the pretext for the delay was a severe sandstorm that prevented northern Iraq’s Kurdish lawmakers from flying to Baghdad, the real reason appeared to be that last-minute deals between the largest Shiite bloc and the Sunnis were falling apart.

“We were ready, we came with our candidates, but the others haven’t presented their candidates,” said Usama al-Nujaifi, the Sunni lawmaker, who served as speaker in the last Parliament but has agreed not to run this time.

“The country is completely collapsing and we need to unify the nation — the delay means more killing, more displaced and more emigration,” Mr. Nujaifi said.

The failure to hold a vote for speaker delays the formation of a new government because under the Constitution, the appointment of a speaker starts the clock for choosing a president and prime minister.

However, what became clear over the last couple of days was a far more striking problem: Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has not given up his campaign for a third term despite his widespread unpopularity among most Sunnis and Kurds and doubts from many of his fellow Shiites.

Iraq has a Shiite majority nationwide and by custom, since 2003 when Saddam Hussein was ousted, the prime minister’s slot has been held by a Shiite. But there are a number of Shiite parties, including several Islamist ones, in addition to Mr. Maliki’s party.

In several conversations with members of Mr. Maliki’s larger State of Law coalition, which includes several Shiite parties, it was apparent that they had done the math and determined that he could pull it off. Thus there was no need for a new person.

“At the end, the Sunnis will accept the prime minister,” said Sami al-Askari, a member of Parliament and a close supporter of Mr. Maliki from within the prime minister’s party, Dawa.

“And also the Kurds will accept him — not Barzani, he has a problem, but the P.U.K. will,” he said referring to the president of the Kurdistan region, Massoud Barzani, with whom Mr. Maliki has bitterly feuded over the prospect of a Kurdish referendum on separating from Iraq. The P.U.K. is the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, another major Kurdish party, but it does not support the idea of independence from Iraq at this point.

Another political associate of Mr. Maliki, Walid al-Hilli, suggested that those close to the prime minister had counted the votes: 120 Shiites, including the roughly 95 from Mr. Maliki’s State of Law coalition, would support him; about 35 Sunnis led by Salim al-Jubouri would join them; and so would about 25 Kurds. Mr. Maliki needs 165 votes to retain his job.

“There isn’t any option other than Maliki,” Mr. Hilli said.

But those assumptions were tested Sunday when it became clear that Mr. Jubouri might not support Mr. Maliki. The day before, Mr. Jubouri had signed a document in front of the bloc of Sunni lawmakers promising that in exchange for being named speaker, he would represent the wishes of the six provinces with significant Sunni populations, which now feel discriminated against by the central government and would not back Mr. Maliki for prime minister.

Mr. Maliki learned about the document overnight, and in a meeting with Shiites on Sunday he told them that this raised questions about whether he could support Mr. Jubouri, said several Shiites who attended the meeting.

“It was because of that the Parliament session was delayed and the National Alliance was discouraged about the prospect of voting” for Mr. Jubouri as speaker, said Aboud al-Essawi, a member of the coalition that supports Mr. Maliki.

For all the back and forth, the reality appeared to be that Mr. Maliki was having trouble gathering the votes needed to retain his post, and it seemed that Iraqi lawmakers, principally Shiite ones, were now grappling with how to deal with it.

“We’re confused,” said one longtime supporter of Mr. Maliki, when asked what the options would be if Mr. Maliki could not gather the votes.

As lawmakers took stock, militants of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria were already moving into Dhuluiya, a Sunni town 46 miles northeast of Baghdad.

The local tribes are divided over ISIS, but a majority oppose the group and called for help from the army. Some troops were sent from the two nearest bases in Samarra and Balad, but the soldiers from Balad, who were closest, could not get across the river quickly because ISIS militants had bombed the most convenient bridge.

The militants attacked Dhuluiya around 4 a.m. and took over the police station, killing six police officers, said an official at the Interior Ministry, who asked not to be named because he is not allowed to speak to the press, as well as a doctor in the town who would give only his surname, Issa. “They brought a big pickup truck and loaded it with explosives and then blew apart the west side of the bridge so no support will come from Balad,” Dr. Issa said.

Later, the ISIS militants appeared to withdraw from the town’s center and are now holding only about 20 percent of Dhuluiya, Dr. Issa estimated.

Police officials suggested that the militants withdrew from the town’s center because they knew that sooner or later the army forces would arrive and they would not be able to fight them off. The people in the area the militants controlled appeared to support them, residents and provincial police officials suggested.

In Baghdad, the number of dead in Saturday’s raid by gunmen on apartment buildings in the eastern part of the city reached 35, including 29 women. The neighborhood is known as a place where prostitutes live, and a police official said that he had been told that someone had scrawled graffiti, warning: “This is how it ends for all prostitutes.”

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« Reply #14472 on: Jul 14, 2014, 06:14 AM »

Americans and Iranians See Constraints at Home in Nuclear Negotiations

JULY 13, 2014

VIENNA — Secretary of State John Kerry arrived here early Sunday in an attempt to rescue negotiations with Iran that have stalled on the question of how large a nuclear infrastructure that nation will be permitted to have over the next decade or two. But he quickly confronted the fact that the problem might be less at the negotiating table here than with mullahs in Tehran and members of Congress in Washington.

During 11 days of intensive negotiations in a palace just steps from where Beethoven and Mozart once lived and worked, a team of sophisticated, westernized negotiators from Iran’s government have given a bit of ground on how some of the country’s facilities will be used and how others will be inspected, according to officials who have been in the rooms where the wording was being discussed.

But the Iranians appeared taken a bit by surprise when their supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave a speech in Tehran last week that went into extraordinary detail about how much nuclear enrichment capacity Iran would need — statements that seemed to circumscribe their ability to come up with face-saving ways to dismantle a good portion of Iran’s facilities while still portraying their program as moving forward.

The Americans face their own constraints at home: A letter from key members of the Senate to President Obama describes what a deal to prevent Iran from producing a weapon should look like, and suggests that anything short of that would not lead to the lifting of sanctions, the only incentive the American team can dangle in front of the Iranians.

It was a reminder for Mr. Kerry that there is not one negotiation underway to strike this deal, but three. Mr. Kerry and his counterparts from five other nations are struggling to reach an accommodation with Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s American-educated foreign minister, who has been camped out for the past 11 days in the Coburg Palace, which has become a luxury dormitory for the American, Western European, Russian and Chinese negotiators who are living and working just doors away from one another.

But Mr. Zarif has a parallel negotiation underway with Ayatollah Khamenei and the generals of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which runs the military side of the nuclear program and barely trusts its foreign minister. Mr. Obama, meanwhile, has been in a constant behind-the-scenes struggle with members of Congress who argue for more sanctions and more pressure. Mr. Obama has threatened to veto such efforts for fear they will undermine chances for a deal that he believes would be a more lasting solution than permanent sanctions or military action against Iran’s nuclear sites.

“It may be the most complex negotiation I’ve ever seen,” said an American official who has been advising the White House, declining to speak on the record about sensitive negotiations. “Everyone is using the constraints they face back home as a reason to avoid compromise. And the fact of the matter is that there are many generals in Iran and many members of Congress in Washington who would like to see this whole effort collapse.”

Mr. Kerry said he was evaluating the process to determine whether to recommend to Mr. Obama that the talks be extended beyond the July 20 deadline.

“Obviously, we have some very significant gaps still,” he said. “It is vital to make certain that Iran is not going to develop a nuclear weapon, that their program is peaceful.” Though Mr. Kerry is not talking about extending the talks — which is permitted under an interim agreement reached in November — that now seems inevitable.

“We are trying to find solutions to narrow the difference,” Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, said to a state-run Iranian news service in an interview here. “Given this context, it’s possible that negotiations will be extended by a few days or weeks.”

American officials will not talk about an extension, for fear it will derail their chances of making progress by the deadline next Sunday. But for Mr. Obama, the downside of an extension is small. The lifting of a relatively modest number of sanctions since November, under the preliminary deal, has not resulted in the wide-scale dismemberment of the sanctions regime predicted by Israeli officials. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency say the Iranians have scrupulously observed their part of the temporary deal, blending down the fuel that the United States feared was closest to conversion to bomb grade.

But the steps the Iranians have taken so far are easily reversible. And the American negotiators, led by Wendy R. Sherman, the under secretary of state for political affairs, are haunted by memories of how quickly North Korea reversed a dismantlement program that it negotiated seven years ago.

When it comes to stopping a country from getting a weapons capability, there are only educated assessments about how much warning time can be created by limiting a country’s access to certain technologies, reducing the amounts of fuel that can be quickly converted to bomb-grade fuel and exposing the history of weapons-making efforts. Those bets failed in North Korea and Pakistan; they succeeded in South Africa and South Korea, where leaders decided a weapon was not worth the cost.

It is far from clear that Iran’s leaders — divided between those who want a long-term accord with the West and those who seek a restoration of Iranian influence in the Middle East — have made a decision. Mr. Zarif represents the faction that seems “genuinely convinced,” in the words of one American negotiator, “that a weapons capability doesn’t buy them much.”

Mr. Zarif said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday: “I will commit to everything and anything that would provide credible assurances for the international community that Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons, because we are not. We don’t see any benefit in Iran developing a nuclear weapon.”

But Ayatollah Khamenei, in describing Iran’s long-range needs, talked of a tenfold increase in enrichment capacity — so large that it would give Iran a “breakout time” of just weeks to produce weapons-grade fuel. He was vague about when Iran intended to create that capacity. A senior American official briefing reporters on Saturday said that Iran would have to accept sharp limits on its number of working centrifuges — meaning fewer than the 10,000 it has today — for a decade or more.

That is at the core of the problem. Robert Einhorn, who was a central player in developing the American strategy until he left the administration last year, noted recently that “rather than prepare the political ground for some concessions, the Iranian leadership has locked itself into a narrative that they need an industrial capability to produce all their own nuclear power fuel.”

Mr. Obama is also getting tied down. If a deal is struck, he will need Congress to revoke sanctions. But that is a hard vote for Democrats as well as Republicans, and a letter to Mr. Obama now being circulated in the Senate by Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, who heads the Foreign Relations Committee, and Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who sits on the Armed Services Committee, lays out a series of protections they say they will insist upon if Congress is to relax sanctions as part of any deal.

Among them are a robust inspection arrangement that “lasts at least 20 years” and “access to any and all facilities, persons or documentation” sought by the International Atomic Energy Agency for suspected past work on weapons.

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« Reply #14473 on: Jul 14, 2014, 06:17 AM »

Afghans to Alter the Government

JULY 13, 2014

KABUL, Afghanistan — The deal that Secretary of State John Kerry brokered to ease the Afghan election crisis with a sweeping audit of the vote was quietly built on an even more profound reshaping of the entire government system, American and Afghan officials confirmed Sunday: The sides have agreed to gradually create an empowered prime minister post after years of an all-encompassing presidency.

Nearly a decade after American officials pushed a Constitution that enshrined near-dictatorial powers for the president, it is a tacit admission that changing to a more parliamentary system — a fraught undertaking at any time — is now seen as crucial to holding the country together after years of mounting political crises and ethnic and factional hostilities, officials said.

The change was a central goal for the candidate Abdullah Abdullah, who has brought the entire political system to the brink with accusations of rampant fraud and threats to form a breakaway government, according to officials who were close to the negotiations.

They, like other American and Afghan officials who confirmed the agreement, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details had not yet been worked out. They stressed that only a “framework” had been accepted in talks with Mr. Kerry, but they all agreed on its outlines.

The candidate who is declared president after a complete vote audit in the coming weeks would then appoint either the loser, or that candidate’s nominee, to become a “chief executive” for the government, with powers to be agreed on later. Then, in the following two or three years, the Constitution would be amended to create a parliamentary democracy with a prime minister as head of government and a president as the head of state.

That timeline puts important decisions off into a very indefinite future, and will revive a debate that deeply divided Afghan officials a decade ago, with some arguing then that a parliamentary system risked instability.

With no assurances even that the auditing for fraud will go smoothly over the next month, or that the result will be widely accepted, the change then would require a successful parliamentary election and the Afghan equivalent of a constitutional convention, all under the continuing threat of Taliban offensives to seize territory.

More immediately, the two candidates, Mr. Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, despite the recent tensions, are in the coming weeks to divvy up cabinet posts, governorships and other jobs as Afghan and international elections officials review each one of the more than eight million votes cast in the June 14 runoff.

Both Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani pledged to accept the results and form a national unity government when they announced the deal with Mr. Kerry on Saturday. But the only details they gave were about the audit; all three made vague references to a “political framework” without elaborating.

But Afghan and American officials said Sunday that repeated election crises had made it clear that the Afghan government in its current form rewarded the winner of presidential elections too richly, and cut out the loser too thoroughly for a country with a history of civil strife that has often cut along ethnic and regional lines. Though the plan does not explicitly account for those differences, officials said, the hard lessons of the recent weeks were a signal that Afghanistan’s divides could no longer be denied out of existence.

In essence, Afghan and Western officials had concluded that the only way to hold Afghanistan together in the coming years, as NATO-led combat forces withdraw and the West steps further into the background, was to embrace what divides its people in hopes of creating a government that could keep them united.

Though the deal brokered by Mr. Kerry appeared to be a major potential victory for Mr. Abdullah, some in his camp expressed caution on Sunday. They said that if Mr. Ghani ended up winning, he would probably be able to control the majority in any constitutional convention, and might limit the changes made.

“I wouldn’t call this a winning situation for us, not yet,” said an Abdullah campaign official. “We don’t know yet what is going to happen. We only have an idea. But it is better than what we had when last week started.”

Afghan and American officials said they had been asked by their superiors not to discuss the political component of the agreement brokered by Mr. Kerry. One Western official, who was not briefed on its details, was told that it was too sensitive and that officials wanted time to make sure everyone was on board before talking more widely about it.

But not everyone got the message. Mohammad Mohaqiq, Mr. Abdullah’s vice-presidential running mate, told the BBC Persian service on Sunday that in the national unity government agreed upon with Mr. Kerry, the loser of the election would become the chief executive in the government. The post would become the prime minister in two years, once the Constitution was amended, the report quoted him as saying. Other Afghan and American officials confirmed those claims, and added some details in interviews.

Similar setups, with dual poles of power in the presidency and in Parliament, exist elsewhere, like France. But it is a revolutionary break from what the United States created in Afghanistan. The irony here was that it was largely through the efforts of President Hamid Karzai, the one Afghan who American officials were most eager to be rid of after the election, that Afghanistan’s imperial presidency did not stoke the country’s divisions.

From the outset of his tenure, Mr. Karzai sought to carefully balance his government. He was a southern Pashtun, and so he put an ethnic Tajik in the No. 2 spot, and ensured that leaders of the Hazara and Uzbek minorities had prominent roles.

A sense of national responsibility helped drive Mr. Karzai’s decisions, by most accounts. But there was also self-interest: He found over the years that the old Northern Alliance, a mainly Tajik alliance of militias that fought the Taliban, remained too dominant a force in Kabul to ignore.

Loyalists of the Northern Alliance, including Mr. Abdullah, who once served as Mr. Karzai’s foreign minister, were spread among the army, police and intelligence service. Mr. Karzai could not operate without some kind of alliance with them, though that also meant keeping some of Afghanistan’s most notorious and corrupt former warlords in his government, earning him criticism and scrutiny from the United States and other Western backers.

Still, Mr. Karzai has expressed deep opposition to the idea of a parliamentary system, fearing it would tear the country apart. In fact, his rivalry with Mr. Abdullah, who challenged him in the 2009 presidential elections, was centered on the issue, and he is widely believed to have backed Mr. Ghani, a former finance minister and World Bank official, in this year’s runoff.

Asked about the deal brokered by Mr. Kerry, Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for Mr. Karzai, refused to confirm the details. “The candidates have not said it publicly yet so no comment from palace,” he said.

What brought Mr. Ghani around to agreeing to the creation of a parliamentary system was harder to discern. Abdullah Poyan, a spokesman, would say only: “We never refused a national unity government. We know this is very sensitive.”

Though Mr. Ghani had a vast constituency behind him in his fellow Pashtuns, the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, he had scant support among northern Tajiks, which would have presented a potentially life-threatening problem for him should he have won a disputed election amid accusations that his team had committed fraud.

As one senior member of the Northern Alliance asked Mr. Ghani before the election: “If you win, who will drive you to the palace? You need allies.”

For American officials, as well, the support for the idea of revamping the Afghan government was born of necessity. This year’s election crisis was the third in five years, including the 2009 presidential election and parliamentary elections a year later, both of which were marred by widespread fraud.

In fact, it was Mr. Kerry who had to come to Kabul in 2009 to talk Mr. Karzai into agreeing to a runoff against Mr. Abdullah, who subsequently dropped out of the race. “You can say that the idea here is to make sure that Afghans don’t have to have negotiations to create an inclusive government each time they have an election,” one American official said. “The political system itself, in the way it is set up, should be set up to be more inclusive.”

Though there have been differences of opinions among American officials about it, the United States did not always see it that way.

At a 2004 constitutional loya jirga, or grand council, it was American officials who pushed hardest for a strong president, arguing that a parliamentary system would be too risky. American support helped Mr. Ghani and other Pashtuns overcome the resistance of Mr. Abdullah and his allies in the old Northern Alliance in that debate.

According to a diplomatic cable from 2003 that was released by WikiLeaks, Robert Finn, who was then the American ambassador, was reported to have told his French counterpart that “Afghanistan needed a strong president given all the vectors of power.”

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« Reply #14474 on: Jul 14, 2014, 06:19 AM »

Poor Sanitation in India May Afflict Well-Fed Children With Malnutrition

JULY 13, 2014

SHEOHAR DISTRICT, India — He wore thick black eyeliner to ward off the evil eye, but Vivek, a tiny 1-year-old living in a village of mud huts and diminutive people, had nonetheless fallen victim to India’s great scourge of malnutrition.

His parents seemed to be doing all the right things. His mother still breast-fed him. His family had six goats, access to fresh buffalo milk and a hut filled with hundreds of pounds of wheat and potatoes. The economy of the state where he lives has for years grown faster than almost any other. His mother said she fed him as much as he would eat and took him four times to doctors, who diagnosed malnutrition. Just before Vivek was born in this green landscape of small plots and grazing water buffalo near the Nepali border, the family even got electricity.

So why was Vivek malnourished?

It is a question being asked about children across India, where a long economic boom has done little to reduce the vast number of children who are malnourished and stunted, leaving them with mental and physical deficits that will haunt them their entire lives. Now, an emerging body of scientific studies suggest that Vivek and many of the 162 million children under the age of 5 in the world who are malnourished are suffering less a lack of food than poor sanitation.

Like almost everyone else in their village, Vivek’s family have no toilet, and the district where they live has the highest concentration of people who defecate outdoors. As a result, children are exposed to a bacterial brew that often sickens them, leaving them unable to attain a healthy body weight no matter how much food they eat.

“These children’s bodies divert energy and nutrients away from growth and brain development to prioritize infection-fighting survival,” said Jean Humphrey, a professor of human nutrition at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “When this happens during the first two years of life, children become stunted. What’s particularly disturbing is that the lost height and intelligence are permanent.”

Two years ago, Unicef, the World Health Organization and the World Bank released a major report on child malnutrition that focused entirely on a lack of food. Sanitation was not mentioned. Now, Unicef officials and those from other major charitable organizations said in interviews that they believe that poor sanitation may cause more than half of the world’s stunting problem.

“Our realization about the connection between stunting and sanitation is just emerging,” said Sue Coates, chief of water, sanitation and hygiene at Unicef India. “At this point, it is still just an hypothesis, but it is an incredibly exciting and important one because of its potential impact.”

This research has quietly swept through many of the world’s nutrition and donor organizations in part because it resolves a great mystery: Why are Indian children so much more malnourished than their poorer counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa?

A child raised in India is far more likely to be malnourished than one from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe or Somalia, the planet’s poorest countries. Stunting afflicts 65 million Indian children under the age of 5, including a third of children from the country’s richest families.

This disconnect between wealth and malnutrition is so striking that economists have concluded that economic growth does almost nothing to lessen malnutrition.

Half of India’s population, or at least 620 million people, expels waste outside. And while this share has declined slightly in the past decade, an analysis of census data shows that rapid population growth has meant that most Indians are being exposed to more human waste than ever before.

In Sheohar, for instance, a toilet-building program between 2001 and 2011 decreased the share of households without toilets to 80 percent from 87 percent, but population growth meant that exposure to human waste rose by half.

“The difference in average height between Indian and African children can be explained entirely by differing concentrations of open defecation,” said Dean Spears, an economist at the Delhi School of Economics. “There are far more people defecating outside in India more closely to one another’s children and homes than there are in Africa or anywhere else in the world.”

Not only does stunting contribute to the deaths of a million children under the age of 5 each year, but those who survive suffer cognitive deficits and are poorer and sicker than children not affected by stunting. They also may face increased risks for adult illnesses like diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.

“India’s stunting problem represents the largest loss of human potential in any country in history, and it affects 20 times more people in India alone than H.I.V./AIDS does around the world,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, vice president for research and policy at the Public Health Foundation of India.

India is an increasingly risky place to raise children. The country’s sanitation and air quality are among the worst in the world. Parasitic diseases and infections like tuberculosis, often linked with poor sanitation, are most common in India. More than one in four newborn deaths occur in India.

Human waste surrounds parks and lines roads and train tracks. Women in rural areas wait until dark to relieve themselves outside, leaving them vulnerable to rape. In the darkness, some say they sometimes set down young children in others’ waste or step in it themselves.

Open defecation has long been an issue in India. Some ancient Hindu texts advised people to relieve themselves far from home, a practice that Mahatma Gandhi sought to curb.

“The cause of many of our diseases is the condition of our lavatories and our bad habit of disposing of excreta anywhere and everywhere,” Gandhi wrote in 1925.

Other developing countries have made huge strides in improving sanitation. Just 1 percent of Chinese and 3 percent of Bangladeshis relieve themselves outside compared with half of Indians. Attitudes may be just as important as access to toilets. Constructing and maintaining tens of millions of toilets in India would cost untold billions, a price many voters see no need to pay — a recent survey found that many people prefer going to the bathroom outside.

In half of Indian households with a working latrine, someone in the family defecates outdoors anyway — mostly men. And men make most spending decisions, so few rural households build the sort of inexpensive latrines that have all but eliminated outdoor waste in neighboring Bangladesh.

One analysis found that government spending on toilets pays for itself in increased tax receipts from greater productivity, but the math works only if every member of a family who gets a toilet uses it. Many government-built toilets are converted into sheds, frustrating top officials.

“We need a cultural revolution in this country to completely change people’s attitudes toward sanitation and hygiene,” said Jairam Ramesh, an economist and former sanitation minister.

India’s government has for decades tried to resolve the country’s stubborn malnutrition problems by distributing vast stores of subsidized food. But more and better food has largely failed to reverse early stunting, studies have repeatedly shown.

India now spends about $26 billion annually on food and jobs programs, and less than $400 million on improving sanitation — a ratio of more than 60 to 1.

“We need to reverse that ratio entirely,” Dr. Laxminarayan said.

Lack of food is still an important contributor to malnutrition for some children, and some researchers say the field’s sudden embrace of sanitation has been overdone. “In South Asia, a more important factor driving stunting is diet quality,” said Zulfiqar A. Bhutta, a director of the Center for Global Child Health at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

Studies are underway in Bangladesh, Kenya and Zimbabwe to assess the share of stunting attributable to poor sanitation. “Is it 50 percent? Ninety percent? That’s a question worth answering,” said Dr. Stephen Luby, a professor of medicine at Stanford University who is overseeing a trial in Bangladesh that is expected to report its results in 2016. “In the meantime, I think we can all agree that it’s not a good idea to raise children surrounded by poop.”

Better sanitation in the West during the 19th and early 20th centuries led to huge improvements in health long before the advent of vaccines and antibiotics, and researchers have long known that childhood environments play a crucial role in child death and adult height.

The present research on gut diseases in children has focused on a condition resulting from repeated bacterial infections that flatten intestinal linings, reducing by a third the ability to absorb nutrients. A recent study of starving children found that they lacked the crucial gut bacteria needed to digest food.

In a little-discussed but surprising finding, Muslim children in India are 17 percent more likely to survive infancy than Hindus, even though Muslims are generally poorer and less educated. This enormous difference in infant mortality is explained by the fact that Muslims are far more likely to use latrines and live next to others also using latrines, a recent analysis found.

So widespread housing discrimination that confines many Muslims to separate slums may protect their children from increased exposure to the relatively higher levels of waste in Hindu communities and, as a result, save thousands of Indian Muslim babies from death each year.

Just building more toilets, however, may not be enough to save India’s children.

Phool Mati lives in a neighborhood in Varanasi with 12 public toilets, but her 1-year-old grandson, Sandeep, is nonetheless severely malnourished. His mother tries to feed him lentils, milk and other foods as often as she can, but Sandeep is rarely hungry because he is so often sick, Ms. Mati said.

“We all use the bathroom,” she said.

The effluent pipe that served the bathroom building is often clogged. Raw sewage seeps into an adjoining Hindu temple, and, during the monsoon season, it flooded the neighborhood’s homes. The matron of the toilet facility charges two rupees for each use, so most children relieve themselves directly into open drains that run along a central walkway.

No Indian city has a comprehensive waste treatment system, and most Indian rivers are open sewers as a result. But Varanasi, India’s oldest and holiest city, is so awash in human waste that its decrepit condition became a national issue in recent elections. The city’s sewage plants can handle only about 20 percent of the sewage generated in the city, said Ramesh Chopra of Ganga Seva Abhiyanam, a trust for cleaning the river. The rest sloshes into the Ganges or fetid ponds and pits.

Millions of pilgrims bathe in the Ganges along Varanasi’s ancient riverfront, but a stream of human waste — nearly 75 million liters per day — flows directly into the river just above the bathing ghats, steps leading down to the river. Many people wash or brush their teeth beside smaller sewage outlets. As few ghats have toilets, many monks and pilgrims relieve themselves while bathing.

Much of the city’s drinking water comes from the river, and half of Indian households drink from contaminated supplies. Many of Varanasi’s vegetable farms use river water for irrigation, potentially making the food hazardous if eaten uncooked as toxic E. coli can be impossible to wash away and can hide inside plant leaves.

“India’s problems are bigger than just open defecation and a lack of toilets,” said Dr. Laxminarayan.

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