For Obama and Indian Leader, a Friendly Stroll if Not a Full Embrace
By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS
SEPT. 30, 2014
WASHINGTON — In a get-to-know-you visit fraught with awkward undertones, President Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India sought to repair a strained relationship between their nations on Tuesday, emerging with expressions of good will but little in the way of concrete deals.
At an Oval Office meeting and during a stroll around the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Mr. Obama and Mr. Modi emphasized what they had in common as democratic leaders who overcame personal obstacles, campaigned as outsiders and embraced technology as a vital tool in politics and governing.
But their talks yielded no resolutions to thorny disputes over taxes, trade and civilian nuclear energy cooperation that have divided the United States and India in recent years. And there was little sign that human rights — a particularly sensitive topic for Mr. Modi, who has been accused of being complicit in deadly anti-Muslim riots — was a major item on the agenda.
“Human rights and the importance of inclusive governance were part of the discussions between the president and the prime minister today,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary told reporters. But a statement issued jointly by the United States and India after the talks made no mention of the issue.
The White House has grappled with the perceptions of a visit meant to spotlight the president’s high hopes for working with Mr. Modi while not lavishing the full measure of White House pageantry on a leader who until recently was barred from entering the United States because of the allegations of human rights abuses more than a decade ago.
Still, in a striking gesture that Mr. Modi later said gave their relationship a “new dimension,” the president left the White House on Tuesday to give the prime minister a personal tour of the King Memorial, recalling Mr. Obama’s own visit in 2010 to the onetime home in Mumbai of Mohandas K. Gandhi, the Indian champion of democracy and nonviolence who was a model for the American civil rights leader.
At a luncheon at the State Department not long after, Mr. Modi was effusive in thanking Mr. Obama “from the core of my heart” for leading him around the memorial. “He took out a lot of time,” Mr. Modi said. “We were together yesterday and today for quite some time, and today in fact he took me around, and with such ease and such humility.”
Mr. Modi had been denied a visa to visit the United States because of accusations that he failed to stop religious violence in Gujarat in 2002, when he was chief minister there, which took the lives of more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims. On Thursday, while Mr. Modi was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, the human rights group American Justice Center filed a lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan against him on behalf of two survivors of the rioting, seeking a judgment that his conduct was tantamount to genocide.
American officials have declined to comment on the case, except to say that sitting heads of government enjoy immunity from lawsuits in American courts. But human rights activists had pressed the Obama administration to get the president to raise the issue with Mr. Modi while he was in Washington.
If he did, it was in private.
“The purpose of these meetings was to improve U.S.-India relations, so we weren’t expecting Obama to give him the cold shoulder, but we were hoping there would be a little bit of measure in the red-carpet treatment, so we were surprised by the Martin Luther King side visit,” said John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “Delivering a message about human rights is always awkward.”
It was hardly the only tricky element of Mr. Modi’s visit. Their get-together began on Monday night with a small dinner in the White House Blue Room that was a protocol nightmare: Mr. Modi was in the middle of a nine-day fast to observe the Hindu festival of Navratri, but insisted his hosts go ahead and eat. Mr. Modi sat in front of an empty plate and had warm water for dinner while Mr. Obama and the two leaders’ entourages ate avocados and goat cheese, crisped halibut and basmati rice, a pumpkin crème brûlée and a California chardonnay.
The 20-person dinner was a stark contrast to the lavish affair Mr. Obama threw for Mr. Modi’s predecessor, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in November 2009, when more than 300 guests dined on arugula salad, curried prawns and pumpkin pie tart at an event whose bill came to more than $570,000.
This two-day meeting did produce some agreements, including the renewal of a 10-year defense cooperation framework, a pact to cooperate on maritime security and several clean-energy initiatives. And as Mr. Obama intensifies the American campaign against the Sunni militant group known as the Islamic State, the two agreed to improve their counterterrorism cooperation and intelligence sharing.
“We discussed the issues of trade, issues of making sure that maritime rules are observed, and we discussed how we can continue to work together on a whole host of issues from space exploration, scientific endeavor, to dealing with humanitarian crises like Ebola in West Africa,” Mr. Obama said after a two-hour meeting with Mr. Modi in the Oval Office.
Mr. Modi, for his part, said he wanted to resolve disputes that had stalled the implementation of the American-India civilian nuclear agreement and stymied progress on trade. He said the two leaders had a “candid discussion” on trade.
“We already have the foundation of a strong partnership,” Mr. Modi said. “We now have to revive the momentum and ensure that we get the best out of it for our people and for the world.”
Pakistan struggling to cope with surge in polio cases
Once on track for polio eradication, Pakistan now faces a setback as a result of inaccessibility, violence and misinformation
IRIN, part of the Guardian development network
theguardian.com, Wednesday 1 October 2014 12.40 BST
Pakistan is heading for one of its worst years for polio in recent times. According to figures from the global polio eradication initiative (GPEI), 166 cases of polio have been verified this year, compared with 28 at the same time last year.
This puts the country at significant risk of crossing the 199-mark officially recorded in 2000, or the 198 seen in 2011. It is a major setback for a country that as recently as 2005 saw only 28 cases in total, with everything seemingly on track for polio eradication. Last year there were 93 cases in the country, according to the GPEI.
The worst-affected areas, according to the state minister for the national health service, Saira Afzal Tarar, are the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KP), where militants often prevent vaccination.
“Pakistan presents one of the most complex polio eradication environments in the world,” said Ban Khalid al-Dhayi, spokesman for the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef). “In the areas that remain with poliovirus, there is inaccessibility, violence, misconceptions and misinformation that circulates every day, along with intricate tribal and cultural norms and systems.”
“Massive daily population movements” were also described as a major problem by Unicef.
Dhayi said the recent movement of more than 1 million internally displaced people (IDPs) following the military operation in North Waziristan Agency had raised fears of the virus spreading to areas that had not previously seen infections. More than 400,000 children were vaccinated at transit points as they moved out of the conflict zone in Fata and settled in host communities in KP, Punjab and Sindh. IDPs who settled in parts of Punjab due to floods could also increase risks.
While KP health officials based at the provincial polio control room (PPCR) in Peshawar agree that the IDP influx poses a polio risk, they disagree, according to media reports, that refusals (those refusing to be vaccinated) are declining, and blame UN communications authorities for this.
According to PPCR data, the number of refusals increased from 4,200 during the polio vaccination drive carried out between 6-8 June, to 12,043 during the vaccination campaign run from 23-25 June. Unicef, however, says they have separately seen a sharp fall in the rate of refusals, and claim successes for social mobilisation and awareness raising.
IDPs themselves appear keen to receive the drops: “I was desperate for my three young children to get them, and queued up with many others when vaccinators got here,” said Aziz Dawar, who fled North Waziristan in mid-June. His three children, aged between two and eight, had previously received no vaccinations.
Weak prevention systems
On 1 June, Pakistan enforced a World Health Organisation recommendation – seen as draconian by some – that anyone travelling overseas from Pakistan had to produce certification to show they had received polio drops, to prevent exporting the virus.
Before this move, the emergency coordinator for polio eradication in Pakistan, Elias Durry, explained, Pakistan had “informally been labelled” as an “exporter of polio” when strains of the virus originating from the country were found in China, Syria, Egypt, Israel and Palestine. “There needs to be no more import-export of polio virus for at least six months,” Durry said.
While officially polio teams are set up at airports to administer vaccination drops, in reality implementation has been reportedly patchy, with travellers saying they had been able to travel without receiving the drops.
“It’s all just on paper. No one really bothers with drops or certificates in reality,” said an official from Lahore airport, who asked not to be named. Shortages of vaccines have also held back campaigns.
Responding to this, Saira Afzal Tarar said: “A loan from the Islamic Development Bank that I had been campaigning for has now been obtained, so we should be able to deliver drops more efficiently.” The minister said the precise loan details, including the amount, were still being finalised.
“Our approach is not right,” said Anita Zaidi, head of paediatrics at Karachi’s Aga Khan hospital. She said the lone focus on polio had had a negative effect, and that the vaccine should be given alongside others.
At ground level, the message is still struggling to be heard.
“Why don’t we do something to stop our children from being crippled by this terrible disease?” asked Azra Bibi in Bannu. Her cousin’s infant son caught polio five years ago and can now barely walk. “We keep hearing of more and more cases.” She said she had to battle her parents-in-law to get her two daughters vaccinated.
“They said the drops would make them sterile, but I spoke to doctors and also schoolteachers who are educated, and I know this is a lie,” said Azra Bibi, who now visits an IDP camp to encourage mothers to vaccinate against polio. “I want to keep our children safe,” she said.
Hong Kong democracy protests swell as Chinese celebrate National Day
Demonstrations continue into sixth day as chief executive Leung Chun-ying insists Beijing will not back down over elections
Tania Branigan in Hong Kong
The Guardian, Wednesday 1 October 2014 11.51 BST
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests will hit their highest numbers yet as China celebrates its National Day, the student leader who helped precipitate the demonstrations has said.
Joshua Wong, of Scholarism, said: “The numbers today will definitely be bigger than yesterday,” as the protests continued into a sixth day and Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, insisted Beijing would not back down on new electoral rules that would allow the Communist party leadership to choose candidates for the region to vote on.
The Hong Kong chief executive is currently elected by a 1,200-member committee but the protesters say Beijing has reneged on an agreement to grant them open elections by 2017.
“We hope citizens will join the civil disobedience, will keep safe and will rely on the principle of non-violence. We hope they can invite more of their friends and family members to voice their opinions on universal suffrage and [their wish that] CY Leung should step down as soon as possible,” Wong said.
Earlier, Wong and other activists turned their backs in a symbolic gesture of protest as the flag was raised at the annual National Day ceremony – marking the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 – attended by the chief executive.
Leung did not refer to the mass movement in his speech at a reception, but said: “It is understandable that different people may have different ideas about a desirable reform package. But it is definitely better to have universal suffrage than not.
“It is definitely better to have the [chief executive] elected by 5 million eligible voters than by 1,200 people. And it is definitely better to cast your vote at the polling station than to stay home and watch on television the 1,200 members of the election committee cast their votes.”
In Beijing, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, did not comment on the biggest challenge to the Communist party for decades, but vowed in a National Day speech to “steadfastly safeguard” Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.
Crowds in the core protest zone around government offices at Admiralty had already soared into the tens of thousands by mid-afternoon. Overnight, the protesters of the “umbrella revolution” stood through a thunderstorm with umbrellas previously used to ward off teargas and shelter from the sun.
A new protest area also sprang up in Tsim Sha Tsui, a tourist hub known for its museums.
Meanwhile, pro-Beijing groups joined National Day celebrations in the city.
While the protests have been sparked by Beijing’s insistence that universal suffrage for the 2017 election of the next chief executive must be tightly controlled, underneath that lie broader concerns about the future of the region and its ability to protect its identity and freedoms.
The demonstrations have developed their own life, with many of those attending saying they did not identify with Occupy Central or the student groups.
Police have stepped back, maintaining a discreet presence, after the use of teargas and pepper spray at the weekend inflamed rather than dispersed the protests.
Who guides Hong Kong’s ‘Umbrella Revolution’ pro-democracy movement?
Hong Kong’s protesters come from a huge swath of society and have no single leader, but there is a group of figureheads
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
The Guardian, Tuesday 30 September 2014 18.48 BST
Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution has no singular leader – the protesters come from a huge swath of Hong Kong society, and have a range of demands – but it does have a handful of de facto spiritual guides. They can be divided into two camps. Leaders of the influential protest movement Occupy Central with Love and Peace – Benny Tai, Chan Kin-Man and Chu Yiu-Ming – are generally middle-aged, politically experienced, and self-restrained. This older group may have been eclipsed by student leaders Joshua Wong and Alex Chao. They tend to be more idealistic, headstrong, and social media-savvy than their elder counterparts.
Joshua Wong Chi-fung
Wong, 17, the razor-thin leader of the student group Scholarism, has been one of the city’s most outspoken pro-democracy activists for three years. Wong founded the group in 2011 to protest a Beijing-backed proposal to implement a “patriotic education” curriculum in the city’s public schools; the following autumn, he mobilised 120,000 people to occupy the city government headquarters, leading officials to shelve the plan.
As a testament to his influence, state media has attempted to discredit him by portraying him as an “extremist” with shadowy ties to the US (he firmly denies the charge). Police arrested him on Friday night after a group of students scaled a fence to invade the government complex. By the time they released him on Sunday afternoon, his detention had already catalyzed further demonstrations.
Despite his age, Wong is known as a political firebrand: ”You have to see every battle as possibly the final battle,” he told CNN recently. “Only then will you have the determination to fight”.
Alex Chow Yong-kang
Chow, 24, is general secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students – Scholarism’s closest ally – and a student of sociology and comparative literature at Hong Kong University. He has also worked as a journalist at Ming Pao, a pro-democratic local newspaper, according to his Facebook page. In July, Chao organised an unofficial “occupy” protest on a public thoroughfare hours after the conclusion of an annual rally; the sit-in precipitated more than 500 arrests. “It’s not enough to repeat the march and the assembly every year,” he said at the time. “We have to upgrade it to a civil disobedience movement.” Although Occupy Central has called for the Umbrella Revolution protesters to disperse by Thursday, Chow told the New York Times that “residents may occupy various government departments” by then if the government refuses to budge.
Benny Tai Yiu-ting
Tai, the 50-year-old public face of the 18-month-old Occupy Central protest movement, has been a law professor at the University of Hong Kong since the early 1990s. Although his critics paint him as a radical, Tai has mastered a calm, scholarly affect; last April, the South China Morning Post described him as “one of those cuddly professors found on every campus who would talk to anyone interested in their research”. He has reportedly received death threats for his activism. “I used to be just a university academic living in my comfort zone, spending my spare time sending my children to school and going home for dinner,” he told the newspaper in May. “Now my daughter and two sons volunteer for the movement. My wife is Occupy’s campaign manager.”
Chan, a 55-year-old former sociology professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, has repeatedly expressed willingness to be fired, even arrested, for his activism. Before he founded Occupy Central with Tai, he spent years studying China’s civil society; through much of the 1990s, he studied Hong Kong’s democratic development at Yale.
Chan joined Tai in seeking universal suffrage for Hong Kong a decade ago. Yet Chan got progressively frustrated as Beijing continued to reject the possibility of democrats running in chief executive elections. “I have advocated dialogue with the central government for many years, but now I will take part in the civil disobedience movement,” he said last spring. “If [Benny and I] face a trial in court, we won’t dispute that we broke the law and we will make a political statement in the courtroom to spell out our vision.”
Reverend Chu Yiu-ming
Chu Yiu-ming, a silver-haired, 70-year-old Baptist minister, spent decades spearheading pro-democratic initiatives in Hong Kong before he became an Occupy Central leader last year. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, he led a covert operation to rescue Chinese activists from persecution by helping them find safe houses in Hong Kong and apply for asylum abroad. Chu recalled the moment he heard the news of the bloodshed in an interview with Bloomberg in May. “The tears came down,” he said. “I made a prayer: God, what can we do?”
World Bank accuses itself of failing to protect Kenya forest dwellers
Leaked document says World Bank violated its own safeguards in dealings with Sengwer people evicted from their lands
theguardian.com, Monday 29 September 2014 14.36 BST
A leaked copy of a World Bank investigation seen by the Guardian has accused the bank of failing to protect the rights of one of Kenya’s last groups of forest people, who are being evicted from their ancestral lands in the name of climate change and conservation.
Thousands of homes belonging to hunter-gatherer Sengwer people living in the Embobut forest in the Cherangani hills were burned down earlier this year by Kenya forest service guards who had been ordered to clear the forest as part of a carbon offset project that aimed to reduce emissions from deforestation.
The result has been that more than 1,000 people living near the town of Eldoret have been classed as squatters and forced to flee what they say has been government harassment, intimidation and arrest.
The evictions were condemned in February by the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the UN committee on the elimination of racial discrimination, and drew in the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, who expressed alarm at what was described by 360 national and international civil society organisations and individuals as “cultural genocide”. An Avaaz petition collected 950,000 names calling for the bank to urgently halt the “illegal” evictions.
Following a request by the Sengwer to assess the impact of the bank’s funding of the project, the bank’s inspection panel decided in May that it had violated safeguards in several areas. At the same time, the bank’s management decided to ignore most of the independent panel’s recommendations.
Homes of Sengwer people stand burning in Embobut, Kenya. Homes of Sengwer people stand burning in Embobut, Kenya. Photograph: Forest Peoples Programme
“Unfortunately, the World Bank’s own leaked management response to the report denies many of the findings, evidently sees little importance in the fact that violation of safeguard policies has occurred, and presents an inadequate action plan to be considered by the bank’s board. It simply proposes more training for forest service staff, and a meeting to examine what can be learnt,” said a spokesman for the UK-based Forest Peoples Programme.
“President Kim said the bank would not be bystanders, but only by taking seriously the many breaches of its own safeguards and approving the action plan requested by the Sengwer people themselves to overcome the human rights violations that these breaches have contributed to will the bank be able to demonstrate that the president has been true to his word,” said Peter Kitelo, a representative of Kenya’s Forest Indigenous Peoples Network.
A final decision on the project will be made on Tuesday when the World Bank board meets in Washington under the chairmanship of Kim to decide on the bank’s response to the inspection panel report. If the board decides to endorse the action plan, the evictions are certain to be completed. More than half the people evicted are thought to have returned to their lands.
“The eviction of such ancestral communities leaves the indigenous forests open to exploitation and destruction; whereas securing such communities rights to their lands and responsibility to continue traditional conservation practices, protects their forests,” said the Forest Peoples Programme.
Kenyan families flee Embobut forest to avoid forced evictions by police
Authorities act on perceived threat to water supplies, but human rights groups question legality of uprooting indigenous people
theguardian.com, Tuesday 7 January 2014 12.03 GMT
Families in Kenya were reportedly fleeing their homes and taking what possessions they could on Tuesday after police gathered near the Embobut forest to evict thousands of indigenous Sengwer people and others said to be threatening urban water supplies.
The forest, in the Cherangani hills near the town of Eldoret in western Kenya, has been the ancestral home of marginalised hunter-gatherer Sengwer communities for centuries, but the area has been invaded in the past 20 years by many thousands of other people seeking land to grow food.
The authorities claim the result has been wholesale destruction of the forest and the drying up of rivers that provide drinking water and irrigation for many nearby towns and villages. Exact numbers of people living in the forest are uncertain, but estimates range from 7,000 to 15,000.
"Reports reaching us from Sengwer community members in Embobut today tell of a chaotic situation as people are threatened and are in fear of their safety," a spokesman for the UK-based Forest Peoples Programme said. "Some families are fleeing their homes in fear of forceful evictions; 150 police and forest guards, including also 30 riot police, are massing to carry out the evictions from the three locations of Tangul, Kipsitono and Maron near the forest. More troops may join."
At least two successive Kenyan governments have threatened the Sengwer communities and forest squatters with evictions. In the past two years, many houses have been burned down in attempts to force people to move. In November 2013, President Uhuru Kenyatta went to Embobut and promised people money to move, but the offer has been widely ignored. The government deadline for moving from the forest expired last week.
But more than 40 Kenyan and international human rights and environment groups this week questioned the legality of the imminent evictions of the Sengwer and the way the Kenyan authorities have tried to remove indigenous people from forested land in the name of conservation.
"[This eviction] would violate the human rights of the indigenous Sengwer/Cherangany peoples, and their right to the customary sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity, if they are forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands and deprived of their own indigenous means of subsistence integral to their forest life, identity, their characteristic sources of food, water, health and shelter and to their cultural survival as a people," the groups said in a joint statement.
The Forest Peoples Programme added: "For many years the government has been trying to move the indigenous inhabitants of Embobut off their land by burning their homes. They have done this in the name of a 'fortress conservation' approach, which seeks to remove local people from their lands. As all pre-eminent conservation organisations now acknowledge, such an approach only ever makes the environmental situation worse, and adds a human rights disaster to the environmental crisis."
According to the Nairobi-based UN Environment Programme, the rolling Cherangani hills are among the country's five most important water catchment areas. Conservation of the upland areas is considered to be vital to prevent water shortages in cities.
World Bank and UN carbon offset scheme 'complicit' in genocidal land grabs - NGOs
Plight of Kenya's indigenous Sengwer shows carbon offsets are empowering corporate recolonisation of the South
Thursday 3 July 2014 07.00 BST theguardian.com
Between 2000 and 2010, a total of 500 million acres of land in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean was acquired or negotiated under deals brokered on behalf of foreign governments or transnational corporations.
Many such deals are geared toward growing crops or biofuels for export to richer, developed countries – with the consequence that small-holder farmers are displaced from their land and lose their livelihood while local communities go hungry.
The concentration of ownership of the world's farmland in the hands of powerful investors and corporations is rapidly accelerating, driven by resource scarcity and, thus, rising prices. According to a new report by the US land rights organisation Grain: "The powerful demands of food and energy industries are shifting farmland and water away from direct local food production to the production of commodities for industrial processing."
Less known factors, however, include 'conservation' and 'carbon offsetting.'
In west Kenya, as the UK NGO Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) reported, over a thousand homes had been torched by the government's Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to forcibly evict the 15,000 strong Sengwer indigenous people from their ancestral homes in the Embobut forest and the Cherangany Hills.
Since 2007, successive Kenyan governments have threatened Sengwer communities in the Embobut forest with eviction. A deadline for residents to leave the forest expired in early January, prompting the most recent spate of violence. The pretext for the eviction is that the indigenous Sengwer – labelled wrongly as 'squatters' – are responsible for the accelerating degradation of the forest.
Elsewhere in Kenya's Mount Elgon forest, however, the KFS' track record reveals a more complicated story. In 2010, the indigenous Ogiek were issued a deadline to relocate in the name of forest conservation and reforestation. In February this year, Survival International reported that, like the Sengwer, the Ogiek continued to be violently evicted from their homes in violation of court orders, with reports of government officials and their supporters seizing their land.
While deforestation is undoubtedly linked to the activities of poor communities, the Kenyan government's approach illustrates favouritism toward parochial vested interests. In addition to the indigenous communities, the forests are also inhabited by many thousands of tea-planters, loggers, and squatters.
According to an internal report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2000, reviewing the Kenyan government's internationally-funded conservation programme, "the forests of Mt Elgon are not being sustainably managed." The report highlighted "unsustainable harvesting of both indigenous and plantation forest on Mt Elgon," routine flouting of "regulations and procedures for sound management", "the rate of forest plantation harvesting" far exceeding "the rate of replanting", lack of supervision of controls on "forest harvesting operations authorised by the Forest Department," and consequently "extensive loss of forest resources."
The IUCN review also alluded to the role of the Kenyan government's relationship with RaiPly Ltd, a Kenyan company involved in manufacture of wood products: "It is not known why or how RaiPly presumably received a license to harvest indigenous species, thus circumventing the ban on harvesting in indigenous forests."
Official Kenyan parliamentary records from May 1999 show that Kenyan political representatives have been concerned about these issues for some time. One question put to Kenya's then assistant minister for natural resources, Peter Lengees, by a Kenyan MP pointed out that "trees are being cut in Mt. Elgon forest," threatening the region's rivers "from both sides." Local government officials, the MP accused, "have shared up the area between these two rivers" which are now "drying up."
Lengees denied any knowledge of this, prompting a further question from late politician George Kapten, who said that "lorries from Raiply" had been ferrying high-value teak timber from Mount Elgon forest. "And I wish to add that the highest authority in this country has shares in RaiPly", he added. Lengees repeated his denial but admitted that RaiPly was "licensed to cut trees from some forests in Kenya."
Currently, RaiPly is among several major companies that are exempt from a partial government ban on logging. Effectively, the government is permitting powerful logging companies to accelerate deforestation to buoy the Kenyan economy while systematically persecuting indigenous communities whose environmental impact is comparatively negligible.
The devastating plight of Kenya's indigenous peoples is symptomatic of the flawed approach to conservation on the part of international agencies.
The World Bank's Natural Resource Management Programme (NRMP) with the Kenyan government, launched in 2007, has involved funding for projects in the Cherangany Hills under the UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme, including "financing REDD+ readiness activities" some of which began in May 2013.
Under the REDD scheme companies in the developed world purchase carbon credits to invest in reducing emissions from forested lands. Those credits turn up on the companies' balance sheets as carbon reductions. In practice, however, REDD schemes largely allow those companies to accelerate pollution while purchasing land and resources in the developing world at bargain prices.
A FPP background brief on the role of the World Bank claims that the implementation of NRMP – overseen by the very same KFS forces conducting a scorched earth campaign in Cherangany – violates the Bank's own operational safeguard policies. A formal Sengwer complaint to the Bank lodged in January last year alleged that human rights abuses by Kenyan forces were "a direct result" of the World Bank-funded programme:
"One example of the harm caused by the project was that it changed the border of the Cherangany forest reserves," according to the FPP brief, "such that Sengwer families, without any consultation or notice, found themselves on the inside of the forest reserve and therefore automatically subject to eviction by the KFS, evictions effectively funded by the World Bank. These evictions were customarily executed by burning homes and food stores in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013."
In a statement in February, the World Bank disavowed any link between its programme and the forced evictions, but also offered to the Kenyan government:
"... to share best practices in resettlement in line with its safeguard policies. These seek to improve or restore the living standards of people affected by involuntary resettlement."
A letter to the Bank in March by No REDD in Africa network (Nran) – a group of African civil society organisations - signed by over 60 international NGOs accused the Bank with the above words of "both admitting its complicity in the forced relocation of the Sengwer People as well as offering to collude with the Kenyan government to cover-up cultural genocide."
As "carbon credit financier and broker", the World Bank is "aiding and abetting the forced relocation of an entire Indigenous People through its Natural Resource Management Plan (NRMP) which includes REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), in the Cherangany Hills", said the letter.
The Sengwer's complaint is currently under investigation by the World Bank Inspection Panel. Although the report is now complete, a Bank spokesperson, Phil Hay, said that it would not be reviewed by the Board until August or September.
"The World Bank is not associated with the evictions and has not supported or financed resettlement in forest areas under the now closed Natural Resource Management Project (NMRP)", said Hay. "Nonetheless we are not bystanders either. We have been concerned about how the evictions have been handled and have been in frequent touch with the Kenyan government."
Notably, the Bank's professed concern here is with "how the evictions have been handled", not with evictions being carried out in the first place.
A damning new report from the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) based in Washington DC thus warns that the UN and World Bank approach to REDD is paving the way for large-scale "carbon grabs" by foreign governments and investors, putting at risk the land rights, livelihoods and lives of indigenous communities.
The report surveyed 23 low and middle income countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, covering 66 percent of the developing world's forests, concluding that REDD had not established laws or mechanisms by which indigenous peoples and local communities could profit from the carbon in the forests they inhabited.
"Their rights to their forests may be few and far between, but their rights to the carbon in the forests are non-existent", said Arvind Khare, RRI executive director.
At the United Nations climate negotiations in Warsaw in November 2013, delegates reached an agreement that would allow REDD to move forward which, however, excluded questions around who should control and benefit from the new carbon value found in standing forests.
Instead, the World Bank Carbon Fund's approach to defining carbon rights has been widely criticised by civil society groups for creating conflict between new property rights to carbon, and existing statutory and customarily held rights of local communities. The lack of clear safeguards and measures opens up an unprecedented opportunity for corporate and government land grabbing.
Tony La Viña, Dean of the Ateneo School of Government and chair of the intergovernmental REDD negotiations at the climate conferences in Copenhagen and Durban, said: "The carbon markets, when up and running, need to support the forest stewardship of the people who live there, and not provide national governments with yet another tool to dispossess their citizens from the natural resources they have cared for and depended on for generations."
According to the No REDD in Africa network, it is precisely because indigenous people and their rights are not factored into REDD principles that their implementation could lead to outright genocide.
Chris Lang, a British forestry expert who runs the REDD Monitor blog, agrees that under REDD schemes involving forested or agricultural land, "the rights to the use of that land could be taken away from indigenous peoples who depend on their forests for their livelihoods. Destroying livelihoods on this scale could conform to the parts (a), (b), and (c) of the [UN Convention] definition of genocide."
This article was inspired by a blogpost by British film-maker Dean Puckett who will be traveling to Kenya in August to investigate the plight of the Sengwer.
Nigeria’s Actions Seem to Contain Ebola Outbreak
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.
SEPT. 30, 2014
With quick and coordinated action by some of its top doctors, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, appears to have contained its first Ebola outbreak, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
As the epidemic rages out of control in three nations only a few hundred miles away, Nigeria is the only country to have beaten back an outbreak with the potential to harm many victims in a city with vast, teeming slums.
“For those who say it’s hopeless, this is an antidote — you can control Ebola,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the C.D.C.
Although officials are pleased that success was achieved in a country of 177 million that is a major transport and business hub — and whose largest city, Lagos, has 21 million people — the lessons here are not easily applicable to the countries at the epicenter: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Public health officials in those countries remain overwhelmed by the scale of the outbreak and are desperate for additional international assistance.
Nigeria’s outbreak grew from a single airport case, while in the three other countries the disease smoldered for months in remote rain-forest provinces and spread widely before a serious response was mounted.
Ebola, Dr. Frieden said, “won’t blow over — you have to make a rapid, intense effort.”
While the danger in Nigeria is not over, the health minister, Dr. Onyebuchi Chukwu, said in a telephone interview that his country was now better prepared, with six laboratories able to make diagnoses and response teams and isolation wards ready in every major state.
After the first patient — a dying Liberian-American — flew into Lagos on July 20, Ebola spread to 20 other people there and in a smaller city, Port Harcourt.
They have all now died or recovered, and the cure rate — 60 percent — was unusually high for an African outbreak.
Meanwhile, local health workers paid 18,500 face-to-face visits to repeatedly take the temperatures of nearly 900 people who had contact with them. The last confirmed case was detected on Aug. 31, and virtually all contacts have passed the 21-day incubation period without falling ill.
The success was in part the result of an emergency command center financed in 2012 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to fight polio. As soon as the outbreak began, it was turned into the Ebola Emergency Operations Center.
Also, the C.D.C. had 10 experts in Nigeria working on polio and H.I.V., who had already trained 100 local doctors in epidemiology; 40 of them were immediately reassigned to Ebola and oversaw the contact tracing.
The chief of the command center, Dr. Faisal Shuaib, gave credit to a coordinated effort by the Health Ministry, the C.D.C., the World Health Organization, Unicef, Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee for the Red Cross.
Also, he noted, Nigeria has significant advantages over poorer countries where the outbreak is out of control.
It has many more doctors per capita, some educated abroad at top medical schools.
It has standing teams of medical investigators, with vehicles and telephones, who normally trace outbreaks of other ills like cholera or Lassa fever.
Lagos University Teaching Hospital was able to do Ebola tests in six hours.
The hospitals where patients were isolated were equipped to do tests for electrolytes and blood proteins, both of which must be kept in balance as patients are fed orally or intravenously to replace fluids lost to diarrhea and vomiting.
And air-conditioned hospitals let people wearing protective gear work longer without overheating.
Nigeria also had some luck. Although the first patient, a businessman named Patrick Sawyer, was vomiting on his flight in, none of the roughly 200 others on the plane fell ill. Others did after helping him into a taxi to a hospital.
And a patient in Port Harcourt went to her church and became violently ill during a ceremony in which the congregation laid hands on her. But none became infected.
Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, the Gates Foundation’s chief executive, said she was “heartened to see this positive result of the efforts of so many in Nigeria.”
On July 17, Mr. Sawyer defied medical advice and left a hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, where he was being held for observation after caring for his sister, who died of Ebola, although it was unclear whether he knew what she had.
Nigerian news reports said he used Liberian government contacts for permission to leave, flying to Lagos by way of Ghana and Togo. He planned to go to an economic development conference there and then fly back to Coon Rapids, Minn., for his children’s birthdays, according to media interviews with his widow.
Taken to a small private hospital after he collapsed, he denied any contact with Ebola victims and was initially treated for malaria. He died on July 25.
“That hospital had zero infection control,” Dr. Frieden said.
A nurse who helped reinsert an IV line when Mr. Sawyer was delirious and bleeding wore no gloves, had a cut on her hand and did not wash it, he said. She later died.
After malaria treatment failed, Ebola was “high on the index of suspicion,” Dr. Shuaib said.
He learned about Mr. Sawyer’s diagnosis as he sat chatting in his office with a colleague.
“I thought: ‘Oh, my God, not Nigeria. Not Lagos.’ I knew the potential for it to spread in a densely populated place.”
Even though the emergency center swung into action quickly and aggressive contact tracing was possible because Nigeria’s Port Health Services obtained records of Mr. Sawyer’s travel, there were still problems.
It took 14 days, Dr. Frieden said, for the first isolation ward to open in a former tuberculosis ward.
“Health workers initially wouldn’t go in,” he said. “They were afraid. We ultimately trained 1,800 staff.”
Wards were reconfigured to add space between beds, put in washing stations with chlorinated water and create rooms where doctors and nurses could carefully don and remove protective gear. The worked in teams of two so they could watch each other and prevent mistakes.
Also, according to a C.D.C. study released Tuesday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, inaccurate news media reports before the government began offering official information “created a nationwide scare.”
Sales of false cures, including “Blessed Salt,” shot up, and two Nigerians died of drinking large amounts of saltwater.
But Dr. Shuaib emphasized that even terrified Nigerians did not deny the virus’s existence or attack health workers, as happened in the other countries. “No conspiracy theories entered the debate,” he said.
Nigeria’s success shows how important preparation is, said Dr. Frieden, adding, “Some countries that could well be the next Lagos still don’t have a clue about how to deal with this.”
Kuwait, Fighting Dissent From Within, Revokes Citizenship
By KAREEM FAHIM
SEPT. 30, 2014
KUWAIT CITY — Moving to grind out political dissent at home while the world’s attention is focused on fighting militant extremists in Iraq and Syria, the government of Kuwait is increasingly wielding a penalty that was once rare here: revoking citizenship.
The severity of the punishment, imposed for offenses that sometimes amount to little more than disagreeing with the government, has stoked bitterness and raised an unaccustomed fear that new lines are being drawn between loyalty and treason.
Kuwait, where citizens have elected full-throated Parliaments for decades and lawmakers have publicly criticized official corruption, has been the most politically open of the conservative Persian Gulf monarchies.
But as tensions in the country have been growing, analysts said, the revocations have raised concerns that Kuwait is also taking cues from some of its more repressive neighbors in the region, including some that have won praise from the United States for joining the military campaign against the Islamic State.
“They are sending a message,” said Sulaiman al-Jassem, a Kuwaiti human rights activist who is one of many people here facing criminal charges for what the activists say are essentially political acts, like attending protests. “There are no limits,” he said.
According to the state news agency, Kuwait’s government has revoked the citizenship of more than two dozen people in the past three months, including 18 on Monday.
Ahmed Jabr al-Shammari, one of those whose citizenship was revoked, ran a television channel and newspapers that gave space to opposition figures and antigovernment points of view. The government, after suspending his media outlets, eventually shut them down in July and took away Mr. Shammari’s citizenship — leaving him essentially “stateless,” he said.
The gulf monarchs saw new threats to their power emerge after the popular uprisings across the Arab world in 2011, and they have used a set of similar tools to beat back challenges. Human rights workers have watched with alarm as the governments have issued or threatened to issue new laws to contain dissidents, including arresting them for public gatherings, speeches or social media postings — and increasingly stripping them of citizenship.
Though there has been a spurt recently, the practice has been growing for several years. In 2011, the United Arab Emirates took passports from Islamist activists who had been naturalized citizens; a lawyer for the men said it was because they had demanded political change.
Bahrain stripped 31 dissidents of their citizenship in 2012, including former members of Parliament and exiled political activists. Most recently, a court in Bahrain revoked the citizenship of nine men on Monday who the authorities said were trying to smuggle weapons into the country. (The court also sentenced the men to life in prison.)
Claire Beaugrand, a specialist in Persian Gulf affairs at the French Institute for the Near East, said the crackdown was reversing movement in the past decade toward greater openness in some of the gulf states, including Bahrain.
“Now the trend is counterrevolution, and they are dismantling liberal measures they had taken before,” Ms. Beaugrand said, adding that the repression often came shrouded in official discourse about fidelity to the state — “who is loyal and who is not.”
Few places had as much to lose as Kuwait, which was long seen as resistant to the region’s political torpor. Opposition groups here led to the removal of the prime minister in 2011, and political activists and lawmakers more recently have urged the government to reject a regional security pact, fearing that it would undermine the country’s relative freedoms.
“In Kuwait,” Ms. Beaugrand said, “people are aware that they have rights and more freedoms than other gulf states.”
The strict measures, though, also reflected a growing acrimony in Kuwait’s political debates. As a diverse but fractured opposition movement has made bolder demands of the government — as well as statements viewed by officials as provocative — the authorities have appeared more determined to stifle any complaints.
Belkis Wille, a Kuwait researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the severity of the measures taken against government opponents had steadily increased over the past few years. “Now we’re seeing this dramatic new step of citizenship revocation,” she said.
Losing citizenship cuts a Kuwaiti off from the oil-rich country’s generous system of state benefits, including health care, housing and education — what Mr. Jassem, the democracy activist, called the “golden lottery ticket.” In some ways, those who have had their citizenship revoked are placed among more than 100,000 Kuwaiti residents who have been denied citizenship, despite being in the country for generations in many cases.
Musallam al-Barrak, a prominent opposition figure and frequent guest on Mr. Shammari’s television channel, compared the revoking of citizenship to a “civil execution” and called it a desperate measure by the government. “It indicates their weakness,” he said, “not their strength.”
To explain the revocations, the authorities have cited provisions of the 1959 citizenship law in Kuwait, which permits the government to revoke citizenship, including when naturalized citizens have committed crimes or obtained citizenship through fraud. Calls seeking comment from a spokesman for the cabinet, which issued the revocations, were not returned.
Abdullah al-Barghash, a former opposition member of the Kuwaiti Parliament, was stripped of his citizenship in July. In August the cabinet revoked the citizenship of an ultraconservative religious cleric, Nabil al-Awady. The group revoked on Monday also included Saad al-Ajmi, an opposition spokesman.
Even those who saw legitimate reasons for some revocations said Mr. Shammari’s case set a chilling precedent. He not only was Kuwaiti-born, they said, but also was charged under a law that allows the authorities to revoke the citizenship of people seeking to “undermine the economic or social system of the country.”
Mr. Shammari also appeared to have been swept up in a palace drama, aligned with one party in a royal power struggle that has upended Kuwait’s politics and exposed fissures within the ruling Sabah family. The feud broke into the open late last year when rumors circulated about secret recordings that were said to reveal a conspiracy to overthrow the government.
The controversy, which was discussed on social media as well as on Mr. Shammari’s television channel, so unnerved the government that it issued an order banning discussion of the recordings.
In a recent interview in his office, where he was signing severance checks for hundreds of employees who were ordered by the government to find other work, Mr. Shammari said he would challenge the cabinet’s decision in the courts.
He said he had little to worry about personally — his publishing and real estate interests have made him wealthy, and his white Rolls-Royce was parked downstairs — although the loss of citizenship seemed to exclude him from politics. He was more concerned about his four children, who by Kuwaiti law derive their citizenship from their father. “There is no role for people who lose their nationality,” he said.
A Kuwaiti court declined last week to rule on his case, saying it was outside its jurisdiction.
A Conspicuous Absence on Israel’s List of Top Baby Names
By JODI RUDOREN
SEPT. 30, 2014
JERUSALEM — Muhammad was by far the most popular name for babies born in Israel last year: 1,986 boys shared the name of the Muslim prophet, nearly twice the number of the top girls’ name, Tamar, at 1,092.
That fact alone was worthy of note, a reminder that the Arab minority in Israel is 21 percent of what the Israeli government likes to call the Jewish State (and that Muslims hew to ancient, traditional names far more than Israeli Jews — more on that later).
But even more striking was that Israel’s population authority left Muhammad off the annual Top 10 list of baby names it issued last week before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Haaretz, the left-leaning Israeli daily that first reported the omission, called this in an editorial “another form of racism, which in Israel has become institutionalized and self-evident.”
Sabine Haddad, a spokeswoman for the agency that published the list, described the missing Muhammads as something between a mistake and a misunderstanding. The list, she said, was simply a response to requests “for Hebrew names” in conjunction with the start of “the Hebrew New Year.” It would have been better, she acknowledged, to put an asterisk noting that what she called “obviously Arabic names” were left off. “There was no intention, no political intention,” Ms. Haddad said in an interview. “When journalists called me and asked for the whole list, they received the whole list. It’s not that we hide that.”
Intent aside, Hassan Jabareen, director of Adalah, a legal advocacy center for Arab minority rights, said the episode revealed a deeper issue of invisibility for Israel’s 1.4 million Palestinian citizens and more than 300,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.
Arabs have served in Israel’s Parliament since its opening in 1949, but only one has been a government minister. A 2011 Adalah report found that 6 percent of the state’s Civil Service jobs and 1.2 percent of tenure-track positions in universities were filled by Arabs.
“On TV, if we open Channel 1, Channel 2, Channel 10, in prime time, we don’t see Arabs as producers, as anchors — we don’t see them, they do not exist,” Mr. Jabareen complained. Each channel has an analyst of Arab affairs, but they are Jews, he added, “sending a message that in fact the Arabs are foreigners, this is why we need a mediator between us and them.”
Oz Almog, a sociologist at the University of Haifa, said the list of baby names showed not racism but “our pluralism and flexibility,” with Israelis experimenting with more than 3,200 names. Some come from the Bible (970 Adams and 654 Sarahs last year), some from nature (Tamar is both: It means date palm, and she was the daughter of King David). Adele, No. 4 on last year’s girls’ list with 908, is inspired by both the British singer, Professor Almog said, and, for some religious Jews, the grandmother of the beloved 19th-century Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.
But in most Muslim families in Israel, and elsewhere, there always seems to be a Muhammad. The name was given to 11 or 12 percent of Israel’s Arab boys in 2011, 2012 and 2013, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Isbeitan Abu Isbeitan, whose son, Muhammad, was born Aug. 30, said that he once saw a television program in which the moderator asked the audience to guess the most popular name in the world and “they were shocked” to learn it was that of the prophet. “I named my son Muhammad after the greatest man on earth,” said Mr. Isbeitan, 38, a driver in Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives who also has three daughters. “I hope my son will be imitating him in his life, in his behavior, in his morals.”
The list the population authority published last week had Yosef in the top spot with 1,173, edging out Daniel, at 1,088, and Uri, which means “my light,” at 1,071. It is also worthy of note that the list’s “Yosef” also includes “Yusef.” Both are translations of Joseph — the biblical patriarch considered an Islamic prophet — and they are spelled the same in the Hebrew used to register babies.
Israeli airline urged to stop ‘bullying’ of women by ultra-orthodox passengers
Petition organiser says airline should find way to accommodate religious requirements without breaching other people’s rights
The Guardian, Tuesday 30 September 2014 14.01 BST
Israel’s national airline, El Al, has been criticised for allowing ultra-orthodox Jewish men to disrupt flights by refusing to be seated next to women.
A petition on change.org is demanding that the carrier “stop the bullying, intimidation and discrimination against women on your flights”.
One flight last week, from New York’s JFK airport to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, descended into chaos according to passengers, after a large group of haredim, or ultra-orthodox Jews, refused to take their seats next to women, in accordance with strict religious customs.
The episode has prompted other women to come forward with similar stories on international flights to and from Tel Aviv.
Amit Ben-Natan, a passenger on last week’s El Al flight from New York, said take-off was delayed after numerous and repeated requests by ultra-orthodox men for female passengers to be moved.
“People stood in the aisles and refused to go forward,” she told the Ynet website. “Although everyone had tickets with seat numbers that they purchased in advance, they asked us to trade seats with them, and even offered to pay money, since they cannot sit next to a woman. It was obvious that the plane won’t take off as long as they keep standing in the aisles.”
Another passenger on the flight, named only as Galit, said ultra-orthodox passengers had suggested she and her husband sit separately to accommodate their religious requirements. She refused, but added: “I ended up sitting next to a haredi man who jumped out of his seat the moment we had finished taking off and proceeded to stand in the aisle.”
On a different flight, Elana Sztokman, executive director of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, refused to accede to a request to move seats, triggering “frantic negotiations”, she said, between ultra-orthodox men and airline staff.
“What happened to me on this flight isn’t that different from what happens on almost every flight,” she told Voice of Israel radio. “You get on a plane, and the plane is about to take off but a whole bunch of ultra-orthodox men start playing around, moving around, whispering, moving back and forth trying to find different seats … Anyone who’s ever travelled on El Al has experienced this.”
Sharon Shapiro, from Chicago, the organiser of the online petition – which had attracted about 1,000 backers by Tuesday morning – said it was “not right that female passengers are being intimidated or harassed. It’s one thing to ask nicely, but if someone says no, they should not be put under pressure.”
There was a genuine dilemma for some ultra-orthodox Jews. “What most people don’t understand is that it’s not personal”, but considered by some to be a religious obligation.
Airlines should seek a way of accommodating the religious requirements of passengers without breaching others’ civil rights, she said. “I’m not quite sure why El Al asks passengers to sort these things out among themselves. It would be better if people can get on a plane knowing they’re sitting somewhere they feel comfortable. Otherwise, it adds to tensions and misunderstandings between religious and secular [passengers].”
The petition says: “If a passenger was being verbally or physically abusive to airline staff, they would immediately be removed from the plane … If a passenger was openly engaging in racial or religious discrimination against another passenger or flight attendant, they would immediately be removed from the plane. Why then, does El Al Airlines allow gender discrimination against women?
“Why does El Al Airlines permit female passengers to be bullied, harassed, and intimidated into switching seats which they rightfully paid for and were assigned to by El Al Airlines?
“One person’s religious rights does not trump another person’s civil rights.”
It suggests that El Al reserves a few rows of segregated seating available in advance for a fee.
Among comments posted on change.org, Judith Margolis from Jerusalem said: “The behaviour involving harassing women in the name of religious observance is outrageous. That airlines allow some passengers to disrupt flights is unacceptable.”
Myla Kaplan of Haifa said: “I no longer feel comfortable flying on El Al due to the bullying and delays and general humiliation of being asked to move out of a seat I reserved in advance.”
In a statement, El Al said it made “every effort possible to ensure a passenger’s flight is as enjoyable as possible while doing our utmost to maintain schedules and arrive safely at the destination.
“El Al is committed to responding to every complaint received and if it is found that there are possibilities for improvement in the future, those suggestions will be taken into consideration.”
Female passengers on other airlines flying to and from Israel, such as British Airways and easyJet, have also been asked to move seats at the request of ultra-orthodox men. Some airlines close toilets for periods during flights to allow men to gather to pray.
The outcry over flights comes against a backdrop of moves by hardline ultra-orthodox communities in Israel to impose dress codes on women, restrictions on where they can sit on public buses, segregated checkout queues in supermarkets and the removal of women’s images from advertising hoardings.
Sztokman – whose flight came at the end of a US speaking tour on her new book, The War on Women in Israel: A Story of Religious Radicalisation and Women Fighting for Freedom – said such demands had increased over the past decade.
“A lot of what we’re seeing today … is about the erasure of women’s faces from the public sphere, the erasure of women’s names from newspaper articles, the refusal to let women talk on radio stations
“It’s a whole array of practices of women’s exclusion and women’s degradation that has got much worse.”
Nicaragua canal will wreak havoc on forests and displace people, NGO warns
Forests of the World says shipping firms must pressure Nicaragua and Chinese backer to limit canal’s impact
theguardian.com, Tuesday 30 September 2014 13.21 BST
Shipping firms should pressure the Nicaraguan government and the Chinese backer of a proposed canal to ensure that the project does not force indigenous people off their land and inflict massive environmental damage on the country’s ecosystem, an environmental advocacy group has urged.
The proposed 178-mile waterway seeks to rival the Panama canal by offering an alternative Atlantic-Pacific passage which cuts voyage times. Construction is scheduled to begin in December with $50bn (£31bn) funding from the Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Company (HKND), which is owned by Chinese lawyer Wang Jing.
But Danish NGO Forests of the World has accused the Nicaraguan government and HKND of failing to involve indigenous people in the planning process, saying the canal will wreak havoc on forests and force people to move.
“The canal is to be built straight through the Rama and Kriol territory, fragmenting it into two parts,” said Claus Kjaerby, Central America representative at Forests of the World. “It’s just like if someone wanted to build a bicycle trail through your garden and they do not consult with you.”
The Nicaraguan government said it has shared information about the canal with indigenous people, but conceded that no formal discussions had taken place.
Paul Oquist Kelley, executive secretary of the Nicaragua Grand Canal Commission, said: “Inasmuch as there was no definition of the canal route in 2013 there were no formal consultations with the communities to be affected, but informative presentations on the canal project were made throughout the country.
“After the presentation they were asked if anyone opposed the canal project. Not one person objected. Their concerns were about inclusion, participation and receiving their fair share if the canal were to traverse their territory.”
Nicaragua’s indigenous groups have appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for legal counsel, citing violations of Nicaraguan law and international labour standards, according to Kjaerby. They say they will be forced to relocate under the current plan, with little support from the government.
The course of the canal will slice through the Reserva Natural Cerro Silva and then cross Lake Nicaragua close to the island of Ometepe, which is formed of two volcanoes; one of them, Concepción, is active.
But Nicaragua’s government said business and political leaders considered five different routes before settling on the least destructive course. “Route four that runs from Punta Gorda on the Caribbean Sea to Brito on the Pacific Ocean was chosen precisely because it was the route with the least environmental and social impact. Despite the fact that route four was not the lowest cost option, it was chosen because it has the lowest environmental and social impact,” Kelley said.
MDG Great green macaw A great green macaw, one of the species reportedly at risk from the proposed route of the Nicaragua canal. Photograph: Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters
The canal will plough through two Unesco-established biosphere reserves, which are inhabited by endangered species including jaguar, great green macaw, tapir and sea turtles, according to Forests of the World.
“The list of potential environmental threats is long and includes negative impact on protected wetlands vital to migratory birds, the Central American biological corridor, destruction of freshwater habitat, deterioration of drinking water reserves and the inevitable pollution of Lake Nicaragua,” Kjaerby said.
The NGO has urged Danish firm Maersk – one of the world’s biggest shipping companies – to use its influence to protect the rights of indigenous people and prevent environmental damage.
“Maersk’s interests are being used as an argument for building the canal,” Kjaerby said. “This gives Maersk a unique opportunity to ensure that the project is not implemented at the expense of indigenous peoples’ rights and unique natural habitat. We urge Maersk to use this unique position to influence and stop these violations that would mar the canal and its users throughout its future.”
The shipping firm said the project could reap economic benefits for Nicaragua. A Maersk spokesman said: “In principle, we are positive towards infrastructure development such as the Nicaragua canal. Efforts to promote the expansion of industry and commerce in Latin America – and the world – is positive and has the potential to increase the competitiveness of the countries in the region. We do not have the information to evaluate the specific Nicaragua canal project.”
Shipping firms say Nicaragua’s watercourse would provide a faster trip than the Panama canal, shaving as much as 800km off the New York to Los Angeles route. The proposed canal will be able to accommodate ships of up to 250,000 tons – more than double the freight allowance of the Panama canal.
A spokesman for HKND said: “HKND will strictly comply with the principle of being legal, transparent and fair in implementing the project. HKND is committed to explore canal route area with care and adhere to international standards of environmental responsibility. Our aim is to make impacted communities and indigenous peoples better off and not worse off in terms of livelihoods and living standards, through the project.”
Fourteen of 57 Missing Mexican Students Found Alive
by Naharnet Newsdesk
01 October 2014, 08:29
Fourteen of 57 students who vanished after deadly shootings in southern Mexico have turned up alive but relatives feared for those still missing as authorities search for them.
A dozen troops manned a checkpoint Tuesday between Guerrero's state capital, Chilpancingo, and the town of Iguala, stopping cars and checking IDs against a list of the missing students from a teacher training college.
The students disappeared following a bout of violence in Iguala late Friday and Saturday that left six people dead and 25 wounded in different parts of the municipality.
In one of the incidents, municipal police opened fire on three buses seized by the radical students, who are known to hijack buses and had taken them to go home after a fundraising drive in Iguala.
Three students were killed. A survivor told AFP on Tuesday that he saw officers take away 30 to 40 students in several police cruisers and they have yet to be found.
Prosecutors said they were able to connect 22 officers who were detained to the six killings after ballistics tests linked their weapons to the shootings.
The officers are being investigated over the disappearances, said state prosecutor Inaky Blanco. Authorities are investigating whether organized crime was involved.
Guerrero is one of Mexico's poorest state, beset by violence by a slew of drug gangs and social unrest.
"Unfortunately most of Iguala's municipal police officers have links with organized crime," said Governor Angel Aguirre following reports that unidentified masked gunmen were involved in some of the shootings.
He said street surveillance cameras captured officers taking away an unspecified number of students.
Francisco Ochoa, 18, told AFP he was among 14 students in a fourth bus that was stopped by the police.
The students came out and fled after the officers began to shoot in the air, he said. After hiding on the hills and other parts of town, the 14 students found other comrades in a marketplace.
"More patrol cars arrived from the right and the left, 12 to 13 of them," he said.
"I saw with my own eyes how they took away my comrades. I saw how they put 30-40 of them in patrol cars," he said at a wake for a fallen comrade attended by hundreds of people at the Raul Isidro teacher training school in Tixtla.
- Problems with military-
The police shooting came as the military faces its own problem after federal prosecutors sought charges Tuesday against three soldiers accused of executing 22 gang suspects south of Mexico City in June.
Ramon Navarette, president of Guerrero's Human Rights Commission, raised hopes that the 43 missing may still be alive, saying they may be hiding like the 14 students who reappeared.
"This tactic of dispersing to avoid harm or arrest is very frequent," he said.
Witnesses reported a night of terror in Iguala.
Fatima Bahene Pena, a 29-year-old special education teacher, lay in the town's general hospital with bullet wounds in her right foot and left shoulder.
She said she was invited to help the students raise funds when she arrived at a chaotic scene of students bleeding in the street after their buses were fired at during a police chase.
The second attack came as she was cleaning a man's chest wound inside a car.
"The muchacho raised his head and he saw that it was the police," she said as state police officers armed with assault rifles guarded the hospital.
A second shooting took place on the outskirts of town.
Aureliano Garca Ceron, a 35-year-old taxi driver, was transporting two customers in the early hours of Saturday when shots suddenly rang out.
"All I could see were the sparks of the guns," he said as he recovered from a broken leg shattered by a bullet.
Amnesty International urged the authorities to take all necessary measures to find the missing.
Source: Agence France Presse
Argentina's Kirchner: U.S. Could Topple my Government, Kill Me
by Naharnet Newsdesk
01 October 2014, 07:16
Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner on Tuesday charged in an emotional address that domestic and U.S. interests were pushing to topple her government, and could even kill her.
Domestic business interests "are trying to bring down the government, with international (U.S.) help," she said.
Kirchner said that on her recent visit to fellow Argentine Pope Francis -- whose help she has sought in Argentina's ongoing debt default row -- police warned her about supposed plots against her by Islamic State activists.
"So, if something happens to me, don't look to the Mideast, look north" to the United States, Kirchner said at Government House.
- Don't believe U.S.: Kirchner -
Just hours after the U.S. embassy here warned its citizens to take extra safety precautions in Argentina, an aggravated Kirchner said "when you see what has been coming out of diplomatic offices, they had better not come in here and try to sell some tall tale about ISIS trying to track me down so they can kill me."
The president said local soybean producers unhappy with prices, other exporters and car company executives, all were involved since they would benefit from a devaluation of the peso, which is being pushed lower by her government's selective default.
"Exporters who have lost money have Argentina in a vise .. so do the car company executives who tell consumers they have no inventory when they do .... What they are all waiting for is a devaluation."
Argentina exited recession with 0.9-percent economic growth in the second quarter, national statistics institute INDEC said Wednesday, a rare bit of good news amid the country's new debt default.
But with inflation estimated at more than 30 percent and the value of the peso tumbling, Latin America's third-largest economy is still mired in a slowdown after averaging 7.8-percent annual growth from 2003 to 2011.
Argentina is still struggling with the aftermath of a default on nearly $100 billion in debt in 2001, with the two hedge funds it labels vultures battling the country in US courts.
But it has been blocked by US federal judge Thomas Griesa, who has ordered the country to first repay two hedge funds demanding the full $1.3 billion face value of their bonds.
Griesa ruled Monday that Argentina was in contempt of court after it passed a law allowing the government to repay creditors in Buenos Aires or Paris -- skirting the New York judge's freeze on the bank accounts it previously used to service its debt.
Argentina has been locked out of international financial markets since its 2001 default.
More than 92 percent of its creditors agreed to take losses of up to 70 percent on the face value of their bonds in 2005 and 2010 to get the struggling country's debt repayments back on track.
But the two hedge funds, U.S. billionaire Paul Singer's NML Capital and U.S.-based Aurelius Capital Management, which had bought up defaulted Argentine bonds for pennies on the dollar, refused to accept the write-down and took the country to court.
The strategy, which stands to make them profits of up to 1,600 percent, has earned them the label "vulture funds" from Buenos Aires.
Blocked from paying its restructured debt, Argentina missed a $539 million interest payment and entered default again on July 30.
It is now trying to buy time until the end of the year, the expiration date for a clause in the restructuring deals that entitles all bondholders to equal treatment.
Argentina is meanwhile lobbying to create a U.N. convention to prevent a minority of bondholders from scuppering struggling countries' debt restructuring plans.
A resolution to negotiate such a framework passed the United Nations General Assembly earlier this month.
- Tough outlook -
Economic analysts are forecasting the economy will shrink two percent this year, though the government is forecasting a return to economic growth of 2.8 percent in 2015.
The end of the boom has revived the ghost of Argentina's 2001 economic crisis, when it defaulted on $100 billion in debt and deadly riots erupted.
That violence, in which at least 26 people were killed, led to the resignation of president Fernando de la Rua, who was replaced by Adolfo Rodriguez Saa. He resigned a week after taking office amid more unrest.
Source: Agence France Presse
Simulations reveal an unusual death for ancient stars
30 Sep 2014
Certain primordial stars—those between 55,000 and 56,000 times the mass of our Sun, or solar masses—may have died unusually. In death, these objects—among the Universe’s first-generation of stars—would have exploded as supernovae and burned completely, leaving no remnant black hole behind.
Astrophysicists at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) and the University of Minnesota came to this conclusion after running a number of supercomputer simulations at the Department of Energy’s (DOE's) National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) and Minnesota Supercomputing Institute at the University of Minnesota. They relied extensively on CASTRO, a compressible astrophysics code developed at DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s (Berkeley Lab’s) Computational Research Division (CRD). Their findings were recently published in the Astrophysical Journal (ApJ).
First-generation stars are especially interesting because they produced the first heavy elements, or chemical elements other than hydrogen and helium. In death, they sent their chemical creations into outer space, paving the way for subsequent generations of stars, solar systems and galaxies. With a greater understanding of how these first stars died, scientists hope to glean some insights about how the Universe, as we know it today, came to be.
“We found that there is a narrow window where supermassive stars could explode completely instead of becoming a supermassive black hole—no one has ever found this mechanism before,” says Ke-Jung Chen, a postdoctoral researcher at UCSC and lead author of the ApJ paper. “Without NERSC resources, it would have taken us a lot longer to reach this result. From a user perspective, the facility is run very efficiently and it is an extremely convenient place to do science.”
The Simulations: What’s Going On?
To model the life of a primordial supermassive star, Chen and his colleagues used a one-dimensional stellar evolution code called KEPLER. This code takes into account key processes like nuclear burning and stellar convection. And relevant for massive stars, photo-disintegration of elements, electron-positron pair production and special relativistic effects. The team also included general relativistic effects, which are important for stars above 1,000 solar masses.
They found that primordial stars between 55,000 to 56,000 solar masses live about 1.69 million years before becoming unstable due to general relativistic effects and then start to collapse. As the star collapses, it begins to rapidly synthesize heavy elements like oxygen, neon, magnesium and silicon starting with helium in its core. This process releases more energy than the binding energy of the star, halting the collapse and causing a massive explosion: a supernova.
To model the death mechanisms of these stars, Chen and his colleagues used CASTRO—a multidimensional compressible astrophysics code developed at Berkeley Lab by scientists Ann Almgren and John Bell. These simulations show that once collapse is reversed, Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities mix heavy elements produced in the star’s final moments throughout the star itself. The researchers say that this mixing should create a distinct observational signature that could be detected by upcoming near-infrared experiments such as the European Space Agency’s Euclid and NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope.
Depending on the intensity of the supernovae, some supermassive stars could, when they explode, enrich their entire host galaxy and even some nearby galaxies with elements ranging from carbon to silicon. In some cases, supernova may even trigger a burst of star formation in its host galaxy, which would make it visually distinct from other young galaxies.
“My work involves studying the supernovae of very massive stars with new physical processes beyond hydrodynamics, so I’ve collaborated with Ann Almgren to adapt CASTRO for many different projects over the years,” says Chen. “Before I run my simulations, I typically think about the physics I need to solve a particular problem. I then work with Ann to develop some code and incorporate it into CASTRO. It is a very efficient system.”
To visualize his data, Chen used an open source tool called VisIt, which was architected by Hank Childs, formerly a staff scientist at Berkeley Lab. “Most of the time I did my own visualizations, but when there were things that I needed to modify or customize I would shoot Hank an email and that was very helpful.”
Chen completed much of this work while he was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. He completed his Ph.D. in physics in 2013.
This image is a slice through the interior of a supermassive star of 55,500 solar masses along the axis of symmetry. It shows the inner helium core in which nuclear burning is converting helium to oxygen, powering various fluid instabilities (swirling lines). This "snapshot" from a CASTRO simulation shows one moment a day after the onset of the explosion, when the radius of the outer circle would be slightly larger than that of the orbit of the Earth around the sun. Visualizations were done in VisIT. (Ken Chen, UCSC)
In the USA...United Surveillance America
Secret service allowed armed man with assault charge into elevator with Obama
Damaging new evidence comes hours after director Julia Pierson faced a barrage of questions at congressional hearing
Dan Roberts in Washington
The Guardian, Tuesday 30 September 2014 23.21 BST
The US secret service allowed an armed man with a criminal record for assault to enter an elevator with president Barack Obama, it was disclosed on Tuesday, hours after officials admitted they missed three chances to deter an intruder who broke into the White House earlier this month.
The Washington Post revealed that the man, a security contractor, was carrying a gun when he was in the elevator with Obama on a 16 September visit to the US Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
Earlier on Tuesday, the director of the secret service, Julia Pierson, faced a barrage of questions about the White House intrusion at a congressional hearing.
The hearing was told that Omar Gonzalez, a former army sniper diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq, was first interviewed by the secret service after he was referred by local police worried by an arsenal of 11 heavy weapons and an annotated map pointing to the White House.
On a second encounter, he was discovered walking around outside the White House fence with a hatchet, but was let go by secret service officers after he told them he was going camping.
And on a third occasion, two officers spotted and recognised Gonzalez outside the White House again but failed to report him before he scaled the fence, ran unimpeded across the North Lawn and through three rooms of the residence just minutes after the departure of the president and his family.
The fresh evidence given to the House oversight committee for a hearing on Tuesday confirms officers provided misleading public statements after the event, claiming the intruder was unarmed and implying he did not make it past the front door, when in fact he barrelled past an agent who was trying to lock the door and made it more than 80 feet into the building with a three-inch serrated knife.
He was eventually wrestled to the carpet and handcuffed by an off-duty officer who just happened to be passing through, according to fresh disclosures by a whistleblower to the Washington Post.
Later on Tuesday, the Post disclosed details of the Atlanta security breach, which had not previously been revealed. The Post reported that the contractor failed to obey an order from secret service agents to stop filming the president on his camera phone, and a background check revealed he had three convictions for assault.
The agents only realised he was carrying a gun when a supervisor from the private security company, on being told of agents’ concerns, fired him on the spot. The man agreed to turn over his weapon.
At the congressional hearing, secret service director Julia Pierson also confirmed recently disclosed details of a separate incident in 2011 during which seven bullets were fired by another man at the first floor of the residence, the noise of which was dismissed by secret service supervisors as a car back-firing until evidence of the shooting was discovered by cleaners several days later.
The catalogue of blunders produced an angry response from congressmen in both parties who questioned the competence of Pierson, who was herself brought in to clean up the elite unit after earlier scandals in which drunken officers were found passed out during a presidential trip to Amsterdam and visiting prostitutes in Colombia.
“I have very low confidence in the secret service under your leadership,” Massachusetts Democrat Stephen Lynch told Pierson. “My confidence in you protecting the president is very, very low right now. I don’t think you are taking your job seriously.”
Congressmen were also angered by Pierson’s bureaucratic tone and defensiveness, frequently interrupting to ask what would have happened if Gonzalez had been a more serious threat.
“I wish to God that you protect the White House like you protect your reputation today,” added Lynch. “This is the US secret service versus one one individual with mental illness and you lost: you had three chances at this guy and he still got to the Green Room. What happens if you have a sophisticated adversary with nefarious intent? What happens then?”
Pierson conceded that she was responsible for the “unacceptable” fence-jumping incident, but insisted her officers had exercised “restraint” by not shooting him or releasing guard dogs designed to tackle intruders and could not have detained him in earlier encounters.
“We all are outraged at how this situation came to pass ... it is obvious that mistakes were made,” she said. “We don’t take it lightly [but] there is not a lot we can do with mentally ill individuals who do not commit a crime. We are limited by the laws.”
She said there had been 16 White House fence jumpers over the last five years, including six this year alone and one the week before Gonzalez, but did not directly answer Washington DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who asked why there was not a higher fence.
Virginia congressman Gerry Connolly briefly pushed back at Republican suggestions that secret service agents always ought to use lethal force in such situations, saying “the idea we have a shoot out on the White House lawn ought to be a last resort not a first resort”.
Nevertheless, the hearing raised fresh questions about the competency and culture of an agency tasked with protecting a president who receives three times as many death threats as any of his predecessors.
Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, said he was particularly alarmed at suggestions that agents were reluctant to report security threats internally for fear of attracting criticism from their superiors.
This followed news that one agent who heard the 2011 shooting and broke open an emergency weapons cache to defend the residence had not mentioned it the next day because supervisors were so insistent the noise was just a car back-firing.
Secret service pressured over shots fired at White House in 2011
Associated Press in Washington
theguardian.com, Sunday 28 September 2014 21.29 BST
A string of security lapses resulted in a four-day delay before the US secret service realised that a man had fired a high-powered rifle at the White House in 2011, in an incident that could have put President Barack Obama’s daughters at risk, according to a Washington Post investigation.
The story is another embarrassment for the service, a week after a man climbed the White House fence and ran into the building. Omar Gonzalez, a 42 year-old Iraq war veteran, was later discovered to have been armed with a knife. Last Saturday, another man was arrested after trying to force his way into the White House. Kevin Carr, 19, tried to enter on foot and was rebuffed. He was arrested when he returned in his car and refused to leave.
At issue in the new Post story is what the newspaper calls the secret service’s bungled response to the case of Oscar R Ortega-Hernandez, an Idaho man who was sentenced to 25 years in prison after firing at least seven bullets at the White House on 11 November 2011. The president and Michelle Obama were away, but their daughters were in Washington – one at home and the other due to return that night.
A White House usher expressed concerns about the safety of Malia Obama, who was to arrive within minutes of the reports of the shots, the Post reported. The usher told the staff to keep Sasha Obama and her grandmother, Marian Robinson, inside.
The reports of shots fired that night were not connected to the White House until four days later, when a White House housekeeper noticed broken glass and a chunk of cement on the floor inside. Ortega, who fled the scene, was arrested the day after that.
The Post story alleges that some secret service officers knew immediately shots had been fired into the White House, but that they were “largely ignored, and some were afraid to dispute their bosses’ conclusions” that the shooting was not directed at the White House. The service conducted only a cursory inspection of the White House for evidence or damage, the Post said, and key witnesses were not interviewed until after bullets were found.
The suspect was able to park his car on a public street, take several shots and then speed off without being detected, the Post noted, calling it “sheer luck” that Ortega was identified as the shooter, mainly because the troubled and jobless 21-year-old wrecked his car seven blocks away and left his gun inside.
White House bullet hole A bullet hole is seen in the window on the residential level on the south side of the White House, in a photo from 11 November 2011. Photograph: Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty Images
The Post based its story on interviews with agents, investigators and other government officials and hundreds of pages of documents, including transcripts of interviews with officers on duty that night and audio recordings of radio transmissions.
In a statement to the Associated Press, the secret service said it “implemented both personnel and structural enhancements” following a review of the incident, “and other physical and technical enhancements, including additional surveillance cameras”.
A Secret Service official, who requested anonymity for lack of authorisation to comment for attribution, said the delay in understanding what happened that night was not the result of misconduct or incompetence, but “an uncertain situation” that included echoing shots from a quarter of a mile away and confused initial witness reports.
“I’m not saying this was our shining moment, but we never stopped looking for this guy,” the official said.
Secret service agents interviewed White House intruder before breach
Federal official says agents interviewed Omar J Gonzalez twice in the months before he scaled fence and ran into executive mansion
Associated Press in Washington
theguardian.com, Tuesday 23 September 2014 22.49 BST
Secret service agents in Virginia and Washington earlier this summer twice interviewed an army veteran accused of climbing over a White House fence during the weekend and running into the executive mansion in the two months before the embarrassing security breach, a federal law enforcement said Tuesday.
In both cases, the official said, the secret service, which protects the president and his family, concluded there was no evidence that Omar J Gonzalez was a security threat.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of an ongoing investigation, said agents interviewed Gonzalez after he was arrested during a traffic stop in south-western Virginia in July. State troopers there said Gonzalez had an illegal sawed-off shotgun and a map of Washington tucked inside a Bible with a circle around the White House, other monuments and campgrounds. The troopers seized a stash of other weapons and ammunition found during a search of Gonzalez’s car after his arrest.
Agents in Washington spoke to him again in late August after Gonzalez was found near a White House fence with a small hatchet in his waistband.
The official said the agents in Washington searched his car and found camping equipment, two other hatches and empty gun cases but no guns or ammunition.
The official said the Washington agents were aware of the earlier interview when they spoke to Gonzalez in August.
The official said the Secret Service did not consider Gonzalez a threat until he scaled the White House fence Friday evening.
Secret service director Julia Pierson has ordered an investigation of what happened when Gonzalez breached the fence line and was able to run through an unlocked door into the White House.
She is expected to testify about the security breach next week before the House oversight and government reform committee.
Secret service slip-ups: a handy guide to the agency's most famous blunders
From prostitutes in Colombia to popcorn with the president, we take a look at the secret service’s most high-profile bungles
Lauren Gambino in New York
theguardian.com, Tuesday 30 September 2014 18.43 BST
The elite agency charged with protecting the president and his family has come under fire after it was revealed that a White House trespasser managed to make it much deeper into the mansion than initially disclosed.
But the US secret service’s history of blunders extends much further back than this week. Over the past five years, there have been a series of 16 cases of intruders scaling the White House fence, and a 2011 incident involving a White House shooting while President Obama’s daughter was home.
Here are a list of the agency’s top slip-ups and scandals from FDR to the present:
2011 White House shooting
New details emerged recently in the Washington Post that the secret service mishandled the investigation after a man shot at the White House while Obama’s youngest daughter, Sasha, was home. According to the Post, at least seven bullets hit the building: one pierced a window on the second floor, another hit a nearby window frame and several more pinged the roof.
The president and first lady were not in the mansion at the time, but Sasha, and Michelle’s mother, Marian Robinson, were. Malia was reportedly expected to return at any moment.
An agent stationed upstairs apparently responded to the shooting, but was ordered to stand down by a supervisor who said no shots were fired. Secret service agents only realized the mansion had been hit four days later, when a housekeeper found broken glass on the floor.
The gunman, troubled 21-year-old Oscar Ortega-Hernandez, was eventually arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Partying in Amsterdam
In March 2013, three agents who were assigned to the president’s security detail in Amsterdam were sent home after a hotel employee reportedly found an agent drunk in the hallway a day before Obama arrived.
The hotel reported the drunk agent to the US embassy in the Netherlands and the agents were immediately placed on administrative leave.
Reports also emerged that same month that two of the agency’s men had drunkenly wrecked their rental car in the Florida Keys. The agency instituted a new rule that employees must be sober for at least 12 hours before a shift begins, the Washington Post reported.
Colombian prostitution scandal
In 2012, a prostitution scandal involving the president’s security detail tarnished the agency’s reputation and embarrassed the president, who was in Colombia for the annual Summit of the Americas.
A dozen secret service agents were implicated in the scandal, which was made public after reports emerged of a dispute over payment between a woman and a secret service agent in the resort of Cartagena.
At the time, the incident raised concerns that the agents’ trysts might have jeopardized the president’s security, leading to several investigations and questions over its culture. It was later determined that the president’s safety was not at risk.
In the aftermath of the scandal, the agency tightened its standards of conduct, which included banning agents from “non-reputable establishments” including strip clubs, and bringing foreign nationals to their hotel rooms, CBS reported.
White House gatecrashers
In 2009, a woman being filmed for Bravo’s The Real Housewives of DC and her husband finessed their way past two security checkpoints to attend Obama’s first state dinner, uninvited.
Michaele and Tareq Salahi managed to enter the state dinner for then-Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, despite having to show a photo ID.
The show’s cameramen reportedly followed Michaele, who wore a traditional Indian sari, as she prepared for the dinner. The cameramen did not follow the couple into the house, but in the episode featuring the evening, the Salahis recount the dinner and meeting Obama.
Embarrassingly, there are photos of the uninvited couple posing with Joe Biden and other attendees. The Salahis have stuck to their story that they received an official invitation, but the White House denies these claims.
One of the most outrageous attempts to breach White House security occurred in February 1974, when US soldier Robert Preston stole a helicopter from Fort Meade in Maryland and flew it to the White House.
Preston hovered over the White House for several minutes before landing on the south lawn. The secret service did not initially attempt to shoot down the aircraft, according to a White House security review. Preston took off again and flew back toward Maryland. He was then chased by Maryland state police helicopters, one of which he out-maneuvered.
Preston then flew back to the mansion, and as he lowered the helicopter, secret service agents sprayed the aircraft with shotguns and sub-machine gunfire. Slightly injured, Preston quickly landed the stolen helicopter and was apprehended.
President Nixon and his wife were not home at the time.
Pass the popcorn
One evening in the 1940s, Franklin D Roosevelt’s eldest son, Jimmy, was at the White House, on leave from second world war duty. The story goes that after dinner he and his parents decided to watch a movie. When the credits rolled and the lights flicked on, a neatly dressed stranger was in the room standing next to the 32nd president of the United States.
Harry Truman’s daughter Margaret, who wrote about the incident in her book The President’s House, a history of the White House, said: “Instead of brandishing a weapon, however, the interloper asked for the president’s autograph.”
FDR gave the young man his autograph and the embarrassed secret service agents – whom the young man had to pass to enter the private area of the mansion – escorted him out of the building.
Secret Service Director Says GOP Sequestration Left Them Down 550 Employees
By: Sarah Jones
Tuesday, September, 30th, 2014, 12:00 pm
In the House Oversight Committee hearing which started Tuesday on the problems in the Secret Service as it has failed repeatedly to protect the First Family, the Secret Service blamed the sequestration budget cuts for cuts in staffing.
Bloomberg News writer Del Quentin Wilber tweeted:
.@SecretService Pierson: #sequestration hurt staffing. Down 550 employees due to budget cuts.
— Del Quentin Wilber (@DelWilber) September 30, 2014
This number, she said, was below “optimal level”. Julia Pierson was just appointed as Director of the Secret Service a year and a half ago by President Obama. She was not in charge when the 2011 breach occurred, during which the First Daughters were placed in peril as bullets hit the White House residence. Sasha Obama was in the residence as this happened, while Malia was expected home shortly. The Secret Supervisor ordered agents who were prepared to do battle against the breach to stand down, claiming the noise they heard wasn’t gunfire but the backfire of a vehicle.
Pierson told The New York Times that she would “leave no stone unturned. I am committed to a full and robust fact-finding that allows me to look at what went wrong.”
The sequestration cuts are a result of the House never sitting down with the Senate to reconcile the budget. It was allegedly put into place in order to keep folks from walking away from the negotiation table, but meanwhile, Republicans were championing sequestration as the solution long before it was implemented, and while denying credit in mainstream press, taking a bow for it on Fox News.
Paul Ryan bragged on Fox News in August of 2011 of the sequestration cuts, “We actually got discretionary caps in law. I’ve been fighting for these spending caps ever since the day I came to Congress. We couldn’t even get these kinds of spending caps in the Bush administration.”
Ryan continued, speaking directly about his pleasure in cutting money to government agencies like the Secret Service, “What conservatives like me have been fighting for, for years are statutory caps on spending, legal caps in law that says government agencies cannot spend over a set amount of money.”
On Nov. 11, 2011, the First Daughters were put into peril due to an unthinkable security breach and further stand down order.
Former Republican Representative Eric Cantor admitted that he and former Vice Presidential nominee Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) were the driving force behind the sequestration cuts. Republican Jack Kingston introduced sequestration as GOP “reform” in 2010.
Republicans tried to blame President Obama for the sequester after it turned into a political disaster, but the discovery of a 2011 PowerPoint presentation that Speaker John Boehner gave to Republicans detailing his sequester idea killed that mid deployment. The White House has had a plan on the table since December of 2012 to deal with sequestration to no avail.
The sequestration cuts were wild and brash, with no thought they just slashed the budget. The results have been nothing short of disastrous for many federal agencies, including the Veterans Administration and the IRS.
While sequestration is not the only reason for the terrifying failures of the Secret Service to protect the First Family, it does take money to run things. It takes money to pay good people– a concept that Republicans tout when it excuses Wall Street bonuses in the millions while refusing to raise the minimum wage.
But when it comes to all things government, from Medicare to Social Security to food stamps to the Veterans Administration to the Secret Service, Republicans can’t stop themselves from starving the beast and thereby imposing the chaos of an uncivilized land.
Meanwhile, it was just revealed that the man who jumped the fence earlier this month and gained entry to the White House got further than previously reported. The Secret Service can’t afford to be down 550 people.
Republicans Governors Facing Extinction As Democratic Wave Looms
By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, September, 30th, 2014, 12:52 pm
While the mainstream media is obsessed with the contest for control of the Senate, Democrats are poised to wipe out the Republican governor class of 2010. Rick Snyder, Sam Brownback, Rick Scott, Tom Corbett, Scott Walker and others are facing a growing Democratic wave.
Politico reported, “The unsettled gubernatorial landscape has drawn a fraction of the attention of the seesawing battle for the Senate. Yet the state of play is dramatic in its own right: The fate of big-name Republicans such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Florida’s Rick Scott and Michigan’s Rick Snyder are all on the line, and Democrats such as Colorado’s John Hickenlooper and Illinois’ Pat Quinn are locked in tough reelection races that could go either way.”
What Democrats are putting together at the state level is being ignored, but it is even more impressive than how strongly Democratic senate candidates are running in red states. Control of the Senate is very important, but governors impact the day to day lives of their citizens more than senators.
Republicans are changing and harming millions of lives at the state level. The war on women’s reproductive rights, voter suppression efforts, the redistribution of wealth upwards through tax cut policies, devastating cuts to public education, rollback on environmental regulations, cuts to programs for those who are in need, the refusal to expand Medicaid, and build state health insurance exchanges are all policies that have been undertaken at the state level.
Congressional Republicans have used their power to prevent the federal government from doing anything, while Republican governors have been the ones who have implemented the Koch/ALEC agenda. There are a few Democrats who are in tight contests this year, but the incumbent governors who are on life support are Republicans.
The Republican governors class of 2010 was supposed to be the party’s next generation of presidential candidates. Instead of the Oval Office, many of them are eyeing up the unemployment line as voters are rejecting their agenda. It is important for Democrats to win and maintain as many of these gubernatorial seats as possible.
The long-term impact of a Democratic wave could be huge on the House Republican majority. Redistricting is coming in 2020. A Democratic takeover at the state level would mean an end to the gerrymandered districts that are keeping unpopular Republicans in their seats.
Democrats are quietly having a very good year in the midst of a political landscape that should have been horrific for them. The big story that no one is talking about is that supposed to be future stars of the Republican Party could be facing a near unanimous rejection from voters on Election Day.
Democrats Might Get Their Wish As Mitt Romney Opens The Door To 2016 Run For President
By: Jason Easley
Tuesday, September, 30th, 2014, 6:54 pm
Mitt Romney continues to plot his 2016 comeback by taking another step towards opening the door to what could be a disastrous campaign against Hillary Clinton.
In a New York Times Magazine profile Mark Liebovich described way of keeping his foot in the door,
Romney, for his part, is noticeably playing along. He recently told a radio host that he was not planning on running for president but allowed that “circumstances can change.” A recent column by the conservative pundit Byron York noted that Romney had kept in close contact with many of his advisers and aides. As we spoke, Romney compared the barrage of 2016-related questions to a scene in the film “Dumb and Dumber.” After Jim Carrey’s character is flatly rejected by Lauren Holly, she tells him that there’s a one-in-a-million chance she would change her mind. “So,” Romney told me, embodying the character, “Jim Carrey says, ‘You’re telling me there’s a chance.’ ”
This was the obvious opening for me to ask if there was a chance. Romney’s response was decidedly meta — “I have nothing to add to the story” — but he then fell into the practiced political parlance of nondenial. “We’ve got a lot of people looking at the race,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Earlier this month, Romney claimed that he would be a better president than Obama or Hillary Clinton. The talk about it being someone else’s turn to be the Republican nominee has been replaced by some overt door opening to a run in 2016.
Mitt Romney still believes that he should be president. Romney got routed by Obama in a blowout, but Mitt still thinks that he could have won. Romney is selling off houses in order to look more like a regular guy. He is still in touch with his campaign advisors and staff. In May, Republicans launched a draft Mitt movement.
In June, it was reported that big money Republicans were trying to cut a deal with the RNC to clear the 2016 field for Mitt Romney. Some of the conditions that have to be met for Romney to run include, “Mitt Romney wants the GOP donor class to pledge all the money to him — up front — as a means of scaring other possible serious candidates out of the race so that he can preserve the money for the general election. He wants the field cleared — the same way the Democratic field is being cleared right now for Hillary — so that he, too, can arrive at the GOP convention Fresh, Full of money and ready to Feast on Hillary — and President Obama’s — record. If these conditions are met, he will make a third run for the White House.”
A third Romney run would be a dream come true for Democrats. Romney is convinced that he can use Benghazi to defeat Hillary Clinton. If the Republican establishment doesn’t find a candidate, it will surprise no one if they return to Mitt Romney.
Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party would have a field day against Romney. Getting to run against Mitt again would be a dream come true for Democrats. Romney wants to be president. Republicans have no real front runner, and the result could be a crushing victory for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
A Delusional Mood Swinging Mitt Romney Thinks That He Could Have Saved America
By: Sarah Jones
Tuesday, September, 30th, 2014, 2:45 pm
Mark Leibovich of the New York Times scored an interview with the maybe-going-to-run-again Republican former Governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney that is steeped with the usual Mitt Bits. We have self pity, delusion, bizarre mood swings, and ye another excuse for his own mistakes.
To start, Mitt fears being a “loser for life.”
If only he had won, he would have saved this country because he is so much more competent than Barack Obama. He is so sorry he let us all down. The consequences of his loss to humanity are enough to make him near tearing up:
No matter how content he appeared, when the conversation turned to his disappointment in losing, his voice dropped. “It really kills me,” he said. “It really kills me.” He became inaudible, and it seemed as if he might tear up.
As if to rescue him, Ann called out from the kitchen that lunch was ready. Mitt remained in the living room, now staring at the floor. “The consequences of my loss are very clear to me and to a lot of people,” he said. “And that’s really hard.” His voice dropped to nearly a whisper, before he caught himself and quickly pivoted. “Let’s get a sandwich!” he bellowed.
Ah, yes. Get that sandwich while humanity blows up due to his failure to save us all. We will forgive Mr. Romney, after all, it wasn’t his fault he got caught on tape hating half the country. About that…
That wasn’t his fault either, and not for the many reasons he gave us before (as detailed excellently by tape breaker extraordinaire David Corn at Mother Jones), but for a new, totally fresh reason. It’s the rich guy who asked the question’s fault. Loving this!
This, as he saw it, was what got him in trouble at that Boca Raton fund-raiser, when Romney told the crowd he was writing off the 47 percent of the electorate that supported Obama (a.k.a. “those people”; “victims” who take no “personal responsibility”). Romney told me that the statement came out wrong, because it was an attempt to placate a rambling supporter who was saying that Obama voters were essentially deadbeats.
“My mistake was that I was speaking in a way that reflected back to the man,” Romney said. “If I had been able to see the camera, I would have remembered that I was talking to the whole world, not just the man.” I had never heard Romney say that he was prompted into the “47 percent” line by a ranting supporter. It was also impossible to ignore the phrase “If I had to do this again.”
So, take comfort, y’all — if Romney had to do this again, and he might because the Republican 2016 hopefuls are dropping off to indictments and ethics charges like flies, he’d remember that when he is speaking to anyone anywhere he is speaking to the world. Thus, he will keep his contempt to himself. Well played, Sir.
Romney explained the Republican contempt for President Obama. You see, the problem with Obama is that he actually listens to his wife Michelle Obama and top female aide Valerie Jarrett. Bemoaning that Obama didn’t take his advice upon his cursory post election visit to the White House, Romney sorted it by explaining that a top Republican had already explained the problem.
“No one gets the impression that what they are saying is being incorporated,” he told me. “I won’t mention who it was, but I met with one of the nation’s top Republican leaders, and he said, ‘You know the strange thing is that the president seems to answer to only two people — Valerie Jarrett and Michelle Obama.'”
Mitt Romney has been accused repeatedly of being over-dependent upon his wife, Ann, to such an extent that he has been said to suffer severe emotional problems due to a separation from her. So, he might not be the best person to lob this accusation at Obama. But maybe that’s exactly why he’s doing it. Maybe that’s why he lost in 2012. Clever 2016 strategy!
Next up: It’s Ann’s fault. Anything is possible, after all, the Mitt bus just ran over a very wealthy donor. When this guy, who hates “those people” for being those people (so tacky to be born without a silver spoon, spoiling the view for everyone else), attacks the money people, the ambition is burning.
The Supreme Court Enjoins Republican War on Voting in Earnest
Tuesday, September, 30th, 2014, 10:20 am
There is a very obscure, and unofficial holiday in America that is observed by some schools in America that is normally celebrated on or around the last school day in September. The holiday, officially named “Ask a Stupid Question Day” was created by savvy school teachers during the 1980s to encourage students to ask questions regardless if they think other students will ridicule them for being “stupid.” Although the holiday was meant for students, a North Carolina appellate court judge joined in the “fun” and asked what has to be one of, if not, the stupidest questions ever posed by a federal jurist because he already knew the answer.
The judge, part of a three-member panel for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, was apparently baffled during oral arguments defending North Carolina’s rash of voter suppression laws specifically targeting African Americans and working people. Judge James Wynn is the only panelist who lives in North Carolina and could not comprehend why Republicans shifted polling places, including his own, far away from where voters live and demanded to know why “his vote” should be thrown out for originating from the wrong precinct. Obviously the state’s lawyer could not come up with an intelligent or reasonable answer for the judge, so Wynn was very specific and asked a follow-up question worthy of “Ask a Stupid Question Day” recognition as a doozy; He asked, “Why does the state of North Carolina not want people to vote?”
Let’s face it, the judge, like any non-comatose American already knew the answer even though the state’s lawyers refused to answer. North Carolina is in the grips of a racist Republican legislature, is part of the former Confederacy, and dutifully serves the Kochs, ALEC, and Americans for Prosperity. North Carolina’s assault on people of color’s, students’, and working Americans’ right to vote is not unique to the state, or the rest of the former Confederate states actively restricting voting rights of people they think may not automatically vote for Republicans. In fact, even the state’s anti-democracy laws are not unique primarily because around the country GOP-legislatures used American Legislative Exchange Council “fill-in templates” to, as Georgia Republican Fran Millar said, “put a stop to African Americans voting.”
There are several provisions at issue in the North Carolina case deliberately devised by ALEC with the sole purpose of making it more difficult for residents of North Carolina to cast a vote. One provision cut early voting by a week, another implements a harsh voter ID law, and a third put a severe restriction on voter registration drives. Not only do Republicans want to put a stop to people of color’s right to vote, they intend to put a stop to efforts to register people of color to participate in the democratic process. Now, some pundits claim the North Carolina restrictions have a better than average chance of being struck down because the three judges on the court were appointed by Democratic presidents, but they fail to remember there are five Republican-appointed Justices on the Supreme Court who oppose voting rights for non-Republican voters. Don’t believe it?
Yesterday, the five Republican-appointed conservative Justices reversed a federal district court’s ruling that struck down Republican-imposed voting restrictions in Ohio after the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in a unanimous order that Ohio residents could begin early voting today if they so desired. The Supreme Court’s anti-democracy wing; Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Kennedy issued an announcement that their decision was not on the merits of the case because they had not yet heard any oral arguments defending voting restrictions. They just believed so strongly that since Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted invested such an incredible amount of time and energy to disenfranchise minority and working-class voters, and labeled his “appeal” an emergency, that as good conservatives it was prudent to support Ohio Republicans’ efforts to block voting. Since the conservative-5 were appointed by Republican presidents, they felt duty-bound to honor their party’s anti-democracy crusade and make it official by judicial fiat. Although the North Carolina case has not yet been decided, if the Appellate judges do strike down North Carolina’s anti-democracy statues, Republicans can rest easy a Republican appeal deemed “an emergency” by the state’s secretary of state will have the restrictions back in place well before election day.
There is no possible way any American can dispute that Republicans are “taking back their country” to an era that voting was restricted as a matter of course. The preponderance of Republican vote suppression laws are more strident than during Jim Crow simply due to the various demographic groups being targeted for disenfranchisement. It is true African Americans are the primary target, but coming in at a close second are working Americans likely toiling away at two jobs just to make ends meet, students, and the elderly. In fact, in Texas, and likely other former Confederate states, an official student ID is not a valid form of identification but an NRA or gun registration permit means a prospective voter is a Republican and a real American. Texas is also the state that passed a law requiring women’s voter registration to have their birth certificate name to restrict the women’s vote; even Republican women’s vote.
This is the new and improved American democracy that the United Nations noted was deliberately blocking people of color’s access to voting, and yet the mainstream media as well as Democrats were too terrified to expose to the American people that the entire world is now aware America’s storied democracy is a pathetically sick joke and not long for this world. Oh, there may be elections going forward, but they will be reserved for what in Republican parlance is known as “real Americans;” white Christians with a Jesus card, gun owners with an NRA card, or any southerner wearing a NASCAR cap (backwards of course). The conservatives on the Supreme Court certainly understand who the real Americans (Republican voters) are because they have been loyal puppets thwarting voting rights of any group Republicans, the Kochs, ALEC, or Americans for Prosperity deem unfit to participate in elections. It is too bad for America because no Constitution, United Nations, or appearance of being a democracy is going to stop conservatives from creating an environment that allowed a hated brutal dictator like Saddam Hussein to win elections. Saddam just used a different form of violence to block opposition votes than Republicans.
After Tuesday’s Shootings, America Has Witnessed 86 School Shootings Since Sandy Hook
By: Justin Baragona
On Tuesday, not one but two shootings occurred at high schools in this nation. One shooting happened at a high school in North Carolina, where a 17-year-old student was shot and injured by a fellow student outside the school early in the morning. The other shooting occurred in Kentucky, where a 17-year-old student was shot by a suspect that fled the scene. The student sustained injuries that were not life-threatening. Both schools were locked down after the shootings and classes were canceled.
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, a gun control advocacy group, released the following statement after the shootings:
“My heart goes out to those affected by these shootings in North Carolina and Kentucky. Last year we started counting shootings in American schools. The list hit 36 in 2013 and so far it stands at 50 in 2014. We should all be asking our leaders to do everything they can to prevent the next tragedy – the NRA’s solution to arm teachers and students isn’t an answer.”
These two shootings represent the 85th and 86th school shootings since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT in late 2012. That particular killing led to the deaths of 20 small children. Many thought that the horrific event would lead to legitimate, common-sense gun control laws being passed in this country. However, due to the hold the NRA and the gun and ammo industry has on Congress, no real legislation was passed. Not even expanded background checks, which upwards of 90% of Americans supported at the time.
Therefore, based on the attitudes of those residing on Capitol Hill, and the gun nuts that cling to their 2nd Amendment ‘rights’ as if the only thing that matters in this country is how many AR-15s they can tote around, it appears that we just have to get used to reading and hearing about easily avoidable tragedies on a regular basis. Because, lord knows what might happen to our freedoms if we ever think about trying to restrict access to firearms across the good ol’ U. S. of A.
You know, it isn’t like the FBI has determined that active shooter incidents (shootings that occur where individuals attempt to kill multiple people in populated areas) are on the rise in the United States. Between 2000 and 2013, 160 such incidents occurred, leading to 486 fatalities. Of course, ask a freedom-loving ammosexual, and he’ll tell you that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Sure, we’ve had 86 school shootings in less than two years. However, if you ask an open carry advocate, they’ll remind you that not all of those shootings have led to fatalities, Heck, some of it can just be attributed to kids letting off a little steam.
No matter how you try to slice it, this country’s extremely lax gun laws are leading to more incidents like the ones that occurred Tuesday. At some point, we have to determine just what kind of country we want to live in — one that lives and dies by the gun, or one where people feel safe to send their kids to school or go see a movie. It seems like we are catering to a dwindling group of people in this country who are setting our country’s safety policies. The fact is that the actual rate of gun ownership is decreasing in this country. 50% of households owned firearms in the 1970s. By 2012, that rate had fallen to 34%.
Of course, if a person owns one gun, that person likely owns multiple guns. While the rate of gun ownership has decreased over the decades, the number of guns has increased. It is estimated that there are over 300 million guns in this country, roughly one for every person. However, if only a third of the households in this country actually own guns, it stands to reason that a large percentage of gun owners out there have mini armories at their disposal.
It is due to these gun fetishists that the NRA has a stranglehold on Congress. While gun owners are clearly in the minority in this country, they are extremely passionate about the one issue they hold dear. Therefore, they will show up to vote en masse. The NRA will make sure to mobilize this base to threaten any legislator that might dare to pass any type of gun control laws. At the same time, the NRA needs to keep this vocal minority happy as it represents the main customer base of the NRA’s benefactors — the gun and ammo industry. Non-existent gun laws make it easier for the phony tough and wannabe soldiers to buy as much hardware as they can afford.