Egyptians clash with security forces in Cairo on July 15, 2013. Demonstrators expressed opposition to the military coup that displaced President Mohamed Morsi., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Tuesday's arrests reveal divisions in power: Analysts
Osman El Sharnoubi, Wednesday 27 Nov 2013
The new protest law has created a rift among the supporters of Egypt's current interim government
The Egyptian police tried for the first time on Tuesday to implement a controversial law on protests which was issued by the president earlier this week.
The result -- the arrest of dozens of protesters in downtown Cairo -- triggered a backlash from political groups and figures close to the government, showing a serious rift among supporters of the interim authorities for the first time since the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi this summer.
The arrests were met with instant condemnation from the major parties who have been supporting the authorities since July, when the army stepped in to remove Morsi after mass protests calling on him to step down.
Security forces have been cracking down on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters in recent months, with hundreds of protesters killed or arrested during the dispersal of pro-Morsi demonstrations.
Many of the activists detained by police on Tuesday, however, were members of parties in power or allied with the government.
The new law gives the interior ministry the power to ban unauthorised public gatherings and imposes harsh penalties on violators.
Despite Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi -- a senior member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) -- passing the law, his party opposed the legislation and declared that some of the detained activists were members of the party.
Party representatives has said the party will continue demonstrating against the law.
Leading member of the ESDP Ziad El-Eleimi told authorities on Tuesday that he had called for the protest without the interior ministry's permission, a move taken by him and other activists to challenge the law.
"There are disagreements within the ESDP itself and within the government about the law," political activist Mohamed Waked – who challenged the law along with El-Eleimi - told Ahram Online, saying that Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa El-Din, who is also deputy head of the ESDP, had long been opposed to the law.
Indeed, Bahaa El-Din had announced in October that political and rights groups he met with had said that a repressive protest law would not be publicly accepted and that it was best to wait until a parliament was elected to issue one.
Waked said that other people within the administration, such as presidential advisor Mostafa Hegazy, are defending the law.
He believes Hegazy represents a group in power that wants to use the law to suppress those opposed to its plans to seek power at the next elections.
Sources in the government told Ahram Online that a proposition is being discussed that the law be suspended until a wider discussion on it is carried out and a guarantee is given by the government that the law not be used to quell freedom of expression.
It is not clear whether this guarantee would include amending the law, but Minister of Higher Education Hossam Eissa, a former member of the liberal Constitution Party, said Wednesday that the law isn't as stringent as it is made to look by its opponents and that the government is insistent on implementing it.
Agreeing with Waked, political analyst Mohamed El-Agati said the law and Tuesday's events impacted current power alliances and brought some contradictions to light.
"The rejection of the law will show who in the government will respond to demands by democratic forces to withdraw it, and who is merely seeking power," he said.
He told Ahram Online that despite the government's National Council for Human Rights and its Committee to Protect the Democratic Path having opposed the law, it was passed anyway.
Emad Gad, a senior member of the ESDP, said that previous meetings with the government and rights groups and councils resulted in 16 recommended changes to the then-draft law, only one of which was adopted by the government.
Many figures and groups that had supported the current authorities came out strongly against the law and Tuesday’s arrests, such as leftist former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, the Egyptian Popular Current movement he founded and the Tamarod (“Rebel”) movement which was at the forefront of the summer’s anti-Morsi protests.
Two major liberal and leftist parties who are allied with the government -- the Constitution Party and the leftist Socialist Popular Alliance Party -- demanded the release of the protesters detained on Tuesday and the withdrawal of the law.
To complicate matters further, the constitution-amending committee briefly halted its work after a number of members threatened to step down in objection to the arrest of the protesters. Committee member director Khaled Youssef described the decision to pass the law at the current time as "politically stupid."
The committee resumed work on Wednesday, despite member Diaa Rashwan saying the committee would suspend work until all arrested protesters were freed.
Twenty-four protesters remain in custody, although dozens of others were released late on Tuesday.
“This Draconian System of Punishment and Abuse”: An Interview with Former Political Prisoner Ray Luc Levasseur
The following is a partial transcript of an interview with Ray Luc Levasseur, a former political prisoner who spent over fifteen years in solitary confinement, primarily at USP Marion and ADX Florence. Levasseur was raised in Maine, born to a working-class family of Quebecois origin. He became politically radicalized about race and class at a young age, first after serving a term of duty in Vietnam, and again after he spent two years in a Tennessee prison. After his release in 1971, Levasseur worked with Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), as well as a prisoners’ rights group Statewide Correctional Alliance for Reform (SCAR). In 1975, Levasseur and several others founded the United Freedom Front (UFF), a revolutionary Marxist organization aimed at challenging racism, imperialism and corporate greed, primarily by targeting institutions complicit in South African Apartheid and regime brutality in Central America. Levasseur and his comrades conducted a series of robberies and bombings against military facilities, military contractors and corporations, always forewarning the selected sites in an effort to avoid casualties. UFF members lived underground for nearly a decade before eventually facing arrest.
After his 1986 conviction for the bombing offenses, Levasseur was sent into solitary at the Control Unit at USP Marion. In 1994 he was transferred to the newly built ADX Florence, most likely for refusing to work for the Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR) since it produced military equipment for the Department of Defense. Levasseur was released from prison in 2004 and now lives in Maine. He continues to organize against solitary confinement and support political prisoners on the inside.
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AS: First, I’d like to hear a little bit about the work SCAR did, because I found it really fascinating and inspiring. Maybe for people who don’t know as much about working from a prisoner abolitionist or a prison justice perspective, could we here a little more about the political perspective you worked from in SCAR?
RL: This was back in the early 1970s, where there was a surge of anti-prison activism in the US at the time, because this was still in the years of the Attica Rebellion, and George Jackson, there was a lot of revolts and rebellions throughout the US prison system, culminating in the massacre of prisoners in Attica. But this set the stage for people being more interested in alternatives to this draconian system of punishment and abuse. And there was more about it in the media – there was an opportunity there to do community organizing that had some roots in prison work, jail work, working with former prisoners, and generally criminal justice issues.
And our program with SCAR was based on the early Black Panther Party programs, what they called “survival programs”. So that instead of just going into a neighbourhood or a community and spouting a bunch of radical rhetoric – or rhetoric of any kind – it was like we felt we had to have some programs that addressed some needs in the community.
For example… there was a problem in poor communities. They have a bail program in the United States, where if you were accused of an offense, there was supposed to be a monetary bail placed on you, so that can be secured and you can be released before your trial. A lot of youngsters were being held in jail because they couldn’t afford the bail money. If bail is 50 or 100 dollars and you don’t have it, it might as well be 100,000 dollars, so we started a community bail fund, and we would screen people that were arrested and put into country jail to try to get them out trough this bail fund, and then work to see that they had proper legal representation and get them employment if they needed it, or other basic needs, and try to work it from that angle, in terms of keeping them from falling any deeper into the system.
AS: Something that really struck me while I was reading your trial statement from ’89, where you talked about being inside and fighting the KKK and the prison administration, and not even being able to tell the difference between the two at times. I wondering if you could speak about how your time in prison shaped you as an anti-racist activist.
RL:. …[T]here’s a convergence of class and race in the American prison and it was extraordinarily clear to me when I was in this Southern prison that first of all – almost everyone that’s in there is from a working class background, and second, there’s a large disproportionate number of Black prisoners in there. And to see the abuses and the awful conditions under which we were kept… Prisons in this country are like concentration camps for the poor. We are the surplus value of the capitalist system. They don’t have any need for us. We’re expendable. You spent too much time hanging on street corners, and they think you’re potentially a threat to them. They need the prisons, and the prison gulag in this country has exploded in population since the prison experience you were referring to back in 1971.
Concurrently, with this direct experience inside, I was doing a tremendous amount of reading on my own, and talking to other prisoners. So my political ideas were being further formulated, based on that experience. And the reading and studying that I was doing – I read Marx, I read Lenin, I read Ho Chi Minh, I read Che Guevara, I read anthologies of labour history, feminist history. And I was trying to come up with an alternative vision of society based on historically what had happened after that point, and this was in the wake of major anti-colonial struggle around the world.
You don’t see this a lot today. I find that in a lot of activists there’s a lack of vision of what’s possible. But back then, a lot more seemed possible to more people…
AS: I wanted to talk to you a bit about your time in prison in the 80s and the 90s. First, could you talk a bit about your time in Marion – your most vivid memories, or anything else you’d like to share?
RL: Well, I was in Marion almost five years, and at the time that I was there, it was the government’s most extremely punitive prison that kept you in your cell 22 ½ hour a day, basically solitary confinement. Marion was never designed with that in mind, but that’s ultimately what it was used for. The physical structure – it was not initially built for extreme isolation.
So after I’d been in there for almost five years, they built a new scheme, the federal government. They build a new prison from the ground up that, from the time the first brick was put down, it was physically designed for extreme isolation. That was ADX, that’s what they’re using as supermax today. And so when ADX was completed, those of us in Marion were the very first prisoners sent to ADX.
AS: And what were your first impressions of Florence were when you were transferred there, after being at Marion?
RL: Would you like me to read you something I just wrote? I’ll just read an excerpt — as part of my writing a section on Marion and ADX, and I just finished, this is my second draft….
So the section I’m going to read to you starts up from the day I arrived at ADX…[Levasseur’s description of life inside ADX Florence has been posted separately as a Voices from Solitary, and is available here.]
AS: And when you were in Marion or ADX, around all of that, what tactics did you use to stay as safe or as sane as you could?
RL: First of all, solitary confinement does not respect any ideology, or any idealism, religion. It doesn’t respect any of that because it doesn’t respect a person’s basic humanity. It’s designed to basically erode a person’s sense of worth as a human being. And to be a healthy functioning human being. So whoever’s in that situation, there is no immunity. It’s going to affect different people in different ways. My position is that nobody should be subjected to long-term solitary confinement – its anti-human. But, there are certain people that are more vulnerable than others to its effects….
…The first thing [that helped me stay sane] is knowing why I was in prison. I think if I had gone to prison for stealing or slinging drugs, I think it would have had even more of negative impact on me. If I had been in that situation for doing something strictly for my own benefit or profit. But I had come off a commitment and a sacrifice where I was part of a group that was challenging, trying to expose the criminal activity of the United States government, and to bring that to the public’s attention, and to try to be part of a larger movement to bring an end to these crimes…
I always kept in mind why I was there, I felt like people had questioned my tactics, but they can’t question our hearts, that we felt we were on the right side of history, no matter if we lost this battle, we were fighting for the people that mattered most…
… So, I think that was a big factor right there. When I got to Marion a good friend of mine wrote to me and he said, “alright, now you no longer have access to all the militant tools in your political toolkit you have to write”. I did a lot of writing when I was on the inside. I stayed as politically engaged as I could.
I think that my political identity and my political life – that was a big part. It’s a political identity, not a criminal identity. And the more I wrote, the more I got published, mainly essays and some collections, the more those circulated, the more people wrote to me, the more they wrote to me the more correspondence I had, I was dialoguing with activists all over the country, essentially. They couldn’t visit me, but at least I could write…
AS: When you heard the ECHR [European Court of Human Rights] ruling about Florence [ADX], tell me how you felt about the ruling itself. Whether you were surprised, and also in the judgement, how they talked about the “step-down” program meaning that isolation wasn’t indefinite, or that isolation wasn’t complete because prisoners were able to shout through the rafters, all of that.
RL: ADX opened in 1984 and there were people there like me, who arrived at the beginning of it. Those people are still there. Not all of them, no, but I know individuals who have never gotten out of it, from the time it opened up. ’94 is… 18 years ago. And they did the same thing at Marion. The program in terms of how you can get out of there is so arbitrarily instituted that for any and no reason they can just keep you there…
And as far as the ruling goes, was I surprised? I wasn’t surprised by the ruling. I mean, it’s the Europeans. They’re not noted for their humanity. Obviously the prison policies in a number of European states are much better than in the American prison system, there’s no doubt about that. But it didn’t surprise me because I think the US, the power of the United States government reaches into every other country on this globe, and extrapolate that into their institutions, their influence is tremendous…
What I took away from [the ruling] was essentially that the European Court [the ECHR] took every affidavit submitted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons in this country saying, “there’s nothing wrong with ADX or the way we implement long-term solitary confinement”. They took every one of those affidavits and credited them, completely, without question… Which is what you see the courts in this country do. And [the ECHR] discredited, basically, anything that came from a prisoner or a critic or a human rights organization about the policies and practices at ADX.
AS: You were transferred out of ADX into the general population in a prison in Georgia. What was it like to go into general population?
RL: It was challenging for a couple of reasons. One that was when I got there, to Atlanta Georgia, which is a maximum security prison, but it’s what you call “open population”, people have jobs, recreation yard, some educational activities, you go to a mess hall to eat, but it’s still maximum security.
The first was that they wouldn’t let me into [general] population, they kept me in solitary, what you call the hole, sometimes they’re called special management units – segregation units, essentially….[But] after months of pressuring and lobbying from people outside, they finally relented and let me into the regular part of the prison.
And it was clear, right away, even from the other prisoners, one look at me and they know that I came from ADX, because I was totally wired. I was hard wired for – I wasn’t used to being around all these other men. I wasn’t used to being around everybody moving at one time to go to the mess hall, and I’d get into the mess hall and the noise level… in a place like ADX your senses start to constrict, because that’s the purpose of a boxcar cell and the whole isolation regime, is to reduce your senses to the absolute lowest common denominator, and between the pressure of isolation and your own withdrawing senses… then you get into a regular prison, and all those things – sight, smell, sound, movement… it all grates at you. You’re not prepared for it. It’s like, my head was on a swivel…
AS: And did that just take time to adjust to?
RL: Yeah, that takes time. All you’re doing is adjusting to a maximum security prison! But when I got out, mind you later, I had to make significantly more adjustments, because behind of that I had years of being in Marion and ADX and various segregation units. The residue of that never completely leaves you, it never does, and it never will.
I would defy anybody who spent years in supermax cell to say that it had absolutely no effect on them. Everyone comes out scarred or burned to some degree – it’s a question of degrees and how that meshes with the individual, and how that individual carries it to the outside world.
AS: My last question – I read in Becky Thompson’s book that the first time you got out of prison, you really saw the importance of having prisoners be key leaders in social movements, and the importance of engaging in solidarity with prisoners. I was hoping you could just talk a little bit about your experiences of solidarity – your perspective as someone who’s engaged in work both from the outside and from the inside….
RL: When I first got out of prison in was in the early 1970s, and it was a much different political climate then. I’m a believer in self-determination – that communities of people that are oppressed, that are being exploited, the leadership and direction for that [these political struggles] – change – should come from those people.
..And that’s why I think with Muslim prisoners it’s necessary that people from the Muslim community get more directly involved in supporting these prisoners and around issues related to the whole spectre of federal agents and others saturating Muslim communities and infiltrating and spying and all of this. Like I said the leadership and direction has to come out of those communities.
As far as supporting people on the inside, there’s a lot of things to do… One of the ways I survived was all that people that wrote to me – sent me cards, sent me books, sent me photographs, stayed in consistent contact with me through letters. And I did a speaking gig in some college in Boston about a month ago and I mentioned that when I was at ADX, I had received a letter out of nowhere from a Vietnam vet I didn’t know. He was in Canada at the time and he had put a maple leaf that was changing colour into the letter. Now they don’t allow things like that at ADX, they don’t allow – you don’t see a blade of grass in ADX. I got a letter with a leaf in there, they’ll call it a “nuisance item”, they’ll remove it as contraband but somehow, some way the mail room missed this leaf, and I got it in my cell and it was red and orange and yellow, it was changing colours. And the fact that I can talk about it twenty years later – that’s something that no matter how lonely I got, I know that I’m not alone. Because there’s people like that that remember you. They found that in a cell search a few days later, they found that leaf – I couldn’t hide it well enough, and they took it. But that was an important strand in the web of humanity that reached out to me and that I reached out to, that enabled me to get through those days and weeks and months and years in there.
So I don’t think anything should be thought of as too trivial or too small. That kind of human contact is essential to get yourself through a dehumanizing situation. Not just to survive it, but to survive it with your own humanity intact…
Former political prisoner Ray Luc Levasseur was raised in Maine, born to a working-class family of Quebecois origin. He became politically radicalized at a young age, first after serving a term of duty in Vietnam, and again after spending two years in a Tennessee prison. In 1986, Ray Luc Levasseur was convicted for militant activities conducted with the United Freedom Front. He would ultimately spend about 15 of his 18 years in prison in solitary confinement. First sent to the Control Unit at USP Marion, he was transferred to the federal supermax, ADX Florence, after refusing to work for the Federal Prison Industries (UNICOR) since it produced military equipment for the Department of Defense. Levasseur was released in 2004 and now lives in Maine. (For more on Ray Luc Levasseur, see the interview published in conjunction with this piece.)
The following is an excerpt from a larger piece that Levasseur is writing. It describes the day he arrived at ADX Florence and his initial experiences at the prison. –Aviva Stahl
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Approaching the federal prison complex, I saw majestic snow capped mountain peaks in the distance, an image to cherish when all else disappears behind closed walls. We rode through the complex: minimum security camp, medium security prison, maximum security prison, and continued to the end of the compound of the federal prison system.
ADX, administrative maximum, a prison where the building becomes the shackles. From outside ADX look half-buried, built against an earth berm. It wasn’t underground but might as well have been, once you’re inside. The mountains and the reminder of the outside world were erased as were entered the first door. We were led through a maze of polished hallways and bright lights, bar grills, steel doors and ubiquitous surveillance cameras. My travelling companion and I were placed in cells on an unoccupied tier. The cells were brand-spanking new, never before occupied. I had never had a new house, a new car or a new apartment but I now had a new prison cell.
This is a boxcar cell, designed to suppress human sound and constrain the five senses. I spoke to the walls. “Ray Luc, present and accounted for!” My voice echoed throughout the cell, a cough sounded like a racket ball carom. There would be no casual conversations with my one neighbour.
When fed through a shoe-box sized slot in the door the meal looked like dog-food on noodles. We missed the regular feeding time and this tray was sitting around somewhere. I hadn’t eaten all day so despite my trepidation I pushed the dog food aside and ate the noodles with a plastic spoon. I spent most of that first night retching and vomiting into the stainless steel commode. Food poisoning. Forty-eight years old and I’ve entered a new phase in my life – a mid life crisis embodied in a techno-fascist architectural wet dream.
Society reflects the self in a microcosm of prison. In a class based, economically driven, racially motivated life, devolved of a series of Chinese boxes. A set of boxes decreasing in size so that each box fits in the next larger one. I’m in the smallest box.
The essence of ADX is the boxcar cell. This boxcar doesn’t move. It is a cage within a box encased by concrete. Entry is through a solid steel door that contains a small Plexiglas observation window. And then the trap – dead space. Then a series of vertical steel bars which forms the front of the cage and a second door. I am confined to the boxcar cell 157 hours of each 168 hour week. I am allowed 11 hours a week into a barren concrete area adjacent to the cellblock between Mondays and Fridays. The rec space (i.e. recreation space) is like the deep end of a dry swimming pool with walls. I see only walls, except straight up through the wire mesh, steel cables and joists a section of sky. That’s the term, ‘outside rec’.
Other men begin occupying the cells on my tier. The boxcar cell is designed to gouge prisoner’s senses by suppressing human sound and communication with others. It puts blinders on one’s eyes and limits on touching to that which is lifeless. A boxcar cell is designed to inflict physical, psychological, and spiritual isolation. You will feel the pain. You will not leave the boxcar cell except in restraints. Within months it seems endless. Every morning begins with a loud grating of the steel gate opening to the tier. One at a time, each of the electronically controlled doors opens, a guard steps to the second barred door and slides the food tray through the slot, then steps back while the door is closed, with a vengeance. On down the line, until the last tray is delivered. A half hour later we go through the paces again until the last tray is retrieved, followed by silence.
At my first visit with a friend and lawyer from Chicago, she said, “Ray, you seem agitated.”
I had a thousand yard stare by then, and responded: “Hey, you’d be agitated too if you felt like your face was slapped every morning you get up in this shithole.”
“Okay, I understand but why don’t you sit down while you’re talking? You step left to the wall, then right to the wall, you don’t sit still.”
“You see what I got to sit on? A concrete stump – it’s a ******* post- same as in my cell. Why would I wanna sit on that?”
“But you’re unfocused at times, you’re jumping all over while you’re talking. First you talk about your kids one minute, then tell me about a prisoner in seg [segregation] who’s tearing his flesh with his teeth. Then without missing a beat you’re into Agent Orange and Vietnam.”
“Look, there’s nothing wrong with me, alright, nothing that the shining light of freedom wouldn’t fix. I know why I’m in prison in ADX, I’ll be a witness to what’s happening here. That’s what I’m doing, that’s what I’m writing about. They’re keeping that segregation prisoner in four point restraints, you understand. He’s four pointed to a concrete slab. They say every time they unchain him, he’s back to tearing at his flesh. Even the hacks are spooked by him. You know, what is it about this place that makes a man do that to himself. Several prisoners have already been a packed off to the pscyh ward at Springfield.”
“How do you know this?”
“I know it from prisoners rotating in and out of segregation unit, otherwise there could a major riot in the cellblock next to mine and I wouldn’t know about it, sound doesn’t travel far here. You can’t see beyond immediate walls and doors.”
“You’re in the same environment Ray, it’s got to affect you.”
“It does, it ******* enrages me, I get homicidal thoughts and migraines that begin with a spider crawling up my cervix and injecting a twelve load jolt of mind-******* pain into my skull. But you know what, in the immediate aftermath of physical pain I feel good. It takes the absence of pain to feel good here. It’s scary, the psychological is not always as evidence as the physical.”
“Unless you’re eating your own flesh.”
“Right, unless you’re eating your own flesh, or your own shit, I saw that in MCC [Metropolitan Correctional Center] in New York.”
I didn’t dwell on if or when I’d extricate myself from ADX because this line of thinking would drive me into deeper depression.
The post Voices from Solitary: “A Prison Where the Building Becomes the Shackles” appeared first on Solitary Watch.
Ahmed Maher, of the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, has had an investigation dropped by the interior ministry of the North African state., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Egypt orders arrest of two symbols of anti-Mubarak revolt
By Yasmine Saleh
CAIRO (Reuters) - Two Egyptian pro-democracy campaigners renowned for their role in the popular uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak are to be arrested for inciting protests, a source in the prosecutor's office said on Wednesday.
The arrest orders for Ahmed Maher, head of the April 6 youth movement, and Alaa Abdel Fattah were issued a day after they joined demonstrations outside parliament in defiance of a law passed by the army-backed government on Sunday to curb protests.
Scuffles broke out on Wednesday between protesters and security forces in the northern port city of Alexandria during a demonstration against the new law and against the arrest of 24 activists on Tuesday, the state news agency MENA said.
Rocks were thrown back and forth and security forces used teargas to try and disperse the crowd, it said.
The 24 activists are to be detained for four days pending investigation of allegations of thuggery, attacking public employees, stealing wireless devices and protesting without permission from the Interior Ministry, said the source in the prosecutor's office.
Four women activists who had also been detained were released on a desert highway, said a security source.
Egypt has seen some of its worst civilian violence in decades since the army ousted a freely elected Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, in July following mass protests against his rule. The military has introduced a political roadmap meant to lead to elections next year.
Mursi's supporters have staged frequent protests across Egypt, many of them after Friday prayers, since the army deposed him on July 3 in response to mass protests against his rule.
BLOW TO FREEDOM
The new law restricting protests has angered some Egyptians and drawn fire from human rights groups who describe it as a blow to freedom in the most populous Arab country.
Liberals and activists who backed Mursi's overthrow are now becoming more vocal against the military, which has pursued a tough security crackdown against Islamists, in which hundreds have been killed and more than 2,000 arrested, including Mursi.
An Alexandria court jailed 14 women for 11 years on Wednesday for obstructing traffic during a pro-Mursi protest that took place late last month, judiciary sources said. Seven others under the age of 18 were sent to a juvenile prison.
Some 17 clerics linked to the Brotherhood were arrested in the Nile Delta town of Gharbeia for using mosques and sermons to incite worshippers against the army and police, MENA said.
The public prosecutor also transferred to a court two people seen as pro-Mursi, lawyer Mahmoud el-Khodeiry and Ahmed Mansour, a presenter on al-Jazeera satellite channel.
They were accused of abducting and torturing a lawyer, MENA said.
Mohamed Fawaz, a member of the April 6 movement, told Reuters the new anti-protest law could lead to the "fall of the current regime" by igniting more unrest and public discontent.
"It is the Egyptian people's right since January 25 to protest and we are keen to maintain this right and fight for it until the last drop of blood," Fawaz said, referring to the date when the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak began in 2011.
Maher's April 6 movement and Abdel Fattah helped organize the vast demonstrations against Mubarak in Cairo's Tahrir Square and elsewhere.
'BATTLES AGAINST TERRORISM'
The government has shown no signs of caving in to growing pressure to scrap the anti-protest law.
Deputy Prime Minister Hossam Eissa said the cabinet was "committed to implementing the protest law strictly", while at the same time respecting freedom of expression.
"The Egyptian army is waging battles against terrorism, and some factions are trying to tamper with the status of the state and prevent it from observing its duties," he said.
Islamist militants based in the unruly Sinai Peninsula have stepped up attacks on security forces since Mursi was ousted. The Brotherhood denies any link to the militants, but the authorities lump them together as terrorists.
The government has said it is not opposed to peaceful protests and it wants to restore order in Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel and is home to the Suez Canal.
The law will further squeeze the Brotherhood, which had hoped mass protests would reverse what it calls a military coup.
The restrictions have set off a public debate in Egypt, where demonstrations brought down Mubarak and encouraged army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to remove Mursi.
"This law is bad and the minister of interior has done enough and should change," said an engineer calling in to a discussion of the topic on state radio.
"Our penal law had many articles that they (the authorities) could have used to ban violent protests but instead they issued a new law that only brought us more protests and tension, a very stupid call."
The next person to dial in, a police officer, said: "What do people want? We either implement the law or not."
(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Alistair Lyon)
Egyptian student rebellion at Al-Azhar University on October 20, 2013. The students were protesting against the military coup of July 3., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Egypt: 21 Women Received 11 Years in Prison
CAIRO November 26, 2013
By MAGGIE MICHAEL Associated Press
An Egyptian court has handed down heavy sentences of 11 years in prison to 21 female supporters of the ousted Islamist president, many of them juveniles, for holding a protest.
The court in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria issued the ruling Wednesday, weeks after the women were arrested during a protest demanding the reinstatement of Mohammed Morsi, ousted in a July 3 coup.
They were convicted on multiple charges, including holding a demonstration, sabotage and using force. Seven of them are under 18 years of age.
The court also sentenced six members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood to 15 years in prison in absentia for inciting the protest.
The verdict comes as security forces have cracked on small protests by secular activists, implementing a new law putting heavy restrictions on protests.
Breadlines Return Times. Just in time for the holiday season!
S&P says banks may have to spend extra $104bn on mortgage cases FT. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and more fun to throw some executives under the bus of the criminal justice system?
A Way With Words: The Economics of the Fed’s Press Conference Liberty Street Economics. I’m just not sure which is the efficient markets part and which is the behavioral economics part and which is the open fraud and manipulation part.
How To Talk To Your Family About The Taper Over Thanksgiving Business Insider. Note: “How to talk to you ____ about ____” is a snowclone.
WBG Topical Taxonomy Another Word for It. There seem to be gaps.
A bitter harvest in Marinaleda El Pais
U.S. says new queuing system will help if HealthCare.gov gets too much traffic Reuters. Yeah, Expedia redefines success with the exact same technology. Oh, wait… =
Do we really need exchanges? Incidental Economist. Of course you don’t. The Canadian single payer system gets along fine without them, and bent the cost curve in the mid-70s.
The Single-Payer Alternative Times. ObamaCare as a teaching opportunity.
Two Amazing Charts Economics One
Big Brother Is Watching You Watch
Penny Lane: Gitmo’s secret CIA facility Miami Herald
Obama’s overhaul of spy programs cloaked in more secrecy McClatchy. Shocker!
It Is Public Support For Diplomacy That Pushes Obama Moon of Alabama
Solar Dominates New US Generating Capacity Earth Techling
Thai Tensions Escalate as Protests Gain Momentum The Diplomat
Tips from a prolific public speaker FT. How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
Sistema LRB. Must read.
By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Krugman’s latest — “The Obamacare Worm Turns” — is homer-esque even by the tribal Democrat standards of “Conscience of a Liberal.” But sadly, Krugman’s got the wrong worm. Let me explain. I can best do this in the form of a table:WRONG. Contra the image in Krugman’s column, the turning worm of ObamaCare is not like the Dune Sandworm (Shai’ Hulud). RIGHT. ObamaCare is like a tapeworm (Taenia solium), turning or not; notice the crown of hooks and the suckers through which the worm attaches itself to the intestine of its unhappy host.
There’s little point analyzing Krugman’s column in detail; it might as well have been ripped from a West Wing blast fax as part of the latest, greatest public relations offensive. Heaven only knows why Krugman picked the Dune sand worm image to accompany his column; I mean, it can’t possibly be that Krugman regards Obama as a charismatic, messianic, prescient, master strategerist with the God-like powers of Paul Atreides, the hero of Dune, right? Because that would be over the top.
Anyhow, why do I say that ObamaCare is like a tapeworm, a parasite that exists for no other reason than to extract nourishment from its host? Because it is, that’s why. This chart (again) tells the story:
We are blessed, on this continent, with the closest thing you can get to a controlled experiment in the real world on how to do health care right, and how to do it wrong. We have two countries, of continental scale, both from the English political tradition, each with a Federal system of government, and similar economies. The two countries are similar enough culturally that their citizens can move with ease from one country to another. Canada has a single payer system; the United States has a private health insurance system. And Canada “bent the cost curve” in the mid-70s, when it adopted single payer, and the United States did not.
What the chart shows is that the our private health insurance system is purely parasitic; it is useless; it exists solely for the purpose of rental extraction from its host, the body politic. Abolish it, and you bend the cost curve to look like Canada’s. If single payer had been adopted in 2009, and given a year to implement (like Medicare) the country would already have saved a trillion dollars, and several thousand people would not be dead. That is the cost, the harm, of the tapeworm that is the health insurance industry. Not science fiction; sober fact. (Because Canadians are always sober!) And ObamaCare seeks to fasten that tapeworm’s hooks and suckers to our body politic’s gut. Forever.
So you can understand when I hear people saying “Well, what we need to be doing is keeping our tapeworm healthy and happy, and maybe buffing it a little” I get annoyed. Here are two fine examples of how to make a tapeworm happy from yesterday’s Washington Post. Ezra Klein:
The next challenge for the law, as the White House knows, will be the outreach challenge of signing up enough young-and-healthy people to balance out its risk pools.
“One of the things I’ve been curious about is any demographic information about who is and isn’t signing up, so we can get a sense of how to best adjust and tailor our public efforts,” Chris Abele [a country official from Milwaukee] asked.
No dice. “Chris, at this point we hope to add that to our statistics very soon but we don’t have the breakdown by age and zip code and area,” Sebelius responded. As to how to focus outreach efforts, Sebelius directed Abele to “focus on the general population in terms of likely uninsured but also young and healthy individuals.”
So here we have yet another insane, sociopathic statement from the political class, and everybody who hears it nods and smiles away as if everything is perfectly normal. And it is! It is!
Did you hear what the Secretary of Health and Human Services really, actually said? She said her first priority was not health. Rather, her first priority is the actuarial soundness of the ObamaCare pool. For example, if every sick person in the United States who doesn’t have insurance signed up, and nobody else did, that would be a disaster. (Not to the sick people, of course.) And why? Because the insurance companies would lose money. In other words, the tapeworm couldn’t fatten itself! Contrast single payer’s “Everybody in, nobody out” philosophy. And do note that with single payer, our body politic would be healthy and strong enough to do that, because we wouldn’t be feeding the tapeworm any more, and giving all our energy to parasites. That trillion dollars freed up by single payer would have bought a lot of care!
As with any disease, the first step to a cure is admitting you’re sick. It would be helpful — especially to the many thousands who will lose their lives even after ObamaCare is fully implemented — if Krugman would take that first step.
And if you want to “clear the room” at your Thanksgiving dinner table… Try comparing ObamaCare to a tapeworm!
 Though I cannot forbear to quote this howler:
And in any case, insurance with restricted networks is hardly something new to Obamacare.
Careful NC readers — many of whom are far more likely to be personally affected by ObamaCare than Krugman, which explains why they are careful — know that the insurance companies can manipulate thin networks to price people out of the market for care they need (and that’s before we get to balance billing). Krugman, good Democrat that he is, throws them under the bus with an “in any case” aside, with an oh-so-casual “hardly.” Single payer, with its “Everybody in, and nobody out” philosophy, is far less casual, and doesn’t toss people aside.
 At this point, Obots tend to mutter about living “in the real world.” (Next stop: “The best is the enemy of the good.” Next stop: “Purist!” Next stop: “Racist!”) No. Look at the chart. The real world is the rest of the world, including Canada’s single payer system. In this country, we live in a bizarre neo-liberal fantasy world — a world that Obama, and his enablers and apologists (like America’s favorite quasi-Nobelist) have done nothing to combat, and much to reinforce because free markets. For shame!
NOTE I’m not a tapeworm expert, so if I’ve given the name of the wrong species to the tapeworm image, please correct me.
Republic of Angola President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. The southern African state has changed its constitution to have the president elected by parliament as opposed to a direct vote. The oil-rich nation is the largest exporter of oil on the continent., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Angola denies banning Islam
November 27, 2013 International
MUSLIMLUANDA. — Angola’s government yesterday denied it had banned Islam and closed mosques in the country, after speculation that sparked outrage among Muslims worldwide. “There is no war in Angola against Islam or any other religion,” said Manuel Fernando, director of the National Institute for Religious Affairs, part of the ministry of culture.
“There is no official position that targets the destruction or closure of places of worship, whichever they are,” Fernando told AFP.
Reports that Angola, a traditionally devout Catholic nation, would crack down on Muslims had drawn condemnation from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and others.
In Egypt, mufti Shawqi Allam said such a move would be “a provocation not only to Angolan Muslims but to more than 1,5 billion Muslims all over the world”.
The oil-rich southern African nation has a population of about 18 million people, several hundred thousand of whom are Muslim.
Religious organisations are required to apply for accreditation in Angola, which currently recognises 83, all of them Christian.
In October the justice ministry rejected the applications of 194 organisations, including one from the Islamic community.
David Ja, a spokesman for local Muslims, challenged the government’s account and said that a number of mosques had already been closed.
Ja condemned what he described as “political persecution” and “religious intolerance.”
“A mosque was closed last week in Huambo (in the south) and we have been subjected to pressure this week regarding a mosque in Luanda,” he said.
According to the ministry of culture these closures were related to a lack of necessary land titles, building licenses or other official documents.
Brazil President Dilma Rousseff said that demonstrations should not be ignored in the South American state. The country is stronger because of the protests she said., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Violence against women blights Brazil, says president
November 27, 2013 International
RIO DE JANEIRO. — Sexism and violence against women bring “shame” to the Brazilian society, President Dilma Rousseff said Monday.
Marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, said via Twitter that the Brazilian society continues to be “sexist and full of prejudice.” Ending violence against women is necessary for creating a fairer, more equal society, she said. The president highlighted some of her administration’s measures to help battered women.
A major programme is to create a network of women’s shelters, called Women’s Houses, which provide several necessary services in a single place, such as police specialised in domestic violence, a public defender’s office, psychological support, job placement and others, so victims don’t have to go to all the different authorities.
President Rousseff also stressed the importance of Brazil’s so-called Maria da Penha Law, a comprehensive domestic violence law named after a victim whose case has become widely known. November 25 is valued in many countries and was established by the United Nations in honour of the Mirabal sisters, three political activists in the Dominican Republic who were murdered in 1960.
Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the new African Union Commission Chair. Dlamini-Zuma attended the recent Southern African Development Community summit in Mozambique., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma arrives in Brussels
November 27, 2013 International
ADDIS ABABA. — The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma arrived in Brussels, Belgium yesterday to attend the Annual Summit of Women in Parliament Global Forum (WIP). Hosted by the European Parliament, the summit is being held under the theme, “The Spirit of Women in Parliaments: Advancing Society,” from 27-29 November 2013.
Critical issues to feature in the summit include: reshaping society through female leadership; female empowerment for peace, security and integrity; impact of elected women in parliaments; fight against corruption; delivering on gender equality; gender studies in academics; and the use of technology and women’s political participation.
Dr Dlamini-Zuma, who is also a WIP Advisory Board Member, will deliver one of the keynote addresses, as well as participate, as a panelist in one of the interactive sessions discussing: “Reshaping Society through Female Leadership”.
During the summit, countries will receive awards for their leadership in bridging the gender gap. Three African will be among the recipients.
Rwanda will receive the award in the category of political empowerment, with a record number of women in parliament; Lesotho features in the category for closing the gender gap, while Algeria will receive the award for its achievements in increasing the percentage of women in parliamentary positions.
Simone Gbagbo, the former first lady of Ivory Coast, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Netherlands. Her husband was overthrown by France and the United States during 2011., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Africa must unshackle itself from the ICC
November 27, 2013 Opinion & Analysis
THE decision by the United Nations Security Council to reject a request by the African Union (AU) to defer the International Criminal Court (ICC) trial of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto was not only a slap in the face of the African continent but an insult to continent’s conscience and a mockery to its territorial integrity.
When the Arab League in March 2011 called for the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone on Libya, the whole Council acceded and steadfastly adopted resolution 1973 (2011) to operationalise the request. This was expeditiously done on the understanding that the League carries the ideological and moral authority to decide what was best for its member state.
It therefore boggles the mind that when the AU decided to exercise its ideological authority to request for a one year deferral of the Kenyan case, the request was contemptuously rejected.
Faced with unremitting and exclusive targeting of its citizens by the ICC, the rejection of its Kenyan request by the Security Council blatantly ridiculed the AU’s ideological and moral authority over its member states.
What is left is for Africa to react to this condescending development. Africa has several options but indications on the ground are that some African member states to the Rome Statute that govern the ICC have decided to go it alone. They have decided to kowtow to the Security Council ruling by demanding inconsequential logistical adjustments to the trial of Kenyan leaders. Such lukewarm supplications do not bring back the lustre of Africa’s eroded integrity.
Those African nations would be forgiven for their initial naiveté for signing to become member states to the Rome Statute as it was unbeknown to them that the ICC was a legal lapdog designed to subvert the collective conscience of Africans.
However, what is unforgivable and repugnant is the brute and blinkered determination by these nations to continue subscribing to the ICC when the writing on the wall is clear that the institution is severely toxic to the preservation of African integrity.
Since its establishment, the Geneva-based court has become a charade used to entrench century old neo-imperial prejudices that Africa is eternally a place of barbarians and war criminals.
The ICC is unashamedly saying there is no other continent with war criminals but Africa! No other place has wars but Africa!
The question that begs for an answer is why Africans should continue to subject themselves to such legal chicanery?
The time is nigh for Africa to accept the futility of subjecting itself before the pseudo-international court. The time is nigh for the continent to take self-preservation measures to unshackle itself from the neo-imperial grip of the ICC.
Africa is the only continent with nations that have referred cases to the ICC. The United States of America has refused to ratify the Rome Statute and has even instituted laws that shield its citizens from prosecution at the ICC.
The Europeans established the European Court of Justice to safeguard the continent’s collective integrity. Instead of exposing their continent to the intrusive whims of an exogenous court, they established their own legal edifice that answers to questions raised by their national courts.
The importance of continental courts is that they consider legal cases guided by a given cultural, political or ideological context.
This was seen at the European Court of Justice when it made a ruling allowing on gay refugees from a country where people are jailed for being homosexual to qualify for asylum in the EU.
This is an ideological ruling that could not have seen the light of day at other exogenous courts that do not prescribe to the nature-subverting practice of homosexuality.
If Africa could establish a similar court, it would be alive to the contextual forces driving the continent’s ideological, economic and social dispensations. The African court could be fully financed by member states to avoid scenarios where donor nations would seek to direct court determinations like what happened with the disbanded and disgraced Sadc Tribunal whose strings were pulled by some nefarious neo-imperial donors.
The continent could even draw lessons from Zimbabwe’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth Group of Nations. Zimbabwe realised after some torrid experiences that the Commonwealth was nothing but a Trojan horse created to preserve the hegemony of the former colonial power, Britain.
After being unwarrantedly ostracised and vilified and positioned as a pariah state for redistributing its land, Zimbabwe decided to sever ties with the tea drinking and Queen worshipping club.
Africa cannot afford to repose its justice on exogenous courts. In order to restore its integrity, the African Union should boldly advise its members to immediately withdraw their membership from the ICC.
The group should forthwith start working on establishing its own court to adjudicate on continental matters in a Pan-African manner.
Zimbabwe farmer workers in Nyamzura in Odzi. The earnings on production increased in 2012., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Land reforms liberated Zim agriculture
November 27, 2013 Opinion & Analysis
IN 2000 large areas of Zimbabwe’s commercial farm land were invaded by land-hungry villagers, led by war veterans. What has happened since? What did the new settlers do with land? What are the future prospects? These are questions that have been explored in research over the past 13 years, and published in the 2010 book “Zimbabwe’s Land Reform: Myths and Realities”, and updated in the new book “Debating Zimbabwe’s Land Reform”, published this month.
Changes since 2000 have resulted in a radical change in Zimbabwe’s agrarian structure. At the time of independence in 1980, over 15 million hectares were devoted to large-scale commercial farming, comprising around 6 000 farmers, nearly all of them white.
This fell to around 12 million hectares by 1999, in part through a modest, but in many ways successful, land reform and resettlement programme. Since 2000 land reform has resulted in the transfer of around 10 million hectares of land across 4 500 farms to over 175 000 households. If the “informal” settlements, outside the official “fast-track” programme are added, the totals are even larger.
In the international media and beyond, the accepted wisdom has been that land reform in Zimbabwe has been a tale of unmitigated disaster. Images of chaos, destruction and violence have dominated the coverage. However research into the controversial policy, and its effects, challenges this view.
We have looked in detail at the story of land reform across 16 sites and 400 households in Masvingo province in the south-east of the country. What comes through is the complexity, the differences, almost farm by farm: there is no single, simple story of the Zimbabwe land reform as sometimes assumed by press reports, political commentators, or indeed much academic study.
While not downplaying the violence, abuses and patronage that have occurred, we argue for a more balanced appraisal of the land reform, and encourage looking forward to the opportunities created by a new agrarian structure. Our research, for example, shows that the agricultural economy has changed dramatically. Production of wheat, coffee and tea has all declined, as has the export of beef. The production of maize, the staple food crop, is now more variable, and imports have been frequently required. However, other crops, notably tobacco and cotton, have boomed, while small grain and edible bean production has also increased.
Nationally it is a mixed picture. Yet there is substantial agricultural production happening on the new smallholder farms, with substantial marketed surpluses being produced especially in good rainfall years. In the new land reform areas, there is a core group of “middle farmers” – around half of the population in the Masvingo study areas – who are generating surpluses from farming, and so are able to “accumulate from below”. This represents an important economic momentum which needs to be capitalised upon.
With land reform there has been a restructuring of markets too. New connections are being forged, unleashing a dynamic entrepreneurialism in the rural areas. This needs support if the economic multiplier effects of smallholder land reform are to be fully realised.
There has also been significant investment in the new land, including the clearing of plots, the purchase of farm assets, the digging of wells and the building of homes. In addition, schools have been built, roads cut and dams dug. Nearly all of this has been through the effort of new settlers, as external assistance has been virtually non-existent.
If the new resettlements are to contribute not only to local livelihoods, but also national food security and broader economic development, they unquestionably require external investment and support – just as was done from the 1950s for white agriculture. This means infrastructure (dams, roads), financing (credit systems), input supply (fertiliser, seed), technology (intermediate and appropriate) and coordination mechanisms (institutions and policy) that allow agriculture to grow and be sustained.
Major future policy challenges include the guaranteeing of tenure security embedded in an effective land administration system, following a land audit to root abuses and corrupt practice. Investment in smallholder farming as a driver of economic growth must be a major priority.
The story of land reform in Zimbabwe is complex and varied. But it is often not what the standard media narratives suggest. There is much potential, as yet unrealised. For other southern African countries that inherited a highly skewed land ownership structure from the colonial period, there are many lessons to be learned.
Ian Scoones is a Professorial Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, UK, and has worked in Zimbabwe for over 25 years.
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and former South African President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. The ruling ANC has refused to denounce Zimbabwe amid mounting pressure from the imperialist countries. Mbeki delivered a major address on Africa Day 2010., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
UK invasion plot exposed
November 27, 2013
Takunda Maodza Assistant News Editor
SOUTH Africa was under pressure from the Labour regime of British premier Tony Blair to co-operate in a military invasion of Zimbabwe to depose President Mugabe and Zanu-PF, but Pretoria refused, former South African president Cde Thabo Mbeki has revealed.Cde Mbeki made the revelations in an interview with Aljazeera on Saturday, saying the British wanted to replace President Mugabe with their cat’s paw, MDC-T leader Mr Morgan Tsvangirai, who is on record pledging to violently unseat President Mugabe.
The three main British political parties – Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – mooted the MDC under the ambit of the Westminster Foundation, and have been sponsoring the party since its launch on September 11 1999 in a bid to effect regime change in Zimbabwe, but the move has failed with Zanu-PF’s resounding victory in the harmonised elections touted by executive director of the Royal African Society Richard Dowden as the heaviest defeat for Britain’s Africa policy in 60 years.
Speaking on the programme “Talk to Al Jazeera”, Cde Mbeki said: “There is a retired chief of the British Armed Forces (Lord Charles Guthrie) who said he had to withstand pressure from then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair who was saying to the chief of the British Armed Forces you must work out a military plan so that we can physically remove Robert Mugabe.
“We knew that because we had come under the same pressure that we needed to cooperate in some scheme. It was a regime change scheme, even to the point of using military force and we were saying no.”
Lord Charles Guthrie was quoted in some sections of the British media as saying he had warned the blundering Blair that it would be suicidal to pit British troops against ‘‘the tried and tested veterans of the Congo,” in apparent reference to the Zimbabwe Defence Forces’ exploits during Operation Sovereign Legitimacy in the DRC that helped repel US-backed Ugandan and Rwandan rebels to usher peace that enabled the DRC to hold its first elections in 45 years.
Cde Mbeki, who facilitated inter-party talks that led to the formation of the now defunct inclusive Government made up of Zanu-PF and the MDC formations in 2008, took a swipe at the West for interfering in the domestic affairs of sovereign nations, particularly in Africa and the Middle East in a veiled bid to effect illegal regime change.
“Then we said no. You are coming from London you say you don’t like Robert Mugabe for whatever reason, people in London don’t like him we are going to remove him then you are going to put someone else in his place. Why does it become a British responsibility to decide who leads Zimbabwe?” he asked.
“We were saying no. Let Zimbabweans sit down. Let them agree what they do with their country. Our task is to make sure we stay with them. We work with them. So, the GPA they signed in 2008 was negotiated by the Zimbabweans. We facilitated. We chaired the meeting and so on, but it was them who negotiated the agreement.”
Cde Mbeki said the Syrian crisis and other similar global conflicts could only be resolved through negotiated settlements as opposed to the West’s regime change template.
He said the West believes that the Syrian crisis could only be resolved by removing the government of president Bashar al-Assad and warned such an approach was bound to fail.
“Let the Syrians get together,” said Mr Mbeki. “We will assist them to get to a solution which sorts out the Syrian thing, no different to a position we took with regards to Zimbabwe. Let Zimbabweans sort out their problem. Let Syrians do the same.”
Retired Lieutenant-General Mike Nyambuya described Tony Blair’s military ploy as naive.
“It just shows how naive the British are. Zimbabwe is a very unique country that has a crop of soldiers which is very seasoned, well trained and well experienced in fighting wars. Not only do we have people who participated in the liberation struggle, even after independence we fought in Mozambique and participated in peace operations in Somalia and the DRC, among other countries. We have shown that the country does not have a rag-tag army but a professional army that can stand up to anyone including the British. It could have been a miscalculation by the British,” he said.
Zimbabwe National War Veterans Association leader Cde Jabulani Sibanda said the British still habour those intentions even today and urged the nation to remain vigilant.
“What Mbeki is saying is true. What is happening in North Africa and the Middle East is the same strategy that they want to employ in southern Africa. The only difference is that the strategy has worked in the northern side of the equator judging by the history of coups in North Africa, on the southern side of the equator they have a problem with the strategy because most of the parties that are running governments are former liberation movements and they have been resisting such moves,” he said.
Cde Sibanda said Zimbabweans must remain on high alert politically and militarily as the enemy was not giving up on his intentions.
Political analyst and Midlands State University lecturer Mr Christopher Gwatidzo yesterday said Mr Mbeki must be applauded by all Zimbabweans for his Pan Africanist values and urged the country to remain vigilant as the West still habours intentions to effect illegal regime change.
“He is an example of a Pan Africanist. We must also awaken to reality, the Western world still habours regime change intentions and as we engage them through our foreign policy or through tourism or any other forum, we must always doubt their sincerity. We must not trust them. When on the table with them, we must use a long fork because anything is possible with them.”
University of Zimbabwe political scientist Dr Charity Manyeruke slammed the British government for trying to install a puppet regime in Zimbabwe.
“Behind the closed doors are big regime change agendas. We are Africans and even if you become friends with the British prime minister you will never become a British. We appreciate a lot of what Mr Mbeki has done.”
I had wanted to attend a recent panel at Columbia Law School on securities law enforcement moderated by judge Jed Rakoff, but my lousy schedule got in the way. However, reader Adrian went and not only gave a favorable report, but called our attention to a post by one of the participants, Columbia’s professor John Coffee, who formalized his discussion at the conference into an article.
Coffee is a highly respected securities law professor as well as a frequent critic of regulators. In his post, he takes a hard look at the SEC’s claims that its performance has improved and finds them wanting. Now this conclusion is a lot like establishing that there is indeed gambling in Casablanca. However, Coffee’s analysis shows why the use of performance measures, particularly with government bodies, is a great way to lie to the public and yourself about how you are really doing. It’s also consistent with a recent VoxEU post that we flagged, that using performance metrics for government officials. And that is effectively what the SEC is doing, since it has touted figures like the one Coffee cites before Congress and in press releases. If a set of factors is important for external presentations, you can rest assured management and staff will do what they can to do well on those measures.
The real test of whether the SEC is doing well is not trend lines in various metrics, but whether it is feared on Wall Street and by investment managers. The answer is no. And that represents a considerable decline in the SEC’s standing. Stanley Sporkin, the SEC’s head of enforcement in the 1970s was feared all over Wall Street precisely because he was not afraid to go after questionable behavior, even if he might not prevail in court. Even a decade later, memories of the Sporkin era kept the securities industry on good behavior. And a reader provided some corroboration:
I was an SEC enforcement attrorney during the generally-regarded halcyon days of the Sporkin era, and I can tell you, we kicked ass and took names. I myself was involved in many cases involving some of the biggest names on Wall Street, and was instrumental in several cases that eventually resulted in the enactment of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. We had a trial unit back then that was quite busy actually trying, and, more often than not, winning cases. We referred many cases for criminal prosecution (including for perjury), not having prosecutorial authority ourselves.
Back then, the industry quaked in its boots when we came calling. The only partially apocryphal story about Stanley is that, during an investigation he was leading (before he became the head of enforcement), he had a group of witnesses waiting to give on-the-record testimony. When the witness he had been deposing had a heart attack during the deposition (a not-infrequent occurrence), the ambulance attendants wheeled the stricken witness out of Stan’s office on a gurney, with Stan close behind, announcing to the waiting group of witnesses, “alright, who’s next.”
Clinton and Congress were instrumental in reducing the SEC to a shadow of its former self. Clinton appointed Arthur Levitt, who was a former brokerage industry exec turned industry official, having recently headed the American Stock Exchange. Levitt was expected to be a pro-industry regulator, and was hands off as far as enforcement on the deep end of the pool, the institutional investors. But he was tougher as far as retail investors were concerned. That led to pushback from Congress led by the Senator from Hedgistan, Joe Lieberman, in the form of threat of budget cuts and inadequate resources.
Coffee stresses that the SEC’s inadequate staffing, by virtue of it being an easier target for Congresscritters who don’t like regulation than the DoJ) means it has to pick its spots. But that has turned out to be going after small potatoes retail abuses, for the most part, to justify its existence. Coffee tells us:
The SEC’s predicament is that, to justify a larger budget (which it clearly needs), the SEC must show a skeptical (and Republican) House of Representatives that it has done more. This need to improve on last year appears to have made the SEC very concerned with quantitative metrics (e.g., How many cases filed? How many settled in the fiscal year?) Much like a company approaching its IPO, the SEC has an incentive to inflate its numbers. At first glance, the SEC’s recent numbers do look much improved. In fiscal year 2012, the SEC brought 734 enforcement actions—a near record. Also in fiscal year 2012, the SEC entered into 714 settlements—up 6.6% from 2011 and the highest number since 2007.
But a closer look raises serious questions about whether these numbers have been padded. In an October, 2013 story, investigative reporters at the Wall Street Journal found that on the last day of its fiscal 2012 year, the SEC filed some 22 enforcement actions. Moreover, for the last month of that fiscal year (i.e., September 2012), the SEC initiated some 128 administrative actions—up 86% from the same month the preceding year. Many of these actions were simply “follow on” actions in which the SEC simply bars a broker or investment adviser from the industry based on a prior conviction or enforcement action.
Alone, this padding might not mean much. But there are other, more significant problems with many of the cases that the SEC brings. According to NERA Economic Consulting, from 2003 to 2010, slightly over 40% of SEC settlements included no monetary payment. In fiscal 2012, this percentage of “zero dollar” settlements fell to approximately 34% of individual settlements and roughly 24% of company settlements. Improved as that is, such bloodless settlements (particularly in the case of corporate defendants that are seldom impecunious) raise a puzzling question: Why does the SEC regularly sue defendants when it is willing to settle for nothing? Arguably, this looks like illusory enforcement.
And there has been a clear decline in quality:
Moreover, in FY 2012, NERA found that the median company settlement (in those cases where cash was paid) fell some 28% to $1 million, down from $1.4 million in FY 2011. In addition, there were 20 fewer settlements with companies in FY 2012 in comparison with FY 2011. Even the way these median values are computed seems dubious. Computing the median value by considering only those settlements in which some cash was paid (and ignoring the numerous settlements in which none was paid) is much like my computing my batting average by counting only the plate appearances in which I did not strike out. (By the way, on that basis, I look much better).
Perhaps more important than the declining number and median size of corporate settlements in FY 2012 is the fact that the number of “high value” corporate settlements has fallen way below where it was in the period from 2003 to 2005. “High value” settlements are best measured by looking to the 90th percentile of all SEC company settlements. The 90th percentile figure was $80 million in FY 2003, $50 million in FY 2004, and $72.5 million in FY 2005. Yet, by FY 2011, it had fallen to $16.4 million, while in FY 2012, it rose modestly to $18.9 million—still less than one quarter of the level in FY 2003. This fall in the size of the “high value” settlement means fewer “big” cases are being brought and likely measures the impact of resource constraints on the SEC. Unable credibly to threaten to go to trial, the SEC’s staff may have to settle at reduced amounts, as defense counsel (who usually are alumni of the agency) are well aware of the SEC’s logistical constraints.
This is consistent with the result of the SEC’s whisteblower program, which awarded $15 million last year, when it has $439 million remaining in its pool.
Coffee shreds bigger figures for SEC enforcement actions released by Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason & Anello. He points out that most of these aren’t what the layperson considers to be enforcement. 30% were mere follow-on orders and another 21% was for late report filings. Of the balance, only a bit more than half both alleged fraud and went to Federal court.
And Coffee confirms that the SEC has a glass jaw:
….avoiding the large, highly public case may be a product of risk aversion, because with greater publicity comes a greater risk of an embarrassing failure that the post-Madoff SEC can ill afford. The SEC’s reputation was at risk in the Tourre case, and the SEC suffered a prestige-damaging defeat in the Mark Cuban insider trading case. Neither case will incline it to take the high risk in going to trial in a much publicized matter. This suggestion that the SEC has become highly risk averse is more than an intuitive speculation on my part. A July 2013 study by the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) asked SEC staffers if they agreed or disagreed with the statement that “fear of public scandals has made the SEC overly cautious and risk averse.” 62.8% of the SEC senior officials, 57.4% of its supervisory officials, and 54.7% of its non-supervisory staff either “agreed” or strongly agreed with this statement. To the extent that the SEC is risk averse, it might be reluctant to pursue senior executives (who would predictably not settle, at least in a scienter-based case because the reputational damage could be career-ending). A risk averse SEC might still be prepared to sue large banks (who would generally prefer to settle than engage in a trial that would subject them to unfavorable publicity day after day in the national media).
Mary Jo White has said she intends to turn the SEc around, and she has both the prosecution skills and the drawing power to at least make a dent. Given the SEC’s obsession with data-driven reporting, we will able to see the results of her efforts in due course.
By Michael Hoexter, a policy analyst and marketing consultant on green issues, climate change, clean and renewable energy, and energy efficiency. Originally published at New Economic Perspectives.
Lambert here: “Deficit hysterics,” like “deficit scolds” is far too kind; it leaves open the possibility that we are dealing with good faith actors and honest disagreements.
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The austerity push by politicians, political operatives, and pundits of the last 5 years is the height of economic, political, and social perversity and stupidity. Yet, as it still resonates in the halls of power, in the White House and Congress, and in many parts of the media, it still requires explanation and clarification. Besides inspiring the reduced level of government funding we are now seeing in the US and elsewhere, the deficit hysteria campaign is threatening to undermine what remains of the American social safety net that helped form and support the American middle class over the past 70 years. In addition, now and in the future, we will need a government able to use the full range of fiscal (i.e. financial) tools to combat climate change, tools which the austerity campaign seeks to lame or sequester for the benefit of a small financial elite. In the latest turn, deficit hysterics are trying to incite intergenerational warfare between the young and the old, accusing the latter of taking more than their share of public financial resources which the young will need later in life.
Within the past couple of years, I have tried to explain in a compact and vivid way the austerity campaign, which remains now as then a perverse, unrealistic and destructive set of economic opinions and policy recommendations. Recently, a view of the austerity drive has come into focus, which maybe has occurred to others as well. Here is my exposition of this sharper perspective upon what remains a dangerous movement among the political and economic elite to strangle and reverse social progress.
Quick Overview of Deficit Hysteria
During the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2009, just when the economies of the developed world most required and benefitted from increased government spending, a frenzy of hysteria was whipped up which claimed that the instrument of government and government spending was a failed or failing instrument. The interventions of governments had just prevented the world economy and the failing private financial system from plunging into total chaos and, immediately following, a seemingly new class of pundits and political leaders cropped up castigating government and government spending.
The word used over and over again in this new deficit hysteria campaign was “debt”, not differentiating between the debts of private individuals and corporations on the one hand and national currency-issuing governments on the other. Of course, private individuals, corporations and non-currency-issuing governments (local, regional, and Eurozone governments) can run into trouble (become insolvent) with debts while currency-issuing governments (US, UK, Japan, Norway, Canada, Australia, etc.) are never a solvency risk in debts denominated in their own freely floating currency. Deficit hysteria was and is, superficially, an undifferentiated “debt hysteria”.
This public debt hysteria overlooks, or attempts to persuade people to overlook, that monetarily sovereign governments or currency-issuing institutions like the European Central Bank (ECB), could, as mentioned above, sustain practically any level of public debt if it is denominated in their own currency, i.e. the one they issued and control. Those nations like Argentina or Greece that historically got into trouble with debt were those that didn’t control their own currency, i.e. were not monetarily sovereign by either choice (hitching their currency to a foreign currency) or by design (giving up the national currency for a supra-national currency like the Euro). Public debt hysteria has, applied to monetary sovereign nations with freely floating currencies, no factual basis: Japan is currently growing at approximately 1.9 % GDP/year with public debt levels over 200% of their GDP, growing faster than, for instance, low debt Germany (not a monetary sovereign but a beneficiary of the Euro to date) at approximately 0.7% GDP/year.
No monetarily sovereign government (US, Canada, UK, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Japan, etc.) borrows their own currency from other countries when they spend on deficit or issue bonds. However, they might offer, by statute or otherwise, secure, interest-bearing debt instruments (bonds) for investors and trading partners to place their money in, when the government spends more than it taxes as well as offer these bonds for sale in other circumstances. The money denominated in the national currency spent by a monetarily-sovereign government comes from the monetary sovereign, not from the domestic or foreign bond-buyer that secondarily purchases a bond from that government’s central bank or treasury, under certain legally-defined but not economically-determined budget conditions. In other words, the US dollar, Japanese yen or British pound doesn’t come from a Chinese, Canadian, Norwegian, or domestic bond buyer.
The above discussion overlooks the question whether public debt (bond) issuance should be statutorily required for deficit spending, i.e. should the amount of public debt (public bond issuance) be used as an accounting mechanism or liquidity-control mechanism (by tying up cash in a bond) levered to government spending over the amount of taxes collected. A monetary sovereign is always on any day, capable of paying back the total bond principle and interest for all outstanding bonds but the process of issuing the bonds and then paying them back over time has become a core component of the financial architecture of the private banking and savings systems. While a growing economy requires more government spending and government services as required by macroeconomic accounting identities, the issuance of bonds, if it assumed to act as a restraint on government spending, is not at all an effective nor task-specific tool for this, in many cases questionable, goal.
An orderly change in the process of legal and political accounting for deficit spending might detach deficit spending from bond (public debt instrument) sales, thereby clarifying what are two separate economic functions of government in a growing capitalist economy. Deficit spending is, in a world capitalist economy that requires economic growth as a condition of existence, an absolutely essential function for a majority of currency issuing governments. To link this to the notion of “debt”, although in this case public debts that carry with them no solvency risk, has led to a great deal of political confusion and in the case of deficit hysteria, malignant, destructive political mischief.
So-called deficit spending, a not very descriptive term which I have called the “net contribution” of government to growth, is not a “Left-Right” issue if both Left and Right are agreeing to, in their own ways, continue to endorse or support a growing capitalist economy (or a monetary economy of some other description that encourages private savings). Contrary to popular and political wisdom of the moment, balancing a national government budget or targeting budget surpluses are not “good” and deficit spending is not “bad”. In fact, the reverse is true: for most nations under most circumstances, national government budget balancing or budget surpluses are literally toxic for the economy while deficit spending is under many circumstances “good” for the economy. The conventional wisdom that issues from various neoclassically trained pundits of the Right or much of what passes for a “Left” nowadays, has, what is supposed to be sound, fiscal advice for monetarily sovereign governments, entirely inverted. If capitalist economies are to grow, governments are literally compelled to spend on deficit to provide enough liquidity for the economy as well as provide the public services that benefit a complex economy and civilization; political and economic predators have exploited the link to bond sales and increasing “debt” repayment obligations to muddy the political and financial waters.
In any case, the deficit/public debt hysteria campaign, even with the statutory requirement to issue bonds in the amount of budget deficits, is founded on a fundamental category error about the nature of public debt and how governments with their own floating currencies finance themselves, as well as upon a fundamental misconception about how economic growth and concomitant permanent growth in the amount of circulating or saved currency can even take place. The social catastrophe is that significant sectors of the political class in Europe and the US, who can significantly influence the trajectories of national economies and the fates of hundreds of millions of people, have been captured to some degree or completely by deficit/public debt hysteria. In test cases of the effects of austerity, the British government has increased unemployment, decreased wages, increased hunger and degraded social services by pursuing austerity and the US government has, as recognized by both the current and the outgoing chairs of the Federal Reserve, reduced economic growth and placed a drag on the economy by pursuing deficit hysteria-inspired austerity. More of the same is promised in the wake of more deficit hysteria-inspired policy. As long as deficit hysteria reigns in the national government, the chances of sustained recoveries with significant job growth are deemed by neutral observers to be very slim. Swimming against and denying the facts, the austerity campaign has exploited the confused nature of mainstream neoclassical economics and economic policy advice as applied to government finance to sow economic chaos and destruction.
By contrast, with the current financial and fiscal structure of the Eurozone, there is actual real worry regarding the debts of some Eurozone nations as the euro has a fatal design flaw which was noted by Wynne Godley, one of the most important and overlooked macroeconomists of the latter half of the 20th Century, 20 years ago at the Eurozone’s founding. Individual Eurozone countries are not monetarily sovereign: they must like private individuals, corporations and regional governments use a currency they do not issue, and borrow euros from others via bond sales. If they do not collect enough tax revenues they can become insolvent, defaulting on these bonds. To resolve this crisis, Europe must either split once again into individual countries or zones where the fiscal (spending) authority controls the currency, or unify spending and economic policy at the European level, becoming in essence the United States of Europe. Deficit hysterics impressionistically or calculatingly overgeneralize the effects of the Eurozone’s flawed currency, attempting to stampede policymakers in the UK, the US and elsewhere into greater fiscal austerity, causing gratuitous social misery and endangering our collective future.
Epicenter of Deficit Hysteria: Wall Street
While a number of right-wing billionaires outside the financial industry, including the Koch Brothers, and other anti-Keynesian, anti-New Deal right-wing political operatives have contributed heavily to the deficit scare, the nucleus of the deficit hysteria campaign in the US has emerged from Wall Street and the political pressure groups and think tanks that some financial tycoons have financed. Most prominently, the Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson on the Republican side and the former Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton, Robert Rubin from Citibank on the Democratic side have both been pushing the line through various front groups, acolytes, and paid pundits over the last 20 years that there is a long-term deficit and public debt problem in the United States.
As outlined above, the deficit hysteric account of government spending and macroeconomics more generally is financial and economic fiction packaged as fact. These wealthy and powerful men have spun off think tanks and mentored disciples to (mindlessly) parrot their thinking that there is a combination of an “entitlement” problem and a debt problem for the U.S. government, due to social spending on the rising number of retirees relative to working age population. Unlike their far right-wing allies from outside finance, identified only with the Republican Party or rightward, the financial industry deficit hysterics have been able to straddle both major US political parties.
On the one hand, the cover story for why these extremely wealthy men would be concerned about the pittances paid to retirees is that they (claim to) “know money” and can “do the math”, which, it is supposed, is part of the skill-set of a “finance guy”. However, before the deficit hysteric scare reached its fever pitch, Congress and the Congressional Budget Office had already “done the math” and allowed for much of the growth in retirement spending by raising Social Security taxes, which is the current accounting mechanism (actually an inflation-dampening mechanism) for federal spending on retirement. Even this method of accounting by Congress and the CBO is somewhat superfluous in that, the only constraint on what one would pay retirees or how one would care for them are the amount of real resources (labor and material) which one would devote to them as opposed to devoted to goods and services delivered to the under-65 population. In other words there is no financial constraint for the federal government issuing a fiat currency to limit the dollar amounts of old-age pensions, just real constraints mediated by politics and the differing opinions that people have about where real resources should be directed. As to using a Social Security tax as an accounting mechanism, it may be a good idea to dampen the inflationary pull of federal spending in the economy by flexible linkage with some form of taxation, preferably not via a regressive payroll tax, but an exact balance of taxation and spending is not required nor, in most situations in the accounts of a monetarily sovereign nation state, desirable.
Projected increases in Medicare spending have mostly to do with the for-profit American healthcare system being the most expensive in the world; deficit hysterics have no solutions to health care cost inflation, as their solutions inevitably “deal in” the inefficient private health insurance industry.
Wall Street has a deep interest-based antagonism to Social Security and other direct public provision of financial help to the population that “disintermediates” them and the private insurance industry (cuts them out) of the role as lenders and providers of private insurance products. The business of Wall Street, i.e. the financial sector, is either managing real risk-related constraints symbolized by monetary amounts, enabling individuals, new enterprises or existing enterprises to take on new risks for potential common financial benefit, or imposing often arbitrary financial constraints upon households, corporations and governments and then collecting fees and interest from dealing with or managing those arbitrary or even superfluous financial constraints.
One of the “allies” of the business of the financial sector is market volatility itself, which creates financial risk that then needs to be managed. The unquestioning worship of markets within the finance sector, business commentary and most sectors of academic economics is in part conditioned by the central, income-generating role of financial markets’ own volatility in generating income for financial intermediaries. The mystical veil around markets serves the interests of the now over-powerful and over-wealthy finance-sector patrons of various social institutions, including academic economics. The ideology and current business model of the finance sector, eager to grow beyond its current, already expansive, bounds, is then to ensconce people, businesses, governments and academic economics within the self-reinforcing world of market volatility, market worship and private debt dependence, so as to collect more management fees and interest and exert political-economic control over their business, which means, if they are not held in check, control over almost the entire economy and society.
The already bloated and over-powerful financial sector then has a business interest in increasing the scope of the following financial instruments: private debt issuance, parceling tradable shares (equity) of assets from which fees can be collected for their “management” and in injecting volatility via markets into existing financial instruments, thereby increasing opportunities for industry profit via arbitrage, increasing consumer risk and therefore fees and dependence upon their “expertise”. It also has an interest in curtailing the scope of direct provision of financial and social insurance products to the public by fiat-currency issuing governments.
In terms of provision of basic needs and basic financial security, the inevitabilities of life, a monetarily sovereign government can offer a superior product, which if applied to an economically efficient extent would substantially shrink the market for the riskier products of Wall Street and the FIRE sector. There will always be a tension and competition between risk-driven and basic need-driven financial products but under the current neoliberal orthodoxy the former is considered morally and economically superior to the latter, a proposition which is not well supported by either reasoned moral argument or macro-economic reality.