Whistleblowers say USAID’s IG removed critical details from public reports

October 23, 2014

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By Scott Higham and Steven Rich
The Washington Post

After the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the U.S. Agency for International Development hired several non­governmental organizations to set up pro-democracy programs in Egypt — even though they were not registered to work in the country.

Less than a year later, the Egyptian government charged 43 NGO workers with operating illegally. Sixteen of them were Americans, including the son of then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The Americans were freed in March 2012 after USAID secretly paid the Egyptian government $4.6 million in “bail” money.

That May, USAID’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) completed a confidential draft audit of the program that questioned the wisdom of the program and the legality of using the money to post bail.

But when the inspector general’s office publicly issued its final audit report five months later, those findings and other critical conclusions had been removed, according to internal audit documents obtained by The Washington Post. What was once a 21-page report had been reduced to nine.

In recent interviews, eight current auditors and employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution complained about negative findings being stricken from audits between 2011 and 2013. In some cases, the findings were put into confidential “management letters” and financial documents, which are sent to high-ranking USAID officials but are generally kept from public view.

The auditors said the office has increasingly become a defender of the agency under acting inspector general Michael G. Carroll. Some auditors said Carroll did not want to create controversy as he awaited Senate confirmation to become the permanent inspector general.

On Wednesday, Carroll withdrew his nomination, which had been pending for 16 months. Carroll declined to discuss his decision. A career government employee, he has been with the office since 2000 and took over as acting inspector general in 2011.

“As much as I have enjoyed the latter experience, it has not been without its challenges and I will be withdrawing my name from consideration for the Inspector General position,” he said in an e-mail to his staff. “In reflecting back on the past several years, there are clearly some things I would have done differently, but I, nevertheless, believe that we have made a great deal of progress as an organization.”

Carroll also noted that the Senate has not acted to confirm more than 160 other presidential nominees. “With upcoming elections, little progress is expected through the balance of the year,” he said. He told his staff that he plans to remain in the office as a deputy inspector general.

Carroll’s withdrawal comes at a time of growing criticism from whistleblowers who have been in contact with Senate investigators and Post reporters.

“The office is a watchdog not doing its job,” said Darren Roman, an audit supervisor at the inspector general’s office who retired in 2012 after a 23-year career. “It’s just easier for upper management to go along to get along. The message is: ‘Don’t make waves, don’t report any problems.’ ”

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said he was concerned after his office looked into complaints by a half-dozen whistleblowers who say their audits were altered.

“You don’t hardly ever see this with other IGs,” Coburn recently told The Post. “You certainly don’t see it to this extent. This is the worst we’ve seen.”

Carroll’s chief of staff, Justin H. Brown, told The Post that the office has changed its policy and started putting management letters on its Web site in April. He said it was not the intent of the office to conceal information.

“I think there was a recognition of that perception,” Brown said.

The allegations of improperly altered audit reports were independently examined last year by the National Labor Relations Board’s inspector general under the auspices of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, a group within the executive branch.

Brown said the confidential examination, which concluded in May 2013, “did not substantiate the allegations” and recommended that “no disciplinary or administrative action be taken.”

NLRB Inspector General David P. Berry said through a spokeswoman: “We cannot confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.”

Coburn questioned the thoroughness of the NLRB report.

“I don’t think they’re cleared at all,” said Coburn, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees all federal inspectors general. “The people who actually knew what was going on were never actually interviewed. This is the first time in my career that I have some doubts about the integrity of one of these investigations.”

Brown said the inspector general’s office has recently changed the way audits are conducted. He said that in the past the office placed too much “emphasis on the timeliness of audits,” and that staff shortages at different levels exacerbated the situation. He said auditors now have more time to conduct their work.

“The narrative that this is a headquarters concealment enterprise is simply not true,” Brown said.

Negative references cut

The USAID inspector general is responsible for ensuring that the billions of dollars the agency devotes to foreign assistance programs each year are spent wisely. The agency hires nongovernmental organizations and private contractors to carry out its projects, which include improving medical facilities, stabilizing economies, and rebuilding war-wrecked nations such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Post obtained draft versions of 12 audits by the inspector general’s office, covering projects from the Caribbean to Pakistan to the Republic of Georgia between 2011 and 2013. The drafts are confidential and rarely become public. The Post compared the drafts with the final reports published by the inspector general’s office and interviewed former and current employees. E-mails and other internal records also were reviewed.

The Post tracked changes in the language that auditors used to describe USAID and its mission offices. The analysis found that more than 400 negative references were removed from the audits between the draft and final versions.

In one audit, the number of negative references fell from 113 to 61; in another, from 170 to 13.

As a rule, inspectors general try to ensure that their reports are accurate and reflect the perspectives of the agencies and private contractors they examine. It is not unusual for audits to change between the draft and final reports, but whistleblowers say the changes have gone too far.

Speaking in general, Earl E. Devaney, who served as inspector general of the Interior Department, said all audits go through an editing process, but the changes should not materially affect the meaning of the audit.

“I never allowed the true meaning, the essence of the points that were being made by the auditors, to be changed, unless they were wrong,” Devaney said.

Complaints that information has been concealed to shield government officials from embarrassment are not uncommon. Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security’s acting inspector general stepped down following allegations that he altered and delayed negative reports about the Secret Service. Last year, the Pentagon’s inspector general was accused of altering a report about a leak of classified information to the makers of the film “Zero Dark Thirty,” which depicted the intelligence operations leading to the May 2011 raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed.

At the USAID inspector general’s office, several auditors and employees told The Post that their authority has been undermined, and some have hired attorneys to file whistleblower and employment discrimination claims. Auditors stationed in different offices around the world have come forward with similar complaints.

For example, in October 2010, USAID launched a program to reduce waste and fraud in the nearly $1 billion in U.S. assistance to Pakistan. USAID hired three contractors to help monitor the spending and train Pakistanis to manage the money.

In a draft audit of the program written in 2012, auditors found that $32 million of the program’s $44 million budget went to “fringe benefits, consultants and travel.” Auditors also found that one contractor hired to provide training billed the agency $954,000 for “expenses such as salaries, fringe benefits, and travel” but did not train anyone for the 16 months of the contract.

One key section of the audit was titled “Program Is Not Being Efficiently or Effectively Implemented.” The section detailed how the USAID mission office in Pakistan increased spending on the project, even though there were few or no reports documenting whether the program was working.

Those findings and that section were removed from the draft report, along with other negative findings, and placed in a confidential management letter. A finding that the auditors were not provided with detailed records of the spending was also placed in the management letter. It was sent to the USAID mission director in Pakistan on Sept. 30, 2012 — the day the final audit was publicly released by the inspector general’s office.

The inspector general defended the changes, saying in a letter to Coburn that the auditor’s overall assertion that the program was ineffective could not be supported by evidence of “cause, and effect.”

The inspector general said it was more appropriate to put those findings in a management letter.

“This approach enabled OIG to bring the matters to the attention of mission management without requiring the significant additional investment in time required to rewrite the finding,” the inspector general said.

“That’s ridiculous,” Coburn said. “The finding shouldn’t have been removed, and it should have been a glaring recommendation that said, ‘Hey, here’s where Americans are spending their money.’ ”

Brown, the inspector general’s chief of staff, acknowledged in a recent interview that his office could have spent more time on the audit, tracking down leads and developing information that could have been included in the final public report.

“Looking back on this, there may have been opportunities to constitute a finding,” Brown said. “There does seem to be some material that’s worth working with there.”

Glenn A. Fine, who served as the Justice Department’s inspector general from 2000 to 2011, said he used management letters only in emergency situations, when information needed to be transferred quickly.

“I think it’s very important for reports and findings to be public,” Fine said. “When you shine a spotlight on problems, management has more incentive to make changes. Some management might say, ‘Give the report to me and we’ll make the changes.’ But that is not consistent with human nature or the way things normally operate in Washington.”

The USAID inspector general’s office also used a management letter after examining an agricultural program in Haiti in 2012. The $128 million project was designed to stabilize deforested landscapes, which are prone to deadly mudslides. When the final audit was released in April 2012, two of the seven critical findings from the draft report had been removed and placed in the management letter.

One removed finding said that revisions to the contract, expanding the scope of the work after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, may have violated federal contracting regulations. Another criticized USAID for failing to define what should be delivered under the contract.

Gweneth Hughes, the auditor who wrote the draft audit, complained to Jon Chasson, at the time the agency’s regional inspector general for Central America.

Hughes called the removal of the findings “arbitrary,” according to internal e-mails reviewed by The Post. She said a legal counsel for the office, who was not named in the e-mail, agreed that the findings should have stayed in the audit.

But she was resigned to the worst.

“Do with it what horrors you decided on,” Hughes wrote.

“Yeah, it’s a horror,” Chasson replied.

Chasson said a management letter had one benefit for the inspector general’s office: “We don’t get to participate in another round (or three) of Endless Drama.”

Hughes responded that her report was being “censored from the public,” the first time that had happened in her career.

Chasson said that he was joking in his e-mail to Hughes and that the outcome was a positive one because the management letter kept the office from wasting time on “minor matters.”

Hughes did not respond to an e-mail from The Post seeking comment.

Coburn said that the Haiti contract was “out of scope” and poorly defined, and that those findings should have been made public, not put into a management letter.

In response to Coburn, the inspector general’s office said the findings removed from the draft were “minor matters that could be appropriately addressed in a management letter.”

Changes in Egypt report

In one case, the inspector general’s office removed negative findings from draft reports and a standard performance audit and put them into confidential financial documents, which are not generally made available to the public. A key finding about the $4.6 million payment to free the NGO workers in Egypt was removed from the performance audit and placed into financial documents.

On Dec. 29, 2011, Egyptian security forces raided the offices of several of the NGOs funded by the U.S. government. They included two groups with powerful Washington ties: the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI).

Both groups are chartered by Congress to promote democratic reforms overseas and had worked in Egypt before. The IRI’s program in Egypt was headed by Sam LaHood, the transportation secretary’s son. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) serves as the institute’s chairman.

Egyptian authorities charged the NGO workers with operating without licenses, receiving unauthorized foreign funding and engaging in unsanctioned political activities. They were banned from leaving the country and faced five years in prison if convicted.

The Obama administration threatened to cut off $1.3 billion in military assistance to Egypt. Ray LaHood told the Wall Street Journal at the time that his son was being held hostage.

“They’re playing hardball and they want to get something out of it,” he said.

On March 1, 2012, the Americans were permitted to leave the country after USAID transferred $4.6 million from a local currency trust fund to the Egyptian government as “bail.” USAID’s connection to the money was not disclosed at the time.

“This was paid by the NGOs,” a State Department spokeswoman said that day.

On May 6, the USAID inspector general’s office completed a draft audit of the incident, internal records show.

On June 7, Esther Park, USAID’s regional inspector general in Cairo, sent an e-mail to James Charlifue, who was then Carroll’s chief of staff. She included a copy of the draft audit.

“I’m sending this report for your review because it contains controversial information regarding the use of trust funds and the registration status of grantees,” Park wrote. “Mission staff have noted their concern with publicizing some of the information contained in this report because it may affect U.S.-Egypt relations and the ongoing NGO trial of U.S. grant employees. It’s my understanding that Ambassador [Anne] Patterson of U.S. Embassy/Cairo met with Mike Carroll last month regarding these issues.”

Some of the information regarding the trust funds ended up being removed from the final audit, which was published on Oct. 22.

In a statement issued by the inspector general’s office, Carroll said he played no role in the removal of findings from the audit.

“The only discussion I had with Ambassador Patterson was to convey that we were not going to classify the report,” Carroll said. “At no time did I ever take any steps to remove any findings or recommendations from the report. I left those determinations to audit professionals in our organization.”

Several findings were condensed; entire sections disappeared. They included a section titled “USAID/Egypt Borrowed Local Currency From the Trust Fund for Bail Expenses.”

That section raised questions about the legality of using the $4.6 million to free the NGO workers. Also deleted were concerns that the use of trust fund money for “bail payments” could set a bad precedent for USAID.

A USAID deputy inspector general said in a recent interview that the State Department wanted to keep the entire audit from public view. “They wanted the report classified,” said Catherine Trujillo, who reviewed the Egypt audit before the final version was released. Trujillo said she decided to remove some findings on the trust fund and refer them to the inspector general’s financial audit division because it had the necessary expertise.

She said that division discovered that USAID had few policies regulating how money from local currency trust funds can be spent. She said that discovery is contained in the financial audit documents concerning the Egypt program. They have not been made public.

Alice Crites contributed to this report. Kaley Belval, Moriah Balingit, Mel Jones and Miranda Strong also contributed through an investigative reporting program at American University.

Scott Higham is a member of the investigations unit of The Washington Post.

Steven Rich is the database editor for the investigative unit at The Washington Post. While at The Post, he’s worked on investigations involving tax liens, the NSA, veterans issues, cartels and government oversight.

Canada PM vows crackdown after capital shocked by fatal attacks

October 23, 2014

OTTAWA Thu Oct 23, 2014 3:22am EDT

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Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a nationally televised address on CBC in this still image taken from video in Ottawa, October 22, 2014. Credit: Reuters/CBC/Pool

(Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed to redouble the country’s fight against “terrorist organizations” abroad after a reported convert to Islam rampaged through parliament, shocking the usually tranquil capital city.

Shortly after a gunman shot dead a soldier at the National War Memorial in central Ottawa on Wednesday morning, a man armed with a shotgun burst into the Center Block of Parliament, pursued by police. He died after dozens of shots rang out a few yards away from where Harper was talking to his legislators.

Ottawa police said it was too early to say whether one person was responsible for both attacks. The killing of the Canadian soldier was the second this week with a possible link to Islamist militants.

Harper said it was too early to know whether the gunman had accomplices but insisted Canada would never be intimidated.

An Ottawa officer runs with his weapon drawn outside Parliament. (AP)

“This will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts and those of our national security agencies to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats,” he said in a televised address to the nation late on Wednesday.

A convert to Islam on Monday ran over two Canadian soldiers with his car, killing one, near Montreal.

Both attacks took place after Canada announced this month it would send six jets to take part in air strikes against Islamic State fighters who have taken over parts of Iraq and Syria.

Harper said Canada would now “redouble our efforts to work with our allies around the world and fight against the terrorist organizations who brutalize those in other countries with the hope of bringing their savagery to our shores”.

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said Canada’s deployment to Iraq would go on unimpeded.

BOOSTING POWERS

The two attacks in quick succession could push the Canadian government to pause and rethink before introducing a planned bill to change the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act, said Wesley Wark, a professor at the University of Ottawa, who is an expert on national security and intelligence issues.

The bill to boost the powers of Canada’s main spy agency, CSIS, was slated to be introduced in parliament this week.

“What the government is now confronting is a choice with going forward on whatever its original, probably small-scale changes might have been, or sitting back and thinking about whether there is something more that needs to be done,” he said.

Canadian police were investigating a man named Michael Zehaf-Bibeau as a suspect in Wednesday’s attack, said a source familiar with the matter.

Court documents show he previously faced a robbery charge in Vancouver and multiple drug-related charges in Montreal.

U.S. officials said they had been advised the dead gunman in Wednesday’s shootings was also a Canadian convert to Islam.

Officials said Parliament would reopen at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) on Thursday.

Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement tweeted that he would convene a regularly scheduled meeting on Thursday and added “#terroristsbedamned”.

Clement and hundreds of legislators had spent about 10 hours locked up in the Parliament as police searched the building.

Ottawa police warned the public to expect an increased presence by officers in coming days in the national capital.

(Additional reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa, Euan Rocha in Toronto and Julie Gordon in Vancouver; Editing by Robert Birsel)

China’s Communist Party weighs boosting rule of law

October 23, 2014

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Xie Dezhong, 65, a farmer from southwest China, holds a homemade banner about the death in 2012 of his son Qiang, 22, a case that China’s Communist Party-controlled courts refused to handle.(Photo: Calum MacLeod, USA TODAY)

By Calum MacLeod, USA TODAY

BEIJING — Farmer Xie Dezhong and his wife left home at 3 a.m. to slip past the men watching their place in southwest China.

Despite warnings from police, the couple boarded a Beijing-bound train in search of justice for their dead son — and to crash a meeting of the Communist Party’s elite this week.

That group — 205 members of the ruling party’s Central Committee — is holding its most important meeting of the year. Its agenda goes to the heart of what Xie and his wife seek: a society based on the rule of law rather than the whims of party and government officials.

China’s notion of rule of law differs from that in the West. The meeting comes as China’s rulers seek a legal basis for government action and to enhance regime legitimacy, without permitting challenges to its authority. Yet there is also pressure to improve the court system because citizens, including Xie, sense they have no real recourse in a growing range of conflicts.

Announcements expected Thursday at the end of the closed-door session that began Monday should reveal how much legal reform is acceptable to the party leadership under President Xi Jinping. Sensitive issues include moves toward judicial independence and the constitution’s civil and political rights that citizens are frequently denied.

“China is a one-party system, and all the courts are under the party’s control,” said Xie, 65, who has failed to persuade any court to file a case to investigate the death of his son two years ago. His son, Qiang, 22, died in the city of Chongqing after a dispute over the salary he was owed as a security guard. Police said it was suicide, but his parents say it was a murder covered up by a real estate magnate with ties to city hall.

“The police are not investigating our case, they just want to control us,” Xie said. “Officials come to our home and put pressure on us, saying, ‘Don’t cause trouble, we need social stability.’ They never talk about resolving our case. China has laws but doesn’t implement them. It’s all rule by man, not rule of law.”

China’s state-run media praise the party for its “landmark” emphasis on legal policy — the first time rule of law has been the theme of the annual session — but highlight the challenge of actually achieving any change.

“An obsolete ‘above-the-law’ privilege mentality remains among some party and government officials, with unchecked power turning into a hotbed for corruption,” the official Xinhua News Agency said this week.

Hong Kong’s riot police use pepper spray on peaceful “civil disobedience” pro-democracy protesters on September 28, 2014. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

China Daily warned that “unless the overwhelming majority of party and government officials not only respect the law but follow it when making decisions, governing the country by the rule of law will amount to little but lip service.”

Foreign companies watch for signs that the party will curb the influence of local officials on court cases. “Foreign investors have an apparent lack of trust in the Chinese judicial system,” Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, told the Global Times newspaper.

To ensure security around this week’s meeting and to guard against any disturbance, Beijing mobilized SWAT teams and thousands of seniors acting as neighborhood watch patrols. Xie hoped to scatter leaflets nearby about his two-year hunt for justice. “I may be injured or killed, but I will persist,” he said.

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Finding Light in China’s Darkness

By Yan Lianke
The New York Times

When I look at contemporary China, I see a nation that is thriving yet distorted, developing yet mutated. I see corruption, absurdity, disorder and chaos. Every day, something occurs that lies outside ordinary reason and logic. A system of morality and a respect for humanity that was developed over several millenniums is unraveling.

Life is gloomy and depressing. Everyone is waiting for something dreadful to happen. This uneasy and fearful expectation has produced a collective sense of anxiety.

No one can tell us where the nation’s speeding locomotive of economic development will end up. No one can tell us what price should be paid for human feelings, human nature and human dignity, now that money and power have replaced socialism and capitalism. What is the price for abandoning the ideals of democracy, freedom, law and morality?

Read the rest:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/23/opinion/Yan-Lianke-finding-light-in-chinas-darkness.html?hpw&rref=opinion&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=HpHedThumbWell&module=well-region&region=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well&_r=0

Family of transgender Filipino breach compound where U.S. Marine suspected of killing her held

October 23, 2014

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Marilou Laude, sister of murdered Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude, is helped by Jennifer's boyfriend Marc Susselbeck (in black), as she climbs the gate of the military facility where Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton is being detained in Manila on Oct. 22, 2014.

Marilou Laude, sister of murdered Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude, is helped by Jennifer’s boyfriend Marc Susselbeck (in black), as she climbs the gate of the military facility where Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton is being detained in Manila on Oct. 22, 2014. NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images

By Jim Gomez, Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines – A U.S. Marine suspected in the gruesome killing of a transgender Filipino was flown Wednesday from his warship to the Philippine military’s main camp, where he will continue to be guarded by fellow Marines, in a compromise that eased a looming irritant over his custody.

The emotional case involving Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton and Jennifer Laude, whose former name was Jeffrey, came as the Philippines and the United States were strengthening ties with the recent signing of a defence accord that allows greater U.S. access to Philippine military camps. The accord would help Washington’s bid to reassert its presence in Asia and Manila to deter what it calls China’s aggressive moves to reinforce its claims in contested South China Sea territories.

Hours after the U.S. Marine’s transfer, Laude’s mother, two sisters, German boyfriend and the family’s lawyer — trailed by a throng of journalists and TV cameramen — managed to come close to the military camp compound, where Pemberton was being held, and demanded that they be let in.

“This is the family of the woman he killed. Come here,” family lawyer Harry Roque yelled from outside the locked gate. “Mr. American, how come you haven’t even condoled?”

When the Filipino guards refused to open the gate, one of Laude’s sisters and German boyfriend climbed over the fence into the compound but were prevented by the guards from getting close to Pemberton’s van a few meters away. Other military officials arrived and Laude’s family and lawyer later left.

Left-wing activists and nationalist Filipinos have cited the custody provision of the accord — which says American military suspects shall remain in U.S. custody until legal processes are completed — as proof that the accord undermines the sovereignty of the Philippines, which was an American colony until 1946.

Pemberton’s transfer by helicopter to Manila was agreed by the U.S. and the Philippines, military chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang told a news conference.

AP Photo/Aaron Favila

 U.S. Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton (wearing helmet), a suspect in the gruesome killing of a transgender Filipino woman, arrives at the Camp Aguinaldo military headquarters north of Manila, Philippines, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014. AP Photo/Aaron Favila

The 19-year-old Marine, who arrived in handcuffs, was detained in an air-conditioned container van with grilled windows, directly guarded by U.S. Marines while Philippine military police will be posted outside the fenced compound, Catapang said.

President Benigno Aquino III welcomed the U.S. decision to transfer the suspect, telling a news forum with foreign correspondents that the Americans “are responding to our needs and our sensitivities.”

Appearing before a Senate foreign relations committee hearing on Laude’s killing, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippine government would never have agreed if U.S. officials decided to detain Pemberton at the American embassy in Manila, where a Marine rape suspect was held years ago, describing such a prospect as “totally unacceptable.”

While the suspect has been moved to a Philippine camp, he remains in U.S. custody, the U.S. Marine Corps said, citing the Visiting Forces Agreement, which stipulates treatment of American military personnel suspected of breaking law.

AP Photo / Aaron Favila

 In this Saturday Oct. 18, 2014 photo, a Filipino transgender who prefers to be named Alexis talks beside a picture of housemate Jennifer Laude at their home in Olongapo, northern Philippines. AP Photo / Aaron Favila

The Marine Corps takes allegations of illegal acts by its forces seriously, Marine Corps Pacific spokesman Col. Brad Bartelt said, but added: “It is important to remember that anyone accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that Washington seeks no special privilege for the suspect but only protection of his rights.

Philippine and U.S. authorities engaged in a high-profile custody battle over another U.S. Marine, Daniel Smith, who was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison on charges of raping a Filipino woman in 2005. A Philippine appeals court overturned his conviction in 2009, allowing him to leave the country amid anti-U.S. protests.

In the latest case, Philippine police and witnesses said Pemberton and Laude, 26, met at a disco bar in Olongapo city on Oct. 11, then went to a motel room where Laude’s body was later found. She had apparently been drowned in the toilet bowl.

The amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu, where Pemberton initially was detained, had been ordered to stay in Subic during the investigation. But on Wednesday, U.S. Pacific Commander Adm. Samuel Locklear cleared the Peleliu to leave the Philippines.

Related

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U.S. Marine’s Arrest in Killing in Philippines May Test Ties

The New York Times

MANILA — A United States Marine accused in the gruesome killing of a Filipino woman was placed in custody Wednesday on a Philippine military base, in a case that some analysts say could have implications for the two countries’ military relationship.

The Marine, Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, 19, has been identified by the Philippine police as the prime suspect in the killing of Jennifer Laude, 26. Formal charges against Private Pemberton were still being prepared, a prosecutor said.

Some Philippine senators cited the case in calling for a review of the longstanding agreement setting the rules for allowing American military forces to be in the country, including the handling of criminal cases involving them. But the case could also affect a new agreement that would give the United States more latitude in temporarily stationing ships, aircraft, equipment and personnel in its former colony.

The deal is considered crucial to the United States’ efforts to solidify its influence in Asia as China’s power grows. The start of the agreement has already been delayed until the Philippine Supreme Court rules on a case questioning its constitutionality.

Read the rest:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/23/world/asia/arrest-of-us-marine-in-killing-of-filipino-may-test-military-ties.html?_r=0

Protesters outside the United States embassy in Manila on Wednesday. Credit Dennis M. Sabangan/European Pressphoto Agency

China’s Sea Disputes: Rule of Law or Might Makes Right?

October 23, 2014

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By Richard Javad Heydarian
The National Interest

In a dramatic display of strategic naiveté, the Philippines decided (early-October) to suspend the repair and upgrade of its age-old airstrip on the Spratly island of Thitu (Pagasa to the Filipinos), among the biggest and most prized land features in the South China Sea, which can generate its own 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The airstrip is critical to the Armed Forces of Philippines’ (AFP) ability to project power and defend its maritime claims beyond its immediate territorial waters.

For years, the Philippines has not fielded even a single modern fighter aircraft; South Korea is expected to deliver twelve FA 50 lead-in fighter jets (worth $415.7 million) in the coming years, while the Philippine Navy has gradually beefed up its miniscule, antiquated fleet. Thanks to the strategic foresight of the late Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos (1966-1986), who recognized the importance of establishing permanent, defensible structures over contested features in the South China Sea, the Philippines has managed to exercise effective and continuous sovereignty over the island, which hosts a permanent civilian community and boasts its own mayor. But the advantage has been slipping away.

Manila tried to justify the controversial move by emphasizing the (supposed) importance of maintaining “the moral high ground” amid the country’s pending legal complaint, at a special Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague, against China’s expansive maritime claims, as well as increasingly aggressive posturing within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). In short, the Philippines has prioritized an inherently uncertain legal maneuver at the expense of investing in tangible mechanisms, which can actually protect the areas under its control.

Meanwhile, Manila and Washington have faced renewed legal and political obstacles to the implementation of the recently concluded Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which seeks to upgrade the U.S.-Philippine military alliance amid rising Chinese assertiveness. Other claimant states, from Vietnam to Taiwan, have accelerated their efforts at fortifying their position in Asia’s emerging maritime battlefront. Even nonclaimant states, such as Indonesia, have stepped up their efforts to counter what they see as a “real threat” (from China) to their maritime domain.

Strategic Innocence

As Jay Batongbacal, a leading maritime expert in the Philippines, recently told me, the Philippines’ case at The Hague, contrary to the position of some Filipino officials, “is not a slam dunk”. China has consistently refused to recognize the jurisdiction of any international body over territorial delimitation and sovereignty-related issues. No wonder, Beijing has adamantly rejected the whole arbitration process, accusing the Philippines of unnecessarily provoking a crisis by internationalizing what it sees as an essentially bilateral territorial dispute, which should be resolved primarily through diplomatic channels.

With China boycotting the whole arbitration process, and refusing to even clarify the exact coordinates of its notorious “nine-dash-line” doctrine, it is far from certain whether the Philippines can expect an expeditious, conclusive adjudication, which could tangibly support its claims in the South China Sea. Even if the Philippines manages to secure a favorable legal outcome, China can simply ignore it. After all, the arbitral tribunal is neither designed to conclusively settle sovereignty-related issues, nor does it possess a compliant-enforcement mechanism to ensure the proper implementation of its final decisions. Ultimately, China is more interested in de facto—rather than de jure—domination of the Western Pacific, which it treats as its natural backyard.

At best, a favorable outcome would simply enhance the Philippines’ “moral case” against a rising maritime power—China (which has, so far, withstood external diplomatic pressure on issues that it considers “core interests,” from the maritime disputes in the Western Pacific to the intensifying anti-Beijing movements in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan and Tibet).

In a nutshell, the Philippines’ legal strategy makes sense so long as it is part and parcel of a broader strategy to protect the country’s maritime claims amid China’s day-to-day operations aimed at changing facts on the ground. Theoretically, it would have been best if the Philippines leveraged the threat of filing a legal complaint—rather than actually filing it—to bring China to the negotiating table, or, alternatively, jointly submitted its case along with like-minded states, such as Vietnam. But the legal maneuver has effectively become the Philippines’ primary weapon against an increasingly militarized maritime dispute with China.

Since the end of Cold War, the Philippines has been progressively overshadowed by its rivals across the disputed waters. As the former Philippine national security advisor Roilo Golez recently told me, “[For long] the AFP concentrated too much on internal security…[But] the security environment changed in the 1990s. The leadership should have seen China’s move towards the South China Sea [earlier].” Efforts at modernizing the AFP fell short of addressing the emerging threat within the Philippines’ EEZ, because as Golez points out, newly allocated funds “were [channeled to] minor items like field communications equipment, and night vision equipment,” rather than “ the procurement of big ticket items like multirole fighters and Navy assets”, which are crucial to maritime defense.

Up Time

The Philippines has sought to compensate for its vulnerability, which became patently obvious after China wrested control of the Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef in 1994, by inviting U.S. forces back to the country. The United States dramatically reduced its military presence after the termination of the U.S.-Philippine Military Bases Agreement in 1991. China wasted no time exploiting the temporary power vacuum that the departure of American forces from Subic and Clark bases in the Philippines created. The Obama administration, however, has refused to clarify whether Washington will come to the rescue of the Philippines if a war with China erupts over the disputed features.

Meanwhile, the two allies have struggled to fully upgrade their military alliance, since constitutional restriction over the establishment of permanent U.S. military bases in the country have prevented the immediate implementation of the EDCA, which is ostensibly designed to enhance the Philippines’ minimum deterrence capability against China’s maritime designs. In recent days, U.S.-Philippine relations have been tested by the public outrage over the alleged killing of a Filipino citizen by a U.S. Marine. The incident has rekindled age-old concerns over criminal abuses by foreign troops. Nationalist figures and movements have also stepped up their opposition to what they see as a violation of Philippine sovereignty by the presence of American troops on Philippine soil. Leading Senators such as Miriam Defensor-Santiago have called for the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to be scrapped, while others have called for a review of the bilateral agreement. Criminal jurisdiction continues to be a sensitive political issue in the Philippines, since the 1998 VFA stipulates that the host country does not have full jurisdiction over criminal cases involving American troops. The alleged killer is currently in the custody of American authorities (aboard the warship USS Peleliu) in Subic, who have sought to dampen the political fallout of the incident by promising a full and thorough investigation.

With China stepping up its construction activities—having built a military airstrip across the Woody Island (Paracels) and building a similar facility on the Fiery Cross (Spratly)—other rival claimant states, including Taiwan, have fortified their position. For instance, Taiwan is building a $100 million port on Itu Abu (Tai Ping to Taiwanese), which already has a well-maintained military airstrip. The new port, expected to finish by 2015, could accommodate coast guard cutters and heavy naval frigates. Taiwan is also upgrading the airstrip to accommodate its Hercules C-130 transport planes, while finishing an ambitious project of surveying the entire South China Sea through high-resolution satellite imagery. This would give Taiwan a more complete picture of the developments across disputed features, providing valuable intelligence for legal and military contingencies.

Unlike the Philippines, practically all other South China Sea claimant states have maintained robust, high-level dialogue with Beijing. Chinese president Xi Jinping has yet to hold a formal dialogue with his Filipino counterpart, Benigno Aquino, who is entering his final years in office. And there are no signs that such an event will take place anytime soon. Interestingly though, Japan, a major strategic partner of the Philippines, has vigorously pushed for a dialogue between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Xi. Reports suggest that Abe has agreed to acknowledge the disputed nature of the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in the East China Sea in order to secure a historic meeting with the Chinese leader. The Philippines will carefully follow the Abe-Xi meeting, since any rapprochement between the two Asian powers could have implications for the Philippines’ efforts to secure maximum external support against China.

To resolve the recent oil-rig crisis, Vietnam engaged in a proactive diplomatic offensive, culminating in the visit of Vietnam’s Politburo member Le Hong Anh to Beijing in late-August. Since then, bilateral tensions have subsided, with both countries seeking to enhance existing crisis-management mechanisms to avoid a similar crisis in the future. Back in 2012, the foreign ministries of both countries established a hotline, which covers a comprehensive set of issues including maritime disputes. In 2013, Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and China’s Ministry of Agriculture also set up a hotline to prevent risks and disputes concerning fishery resources. Most recently, the two countries, according to Vietnamese officials, have also agreed to establish a hotline between their defense ministries. Based on recent conversations with a Vietnamese diplomat, it is clear that the real challenge is to operationalize these mechanisms during an actual crisis: during the mid-2014 oil-rig crisis, which sparked huge protests across Vietnam and brought the two Communist countries dangerously close to an armed conflict, there was limited utilization of the existing hotlines. It remains to be seen how the new reported hotline between the two defense ministries will prevent a similar crisis, but it is clear that Vietnam is committed to using all possible diplomatic instruments to avoid another major showdown with China.

With its recent acquisition of two Russian-made, state-of-the-art Kilo-class submarines, Vietnam has also beefed up its minimum deterrence capabilities. Hanoi has also welcomed Washington’s decision to relax existing restrictions on arms exports to Vietnam, which could aid Vietnam’s efforts at developing its civilian law-enforcement capabilities.

Given the expansive nature of Chinese maritime claims and paramilitary patrols, Indonesia has also accelerated its efforts at streamlining its maritime policy, under a proposed Sea Security Agency (Bakamla), while expanding defense spending to transform the country into a “global maritime nexus.” Indonesia, which has openly criticized China’s “nine-dash-line” doctrine, is heavily concerned with Beijing’s posturing near the hydrocarbon-rich Natuna Islands.

Overall, it is clear that China’s rivals in the Western Pacific have hedged their bets by rapidly developing their maritime capabilities, while astutely maintaining critical diplomatic channels with the leadership in Beijing. The Philippines, meanwhile, seems to have placed almost all of its strategic eggs in the (uncertain) legal basket.

Richard Javad Heydarian is an Assistant Professor in international affairs and political science at De La Salle University, and a policy advisor at the Philippine House of Representatives. As a specialist on Asian geopolitics and economic affairs, he has written for or interviewed by Al Jazeera, Asia Times, BBC, Bloomberg, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Diplomat, The National Interest, and USA TODAY, among other leading international publications. He is the author of How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Middle East Uprisings (Zed, London), and the forthcoming book The Philippines: The US, China, and the Struggle for Asia’s Pivot State (Zed, 2015). You can follow him on Twitter:@Richeydarian.

http://nationalinterest.org/feature/david-vs-goliath-the-south-china-sea-the-philippines-vs-11534

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Officials from the Philippines and the United States discuss the investigation into the murder of a transgender Filipino, Jennifer Laude, and the American marine who is suspected of the crime. Publish Date October 22, 2014. Photo by Noel Celis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.                            

U.S. Marine’s Arrest in Killing in Philippines May Test Ties

The New York Times

MANILA — A United States Marine accused in the gruesome killing of a Filipino woman was placed in custody Wednesday on a Philippine military base, in a case that some analysts say could have implications for the two countries’ military relationship.

The Marine, Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, 19, has been identified by the Philippine police as the prime suspect in the killing of Jennifer Laude, 26. Formal charges against Private Pemberton were still being prepared, a prosecutor said.

Some Philippine senators cited the case in calling for a review of the longstanding agreement setting the rules for allowing American military forces to be in the country, including the handling of criminal cases involving them. But the case could also affect a new agreement that would give the United States more latitude in temporarily stationing ships, aircraft, equipment and personnel in its former colony.

The deal is considered crucial to the United States’ efforts to solidify its influence in Asia as China’s power grows. The start of the agreement has already been delayed until the Philippine Supreme Court rules on a case questioning its constitutionality.

Read the rest:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/23/world/asia/arrest-of-us-marine-in-killing-of-filipino-may-test-military-ties.html?_r=0

Protesters outside the United States embassy in Manila on Wednesday. Credit Dennis M. Sabangan/European Pressphoto Agency

Related:

 

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David and Goliath ? A China Coast Guard ship (top) and a Philippine supply boat engage in a stand off as the Philippine boat attempts to reach the Second Thomas Shoal, a remote South China Sea reef claimed by both countries, on March 29, 2014. The Philippines was resupplying Filipino marines on BRP Sierra Madre. (AFP Photo/Jay Directo)

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Chinese Navy’s amphibious landing ship Jinggangshan is seen during a training mission with a hovercraft near James Shoal in March, 2013. Photo: Xinhua

Above: China says it has sovereignty over all inside the “Nine Dash Line” as seen here.

Map of South China Sea

China has claimed much of the South China Sea for itself —  claims that have upset many in the region, especially Vietnam and the Philippines. A huge wealth of untapped oil is believed to be below the sea here.

 

The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law.

 

Kenny G Looked To Supporting Hong Kong Democracy Protests — Then Maybe Not

October 23, 2014

Jazz saxophonist, who is huge in China, tweeted a picture of himself making a victory sign in front of a protest banner

By in Hong Kong and

The Guardian

Saxophonist Kenny G, who is a big star in China

Saxophonist Kenny G, who is a big star in China. Photograph: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

Most governments aren’t too bothered by what jazz saxophonist Kenny G does between concerts, but when he turned up at pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong on Wednesday, the Chinese authorities were furious.

Music critics may be contemptuous of Kenny G – full name Kenneth Gorelick – as a populist purveyor of elevator muzak, but his best-selling records are adored in China, where he is a bona fide star, making his endorsement an unusual coup for protest leaders.

The American musician’s unexpected political intervention came in the wake of a much-touted but ultimately disappointing dialogue between government officials and student leaders.

Broadcast live on Tuesday night, it was the first formal meeting between the two sides and perhaps China’s first major public debate over democracy since the Tiananmen Square demonstrations roiled Beijing in 1989.

On Wednesday, about 200 demonstrators marched to the home of the city’s pro-Beijing leader, while protesters in gritty Mong Kok, the site of violent clashes between police and protesters over the weekend, scuffled with a group of taxi drivers trying to remove barricades blocking a major thoroughfare.

Earlier that morning, Kenny G had tweeted a picture of himself making a victory sign in front of a poster reading “Democracy of Hong Kong”, and wrote: “In Hong Kong at the sight [sic] of the demonstration. I wish everyone a peaceful and positive conclusion to this situation.”

China blocks Twitter, but some of the musician’s millions of fans there are likely to notice and share the comments. Less than a month ago the “smooth jazz” star launched a world tour with four concerts in China that only underlined his popularity, with actor Jackie Chan making a guest appearance at one. His most famous track, the 1989 instrumental “Going Home”, has gone beyond the realms of even the most massive hits, carving out a bizarre cultural niche as the sound of shutdown and dismissal.

It is played everywhere from schools to wedding banquets, shopping malls to train stations, to tell Chinese citizens that it’s time to head back to their own houses and apartments. Only around five minutes long, it sometimes runs on a loop for an hour or more, just to make sure everyone gets the message. Even the saxophonist has resigned himself to its social-engineering function in China, and shifts his playlist for concerts there to reflect it.

“I save it for last,” he told the New York Times earlier this year, in an article exploring China’s inexplicable devotion to the tune. “I don’t want everyone going home early.”

Within hours of his tweet, the Chinese foreign ministry had issued a frosty condemnation of his display of solidarity. “Kenny G’s musical works are widely popular in China, but China’s position on the illegal Occupy Central activities in Hong Kong is very clear,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news briefing, according to Reuters.

“We hope that foreign governments and individuals speak and act cautiously and not support the Occupy Central and other illegal activities in any form,” she added.

Kenny G later protested his innocence in a series of further tweets, saying: “I don’t really know anything about the situation and my impromptu visit to the site was just part of an innocent walk around Hong Kong,” and then, “I only wanted to share my wish for peace for Hong Kong and for all of China as I feel close to and care about China very much.”

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By KELVIN CHAN

HONG KONG (AP) — Smooth jazz star Kenny G insisted Thursday he’s not a foreign provocateur supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, after Beijing signaled its displeasure over his inharmonious visit and repeated concerns about meddling by external forces.

The American musician created a stir when he tweeted Wednesday about his visit to the semiautonomous southern Chinese city, where thousands of student-led protesters have occupied streets for more than three weeks to press their demands for greater democratic reforms.

“In Hong Kong at the sight of the demonstration. I wish everyone a peaceful and positive conclusion to this situation,” he wrote.

He took to social media again later to declare that he was not trying to defy the Chinese government, but rather had just happened to come across the protest zone while walking around Hong Kong as a tourist.

“I am not supporting the demonstrators as I don’t really know anything about the situation,” he wrote on his Twitter and Facebook accounts. “I only wanted to share my wish for Peace for Hong Kong and for all of China.”

Photos had circulated earlier on social media of the star by himself and with protesters at the main protest zone near downtown Hong Kong.

The musician’s laidback soprano sax tunes are wildly popular in China, especially his song “Going Home,” which can be heard at train stations, department stores, airports, hotel lobbies and over loudspeakers in public parks, and is often used as a signal for people to clear out. He completed a four-concert tour of the country in September.

When asked about the appearance, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying paused and noted Kenny G’s popularity — and then warned foreigners not to get involved.

“I think Kenny G’s music is popular in China, though regarding the illegal protest in Hong Kong, the Chinese government has a clear position. We think that is an illegal campaign,” Hua said.

“We support the government of Hong Kong to handle it in accordance with the law to maintain stability in Hong Kong. Thus we hope all foreign countries and individuals could be discreet in words and deeds and not support the illegal protest in any forms,” she said.

Beijing has warned repeatedly that unspecified foreign forces are influencing the protesters in Hong Kong, without spelling out who exactly is involved. Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, has also recently taken up the claims.

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Associated Press videojournalist Aritz Parra in Beijing contributed to this report.

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Online:

Kenny G: https://twitter.com/officialkennyg

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Follow Kelvin Chan at https://twitter.com/chanman

Hong Kong: “We are worried that the administration would eventually use force to disperse protesters and a certain degree of bloodshed would be unavoidable.”

October 23, 2014

South China Morning Post
October 23, 2014

Hawks may trump doves in debate on tactics to deal with protests if deadlock remains, they say

By Gary Cheung, Joyce Ng and Shirley Zhao

oc-day25-mk-st-net.jpg

Hong Kong’s government yesterday increased pressure on Occupy protesters, warning that “hawks” favouring tough action to clear sit-in sites would gain the upper hand if the deadlock between officials and student leaders was not resolved soon.

The warning came a day after unprecedented talks between top officials and student leaders failed to persuade the protesters to end the occupation that has paralysed parts of the city for more than three weeks.

“If the conciliatory approach doesn’t work, doves within the government would be sidelined while hawks would gain the upper hand,” one person familiar with the situation said.

“We are worried that the administration would eventually use force to disperse protesters and a certain degree of bloodshed would be unavoidable.”

Tensions rose at the Occupy protest sites, with a new application for a court order to eject the crowd on Harcourt Road in Admiralty and a man splashing a flammable solvent at Mong Kok protesters.

Neither the government nor the Federation of Students have announced plans to seek a second round of talks to end the protests, triggered by restrictive rules for the 2017 chief executive election laid down by Beijing in August.

Federation leader Alex Chow Yong-kang said his group had not decided whether to seek another meeting.

READ MORE: To view all the latest Occupy Central stories click here

“Officials made half a step and showed they were willing to talk,” Chow said. “But unfortunately, they took us nowhere and their ideas offered no fundamental cure for the problems.”

In the televised talks, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told students she would consider making a report to the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office to reflect the public sentiments during the pro-democracy protests.

But she rejected students’ demand that Hong Kong ask the national legislature to withdraw its framework for the 2017 poll, under which the public could vote on two or three candidates who win support from a majority of a 1,200-strong nominating committee. Lam also said a “platform” would be set up to gauge views on further constitutional changes beyond 2017.

A government source questioned the use of further dialogue if students refused to retreat from protest sites, asking: “What can we achieve if student leaders stick to their guns?”

Chinese University vice chancellor Professor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu said he hoped there would be further talks. Sung, who is understood to have communicated closely with the federation leaders, recognised both sides had expressed sincerity and said students were “very mature and well prepared” for the talks.

Executive Councillors Lam Woon-kwong and Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun also called for further talks.

Separately, China used the visit of jazz star Kenny G to the Admiralty protest site yesterday to reiterate its warning against foreign interference.

“Kenny G’s music is popular in China but China’s position on the illegal Occupy Central activities in Hong Kong is very clear,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.

 

Hong Kong’s youth back the pro-democracy campaign at 62% — Support for Beijing’s Government of CY Leung Fades

October 22, 2014

Hong Kong: A new poll shows that 62 per cent of Hong Kong’s youth back the pro-democracy campaign

Pro-democracy demonstrators continue to guard a barricade in the Mongkok district of Hong Kong

Pro-democracy demonstrators continue to guard a barricade in the Mongkok district of Hong Kong Photo: AFP

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy campaigners marched on Government House for the first time on Wednesday as a new poll showed rising public support for their protests.

Scores of people gathered outside the ornate Victorian building on Hong Kong Island, formerly the seat of power for British governors and now the official residence of C.Y. Leung, the territory’s chief executive.

They carried banners demanding Mr Leung’s resignation and condemning a public warning he made on Tuesday that allowing full democracy would hand too much power to people with low incomes.

This was the first protest outside Government House since the onset of the demonstrations. Mr Leung has not tried to enter his own office in the Admiralty area since the protesters surrounded this building almost a month ago. Although other civil servants have been able to go to work, Mr Leung has chosen instead to conduct his duties from Government House.

The marchers have occupied almost two miles of main road since Sept 26, paralysing a large area of Hong Kong Island. But the first direct talks between the authorities and protest leaders only began on Tuesday. This televised meeting broke up without reaching any agreement.

The protesters want a free election for the next chief executive in 2017, with the public being able to nominate candidates. Mr Leung is prepared to give everyone a vote in this contest, but only to choose between candidates put forward by an official committee.

Alex Chow, the secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students and a key protest leader, said the government had been “vague” during the negotiations and cast doubt over whether it was worth holding more meetings. “About whether there will be talks in the future, this is something that isn’t decided,” said Mr Chow.

“The government has to come up with some way to solve this problem, but what they are offering does not have any practical content.”

Yet the disruption caused by the protests has angered many people. Local residents have repeatedly attacked the secondary protest camp in the Mong Kok area, removing barricades and occasionally coming to blows with demonstrators.

On the other side of the harbour, the campaigners have sealed off Queensway and Connaught Roads, the main highways running across Hong Kong Island with eight and ten lanes respectively. As a result, 45 per cent of all bus services have been suspended or re-routed. The head offices of some of Hong Kong’s biggest companies, including Swire, HSBC and Jardine Matheson, are inside the protest zone.

Despite all the inconvenience, however, the demonstrators enjoy more public backing today than when their action first began, according to an opinion poll conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Overall support for their campaign has risen to 38 per cent, compared with 31 per cent last month. During the same period, opposition has fallen from 46 to 35 per cent.

Among people aged between 15 and 24, backing for the pro-democracy protests has soared from 47 to 62 per cent.

Related:

Prayer and Meditation for Thursday, October 23, 2014 — “I have come to set the earth on fire”

October 22, 2014

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 476

Reading 1 eph 3:14-21

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Brothers and sisters:
I kneel before the Father,
from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,
that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory
to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self,
and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;
that you, rooted and grounded in love,
may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones
what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine,
by the power at work within us,
to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus
to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

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Responsorial Psalm ps 33:1-2, 4-5, 11-12, 18-19

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R. (5b) The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
Exult, you just, in the LORD;
praise from the upright is fitting.
Give thanks to the LORD on the harp;
with the ten stringed lyre chant his praises.
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
For upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
But the plan of the LORD stands forever;
the design of his heart, through all generations.
Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
But see, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
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Gospel lk 12:49-53

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Jesus said to his disciples:
“I have come to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already blazing!
There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!
Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?
No, I tell you, but rather division.
From now on a household of five will be divided,
three against two and two against three;
a father will be divided against his son
and a son against his father,
a mother against her daughter
and a daughter against her mother,
a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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 Reflection

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• The Gospel today gives us some phrases of Jesus. The first one on the fire on earth is only in Luke’s Gospel. The others have more or less parallel phrases in Matthew. This leads us to the problem of the origin of the composition of these two Gospels for which much ink has already been used throughout these two past centuries and this problem will only be solved fully when we will be able to speak with Matthew and Luke, after our resurrection.

• Luke 12, 49-50: Jesus has come to bring fire on earth. “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were blazing already! There is a baptism I must still receive, and what constraint I am under until it is completed!” The image of fire frequently is mentioned in the Bible and does not have only one meaning. It could be the image of devastation and of punishment, and it can also be the image of purification and illumination (Is 1, 25; Zc 13, 9).

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It can also express protection as it appears in Isaiah: “Should you pass through fire, you will not suffer” (Is 43, 2). John the Baptist baptized with water, but after him Jesus baptized with fire (Lk 3, 16). Here the image of fire is associated to the action of the Holy Spirit who descends every Pentecost on the image of the tongues of fire (Ac 2, 2-4). Images and symbols never have an obligatory sense, totally defined, which does not allow any divergence. In this case it would neither be image nor symbol.

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It is proper to the symbol to arouse the imagination of the auditors and spectators. Leaving freedom to the auditors, the image of fire combined with the image of baptism indicates the direction toward which Jesus wants people to turn their imagination. Baptism is associated with the water and it is always the expression of a commitment. In another point, Baptism appears like the symbol of the commitment of Jesus with his Passion: “Can you be baptized with the baptism with which I will be baptized?” (Mc 10, 38-39).

• Luke 12, 51-53: Jesus has come to bring division. Jesus always speaks of peace (Mt 5, 9; Mk 9, 50; Lk 1, 79; 10, 5; 19, 38; 24, 36; Jn 14, 27; 16, 33; 20, 21.26). And so how can we understand the phrase in today’s Gospel which seems to say the contrary: “Do you think that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you , but rather division”. This affirmation does not mean that Jesus himself is in favour of division. No! Jesus did not want division.

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But the announcement of truth that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah becomes a reason for much division among the Jews. In the same family or community, some were in favour and others were radically contrary. In this sense, the Good News of Jesus was really a source of division , a “sign of contradiction” (Lk 2, 34) or as Jesus said: “for from now on a household will be divided, father opposed to son, son to father, mother to daughter, daughter to mother, mother-in-law to daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law to mother-in-law”. That is what was happening, in fact in the families and in the communities: much division, much discussion, as a consequence of the Good News among the Jews of that time, some accepting, others denying. The same thing could be applied to the announcement of fraternity as a supreme value of human living together.

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Not all agreed with this announcement, because they preferred to maintain their privileges. And for this reason, they were not afraid to persecute those who announced sharing and fraternity. This was the division which arose and which and which was at the origin of the Passion and death of Jesus. This is what was happening. Jesus wants the union of all in truth (cf. Jn 17, 17-23). Even now it is like this. Many times there where the Church is renewed, the call of the Good News becomes a “sign of contradiction” and of division. Persons who during years had lived very comfortably in the routine of their Christian life, they do not want to be disturbed or bothered by the “innovations” of Vatican Council II. Disturbed by changes, they use all their intelligence to find arguments to defend their own opinions and to condemn the changes considering them contrary to what they think is their true faith.

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Personal questions

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• Seeking union Jesus was the cause of division. Does this happen with you today?

• How do I react before the changes in the Church?

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Concluding prayer

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Shout for joy, you upright;

praise comes well from the honest.

Give thanks to Yahweh on the lyre,

play for him on the ten-stringed lyre. (Ps 33,1-2)

http://www.ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-luke-1249-53

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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TRUE PEACE IS BORN OF OUR INTERIOR STRUGGLES IN CHRIST  

SCRIPTURE READINGS: EPH 3:14-21; LK 12:49-53
http://www.universalis.com/20141023/mass.htm

All of us seek for peace in life.  But what is peace?  Peace is the English equivalent of the Hebrew word Shalom.   For the Hebrews, shalom signifies a material and spiritual state of individual and communal well-being. To live in peace is to be whole and complete.  One is no longer divided within oneself, or with God, or with his fellowmen. It implies salvation, reunification, wholeness shared with God, with others, and with the cosmos.  This is the peace that we are called to share and to receive.

If this is what true peace is all about, perhaps we need to ask ourselves, what kind of peace do we have?  Can we really say that we are really at peace deep within ourselves and therefore also at peace with others and the whole cosmos?  The reality is that what we have is not real peace but mere pacification.

Take our personal life for example.  Some of us know that our personal life is not that upright.  We do things that we know are not wholesome.  It could be over-indulgence in food, sleep, or certain hobbies and activities that are detrimental to our well-being.  Or we could be unscrupulous in our dealings with others, making use of people, manipulating them for our self-interest and selfish needs.  Perhaps, it is not what we do but how we think.  Deep in our hearts, some of us might feel envious of others.  Jealousy will lead one to become malicious and revengeful.  In a word, we are deeply unhappy within ourselves; we are restless and discontented. The psalmist makes it clear that only the just and the upright is blessed and at peace “For upright is the word of the Lord, and all his works are trustworthy. He loves justice and right; of the kindness of the Lord the earth is full.”

If we recognise these feelings in us, we can at least try to overcome our weaknesses and make ourselves available for healing and growth.  But the greater tragedy is that many of us try to justify our actions and our thoughts.  We dare not look into our real self and see ourselves for what we really are.  When others criticize us, we become extremely defensive.  We find it so difficult to admit our imperfect motives for the things that we do, even when doing good works.  In this way, we suppress our conscience and continue living life the way we do.  Yes, pacification is simply another word of self-justification.

Pacification is often mistaken for peace and unity with our fellow human beings.  Very often, we know that things are not right in our relationships, but under the pretext of keeping the peace, we sweep everything under the carpet, or hide the skeletons in the closet. We practice so-called ‘peaceful co-existence’.  We say nice things to each other, but bad things about others; we appear to be warm and friendly; we put on cosmetic smiles.  Thus, when others look at us, they think everyone is happy, loving, carefree and at peace.  But beneath all this apparent calm, deep resentment, anger and hatred are simmering, just waiting for an opportune time to erupt.  Then we will show our true colours; the real self, emerge. For the time being however, we try to be numb to the negative feelings buried within us.  Isn’t this the kind of peace that the world is promoting?  This is the kind of peace that Jesus condemns.

What then is the real peace that comes from Christ? It is not a peace that is born of escapism or cowardice.  True peace is born of anguish and division.  Yes, so says Jesus in today’s gospel, “I have come to light a fire on the earth!  What anguish I feel till it is over.”  And he continues, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  … the contrary is true, I have come for division”  Peace is not something that comes without much struggle.  In fact it is a life-long battle, a war that is fought more from within than from without.  What then are these struggles before real peace can be born?

Firstly, real peace comes from an inner struggle to remain true to ourselves.  This entails personal conversion, purification and self-dying.  This is what Jesus meant when He spoke about igniting the fire on the earth, the baptism and anguish that He had to undergo. We, too, must be ready to be purified by the fire of truth and the fire of love. Only this fire can burn away the falsehood and self-deception in us. To go through this fire is to go through the waters of baptism, of death to oneself so that the new self can be born in the Spirit. Purifying our motives that spring from self-love to philanthropic to godly love takes courage and humility.  And even having recognized our imperfect motives for loving and serving people, we still have to contend with the lack of capacity to do the right thing. For those of us who are not ready to confront ourselves, our insecurities, our lack of self-love, there can be no possibility for real growth.  But once we allow ourselves to be purged, painful though it may be, true liberation, joy and peace will await us at the end of this journey.

Secondly, real peace can only come about when we are ready to contend with the struggles that come from speaking the truth, even publicly.  Of course, when we speak the truth, there will be division.  Hence, Jesus said that He had come not to bring peace but division.  Why?  Because in the face of truth, there are only two sides to take, either we are for, or against.  Those who stay on the side of falsehood can be expected to use every means to protect themselves and their interests by suppressing the truth.  On the other hand, those who desire true peace must seek to establish the truth.  Since peace is the fruit of justice, we must struggle to overcome the objective causes of divisiveness and injustice.  Until falsehood is destroyed, one cannot expect true peace to be born.

The courage to undergo interior self-renewal and to speak the truth requires, first and foremost, that we be strengthened by the Spirit, as Paul tells us in the first reading.  This Spirit of truth and courage can only come about through our faith in God; a faith that gives us access to the height, depth, breath and length of God’s love.  Without such an experience, we will lack the moral courage to undergo this purification process.

Like St Paul, the work of purification and the courage to be true to ourselves must come from a deep interior prayer life whereby one gets in touch with oneself and also with the love of God.  St Paul reminds us that only in humble and reflective prayer before the Father can the hidden self grow in grace and strength.  Yes, “Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted in love and built on love, you will with all the saints have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.”

When we are filled with the fullness of God’s love, then we would want to do everything, even at the price of our own lives, to work for the common good of our fellowmen, because we will see that we are all members of the one big family with God as our Father.  Only with this realization and experience of God’s love, can one be empowered to undertake such a selfless and noble task.  Human effort alone cannot bring out this interior and social renewal.  Only the love of God can make it happen.  With God in us, we can then be certain that His “power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; glory be to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever.  Amen.”

- See more at: http://www.csctr.net/23-october-2014-thursday-29th-week-in-ordinary-time/#sthash.elNrF0CW.dpuf

Husband factor: Why women in China are afraid to discuss the Hong Kong protests

October 22, 2014

On China: This week, a new generation of educated women took a leading role in talks between Hong Kong leaders and pro-democracy protestors. But, in mainland China, the situation couldn’t be more different – with women retreating into traditional roles, says Yuan Ren

Chinese New Year 2014: Many women will be considered 'leftover' because they're 27 and unmarried

Women in mainland China have little idea what’s happening with their Hong Kong counterparts
 

At the peak of Occupy Central campaign, throngs of young women braved the rainy weather, an onslaught of pepper spray and incidents of harrassment to take part in Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Revolution”.

Hong Kong, formally part of China, has long enjoyed a global status comparable to London and New York. It’s home to some of the most accomplished women in the world, many of who work in its prosperous financial sector. Yet despite this, the citizens of Hong Kong’s have never had a full democracy – not even under British rule, which ended in 1997.

For the young women occupying Central (the region’s business district), what is within their reach has changed.

According to Professor Angela Wong of The Gender Research Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, this “new generation” of women have benefitted from an education that gives them the same confidence as their male counterparts.

That was never clearer than this week, when tens of thousands of protesters watched the first talk between student representatives and the Hong Kong Government. Women played a key part in the discussion across the meeting table, in the fight for greater political freedom.

Pro-democracy protesters from the Occupy Central movement retreat from a tunnel road after being dispersed by Hong Kong police in Admiralty District of Hong Kong

Pro-democracy protesters from the Occupy Central movement retreat from a tunnel road after being dispersed by Hong Kong police in Admiralty District of Hong Kong Photo: EPA

Ms Lo Hoi Yan, a 30-year-old teacher and Hong Kong resident who took part in the demonstrations, says that gender is irrelevant in this fight for democracy: “For me, it’s my right as a person, not as a sex, to express myself in this way.”

So, it seems extraordinary that the situation in mainland China could not be more different.

As women in Hong Kong take the region’s fate into their own hands and stand should-to-shoulder with men, many of their counterparts in China aren’t even aware that it’s happening.

In recent weeks, I’ve asked many female friends for their thoughts on the Hong Kong protests.

More than half replied perplexed – what on earth was I talking about?

‘Women can be easily swayed’

Ms Li, a 29-years-old student at a top-ranking Beijing university thinks this a conversation that ‘mainland women’ have been excluded from. “You’d be lucky to find two out of ten who know about it,” she says. “Men talk about topics like this among themselves, but not with women.”

Of course, censorship (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are all blocked) and the lack of free political expression no doubt stifle open debate in mainland China. Yet, there’s a definite knowledge gap when it comes to women in particular.

And – among those who are aware of the situation – there’s suspicion, too.

Li, who is married to a European, questions whether the women in Hong Kong have fully grasped what they are fighting for: “Young women can be easily swayed by collectivism – I’d be surprised if it’s pure politics that brought them onto the streets,” she says.

Voices such as that of demonstrator Yan have fallen largely to unsympathetic ears. One Chinese friend from university, a woman who works in Hong Kong’s financial district, called the protesters “a bunch of stirred-up students with over-idealised minds”.

“I’d say most Chinese women don’t get into this kind of discussion about politics”, explains Xia, a 28-year-old graduate from a London university and an investment banker in Beijing. “I didn’t know and I don’t care except to say Hong Kong is a very good choice for shopping.”

For others, the blocking of Instagram triggered a burst of interest. “That was the only reason Hong Kong came up in my conversations with other women”, says Ms Wu, a 29-year-old media professional, who studied in the US. “And only in passing – otherwise they really wouldn’t care.”

‘It’s more useful to care about a rich man than politics’

According to a publication in the Journal of International Women’s Studies earlier this year, Chinese women’s participation in political affairs – including involvement in mass organisations, as well as a general interest in media affairs and political knowledge at all levels of society – has seen little growth for the past few decades. Women scored significantly below men on all counts. While the percentage of women in high political office has remained at 21.3 per cent since 1959.

 

Dr Liu, Deputy Director at the SOAS China Institute in London, thinks that as China gets richer, it may be leavings its women behind: “Economic development has been the sole driver of reform in the last 30-years and women’s status did not feature at all in those objectives.”

The one-child-policy encouraged greater investment in girls – but Dr. Liu thinks that while such reforms created greater employment opportunities for women, they failed to change their overall prominence in China.

Rapid growth and an increasingly materialistic culture have also created new pressures for women. Pointing to sky-rocketing house prices, and the cost of giving birth, Ms Li says that for young women today, “it’s all about ‘self-preservation’ rather than ‘social preservation’”.

China’s income inequality gap now exceeds that of the USA. Men’s salaries have risen high above those of women. In such an environment – where influence and connections dictate social standing – marriage is still seen as the easist route for women to secure financial stability.

“It’s more practical to care about finding a rich man with a car and house, than about world affairs,” says Ms Wu.

A huge obstacle to engaging women in political affairs is gender discrimination. Heavily bound by traditional notions about femininity, participation in public or political activities is often discouraged. The common view remains that a women’s priority is foremost her family. The public space still belongs to the men.

“If you are even slightly aggressive about arguing a political point, people will think there’s something wrong with you. You’ll be laughed at for never finding a husband,” says Wu.

“The rigidity of these ideas can be so overpowering it’s hard for young women to see alternatives for themselves,” adds Dr Liu.

Women have few alternatives

It wasn’t so long ago that women in the mainland were pivotal to demanding political change: in the anti-imperialist revolutions of 1919, women were leading figures in the fight against the feudalism, and again during the 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square.

Rapid growth in personal wealth and the pursuit of materialism over the past 30 years of economic prosperity have gone a long way to to silence outward demonstrations of public discontent.

But Professor Wong thinks that women in Hong Kong also have a long way to go in terms of gender equality – despite how things look to the watching world. She says that the success of women in its prosperous financial sector is an illusion and “hides the fact that strong traditional notions exist about women’s role within the family.”

She adds that “there’s been little attempt at translating women’s rights into political or legal terms”.

And while it is true that men made up the majority of representatives around the discussion table on Monday evening, women did make an impact.

Demonstrator Yan, impressed by student representative Yvonne Leung’s performance, viewed her role as being “absolutely critical” to the movement.

Even though such sentiments might fail to resonate with those on the mainland, many here can still appreciate the value of being given a voice.

For 36-year-old Ms Zhao and her peers, ignorance of what’s happening in Hong Kong may hinge on a simple point: “Perhaps if change could come from talking about it here, I too would be interested in the discussion.”

Yuan Ren is a freelance journalist who grew up in both London and Beijing. She can be found tweeting @girlinbeijing


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