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 on: Jan 26, 2015, 09:00 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Middle Class Shrinks Further as More Fall Out Instead of Climbing Up

JAN. 25, 2015

The middle class that President Obama identified in his State of the Union speech last week as the foundation of the American economy has been shrinking for almost half a century.

In the late 1960s, more than half of the households in the United States were squarely in the middle, earning, in today’s dollars, $35,000 to $100,000 a year. Few people noticed or cared as the size of that group began to fall, because the shift was primarily caused by more Americans climbing the economic ladder into upper-income brackets.

But since 2000, the middle-class share of households has continued to narrow, the main reason being that more people have fallen to the bottom. At the same time, fewer of those in this group fit the traditional image of a married couple with children at home, a gap increasingly filled by the elderly.

This social upheaval helps explain why the president focused on reviving the middle class, offering a raft of proposals squarely aimed at concerns like paying for a college education, taking parental leave, affording child care and buying a home.

“Middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change,” Mr. Obama told Congress and the public on Tuesday.

Still, regardless of their income, most Americans identify as middle class. The term itself is so amorphous that politicians often cite the group in introducing proposals to engender wide appeal.

The definition here starts at $35,000 — which is about 50 percent higher than the official poverty level for a family of four — and ends at the six-figure mark. Although many Americans in households making more than $100,000 consider themselves middle class, particularly those living in expensive regions like the Northeast and Pacific Coast, they have substantially more money than most people.

However the lines are drawn, it is clear that millions are struggling to hang on to accouterments that most experts consider essential to a middle-class life.

“I would consider middle class to be people who can live comfortably on what they earn, can pay their bills, can set aside something to save for retirement and for kids in college and can have vacations and entertainment,” said Christine L. Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, a left-leaning research and advocacy group.

Lisa Land, 49, is one of those who have dropped through the hatch. She gets by on her father’s $1,300 monthly Social Security checks and by having her adult daughter pitch in for groceries.

Her circumstances are a stark change from just a few years ago, when she considered herself firmly in the middle class. Despite a relatively modest salary, her pay and other resources went a long way in tiny Eden, N.C., where she worked for 13 years in customer service at a textile factory.

In 2008, however, Ms. Land was laid off. Faced with ailing parents and a recession that tore up the region’s economy, she moved in with her father to offer full-time care.

The middle class has shrunk consistently over the past half-century. Until 2000, the reason was primarily because more Americans moved up the income ladder. But since then, the reason has shifted: There is a greater share of households on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

“We wouldn’t have a lot of money, but we had everything that we needed,” she said. “Now, there’s really no extra for anything. No vacation. No dining out. No stuff like that.”

Even as the American middle class has shrunk, it has gone through a transformation. The 53 million households that remain in the middle class — about 43 percent of all households — look considerably different from their middle-class predecessors of a previous generation, according to a New York Times analysis of census data.

In recent years, the fastest-growing component of the new middle class has been households headed by people 65 and older. Today’s seniors have better retirement benefits than previous generations. Also, older Americans are increasingly working past traditional retirement age. More than eight million, or 19 percent, were in the labor force in 2013, nearly twice as many as in 2000.

As a result, while median household income, on average, has fallen 9 percent since the turn of the century, it has jumped 14 percent among households headed by older adults.

The growing prominence of older people in the middle class reflects, in part, the way Social Security and Medicare — originally set up as safety nets to protect seniors from falling into poverty after retirement — have provided a substantial cushion for them against hard times.

Married couples with children — who make up a category that is shrinking over all — are diminishing even faster as a share of the middle class. In the late 1960s, about 45 percent of all households included married adults and their offspring. But among middle-class households, more than 60 percent had that traditional family arrangement.

Today, married couples with children at home make up just a quarter of households. But even as they diminished as a share of the population, these families surged up the economic ladder as more married women went to work in the paid labor force. By 2000, 42 percent earned more than $100,000 in today’s dollars.

The most recent recession put a halt to the advances of even that generally successful group. Its share in the middle class has fallen by three percentage points and the share earning less than $35,000 has increased.

Households headed by adults 65 and older are not shown in the family status charts.
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau; Minnesota Population Center/IPUMS

“In the Great Recession, we lost a lot of middle-income jobs and we gained a lot of low-paying jobs,” said Michael R. Strain, resident scholar at the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute. “That’s a slower-burning thing, but it increased in ferocity during the recession, and people are feeling it.”

For more than two decades, John D’Amanda, 54, earned about $30,000 a year running a window-washing service in Oakland, Calif. He had a car and an apartment. Then, in 2009, the calls stopped coming in. His customers no longer had the luxury of paying for someone to wash their windows.

Mr. D’Amanda got a job at a McDonald’s, where he has worked ever since, now earning 25 cents above the state’s new minimum wage of $9. He pays $350 a month in rent to share a small bedroom with a roommate.

“I’m barely able to afford that,” he said.

These days, most middle-class adults reached their status through higher education. As recently as 1992, half of all middle-class households were headed by someone with a high school education or less, according to the Times analysis. Today, only 37 percent of the middle class has not been to college.

Geography also matters. The biggest declines in middle-class households during the previous half-century occurred in the Northeast — states like Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey — where industrial economies gave way to mass suburbanization and increased affluence.

According to a New York Times poll in December, 60 percent of people who call themselves middle class think that if they work hard they will get rich. But the evidence suggests that goal is increasingly out of reach. When middle class people look up, they see the rich getting richer while they spin their wheels.

“The middle has basically stayed the same; it hasn’t improved,” said Lawrence F. Katz, an economist at Harvard University. “You’ve got an iPhone now and a better TV, but your median income hasn’t changed. What’s really changed is the penthouse has become supernice.”

Still, there are some recent signs of hope for the middle class. The economy is improving and more jobs are being created, many of them in better-paying categories like professional services, health care and even a reviving manufacturing sector.

Jason Pappas’s prospects, for example, are looking up. Mr. Pappas, 32, from Muncie, Ind., was earning about $42 an hour as an iron worker in the mid-2000s, but building projects dried up during the recession, pushing him onto the unemployment rolls for a year and a half.

He eventually found a job as a truck driver. Today, he earns just over half the hourly wage he made as an iron worker, but he is happy to have a steady job.

“It pays the bills,” he said, “and I have medical insurance.”

Moreover, Mr. Pappas just learned that he was being promoted to supervisor. Soon, with overtime, he’ll be earning $80,000 a year.

He is feeling a lot better about his future. “Hard work pays off,” Mr. Pappas said.


Obama Hits The Koch Congress Where It Hurts By Proposing More Drilling Restrictions On ANWR

By: Jason Easley
Sunday, January, 25th, 2015, 6:06 pm   

President Obama stayed five steps ahead of the Republican controlled Congress by announcing his administration’s plan to protect more of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge from drilling.

The president said:

    Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuge is an incredible place. Pristine, undisturbed, it supports caribou and polar bears, all matter of marine life, countless species of birds and fish, and for centuries it’s supported many Alaska native communities, but it’s very fragile. That’s why that my Department of Interior has put forth a comprehensive plan to make sure that we’re protecting the refuge and that we’re designating new areas, including coastal plains for preservation. And I’m going to be calling on Congress to make sure that they take it one step further. Designating it as a wilderness, so that we can make sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations.

The Department of Interior is proposing a plan that would reccomend that, “12.28 million acres – including the Coastal Plain – for designation as wilderness. The Service also recommends four rivers – the Atigun, Hulahula, Kongakut, and Marsh Fork Canning – for inclusion into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. Currently, over 7 million acres of the refuge are managed as wilderness, consistent with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. However, more than 60 percent of the refuge – including the Coastal Plain – does not carry that designation. Designation as wilderness would protect and preserve the refuge, ensuring the land and water would remain unimpaired for use and enjoyment by future generations. Only Congress has the authority to designate Wilderness areas and Wild and Scenic Rivers.”

The Republican chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska vowed to fight the new plan, “What’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive. It’s clear this administration does not care about us, and sees us as nothing but a territory. The promises made to us at statehood, and since then, mean absolutely nothing to them. I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska. But we will not be run over like this. We will fight back with every resource at our disposal.”

As the Koch Republican run Congress is trying to pass Keystone XL, President Obama took another pro-environment step against the GOP agenda. Republicans have been trying to open up ANWR to more drilling since 1977. Before the latest flare-up of the issue, former President George W. Bush tried to get Congress to reverse the ban on offshore drilling.

While the president continues trying to move the country forward towards a sensible and self-sustaining energy policy, Republicans continue to do Big Oil’s bidding. The Alaska economy is dependent on drilling, so their opposition to the president’s conservation plan is understandable, but Obama was sending a message to the American people. The president is laying out an agenda for the Democratic Party that paints a clear contrast with what the Republicans are offering.

While Republicans are bogged down on Keystone XL, President Obama has already moved five steps ahead.


Boehner and McConnell Bomb On 60 Minutes When Asked For GOP Alternative to Obamacare

By: Jason Easley
Sunday, January, 25th, 2015, 8:14 pm      

Speaker of the House John Boehner and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a disastrous appearance on 60 Minutes, the lowlight of which was their complete inability to discuss the Republican alternative to Obamacare.

Speaker Boehner went on a dodge and weave filibuster when asked what the Republican alternative to Obamacare was, “Providing more access we could have done without taking control of the entire healthcare system. When you look at Obamacare, it’s a perfect example of what Washington does. It’s a one size fits all approach for the whole country all driven by Washington bureaucrats. I’ll bet they’ve hired tens of thousands of people between the IRS and over at Health and Human Services just to run this. All of the decisions, all of the rules decided by Washington. We have a wide, diverse country, and I just think it’s time for us to look at this differently. For those who don’t have access to affordable health insurance. Helping those at the bottom I think we’re all for it, but we don’t need Washington to ruin the greatest health delivery system that the world has ever known.”

CBS’s Scott Pelley asked again, “So how do you do it? What’s the Republican plan?” Boehner answered with a weak, “We’re, We’re working on this. Having discussions amongst our members, got a lot of divergent views about how best to go back to a doctor/patient relationship that’s revered.”

Pelley kept hammering away and said that this is one of the biggest criticisms of the Republican Party is that they know what they are against, but can’t tell people what they are for. McConnell said that Pelley was mischaracterizing the success of Obamacare and claimed that the ACA will fail. McConnell said that the chances, of getting rid of Obamacare with Obama in the White House, were slim, but that Republicans were going to make the effort.

Pelley replied, “You don’t have an alternative.”

At this point, Boehner jumped back in and pushed the same old Republican ideas of letting people buy insurance across state lines and medical malpractice insurance reform. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell went on the most watched television news program in the country and promptly fell on their faces. The truth is that Republicans have no replacement plan for the ACA.

Boehner and McConnell both talked about getting rid of the ACA, but what they didn’t mention is that a bill that they each voted for funded Obamacare for another year. Republicans have created a new disaster for themselves on a weekly basis since they have taken over Congress. The new Republican majority was supposed to get things done, but instead has been consumed by ineptitude and infighting while being constantly outmaneuvered by President Obama.

Republicans have had almost six years to come up with an ACA alternative. They have had even longer to come up with a plan to reform health care. The Republican plan is to return the country to a system where tens of millions of Americans lack access to health care, and those with insurance are one medical crisis away from bankruptcy.

The Republican Party has no alternative. Even worse, they treat the American people like they don’t have a clue.


Alan Grayson Was Right! They Want You To 'Die Quickly'

1/26/15 12:20am

At least they're finally being honest about it. Remember when Republicans and their conservative media counterparts went into paroxysms of outrage over Alan Grayson's floor speech calling out conservatives for acting as de facto death panels?

Behold, Sunday's AEI op-ed piece in the Washington Post, aptly titled "End Obamacare and people could die. That's okay."

Written by Republican KochHead Michael R. Strain, the crux of his argument is this:

    In a world of scarce resources, a slightly higher mortality rate is an acceptable price to pay for certain goals — including more cash for other programs, such as those that help the poor; less government coercion and more individual liberty; more health-care choice for consumers, allowing them to find plans that better fit their needs; more money for taxpayers to spend themselves; and less federal health-care spending. This opinion is not immoral. Such choices are inevitable. They are made all the time.

Scarce resources? That's rich, coming from a guy whoring working for oligarchs who want for nothing but more liberty to strip a few extra resources from poor people. And please spare me the faux concern about the poor, which is a straw man intended to make readers believe they give a damn.

This, from the same group of people who insist there can be no exceptions -- ZERO -- to abortion choices. Women may not choose even if their pregnancy threatens their lives, or happened as a result of rape or incest. No choices. Because liberty.

This, from the same group of people who argue that the poor just need a bootstrap but no cash, and certainly no assistance in the form of living expenses or food to survive. Because you know, those programs simply drain resources and drive up the debt. Because liberty.

This, from the same group of people who argue that the way to help the elderly with their health care is to hand it off to private insurance companies and shift the burden over to those least able to afford it. Because liberty.

Strain continues his argument with this:  

    Consider this question: Should society have as its goal that the government prevents all deaths from any health-related ailment other than natural causes associated with ripe old age? The notion is absurd — to both conservatives and liberals. There are limits to the proper amount of scarce resources, funded by taxpayers, that Washington should redirect toward health care.

Neither should society have as its goal leaving its citizens -- young and old alike -- as slaves to corporate health care providers who profit on the backs of the sick and dying. Because general welfare.

For a think tank who proclaims at every turn that the U.S. Constitution is their sole guide, how do they interpret the general welfare clause, which appears in two places; the preamble and the taxation and spending section?

    The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

The United States' general welfare is not served by leaving health care decisions in the hands of the rich and privileged, Mr. Strain. The strength of this country rests on its people. If those people are dying of preventable disease or living with untreated chronic disease it hurts the work force, it hurts the economy, and it hurts the oligarchs.

As a bone, Mr. Strain does concede that some form of universal healthcare should be available, but not for those everyday sorts of things. Just catastrophes. Clearly Mr. Strain has not studied health care delivery carefully enough if he thinks it's such a burden to cover someone's annual sinus infection.

That sinus infection could be a sign of something else -- an autoimmune condition signaling other, deeper more concerning factors. That chronic bronchitis could be the first sign of COPD, which can respond to less expensive treatments and more rapid intervention to prevent the onset of a more expensive lung condition such as emphysema. Even the acne your kids have can be a warning sign.

It wasn't all that long ago that people didn't go to dentists to have their teeth cleaned. They waited until they had an abscess or toothache and ended up paying a fortune in dental bills to take care of the problem. Either that or their teeth just fell out, leaving them with a host of other health problems to deal with. Insurance companies discovered that the cost of covering two teeth cleanings per year mitigated costs because problems were caught and treated sooner.

The idea of universal coverage limited to catastrophe is also meant to foreclose people with chronic conditions from having access to health insurance. By offering the bare minimum as a form of "universal health care", those with chronic conditions will be shut out of the market because adverse selection will force them to be.

So no. Universal coverage of catastrophic illness is not enough, nor does it serve the general welfare of the United States. The ACA (Obamacare) is imperfect, but it is actually turning the tide on health care issues in this country. For the first time, medical bankruptcies are slowing down. For the first time, people who already had health issues are getting them treated before they turn into catastrophes. These are of great benefit to those people and the nation as a whole.

Finally, the "replacement plan" Mr. Strain proposes is exactly the plan outlined on The Project 2017 site I wrote about last year.

    The Burr-Coburn-Hatch plan would repeal the Affordable Care Act, including the individual mandate to purchase insurance, and leave the current system of employer-sponsored coverage largely in place. It would cap the tax preference for employer-provided coverage (though only for extremely generous plans) and use the revenue to provide a tax credit for people who don’t get their health insurance through their jobs. Their plan would provide “continuous coverage” protection, so that people who remain enrolled in insurance can’t be financially penalized for getting sick; offer new federal funding for high-risk pools; and allow Medicaid participants to receive the tax credits and enroll in individual-market plans. A paramount goal of this proposal is to ensure that no one who is or becomes gravely ill goes without adequate medical care.

I bold-faced the first sentence of Strain's description there to put an exclamation point on what it means to repeal the Affordable Care Act altogether. Here are your bullets:

    Exclusions for pre-existing conditions
    Annual and lifetime caps on treatment
    Excessive costs for those with pre-existing conditions by shoveling them into state-based high-risk pools
    No coverage for preventative care
    Children over age 22 will be forced to buy their own health insurance, whether or not employed

Shoot these bullets at conservatives like any good Second Amendment believer would.

Because liberty.


John McCain Humiliates Himself On CBS By Claiming Obama’s Lost Touch With Reality

By: Jason Easley
Sunday, January, 25th, 2015, 4:34 pm   

While claiming that President Obama is delusional, Sen. John McCain humiliated himself and revealed why he doesn’t belong in the United States Senate.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I’m afraid that he and the president have lost touch with reality.

Iran is on the march throughout. In Yemen, it’s not AQAP that has taken over the government. It’s the Houthis, who, guess what, are backed and supported by the Iranians. The Iranians are now either dominant or extremely influential in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen.

They’re on the move in Bahrain. And they are winning. And there is no — I did not hear Mr. McDonough articulate a strategy, except that we will fight against these people, which is nice to know.

But when you look at the map, the Iranians are on the march. AQAP and the ISIS in both Iraq and Syria are doing quite well. There is no strategy to defeat them. For example, in Kobani, we have been bombing Kobani for months with the U.S. airpower and they are still there. ISIS continues to consolidate their position and attract thousands of young people from all over the world.

And, believe me, I agree with the director of British intelligence, MI5, who gave a speech last week saying that these young people mainly from other countries that are now in Iraq and Syria will — are a direct threat to the United States of America and Great Britain.

So there is no strategy. It is delusional for them to think that what they’re doing is succeeding. And we need more boots on the ground. I know that is a tough thing to say and a tough thing for Americans to swallow, but it doesn’t mean the 82nd Airborne. It means forward air controllers. It means special forces. It means intelligence and it means other capabilities.

In other words, McCain is arguing that the country has gone to hell in a handbasket since voters decided not to elect him president in 2008. Sen. McCain has become a national embarrassment. His solution is always to send in more American troops. McCain has no policy. He constantly repeats the same call for more boots on the ground, even though the American people are adamantly opposed to sending American troops anywhere.

President Obama’s strategy is working. The problem is that the Obama strategy doesn’t involve starting another war. Sen. McCain’s constant defiance of the will of the people that he is supposed to be serving represents a danger to every American. McCain is the one who is out of touch with reality. It isn’t 2002 anymore. Republicans can’t scream terrorist and expect the American people to mobilize behind their cries for war.

Sen. McCain’s (R-AZ) criticisms of the president are rooted in sour grapes. Obama won. McCain lost, and nearly seven years later the Republican senator is still trying to undermine the current administration. McCain’s act has grown stale and tired. It is time for the Sunday shows to stop giving this broken record of a senator airtime.


Presidential hopefuls Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz suck up to billionaire Kochs at secretive event

26 Jan 2015 at 06:48 ET                  

Three potential Republican presidential candidates appeared before a gathering of wealthy donors organized by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers in California on Sunday night.

The summit, held at a luxury resort near Palm Springs sealed off to outsiders, drew Republican Senators Marco Rubio from Florida, Rand Paul from Kentucky and Ted Cruz from Texas.

It was organized by brothers Charles and David Koch, successful industrialists who bankroll conservative causes across America. Access to their network of money and influence is alluring to some potential Republican presidential hopefuls.

The Kochs have a private network that spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent elections and a donor list that is wealthy, diverse and hungry for a Republican candidate that can win the White House in 2016.

The Koch event capped a busy two days where the long road to the Republican nomination appeared to have begun in earnest.

Eight potential Republican candidates made speeches at a separate gathering in Iowa on Saturday.

At least a dozen Republicans are showing interest in 2016. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney are among those seriously looking at White House bids.

Chris Christie, the Republican New Jersey governor, has formed a political action committee, a major step to a presidential run, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

On Sunday night, Republican senators Rubio, Paul and Cruz discussed domestic and foreign policy. They were being hosted by Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a non-profit organization backed by the Koch brothers.


Freedom Partners and other Koch political fundraising entities are structured under the U.S. tax code so that their donors, and how much money they give, do not have to be disclosed.

The political advocacy network run by the Koch brothers aimed to spend $290 million on advertisements and messaging ahead of the 2014 mid-term elections.

The Koch brothers are frequently criticized by Democrats as being secretive bankrollers of Republican causes and campaigns.

The press was not allowed access for the California gathering. Freedom Partners released excerpts of a speech by Charles Koch to attendees on Saturday night, in which he said “the struggle for freedom never ends”.

An internet feed of the three senators’ discussion was also provided. Lifting people out of poverty, and whether a federal minimum wage was a potential solution, particularly animated them.

“I think the minimum wage constantly hurts the most vulnerable,” Cruz said.

 on: Jan 26, 2015, 08:42 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Scientists slow the speed of light

January 24, 2015
Abbey Hull for – Your Universe Online

After discovering two years ago that the speed of light may not be fixed after all, physicists at the University of Glasgow have now discovered a way that the speed of light can be slowed by running it through a special mask, which changes its shape.

Published in the journal Science, the physicists challenged the standard that the speed of light in a vacuum remains constant by introducing a way to change the shape of the speed of light in order to slow it down.

Building a dual course “racetrack” to fire two groups of photons simultaneously towards a detector a meter away, researchers compared unaltered photons in their original state against photons that were fired through the filter, altering the shape into a Gaussian or Bessel beam.

The results for each photon group were compared, proving that the altered photons were 0.001 percent slower in arriving at the detector than the normal photons. Thus, not only did the light not return to its normal speed after passing through the filter, but also the light emitted officially moved slower than the speed of light. Who knew?

While the results will not cause upheaval (yet) in the modern realm of special relativity, nor will they toss Einstein in his grave, this new discovery will lead to exploration by future researchers to ensure the validity of the test and to offer further possibilities concerning the speed of light.

 on: Jan 26, 2015, 08:40 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Crisis-hit Venezuela Bars Ex-presidents from Talks with Opposition

by Naharnet Newsdesk 26 January 2015, 07:00

Venezuela, which has accused a pair of Latin American ex-presidents of trying to spark a coup, on Sunday denied them permission to speak to jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

"Regrettably, despite all the effort we made with General Rall and even the Vice President (Jorge Arreaza), we have been denied a chance to visit Leopoldo Lopez," Chilean ex-president Sebastian Pinera said outside the Ramo Verde military prison.

He was joined by Colombian ex-president Andres Pastrana, seeking to help Venezuela -- which is facing economic crisis and political impasses under President Nicolas Maduro, an elected socialist.

The blocked visit came as a "great surprise. I never imagined that they would not let us in," Pastrana said. "This is an act that we do not understand. It is not the act of a democrat."

The entrance to the jail was guarded by at least 40 National Guard officers with riot gear and shields.

Another contingent with about 20 officers blocked off a secondary access through the mountainside shantytowns surrounding the prison.

Pastrana and billionaire businessman Pinera waited for over 35 minutes out in the street. But in the end the former presidents were told they would not be allowed to meet with Lopez or other inmates.

"Prisoners in democratic countries have the right to have visitors" on visiting days, which is Sunday here, Pinera stressed.

Lopez "has been detained for almost a year, and even the United Nations says there is no reason for him not to be free," Pinera added.

Pinera denied the allegation that the ex-leaders were trying to foment an uprising against Maduro.

"We have not come to start or to support any coup," he said, adding "if President Maduro wants to be respected he needs to learn to respect others."

On Saturday thousands of demonstrators against Venezuela's economic crisis -- facing sky-high inflation and shortages of food and consumer goods -- took to the streets, banging pots and demanding an end to Maduro's term.

Some opposition leaders, fed up with shortages of milk, coffee, sugar, meat, toilet paper, diapers, deodorant and corn meal, and with Maduro's refusal to overhaul the increasingly state-managed economy, say Maduro must step aside.

Maduro is facing a dismal 22-percent approval rating, and three quarters of the population oppose his government, recent polls show.

With the precipitous drop of oil prices, Maduro has traveled in recent days to Algeria, China, Iran, Qatar, Russia and Saudi Arabia as he makes an urgent appeal for cash.

In November, Caracas failed to convince the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, including top producer Saudi Arabia, to reduce production in order to halt the price drop.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Jan 26, 2015, 08:39 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Reporter Flees Argentina after Threats in Dead Prosecutor Case

by Naharnet Newsdesk 26 January 2015, 07:04

A reporter who broke the story that an Argentine prosecutor was found dead shortly before he was about to make explosive allegations about President Cristina Kirchner fled Argentina on Sunday after threats.

"Now safe in Tel Aviv. Thanks everybody. We'll talk soon," Damian Pachter tweeted.

A citizen of Argentina and Israel, he worked for the English-language Buenos Aires Herald. Pachter fled Argentina after receiving threats, and being followed, he told colleagues in other media.

The reporter, who also worked with Israel's Haaretz, told colleagues his phones had been tapped in Argentina.

"I will return when my sources tell me that the conditions have changed," Pachter told the Herald. "I don't think that will happen under this administration."

Prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead with a bullet to the head in his Buenos Aires home a week ago, just before he was set to go before a congressional hearing to accuse Kirchner and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman of shielding Iranian officials implicated in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish charities federation office that killed 85 people.

It was the worst terror attack in modern history for Argentina, home to Latin America's largest Jewish community.

Several pretrials in the case were cancelled amid serious irregularities involving judges and Argentine intelligence staff, so it has not yet been fully prosecuted.

Kirchner's government meanwhile has come under fire for publishing on the presidential office Twitter details of the Aerolineas Argentinas plane ticket Pachter purchased.

The Herald said it could not confirm threats against Pachter but that he had not returned to work.

- Coverup? -

Kirchner, meanwhile, has said she believes the 51-year-old was murdered in a plot to implicate her government in a coverup.

Prosecutor Viviana Fein, who is leading the investigation, said investigators were waiting for ballistics analysis, including a DNA comparison, and to see whether the bullet taken from the body matches the .22-caliber weapon found at the scene.

Before his demise, Nisman had filed a 280-page complaint charging that Kirchner had issued an "express directive" to shield a group of Iranian suspects in the 1994 bombing.

Nisman contended that the government had agreed to swap grain for oil with Tehran in exchange for withdrawing "red notices" to Interpol seeking the arrests of the former and current Iranian officials accused in the unsolved case.

Since 2006, Argentine courts have demanded the extradition of eight Iranians, including former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former defense minister Ahmad Vahidi and Iran's former cultural attache in Buenos Aires, Mohsen Rabbani, for the bombing.

But in 2013, Kirchner signed a memorandum of understanding with Tehran agreeing to set up a "truth commission" to investigate the bombing and allowing Argentine prosecutors to question the suspects in Iran.

The rapprochement was vehemently opposed at the time by Jewish community leaders, who charged it was "unconstitutional."

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Jan 26, 2015, 08:38 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Maiduguri Residents Told to Stay and Fight, as Curfew Lifted

by Naharnet Newsdesk 26 January 2015, 12:15

A city-wide curfew was lifted Monday in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria, following a weekend Boko Haram attack that prompted the state governor to urge residents to stay and fight any future assaults.

The restive capital of Borno State was locked down on Sunday morning, after the Islamist militants launched a dawn raid that was later repelled by the military.

Nigerian Army spokesman Colonel Sani Usman announced the lifting of the curfew from 6:00 am (0500 GMT). "People can go about their legitimate business," he said.

The military high command in Abuja said "scores" of Boko Haram fighters were killed as soldiers using heavy weaponry with air support halted the extremists' advance.

The attack came a day after President Goodluck Jonathan visited the city as part of his campaign for re-election next month, and again vowed to end the six-year insurgency.

But with the militants now in control of swathes of territory in Borno, fears remain high over renewed large-scale attacks on the city.

"It is not over yet," said security analyst Abdullahi Bawa Wase, who tracks the Boko Haram conflict.

"They will certainly make another attempt. It is only a matter of when, because Maiduguri is strategic," he told AFP.

Borno State governor Kashim Shettima also recognized the clear and present danger of another assault on Maiduguri, with the rebels now in control of the nearby town of Monguno.

But Shettima told BBC radio's Hausa-language service: "I call on the people of Borno State not to panic. This is our land. No fear, no flight, no retreat. We should not flee.

"We have a history dating back 1,000 years and I swear by Allah we are going to beat (Boko Haram)."

Despite the success in Maiduguri and in repelling a separate attack in nearby Konduga, Monguno -- which is about 125 kilometers (80 miles) north of Maiduguri -- fell into rebel hands on Sunday.

Boko Haram also captured the town's military barracks, from which it is feared it will launch a fresh strike on Maiduguri. The group was founded in Maiduguri in 2002, and was driven out in 2013.

Shettima confirmed that the situation was "bad in Monguno," and that people had fled to Maiduguri, where the military was screening them in case any the militants had infiltrated the displaced population.

In September last year, it was estimated that more than half of Borno's 4.1 million people were in Maiduguri, but many more have arrived since then to seek sanctuary from the violence.

Many are living in camps for internally displaced people.

Security analysts believe Boko Haram's capture of Monguno -- after the Lake Chad fishing hub of Baga was captured earlier this month -- was driven by a need for food, fuel, medicine and other essentials.

Hundreds of people, if not more, are feared to have been killed in Baga, where Boko Haram fighters destroyed much of the town and razed at least 16 surrounding settlements.

Residents who fled Baga have said Boko Haram has enough supplies from the abandoned and looted markets to last for months, but they will eventually be forced to push south.

Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analysts at risk consultants Red24, suggested the Monguno attack was also likely prompted by the need for weapons to counter eventual offensives by regional armies.

Boko Haram violence has effectively wiped large parts of northeast Nigeria off the electoral map, making voting impossible in next month's presidential and parliamentary poll.

Nigeria is scrambling for a solution to allow displaced people to vote, but Wase said any successful future attack on Maiduguri would "automatically disrupt the elections".

"It means elections will not be held in Borno state because the bulk of the voters are now in Maiduguri," he added.

Nigeria's main opposition, which is in power in much of the northeast, has said the validity of the overall result could be questioned if hundreds of thousands of people are disenfranchised.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Jan 26, 2015, 08:36 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Zambia's New Leader Drops White Vice President

by Naharnet Newsdesk 26 January 2015, 15:05

Zambia’s newly-elected President Edgar Lungu dropped vice president Guy Scott -- who was briefly Africa's only white leader -- from his administration when he announced his cabinet on Monday.

As interim president since the death in office of Michael Sata in October, Scott had been the first white leader on the continent since the end of apartheid 20 years ago.

He was replaced as vice president by Inonge Wina, a former gender minister and chairwoman of the ruling Patriotic Front.

Scott had sacked Lungu from his position as party general secretary during a power struggle after Sata's death, but later reinstated him after rioting by supporters.

Scott, who is of Scottish descent, was prevented by the constitution from standing for the presidency himself as his parents were not born in Zambia.

He had told local media that he saw his role as interim president as largely ceremonial and was looking forward to handing over power so that he could enjoy his "gin and tonic".

Lungu made several other new appointments to the cabinet after winning last week's election, but retained Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda and Foreign Affairs Minister Harry Kalaba.

Ngosa Simbyakula becomes Justice Minister and is replaced as Home Affairs Minister by Davies Mwila.

The new president reiterated his pledge to serve the people of Zambia equally regardless of tribal affiliation.

"I love every part of Zambia and we won't look at tribe when it comes to development," he said.

Lungu, the former defence minister, takes over the helm for the remainder of Sata's term until a general election scheduled for September 2016.

He has promised to focus on building the economy of the continent's second biggest copper producer, which has been hit by declining prices.

The new president inherits a slowing economy and high poverty levels, with the key mining, tourism and agriculture sectors all struggling.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Jan 26, 2015, 08:35 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Uganda Lord's Resistance Army Leader Faces War Crimes Judges

by Naharnet Newsdesk 26 January 2015, 15:19

Notorious former Lord's Resistance Army commander Dominic Ongwen made his first appearance before the International Criminal Court on Monday, accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The initial hearing for the Ugandan child soldier-turned-warlord came days after he was transferred to The Hague-based court following his surprise surrender to U.S. troops earlier this month.

A calm, composed Ongwen wore a blue suit, white shirt and blue-and-grey plaid tie as he identified himself as born in Gulu in northern Uganda in 1975.

"I'd like to thank God for creating Heaven and Earth, together with everyone that's on Earth," Ongwen said.

"I was abducted in 1988 and I was taken to the bush when I was 14 years old," he said in Acholi.

"Prior to my arrival at court I was a soldier in the LRA," said Ongwen, with short hair rather than the trademark dreadlocks of his time as an LRA commander.

Defense counsel Helene Cisse noted that since his abduction, Ongwen had been "denied any access to education".

Ongwen is the first leader of the brutal Ugandan rebel army led by the fugitive Joseph Kony to appear before the ICC, created to try the world's worst crimes.

Known as the "White Ant", Ongwen was one of the most senior commanders of the LRA, which is accused of killing more than 100,000 people and abducting some 60,000 children in a bloody rebellion that started in 1987.

He has been wanted for war crimes for almost a decade by the ICC, in its oldest-running case to date.

The United States had offered a $5-million (4.3-million-euro) reward for his capture.

Judge Ekaterina Trendafilova read Ongwen his rights and the charges were put to him, which included a deadly attack on a refugee camp in 2004.

He was not required to respond to the charges at this stage in the proceedings.

Trendafilova set the date for Ongwen's next appearance for August 24, when hearings will start to determine if he should face trial.

Ongwen was a senior aide to LRA leader and warlord Kony, who is still at large and being pursued by regional troops and US special forces.

Ongwen's surrender dealt a major blow to the LRA's three-decade campaign across several central African nations. He was wanted by ICC on charges that include murder, enslavement, inhumane acts and directing attacks against civilians.

His capture has been widely hailed by rights groups and the ICC's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who said it took the world "one step closer to ending the LRA's reign of terror" in the restive African Great Lakes region.

Ongwen was abducted by the LRA as a child while on his way to school and turned into a child soldier, before rising through the ranks to become one of its top commanders.

Rights groups have pointed out that the fact Ongwen was initially himself a victim may be a mitigating factor, should he be found guilty and sentenced.

"The ICC has accused him, in part, of the same crimes that were initially perpetrated against him," said Washington-based independent researcher Ledio Cakaj, who has researched the LRA extensively.

Over the years the LRA has moved across the porous borders of the region, shifting from Uganda to sow terror in southern Sudan before moving to the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and finally crossing into the southeast of the Central African Republic in March 2008.

Combining religious mysticism with astute guerrilla tactics and bloodthirsty ruthlessness, Kony has turned scores of young girls into his sex slaves while claiming to be fighting to impose the Bible's Ten Commandments.

Ongwen's troops were notorious for punishment raids, slicing off the lips and ears of victims as grim calling cards.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Jan 26, 2015, 08:34 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Obama, New Saudi King Expected to Talk About IS, Yemen

by Naharnet Newsdesk 26 January 2015, 15:31

U.S. President Barack Obama and the new Saudi king are expected to discuss the military campaign against Islamic State group extremists and the crisis in Yemen at upcoming talks in Riyadh, the White House said Monday.

Obama's brief visit to the Saudi capital on Tuesday was mainly intended as an opportunity to meet King Salman "and to pay respects to the family and to the people of Saudi Arabia" after the death last week of long-time ruler King Abdullah, a senior official said.

"But I'm sure that while we are there, they will touch on some of the leading issues where we cooperate very closely with Saudi Arabia," White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said in New Delhi.

"Clearly that would include the continued counter-ISIL campaign where the Saudis have been a partner and have joined us in military operations.

"That of course also includes the situation in Yemen where we have coordinated very closely with Saudi Arabia and the other countries."

Obama decided to cut short a three-day visit to India and head to Riyadh after the death of Abdullah, whose country is a long-time ally of the United States as well as the world's leading oil exporter.

Obama's decision to travel in person reflects a determination to maintain close ties with the Saudis, who have been part of a U.S.-led bombing campaign against IS group extremists in Syria since last year.

IS, also known as ISIL, holds vast swathes of territory in both Syria and Saudi Arabia's northern neighbour Iraq, where it has declared an Islamic "caliphate".

Saudi Arabia is also seen as having a crucial role to play in ending the unrest in its southern neighbour Yemen, where a powerful Shiite militia recently took over the capital Sanaa.

Rhodes said the new king and Obama had held talks in the past but Tuesday's meeting would be "a good opportunity for them to sit down and exchange views and initiate the relationship as leader to leader".

Asked if Obama planned to raise concerns over the Saudis' human rights record, Rhodes said that it was "a topic that we raise regularly with Saudi Arabia".

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Jan 26, 2015, 08:32 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Obama recommends extended wilderness zone in Alaska

Agence France-Presse
26 Jan 2015 at 09:23 ET     

US President Barack Obama said Sunday he would recommend a large swath of Alaska be designated as wilderness, the highest level of federal protection, in a move angering state oil proponents.

By setting aside 12.28 million acres (five million hectares) of public land in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, as wilderness, the oil-rich area would be sealed off from roads and development, including drilling.

“I’m going to be calling on Congress to make sure they take it one step forward, designating it as a wilderness so we can make sure that this amazing wonder is preserved for future generations,” Obama said in a video posted online.

If Congress approves the measure, it would mark the largest wilderness designation since the classification was created more than 50 years ago.

The 19.8-million-acre ANWR is home to countless species, including polar bears, gray wolves, caribou, muskoxen, more than 200 species of birds and 42 species of fish.

“It’s very fragile and that’s why I’m proud my Department of Interior has put forward a comprehensive plan to make sure we’re protecting the refuge, and that we’re designating new areas including coastal plains for preservation,” Obama said.

More than seven million acres of the refuge are already designated as wilderness, but don’t include Alaska’s coastal plain, which is home to numerous species and oil.

“Just like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of our nation’s crown jewels and we have an obligation to preserve this spectacular place for generations to come,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

- ‘What an awful thing’ -

But Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, slammed the move, calling out Jewell and Obama.

“What an awful thing for AK to wake up to on a Sunday: gut punches from this White House to our economy and future,” she tweeted, using an abbreviation for the state.

Meanwhile, the committee’s Republicans cited a Friday phone conversation between Murkowski and Jewell, in an online post.

“What’s coming is a stunning attack on our sovereignty and our ability to develop a strong economy that allows us, our children and our grandchildren to thrive,” Murkowski said in a statement.

Alaska Governor Bill Walker derided the move, tweeting that he joined his state’s congressional delegation in “denouncing President Obama’s attempt to block future oil development in ANWR.”

But the White House defended the proposed expansion in a blog post.

“The Obama administration believes that oil and natural gas resources can be developed safely. Unfortunately, accidents and spills can still happen,” wrote presidential counselor John Podesta and Mike Boots, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Environmental groups heralded the move.

“This wilderness recommendation has been a long time coming for the place where life begins for the porcupine caribou herd and for many of America’s polar bears,” Center for Biological Diversity Alaska director Rebecca Noblin said.

Neither the Interior Department nor Obama referenced oil in their announcements.

The agency also said it was recommending four Alaskan rivers for protection under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

 on: Jan 26, 2015, 08:29 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Tales of ancient sea rise told for 10,000 years: How Australian tribes recorded climate change

Climate Central
26 Jan 2015 at 08:43 ET     

Melbourne, the southernmost state capital of the Australian mainland, was established by Europeans a couple hundred years ago at the juncture of a great river and a wind-whipped bay. Port Phillip Bay sprawls over 750 square miles, providing feeding grounds for whales and sheltering coastlines for brine-scented beach towns. But it’s an exceptionally shallow waterway, less than 30 feet in most places. It’s so shallow that 10,000 years ago, when ice sheets and glaciers held far more of the planet’s water than is the case today, most of the bay floor was high and dry and grazed upon by kangaroos.

To most of us, the rush of the oceans that followed the last ice age seems like a prehistoric epoch. But the historic occasion was dutifully recorded — coast to coast — by the original inhabitants of the land Down Under.

Without using written languages, Australian tribes passed memories of life before, and during, post-glacial shoreline inundations through hundreds of generations as high-fidelity oral history. Some tribes can still point to islands that no longer exist — and provide their original names.

That’s the conclusion of linguists and a geographer, who have together identified 18 Aboriginal stories — many of which were transcribed by early settlers before the tribes that told them succumbed to murderous and disease-spreading immigrants from afar — that they say accurately described geographical features that predated the last post-ice age rising of the seas.

“It’s quite gobsmacking to think that a story could be told for 10,000 years,” Nicholas Reid, a linguist at Australia’s University of New England specializing in Aboriginal Australian languages, said. “It’s almost unimaginable that people would transmit stories about things like islands that are currently underwater accurately across 400 generations.”

How could such tales survive hundreds of generations without being written down?

The Australian National University led research, published in September in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that tracked prehistoric changes in sea levels. 

“There are aspects of storytelling in Australia that involved kin-based responsibilities to tell the stories accurately,” Reid said. That rigor provided “cross-generational scaffolding” that “can keep a story true.”

Reid and a fellow linguist teamed up with Patrick Nunn, a geography professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast. They combed through documented Aboriginal Australian stories for tales describing times when sea levels were lower than today. The team analyzed the contours of the land where the stories were told and used scientific reconstructions of prehistoric sea levels to date the origins of each of the stories — back to times when fewer than 10 million people were thought to have inhabited the planet.

Nunn has drafted a paper describing sea level rise history in the 18 identified Aboriginal Australian stories, which he plans to publish in a peer-reviewed journal. He’s also scouring the globe for similar examples of stories that describe ancient environmental change.

“There’s a comparably old tradition among the Klamath of Oregon that must be at least 7,700 years old – it refers to the last eruption of Mount Mazama, which formed Crater Lake,” Nunn said. “I’m also working on ancient inundation stories and myths from India, and I’ve been trying to stimulate some interest among Asian scholars.”

The highlights of the results of the trio’s preliminary analysis of six of the ancient Australian tales was presented during an indigenous language conference in Japan. The stories describe permanent coastal flooding. In some cases, they describe times when dry land occupied space now submerged by water. In others, they tell of wading out to islands that can now only be reached by boat.

“This paper makes the case that endangered Indigenous languages can be repositories for factual knowledge across time depths far greater than previously imagined,” the researchers wrote in their paper, “forcing a rethink of the ways in which such traditions have been dismissed.”
Port Phillip Bay

Numerous tribes described a time when the bay was mostly dry land. An 1859 report produced for the state government described tribal descendants recalling when the bay “was a kangaroo ground.” The author of that report wrote that the descendents would tell him, “Plenty catch kangaroo and plenty catch opossum there.” The researchers determined that these stories recount a time when seas were about 30 feet higher than today, suggesting that the stories are 7,800 to 9,350 years old.

Kangaroo Island

The Ngarrindjeri people tell stories of Ngurunderi, an ancestral character steeped in mythology. In one of their stories, Ngurunderi chased his wives until they sought refuge by fleeing to Kangaroo Island — which they could do mostly by foot. Ngurunderi angrily rose the seas, turning the women into rocks that now jut out of the water between the island and the mainland. Assuming this dark tale is based on true geographical changes, it originated at a time when seas were about 100 feet lower than they are today, which would date the story at 9,800 to 10,650 years ago.

Tiwi Islands

A story told by the Tiwi people describes the mythological creation of Bathurst and Melville islands off Australia’s northern coastline, where they live. An old woman is said to have crawled between the islands, followed by a flow of water. The story is interpreted as the settling of what now are islands, followed by subsequent flooding around them, which the researchers calculate would have occurred 8,200 to 9,650 years ago.

An early European settler described Aboriginal stories telling how these islands, which can still be viewed from the shores of Perth or Fremantle, “once formed part of the mainland, and that the intervening ground was thickly covered with trees.” According to at least one story, the trees caught fire, burning “with such intensity that the ground split asunder with a great noise, and the sea rushed in between, cutting off these islands from the mainland.” Based on the region’s bathymetry, the researchers dated the story back 7,500 to 8,900 years ago.

Fitzroy Island

Stories by the original residents of Australia’s northeastern coastline tell of a time when the shoreline stretched so far out that it abbuted the Great Barrier Reef. The stories tell of a river that entered the sea at what is now Fitzroy Island. The great gulf between today’s shoreline and the reef suggests that the stories tell of a time when seas were more than 200 feet lower than they are today, placing the story’s roots at as many as 12,600 years ago.
Spencer Gulf

Spencer Gulf was once a floodplain lined with freshwater lagoons, according to the stories told by the Narrangga people. Depending on which parts of the large inlet near Adelaide that are referred to by the stories, they could be between 9,550 and 12,450 years old.

Originally published at Climate Central

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