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 on: Oct 19, 2014, 07:03 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Are we in the Anthropocene? Scientists ask if this is the new epoch of humans

Ian Sample, The Guardian
18 Oct 2014 at 13:45 ET                   

A disparate group of experts from around the world will meet for the first time on Thursday for talks on what must rank as one of the most momentous decisions in human history.

The question confronting the scientists and other specialists is straightforward enough, even if the solution is far from simple. Is it time to call an end to the epoch we live in and declare the dawn of a new time period: one defined by humanity’s imprint on the planet?

The 30-strong group, made up of geologists, climate scientists, ecologists – and a lawyer for good measure – will start their deliberations in a room at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, or House of the Cultures of the World, a contemporary arts centre in Berlin.

Like many things in the world of geology, little moves fast at the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), the body that decides the time period we live in. But the arrival and informal adoption of the word “anthropocene” to mean a new epoch of humanity has somewhat forced their hand.

The word came into common usage after Paul Crutzen, a Dutch chemist and Nobel prize winner, used the term in 2000. He arguedin an academic newsletter that the current geological epoch should be awarded the new name to reflect the major and ongoing impact of human life on Earth.

The official arrival of the Anthropocene would mark the end of the Holocene, the geological time we live in now. Identified by a geochemical signal in Greenland ice cores that marks the onset of warmer and wetter conditions at the end of the last ice age, the Holocene defined a time when humans colonised new territories and the population swelled.

Though many scientists are happy with the Holocene, the Anthropocene was quickly picked up on. It entered the lexicon of archaeologists, historians, climate scientists and environmentalists. For the ICS, which balks at terms being bandied about without them being properly defined, the rise of the Anthropocene posed a problem.

The ICS responded the way any large and conservative organisation might. Its subcommission on quaternary stratigraphy set up a working group on the Anthropocene, filled it with a diverse range of experts, and handed the problem to them. The working group has given itself until 2016 to bash out a proposal for the ICS to consider.

“Crutzen, who is not a geologist, but one of the modern great scientists, essentially launched a small hand grenade into the world of geological time scales,” Jan Zalasiewicz, chair of the ICS’s anthropocene working group, told the Guardian. “The word began to be used widely, well before geologists ever got involved.”

The secretary of the working group, Colin Waters, a principal mapping geologist at the British Geological Survey, said the term has come to mean different things as it has spread to different groups, a situation that can only end in headaches. “It’s so widely used now that there are at least three journals using the term Anthropocene in their titles, yet no-one knows what is meant by the term. It’s like having a set of publications on the Jurassic without anyone knowing what the word Jurassic means. We need a common understanding,” he said.

The history of the Earth is divided up according to the geological time scale, which is set by the International Commission on Stratigraphy. The longest units of time are periods, such as the Tertiary period, which spans from around 2.5 million years ago to 66 million years ago. Epochs are shorter, such as the Eocene, which ran from 56 million years ago to 34 million years ago. Shorter still are ages, such as the Messinian, which spanned the past 7 to 5 million years.

The working group must first thrash out a definition of the anthropocene and then work out whether it wants the ICS to make the term official and at what level. Crutzen proposed it as a new epoch – as the suffix “cene” suggests – and the working group will use this as a starting point.

In the past, the ICS has looked to rocks to define different time periods in Earth’s history. The Cambrian period, which began more than half a billion years ago, marks the moment when major groups of animals first appeared as fossils in rock strata.

This time, the signals may be less wondrous. One marker for the start of the Anthropocene that the group will consider is the sudden and global arrival of radionuclides left over from atomic bombs in the 1940s and 1950s. One advantage is that plutonium, caesium, strontium and other substances can be linked to a specific date in time as well as a clear line in rock, called a golden spike, in the business. “The boundary might be set at 1945 when that started,” said Zalasiewicz.

Other options are the widespread use of plastic, the release of polyaromatic hydrocarbons from the burning of fossil fuels, and lead contamination from petroleum, which all leave stark traces in the Earth. Crutzen argued for the late 18th century as the start of the industrial revolution.

But some scientists are completely against the idea. Phil Gibbard, a geologist at Cambridge who set up the working group in the first place, is one. “ I’m not in favour of this being defined formally as a division of geological time. I think it’s an extraordinarily difficult thing to do,” he said. “We are living in an interglacial period and there’s no question we’re still within that period, and it’s called the holocene.”

Mike Ellis, a member of the working group and head of climate change at the British Geological Survey, disagrees: “The principal process of change on the planet is us, so the name of our epoch should reflect that. It’s as simple as that.

“It acknowledges that humans and the human process is as much a natural process as any other natural process that we are used to thinking about, such as volcanoes and earthquakes. The things we do and the things we make; the rules and legislation we come up with to control the way we live, they are a natural process and it emerges out of this thing called the Earth.”

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 07:00 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Brazil Contenders Gear Up for Final Vote

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 October 2014, 07:07

Leftist incumbent Dilma Rousseff and Social Democratic challenger Aecio Neves are fighting to break a statistical tie in the polls a week out from next Sunday's presidential runoff.

The contest has developed into the closest-fought in a generation as Neves, scion of a political dynasty, looks to unseat Rousseff, whose Workers Party (PT) has been in power for 12 years.

Having unexpectedly thrashed environmentalist Marina Silva in the first round, Neves, former governor of southern Minas Gerais state, has his nose just in front, polls say.

But his advantage going into this weekend was wafer-thin at 51 percent to 49, leaving him and Rousseff in a virtual dead heat.

The past week has seen Neves 54, and Rousseff, 66, engage in caustic debate with both accusing the other of lying and turning a blind eye to graft, a key issue in the debate amid a kickbacks scandal involving oil giant Petrobras.

While insisting he will keep in place extensive PT welfare reform programs after they pulled millions out of poverty in the past decade, Neves has accused Rousseff's administration of failing on the economy by leading it into recession this year.

Rousseff's four years have been marked by low growth which had raced ahead under predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

With the Petrobras scandal also haunting her administration -- though his own party has not escaped allegations of wrongdoing -- Neves insists that "Brazil cannot take another four years of misgovernment on this scale."

Rousseff fired back by unsubtly referring to 2011 reports of Neves refusing to take a breathalyzer test and insisting that his party, which ruled Brazil for eight years before Lula triumphed in 2002, would seek to unpick the welfare reforms which have won international renown.

"My government will care for all Brazilians, in contrast to the previous one (of 1995-2002 Social Democrat (PSDB) president Fernando Henrique Cardoso) which only served the elite," trumpeted Rousseff, who polled eight percent more than her rival in the October 5 first round.

- Class divisions -Though many Brazilians fed up with poor public services and corruption say they want change next week's run-off features two candidates whose respective parties have ruled the country between them for the past two decades.

The country is also split down the middle, between the largely PT-supporting, less well off North and the richer South, where Neves' pro-business message is well received.

"This is an extremely divisive election. The upper middle and upper classes have gone for Neves, and the lower middle and the excluded -- at whom the PT's big social programs are directed -- are voting for Rousseff," Mauro Paulino, director of polling agency Datafolha, told Agence France Presse.

But he explains that, for those in the middle, things are less clear-cut.

"The middle class, which grew most under PT rule and forms a large swath of the electorate (at around 36 percent), is divided between the two candidates.

"On the one hand they are afraid to lose the gains associated with the PT, such as access to consumer goods. But on the other, there is a feeling of indignation as the process of life getting better has been interrupted.

"They recognize the improvements -- but they want more," says Paulino

For Ricardo Ribeiro, analyst with MCM Consultancy, "where there is a real battle between the PT and PSDB is among middle class voters who do not depend upon the main bolsa familia social program" to supplement the wages of the poorest "but (who) can benefit from other grants."

Such aid includes state help with university fees and other studies as well as housing programs for families who Ribeiro indicates generally may espouse "traditional middle class values."

The financial world is meanwhile solidly behind Neves, criticizing Rousseff for economic micro-management and excessive state reach while allowing inflation to breach a government ceiling target of 6.5 percent.

- Rising anti-PT tide -"After 12 years of PT rule there is a rising anti-PT tide -- this election is more polarized than any we have seen since 1989," says political consultant Andre Cesar.

"That is a bad thing for the next president as he (or she if Rousseff retains her post) will inherit a divided country with an economy in the doldrums and a fragmented Congress comprising 28 parties."

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:59 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Bolivia's Morales Wins Reelection with 61 Percent

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 October 2014, 07:05

President Evo Morales swept to a third term with 61 percent of the vote, electoral officials said Saturday in confirming the result.

The October 12 balloting was a massive vote of support and a strong mandate to expand his leftist reforms.

In power since 2006 and Bolivia's first indigenous president, Morales earned 37 points more than his closest rival, wealthy cement magnate Samuel Doria Medina.

Morales will extend his time in office to 14 years, until January 2020, after Bolivia's Supreme Court ruled last year that his first term was exempt from a new constitution adopted in 2009 that imposed a limit of one re-election for sitting presidents.

After rising to prominence as a union leader fighting for the rights of the country's coca growers, Morales has brought sweeping changes since taking office in 2006.

His government has nationalized a broad range of industries, including oil, gas, mining, telecommunications and water; rolled out welfare grants for the elderly, children and expectant mothers; and moved to empower previously marginalized groups, among them the indigenous people who account for 65 percent of the population.

Defying opponents' dire warnings of economic catastrophe, Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in Latin America, has instead seen a boom.

The economy grew 6.8 percent last year and is forecast to grow more than five percent this year, one of the fastest rates in the region.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:58 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Mexico Finds Many Corpses, but Not Lost 43

OCT. 18, 2014

IGUALA, Mexico — With borrowed shovels and pick axes, the farmers drove their battered pickup trucks to a series of suspicious clearings in the countryside, jumped out and started digging.

“Hey, hey, it’s a spine,” one of the men, part of a citizen police patrol, called out last week, fishing out what appeared to be a piece of spinal column. Soon came other fragments — a rib? a knee bone?

Five mass graves have already been discovered in the hunt for 43 students who disappeared last month after clashing with the local police — and another half dozen secret burial sites like this one are being tested to determine the origins of the remains inside.

Even with hundreds of soldiers, federal officers, state personnel and local residents on the trail, the search has still not confirmed what happened to the missing students. Instead, it has turned up something just as chilling: a multitude of clandestine graves with unknown occupants right on the outskirts of town, barely concealing the extensive toll organized crime has taken on this nation.

The students were reported missing after the local police, now accused of working with a local drug gang, shot to death six people on Sept. 26. Prosecutors say they believe that officers abducted a large number of the students and then turned them over to the gang. The students have not been seen since.

President Enrique Peña Nieto has declared the search for the missing students his administration’s top priority. But if anything, the hunt is confirming that the crisis of organized crime in Mexico, where tens of thousands are already known to have been killed in the drug war in recent years, may be worse than the authorities have acknowledged.

The federal government has celebrated official statistics suggesting a decline in homicides in recent months. But the proliferation of graves here in the restive state of Guerrero — including at least 28 charred human bodies that turned out not to be the missing students — has cast new doubt over the government’s tally, potentially pointing to a large number of uncounted dead.

Relatives of the students, who were training to be teachers and planning a protest against cuts to their college, agonize over the discovery of each mass grave. Some have given up searching on their own, convinced that a mafia of criminals and politicians knows where they are but are not saying.

Many still believe the lost students are alive, joining the distressed fraternity of relatives of the thousands still missing from the drug war in Mexico. Such cases are rarely solved.

Hours before the latest possible graves were found, María Oliveras, the mother of Antonio Santana, one of the missing students, lit a candle and prayed at the campus where she and other relatives are holding a constant vigil.

“I just want to know how he is, where he is and what he is doing,” she said. “When they find remains, I don’t want to believe it is him. You have to believe he is alive and for some reason they haven’t turned him over.”

In his first two years in office, Mr. Peña Nieto has focused on revamping the economy and drawing foreign investors, earning praise from some economists who say he has set the stage for future growth.

But critics argue that in the process, Mr. Peña Nieto has largely overlooked the lawlessness of towns like this one, 120 miles south of Mexico City, the evidence of which lies literally just under their surface.

“Impunity is the main motivation for these numerous disappearances,” said Alejandro Hope, a former Mexican intelligence official. “We must remember that only one in every five murder cases is solved in Mexico, whereas in the U.S. it’s two out of three cases. This is due to impunity, weak institutions and a decentralized search and localization process.”

Members of the farmer brigades searching for the students — calling themselves “community police” who have stepped into the vacuum of authority in southern Mexico — said they were acting on a rash of tips from residents who do not trust any of the professional police.

Leaning on a shovel, Miguel Ángel Jiménez, a leader of the community police, said he doubted the students could have been buried in this spot because the growth of weeds over it looked thicker than a few weeks would produce.

“But even if it is not them, we can’t let these graves go unsolved,” he said, bringing a halt to the digging. “Once we find some bones, we stop and let the forensic investigators come in.”

It will take a couple of weeks for the authorities to test all of the new remains discovered in recent days. Prosecutors have confirmed that the corpses and remains in at least five mass graves uncovered so far are human, but they have not yet tied them to any of the students.

On Friday, acting again on tips from residents, the farmer brigades searched a hilly trail, looking for caves in which residents believe bodies were left. Along the way, they found what appeared to be a safe house for a gang, littered with bottles, old clothes, candles and a portrait of Jesús Malverde, a gang icon.

Later, a local guide working with them got a threatening telephone call as he headed down the trail from the cave.

“Stop going up there,” the voice said over and over before hanging up, the man said.

The school the students attended, the Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos, is a teacher college with radical roots, steeped in revolutionary ferment and slogans.

Now parents and other family members of the missing bide their time there, sipping coffee, chatting in clusters and sleeping on mattresses stuffed into classrooms and other spare space.

The students had been organizing an Oct. 2 protest against cuts to their state-financed school, but they appear to have gotten into a skirmish with the police when they tried to steal buses to travel to and from the demonstration, human rights groups said.

“Sometimes I can’t just sit and think,” said the mother of one student at the school, declining to give her name out of fear. She clutched a piece of paper with a prayer for “the Protection of the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ” written on it.

Her husband scoffed at what he considered a big charade on the part of the authorities. “We can’t search; we don’t know the terrain,” he said with anger. “But they already know where they are. Just bring him to us.”

Eleucadio Ortega, another father, said his gut tightened with each report of a grave being found. In the days after his son, Mauricio Ortega, went missing, he searched parts of Iguala with other parents. But they found the effort futile and believe that only informants in the criminal world can provide real leads.

He wonders if somehow the students got mistaken for any number of groups in conflict in the state, including a range of guerrilla groups and gangs. But, he said, his son was simply a peasant farmer who wanted to be a teacher to get ahead.

“Somebody knows what happened to him and the others,” he said. “Somebody needs to bring them back.”

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:54 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Ebola: Liberia deaths ‘far higher than reported’ as officials downplay epidemic

Film-maker Sorious Samura, recently returned from Liberia, says Ebola is still not under control, with cultural practices and data problems masking the true extent of the epidemic

Mark Townsend   
The Observer, Sunday 19 October 2014      

The true death toll from the Ebola epidemic is being masked by chaotic data collection and people’s reluctance to admit that their loved ones had the virus, according to one of west Africa’s most celebrated film-makers.

Sorious Samura, who has just returned from making a documentary on the crisis in Liberia, said it is very clear on the ground that the true number of dead is far higher than the official figures being reported by the World Health Organisation.

Liberia accounts for more than half of all the official Ebola deaths, with a total of 2,458. Overall, the number of dead across Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea has exceeded 4,500.

Samura, a television journalist originally from Sierra Leone, said the Liberian authorities appeared to be deliberately downplaying the true number of cases, for fear of increasing alarm in the west African country.

“People are dying in greater numbers than we know, according to MSF [Médecins sans Frontières] and WHO officials. Certain departments are refusing to give them the figures – because the lower it is, the more peace of mind they can give people. The truth is that it is still not under control.”

WHO has admitted that problems with data-gathering make it hard to track the evolution of the epidemic, with the number of cases in the capital, Monrovia, going under-reported. Efforts to count freshly dug graves had been abandoned.

Local culture is also distorting the figures. Traditional burial rites involve relatives touching the body – a practice that can spread Ebola – so the Liberian government has ruled that Ebola victims must be cremated.

“They don’t like this burning of bodies,” said Samura, whose programme will air on 12 November on Al Jazeera English. “Before the government gets there they will have buried their loved ones and broken all the rules.”

Kim West of MSF admitted that calculating deaths was “virtually impossible”, adding that only when retrospective surveys were conducted would the true figure be known.

Samura believes sexual promiscuity among westerners could play a role in the virus’s spread abroad. Almost immediately after the outbreak was reported in March, Liberia’s health minister warned people to stop having sex because the virus was spread via bodily fluids as well as kissing.“I saw westerners in nightclubs, on beaches, guys picking up prostitutes,” he said. “Westerners who ought to know better are going to nightclubs and partying and dancing. It beggars belief.It’s scary.”

He said another striking feature was that the ineffectiveness of years of aid had been laid bare: “Money has poured in from the west, but it has gone to waste. Ebola should make us think about how the west gives aid to Africa; aid has not been used to create a system able to cope with this challenge. Ebola has exposed the fact it is not working. That money has gone to waste.”

A committee of MPs recently criticised the Department for International Development and the EU for failing to address the problem of aid being misappropriated. It said just £2.4m of £37m of aid had actually made its way to Liberia’s health ministry.

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:52 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Fears grow that Nigeria ceasefire won’t secure girls’ release amid fresh attacks

Suspected Boko Haram militants have killed number of people in two attacks since truce was announced by presidential source

Chris Johnston and agencies, Saturday 18 October 2014 17.03 BST   

Fears are mounting that a ceasefire announced by Nigeria’s military could fail to win the release of the more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram after militants suspected to be part of the group killed several people in two attacks.

Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, the head of Nigeria’s military, said on Friday that authorities had agreed a ceasefire with the Islamist militant group that would allow for the girls’ release.

About 300 students were kidnapped in April while sitting exams in a secondary school in the remote north-eastern town of Chibok, 219 of whom remain in captivity.

But since the ceasefire was announced, security sources and witnesses said that suspected insurgents attacked the village of Abadam on Friday night, killing at least one person and ransacking homes, while another attack on the village of Dzur on Saturday morning left at least eight people dead.

News of the attacks came after a senior presidential source said that the students could be released by Tuesday.

The unnamed source said on Saturday that the federal government was striving to meet its obligations under the ceasefire so that the students could be released “either on Monday or, latest, Tuesday next week”.

The government spokesman Mike Omeri said only that authorities were “inching closer to the release of the Chibok girls”. Military officials were unavailable for comment.

Boko Haram, which conveys messages in videos by its supposed leader, Abubakar Shekau, has yet to comment on the ceasefire.

The Nigerian military has twice claimed to have rescued some or all of the girls in the months since they were captured, only to back-track hours later.

Negotiations with Boko Haram in recent years have failed to achieve a peace deal, partly because it has several rival factions.

Relatives of the schoolgirls were cautiously optimistic about the ceasefire.

The community leader Pogu Bitrus said “people rejoiced, but with caution” given the previous false claims made by the government and military.

Bana Lawan, the chairman of Chibok local government area, said: “We don’t know how true it is until we prove it. We will know the negotiations were successful when we see the girls physically. And then we will know it is true. And then we will celebrate.”

The kidnappings sparked global outrage and a social media campaign under the hashtag #bringbackourgirls that was backed by figures including the US first lady, Michelle Obama.

Campaigners have staged daily rallies in the capital, Abuja, to maintain pressure on the government and the president, Goodluck Jonathan, who has faced mounting criticism for the failure to secure the girls’ release. Jonathan is expected to declare that he is standing for re-election on Sunday, and positive news about the hostages and insurgency could deflect criticism of his handling of the crisis.

Boko Haram has killed thousands of people in its attempt to establish an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria. Just over half of the country’s 167 million people are Muslim, with most of the rest identifying as Christians.

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:50 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
New Clashes in Hong Kong After Activists Retake Streets

OCT. 18, 2014 

HONG KONG — The police clashed with hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in the densely populated Mong Kok neighborhood early Sunday in the second straight day of violence after demonstrators recaptured blocks of city streets from the police.

More than 100 police officers — many with shields, batons and helmets — faced off against an even greater number of demonstrators and their supporters on Nathan Road, one of Hong Kong’s busiest shopping streets. The police turned a stretch of the southbound lanes of the thoroughfare into a parking lot for their vans and buses.

Officers advanced on the barricades just after midnight. At least three people were hurt, the police said in a statement, which also said that a police officer suffered a shoulder injury. Members of a first-aid station set up by protesters said several protesters were hurt.

The clashes erupted after demonstrators, who had been staging a sit-in in the area around the intersection for almost three weeks, were largely cleared out early Friday in a swift police operation. That backfired that evening and early Saturday, when thousands of demonstrators outnumbered the police, leading the officers to withdraw after clashes that the police say injured 15 officers and 26 protesters. The Mong Kok neighborhood is one of three in Hong Kong that for the past three weeks has been the site of demonstrations by people demanding democratic elections to choose Hong Kong’s top leader, the chief executive.

The clash on Sunday morning followed an announcement on Saturday by Hong Kong’s government that it would hold talks with student protest leaders on Tuesday, the start of a formal dialogue that could ease tensions.

Separately, in his first public comment since the start of the protests, Hong Kong’s police commissioner, Andy Tsang, condemned “radical” protesters for charging the police line and said they had broken the law by gathering in Mong Kok on Friday.

“I have a message from the bottom of my heart: These illegal acts are hurting Hong Kong, hurting our society,” he told reporters on Saturday. He did not answer questions.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 after more than 150 years of British rule. As part of the transfer agreement, the territory was to be allowed to run its own domestic affairs for half a century. Hong Kong residents enjoy freedom of speech, assembly and religion, enforced by an independent judiciary.

But Beijing has final say over any changes to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. The protests were set off when China’s legislature, run by the Communist Party, created guidelines for the 2017 elections that effectively ensured that only candidates approved by Beijing would appear on the ballot for chief executive.

For more than a year, organizers of a movement called Occupy Central With Love and Peace had warned the government that such restrictions, which do not meet international standards for free and fair elections, would lead to the sit-in protests. Organizers said they were prepared to be arrested, citing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Henry David Thoreau as examples in their civil disobedience actions.

In Mong Kok, as the protests entered their fourth week, a group of demonstrators said that for them, the rules had changed.

Mars Ng, Dominic Yuen and Kenny Yeung, all criminology students, stood near the barricades at the corner of Nathan Road and Argyle Street. All three were wearing hard hats to protect themselves against police batons. “For the revolution to be a success it’s important not to get hurt and not to get arrested,” said Mr. Yeung, 25, who said their plan was to run away if the police started arresting demonstrators, describing their protests as a “guerrilla” movement.

“We want everyone to come back to the scene,” he said.

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:48 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
New at the Helm of Indonesia’s Government: A Common Man

OCT. 18, 2014

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Slumped back in a black swivel chair in Jakarta’s colonial-era governor’s office, Indonesia’s president-elect looked weary.

He does not take office until Monday, but already Joko Widodo faces a hostile opposition coalition in Parliament that has vowed to undermine him at every turn and threatened to investigate him for corruption. Depressing economic indicators include declining growth and an unexpected spike in unemployment, while a national fuel subsidy sucks tens of billions of dollars out of the country’s state budget. And no sooner does he take office than he is expected to attend four major international conferences, starting with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing.

But pushing aside a briefing paper, he broke into smile.

“Look at my face,” he said with a cackling laugh and a sudden burst of energy. “Do I look worried?”

Indeed, in an interview last week in his private office he seemed remarkably relaxed and confident, at times carefully explaining the inevitability of his policies with the patience of a schoolteacher, at others dismissing complex problems with a wave of the hand. Parliament, for instance, was not a concern, because he will control a majority there “within six months,” he said.

Whether or not his presidency conforms to these expectations, and Indonesia’s fractious politics has a way of upending a politician’s best-laid plans, he has already set a new tone for the office and what he calls his “people-centric policies.”

Tall, thin and unassuming, Mr. Joko, 53, has a laid-back style and a face he jokingly says resembles that of a village street-food vendor more than the incoming president of the world’s fourth-largest nation.

A former carpenter and furniture exporter who was born in a slum in Central Java Province, he will be the first president in Indonesian history not to emerge from the country’s political elite or the ranks of former army generals. His July election over a former general and son-in-law of the dictator Suharto was characterized by many as a choice between a common man and a throwback to Indonesia’s authoritarian past.

High office has not changed his humble habits. As governor of Jakarta, he eschewed tailor-made suits and ties in favor of plain white button-down shirts and dark slacks, an outfit his presidential campaign team trumpeted in a campaign billboard as costing less than $30. He frequently does not wear socks with his simple loafers, and has given interviews barefoot.

He drew national attention for his daily walking tours through traditional markets and slum areas, where he would talk with residents about bread-and-butter issues such as health care, education and traffic, a kind of direct public contact alien to Indonesia’s traditionally aloof politicians.

“When I go on the ground and ask the people, they feel that the elite politicians fight and don’t pay attention to them,” he said in the interview. “So I think this is our opportunity to send a message to the people that we will pay more attention to them, we will give them good programs.”

Some of this he can accomplish without Parliament’s cooperation. During his first week in office, he plans to nationalize a “smart card” program for free health care and financial support for basic education for tens of millions of poor Indonesians, a program that was popular when he was a mayor in Central Java Province and governor of Jakarta. He said he expected the first cards to be mailed across the country by Nov. 1.

He has promised clean, professional government, and has rejected the longstanding practice of trading support for cabinet seats. Such a pledge could make building a governing majority next to impossible, but Mr. Joko acknowledged during the interview that new parties joining his coalition could still be awarded cabinet seats. But he said that they could be filled only by competent political appointees or professional technocrats who are party members.

“I think the main criteria is integrity and then an ability to work with me for the good of our country,” he said.

One major party, the Islamic-based United Development Party, is expected to abandon the opposition in the coming days, and analysts said they expected at least one other opposition party to switch sides eventually and give Mr. Joko a majority.

Meanwhile, the opposition has not squandered its moment in the majority. As Mr. Joko watched helplessly from the sidelines last month, it pushed through legislation eliminating direct elections for provincial governors, district chiefs and mayors, a move analysts said was aimed at preventing a political outsider like Mr. Joko from ever winning the presidency again.

Here again Mr. Joko was confident he would ultimately triumph. The vast majority of Indonesians support direct elections, he said, and he dismissed the opposition’s argument that they were a waste of money.

“Democracy is about listening to the people,” he said. “So when the opposition wants to change that and people don’t want it, then of course I think the people are on my side.”

He may have more trouble following through on his plans to reduce or eliminate the national fuel subsidy, which would require parliamentary approval. The subsidy costs Indonesia more than $20 billion a year, more than health care and social services combined, and according to the World Bank, benefits the wealthy more than the poor.

During the campaign, Mr. Joko suggested eliminating the subsidy completely by gradually raising the price of gasoline over a four years.

But the subsidy is popular with voters and lawmakers.

The departing president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, tried raising fuel prices two years ago, prompting an embarrassing revolt among members of his own coalition. The plan was quashed in a raucous session of Parliament as student and labor groups outside clashed with riot police on live national television.

Last year, however, Mr. Yudhoyono’s government was able to push through an amended budget that raised fuel prices to 53 cents a liter from 37 cents.

Mr. Joko said he would counter the expected opposition by directly explaining to the public that the savings from raising gasoline prices would be used to help them.

“We want to channel it from consumption to productive activity,” he said. “Irrigation for farmers, subsidies for fertilizers to farmers, seeds to the farmers, subsidies for small and micro businesses in villages, and subsidies to fishermen for refrigerators and boat engines.”

He said the savings would also support infrastructure, transportation and health care. The people would support him, he said, once they understood.

“It’s very important to explain to the people so they can accept our decisions,” he said.

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:47 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
For Japan, Small Gesture Holds Great Importance

OCT. 18, 2014

TOKYO — The Japanese government has no shortage of issues to worry about — strengthening a faltering economic recovery and trying to persuade a skeptical public to accept a return to nuclear power. But even with all that, the country’s leaders are devoting their energy to a seemingly small gesture: a hoped-for handshake.

The gesture has outsized importance because of the two men who would be joining hands: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and President Xi Jinping of China, the tough-minded leaders of Asia’s two biggest economies who have circled each other warily for almost two years. The Japanese hope the greeting, and a possible short meeting to follow, would be the start of repairing relations that have taken a pummeling over disputed islands as well as disagreements over the handling of Japan’s wartime history.

That hope has led to weeks of delicate diplomatic maneuverings, with small gestures parsed for deeper meaning. Japanese officials have begun expressing optimism that the meeting — the first since the men took power — would take place next month on the sidelines of a regional economic summit in Beijing.

Among the promising signs cited by the Japanese side: a recent visit to Tokyo by the daughter of a former Chinese leader who not only met with Mr. Abe, but also sat with him to watch a performance by a visiting Chinese dance troupe.

The final negotiations are still underway, so it is difficult to tell if the behind-the-scenes negotiations and emissaries shuttling between China and Japan are about to lead to a breakthrough as the Japanese officials suggest. But political analysts in Japan and abroad said both nations appeared to share a growing recognition that they had too much to lose, both economically and politically, if they did not find some way to get along.

Both leaders have come under increasing pressure to contain the damage to their nations’ large economic ties. China’s Commerce Ministry has reported that Japanese direct investment in China dropped by nearly half in the first six months of this year from the year before. And sales of Japanese autos and other products in China are still down, although exports to China’s coveted market have recovered somewhat after a steep drop in the first half of last year brought on by the island dispute.

Experts say the two leaders are also loath to be seen as the bad guy in the region or in Washington as they battle each other for influence in Asia.

With neither country willing to yield over the islands, some analysts now speak of a new status quo, in which China and Japan essentially agree to disagree while returning to business as usual in other areas.

In that case, they said, the standoff could become a permanent feature of the security landscape, with both countries continuing to send ships there to make the point that they are in control, while also taking steps to prevent any escalation.

“Japan and China are seeking a new equilibrium,” said Narushige Michishita, director of the Security and International Studies Program at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. “The best we can do now is to keep playing this game, but at a lower level, and to find ways to be less confrontational.”

Since Mr. Abe took office in December 2012, Mr. Xi has refused to meet the Japanese leader, an outspoken nationalist whom many in China suspect wants to deny World War II atrocities committed by invading Japanese troops. As a precondition for more substantial talks, some Chinese officials have suggested that Mr. Abe show sincerity by promising not to continue visiting Yasukuni, a Tokyo shrine to Japan’s war dead that many Chinese see as a symbol of Japan’s lack of repentance.

On Friday, China protested after Mr. Abe sent an offering of a potted plant to Yasukuni to mark an autumn festival, though Japanese officials had said they felt the offering would not affect the negotiations as Mr. Abe did not go in person.

However, the biggest sticking point in the negotiations over a meet-and-greet has been how to handle the tense, two-year standoff over the disputed islands in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in China. The countries have been locked in an almost Cold War-style face-off since the purchase of the islands by Mr. Abe’s predecessor in mid-2012, a move the government said was intended to prevent them from falling under the control of Japanese ultranationalists.

Outraged by what it saw as a unilateral move to strengthen Japanese control over islands that it also claims, China began dispatching paramilitary ships to waters near the uninhabited islands and declared an air-defense zone above the islands, setting off an international uproar when it demanded all aircraft entering the area submit flight plans to Chinese authorities.

For his part, Mr. Abe has refused to back down, expanding the flotilla of Japanese Coast Guard ships that chase the Chinese vessels in games of cat and mouse near the islands. Japan has also stepped up its patrols in China’s newly claimed air-defense zone, a snub that provoked some close encounters between Japanese planes and Chinese fighter jets.

China has been demanding that Japan recognize that the islands are in dispute, something that Japan has so far refused to do for fear of opening the door to further concessions.

On Friday, the coveted handshake between Mr. Abe and Mr. Xi seemed to move a step closer to reality as Japan’s Kyodo News agency reported Mr. Abe had shaken hands with China’s No. 2 leader, Prime Minister Li Keqiang, at a dinner for Asian and European leaders in Milan. And last weekend, a top Japanese diplomat visited Beijing in what the Japanese news media said was a trip aimed at negotiating the handshake.

The diplomatic efforts to bring together Mr. Abe and Mr. Xi began in July, when Yasuo Fukuda, a former Japanese prime minister, was allowed to meet Mr. Xi. Mr. Fukuda handed the Chinese leader a letter from Mr. Abe, and first proposed the meeting between the two leaders during the coming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.

“A month ago, I would have told you a meeting was not likely,” said one high-level Japanese official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Now, I’d say both countries have come around to seeing it as in their interests.”

A Chinese analyst, Wu Xinbo, executive dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, was more equivocal: “If we see Abe is serious about improving relations with China and taking a more serious and responsible attitude towards the history issue, then that will lead to an improvement in bilateral relations.”

 on: Oct 19, 2014, 06:45 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
North, South Korean Troops Exchange Border Fire

by Naharnet Newsdesk
19 October 2014, 13:56

North and South Korean troops briefly exchanged fire Sunday in the latest in a series of minor border skirmishes that have raised military tensions on the divided peninsula.

The South's defense ministry said the exchange inside the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the two rivals lasted only 10 minutes.

There were no reported casualties.

Despite its name, the DMZ is probably the world's most heavily militarized border, bristling with watchtowers and landmines.

Four kilometers wide, it straddles the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) which marks the actual frontier.

A defense ministry official said a South Korean border patrol had spotted North Korean troops approaching close to the MDL.

"Verbal warnings were issued by loudspeaker and then warning shots were fired," the official said.

"The North Koreans then opened fire on our troops, who returned fire," he said.

According to an official with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, South Korean troops had issued verbal warnings or fired warning shots on two other occasions along the MDL in the past 24 hours.

There have been a series of border exchanges in recent weeks that have raised temperatures along the perennially volatile border.

On October 10 the two sides traded heavy machine-gun fire after the North's military tried to shoot down some leaflet-laden balloons launched by South Korean anti-Pyongyang activists.

A few days before that, North and South Korean naval patrol boats had briefly exchanged warning fire near their disputed Yellow Sea border, which has been the site of numerous clashes in the past.

There were no casualties reported in either incident.

Last Wednesday, at the North's instigation, the two Koreas held high-level military talks to address the tensions but they ended without agreement.

The North later accused the South of arrogance and of seeking to undermine its peace overtures.

The border incidents have jeopardized an agreement -- reached during a surprise visit to the South by a top-ranking North delegation earlier this month -- to resume high-level talks suspended since February.

Although the incidents have been relatively minor, Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies, warned that even the smallest skirmish carried the risk of escalation.

"The nerves of the soldiers on both sides get frayed at moments like this, and that increases the likelihood of an accidental clash that could spiral out of control," Yang said.

North Korea is particularly irritated by the anti-Pyongyang leaflets which South Korean activists regularly float over the border -- suspended under gas-filled balloons.

It has repeatedly called on the South to ban the balloon launches, but Seoul insists it has no legal grounds for doing so.

Because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a ceasefire rather than a treaty, the two Koreas remain technically at war.

Source: Agence France Presse

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