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« Reply #11010 on: Jan 01, 2014, 08:27 AM »

Egypt says Al Jazeera journalists belong to terrorist group

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, December 31, 2013 13:46 EST

Egypt has accused detained journalists from the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera television network of belonging to a “terrorist” group, saying they had ties with the blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood, the prosecution said Tuesday.

“The prosecution accused the suspects of belonging to a terrorist group,” the prosecution said. It was not immediately clear if all of the detained journalists, including Australian Peter Greste, faced the same accusation.

One of the lawyers for Mohamed Adel Fahmy, the Canadian-Egyptian bureau chief for Jazeera English in Cairo, said his client had been accused of membership in the Brotherhood, which the military-installed government designated a “terrorist” group last week.

Police had arrested the journalists on Sunday, and the prosecution ordered them detained on Tuesday for two weeks to undergo questioning.

The government has cracked down on deposed president Mohamed Morsi’s Brotherhood movement since his overthrow in July.

The crackdown has extended to media perceived as biased in favour of the Islamists.

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« Reply #11011 on: Jan 01, 2014, 08:30 AM »


Ghana: Get a grip

The country could consolidate its position as a regional star, if the government takes some courageous decisions soon

The Economist
Dec 21st 2013 | ACCRA |

Mahama mustn’t be too nice

CHRISTMAS hampers must not be dished out this year by government departments at taxpayers’ expense. That was the nub of a suitably puritanical edict issued recently by the office of President John Mahama. Belt-tightening is—or at least should be—the order of the day.

Ghana is still west Africa’s biggest economic and political success. But several recent figures are sobering. Inflation is soaring above 13%. The budget deficit widened fast last year, from 4% to nearly 12% of GDP, partly due to a splurge in spending by the government in the run-up to the presidential and general elections of December 2012, which Mr Mahama’s National Democratic Congress narrowly won. Steep rises in the price of electricity and water, both in erratic supply, plus increases in food costs, have shrunk the real value of wages. The local currency, the cedi, has continued to slide, halving in value against the dollar since 2008. The price of gold, Ghana’s most valuable export, has been dropping. Cocoa has missed its production target.

Though oil is beginning to flow in greater quantities from newly exploited offshore fields and the economy is predicted to grow this year by 7%, following 8% in 2012 and a record-breaking 14% in 2011, Ghanaians are feeling the pinch. A good third of them still live on less than $2 a day. The urban minimum daily wage is a meagre $2.25. Yet Mr Mahama may have to squeeze people even harder, in the short run, if he is to keep the economy afloat.

He has a fair chance of doing so, but needs to move faster than he, and especially some of the party populists and crony capitalists around him, would like. Largely because his predecessor, John Atta Mills, had long been ailing before he died in office in July 2012, a sense of drift had set in. Then, after Mr Mahama won the election, by a margin of only 325,000 votes out of 11m, the Supreme Court took until August this year to uphold the original result. That prolonged a sense of national unease that rattled investors and hobbled Mr Mahama’s new government.

Drastically raising prices for electricity and water was a bold new start, though Mr Mahama then had to backtrack quite a lot in the face of trade union wrath. Partly due to a restructuring of salary scales, public-sector wages have been gobbling up 70% of the national budget. Seth Terkper, a canny technocrat who became finance minister this year, so far proposes to thin the civil service only by “natural attrition” as people retire. Moreover, he worries that if wages do not keep pace with inflation, still more nurses and teachers will head off for places such as Britain.

Improving tax collection and widening the tax base are both vital. As a start, a biometric national identification programme is under way. Most people in Accra, the sprawling capital on the coast that is a magnet drawing in perhaps 4m of the country’s 25m people, live in dwellings without proper addresses—with no street names, let alone numbers. Despite Ghana’s bouncy growth, vast ranks of the young have no jobs.

Ghana does surprisingly well in the latest corruption-perceptions index of Transparency International, a Berlin-based watchdog, which reckons it is Africa’s seventh-cleanest country. It wins the same rank in Mo Ibrahim’s governance index, which uses a wider range of criteria. But corruption is plainly a worry. Transparency International’s local branch recently cited a poll that found 54% of Ghanaians saying that corruption was rising, especially in the police, political parties and courts.

The murky allocation of government contracts and extravagant overspending by some ministries—that of youth and sports is a recent offender—are blatant symptoms of abuse. A row over the sale of a troubled local bank involves one of Mr Mahama’s brothers. The front page of a pro-opposition newspaper, the Daily Guide, gave twice as much prominence to this brewing Ghanaian scandal as to the news of Nelson Mandela’s death.

Mr Mahama, who published a thoughtful autobiography before his election, lists the salient issues facing his country with candour, conviction and charm. His biggest challenge, he admits, is “to change the attitude of people, to give them back optimism—they’ve become too cynical and distrustful of politicians and public servants.” On this front, he has issued a new code of ethics. But civil-society advocates as well as the opposition say he has so far been unable to shake off some of the dodgier people that have been close to power, some since the days of Jerry Rawlings, who ran the show for 19 years until 2000, after coming to power twice in coups.

Ghana has deservedly been hailed as a beacon of democracy in west Africa; Barack Obama noted as much by making it his sole sub-Saharan destination during his first presidential term. The peaceful ejection of ruling parties, in 2000 and again in 2008, set an admirable trend. And the prompt acceptance of the Supreme Court’s verdict on the election in August by the losing candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, whose New Patriotic Party is a bit more free-market and liberal than Mr Mahama’s avowedly “social democratic” lot, was widely lauded as statesmanly.

But electoral and constitutional reform is sorely needed to keep Ghana’s vibrant but messy politics in trim. A lack of limits to campaign finance has encouraged excessive patronage. A freedom of information bill, long-promised but delayed, must enable the ownership of companies and media outfits, among other things, to be aired.

The constitution of 1992, devised under the eye of Mr Rawlings, who in that year duly won the first multiparty elections since 1979, gives too much power to the president and does too little to separate the executive and the courts. And, once in power, the winning candidate and his party have little incentive to change the winner-takes-all system, whereby the civil service is invariably packed with friends.

Unless such shortcomings are tackled, Ghana’s admirable yet fragile democracy may be undermined. Mr Mahama has been skilful, not least in handling his own people and in gently but firmly neutralising Mr Rawlings, who likes to give populist advice from the sidelines of the president’s own party. But now Mr Mahama must prove he has both integrity and courage.


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« Reply #11012 on: Jan 01, 2014, 08:35 AM »


December 31, 2013

Headbanging in Bolivia to the Flutes of Yore

By WILLIAM NEUMAN
IHT

SUCRE, Bolivia — The band members wore black. The lead singer screamed into his microphone and whipped his long, black hair around. The guitarists clawed at their instruments. The drummer pounded with fury. And then the panpipe player took his solo, and the fans packed into the mosh pit went into a frenzy.

This is heavy metal, Bolivian style, a clashing fusion of thrashing guitars and shrieking lyrics with the rhythms and instruments of Andean folk tunes, its roots not just pre-Columbian but pre-Incan.

“It’s social syncretism, the fusion of two cultures,” said Veronica Huanca, 26, a lawyer who bounced enthusiastically during a concert here last month.

At one point, she and her friends formed a ring and danced in a circle, arms on one another’s shoulders, a mosh pit wink at a traditional village dance. “It’s like the baby Jesus in a poncho and chulo,” she said, using an indigenous word for the colorful wool cap with earflaps often worn in the Andes.

Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, with a high percentage of indigenous people, many of whom live lives locked in tradition. But it is also a thriving, fast-changing, youthful country where old and new, foreign and homegrown, meet, clash and mix.

Here in Sucre, the black T-shirts and tight black pants of the metaleros, as heavy metal fans are known, stood out against the whitewashed walls of the colonial buildings.

The first band to take the stage at what was billed as Metal Fest Sucre was Armadura, a group that has helped pioneer what it calls heavy metal fusion. The concert was part of a tour to promote a CD on which several bands played a heavy metal version of songs by an iconic Bolivian folk band, Kalamarka. The album, with songs with very unmetalesque names like “Clear Waters,” “Mommy” and “When the Potato Plant Flowers,” is called “Metal Marka.”

Only a handful of groups have embraced the hybrid style, and even Armadura, whose name means armor, plays just a few such songs in sets dominated by unadulterated heavy metal.

Still, those songs, characterized by the use of the panpipe, known as the zampoña, and a wooden flute called a quena, have a special impact among fans.

“They react much better to the songs that are combined with wind instruments than what you see with a lot of songs that are pure metal,” said Boris Méndez, the lead singer of Armadura, who wore black leather pants and a black shirt.

The folk songs on Armadura’s set list include one whose title and refrain contain what many regard as the Inca moral code. As the band’s traditional instrumentalist, Yuri Callisaya, shrilled on the quena, the band’s fans sang along with Mr. Méndez: “Ama sua, ama llulla, ama quella,” which translates as, “Don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t be lazy.”

Armadura’s fans include the United States Embassy in La Paz. The group played at the embassy’s Thanksgiving party this year, and the Metal Marka concert tour was partly financed by the embassy.

Both Mr. Méndez, 33, and Mr. Callisaya, 34, live in El Alto, a city near La Paz whose population has soared with immigrants from the countryside.

The fast-growing city is critical to understanding the changes swirling through Bolivian society, a crucible where young people experiment with Western musical genres but hold on to their musical roots.

“This generation of young people, 14, 15, 18 years old, they were born in El Alto, but their parents are immigrants, so they play hip-hop, they play rock, they play reggaeton, they have a whole world of genres, but their families keep the traditions, such as making the payment to the earth in August,” Mr. Callisaya said, referring to a traditional agrarian fertility ritual.

Heavy metal would seem an unlikely match for the usually soothing sounds of Andean folk music. Yet some metaleros said that their music’s signature aggressiveness had a natural counterpart in a traditional Andean dance and music called tinku.

In small villages like Macha, in central Bolivia, the tinku dancers square off in bloody fistfights, a ritual that is meant to feed the earth with spilled blood and ensure an ample harvest or good fortune for a community.

“A tinku in Macha is much heavier than any mosh pit anywhere in the world,” Mr. Callisaya said.

A startling version of the tinku was seen in La Paz last month at an event organized by the government to promote the Dakar Rally, a motor-sports race that passes through Bolivia.

While President Evo Morales, diplomats and cabinet ministers watched, a heavy metal band called Alcoholika La Christo (a name that combines the words for alcoholic and a feminine Christ) blasted out its version of a traditional tinku song accompanied by a band of panpipe players, while folk dancers whirled through the tinku steps. The metaleros were all in black, the panpipe players wore colorful ponchos, and the dancers twirled under colorful feathered headdresses.

Alcoholika’s leader, Viko Paredes, 35, was perhaps the first to mix the genres. Living in Washington in the late 1990s, he frequented a Bolivian restaurant across the street from a nightclub that played techno dance music. Music from the two places would mix in the street, and it gave him the idea to meld his favorite music, heavy metal, with the Andean music of his homeland.

“What I try to do is show Andean music with the power of rock,” Mr. Paredes said.

As he experimented, he brought in Fernando Jiménez, one of Bolivia’s foremost zampoña players, as a collaborator.

Mr. Jiménez, 50, said that combining the musical styles was a challenge.

“Folk music is more about conviviality, fiesta,” Mr. Jiménez said, taking a break from recording an album of traditional songs in La Paz. “It’s not aggressive. It has been a cultural clash.”

At the concert in Sucre, which included bands with names, in English, like Nordic Wolf and Murder Machine, some among the several hundred who attended felt that there was more confusion than fusion on display.

“Everything has its place,” said Roger Rosales, 36, who goes by the name Pazuzu and leads a band called Bael, which he described as a black metal band. A burly man with a shaved head and a pentagram tattoo on his right arm, Mr. Rosales said he was a Satanist. He is also a purist. “Metaleros should stick to metal, and folkies to folk,” he said.

But for Mr. Méndez, of Armadura, the proof of the hybrid’s success is in its fans.

At some concerts, the dancers in the mosh pit hold hands and break into steps whose origins go back centuries.

“They push each other around, but lots of times when we’re playing with wind instruments, the people start a fusion between the dance of the altiplano and rock,” Mr. Méndez said, referring to the Andean plateau. “It’s a total mix.”


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« Reply #11013 on: Jan 01, 2014, 08:52 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

December 31, 2013

Millions Gaining Health Coverage Under Law

By ROBERT PEAR and ABBY GOODNOUGH
NYT

WASHINGTON — Millions of Americans will begin receiving health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday after years of contention and a rollout hobbled by delays and technical problems. The decisively new moment in the effort to overhaul the country’s health care system will test the law’s central premise: that extending coverage to far more Americans will improve the nation’s health and help many avoid crippling medical bills.

Starting Wednesday, health insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and cannot charge higher premiums to women than to men for the same coverage. In most cases, insurers must provide a standard set of benefits prescribed by federal law and regulations. And they cannot set dollar limits on what they spend on “essential health benefits” for a policyholder.

Though this is a milestone for the law, it is unlikely to end the constant partisan battles that began even before its passage nearly four years ago. Late Tuesday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor temporarily blocked the Obama administration from forcing some religious-affiliated groups to provide coverage of birth control or face penalties.

Doctors, hospitals and pharmacists say consumers could initially experience some delays and difficulties as they try to use their new insurance.

“I feel a huge sense of relief,” said Katie R. Norvell, 33, a music therapist in St. Louis, who has been uninsured for three and a half years and has a pre-existing gynecological condition, endometriosis. She signed up Dec. 22 for a midlevel silver plan offered by Coventry Health Care, owned by Aetna, and has already begun making doctor’s appointments.

“With coverage,” she said, “I can be my best self. Health insurance won’t control my job choices.”

A series of last-minute changes in rules and deadlines for people to sign up and pay premiums have left less time for insurers to activate coverage and issue identification cards, adding to the uncertainty caused by the troubled rollout of the health exchange.

“There will be a lot of confusion,” said Brian D. Caswell, a former president of the Kansas Pharmacists Association, who owns a drugstore in rural Baxter Springs. “Many people will get insurance cards, but will not have a clue what’s covered, what’s not covered and what they are supposed to pay.”

Others may find their insurance companies have no record of their enrollment because the information was not sent by the online marketplaces where they signed up for coverage. Some of the newly insured may have trouble finding doctors who accept their health plans, many of which are restricting the number of providers in their networks to hold down premium costs.

And as newly insured consumers sort through details of their coverage, others will find that they are no longer insured by their old plans, which were canceled or discontinued because they did not comply with coverage requirements of the law. Of several million who received cancellation notices, most should be able to obtain other coverage, the Obama administration says.

Toby Mitchell, a self-employed recruiter in Napa, Calif., said she considered forgoing insurance when Kaiser Permanente canceled her longtime plan because it did not meet the requirements of the new law. But in the end, Ms. Mitchell, 60, decided to buy a bronze plan. Her monthly premiums will now be $575, compared with $288 on her old plan.

“I was really shocked,” she said. “It’s just painful because there are other things I’d rather do with that money, especially when it’s hard to see the value is there for me personally.”

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said Tuesday that more than 2.1 million people had selected private health plans, about half of them through the federal insurance exchange and half in marketplaces run by states. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Americans have enrolled in Medicaid, the government health insurance program for low-income people, which about half the states have decided to expand under the law.

Federal officials said they did not know how many subscribers were replacing insurance policies canceled because they did not meet coverage standards.

Subscribers will be entitled to coverage starting Wednesday if they pay the first month’s premium by the due date, Jan. 10 for many insurers.

Ana Yngelmo, a 37-year-old immigration lawyer in Kearny, N.J., said she would use her new insurance to start seeing a primary care doctor and to get her first mammogram. Ms. Yngelmo, who said she had been uninsured for 16 months, chose a platinum plan with generous coverage and no deductible. She qualified for a tax-credit subsidy that will lower her monthly premium to $350 — still expensive, she said, but worth it for peace of mind.

“For me, insurance is about those tragic situations where you need some terrible surgery or get cancer,” said Ms. Yngelmo, who recently started her own law practice. “I just want to make sure that in those situations, I can go to whichever doctor I want and it will be covered.”

In some states, doctors are preparing for an influx of newly insured patients. Dr. Michael J. Pramenko, a family doctor who is executive director of Primary Care Partners in Grand Junction, Colo., said his group had opened a satellite clinic, added several doctors and extended office hours in the expectation that “we will be seeing more patients.”

Cynthia Taueg, a vice president of the St. John Providence Health System in Warren, Mich., near Detroit, said she expected a gradual increase in patients because “a majority of the uninsured in our service area will be eligible for Medicaid” or for subsidized private insurance through the exchange.

Scott Keefer, a vice president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, voiced a concern expressed by many insurers: Some consumers will go to doctors, hospitals and drugstores believing they have enrolled in a health plan, only to find that the company has no record of them.

That is what happened in January 2006 when a prescription drug benefit was added to Medicare. Many low-income people left pharmacies empty-handed after being told they would be responsible for co-payments of $100, $250 or more. Pharmacists extended credit to some customers. To help their residents, states paid drug claims that should have been paid by Medicare.

The Affordable Care Act is far more complicated, as it relies on a larger number of providers to deliver a much wider array of benefits.

Since the federal exchange opened Oct. 1, officials have grappled with problems in the quality of enrollment data. Insurers said the government initially provided them incorrect or incomplete information on some enrollees, and no information at all about some who enrolled online.

Insurers and government officials are taking steps to reduce confusion. Aetna, for example, has posted information on its website answering questions likely to bedevil consumers in the next few weeks. The insurance exchanges in California and Connecticut are about to run advertisements explaining the Jan. 10 premium deadline.

Peter V. Lee, the executive director of California’s insurance exchange, said that while logistical problems would surely pop up, they would matter less and less as people started using their benefits.

But John G. Lee, an insurance agent in Fredericksburg, Va., said that health insurance was a complicated product and that people did not always understand what they were buying online. He said he worried that consumers would be upset when they discovered that certain medicines were not covered by their plans, or that their doctors were excluded from the approved providers.

William Hannah of Cleveland, Ga., who has been uninsured for about 20 years, said he was looking forward to using his new coverage to see a specialist for lower back problems and numbness in his limbs. But Mr. Hannah said he had canceled the first plan he signed up for, from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, after realizing it would not pay for treatment at the medical center closest to his home. He switched to a silver plan from Alliant Health Plans and qualified for a tax subsidy that will lower his premium costs to $56 a month.

“It’s very affordable to me, thanks to the tax credit,” said Mr. Hannah, 63, who said he had retired early to care for his ailing mother. “On the other hand, there’s the limitation of what the insurance companies are actually paying for and what institutions they are paying for.”

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US population growing at slowest rate since 1930s, census data shows

• Population grew at rate of 0.7% in 2013 to 317m people

• North Dakota fastest-growing state after recent oil boom

Tom McCarthy in New York
theguardian.com, Tuesday 31 December 2013 18.02 GMT   

US census data The census bureau estimates that there is one birth on average in the United States every eight seconds. Photograph: Brennan Linsley/AP

US population growth has slowed to levels not seen since the Great Depression, according to data released this week by the US census bureau.

The US population was expected to grow just 0.7% in 2013, to arrive at 317,297,938 people on New Year's Day 2014. That rate was down from 0.73% in 2010-2011 and much lower than the 1.2% growth rate of the 1990s, a decade of economic expansion.

The United States has not seen such slow growth since the Depression era of 1933-1937, according to William Frey, a demographics expert and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“Up until 2008, really we didn't see those growth rates change much,” Frey said. “This sharp bump that we've seen in the last few years does suggest that the economy has a lot to do with it.”

But average annual growth, Frey said, is a “fairly crude measure” that can miss the underlying influence of immigration laws and changing cultural and social mores.

“In the Great Depression era, migration laws were stricter in the late teens and early to mid-20s,” he said. “You had lower fertility rates as well, with the very dire circumstances” of many families.

From 1932-1933, population growth settled at 0.59%, creeping to 0.60% in 1937, according to census bureau figures.

Declining unemployment and other recent signs of economic life have yet to register on the population scales. Real GDP growth picked up in 2011 after declining sharply in the first decade of the new millennium, from nearly 1% a year in 2000 to just more than 0.3% in 2010.
census data 2013 GDP data and us population Photograph: FRED

Regional population trends show more people appearing in the south and west, and fewer appearing in the midwest and north-east, a continuation of long-term patterns. The south was estimated to host 37.4% of the population in July 2013, up from 35.6% in 2000. The north-east's share was estimated to have shrunk to 17.7%, from 19.0% in 2000.

In a developing demographics horse race, Florida appears poised to overtake New York in the near future as the third-most-populous state. The Sunshine State, currently fourth, grew 2.7% between April 2010 and July 2012, while the Empire State grew only 1.0%. The national average for the period was 1.7%.

Far out front for head count was California, with an estimated 38.3 million residents by July 2013, the latest available figures. Texas was No 2 with 26.4m.

The state charting the most growth was North Dakota, which jumped 7.6% from 2010-2013. The discovery in 2008 of untapped oil and gas reserves in the state has attracted so many new arrivals that longtime residents of towns fueled by the boom are moving out to make room.

The census bureau estimates that there is one birth on average in the United States every eight seconds, and one death every 12 seconds. And with one international migrant added every 40 seconds, the country gains one person about every 15 seconds.

The projected world population for 1 January 2014 is 7,137,577,750 – or 7.1billion – up 1.1% from a year earlier. India added the most people of any country, with 15.6m, followed by China, Nigeria, Pakistan and Ethiopia.

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Dysfunctional Republican Christians Vow To Destroy the First Amendment

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, December, 31st, 2013, 10:13 am   

Simplicity is the state of being simple and usually relates to the burden which a thing puts on someone trying to explain or understand it; such as something easy to understand or explain is simple, as opposed to something complicated that is likely as difficult to explain as it is to understand. The Founding Fathers understood that the population of the country they founded was likely uneducated and ignorant leading them to make the First Amendment so easy to understand that a simpleton could grasp its meanings. Unfortunately, two-hundred and twenty-two years after the First Amendment was ratified, there is a large segment of the population that cannot fathom, much less acknowledge, the simple meaning of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that says government “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibit the free exercise thereof” which does not mean enforcing religion by statute, state amendment, or law.

Devising and passing laws that have as their only basis the Christian bible is not a new phenomenon, and for decades laws such as those banning sodomy were staples of every state in the Union’s legislatures despite they were laws “respecting an establishment of religion;” the Christian religion. The U.S. Supreme Court finally overturned sodomy laws on the basis of the right to privacy, but the cowards on the High Court never had the fortitude to strike down the “law respecting an establishment of religion” on First Amendment grounds. Likely because there is an unspoken unconstitutional law that bans citing the First Amendment’s prohibition against religious edicts as federal or state laws that no court is willing to violate. Unfortunately, there have been other laws like those banning abortions, contraception, and same-sex marriage that were eventually ruled unconstitutional on grounds they violate citizens’ 14th Amendment rights, but never on grounds they violated the First Amendment’s freedom from religious edicts disguised as state laws.

Late last week after a federal district court overturned Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, and the 10th Circuit Appeals Court found, like the federal district court, that Utah’s biblical ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, Republicans announced they would spend about $2 million of taxpayer money to hire outside counsel to defend the amendment “respecting an establishment of religion.” State Senator John Valentine (R- Mormon) said “We should be paying for the best and the brightest. This is a case that is not only a historic precedent, but it’s one that really goes to the core of what states’ rights is all about.” No, this is a case that goes to the core of what Mormons passing a “law respecting an establishment of religion” is all about despite the First Amendment which is exquisitely clear; it is a violation of Constitution that is, by the way, the law of the land.

The Utah Mormon case follows a trend among conservative Christians attempting to pass several “laws respecting an establishment of religion” regarding same-sex marriage, fetal personhood, as well as contraception and abortion coverage in private healthcare plans. A cursory glance at, say, the personhood movement’s mission statement reveals it is driven solely by religion where it states; “Personhood USA desires to glorify Jesus Christ in a way that creates a culture of life so that all innocent human lives are protected by love and by law.” The National Organization for Marriage opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions calling them “a direct threat to religious liberties” and that “civil union statutes are used to sue professionals who run their practices behind biblical laws banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.” The Hobby Lobby case going before the Supreme Court is founded on the owner’s religious belief that he has the biblical right to withhold contraception from his employee’s private healthcare plans.

The Utah Mormon’s case before the federal district court claimed same-sex marriage harmed opposite-sex marriages instead of having the courage to say same-sex marriage runs counter to the biblical amendment “respecting an establishment of religion.” Although the district and Circuit courts shot down the absurd argument gays marrying harmed opposite-sex marriages, a simpler ruling would have been the First Amendment bans Utah’s constitutional amendment “respecting an establishment of religion.” The courts cited the amendment’s violation of same-sex couples’ due process, equal protection, and anti-discrimination rights in the 14th Amendment, but why complicate a very simple premise; the Constitution bans laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”

It does not matter if they are laws banning or restricting abortion care, contraception coverage, civil unions, or same-sex marriages, the simple fact is they all have as their basis the Christian bible and regardless what evangelical extremists, Mormon governors, or fundamentalist Christians claim, the religious manual is not and never has been the law of the land or had any relevance to the United States Constitution. Still, courts have been loath to cite the obvious whether it was sodomy laws, bans on abortion, contraception coverage in prescription plans, or same-sex marriages; they were, and are, all biblical edicts masquerading as state laws “respecting an establishment of religion” and are patent violations of the U.S. Constitution.

If Christians want to live their lives according to the bible and not use contraception, eschew abortion, or not marry a person of the same sex, they have that Constitutional right. If they claim as followers of Christ (not that they are) their bible commands them to passionately hate people who use contraception, abortion services, or marry a person of the same sex, the Constitution protects their biblical right to hate. However, if they force the rest of the population to follow their biblical beliefs, either by employment contract or state laws, the Constitution strictly forbids it.

The Founding Fathers were very explicit and used a very simply-worded phrase forbidding Christians, Mormons, Catholics and their Republican facilitators from enacting amendments or making “laws respecting the establishment of religion.” It is absolutely an abomination that no district court, Circuit Court, or Supreme Court has struck down or cited the unconstitutionality of state or federal laws because they were religious edicts straight out of the Christian bible. The pathological dysfunction plaguing the justice system, Republicans, and various Christian fascists is that they cannot comprehend a very, very simple truth. America is not a Christian theocracy and the Founding Fathers made sure the bible is not the Constitution, and it is about dog-damned time the judicial system informs religious miscreants of the those very simple truths.

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Mitch McConnell Hatches a Plan for Revenge on Harry Reid That May Cost Him His Senate Seat

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Tuesday, December, 31st, 2013, 4:45 pm   

Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans have hatched a plan for revenge on Harry Reid that is toxic that it could cost the Kentucky senator his seat in November.

According to the Washington Examiner,

    Senate Republicans still smarting from a Democratic rules change that diminished their power to block President Obama’s appointees are vowing retribution against the majority when lawmakers return to work in January.

    …

    Republicans blame Democrats for new tensions created by the rules change — especially the manner in which Reid pushed it through. Unlike other issues, where senators might dance around intentions to exact political retribution, Republicans are candid about their plans to retaliate over the filibuster.

    “If [Reid] decides that because he broke the rules he now wants to use the new rules to jam through a bunch of nominees and try and run over Republicans, obviously we’re not going to lay down for that,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Republican conference.

Sen. Thune’s attempt to paint Senate Republicans as the victims of a Democratic power grab ignored the critical fact that for years, Democrats laid down and let Republicans abuse the rules and obstruct the Senate at will.

Mitch McConnell and his caucus are throwing a prolonged temper tantrum over the loss of their ability to prevent President Obama from staffing up a functional Executive Branch.

Republicans have couched their beef in the lofty language of the rights of the minority, but the cold hard political reality is that egos have been bruised, and as a consequence they are going to sacrifice the good of the country for some misguided personal retribution.

What McConnell and his band of Emily Thorne wannabes don’t understand is that their plan for revenge could have grave consequences for their reelection campaigns. For example, if Republicans decide make the 1.3 million Americans who just lost their unemployment benefits suffer because they are mad at Harry Reid, an embattled candidate for reelection like McConnell will be handing his Democratic opponent a club to beat him over the head with in the fall. This same dynamic could play out to an even bigger degree on the bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, and on many other issues during 2014.

Mitch McConnell vowed revenge when Harry Reid changed the filibuster rules, and this scheme has the Kentucky minority leader’s fingerprints all over it. The arrogant attempt to teach Democrats a lesson is bound to fail, and it could very well cost Republicans their chance to take control of the Senate, and Mitch McConnell his own Senate seat.

***************

Why Are Republicans Rejecting Basic Biology Even More?

By Amanda Marcotte
RawStory
Monday, December 30, 2013 14:20 EST

I wish I could say this news is surprising, but it’s really not (via):

    Over the last four years, the percentage of Democrats who said they believe in evolution has risen by three points, from 64 percent to 67 percent. But the percentage of Republicans who believe in the theory has dropped 11 points, from 54 percent to 43 percent.

    So while there was a 10-point gap in 2009, there is now a 24-point gap.

Since the election of Barack Obama, there has been a marked uptick in conservative interest in expanding the “us vs. them” mentality, with an eyeball towards finding more and more ways to distinguish themselves from everyone else. It’s not enough to drive a pick-up and listen to shitty country music to demonstrate your cultural identity as a wingnut. After all, there are liberals who do that. Now showing that you’re Not Like Them has turned into a full-time preoccupation, with the list of things that can’t be done because some liberal might also do them growing. Just check out this list from Media Matters of the things that are deemed products of “wussification”: yoga, paid internships, helmets, not being racist, not being able to curse at children. Then there’s the growing hostility on the right to the very concept of health, with the WSJ publishing op-eds lambasting running and, of course, the relentless demonizing of Michelle Obama for her campaign to encourage healthy eating. And now it’s apparently unpatriotic and probably communist to wear, um, plaid pajamas because some guy in an Obamacare ad is wearing them. We’re veering dangerously close to conservatives casting aspersions on those known liberal activities like “leaving the house” and “wearing clothes”. The evolution thing is a no-brainer. Liberals believe in evolution and everyone knows it, so conservatives are deciding, as a matter of tribal identity, that they cannot.

That’s what makes this Duck Dynasty thing so interesting, as ridiculous as it is. Conservatives by and large have avoided trying anything so foolish as to defend what Phil Roberston actually said. The defenses of him are strictly about establishing tribal identity. He’s One Of Us, the thinking goes, and so he must be defended against those meanie liberals. It doesn’t go any deeper than that. All the smarmy hand-wringing out how liberals are supposedly intolerant for disagreeing that gay people are bad is more of the same: A refusal to actually talk about content in favor of trying to fan the belief that there’s wide cultural differences between conservatives and liberals. It’s all just about creating the sense that they have a “tribe” and they must vote Republican out of loyalty to it. Indeed, I’d argue that establishing tribal identity is all Duck Dynasty is about, mostly through ridiculous costumes.


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« Reply #11014 on: Jan 02, 2014, 06:51 AM »

January 1, 2014

E.U. Labor Market Opens for Romanians and Bulgarians

By DAN BILEFSKY
IHT

PARIS — The lifting of labor restrictions on Wednesday for Bulgarians and Romanians in nine European Union countries, including Germany, France and Britain, was greeted as both an opportunity and a threat, touching off fear among some about unchecked immigration from Bulgaria and Romania, two of the poorest states in Europe.

Even before restrictions were relaxed, some British newspapers were predicting an invasion of poor migrants who would claim benefits, take scarce jobs and even steal scrap metal.

In France, unease over the loosening of restrictions is linked to the presence of roughly 20,000 noncitizen Roma, or Gypsies, from Romania and Bulgaria, some of whom live in squalid encampments on the outskirts of French cities. The far-right National Front has warned that Roma could flood the country and has made them an issue before municipal elections in March.

When Romania and Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007, some temporary obstacles were imposed on their citizens by nine member states for their first seven years of membership, including their right to work and to benefit from social and medical programs.

While analysts say it is too early to predict the outcome of the change of policy, the issue is particularly sensitive in Britain, where a previous Labour government vastly underestimated the number of migrants who would come from Eastern and Central Europe when Britain threw open its doors to the new European Union members from the east in 2004.

Before 2004, a study commissioned by the government suggested 5,000 to 13,000 arrivals a year up to 2010. The 2011 census showed 521,000 Polish-born people listed as residents in Britain, the majority having arrived after 2004.

In prerecession Britain, politicians saw immigration as a catalyst for growth. But now a struggling economy is helping fan anxiety.

The London newspaper The Daily Telegraph warned this week that Romania and Bulgaria had a liberal attitude toward issuing passports to people in impoverished neighboring states, presaging an influx of poor people from southeast Europe into Britain, with full employment rights.

The Romanian government, for its part, has sought to allay concerns, lamenting what it has characterized as a xenophobic campaign against the country. Britain, it has emphasized, is not even the preferred destination for Romanians.

Professor John Salt of the University College London migration research unit said Wednesday that data from Bulgaria showed that advance bookings for Bulgaria Air, the main air carrier from Bulgaria to Britain, decreased by more than 3 percent for travel in the first three months of 2014, compared with the previous year. He said that all indications were that airlines were not introducing extra flights.

Some economists have said fears of a sudden influx from Romania are exaggerated because Britain has historically absorbed migrants from around the world. Romania’s unemployment rate of about 7 percent is roughly the same as Britain’s and less than one-third of Spain’s. Economic growth is at 4.1 percent. The Economist said in a commentary article, “The average Bucharest resident is comfortably better off than the average resident of Manchester.”

Laszlo Andor, the European Union’s commissioner for employment, said Wednesday that Britain was unlikely to experience a sudden and large influx of immigrants from the two countries, in part because three million Bulgarians and Romanians had already been able to settle in other European Union countries.

While acknowledging that the newcomers could put a strain on education, housing and social services, he said they would also fill labor market gaps and help offset aging populations.

“The free movement of people has been one of the cornerstones of E.U. integration,” he said in a statement. “This right is one of the most cherished by Europeans, with over 14 million of them studying, working or retiring in another E.U. state.”

**************

Alarm sounded on anti-Roma rhetoric as door opens to more EU workers

Cross-party group calls for calm dialogue after Tory council leader blames Roma in London for disruption and crime

Rowena Mason and Shiv Malik   
The Guardian, Wednesday 1 January 2014   
   
Politicians are inflaming community tensions with anti-Roma rhetoric, an alliance of Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs has warned as Britain opens its borders to Bulgarian and Romanian workers.

MPs on the all-parliamentary party group on Gypsies, Travellers and Roma sounded the alarm about provocative language as a prominent Tory council leader suggested some Roma are planning to come to the UK to "pickpocket and aggressively beg" following the end of labour market controls on the two eastern European countries.

On Tuesday, ahead of the restrictions expiring at midnight, Philippa Roe, of Westminster city council, blamed Roma in central London for already causing "a massive amount of disruption and low-level crime", including defecating on doorsteps. Speaking on the BBC, she called for more limits on benefits for new arrivals from EU countries and claimed there would be rising costs in council tax unless the government offers financial help.

"I know the vast majority of Romanians and Bulgarians planning to come to the UK are planning to work and contribute to society here," she said. "But I think the fear that everybody faces is those that come to Britain and either fail to find jobs and therefore fall back on our welfare system, or those who deliberately come here to pickpocket and aggressively beg.

"We have seen in the past 18 months particularly the Roma in central London causing a massive amount of disruption and low-level crime which has made a very negative impact on our communities. It's this minority one is really concerned about but it is this minority that has this really big impact."

Roma make up a tiny proportion of the population of Romania and Bulgaria but some politicians have concentrated their warnings about the end of transitional controls on the potential for more to enter Britain. This week an adviser to the Romanian prime minister hit back at scare stories, arguing millionaire bankers have caused more harm to society than Roma beggars.

Amid escalating rhetoric, the MPs on the all-party parliamentary group called for politicians to engage in "calm dialogue with local communities and an end to deliberately inflammatory language intended to stoke up community tension".

Andrew George, a Lib Dem MP who is chairman of the group, said these communities were suffering "collateral damage" and extra discrimination amid all the furore.

"What these groups are saying is that they are suffering even more," he told the Guardian. "They already exist in an environment of deep prejudice and community tension anyway. This is just setting them back after making some progress in some of the areas in which they have improved their relations. There is collateral damage going on for the wider traveller community."

The group includes David Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary, Sir Peter Bottomley, a former employment minister, and Kate Green, the shadow equalities minister. Separately, Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, also warned that the government's "last-minute confusion and heightened rhetoric is alarming rather than reassuring, and risks fuelling hostility too".

Ukip and the right of the Tory party have been warning for months about the potential for a public backlash if new arrivals put pressure on squeezed public services and housing. Ukip leader Nigel Farage argues London is already suffering a "Romanian crime wave" and accused the coalition of preparing to welcome "foreign criminal gangs" from new EU member states.

Under pressure from dozens of MPs and local activists within his party, David Cameron has brought in new rules that stop EU immigrants getting benefits for at least three months after arriving and limit their claims to six months.

Despite the political frenzy, experts are not predicting a surge in immigrants from the two eastern European countries on the scale of migration from Poland in the 2000s. Professor John Salt, an academic at the University College London migration research unit, said advance air bookings from Bulgaria to the UK for the first three months of 2014 were down on last year and no carrier from the country had increased the number of flights.

Despite reports of tickets for packed flights leaving the region costing upwards of £3,000, many airlines were offering seats on Tuesday to fly to the UK at between £135 and £250 for departure on New Year's Day. Eurolines, the main international bus operator at Victoria coach station in London, said it did not have any arrivals scheduled from Romania or Bulgaria until the morning of 2 January.

Sergiu Calauz, chief executive of the Romanian recruitment company Work Experience, said he had not seen an increase in the last few months of Romanians wanting to travel to the UK for work purposes. "Honestly, it's still the same," he said. With unemployment just under UK levels, skilled Romanians with good English were not generally out of a job, Calauz said.

Comparative figures from the International Labour Organisation from mid 2013 show Romania had a lower rate of unemployment (7.5%) than the UK (7.6%). Bulgaria's unemployment stood at 12.9%.

Asked whether the appetite amongst Romanians to migrate had increased because of the change in labour laws, he said: "It's too early [to tell] … but Romanians are kind of conservatives. What I can tell you is the great people, the best people, those who are confident enough in their skills, they are abroad already. It's not like 1 January will wake them up."

***************

British workers left unprotected says Labour as immigration row deepens

Shadow immigration minister lambasts government as Britain opens its borders to Bulgarian and Romanian workers

Rajeev Syal and agencies
theguardian.com, Wednesday 1 January 2014 11.57 GMT      

The government has failed to introduce measures to protect the rights of low-skilled British workers whose jobs may be threatened by new migrants from eastern Europe, a Labour shadow minister has claimed.

As Britain opened its borders to Bulgarian and Romanian workers on New Year's Day, David Hanson, the shadow immigration minister, said the government has ignored calls to strengthen existing legislation that could stop employers from undercutting British employees' wages by recruiting from overseas.

His comments came as the first Romanians and Bulgarians with unrestricted access to the UK labour market began to arrive amid a deepening political row.

All political parties are aware that the possibility of high numbers of new migrants has become an issue, fuelled by unproven claims that the new arrivals could lead to a rise in crime and social problems.

Romanians landing at Luton airport on Wednesday were greeted by the home affairs select committee chairman, Keith Vaz, who said they provided just a "snapshot" of those expected to come to the country over the coming months.

The 180-seat aircraft from Târgu Mureș, Romania, had only 140 passengers on board, he said, most of whom already live and work in the UK.

"Just on the conversations we've had with people who have come here, a lot of them are returning people, they already work in Britain and they're coming back after a holiday so they're not people coming here for the first time," Vaz said.

"We've seen no evidence of people who have rushed out and bought tickets in order to arrive because it's 1 January.

"We'd be surprised if they did so, this is after all only a snapshot. But we do need to resolve this issue in the future, and it's an issue for the whole of the EU to resolve so we don't get these kinds of dramas at the end."

Hanson, interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live on Wednesday, said the government had failed to introduce a series of measures to slow the recruitment of low-skilled workers from eastern Europe.

"We have been arguing for the past year that [the government] should be looking at other measures such as enforcement of the minimum wage, such as extending gangmaster legislation to areas such as catering and tourism, and particularly focusing on recruitment agencies which are recruiting solely from eastern Europe. Those are other measures we could be doing to focus on low-skilled immigration," he said.

Hanson also claimed that some of the rhetoric employed by Tory politicians had turned the issue of migration controls into a frenzy: "These controls have been lifted across the whole of Europe. We should not have a frenzy, we should have a calm, measured approach," he said.

Romanian representative Roxana Carare, an honorary consul in Britain, said the number of people travelling to the UK would not change, but added that there was demand for Romanian and Bulgarian labour.

"The numbers haven't changed because people have been able to travel since 2007," she said. "But I hear that people are being recruited, so they are coming in response to the demand for work. Romanians are being recruited by work agencies from everywhere in Europe, not just UK agencies.

"It's down to the employer to decide who they are going to offer a job to, but if agencies are going to recruit workers from Romania then there is a reason for that."

Speaking to the BBC, Carare added that countries that offer employment training would prove the most attractive to Romanian migrants.

"For labourers, and other skilled workers, countries that they can relate to, from a cultural and linguistic point of view, [will be the most attractive]. Britain is not top of the list because this is Anglo-Saxon country and Romania is a Latin country. People are more likely to go to Italy, Spain and other Latin countries."

The Guardian disclosed on Tuesday that MPs on the all-parliamentary party group on Gypsies, Travellers and Roma have expressed alarm about provocative language, as a prominent Tory council leader in suggested some Roma were planning to come to the UK to "pickpocket and aggressively beg" following the end of labour market controls on the two countries.

Ahead of the lifting of the restrictions, Philippa Roe of Westminster city council blamed Roma in central London for already causing "a massive amount of disruption and low-level crime", including defecating on doorsteps. Speaking to the BBC, she called for more limits on benefits for new arrivals from EU countries and claimed there would be rising costs in council tax unless the government offers financial help.

"I know the vast majority of Romanians and Bulgarians planning to come to the UK are planning to work and contribute to society here," she said. "But I think the fear that everybody faces is those that come to Britain and either fail to find jobs and therefore fall back on our welfare system, or those who deliberately come here to pickpocket and aggressively beg.

"We have seen in the past 18 months particularly the Roma in central London causing a massive amount of disruption and low-level crime which has made a very negative impact on our communities. It's this minority one is really concerned about but it is this minority that has this really big impact."

Ninety senior Conservatives attempted to block the lifting of the restrictions in a letter to David Cameron, arguing he could invoke a clause in EU law to keep the borders shut.

But ministers denied such a move would be feasible.

Vaz spoke out against the government's refusal to bow to repeated demands to publish or commission estimates of the numbers expected to enter Britain after unofficial research predicted as many as 50,000 people would arrive from Romania and Bulgaria each year.

"The concern of the committee has always been the lack of robust estimates of people coming here and we still feel very strongly the government ought to have asked the migration advisory committee to have conducted a piece of research which would have told us the number of people who were came into this country or were coming into this country.

"We think that would have been extremely helpful. The fact that we don't have those estimates means that we have this kind of drama at the end, which is not helpful to anybody," he said.

******************

Scapegoating migrants for Britain's crisis will damage us all

The Tories and Ukip are vying to terrify the public about Romanians and Bulgarians. What's needed is protection at work and a crash housing programme

Seumas Milne   
The Guardian, Wednesday 1 January 2014 19.30 GMT          

It's the influx that never was. New Year's Day, we were told by rightwing politicians and press, would be the day the floodgates opened. Romanians and Bulgarians, free at last to work in Britain without restrictions, would come in their hordes. Beggars and benefit scroungers would be battering on our doors. The country would be swamped.

But when it came to it, there was no sign of them: no special coaches, no temporary camps and plenty of spare seats on flights from Bucharest and Sofia. It's not so hard to work out why. Romanians and Bulgarians have been able to live and work throughout the European Union since 2007. There are already about 150,000 in Britain, 2 million in Italy and Spain, and seven other EU countries lifted working restrictions yesterday, including France and Germany.

No doubt the numbers will pick up, though it won't be on the scale of the east European migration of the past decade. But for months, we have been subjected to a drumbeat of hysteria, as the Tories vied with the nationalist UK Independence party to terrify the public about the coming onslaught and promise ever more meaningless or toxic crackdowns, egged on by a xenophobic media.

Migrants will be charged for emergency hospital treatment at their bedside, the government announced – but that won't apply to EU citizens. The Daily Mail and 90 Conservative activists begged David Cameron to invoke an EU "safeguard clause" to keep the curbs on Bulgarian and Romanian employment in place, while Tory ministers claimed they were being blocked by the Liberal Democrats. It was grandstanding nonsense, as the European commission would have had to agree to it.

Cameron claimed he was going to clamp down on "benefit tourism", for which the government conceded there was in fact no "quantitative evidence". He then announced migrants would no longer be able to claim out-of-work benefits for three months – which is effectively already the case. The depraved nadir of this migrant-baiting Dutch auction was reached when Ukip's leader, Nigel Farage, made clear that his call for Syrian refugees to be allowed into Britain would apply to Christians only.

In reality, the politicians are posturing because they can't control EU migration, but need a scapegoat for falling living standards, shrinking public services and the housing shortage. Faced with the electoral threat from Ukip, the Tories and their friends in the media have reached for the tried and tested alternative of blaming foreigners.

That will only strengthen Ukip's appeal. But it will also degrade social life and undermine economic recovery, as the government tries to restrict the right of British citizens to bring in a non-European spouse to those earning over £18,600 a year and clamps down on non-EU students. After years in which the explosive link between immigration and race has been partly defused, expect abuse of Roma people, Europe's most shamefully treated minority, to be ratcheted up.

That's far easier for the government and its supporters than dealing with the causes of the crisis through which people experience mass migration. As Damian Drăghici, Roma adviser to the Romanian prime minister, put it this week, Britain should be more worried about bankers "stealing billions" than "Roma begging in the street".

The growth of large-scale migration is after all part of the system of corporate globalisation that took hold in the past 30 years and widened inequality both within and between countries. It's also been fuelled by 15 years of western wars and intervention from Afghanistan to Somalia. And in eastern Europe, the exploitation and migration of low-waged and skilled workers has been central to the neoliberal model imposed after 1989.

It's that model that crashed in 2008 after years of stagnating real wages had fuelled the rise of the populist right across the continent. Public opposition to immigration in Britain isn't just a product of xenophobia or media mendacity, as sometimes claimed, but people's response to its impact on a deregulated labour market, under-invested housing and slashed public services.

In the past decade, European migration was used as a sort of 21st-century incomes policy in Britain as employers ruthlessly exploited migrant labour to hold down wages – which have since been cut in real terms for four years in a row as a result of the crisis.

The ready supply of low-cost migrant labour was only one factor in the earlier wage stagnation, which was driven by globalised trade, technology and the decline of unions. But the determination to fight anti-migrant bigotry and racism can lead some to romanticise deregulated migration as an undiluted good on whatever scale.

That's clearly not the case for either source countries, which can be stripped of skilled workers and professionals by richer states, or migrants subject to abuse and discrimination. Immigration rules for EU states, such as Britain, are incidentally heavily skewed in favour of white migrants.

For host countries, the overall economic impact of immigration may be positive, even if Britain's growth was relatively sluggish before the crash. And press and politicians' claims that migrants are a drain on the public finances is clearly nonsense. They are far less likely to claim benefits than those born in Britain and they make a large net contribution in taxes.

But the class impact is something else. Whatever the effect on average wages, there is clear evidence that lower-paid and unskilled workers' wages are often squeezed or cut by the exploitation of migrant workers in, say, construction or care work – while well-off professionals typically benefit from cheaper restaurants and domestic cleaners. And the competition for scarce housing and overstretched public services is greatest in the poorer areas where migrants tend to live.

That's why the policies that are desperately needed for the majority to break the grip of a failed economic model would also help make regulated migration work for all: stronger trade unions, a higher minimum wage, a shift from state-subsidised low pay to a living wage, a crash housing investment programme, a halt to cuts in public services, and an end to the outsourced race to the bottom in employment conditions. Those changes are necessary in themselves – but are also essential to draw the poison from immigration.

************

January 2, 2014

For Britain, Big Decisions on Identity

By ALAN COWELL
IHT

LONDON — On one of the highbrow radio talk shows that mold the political agenda here, a host heralded the New Year this week by saying 2014 would force Britons to confront a single overwhelming question: Who do they think they are?

Indeed, for some in this debate over a nation’s identity — 100 years after the start of World War I, which honed Britain’s imperial reflexes — the next 12 months could begin writing the final chapters of the empire’s decline.

The sequence began on New Year’s Day, when the last restrictions fell away on Bulgarians and Romanians entering the European Union’s labor markets, including Britain’s.

In September, Scots are to vote in a referendum on independence, potentially shrinking the United Kingdom to a rump embracing England, Wales and Northern Ireland. And — the final tripwire — whatever Britons remain may well vote in 2017 on whether to leave the European Union altogether.

Will Britain thus emerge from this cascade of challenges as a reinvigorated player in a broadening Europe, or as a footnote to its onetime global reach?

In the 24-hour news cycle, the issue that dominated the week was the long-heralded shift in regulations that permitted citizens of Bulgaria and Romania — the European Union’s poorest lands, which joined the bloc in 2007 — to look for work in Britain.

At 7:40 a.m. at Luton Airport north of London, when the first flight from Romania landed on Wednesday, crowds of reporters and a sprinkling of politicians gathered to determine whether the nation faced a flood or a trickle of new migrants.

As it turned out, the 180-passenger aircraft from Targu Mures, Romania, had only 140 people on board, most of whom were already living in Britain, despite the previous restrictions.

“We’ve seen no evidence of people who have rushed out and bought tickets in order to arrive because it’s the first of January,” Keith Vaz, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party, told reporters at Luton. “We’d be surprised if they did so. This is, after all, only a snapshot.”

The point of the airport vigil, however, lay elsewhere.

At a time of hardship, austerity and government efforts to curb the once-munificent welfare state, the question of immigration draws on a fissile blend of economic fear, ethnic stereotyping and political maneuver.

Like other mainstream parties in Europe unsettled by right-wing insurgents, Britain’s dominant Conservatives face a challenge from the United Kingdom Independence Party at European Parliament elections in May, a vote that could greatly benefit the anti-immigrant lobby.

In the debate, the familiar economic argument — does immigration drain or bolster economies? — comes a distant second to the scramble for votes.

Depending on your newspaper, immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria are either work-shy scroungers, benefit frauds, pickpockets and panhandlers or the harbingers of hard-working renewal in jobs Britons are either unwilling or unqualified to take — or even both: A person shampooing clients’ hair at a north London salon the other day vouchsafed that she held a degree in economics from a Romanian university.

As the Jan. 1 deadline approached, The Sun tabloid dispatched reporters to Romania to join a busload of migrants heading out on the three-day trip to the supposed British El Dorado. Some were quoted as saying they would beg, steal or swindle to tap into Britain’s relative wealth. “Cheeky Beggars,” the newspaper headlined its report.

The reality is that no one really knows what the changes will bring. Much of the discussion here is driven by Britain’s underestimation of an earlier surge of immigrants from Eastern Europe in 2004 and by the political imperative of claiming credit for preventing a new tsunami in advance of Britain’s national elections next year.

“Most of those who want to work in the U.K. are probably here already,” The Guardian newspaper said. But that may not stop the government from “claiming credit for slaying a monster that never existed.”

****************

The immigration invasion that never was

No extra flights, empty seats – the lack of stampeding Bulgarians and Romanians shows the rightwing hysteria for what it was

Alex Andreou   
theguardian.com, Thursday 2 January 2014 11.11 GMT   
       
On Wednesday, Luton airport became a political hadron collider, where the rhetoric of fear of the past few months over immigration crashed into the charged particle beam of hard reality. The aftermath revealed commons home affairs committee chairman Keith Vaz and Conservative MP Mark Reckless outside the arrivals gate, like hapless limousine drivers waiting in the wrong terminal, holding up a card which read "Mr Something-escu".

They found someone eventually. It turns out that Victor Spirescu was not here to claim benefits, beg, steal, have an expensive heart operation, six children, get a council flat and assassinate the Queen. He was just here to wash cars, pay tax and, eventually, go back home with his savings to repair his house.

This was no fluke either. Transport data shows that no extra flights or coaches were scheduled from Romania or Bulgaria, advance air bookings are down for the first three months of the year compared with 2013, and there were plenty of seats available at prices as low as £135.

"The Holiday Invasion That Never Happened" sounds like a Doctor Who special. But then again, it always was fiction. The fiction that one can have a pick 'n' mix arrangement with other countries, with no repercussions for international trade or millions of Brits living outside the UK. The fiction that a country can be a more effective player on the global stage by becoming insular and xenophobic. The insidious fiction that what stood between us and prosperity was a hypothetical Bulgarian.

No doubt it will be claimed that measures, taken at the eleventh hour to deter immigration, worked; despite reason dictating that most people plan such a life-altering move more than a month in advance, which was when the government started trying to out-Ukip Ukip. No doubt those tabloids that love to bash migrants will uncover one who came here to claim benefits and make them front page news. No doubt Nigel Farage will latch onto some spurious statistic, that 60% of all robberies, in a rural Post Office, between 65 and 72 sq ft, on a sunny day, were perpetrated by someone whose name ends in -ov, then tout it across the BBC programmes that obligingly provide a soapbox for his nonsense.

The fact remains that this morning, Brits woke up to find there was not a Bulgarian family squatting in their front garden; that their job had not been stolen by some crafty Romanian who spoke no English; that they had been completely, unnecessarily, cynically manipulated into panic. Let's hope they wake up to the understanding that immigration is a convenient distraction, which they can choose not to allow to cloud their vision.

To the few who did arrive, and continue to trickle in, to Mr Spirescu, I say "welcome". The risk migrants choose to take in uprooting their entire lives, the gumption they show in starting over, the ingenuity required in negotiating a completely unknown and hostile environment, the pure desire to be here, is precisely what this country needs more of.


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« Reply #11015 on: Jan 02, 2014, 07:01 AM »

Reindeer herds in danger as Australia's mining boom comes to Sweden

Lars Jon Allas, whose family has herded for generations, says mine dust kills the lichen reindeer eat in winter

Kim Paul Nguyen   
theguardian.com, Thursday 2 January 2014 04.52 GMT          

The town of Kiruna in far north Sweden is home to the largest underground iron mine in the world. Piles of mined earth dwarf the town and smoke churning from the processing plant at the mine's entrance creates the impression of an active volcano.

Lars Jon Allas and his reindeer herd spend their winters in the pastures just outside Kiruna. Allas, whose family has herded reindeer for countless generations, says mine dust can carry kilometres and kills the lichen reindeer eat during winter.

Allas is apprehensive about the mining boom taking place in Sweden: “We have mining exploration everywhere, it's frightening.” Now an Australian company is planning a mining complex just south of Kiruna and Allas's Sami community is determined to stop it.

Hannans Reward Ltd, a Perth-based company, is planning a collection of open-pit mines just a few kilometres from Kiruna, mining iron, copper and gold. The project is in the advanced exploratory stages, the company hoping environmental impact assessments and final resource testing will be completed in 2014. If so it will apply for exploitation concessions and environmental permits that will allow it to begin mining.

The proposed mine sites stretch kilometres across the forested landscape. Mattias Åhrén, a law professor from Tromsø University and member of the Sami council, says the Hannans' mines will make reindeer herding in the area impossible. “The site is so huge it cuts the Sami communities in half. It's directly on the reindeer migration path.”

Åhrén says the mines would destroy autumn and spring pastures and reindeer would not be able to pass. He says it is particularly damaging because the mine sites are in the area used by reindeer cows to give birth.

Sami communities are also concerned impacts spread far beyond the mine's edges. Mines require extensive infrastructure and produce large amounts of waste, stored nearby in enormous tailing ponds that often contain toxins. “If this goes ahead those communities will no longer be able to pursue reindeer herding, not in the traditional way,” says Åhrén.

Reindeer herding is considered by many to be the basis of Sami culture. Once it is gone, Åhrén fears their ancient culture would soon follow. “Traditional cultures depend on the land use, the livelihoods,” Åhrén explains. “When that disappears you become a museum culture, you are frozen in time.”

The Sami communities are not going down without a fight. At Hannans' 2011 and 2012 AGMs the local reindeer herders sent envoys to warn Hannans they would lodge a complaint with the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (Cerd). But at Hannans' AGM on 21 November 2013 the company reiterated its commitment to the project, stating they plan to mine and process one billion tonnes of ore in the Kiruna area.

Hannans may not have it all its own way. A very similar mining controversy is playing out in Rönnbäcken, 300 kilometres south-west of Kiruna, that could have major ramifications for all mining operations in traditional Sami areas. A nickel mining project has just been halted by UN intervention in circumstances that mirror those of Hannans' Kiruna project.

In 2012, the Swedish mining inspectorate granted Nickel Mountain, a Swedish company, exploitation concessions for three sites. The decision was immediately appealed by local reindeer herders on grounds that damage to pastures and migration routes would make reindeer herding in the area impossible. In August 2013, the Swedish government dismissed their appeals. The herders then took their complaint to the Cerd.

Åhrén also represents the reindeer herders of Rönnbäcken: “We are arguing that Sami communities have established property rights through traditional use, giving them the right to say no.” Sweden has so far refused to ratify the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169, that gives indigenous people legal rights over their traditional land.

Late in 2013, the Cerd asked the Swedish government to suspend all mining activity at the Rönnbäcken sites while the complaint was investigated. It is now awaiting the government's response, due in January 2014, before releasing its findings.

Fredric Bratt, Nickel Mountain director, said his company was in dialogue with local reindeer herders and want to mine alongside them. However he said their consent was not necessary, and as the Cerd only had an advisory role the decision on mining was ultimately down to the Swedish government.

Åhrén hopes Sweden would abide by a finding from the UN committee and does not think there is any other way. “It's very difficult to convince the Swedish majority that reindeer herding is more important than mining, because people treasure money and themselves first. That's why we have human rights, because you can't rely on majority rule in these kinds of decisions.”

But increasingly Sami have been engaging in politics, with protests held in the north and Stockholm. This summer activists from across Scandinavia joined Sami and other locals to blockade the British company Beowulf's Kallak mine project in the centre of northern Sweden.

Blockade organisers said the project will damage local forests, waterways and reindeer pastures.

The blockade lasted over two months, despite being repeatedly torn down by police and Beowulf security personnel, before police finally dispersed protesters in late August. The police were accused of brutality after a wooden tower came down with two activists still in it. Protesters, both Sami and non-Sami, were detained for resisting arrest and trespass.

Hannans, who declined to comment, will have to prepare for continued resistance from a minority people fighting for survival.


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« Reply #11016 on: Jan 02, 2014, 07:04 AM »


Palestinian ambassador to Prague killed in safe explosion

Jamal al-Jamal died after opening safe that had been closed for 30 years and triggering blast, Palestinian foreign minister says

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem and agencies
The Guardian, Wednesday 1 January 2014 22.25 GMT   

The Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic has been killed in a blast at his home thought to have been caused when he opened a safe containing explosives.

Czech police said there was no evidence that Jamal al-Jamal had been attacked. But the Czech authorities are bound to demand to know why explosives were being stored at the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Prague.

According to Riad al-Maliki, the Palestinian foreign minister, the safe had not been opened in at least 30 years. It was recently moved from an old embassy building.

"The ambassador decided to open it. After he opened it, apparently something happened inside and [the safe] went off," Maliki said.

The Novinky.cz news site, quoting sources close to the police investigation, said the blast had probably been caused by "careless manipulation with a dangerous explosive".

A Prague rescue service spokeswoman, Jirina Ernestova, said Jamal, 56, had been put in a medically induced coma when he first arrived at Prague military hospital. Daniel Langer, a doctor at the hospital, told public television Jamal had suffered serious abdominal injuries.

A 52-year-old woman was taken from the scene of the explosion to a hospital in Prague suffering from shock. She was not immediately identified.

An embassy spokesman, Nabil el-Fahel, told Czech Radio the ambassador's entire family had been at the two-storey residence in Suchdol, a northern suburb of the Czech capital, when the blast occurred.

A Palestinian official in Ramallah said: "This explosion happened at his house. He recently moved there. He was taken to hospital. An investigation is under way."

A second Palestinian source said: "He moved an old case with him to the new house from the old house. And when he opened it, the explosion happened."

There were no visible signs of damage to the house. Police cordoned off part of the street and half a dozen police vehicles, two firetrucks and two ambulances were present. Police sniffer dogs were at the site.

The Palestinian foreign ministry said it would send a delegation to Prague to help with the investigation.

Jamal had been ambassador to the Czech Republic since October.


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« Reply #11017 on: Jan 02, 2014, 07:07 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
01/02/2014 12:21 PM

'This Perverse Angst': Draghi Defends Euro Rescue Policies

In an interview, ECB chief Mario Draghi, 66, defends his controversial euro rescue policies, saying Germans' fears have failed to materialize and that conditions in the euro zone are improving.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Draghi, do you know Andrea Nahles?

Draghi: I have heard the name before but I don't know her personally.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Nahles is the new German labor minister and boss of Jörg Asmussen, your former colleague on the executive board of the ECB. The fact that he is giving up this prestigious job has caused great surprise in Germany. Did you chase him out?

Draghi: Jörg and I had an excellent personal and professional relationship. I consider it as a great loss for us that he is returning to the government. Of course we did not agree on every occasion.

SPIEGEL: Asmussen is the third German central banker to give up his job prematurely, after Bundesbank boss Axel Weber and the former ECB executive board member Jürgen Stark. Why aren't the Germans happy at the ECB?

Draghi: You can't compare these cases. Jörg has made it clear that it was only family reasons which prompted him to go back to Berlin. I have no reason to doubt that.

SPIEGEL: In any case, Weber and Stark resigned because of your policies, which led to your famous remark in London a year and a half ago about doing "everything necessary" to save the euro. That means, in an emergency, buying up the government bonds of the crisis-ridden countries and taking on risks amounting to billions for which in the end German taxpayers above all would be liable. Can you understand that many German citizens are at odds with this?

Draghi: Weber and Stark resigned before my arrival at the ECB. But the truth is that conditions in the euro area have improved considerably since then. Consider the latest developments: Crisis-ridden countries such as Ireland and Portugal are exiting the bailout program, the risk premia for loans to crisis-hit countries in Southern Europe are declining and investors from all over the world are once again investing in Europe. In other words, most of the financial-economic data are turning in the right direction.

SPIEGEL: Are you saying the euro crisis is over?

Draghi: No, but the fears felt by some sectors of the public in Germany have not been confirmed. What haven't we been accused of? When we offered European banks additional liquidity two years ago, it was said there would be a high rate of inflation. Nothing has happened. When I made my comment in London, there was talk of a violation of the central bank's mandate. But we had made clear from the beginning that we are moving within our mandate. Each time it was said, for goodness' sake, this Italian is ruining Germany. There was this perverse angst that things were turning bad, but the opposite has happened: Inflation is low and uncertainty reduced.

SPIEGEL: The economic crisis in Europe is still threatening to blow up the euro. Growth is low, so unemployment in Southern Europe is reaching record levels.

Draghi: The crisis has not been overcome, but there are many encouraging signs. The economy is recovering in many countries, the imbalances in European trade are declining and the budget deficits in the monetary union are falling. That's more than was expected a year ago.

SPIEGEL: But the debt level in many euro area countries is rising unabated, and there's less willingness to reform. Greece, for example, will again miss its targets. Does the country need another bailout?

Draghi:. In Greece, quite a few things have changed for the better, but the country has to do more, there's no doubt about that.

SPIEGEL: In fact, the situation is disastrous. If the state has to take up emergency loans again, Greece will definitely be living off the rest of the euro area. How is the country ever to get back on its feet?

Draghi: Some countries need a program that runs for three years; others take somewhat longer. In Greece, the position at the outset was particularly difficult, so now we have to be particularly patient with the country. That's no surprise.

SPIEGEL: The reform process is slowing down in other countries as well. France, for example, is again making debts, and the planned reforms in the labor market or the tax system are not moving ahead. How concerned are you about developments in the euro area's second-largest country?

Draghi: France is facing the same problems as other countries which need to get their budgets in order and to make structural reforms. Many states have raised taxes and cut investments first. This is the easiest way, but both approaches weaken growth. A more promising avenue is to bring current government spending down and introduce structural reforms in the labor market.

SPIEGEL: The only problem is that France isn't doing that. Aren't you getting tired of repeatedly urging the country to reform, but then seeing nothing happen?

Draghi: In Latin you say: "Repetita iuvant -- to repeat is beneficial". The fewer changes made in a country, the more often I repeat my messages. And it works.

SPIEGEL: We have a feeling that the number of governments which can no longer hear your tune is growing. The new coalition government in Germany, for example, wants to undo the pension reforms made by the former coalition government comprised of the center-left Social Democrats and the Green Party years ago and introduce a universal minimum wage of €8.50 ($11.67). Are these policies that help the euro?

Draghi: It is too early to assess the policies of the new German government. I can only say that the crisis has shown that the monetary union is incomplete and that the weaknesses need to be remedied. Germany helps the euro best by further strengthening its competitiveness and promoting growth. Whatever helps that process is right, everything else is wrong.

SPIEGEL: Many economists represent a completely different theory. They regard Germany's competitiveness as the real problem of the euro area and are calling for state curbs on exports. What do you think of that?

Draghi: Not much. It's a mechanistic perspective of economic activity, and there's little I can do with it. We won't make the weak stronger by making the strong weaker, as a very wise man once said. That applies to the economy as well. If Germany were less competitive, the euro area as a whole would lose, because less could be produced then.

SPIEGEL: In Germany, ECB policy is unpopular because you have now pushed the interest rates for investments down so far that they are often no longer enough to compensate for inflation. In other words, only fools save.

Draghi: That's not the fault of the ECB The link between the short-term interest rates set by the ECB and the long-term interest rates paid on investments which are relevant for savers in Germany is not very strong.

SPIEGEL: Really? It's a stated goal of your policy to indirectly suppress long-term interest rates.

Draghi: No, especially in recent years, we were unable to control long-term interest rates -- because investors were very unsettled by the euro crisis. That's why everyone has been taking money into Germany to buy safe German government bonds. That's why the interest rates in Germany have fallen. We take the concerns of savers very seriously. But how can we respond? We run monetary policy for the entire euro area, not for a single country. If we are able to dispel the uncertainty, many investors will again take their money out of Germany and back to their home countries and interest rates will rise again.

'I Adhere Strictly to the Mandate of the Central Bank'
SPIEGEL: People can see in the statements from their life insurance companies that they are getting ever smaller payouts from year to year because of the interest rates. The truth is that savers are paying the price for rescuing the euro.

Draghi: I am sure that the insurance companies do not refer to the key policy rate when they send their statements. We can only control that rate. Long-term interest rates are determined largely by global financial markets. If the Fed decides to buy US Treasury bonds worth $1 trillion a year, then that affects interest rates worldwide

SPIEGEL: The Fed has now announced plans to reduce government bond purchases. What does that mean for the euro area and the euro?

Draghi: So far markets have shown that the announcement by the Federal Open Market Committee (of the Federal Reserve System) has not affected the euro area markets. Their resilience is greater than it was a year ago.

SPIEGEL: That doesn't help the savers much. Currently, you get about 0.8 percent interest per year on a savings account in Germany, while the inflation rate is 1.3 percent. Do you think that is a normal and healthy development?

Draghi: Normal and healthy it is not. The real interest rate should be positive under normal conditions. Today in some countries it is negative, in others it is positive and even too high. We are very aware of the risks such fragmentation entails.

SPIEGEL: Which risks do you mean?

Draghi: First, the stability of the financial system is at risk if interest rates are too low for too long. Until now, however, we have only seen significant price increases in some specific and limited markets -- for example, in some real estate markets in Europe. The second serious risk is that inflation, which is already clearly below our 2 percent target, might fall further. Yet we aren't seeing any deflation, i.e. a general fall in prices. But we must be very careful that we do not permanently fall below 1 percent inflation and thus into the danger zone.

SPIEGEL: How do you intend to react to it -- should interest rates fall further?

Draghi: At the moment we see no need for immediate action. We don't have Japanese conditions. There, the expectation of falling prices became entrenched. In the euro area, market participants are convinced that inflation will rise to close to but below 2 percent again. In addition, Japan for a long time did not respond so resolutely in terms of its monetary policy as did the ECB. And finally, banks and companies in Japan were in a worse condition than those in the euro area today.

SPIEGEL: The condition of European banks is bad enough. So the banking union is going to come now and create a level playing field for all banks in the euro area. How important is the project for the monetary union?

Draghi: Extremely important. Europe's financial system is still fragmented, although the gap in funding costs for banks within the euro area is no longer as wide as it was two years ago. But in lending the differences are still very large, and in some countries the credit flow is disrupted. The banking union can help to restore confidence in cross-border lending. The most important objective of the Asset Quality Review is transparency. We want to shed light on what is hidden in the banks' balance sheets.

SPIEGEL: The EU has just agreed on a procedure how to handle banks that are not viable. Does the new resolution mechanism meet your wishes?

Draghi: I really want such a mechanism to work. We, as a supervisory body, decide only whether a bank is viable or not. Then the resolution authority has to decide what to do with the bank: close it, split it up or sell it. The problem is, when we say that the bank is not viable, steps then have to be taken extremely quickly. And it is certain that it does not work when hundreds of people across Europe have to discuss what needs to be done.

SPIEGEL: But is that certain with the decision taken now?

Draghi: If urgent action is needed we'll have a fast-track procedure that gives the European Council and the European Commission 24 hours to decide on proposals of the Board of the resolution mechanism. If they don't decide a bank faces liquidation, so there will be enough pressure to find a solution.

SPIEGEL: What condition are European banks in?

Draghi: To find that out, we will be closely examining the balance sheets of banks in the coming year. No conclusive judgement can be reached prior to that. But the banking system is now in a much better position than it was four years ago. Since then, around €0.5 trillion of fresh capital has flowed into the euro-area banks and many institutions have changed their business models. What is also certain is that almost all banks have been operating much more profitably and with lower costs.

SPIEGEL: You paint a very positive picture of the euro area, but many German policymakers remain very critical of ECB policy. How much longer can the conflict between you and Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann go on?

Draghi: I would rather speak of convergence than of conflict. Our positions have clearly moved closer to each other and cooperation has improved. Take the recent interest rate reduction, Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann initially had some reservations, but then he said that this step was justified. I have often said that I have great respect for the Bundesbank as an institution and for what it means to the Germans.

SPIEGEL: That sounds rather like Christmas harmony. Some economists in Germany speak of the "Club Med" when they talk about the majority of Southern Europeans in the Governing Council and accuse you of copying the inflation policy of the Bank of Italy in the 1970s.

Draghi: There are only a few who are insinuating that I am helping Italy because I'm Italian. This doesn't affect me. I have proved often enough that I adhere strictly to the mandate of the central bank and run a policy for the entire euro area. This is also true of my colleagues in the Governing Council. No one there thinks in nationalist categories; that applies more to those who voice such unjustified criticisms.

SPIEGEL: But ECB policy is viewed very skeptically not just by the Bundesbank, but also by Germany's highest court, the Federal Constitutional Court. Probably at the beginning of the year, the court will rule on whether the ECB's bond-buying program complies with Germany's constitution, the Basic Law. Are you worried about the ruling?

Draghi: There is no point in thinking about a court ruling beforehand. But we are certain that with all our monetary policy decisions we are operating within our mandate.

SPIEGEL: Many expect that the judges will set a limit on government bond purchases. What will you do then?

Draghi: There are already limits. We have said from the beginning that our program would be limited to the purchase of securities with short maturities. Apart from that, we can only wait, we have no Plan B.

SPIEGEL: Now you need a successor to the outgoing German ECB Executive Board member Asmussen. The German government has nominated Sabine Lautenschläger, the current vice president of the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank. What do you think of her?

Draghi: I have known Ms. Lautenschläger for years and appreciate her work as supervisor. Appointing the members of the Governing Council is a matter for the governments of the euro area. But I would welcome it very much if the vacancy could be filled by a woman.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Draghi, we thank you for this interview.


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« Reply #11018 on: Jan 02, 2014, 07:08 AM »


The German anniversary to celebrate in 2014

The Hanoverian accession in 1714 gave us the architecture of modern Britain

Hannah Betts   
The Guardian, Wednesday 1 January 2014 20.00 GMT   
       
With 2014 comes the anniversary of an event that gave us the architecture of modern Britain – political, cultural and literal – and helped reconfigure the globe, provoked by a run-in with the Germans. I refer, not to the first world war, but the Hanoverian accession in 1714, the year's other great German anniversary.

The British Library is hosting an exhibition and there will be a cross-palace celebration of Georges. Hampton Court will pay tribute to George I in its lesser-known baroque half, visitors to Kensington Palace will become courtiers of George II, and Kew Palace will focus on the domestic life of George III. The Queen's Gallery will be examining royal taste in early Georgian England, and the Royal Mail issuing commemorative stamps. Beyond these endeavours, no great interest has been demonstrated – certainly not compared with the media machine bracing itself to go over the top and into no man's land. Yet, if one asks a pimped version of the Monty Python question "What have the Romans ever done for us?", the scale of the Georgian bequest is prodigious, and not merely confined to some rather impressive buildings.

Foremost, at a time when absolutism reigned, the compromises of the 1688 Glorious Revolution had led to the acceptance of parliamentary monarchy. The hereditary right that formed the basis of the restored constitution of 1660 was supplanted by the will of the nation as expressed through parliament. Accordingly, the political strategists of the 18th century were concerned not with thwarting parliament, but with how to make it work – in their interests. Still, it was not just party politics, or the role of first (effectively prime) minister, but the art of political management itself that was born in this period.

The provision for frequent elections and effective abolition of state censorship inspired growing public debate. As politics and journalism began their history as unhappy but co-dependent bedfellows, polemical satire was no less apparent in theatre and literature. Moreover, while the point of installing the House of Hanover was its Protestantism, the inclusiveness and tolerance of the church was an object of admiration, notably from Voltaire.

The accession brought with it a set of characters who – while nothing if not foreign with their German speaking and chocolate chef – did much to establish the subsequent nature of the British royal family: battling within itself (here positively Oedipally), exhibiting increasingly middle-class values, and never really that British.

The Royal Marriages Act of 1772, Farmer George's attempt to inculcate Protestant family values, ironically produced a situation in which he spawned more than 50 grandchildren and only one legitimate heir, until the death of the regent's daughter spurred his brothers into marital action. In the long term, this gave us the reactively straight-laced Victorians, and the self-policing rectitude of the House of Windsor.

Many of the props of nationhood date from this era: be it the union flag, Jerusalem, Rule Britannia, the tune of the national anthem or the mapping of the nation in the form of Ordnance Survey maps. From here also issue other accoutrements of statecraft: the national debt, Bank of England and budget.

Industry became our forte from the infrastructure provided by the installing of a nationwide turnpike system from the 1730s, through the construction of the Iron Bridge in the 1770s, to the first public railway in 1803. Georgian London was a phenomenon, but Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow also flourished, and the industrial prowess of the Midlands and north became evident. There was concern for urban improvement and vast charitable fervour, the enthusiasts for such pursuits most often the burgeoning middle classes upon whose shoulders the growth of the economy rested.

This "middling sort" gave us much of the British character that remains in place today: a mania for shopping, spending and speculation; slavish setting and following of fashion; novels and newspapers; leisure, tourism and entertainment industries; fixation with sport and celebrity, and habit of using the term "Britain" to mean "England".

Capitalists before the term had currency, they bequeathed us appetite – for everything from the course-based style of dining to marketed pornography, and with it that peculiarly British trait, politeness on the verge of riot. As we consider the legacy of 20th-century Georgians next year, so let us also remember their forebears.


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« Reply #11019 on: Jan 02, 2014, 07:09 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
01/02/2014 10:51 AM

Erdogan's Endgame: Corruption Scandal Threatens Turkish Leader

By Maximilian Popp

A corruption scandal is expanding into a government crisis in Turkey. The governing party is divided and the political future of Prime Minister Erdogan, with his despotic style of leadership, is in jeopardy.

Istanbul public prosecutor Zekeriya Öz has investigated Turkey's elite, those who were seen as untouchable: politicians, journalists, attorneys and generals. Öz has been the most important criminal prosecutor under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, helping him take legal measures against the network known as the "Ergenekon," whose members were allegedly planning a coup against the government. But only a few months after the end of the five-year trial, Öz has now turned against his former sponsor.

Shortly before Christmas, police arrested more than 50 suspects, including politicians with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), influential businesspeople, and the sons of three cabinet ministers. The investigations were initiated by Öz, who was subsequently taken off the case. The scandal has taken Erdogan into the most serious crisis of his nearly 11 years in office. The corruption scandal within his inner circle is jeopardizing the power of the AKP and threatens to tear it apart -- and that in an election year, in which Erdogan apparently wants to be elected president.

The ministers of economics, the interior and urban development resigned on Dec. 25, after the arrest of their sons, who allegedly accepted bribes for providing building permits and public contracts. The next day, Erdogan fired seven other ministers, filling their posts with his confidants.

Several senior lawmakers, as well as the head of the state-owned Halkbank, who allegedly orchestrated oil deals with Iran, were also arrested. They are accused of circumventing sanctions against Tehran that prohibit monetary transactions with Iranian banks by paying several billion euros worth of gold in return for oil. When the police raided the bank head's home, they found $4.5 million (€3.3 million) in shoeboxes. But this is probably only the beginning of greater turmoil. Even Erdogan himself is becoming increasingly caught up in the corruption scandal. The urban development minister who had resigned, Erdogan Bayraktar, has called upon the prime minister to step down as well. Bayraktar claimed that he had approved the construction projects in question at Erdogan's instruction.

Further Arrests in the Pipeline

Investigators are apparently planning further arrests, with a list of suspects that includes Erdogan's son Bilal. The 32-year-old is the founder and a board member of the influential Türgev Foundation, which acquired a government property in Istanbul's Fatih district at a very favorable price, allegedly paying about €3 million in bribes in return.

A summons for Bilal Erdogan, signed by Istanbul public prosecutor Muammer Akka, has since been published. But police officers refused to arrest either him or a number of AKP lawmakers, probably on instructions from the political arena. Akka was also removed from the case. In a statement last Thursday, he said: "My investigations were blocked. The judiciary was apparently put under pressure."

Meanwhile, Erdogan is trying to paint the scandal as a conspiracy against his government. He blames it on a "gang" that aims to harm Turkey. In a televised address on Jan. 1, Erdogan called on his fellow Turks to help fight what he called a plot by foreign-backed elements. "I invite every one of our 76 million people to stand up for themselves, to defend democracy and to be as one against these ugly attacks on our country," he said. But even Erdogan's supporters are irritated by his tirades. And the louder he gets, the clearer it becomes that the once popular premier is fighting for his political future.

Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, came into office on the promise of putting an end to the cronyism of his predecessors. It helped get him elected in 2002 and has seen his government returned to office two times since then. But the AKP is not governing as cleanly as Erdogan claimed. It has long been plagued by allegations of corruption. In the embassy cables published by WikiLeaks in 2010, US diplomats reported "corruption at all levels" in Turkey.

'No One Wanted to Listen'

"We have addressed the subject of corruption within the government for years, but no one wanted to listen," says Aye Danioglu, a member of parliament for the opposition party, the CHP. "It finally took a dispute within the Islamic camp to uncover the dirt of the past few years."

The accusations have never been this detailed, nor have they been this dangerous for the prime minister. For the first time, it is not only members of the opposition who are attacking Erdogan, but also some of his previous supporters, especially those aligned with the Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen.

Gülen lives in exile in the United States. His supporters have established schools, media companies, hospitals and companies worldwide. The Gülen community seeks to portray itself as a civil society movement that primarily promotes education. But former members describe the community as hierarchical, political and Islamist.

Gülen and Erdogan long enjoyed a successful cooperative relationship. Gülen secured votes for the premier, while Erdogan protected the community's business dealings. With Erdogan's patronage, Gülen supporters secured key positions with the police and in the judiciary. In the Ergenekon trial, Gülen and Erdogan collaborated to bring down their chief adversaries: the military and the secular opposition.

A 'Declaration of War'

Zekeriya Öz, considered a Gülen supporter, was the chief prosecutor in the trial, the largest in recent Turkish history. The accused allegedly planned terrorist attacks to overthrow the government. Observers criticized the trial, which ended in August 2013 after five years, calling it a farce. Details from the trial were regularly leaked to media organizations owned by the Gülen movement, and regime critics were publicly denounced.

In recent months, however, the alliance has begun to crumble. Gülen's supporters had apparently become too powerful for Erdogan. At the same time, he obviously came to perceive them as disloyal, dismissing a number of officials aligned with the community. Gülen supporters in the judiciary subsequently attempted to prosecute the intelligence chief, an important confidant of the prime minister, but were unsuccessful. In November, Erdogan announced that Gülen tutoring centers were to be shut down. The educational facilities prepare pupils for university entrance examinations and are an important source of income for the movement. The newspaper Hürriyet called the move a "declaration of war."

For this reason, the investigations can arguably also be seen as the Gülen movement's attempt to exact revenge on the prime minister. Erdogan calls it a "very dirty operation" and accuses Gülen supporters of trying to establish a "state within the state." Gülen replied with a video address, in which he said: "May God bring fire onto the houses of those who do not see the thief, but instead persecute those who are hunting the thief."

This is the second time that Erdogan has come under fire recently. In the summer, more than three million people protested for months against the redevelopment of Gezi Park in Istanbul. But the movement soon expanded into a broader protest against Erdogan's increasingly despotic style of government.

After almost 11 years in office, Erdogan seems increasingly autocratic and disconnected from reality. He has now replaced many capable advisers with loyal yes-men. Success makes some politicians more relaxed, but in recent years Erdogan has, in many respects, developed into precisely the type of autocratic ruler he once vowed to abolish. Critics have been locked away under Erdogan's rule. Turkey has more journalists and supposed terror suspects in prison than anywhere else.

AKP at Risk

Erdogan reacted obstinately to the protests in the summer, berating his critics as "bums" and having his security forces fire tear gas at them. He has also proved to be relentless in the current crisis. Some 500 police officers have been transferred, and Erdogan also attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to gain control over investigations by decree. But in contrast to the Gezi protests, this time Erdogan will not be able to bring the crisis under control by taking a tough approach. It is already becoming clear that the scandal could break apart his party.

Erdogan's goal of having himself elected president in the summer is becoming more and more tenuous. He would like to endow the position with significantly more power, but he is now unlikely to secure the necessary two-thirds majority in parliament. But under Turkey's Political Parties Law, he can no longer run for prime minister. It's possible that he will try to rewrite the law to remain in power, but there is already growing resistance within the AKP to such a move. President Abdullah Gül, in particular, now opposes his longtime ally.

Finally, the economy, the most important factor in persuading many citizens to vote for Erdogan, is growing weaker. The Turkish lira recently fell to a record low. Foreign investment, which brought in capital that fueled the boom of recent years, has been in decline for some time. If investors continue to withdraw money from Turkey, the result could be an economic slump, which could cost Erdogan votes.

The opposition is sending a candidate with serious prospects of winning the race for mayor of Istanbul in next March's local elections. This makes AKP officials increasingly nervous, because they know that whoever loses Istanbul will lose Turkey.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #11020 on: Jan 02, 2014, 07:13 AM »

Al-Qaeda-linked fighters control parts of two Iraq cities

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 2, 2014 7:09 EST

Al-Qaeda-linked militants were on Thursday in control of more than half of the Iraqi city of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi, a security official and witnesses said.

Violence first erupted on Monday when gunmen clashed with security forces as they tore down the country’s main Sunni Arab anti-government protest camp near Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

The clashes spread to Ramadi and then to Fallujah, where they continued for another two days.

Security forces have since withdrawn from some areas of the two cities in Anbar province, which were both once hubs of the insurgency that followed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, giving the jihadists free rein.

“Half of Fallujah is in the hands of ISIL (the Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) group, and the other half is in the control of” armed tribesmen, an interior ministry official told AFP.

A witness in the city west of Baghdad said that militants had set up checkpoints, each manned by six to seven people, in central and south Fallujah.

“In Ramadi, it is similar — some areas are controlled by ISIL and other areas are controlled by” tribesmen, the interior ministry official said, referring to the provincial capital farther to the west.

An AFP journalist in Ramadi saw dozens of trucks carrying heavily-armed men driving in the city’s east, playing songs praising ISIL.

Lyrics included “The Islamic State remains,” and “Our State is victorious.”

The militants also carried black flags of a type frequently flown by ISIL.

On Wednesday, militants in Ramadi sporadically clashed with security forces and torched four police stations, but the fighting had subsided by Thursday, the AFP journalist said.

The violence had also spread to Fallujah, where police abandoned most of their positions on Wednesday and militants burned some police stations, seized weapons and freed over 100 prisoners, officers said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had on Tuesday announced that soldiers would depart restive cities in Anbar province, but reversed that decision the following day.

However, army forces on Thursday remained outside Ramadi, witnesses said.

Maliki had long wanted the removal of the protest camp, which he termed a “headquarters for the leadership of Al-Qaeda,” but doing so has come at the cost of a sharp decline in the security situation in Anbar.

And while the camp’s closure has removed a physical sign of deep-seated grievances among Sunni Arabs, their complaints of being marginalised by the Shiite-led authorities and unfairly targeted by security forces remain unaddressed.

There has also been political fallout from the situation in Anbar, with 44 MPs, most of them Sunnis, announcing on Monday that they had submitted their resignations, and calling for “the withdrawal of the army from the cities and the release of MP Ahmed al-Alwani”.

There has been no announcement so far as to whether or not their resignations have been accepted.

Alwani, a Sunni Arab MP who was a leading supporters of the protest camp, was arrested in a raid on his Ramadi home on Saturday in which his brother, five guards and a security forces member died — another incident that has raised tensions.

Protests broke out in Sunni Arab-majority areas of Iraq late last year after the arrest of guards of then-finance minister Rafa al-Essawi, an influential Sunni Arab, on terrorism charges. The demonstrations have continued for more than a year.

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« Reply #11021 on: Jan 02, 2014, 07:21 AM »

Protests erupt as Indian 16-year-old who was gang-raped twice dies after being burned alive

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 2, 2014 5:53 EST

An Indian teenager was gang-raped in two separate attacks and then died after being set on fire, sparking protests in the eastern city of Kolkata, police said on Thursday.

The 16-year-old was assaulted first on October 26 and then again the day after by a group of more than six men near her family’s home in Madhyagram town, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) north of Kolkata.

The second rape occurred as she was returning home after reporting the first attack at a police station.

She was then set on fire on December 23 and died in a state-run hospital late on New Year’s Eve, police said.

“She gave us a dying declaration in front of the health officials that she was set on fire by two persons close to the accused when she was alone at home on December 23,” local policeman Nimbala Santosh Uttamrao told AFP.

Police made their first arrests on Wednesday, two months after the initial crime, local police chief Rajiv Kumar told AFP.

“The accused tried to kill my daughter by setting her on fire to hush up their crimes,” the victim’s father, a migrant taxi driver from India’s poorest state Bihar, told AFP.

Neither he nor the victim can be named for legal reasons.

Several hundred activists on Wednesday protested in Kolkata over the crime, which was shocking in its brutality, even after a year when sex crimes have been widely reported in India.

Rampant rape, assault and harassment of women in India was in the spotlight in the past 12 months after the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi in December 2012 sparked nationwide outrage.

The parliament has since passed tougher laws to punish rapists.

Activists say rape victims in India often face severe threats and intimidation from their attackers after the assault, while police often discourage them from lodging complaints.

*****************

India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
January 2, 2014, 1:50 am

Private Schools for Poor Pressured by Right to Education Act

By NEHA THIRANI BAGRI

MUMBAI — In Dharavi, a Mumbai slum, a  ramshackle building houses the Bombay South Indian Adi-Dravida Sangh school, where 1,000 students from poor families take their classes in English, a language increasingly perceived as the key to a white-collar job.

Tuition at the school is 400 rupees, or $6, a month, which represents about three days’ pay for the students’ parents, but they’d rather send their children here rather than to the free local public school because the quality of education is better. “We want our children to fare well, but we don’t have the capacity to put them in schools with very high fees,” said P. Ganesan, who stitches clothes at a garment factory nearby.

However, this school is in danger of being shut down because of the Right to Education Act, introduced by the Indian government in 2009. The landmark legislation, which mandated free and compulsory education for all children from the ages of 6 and 14, ordered all schools to have infrastructure like a playground and separate toilets for boys, among other requirements, by March 31.

The two-floor structure that houses the Bombay South Indian Adi-Dravida Sangh School is topped by a corrugated iron roof and lacks a playground, sports equipment and a ramp for disabled children, which are all required under the law. While the school has a library, the teachers complained that it is understocked. Of the seven computers in the school’s computer room, only one is in working condition

Many education experts argue that the Right to Education Act, while lofty in its goals, does not pay attention to the ground realities of low-budget private schools. In a study of 15 budget private schools in New Delhi by the Center for Civil Society, it was found that to comply with the infrastructure requirements in the Right to Education Act, the schools would have to have an approximately four-fold increase in their fees, making them unaffordable for the section of society they currently serve.

The Bombay South Indian Adi-Dravida Sangh School is undergoing some renovations, putting up concrete walls between classrooms and adding a second floor, but it doesn’t have the funds to make all the changes required by the Right to Education Act.

“The R.T.E. regulations are good for students, but it is difficult to collect funds for the renovation because the fees are so low,” said Devraj Natarajan, treasurer of the board of trustees at Bombay South Indian Adi-Dravida Sangh School, referring to the legislation.

If these schools are closed because of the government’s regulations, many poor children may never find another place to learn, said Mari Arunachalam, the school’s principal. “Many parents who are not educated will let the children drop out of school and send them to work instead,” she said. “The children’s future will be spoiled — that should not happen.”

Schools that fail to comply with infrastructure regulations, which are enforced by the state governments, risk being either shut down or being forced to pay a hefty fine. “There are nearly 300,000 budget private schools across the country with an estimated 15 million students, almost all of which will not be able to fulfill these norms,” said Shantanu Gupta, senior coordinator for advocacy at the Center for Civil Society. 


Though public schools generally have better infrastructure than the low-cost private schools, they have a higher level of teacher absenteeism than their private counterparts, and English is not usually the medium of instruction. A survey of rural schools across India by the nonprofit ASER Center, published in 2012, showed that basic skills like reading and math were better among children attending private schools compared to those at public schools.

“In some places, parents are choosing to put their children in private schools because they feel that their children are not learning in public schools,” said Madhav Chavan, co-founder of Pratham, a nonprofit that works with primary school children. “The number of children attending these schools is growing each year.”

Experts in the field of education say that the emphasis on a school’s infrastructure does not take into account the learning outcomes of that school. “Infrastructure is really nice to have, and every child deserves to have access to good facilities, but it isn’t critical to actually getting an excellent education,” said Shaheen Mistri, the chief executive at Teach for India. “Measuring outcomes is significantly smarter than measuring inputs.”

She added that one solution might be to move toward making it necessary for children to have access to resources like a playground, rather than insist that each school builds one.

The critics of the Right to Education Act’s infrastructure requirements are not advocating that children take classes in unsafe conditions, but they say it is unfair to expect the schools to comply with the law in such a short period of time. Also, they point out, public schools that lack infrastructure will be subsidized by the government to make the necessary changes, while private schools will have to come up with the money on their own. 

“The norms set down by the government are good, and in the long term it might push school authorities to provide better infrastructure,” said Ms. Arunachalam. “In the meantime, shutting down schools providing education to children who have less means is not the answer – they should give us time and help us.”

As schools across the country start to be inspected by their state education departments, education authorities are worried that this will make schools more vulnerable to bribery attempts by government officials.

“The inspection officers are not interested in helping the school fulfill the norms; they are looking for ways to find mistakes,” said Kishan Gangaram Vasala, president of the board of trustees for the Geeta Vikas Mandal, a budget private school in Govandi, a neighborhood in Mumbai. “They often threaten to shut down schools for not fulfilling the R.T.E. norms unless they are given bribes.”

The Mumbai city government has asked the state government to relax some of these requirements, said Manoj Kotak, chairman of the education committee of the municipal corporation that runs Mumbai. “There is a difference between implementing the Right to Education Act in other parts of the country and in a thickly populated city like Mumbai,” he said. “The scarcity of space and infrastructure makes it nearly impossible for schools that have been running for many years to fulfill these criteria.”

The western state of Gujarat has taken a flexible approach in enforcing the Right to Education Act, offering a possible alternative for other states to adopt. As per the Gujarat state government’s rules, the efficacy of a school is measured as the weighted average of four parameters: 70 percent is given to absolute and relative levels of student learning outcomes, 15 percent is given to nonacademic outcomes like sports and 15 percent is given to school factors like facilities and teacher qualifications.

While it remains unclear whether budget private schools that are not able to fulfill the infrastructure requirements will be allowed to remain open, the future of their students is uncertain.

“A nice classroom and facilities are important, but here in Dharavi there is less space so we make the most of what there is,” said Faiyaz Ahmed, 14, a student at the Bombay South Indian Adi-Dravida Sangh School whose family moved to Dharavi from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

He dreams of some day owning his own software company, like his idol, Narayana Murthy, the founder of the outsourcing giant Infosys. Faiyaz’s father is a mechanic and would like his son to take his studies further than he was able to.

“The teachers in a school are important,” said Faiyaz. “The building doesn’t matter.”

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January 2, 2014

Delhi’s New Chief Minister Strikes a Chord With the People

By MANU JOSEPH
IHT

NEW DELHI — In Delhi’s winter, the practicality of warm clothes ensures that even the poor do not seem as austere as they do in other seasons. But the capital’s new chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, has somehow managed to maintain his perennial simplicity even at the risk of looking somewhat ridiculous. Part of his attire this winter is a scarf below his customary white oval cap. A comment on my Facebook page described him as looking like an Emirates flight attendant.

But the nation is fascinated by him. Never before in modern India have the elite and the poor agreed on a political matter, but now there is a consensus that Mr. Kejriwal is a hero of these times. Long an agitator who chiefly targeted political corruption, he contested the Delhi state elections, and on Saturday was sworn in as its seventh chief minister. He rode the subway to the swearing-in ceremony. He has declined state security cover and the sprawling official residence.

His Aam Admi Party, or A.A.P., which had initially planned to contest about 100 of the 545 seats in the impending general elections to the lower house of the Indian Parliament, is now considering contesting about 300 seats.

The previous general elections, in 2009, were contested by more than 350 political parties representing scores of regional, communal and social interests. The strategy of A.A.P. is to be the mother ship of numerous citizens’ pressure groups and mass movements across the country. It plans to broaden its mission beyond fighting political corruption and endear itself to those who want to cast a vote against a variety of government policies.

Mr. Kejriwal’s triumph is a point in time in the evolution of both elite and mass protests in India, an evolution that has been accelerated by economics, technology and the intoxicating comforts of feudalism, which have long ensured that the rich, in many ways, have a better life in India than in developed nations. These factors have resulted in the urban middle class becoming increasingly interested in the nation’s political destiny.

As recently as 2007, there was something comical about how the urban Indian middle class protested. They usually carried sunblock and stood holding placards in English. It was as if they were not protesting so much as talking to each other. Mass protests, at the time, were festive outings with jovial protesters often waving to television cameras. There were also, of course, very serious protests by the poor, but their marches seldom interested the mainstream news media.

But something else was going on. The middle-class enchantment with escaping to the affluent West was coming to an end. Even as India’s elite was prospering, the West was going through hard times. Then, in 2008, 10 terrorists from Pakistan attacked South Mumbai, a refuge of the rich. Mumbai’s elite erupted in anger, blaming the politicians they criticized as not being competent enough to protect them. When a politician came to pay his respects to the dead, he was driven away by a group of college students. This was unprecedented in Mumbai.

In the general elections that followed, Meera Sanyal, a banker whose close friend had died in the attack, ran as a candidate from the Mumbai South constituency. Ms. Sanyal received extraordinary media coverage, and was impressive when she spoke of her plans, but she fared poorly in the election. It appeared that the educated urban middle class would never be able to influence Indian politics, even with the news media on its side.

The middle-class revolt revived in 2011 as the global economy sank further. After a series of high-profile political scandals and a mass movement against the political class, Mr. Kejriwal emerged as a hero of the poor and the miserable. He was a beneficiary of middle-class anger against politicians, and the news media made him a national figure, but his success lay in realizing that the voters, who are mostly poor, mattered more.

Manu Joseph is editor of the Indian newsweekly Open and author of the novel “The Illicit Happiness of Other People.”

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January 1, 2014

New Political Faces in India

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
NYT

A new organization called the Common Man Party shook India’s political system in December when it took control of the government in the territory of Delhi, which includes the capital of New Delhi. Its rapid rise since its founding in 2012 suggests that many Indian voters are tiring of establishment politicians, especially members of the Indian National Congress Party, which has governed the country and Delhi longer than any other party but has lost favor in recent years because it has mismanaged the economy.

Common Man — its official Hindi name is Aam Aadmi Party — is led by Arvind Kejriwal, a former tax commissioner who helped lead a popular movement in 2011 that campaigned for the creation of a powerful federal anti-corruption agency. When lawmakers refused, Mr. Kejriwal and his supporters formed their party.

The recent election in Delhi, which has nearly 17 million people, was Common Man’s first foray into elective politics. Its commanding victory — it won 30 percent of the vote in a largely three-way race against the incumbent Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party — stunned political analysts. If it is able to maintain that momentum in next year’s national election, Common Man could soon play an important role in Parliament as well.

Common Man must now show that it can govern. Mr. Kejriwal’s first challenge will be managing a coalition government. Because Common Man did not win an outright majority of the seats in the Delhi Assembly, it will need support from lawmakers Mr. Kejriwal has criticized as corrupt and feckless. The party will also struggle to fulfill big promises like cutting electricity prices in half and providing free, clean drinking water to every Delhi household. Mr. Kejriwal, an engineer by training, will also be judged on how well he deals with major problems like Delhi’ air pollution and violence against women.

It is impossible to know whether or how successful Common Man will be. But that it has come this far in such short order suggests a readiness among many Indians for change — and a willingness to use the democratic system to get it.

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« Reply #11022 on: Jan 02, 2014, 07:23 AM »

Japan’s population logs record drop of 244,000 in 2013

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 1, 2014 10:28 EST

Japan’s population fell by a record 244,000 in 2013, according to health ministry estimates released on Wednesday, highlighting concerns over an ever-dwindling workforce supporting a growing number of pensioners.

An estimated 1,031,000 babies were born in 2013, down about 6,000 from a year earlier, the ministry said.

On the other hand, around 1,275,000 people died — up about 19,000 from the previous year, the highest annual rise since World War II.

As a result, the natural population decline came to a record 244,000, the ministry said, beating the previous highest fall of 219,000 in 2012.

Japan’s population totalled 126,393,679 as of March 31, down 0.21 percent from a year earlier, according to a government figure.

It has continually declined since 2007 by natural attrition — deaths minus births.

Japan is rapidly greying, with more than 20 percent of the population aged 65 or over — one of the highest proportions of elderly people in the world. The country has very little immigration and any suggestion of opening its borders to young workers who could help plug the population gap provokes strong reactions among the public.

The proportion of people aged 65 or over will reach nearly 40 percent of the population in 2060, according to a 2012 government report.


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« Reply #11023 on: Jan 02, 2014, 07:28 AM »

January 1, 2014

For Prostitutes Jailed in China, Forced Labor With No Recourse

By ANDREW JACOBS
IHT

BEIJING — Bathed in the fluorescent pink light that signaled she was ready for business, the woman rattled off the occupational hazards of working as a prostitute in China: abusive clients, the specter of H.I.V. and the scathing glares of neighbors that tear at her soul.

“My life is so full of anxieties,” said the woman, known as Li Zhengguo, between customers one recent evening. “Sometimes my heart feels rotten for having given away my body.”

But her greatest fear is a visit from the police. The last time she was hauled into the local station house, Ms. Li was sent without trial or legal representation to a detention center in neighboring Hebei Province, where she spent six months making ornamental paper flowers and reciting the regulations that criminalize prostitution. Her incarceration at the Handan Custody and Education Center ended with a final indignity: She had to reimburse the jail for her stay, about $60 a month.

“The next time the police come to take me away, I’ll slit my wrists,” said Ms. Li, 39, a single mother with two sons.

Advocates for legal overhaul claimed victory in November after the Chinese government announced that it would abolish “re-education through labor,” the system that allows the police to send petty criminals and people who complain too loudly about government malfeasance to work camps for up to four years without trial.

But two parallel mechanisms of extralegal punishment persist: one for drug offenders, and another for prostitutes and their clients. “The abuses and torture are continuing, just in a different way,” said Corinna-Barbara Francis, a China researcher at Amnesty International.

The murky penal system for prostitutes, “custody and education,” is strikingly similar to re-education through labor. Centers run by the Ministry of Public Security hold women for up to two years and often require them to toil in workshops seven days a week for no pay, producing toys, disposable chopsticks and dog diapers, some of which the women say are packaged for export. Male clients are also jailed at such centers, but in far smaller numbers, according to a report released last month by the advocacy group Asia Catalyst.

Women who have passed through some of the nation’s 200 custody and education prisons describe onerous fees and violence at the hands of guards.

As with re-education through labor, the police mete out custody and education sentences without trial and with little chance for appeal. “It’s arbitrary, abusive and disastrous in terms of public health,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, which issued a report last year on the perils faced by women working in China’s booming sex trade. “It’s another rotten branch of the Chinese legal system, and it should be abolished.”

The Asia Catalyst report portrays custody and education as a vast moneymaking enterprise masquerading as a system for rehabilitating women. Established by China’s legislature in 1991, the detention centers are run by local public security bureaus, which have the final say on penalties. Former inmates say police officials sometimes solicit bribes to release detainees.

The government does not publish regular statistics on the program, but experts estimate that 18,000 to 28,000 women are sent to detention centers each year. Inmates are required to pay for food, medical exams, bedding and other essential items like soap and sanitary napkins, with most women spending about $400 for a six-month stay, the report said.

“Those who couldn’t pay were only given steamed buns to eat,” one woman told Asia Catalyst.

At some centers, visitors are required to pay an entry fee of $33 to see imprisoned relatives.

Those who have studied the system say that local public security bureaus earn a sizable income from what is essentially free labor.

The Chinese government’s approach to prostitution is inconsistent. After the Communist victory in 1949, Mao Zedong made the rehabilitation of prostitutes, whom the Communists saw as victims of capitalist exploitation, a priority. During his first years in power, he effectively eradicated the trade. But the introduction of market overhauls in the early 1980s led to a resurgence in prostitution, and up to six million women were estimated to be working in the sex industry in recent years, according to a United Nations report.

Today, Chinese cities are full of “hair salons” with curtained-off back rooms and no visible scissors; at upscale karaoke parlors, young female attendants double as call girls. The police are often paid to look the other way, many prostitutes say.

But that apparent forbearance evaporates during periodic “strike hard” campaigns in which large numbers of prostitutes are rounded up, often before important political meetings. A police official in Liaoning Province told Asia Catalyst that cities and counties were required to meet quotas, prompting occasional “vice sweeps” to replenish jailhouse workshops.

Legal advocates say the police sometimes use violence to extract confessions and force women to strip for photographs that become evidence of their transgressions. “The way they are treated is such a violation of their dignity,” said Shen Tingting, advocacy director at Asia Catalyst. “The entire system stigmatizes women and sends out a message that sex workers are dirty and need to be reformed.”

Women describe the camp labor as tolerable but tedious. In an interview, a 41-year-old native of southeast Jiangxi Province said she spent her days at one such jail making stuffed animals, sometimes until 11 p.m. “You’d sew so much, your hand would hurt,” said the woman, who would only give her street name, Xiao Lan, or Little Orchid.

She laughed when asked about the program’s education component — mostly long sessions spent memorizing the rules governing behavior at the jail. “We called the guards teachers and they called us students, but we didn’t learn anything,” she said.

Xiao Lan was released after six months, and she immediately returned to her old trade. “So, too, did all the other girls,” she said.

Reached by phone, public security officials in several provinces that operate large custody and education centers declined to discuss the matter, saying they were not authorized to speak to the news media.

Those seeking to abolish the system acknowledge a tough road ahead. There is little public support for reducing the penalties for prostitution, and China’s influential domestic security apparatus is unlikely to give up willingly the power and profits of the current system.

The indignities of incarceration do little to dissuade women who can earn more than $1,000 a month as prostitutes, triple the average income for unskilled laborers in China. Ms. Li, the single mother of two, said she was illiterate and could never make as much money in a conventional job. “I’m an uneducated country girl with no skills,” she said.

A former pig farmer with a giddy laugh, Ms. Li operates out of a cramped storefront in the commercial heart of Beijing. A flimsy wall separates her work space from the bedroom she shares with her sons.

She relies on a steady clientele, mostly married men and lonely migrant workers, but even the regulars sometimes try to leave without paying. Then there are those who claim to be police officers and demand free sex, customers who furtively cut off the tops of condoms, and drunken men who fly into violent rages when Ms. Li refuses to do their bidding.

“I’d call the police, but they always take the customer’s side,” she said.

With that, she excused herself to welcome a client who was waiting outside her door.

Shi Da contributed research.

*************

China's first aircraft carrier completes sea trials

The Liaoning has returned to port after 37 days in the South China Sea, according to state media

Associated Press in Beijing
theguardian.com, Thursday 2 January 2014 07.43 GMT   

China's first aircraft carrier has successfully completed sea trials in the South China Sea, state media has reported.

The Liaoning returned to port on Wednesday after a 37-day voyage, the official Xinhua news agency said. Citing an unnamed naval source, Xinhua said the aircraft carrier had tested its combat system and conducted a formation practice and "attained the anticipated objectives".

"All tests and training programmes went well as scheduled," it said.

Aircraft, naval vessels and submarines also participated in the Liaoning's tests.

Early in the Liaoning's trial run, one of the Chinese ships accompanying it was involved in a near collision with a US navy ship. A Chinese media report blamed the US ship for getting too close to the Liaoning, while the US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, described China's behaviour as "irresponsible". It marked the two countries' most serious sea confrontation in years.

The Liaoning was bought from Ukraine more than a decade ago and extensively refurbished before entering service in 2012.

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea. A recent expansion of its naval reach has challenged the decades-old American dominance and alarmed its smaller neighbours, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam, which have competing territorial claims with Beijing to a string of islands.

*************

Chinese balloonist rescued by Japan near disputed islands

Japanese coastguard comes to rescue of Xu Shuaijun after his hot-air balloon crashes into the East China Sea

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
theguardian.com, Thursday 2 January 2014 11.38 GMT      

A Chinese balloonist who crashed into the sea while attempting to fly to a disputed island in the East China Sea has been rescued by Japanese coastguards, marking a rare instance of cooperation between the two countries amid a fierce territorial row.

Xu Shuaijun, a 35-year-old cook from northern China's Hebei province, departed from coastal Fujian province on Wednesday, and flew for nearly seven and a half hours before his balloon hit turbulence and suffered a mechanical breakdown.

According to the Japanese coastguard, he crashed about 22kms (14 miles) from the uninhabited islands, called the Diaoyu by China and the Senkaku by Japan.

Soon afterwards, Taiwanese officials received a missing persons report and relayed it to the Japanese coastguard, which rescued him by helicopter and handed him over to a Chinese patrol ship. "The Chinese vessel thanked the coastguard via radio for the rescue operation," according to the Japan Times.

China and Japan's competing claims to the islands stretch back decades, but the dispute has repeatedly veered perilously close to armed conflict since 2012, when the Japanese government purchased the islands from a private owner. China has stepped up maritime patrols in the surrounding waters; perceived intrusions are common, and both sides have scrambled fighter jets in response.

Relations between the world's second and third-largest economies have soured further in recent weeks, after China unilaterally declared an air defence zone over a large swath of the East China Sea, essentially laying administrative claim to the airspace over the islands.

Last Thursday, the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, visited a shrine honouring the country's war dead, causing Chinese leaders to declare him persona non grata and freeze top-level diplomatic ties.

Xu is a licensed hot-air balloon pilot who, in 2012, became the first person to fly a balloon over eastern China's Bohai Bay. His profile picture on Sina Weibo, the country's most popular microblog, shows a thin, bespectacled man wearing a grey and blue sweater and a leather jacket. "I've returned safely, thank you all for your concern," Xu posted to his Weibo page on Thursday morning. The post has solicited 68 comments, many of them lauding Xu for his patriotism.

Xu described his plans in a post in September. "Be a Chinese person with attitude," he wrote above a picture of a waving Chinese flag. He described his voyage as the "hardest flight in history", involving -40C temperatures and insufficient oxygen. According to his calculations, his target islet was 223 miles from the Chinese coast, and at only 150m wide just a tiny speck of land in the freezing open water of the East China Sea.

Nationalist activists from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan have repeatedly tried to land on the disputed islands in recent years. In August, 2012, the Japanese coastguard arrested eight Chinese activists who sailed to an island from Hong Kong and planted a flag on its banks. A few days later, a small group of Japanese activists swam ashore in retaliation.


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« Reply #11024 on: Jan 02, 2014, 07:31 AM »


Egyptian police in deadly clashes with Muslim Brotherhood activists

Two dead as Mohamed Morsi supporters battle security forces and rival political factions, in Alexandria and capital

Agencies in Cairo
theguardian.com, Thursday 2 January 2014 12.17 GMT

Two people have been killed in clashes that erupted late on Wednesday between pro-Islamist protesters and police in Egypt's coastal city of Alexandria, the ministry of interior said.

Egypt has been hit by a wave of violent demonstrations since the army removed elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from office in July, following mass protests against his rule. Hundreds have been killed and thousands arrested since then.

The interior ministry said the clashes occurred during two marches organised by 200 Muslim Brotherhood members in Alexandria.

"They [the protesters] blocked the road ... set shops on fire, burned a citizen's car, fired guns and bird shot and clashed with and terrorised the people," the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

It said some residents had exchanged fire with the Brotherhood protesters, killing two people and injuring three police officers. The police forces managed to end the clashes and arrested 10, according to the statement.

On Thursday an Egyptian judge said 28 January had been set as the opening day of Morsi's third trial – on charges of organising prison breaks with the help of foreign militants. The jailbreaks took place during the January 2011 uprising against Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

Morsi was jailed in Cairo at the time and escaped with more than 30 others, while more than 20,000 inmates escaped from prisons across Egypt, including Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian militant Hamas members.

Earlier on Wednesday police fired teargas and water cannon at hundreds of pro-Morsi protesters demonstrating near the defence ministry in Cairo, after they blocked a road and chanted anti-police and army slogans, according to state media reports.

Police also fired teargas on pro-Morsi student protesters from the state's main university in the Nile Delta city of Zakazik, the former president's home town. Students supporting Morsi have been staging daily protests inside and outside their universities since the start of a new academic year in September. At least 10 students have been killed during clashes with the police.

Last November, Egypt's army-installed interim government issued a law that banned protests near or originating from places of worship and made it compulsory to seek interior ministry permission to hold a demonstration. Since the law was passed, hundreds of Brotherhood protesters and liberal activists have been arrested for demonstrating without permission.

In the southern city of Beni Suef, an activist in the leftist Popular Current group was arrested and security forces confiscated his laptop computer, the movement said in a statement, identifying him as Mohamed Mostafa. A police source said he was detained for posting anti-army and police comments on Facebook.

Since Morsi's removal, which opened the bloodiest chapter in Egypt's modern history, security forces have killed hundreds and arrested thousands of his supporters. Some 400 soldiers and policemen also have been killed, many in attacks by Islamist militants in the Sinai peninsula, bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Morsi and most of the Brotherhood's top leaders are on trial on a group of charges ranging from inciting violence against protesters to co-operating with foreign organisations to execute terrorist acts in Egypt.


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