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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1076874 times)
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« Reply #2910 on: Nov 05, 2012, 07:42 AM »

November 4, 2012

Israeli Report Cites a Thwarted 2010 Move on Iran


JERUSALEM — An Israeli news channel reported Sunday night that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak asked the Israeli military in 2010 to prepare for an imminent attack on the Iranian nuclear program, but that their efforts were blocked by concerns over whether the military could do so and whether the men had the authority to give such an order.

The report, by the respected investigative journalist Ilana Dayan, came in the form of a promotional preview for an hourlong documentary about Israel’s decision-making process regarding Iran, which is scheduled to be broadcast Monday night. Ms. Dayan said on the channel’s evening newscast on Sunday that Mr. Netanyahu, in a meeting with a small circle of top ministers, turned to Gabi Ashkenazi, the head of the Israeli Defense Forces at the time, and told him to “set the systems for P-plus,” a term meaning that an operation would start soon.

Mr. Ashkenazi and Meir Dagan, who was the head of the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad, at the time, would later say that this was an attempt at “stealing a war,” Ms. Dayan reported, because in their view such an order required a decision of the full cabinet, not the smaller group in the meeting, who were then known as the forum of seven.

Both Mr. Ashkenazi, who is now retired, and Mr. Dagan, who stepped down after the meeting, have become vocal critics of plans for a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran, and of Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak’s aggressive approach.

Ms. Dayan said in the preview report on Sunday that the issue deepened a divide in Israel’s top echelon.

Mr. Ashkenazi was quoted saying of the P-plus order: “This is not something you do unless you are certain you want to execute at the end. This accordion will make music if you keep playing it.” But Mr. Barak told Ms. Dayan that “it is not true that creating a situation where the I.D.F. and the country’s operational systems are, for a few hours or for a few days, on alert to carry out certain operations means the state of Israel is compelled to act.”

“Eventually, at the moment of truth, the answer that was given was that, in fact, the ability did not exist,” Mr. Barak said in the clip that was shown on Sunday.

Ms. Dayan said in an interview Sunday night that she learned about the 2010 order from more than two people who attended the meeting, but she declined to name them. Mr. Barak essentially confirmed what she had learned in his interviews with Ms. Dayan, saying that such an order can always be reversed, something Mr. Ashkenazi and Mr. Dagan dispute.

The full report is scheduled for broadcast on the eve of the American elections, and could reopen the rift between Washington and Jerusalem over how best to stop Iran from obtaining an atomic bomb. The Obama administration spent much of the year pressing Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak to hold back on military action against Iran in favor of severe sanctions and intense diplomacy, though the issue receded somewhat after Mr. Netanyahu said in a speech to the United Nations on Sept. 27 that the moment of truth would come next spring or summer, not in 2012.

If the account in the documentary is correct, the episode came at a critical time. That summer, a lengthy effort by the United States and Israel to undermine Iran’s capability to enrich uranium using cyberweapons had threatened to unravel. The effort, code-named Olympic Games, had two goals: to slow the Iranians, and to provide Israel with an alternative to military action, which President Obama feared could start another war in the Middle East. It was partly exposed when a cyberworm found its way out of the Natanz enrichment plant, where it had destroyed or forced out of service nearly 1,000 centrifuges, and began to spread across the world.

In Washington and in Israel, officials met in secret to assess what to do, and Mr. Obama, who inherited Olympic Games from the Bush administration and accelerated it, decided to keep the effort going.

Ms. Dayan said that Israeli censors prevented her from saying when in 2010 Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak gave their order. If it came late in the year, it would suggest that they believed the cyberprogram, once exposed, had little chance of further success, and that they were turning back to plans for airstrikes like the one Israel mounted, on a smaller scale, against a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007.

The full documentary, the season premiere of Ms. Dayan’s weekly program, “Fact,” on Channel 2, tracks a decade of Israeli decision-making on Iran, from former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s discussions with President George W. Bush through Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak’s actions in recent years. The program includes a seven-minute interview with Mr. Netanyahu, conducted on Friday, though in it he declines to answer questions about the 2010 episode.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu, also refused on Sunday night to comment on the report, except to say that it was incomplete. “He does give a full interview, all about Iran,” Mr. Regev said of the prime minister. “He talks about America, he talks about a lot of things. It’s very interesting, what he does say. It would be best to wait until the full report.”

Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Jerusalem, and David E. Sanger from Washington.
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« Reply #2911 on: Nov 05, 2012, 07:44 AM »

November 4, 2012

Clashes and Car Bombing Highlight Insecurity Across Libya


CAIRO — At least five people were wounded Sunday when rival Libyan militias clashed with heavy weapons in Tripoli, according to Libyan officials, highlighting the dangers posed by thousands of armed men who refuse to yield to the new government’s control.

Also on Sunday, in another sign of Libya’s persistent insecurity, a car bomb exploded outside a police station in the eastern city of Benghazi, wounding at least three police officers, Reuters reported.

The fighting in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, was the latest in a string of violent episodes that are contributing to a growing sense of lawlessness and stoking fears that Libya’s fledgling government is incapable of securing the country more than a year after its former leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, was killed.

In September, after weeks of mysterious assassinations in Benghazi, members of a powerful militia attacked a United States diplomatic mission. Last month, militias fighting under the government’s banner laid siege to the western city of Bani Walid, shelling the town during what residents said was a week of indiscriminate attacks.

The details of the latest violence are familiar: groups armed with guns and rocket-propelled grenades fought on residential streets, and militia members set fire to a security building. The reasons for the clashes were opaque. Interior Ministry officials said they had started with an attempt to disarm a rogue militia whose members were accused of torture, while witnesses told Reuters that the fighting had started during a dispute between rival militias over the detention of a member of one of the groups. A doctor at Tripoli Central Hospital told the news agency that five wounded people were brought there after the clashes.

Though officials routinely blame such violence on remnants of the Qaddafi government, the militias fighting on Sunday were nominally under the new government’s control. Reuters reported that the militias were part of the Supreme Security Committee, an umbrella organization for armed groups run by the Interior Ministry that has emerged as a rival to other government security agencies, including the police.

Mai Ayyad contributed reporting.
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« Reply #2912 on: Nov 05, 2012, 07:45 AM »

November 4, 2012

Syria’s Disparate Opposition Groups Open Talks on Forging United Political Front


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syria’s fractious opposition groups began negotiations in Doha, Qatar, on Sunday to forge a more unified front to reshape the political landscape in a bloody conflict that claims more than 100 lives virtually every day.

Given the scant prospects that any attempt to restructure the opposition will succeed — the last such meeting in Cairo in June ended in shouting and fistfights — senior opposition figures tried to smooth over any differences in their initial remarks.

“The main aim is to expand the council to include more of the social and political components,” Abdulbaset Sieda, the current leader of the Syrian National Council, told reporters.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last week that the Syrian National Council had outlived its usefulness and should be replaced by a larger umbrella organization with more representation from inside Syria, as well as from minority groups. The council could be incorporated into that larger body, she said, but could no longer play the starring role in the exiled opposition.

Riad Seif, a respected Syrian dissident leading that effort, tried to play down any competition.

“The initiative is not a substitute for the Syrian National Council, but the S.N.C. should be an important part of it,” Mr. Seif told reporters, according to news reports. “To bring down the regime, we need 1,000 national councils.”

The proposal calls for a council of some 50 members, at least 15 from the Syrian National Council.

Western powers hope to create an alternative to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Ideally, it would set up shop in firmly opposition-held territory inside Syria. But no such territory has been gained yet. Mr. Seif said the new council might make Cairo its headquarters.

The weeklong political jamboree in Doha has two parts. The Syrian National Council, trying to head off its demise, is meeting first to enact reforms meant to make it more inclusive. Starting Wednesday, a broader group critical of the council and endorsed by the United States will try to create a larger opposition umbrella group.

Once agreement is reached, Mr. Seif said, it would forge a government in exile of technocrats and hold a conference in Morocco to gain international recognition.

Many Syrian opposition figures and foreign governments have grown disenchanted with the Syrian National Council. They say that its leaders have been consumed by infighting rather than forging a strategy to topple the government, that military commanders fighting on the ground have made it irrelevant, and that it is basically a tool of the Muslim Brotherhood.

But some of its staunchest critics have attacked Mr. Seif and his new council, known as the Syrian National Initiative, as an American puppet.

In Doha on Sunday, Mr. Seif said that the new council was not meant to be a vehicle for his personal ambitions. He said he would not be a candidate to lead the government in exile given that he was 66 and faced health problems. “I will stick to helping form a political leadership which will satisfy the Syrian people and the world,” he said.

The main initial aim of the Americans and others who back the change is to create a stronger link between the commanders leading the fight in Syria and the exile groups. There is growing concern in Western capitals that as the fighting drags into its 20th month, radical jihadists are hijacking what started as a peaceful protest movement.

Members of the S.N.C. counter that Western powers are at fault because the jihadists’ Persian Gulf Arab backers provide the kind of money and weapons that Western countries have refused to offer to the opposition.

While the political bickering gathered steam, the fighting inside Syria continued apace.

A car bomb exploded in Damascus, near key military and other government offices, sending a plume of smoke high above the capital visible in reports broadcast by Arab satellite channels. The bombing wounded 11 people and caused serious damage to the headquarters building of the General Federation of Trade Unions in Damascus, reported SANA, the official news agency. The government blamed “terrorists” for the attack.

On the capital’s southern outskirts, the Syrian army shelled rebel positions inside the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, killing at least 20 people, opposition activists told Reuters.

Three days of heavy fighting with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades ended with rebel forces capturing Al Ward oil field in the eastern province of Deir ez-Zour, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the conflict from abroad.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had been able to bring aid to the old city of Homs over the weekend, reaching the besieged neighborhoods of Khalidiya and Hamidiya for the first time.

Hania Mourtada contributed reporting from Beirut, and Hala Droubi from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
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« Reply #2913 on: Nov 05, 2012, 07:50 AM »

November 4, 2012

Officials at G-20 Meeting Warn About Debt in Europe and U.S.


MEXICO CITY — Finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of 20 met here on Sunday amid mounting alarm that the euro-zone crisis and Washington’s failure to deal with soaring deficits could endanger the fragile global recovery.

But the meeting of the largest industrial and emerging economies was not expected to produce any major agreement, coming just ahead of the United States presidential election on Tuesday and the start of the Chinese leadership transition later in the week. Several important officials, including Timothy F. Geithner, the American Treasury secretary, and Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank president, skipped the talks.

Along with the focus on economic stagnation in Europe and the political stalemate over a fiscal plan in the United States, there was also interest in how China would contribute to strengthening global demand.

Eswar S. Prasad, a professor of trade policy at Cornell University, said that the risks facing the world economy “should make for a sobering round of discussions that may well deteriorate into recriminations among the major powers” at the meeting.

Many of the same officials met less than a month ago in Tokyo at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. They warned then that the debt crises in developed countries continued to be a drag on global growth.

Before that meeting, I.M.F. economists scaled back their estimates for global growth to 3.3 percent this year and 3.6 percent next year.

The I.M.F. said that those forecasts rested on two assumptions: that European leaders would continue to take steps to bring the region’s sovereign debt crisis under control, and that the United States would head off $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect automatically on Jan. 1.

To avert that so-called fiscal cliff, Congress must negotiate a debt-reduction compromise that so far has been hampered by electoral politics. Finance officials in other countries fear that the combined effect of the tax increases and spending cuts could send the United States economy back into recession, deepening global financial instability.

“When I speak to financial officials in emerging markets,” Mr. Prasad said, “that concern is rising by the day.”

The worries over global growth threatened to overwhelm other global economic issues that Mexico, which holds the rotating presidency of the Group of 20 this year, had hoped to keep on the table, like volatile international food prices.

Another topic that got short shrift was a package of banking regulation measures, called Basel III, intended to shore up banks’ capital reserves as a bulwark against future financial crises. Although the new rules are supposed to go into effect on Jan. 1, the European Union, the United States and Britain have dragged their feet and published only draft rules for new capital standards

“There’s a real concern that it may fall by the wayside,” Mr. Prasad said.


French await ‘hard words’ report on how they must compete in world economy

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 5, 2012 7:26 EST

France is in a state of alarm about its slumping ability to pay its way in the world, and a report on industrial competitiveness due on Monday is expected to add fuel to a hot debate about the causes, solutions and effects.

The so-called Gallois report, named after its author Louis Gallois, is the latest in a list of reports commissioned by successive governments on what is wrong with the French economy and the urgent reforms needed.

Typically, they point the way to deep structural reforms which run counter to French habits: they tend to be short-lived time bombs which are then locked away where they cannot upset the voters.

Gallois, the former head of the Airbus parent company EADS, was asked by the new Socialist government overseen by President Francois Hollande to report on what is holding France back, as part of the preparation of a “competitiveness pact”.

Ministers have already rejected talk that what the country needs is a big and sudden “shock” to boost efficiency, saying instead that measures will be spread out over five years.

But this time the government — facing a dilemma of dangerously overstretched public finances, anaemic growth and a huge trade deficit — says the analysis will not be buried.

The document is being launched into a frenzied climate. The government has just presented a budget for next year which raises taxes and curbs spending to correct public finances and to maintain France’s standing abroad as a pillar of the eurozone.

But the standing of the government at home has plunged in the polls just six months after the election which overturned right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy, and scarcely a week goes by without bad news of factories closing, jobs being shed or industries struggling to compete.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and his ministers have had a run of gaffes, the latest being a suggestion by Ayrault himself that the Socialists’ landmark 35-hour-week experiment, attacked by the opposition as a cause of falling competitiveness, might be reviewed.

He soon backtracked, but then Hollande himself acknowledged that the socialist administration is faced with introducing deep and difficult reforms.

Meanwhile, the minister for industrial regeneration, Arnaud Montebourg, who has been outspoken in blaming globalisation for destroying French jobs, has launched a “buy French” campaign, appearing on the cover of a magazine wearing the blue and white striped French fishermen’s jersey.

This provoked Frenchman Pascal Lamy, who heads the World Trade Organization but has socialist credentials, to warn that economic patriotism should not be tinged with protectionism, since growth in the world economy would come from export markets in emerging economies.

The cost of labour, and the cost of welfare


The share of French industry in global trade has shrunk from 6.3 percent in 1990 to 3.3 percent in 2011 as production costs have risen relative to those in other countries, and in particular to eurozone neighbour Germany where there are signs of concern about structural weaknesses in the French economy.

The government has set a target of eliminating during its five-year term the country’s 25-billion-euro ($31-billion) trade deficit, excluding a heavy deficit on trade in energy.

The competitiveness pact is shaping up to be a key initiative for Socialists to rejuvenate the economy as they are being forced to apply 37 billion euros ($47 billion) in austerity next year to meet the country’s EU fiscal targets.

With the unemployment rate rising back to 10.0 percent, pressure has been building on the government to act.

Leaks and speculation about what the report will recommend have sparked heated debate in recent weeks.

Much of the debate is likely to focus whether to target labour costs, which are high owing to taxes levied employers and employees to fund France’s expensive welfare system, or to target innovation.

Gallois has already enraged unions by suggesting taking the labour cost issue by the horns and cutting payroll levies paid by employers. This would mean shifting part of the tax burden on to workers by increasing the so-called CSG levy which helps fund the social security system, or increasing the VAT sales tax.

This is an old debate in France. The former government under President Nicolas Sarkozy failed to gather enough support for a similar measure which would have replaced the lost revenue with an increase in VAT.

Business leaders have piled pressure on the government, with the heads of 98 of the biggest French groups calling for a 30-billion-euro cut in welfare charges paid by employers over two years, along with massive cuts in public spending.

According to the Le Figaro business daily, Gallois will propose reducing cutting employer payroll levies by 20 billion euros and those paid by employees by 10 billion euros over two or three years.

The revenue shortfall would be made up by a small increase in VAT, an increase in the CSG levy and pollution taxes.

The government would find implementing such tax increases difficult next year because they would crimp consumer spending further.

Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said this week that the government was likely to focus on measures to promote innovation.

“I think that first of all we’ll act on things other than labour costs,” said Moscovici.

Targeting innovation is unlikely to produce such quick results although it is likely to cost less in the short term.

Promoting research, improving worker training, simplifying administration and other similar measures could produce significant long-term benefits, however.


Foreign investors dip toes back into eurozone

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, November 4, 2012 21:30 EST

Reassured by ECB anti-crisis moves, major international investors have begun dipping their toes back into the eurozone, even though they don’t believe the crisis is over.

“The worst-case scenarios of those who had feared the eurozone would disappear has receded a bit,” said Jean-Louis Mourier, an economist at Aurel BGC brokerage.

Many foreign banks and investment and pension funds pulled their placements out of the eurozone after Greece, Ireland and Portugal were forced to seek bailouts and the crisis threatened to engulf Italy and Spain, the bloc’s third- and fourth-largest economies.

However the European Central Bank has since pumped a trillion euros into banks to ensure liquidity and outlined a plan to buy-up unlimited amounts of debt of governments pursuing bailout plans.

And investors are again buying shares in French, Italian and Spanish banks, as well as bonds of the most fragile eurozone states, which has contributed to a rebound in stock markets since this summer and sent Spanish and Italian government borrowing rates lower.

Jean-Francois Bay, director of the Morningstar France independent market research firm, said he noticed in September that foreign investment funds had returned buying eurozone shares “for the first time since February 2011″.

There has also been a return to purchasing Italian and Spanish debt.

The September pledge by the ECB to buy up short term debt of governments which seek a bailout and agree fiscal adjustment terms has reassured investors, even no country has yet to sign up for the newly available programme.

PIMCO, the world’s largest investment manager, cited that security blanket when it said in October that Italy and Spain now “offer relatively attractive sources of credit risk”.

While PIMCO said it would continue to take a cautious approach, it had steered clear of Italian and Spanish debt for three years, and also said it would continue to avoid Greek, Portuguese and Irish debt.

The biggest independent French fund manager, Carmignac, has indicated that it has again begun buying Italian and Spanish short-term debt.

Carmignac moved out of most eurozone bonds in July 2011, and said this June that it no longer held any eurozone sovereign debt.

For their part, US prime money market funds, which manage hundreds of millions of dollars, increased their exposure to eurozone banks for the third consecutive month in September, according to Fitch Ratings.

The increase was 16 percent in dollar terms over the month to stand at 10.6 percent of total holdings.

“Many investors may have overestimated the risk in the eurozone, but it hasn’t disappeared either,” said Rene Defossez, a fixed-income strategist at Natixis investment bank.

The flow back to the eurozone may represent more a correction than a vote of confidence however.

“This return of investors is extremely fragile,” said Patrick Jacq, an analyst at France’s BNP Paribas bank.

He warned foreign investors could be tempted to book profits and pull back out just as quickly.

“It is too early to say if this movement that started recently will continue,” said Bay.

For certain investors the return to the eurozone may also be simply a default option to hedge the growing risks linked to a political stalemate leading to a sharp retrenchment in US fiscal policy, the so-called fiscal cliff.

“According to the latest survey of funds by Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, the risks related to the fiscal cliff in the United States are seen as greater than those of the eurozone,” noted Mourier.

Fitch noted US money market fund exposure to eurozone banks was still down by 70 percent from May 2011, and unlikely to ever fully recover due to fundamental changes in the market.

Eurozone banks had depended on US money market funds for access to dollars to carry out business denominated in the US currency, but when this access dried up European banks largely moved out of dollar denominated activity.

Pressure to meet higher core capital ratios have also encouraged eurozone banks to sell off assets and retrench their activities.

Foreign investors also remain concerned about the dim near-term economic outlook in the eurozone.

“The eurozone will be in recession next year in contrast to the United States,” said Defossez, adding that 2013 is full of political risk given elections in Germany and Italy.
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« Reply #2914 on: Nov 05, 2012, 07:52 AM »

11/05/2012 10:52 AM

German Intelligence Report: Aid to Cyprus Could Benefit Russian Oligarchs

Cyprus could soon seek aid from the European Union's bailout fund. But according to a secret report by Germany's BND intelligence service, the aid might mainly benefit Russian oligarchs who have parked illegal money in bank accounts in Cyprus, SPIEGEL has learned. Russian deposits there total $26 billion.

The German foreign intelligence agency, the BND, has written a report suggesting that the European Union aid that may soon be paid to Cyprus could mainly benefit Russians who have deposited illegal income in accounts on the Eastern Mediterranean island, SPIEGEL has learned.

In a confidential report, the BND said Russians have deposited $26 billion (€20.25 billion) in Cyprus banks, an amount greater than the island's annual gross domestic product. These deposits will be guaranteed if European bailout money is paid to shore up the island's banks. The BND also accused Cyprus of still providing opportunities for money laundering.

Officially, Cyprus is sticking to all the agreements on combating money laundering. The necessary laws have been passed and institutions have been set up. But there are problems with their implementation. The rules aren't being applied properly, the BND said in the report. Money laundering is being facilitated because the Cypriot authorities have made it easy for rich Russians to obtain Cypriot citizenship. The BND said 80 oligarchs have managed to gain access to the entire EU in this way.

SPD To Attach Conditions to Cyprus Bailout

Germany's opposition, center-left Social Democratic Party says it will only accept a rescue package for Cyprus if certain conditions are met. "Before the SPD can approve loan assistance for Cyprus the country's business model must be addressed," SPD lawmaker Carsten Schneider told SPIEGEL. "We can't use German taxpayers' money to guarantee deposits of illegal Russian money in Cypriot banks."

The Cypriot government decided in the 1970s to use the country's favorable location between Europe, Africa and the Middle East to turn Cyprus into a tax haven. But the boom only started 20 years later when the Soviet Union collapsed. The number of shell companies registered on the island multiplied to more than 40,000, and no one asked the investors where the money had come from.

When Cyprus applied for EU membership at the end of the 1990s, its central bank cleaned up the domestic financial sector, allowing Cyprus to join the EU in 2004. The country's accession to the euro single currency further strengthened the island's attractiveness as a financial location. At their peak, financial services accounted for 70 percent of the country's economic output.
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« Reply #2915 on: Nov 05, 2012, 07:59 AM »

11/02/2012 12:45 PM

Revisiting Stalingrad: An Inside Look at World War II's Bloodiest Battle

By Michael Sontheimer

A German historian has published a collection of unusually candid interviews with members of the Red Army that provides the first precise account of the battle of Stalingrad from the perspective of ordinary soldiers. They show that this chapter in history deserves a reappraisal.

At dawn on Jan. 31, 1943, the bloodiest battle of World War II came to an end for the top German commander in Stalingrad. Russian soldiers stood at the entrance to the basement of the Univermag department store in which the top-ranking German officers, including supreme commander Friedrich Paulus, had taken refuge. One day earlier, Adolf Hitler had promoted the leader of the German troops in Stalingrad to the rank of field marshal -- not so much as a sign of recognition as an implicit order to end his life rather than allow himself to be captured.

Lieutenant Colonel Leonid Vinokur was the first to catch sight of Paulus: "He lay on the bed when I entered. He lay there in his coat, with his cap on. He had two-week-old beard stubble and seemed to have lost all courage." The final hideout of the commander of the German 6th Army resembled a latrine. "The filth and human excrement and who knows what else was piled up waist-high," Major Anatoly Zoldatov went on record as saying, adding: "It stank beyond belief. There were two toilets and signs above them both that read: 'No Russians allowed'."

It was only after a while that the Germans were forced to hand over their weapons. "They could have easily shot themselves," said Major General Ivan Burmakov. But Paulus and his staff chose not to do that. "They had no intention of dying -- they were such cowards. They didn't have the courage to die," said eyewitness Burmakov.

A Turning Point

The battle of Stalingrad marked a psychological turning point in Nazi Germany's war of conquest and annihilation. "The news from Stalingrad had a shock effect on the German people," admitted the Reich minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, on Feb. 4, 1943. As British historian Eric Hobsbawm summed up the situation: "From Stalingrad, everyone knew that the defeat of Germany was only a question of time."

Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives in the duel for prestige between the two dictators, Hitler and Stalin. Some 60,000 German soldiers died in the siege. Of the 110,000 German prisoners captured in Stalingrad, only some 5,000 ever returned home. On the Soviet side, between half a million and 1 million Red Army soldiers died.

Now, nearly 70 years later, it's possible to grasp with unprecedented clarity how the victors experienced this fateful battle on the Volga River. These new insights were originally the work of Moscow historian Isaak Izrailevich Mints. In 1941, he founded the Commission on the History of the Patriotic War. The idea was for everyone in the armed forces, from common soldiers to high-ranking officers, to express their thoughts, feelings and experiences as a model for others -- but with no embellishments.

In 1943, three historians interviewed over 20 Soviet soldiers who were on hand when Paulus and his men were captured. This is the first precise account of this event from the perspective of ordinary soldiers.

Researchers conducted interviews with a total of 215 combatants in Stalingrad -- some during the battle and some shortly thereafter. Some of the statements reflect the official character of the interview situation, but the soldiers also spoke of their fears and cowardice, and even criticized decisions by their superiors.

The accounts were so candid that the Communists later only published a small portion of them. After 1945, the Soviet leadership was not interested in impressions of bloody battles, but rather in glorified heroic epics in which Stalin played the leading role. The roughly 5,000 protocols compiled by the historians' commission disappeared into the history department archives at the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In 2001, German historian Jochen Hellbeck, who teaches at Rutgers University in New Jersey, heard about this treasure. Seven years later, he was able to secure over 10,000 pages in Moscow.

A New Version of Events

Hellbeck has now published "Die Stalingrad-Protokolle" (or "The Stalingrad Protocols"), which consist of interviews, including in some cases photos of the interviewed soldiers, along with background information on the interviews. In light of these documents, the history of the Battle of Stalingrad may not have to be rewritten, but it does need correcting on a number of points. These latest findings completely undermine the argument -- put forward by the Nazis and repeated by the West during the Cold War -- that the Red Army soldiers only fought so fiercely because they would have otherwise been shot by members of the secret police.

There is no doubt that there were executions on the front. Lieutenant General Vasily Chuikov, supreme commander of the 62nd Army, personally told historians how he dealt with "cowards": "On Sept. 14, I shot the commander and commissar of a regiment, and shortly thereafter I shot two brigade commanders and commissars. They were all astonished."

But the extent of the executions had apparently been overestimated. For instance British historian Antony Beevor cites over 13,000 executed Red Army soldiers in Stalingrad alone. By contrast, documents discovered in Russian archives show that there had been fewer than 300 executions by mid-October 1942.

The "Stalingrad Protocols" reveal that the Soviet soldiers' willingness to make sacrifices could not be solely attributed to such repressive measures. A key role was played by so-called "political officers," who repeatedly assured the enlisted men that they were risking their lives for their people's freedom. They endeavored to motivate the soldiers and address their concerns to boost their fighting morale.

The interviews also show that devoted Communists felt that they had to play a leading role everywhere. Brigade Commissar Vasilyev said: "It was viewed as a disgrace if a Communist was not the first to lead the solders into battle." At the front in Stalingrad, the number of card-carrying party members rose between August and October 1942 from 28,500 to 53,500. Political officers distributed fliers in the battle zone portraying the "hero of the day," including large photos of the honored soldiers. They sent portraits of the award winners to the proud parents.

The concept was that this was a people's war. "The Red Army was a political army," says historian Hellbeck.

Believing in a Higher Purpose
In addition to lecturing the soldiers on the wartime situation, the political officers engaged them in personal conversations. "At night," said Lieutenant Colonel Yakov Dubrovsky, "the fighters are more inclined to speak openly, and one can crawl inside their souls." Battalion Commissar Pyotr Molchanov added: "A soldier is stuck in the trenches for an entire month. He doesn't see anyone aside from his neighbor, and suddenly the commissar approaches him, tells him something, says a friendly word to him, greets him. This is of enormous importance."

At critical moments, the political officers occasionally also distributed chocolate and mandarines to the demoralized comrades. One of them, Izer Ayzenberg, from the 38th rifle division, used to tour the trenches with his "agitation suitcase." Aside from brochures and books, it contained games like checkers and dominoes.

The aim was for the soldiers to no longer be driven by fear, but instead to use their political awareness to overcome their distress. Consequently, the Communists saw it as a sign of weakness when captured German soldiers described themselves as apolitical. In their opinion, the true will to win could only be developed by those who believed they served a higher purpose. The Communists saw the Red Army as more politically and morally steadfast than the Wehrmacht.

But aside from the agitation and propaganda, it was primarily the Soviet soldiers' hatred of the invaders that boosted their morale to fight the initially superior 6th German Army. What's more, the Germans flamed this hatred with their brutal occupation. Already on its way to the Volga, the 6th Army made its contribution to the Holocaust. Civilians were terrorized.

"One sees the young girls, the children, who hang from the trees in the park," said sniper Vasily Zaytsev, adding that "this has a tremendous impact."

Major Pyotr Zayonchovsky told of a position that the Germans had abandoned. When he arrived there, he discovered the body of a dead comrade "whose skin and fingernails on his right hand had been completely torn off. The eyes had been burnt out and he had a wound on his left temple made by a red-hot piece of iron. The right half of his face had been covered with a flammable liquid and ignited."

Hell on Both Sides

Before the war, many Russians had admired the Germans as a nation of culture -- and respected them for their engineering ingenuity. Some of the interviewees said that they were shocked by the Germans that they encountered during the war.

Major Zayonchovsky described the nature of a "the Germans" as follows: "The robber mentality has become such second nature to them that they have to steal -- whether they can use it or not."

An officer in the intelligence agency, who interrogated German prisoners, expressed surprise that attacks on civilians and thefts "have become such an integral part of the daily life of German soldiers that the prisoners of war occasionally told us about this without any compunction at all."

According to Captain Nikolay Aksyonov, one could feel "how every soldier and every commander was itching to kill as many Germans as possible."

The sniper Anatoly Chechov recalled in his interview how he shot his first German. "I felt terrible. I had killed a human being. But then I thought of our people -- and I started to mercilessly fire on them. I've become a barbaric person, I kill them. I hate them." When he was interviewed, he had already killed 40 Germans -- most of them with a shot to the head.

It's common knowledge that Stalingrad was hell for soldiers on both sides. But thanks to these testimonies, we now have a vividly clear idea of precisely what it was like in the never-ending house-to-house combat for which the soldiers had not been trained. How ash, dust and smoke robbed them of all orientation. How individual detonations were drowned out by the constant din of the battle. How they fought for days to take individual buildings, where in some cases the Soviets had taken position on one floor, while the Germans were entrenched on another.

"In this street fighting, hand grenades, machine guns, bayonets, knives and spades are used," said Lieutenant General Chuikov. "They face each other and flail at each other. The Germans can't take it." Nevertheless, the Wehrmacht managed at first to take the city, with the exception of a narrow strip along the Volga.

Then the Red Army encircled the Germans, who were only able to receive meager supplies from the air. The German soldiers suffered from hunger and didn't even have warm uniforms to ward off the bitter cold of winter. Commander Paulus exhorted his troops not to give up: "Hold out, the Führer will smash us out," was the slogan of the day. Operation Winter Storm, which sought to break the encirclement, ended in failure. On Jan. 6, Soviet General Konstantin Rokossovsky offered Paulus an honorable surrender. At Hitler's behest, the German commander rejected the offer.

Four days later, the Red Army began to advance and tighten the ring around the city. After 10 days, the Germans had hardly any food or ammunition. When Paulus and his staff allowed themselves to be taken prisoner at the end of January instead of committing suicide or fighting to the death, Hitler flew into a rage.

"The Earth Breathed Fire"

The price was also high for the winners of the battle. Vasily Zaytsev, for instance -- without a doubt the Red Army's best sniper at Stalingrad -- claimed that he shot 242 Germans, but made the following, sobering comment: "You often have to remember, and the memory has a powerful impact," he said one year after the battle. "Now, I have unsteady nerves and I'm constantly shaking."

His comrade Aksyonov added: "These five months experienced in Stalingrad were the equivalent of five years in our subsequent lives." It seemed to him that "the earth in Stalingrad breathed fire for days."

These are things that the Communists simply didn't want to hear after the war. An "informative, historic book written by the battle participants themselves," as championed by the historian Mints, was never published. During Stalin's anti-Semitic purges, Mints was even stripped of his professorship, allegedly for being a "rootless cosmopolitan." It was only after the dictator's death that he was rehabilitated. He hid the interview protocols.

Hellbeck, who found them along with Russian colleagues, is already planning to release the next volume of interviews, this time focusing on the German military occupation of the Soviet Union. The Russian edition of the "Stalingrad Protocols" is due to be published next year.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
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« Reply #2916 on: Nov 05, 2012, 08:13 AM »

In the USA...

November 3, 2012, 2:30 pm

America’s Leftward Tilt?


The presidential election is now a close contest, but barring an Electoral College tie, someone is going to win, someone is going to lose, and both sides will have to make sense of it all.

The obvious story line of this election, whoever wins, is that Americans want pragmatic solutions to the relentless distress they have experienced for over a decade, whether that means a more active or a more passive government. They are looking for anyone who can provide a coherent vision of how to fix an economy that is not working for people who work for a living. But rather than a victory for pragmatism, we may well see both the winners and losers take away a very different lesson: that this election was a mandate for another shift to the right.

If Mitt Romney loses, conservatives will no doubt conclude that he just wasn't conservative enough, that they should have picked someone more appealing to their base. If President Obama loses or squeaks out a victory just four years after President George W. Bush destroyed the economy (which should have discredited conservative economics once and for all), many Democrats are likely to conclude that he tried to move too left too fast when he pushed for a stimulus and health care reform for which Americans were simply not ready, rather than that he simply sold both programs poorly (something he now acknowledges).

Similarly, whichever candidate wins, the first order of business will be deciding which programs to cut - unless a deal to prevent us from going over the fiscal cliff is reached during the lame-duck session of Congress after the election. Most voters intuitively understand that jobs and deficits are linked - too much of an emphasis on deficits leads to too few jobs - because working people with money in their wallets drive demand, whereas wealthier people with money in their wallets drive Jaguars (and send the rest of their income to their hedge fund managers). Even in the heart of red America, people understand that high unemployment and income disparities of the magnitude we are now witnessing are bad for economic growth.

But you have to speak in a way that brings out their inner Keynes, as I discovered when testing the following message in the Deep South: "The only way to cut the deficit is to put Americans back to work." That message beat the toughest austerity message by over 30 points.

The reality is that our government hasn't become this dysfunctional because the parties are so "polarized." It's because there is only one pole in American politics today, and its magnetic field is so powerful that it has drawn both parties in the same direction - rightward. And it is in that same direction that the magnetic field of contemporary American politics is likely to pull the stories the two parties tell after the election - and the policies the winner pursues.

The data, however, suggest just the opposite - that both candidates have benefited in the general election every time they have taken a left turn. President Obama was in deep political trouble 15 months ago when he cut the closest thing he could to a "grand bargain" with House Speaker John A. Boehner to slash the federal budget by trillions, and he did nothing for his popularity nine months earlier when he extended the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy. Not until he began talking like a populist did he begin picking up steam in the polls. Indeed, one of the most powerful messages the Democrats chose not to use in the 2010 midterm elections - which would have supported a policy that was extremely popular then and remains as popular now - was a simple message on taxes I tested nationally, which won in every region and with every demographic, including Tea Partyers: "In tough times like these, millionaires ought to be giving to charity, not getting it." Once that position (and other populist appeals) became central to Mr. Obama's presidential campaign, the election looked like it would be a rout.

BUT then in the first debate, Mr. Romney moved to the center, taking back his promise of tax cuts for the rich and proposing instead to let people choose which tax deductions they wanted to take (for their home mortgages, for example) but limiting the amount that can be deducted. Perhaps understandably, the president didn't know what to do with a Republican challenger who was outflanking him half the time on his left, and suddenly the race was competitive again. For both men, a pragmatic left-hand turn helped them steer their way toward a middle class desperate for hope.

This should have come as no surprise. A majority of Americans still holds Bush accountable for the Great Recession, and with good reason. We are still breathing the fumes of his toxic brew of deregulation, massive transfers of wealth to the rich and a doubling of the national debt. His policies, and those of a Republican Congress that had its way with the economy for six years, were in fact the culmination of a right-wing ideological revolution led by Ronald Reagan, which changed the way Americans view their government. Mr. Reagan's shadow continues to loom large, because Democrats have yet to make the case for a compelling alternative and have too often accepted the premises of the right.

There are, of course, differences in how both sides view the role of government. But too often the consensus among the parties is that the solution to what ails us is deficit cutting and attacks on, or failure to support, the unions that gave us the weekend, 20th-century benefits and the eight-hour day. Both candidates have implicitly or explicitly blamed "public employees" with their "bloated pensions" and waste-filled jobs for our economic woes (with Mr. Obama sending a signal by freezing the pay of federal workers, as if tightening their belts would somehow loosen the noose around the Treasury).

The term "public employees" itself evokes faceless bureaucrats, rather than images of firefighters and police officers, E.P.A. scientists monitoring our air and water to protect our children's health, or the people who get up at the crack of dawn to pick up our trash. Both candidates have been as relentless in their attacks on teachers' unions as Mr. Reagan was with the air traffic controllers whom he summarily fired for going on strike. Both parties have seen the austerity so many Americans are feeling at the kitchen table and concluded that the answer to austerity is more austerity - with "grand bargains" and "sequestrations" that promise to undo the effects of a stimulus that virtually all economists agree kept us from falling deeper toward a depression in early 2009. Austerity has been a failure almost everywhere governments have tried it, with Spain, where one in four working people is no longer working, being the most recent example. Both parties preach the gospel of free trade, which polls poorly because ordinary Americans can see with their own eyes how we have freely traded the good American wages and benefits away.

SO what underlies this powerful pull to the right? Many factors, but two stand out. The first is campaign money. When Americans saw the scope of the savings and loan scandal in the 1980s, which today seems like just a bad day on the unregulated derivatives market, Ronald Reagan's attorney general, Edwin Meese III, put nearly a thousand bankers behind bars. In contrast, Mr. Obama's attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., can't seem to smell the stench of a fraud that cost millions of people their jobs or homes.

The second is an ideological vacuum. For years, even Republicans accepted the premises of the New Deal, which drew them leftward just as today's political winds blow everything in their path rightward. President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the Interstate highway system. President Richard M. Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. Neither believed in the radical dismantling of programs that protected ordinary Americans, and both believed that a crucial role of government is to provide the infrastructure that makes economic prosperity possible.

Then came the conservative movement that ushered in Reagan, whose ideology has dominated our political discourse ever since, even after its proven failure. If Nixon and Bill Clinton were the last gasps of Roosevelt's breath, then Mr. Bush, Mr. Obama and perhaps Mr. Romney may well be the last gasps of Reagan's. If the centrifugal pull of the 2012 election is likely to be to the right, is there any potential counterweight?

Perhaps one: both presidential candidates want a legacy. The most important legacy Mr. Obama could have would be to spend his second term using executive orders, judicial appointments and the bully pulpit to return democracy to everyday Americans by demanding clean elections, uncorrupted by money. If Mr. Obama wins a close election on the strength of the country's changing demographics, he may feel a special responsibility to tackle the seemingly intractable problems that a second-term president can more easily address.

If Mr. Romney wins and wants a second term, he would be wise to wed an economic narrative about innovation with a narrative that will save his party from extinction by making comprehensive immigration reform a central item on his agenda. If Mr. Romney succeeds in reviving a moderate Republicanism that recognizes that an increasingly interconnected world will require an increasingly diverse work force, he could potentially drag his party into the 21st century.

In other words, if the candidate who wins takes a left turn like the one that won him the presidency, the Reagan era would finally be over. We can only hope.

Drew Westen is a psychology professor at Emory University and the author of "The Political Brain."


Apple paid less than 2 percent tax on overseas profits last year

By Rupert Neate, The Guardian
Sunday, November 4, 2012 21:11 EST

Apple paid less than 2% tax on profit made outside the United States last year.

The iPhone and iPad maker paid $713m (£445m) in overseas corporation tax on foreign profits of $36.87bn (£23bn) in the year to the end of September. That translates as a tax rate of 1.9%, compared to a headline corporation tax rate of 35% in the US and 24% in the UK.

The details were revealed in Apple’s 10K filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Apple has not broken any laws by arranging its tax payments this way, but it is likely to reignite debate about the astonishingly small amount of tax US multinationals pay in the UK.

Google, Amazon and Starbucks will be hauled before the Commons public accounts committee on Monday to explain why they pay so little tax to the exchequer.

Analysis by the Guardian found that Google, Amazon, Starbucks and Facebook have paid just £30m in tax over the past four years despite generating more than £3.1bn in sales.

Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said: “We want to ask them for an opportunity to explain why they don’t pay proper levels of tax in the UK.”

Matt Brittin, the managing director of Google, has claimed to be too busy to attend the committee.

Prime minister David Cameron has said he is “not happy with the current situation” of Apple, Google, Facebook, eBay and Starbucks avoiding nearly £900m of tax.


Food companies Monsanto, Dupont, Pepsico and Nestle spend $45 million to defeat California GM label bill Prop 37

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Monday, November 5, 2012 8:01 EST

The contentious measure would require labels on GM food sold in supermarkets, but would not cover restaurants

Monsanto and other agribusiness and food companies have spent more than $45m (£28m) to defeat a California ballot measure that would require labelling of some GM foods.

The measure, proposition 37, is one of the most contentious initiatives on California’s election ballot on Tuesday.

If it passes, it would require labels on GM food sold in supermarkets, but would not cover restaurants. It also has a number of gaping loopholes. For example, the law would not require labels on meat from animals that were fed GM corn.

Even with those caveats, the agribusiness and food companies have outspent the yes side by about five to one trying to kill the bill. Monsanto alone has spent more than $8m.

“I think it’s a David and Goliath story with the companies that manufacture or benefit from genetically engineered food being the Goliath,” said David Newman, president of Maplight, which tracks the influence of money in politics.

“When you see this lopsided spending it indicates that the measure is popular with voters and opponents think they need to spend a lot to defeat it. There is a lot at stake here not just in California but how it will trend in the rest of the country.”

California’s ballot initiatives often take on huge importance. Often they are seen as laboratories for new ideas, that are adopted later in the rest of the country.

The bill is mainly supported by organic food companies, although the actor Gwyneth Paltrow also contributed $15,000, according to campaigners.

Supporters argue the consumers have a right to know if they are eating GM foods. Opponents – overwhelmingly corporations such as Monsanto, Dupont, Pepsico and Nestle – say the labels would be burdensome to retailers, and would force prices to rise.

Others support the idea of labels in general but argue that this particular initiative is poorly written.

A label requirement could have a sweeping effect on the American foods industry. About 90% of American-grown corn and soybean are GM. Other large crops, such as canola and sugar beet, also tend to be GM.

 © Guardian News and Media 2012


Poll suggests dim future for Michigan’s emergency managers law

By Eric W. Dolan
Sunday, November 4, 2012 14:59 EST

Michigan’s highly controversial “emergency managers” law is unlikely to survive Election Day, according to Public Policy Polling.

A survey released on Saturday found that the law is only supported by 36 percent of voters, while 45 percent are opposed. With 19 percent of voters still undecided on Proposal 1, the law has an unlikely, but still possible chance of remaining on the books.

Public Act 4 of 2011, pushed by Gov. Rick Snyder (R), allows Michigan to appoint managers to municipalities and school districts facing financial struggles, turning the power of elected local officials over to state bureaucrats. Snyder has said the law is necessary to resolve fiscal crises within the state.

The managers have sweeping powers, being able to cut public workers, slash services, sell off public infrastructure, cancel union contracts, overrule and even fire elected officials, and write all contracts as they see fit.

The cities of Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac, and Ecorse are currently being overseen by emergency managers. The state has also appointed officials to oversee school districts in Detroit, Muskegon Heights and Highland Park.

The activist group Stand Up for Democracy collected more than 200,000 signatures to place a repeal of the law on the November ballot.

Snyder has urged Michigan voters to uphold the law.

“I am trying to stay in my lane,” Snyder told The Huffington Post. “I’m not here to run these cities. I’m here to create an environment where I can help them succeed better and give them resources.”


November 4, 2012

Outrage in Texas After Airborne Police Sharpshooter Kills 2


LA JOYA, Tex. — As a red pickup truck believed to be carrying drugs raced down a rural road near this border town last month, a state police helicopter that joined the pursuit warned units on the ground to keep their distance.

“Going to try to shoot one of the tires out,” a member of the helicopter crew announced, in radio communications broadcast by the television station KRGV. “We have a clear spot.”

An officer with a high-powered rifle in the helicopter opened fire, but after the truck came to a stop, the authorities discovered that the sharpshooter had made a tragic mistake. The truck’s cargo was not drugs but people. Illegal immigrants from Guatemala being smuggled across the border had been hiding in the bed of the truck, covered by a dark blanket. Two of them were killed by the sharpshooter from the state’s top law enforcement agency, the Department of Public Safety.

Agency officials said they would not discuss many details, citing a continuing investigation, but they said the officer had been trying to disable the truck by aiming for the tires. They defended his actions by saying that the vehicle was driving at reckless speeds in an area near schoolchildren.

Still, the shooting has outraged civil liberties groups, immigrant advocates and Guatemalan diplomats.

“One has to think that our law enforcement agencies have no respect for human life,” said Terri T. Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “I don’t care what was in that truck. If they weren’t shooting at that helicopter, how in God’s name can you justify firing on what appears to be unarmed folks?”

On Thursday, Ms. Burke and others gathered at an intersection near the shooting, amid dusty farmland nine miles from the border. They demanded justice for the two men killed, Jose Leonardo Coj Cumar, 32, and Marcos Antonio Castro Estrada, 29. Both were from the town of San Martín Jilotepeque. Mr. Coj, a father of three, was hoping to pay for arm surgery for his 11-year-old son, Guatemalan officials said. Mr. Castro had two daughters and a wife who is three months pregnant.

“They need to provide the basic things for their families in Guatemala, and that’s why they’re coming here,” said Alba D. Caceres, the head of the Guatemalan Consulate in nearby McAllen. “Six kids, they don’t have fathers, so that is a sad history.”

The state police agency allows its officers to fire on vehicles during pursuits, whether the officers are seated in helicopters or cars or standing on a highway overpass. They can shoot to disable a vehicle, to defend themselves or others from death or serious injury, or to apprehend those suspected of using or trying to use deadly force, according to the agency’s general manual.

The policy sets Texas apart from other states, where firing at vehicles is rarely allowed, or forbidden. The Arizona Department of Public Safety does not allow its officers to shoot from moving vehicles or from helicopters. The California Highway Patrol permits firing on vehicles, but only to stop a threat and not to disable a car, and it forbids officers to fire from a helicopter in flight. The Nevada Highway Patrol, which does not use helicopters, does not permit shooting at vehicles during pursuits. Federal border patrol agents are not allowed to fire solely to disable a vehicle.

Two members of the State House committee that oversees the Texas police agency, Representatives Lon Burnam and Armando Walle, have asked for a hearing on the policy. René Guerra, the Hidalgo County district attorney, said he wanted the agency to end the practice of shooting at vehicles from helicopters.

“They need to look at their policy,” Mr. Guerra said. “There’s several ways to disable vehicles. I think D.P.S. will be put through very close scrutiny as to whether this was the best available means.”

The episode began about 3 p.m. on Oct. 25, when two state game wardens on patrol in rural Hidalgo County tried to pull over a suspicious red pickup on an unpaved road, the authorities said. The driver refused to stop and sped away, and the game wardens radioed for assistance.

The helicopter reached the truck after game wardens pursued it for nearly seven miles. Department of Public Safety officials said in a statement that the vehicle had appeared to have a covered drug load and was going dangerously fast. Because it was heading toward two elementary schools and a middle school, the truck posed “an immediate threat to the schoolchildren and motoring public,” officials said. The tactical flight officer who opened fire, Miguel Avila, shot the truck multiple times, but officials declined to say precisely how many rounds he had fired.

The Texas Rangers, a division of the Department of Public Safety, and the agency that oversees game wardens, the Parks and Wildlife Department, are investigating. In addition, state police officials requested that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the civil rights division of the Department of Justice conduct an independent investigation. Officer Avila has been reassigned to administrative duties pending the outcome of the investigation.

Col. Steve McCraw, the director of the Department of Public Safety, said in the statement that the agency was reviewing all related policies, but he cautioned against rushing to judgment. “Although it is very tragic that two lives were lost, had the vehicle continued recklessly speeding through the school zone, any number of innocent bystanders or young lives could have been lost or suffered serious bodily injury,” he said.


November 4, 2012

After the Violence, the Rest of Their Lives


CHICAGO — Xavier McElrath-Bey drives past the dilapidated houses, liquor stores and vacant lots in his old neighborhood and sees the landmarks of his youth.

There is the house at 51st and Throop where, at 11, he huddled near some steps to avoid a rival gang member’s gunfire; the sidewalk where he carved his gang nickname into the newly laid cement; the lot at 51st and Ada where Sam’s store once stood, its back yard a convenient hideaway for weapons. Nearby is the abandoned building where, in 1989, he crossed the line from being a troubled 13-year-old, in and out of a detention center, to a 13-year-old convicted of murder.

Mr. McElrath-Bey, who spent 13 years in prison and is now 36, is not on a nostalgia tour of the violent streets that raised him. He is part of an effort to understand them, gathering data for an ambitious research project that for almost two decades has closely tracked the lives of more than 1,800 youths in Chicago who, as he did, entered the juvenile justice system at an early age.

The subjects of the study, directed by Linda A. Teplin, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, were first interviewed between November 1995 and June 1998 at what is now the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center, long known as the Audy Home. They have been followed at intervals since then and will continue to be tracked throughout their adult lives.

Mr. McElrath-Bey’s job as a field interviewer — he was hired four years ago — has allowed him to gain perspective on his own life. Traveling around the city to interview subjects, he sees the same chaotic family dynamics that landed him in foster care at 6, the hunger to belong that drew him to a gang at 11 and the bad decisions that led him to participate in a gang killing. He also sees the good decisions that helped him change course, leave the gang, complete a college degree while in prison, get a master’s degree and move on to a steady job, a comfortable apartment on the North Side, a girlfriend and a 15-month-old daughter he dotes on.

“I get flashbacks every time I interview these guys who are getting out of prison,” he said. “I can relate to what they’re going through.”

At a time when the homicide rate in Chicago has risen sharply, jumping 25 percent over all since last year and 100 percent or more in a few gang-heavy neighborhoods, the research project offers a portrait of both the perpetrators and the victims in struggling, gang-ridden neighborhoods.

Gang killings are nothing new in Chicago, and city officials have brought in federal agents and requested more police officers in an attempt to stem the increase. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has also thrown support behind community programs that seek to address gang problems.

But the study makes clear the challenges that such measures inevitably encounter.

Dr. Teplin said that when she and Karen Abram, the associate director of the project, proposed it, they were told it could not be done — that it would be impossible to locate such transient and troubled groups year after year, impossible to gain their trust or persuade them to talk honestly about personal matters. “People said: ‘You’ll never get these kids to cooperate. They won’t talk to you,’ ” Dr. Teplin recalled.

But the researchers hired trackers to find the study subjects as they moved through their lives, searching them out in other neighborhoods, in far-flung suburbs or in prison cells. They brought in street-savvy field interviewers like Mr. McElrath-Bey to talk with subjects in their homes instead of expecting them to show up for appointments at an office building downtown. The researchers paid the subjects small amounts for participating, sent them birthday cards and White Sox tickets and deposited pocket money in their prison commissary accounts.

The interviews became an expected ritual for many in the study.

Charles Hayes, 31, who spent much of his youth and early adulthood in prison or selling drugs, said that the experience reminded him of the self-examination practiced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in his family.

“They remind me of the past and what I was doing and what I’m doing now,” he said of the researchers.

Now in its 17th year, the research has produced a rich trove of data and a raft of published papers. Yet its findings have gone largely unnoticed by policy makers and the public, Dr. Teplin said, perhaps in part because its focus is on problems largely affecting blacks and Hispanics in poor neighborhoods, both familiar and seemingly intractable.

“It’s a segment of the population that many Americans don’t think about, don’t care about,” Dr. Teplin said. “What rivets Americans is the unexpected — the Colorado massacre, mass school shootings. The everyday violence is something that doesn’t concern most people.”

Based on the study’s data, more than 80 percent of juveniles who enter the criminal justice system early in life have at some point belonged to a gang. Seventy percent of men and 40 percent of women have used a firearm. The average age of first gun use is 14. At any given time, 20 percent are incarcerated.

Unemployment is rampant: 71 percent of the men and 59 percent of the women are without jobs as adults. Of the 1,829 youths originally enrolled in the study, 119 have died, most of them violently — a death rate three to five times as high as the one for Cook County men in the same age group over all and four times as high as the one for women. In all, 130 have been shot, shot at, stabbed or otherwise violently attacked. As a group, they show high rates of post-traumatic stress, depression and other psychiatric disorders.

Sandro Santoyo, 33, entered the study when he was 12 and has cycled in and out of prison repeatedly since then for crimes including aggravated battery and attempted murder. By his count, he has been shot six times, stabbed four times and run over by a van driven by rival gang members. That episode injured him so badly that he can no longer do the construction work he used to pick up between stints in prison, though he recently got a job at a furniture warehouse.

He wants a different life. “It’s time for me to take responsibility for my family,” he said in an interview, but he added, “It’s really hard, it’s hard to let go of things like that.”

Jason Shaughnessy, 31, sports a teardrop tattoo next to each eye — gang markings, he said, that make him a constant target for members of rival gangs. He has spent 11 years and six months in prison, he said. Earlier this year, he suffered a stroke.

Mr. Shaughnessy said that he wanted to help young men avoid the life he has lived, but that he continued to use drugs and was currently out of jail on bond on two charges of aggravated battery.

“A lot of people say, ‘You can do it, it’s not too late,’ and they’re right, it’s never too late to change your life,” he said. “But it could be too late to start training yourself to do things a different way than you’ve done for 31 years.”

Mr. McElrath-Bey said that he sometimes entered a home to do an interview and was overcome by “a sense of despair that surrounds me.”

Yet he also meets subjects who, like him, have found a way out. Mr. Hayes, for example, who says, “I’ve been arrested so many times I lost count,” is now a supervisor at the transmission company where he has worked for the last five years. His job gives him a legal way to support his three children A few years ago he moved to an apartment in a Chicago suburb. In February, he married.

“I wouldn’t want my kids to grow up like I grew up,” he said.

The researchers are in the process of trying to tease out the factors that allow youths to succeed despite considerable obstacles. But in Mr. McElrath-Bey’s view, such transformations often have little to do with the promises of politicians or the cyclical crackdowns by law enforcement. Instead they are often prompted by less tangible forces: the support of a parent, the insistence of a girlfriend, the encouragement of a priest or pastor, the mobilization of a community, the birth of a child.

Mr. McElrath-Bey began his own move toward a different life at 18, as he sat in a prison cell serving a sentence for helping to lure a 14-year-old rival gang member into an abandoned building, where he was beaten to death, and later setting the body on fire.

He fought against incarceration at first, staying involved with the gang, earning a year in solitary confinement for assaulting a corrections officer. But for the first time in his life, he also began to reflect.

“You can’t help but wonder how life could have been different,” he said, “and of course, in those rare moments you start to realize all those people that you hurt. I thought about my case, I thought about my family, I thought about my sister, who was out there starting to get involved in gangs, and it all started to eat away at me.”

Now when he goes back to his old neighborhood, he still feels a connection to his old life.

“A great part of who you are is that culture,” he said, “and because of that, you’re always going to identify with that group, you’re always going to feel that affinity toward your community and your neighborhood.”

But he is in a different place now.

“This is what you were born into, this is the misery of your reality,” he tells young men who remind him of himself at an earlier age. “But you yourself have the power and strength to rise above this.”

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« Reply #2917 on: Nov 06, 2012, 06:47 AM »

November 5, 2012

Under Fire, Dutch Leader Is Sworn In


THE HAGUE (AP) — Queen Beatrix swore in a new centrist government in the Netherlands under Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Monday, even as the conservative prime minister faced criticism from members of his own party over a plan to increase health care premiums.

Members of Mr. Rutte’s conservative party, VVD, are fiercely opposed to what is a crucial element of the governing pact painstakingly negotiated with the center-left Labor Party.

At issue is Mr. Rutte’s plan to tie health care premiums to people’s income, meaning that the wealthy will pay more for their health insurance.

Conservatives say the idea is fundamentally against their principles. Mr. Rutte has responded by saying that projections circulating in the Dutch news media of how much people will have to pay are wildly inaccurate.

Halbe Zijlstra, the leader of Mr. Rutte’s party in Parliament, tried to ease the concerns on Monday.

“There are calculations and stories flying around about people’s spending power dropping by 23 to 30 percent,” Mr. Zijlstra told the national broadcaster, NOS. “I can say that is definitely not going to happen.”

The dispute over health care costs overshadowed the first day in office of Mr. Rutte’s second coalition government.

His party emerged victorious from elections on Sept. 12. It agreed after about five weeks of talks — speedy negotiations by Dutch standards — to form a coalition with Labor, which is the second-largest party in the 150-seat House of Representatives.

The two parties have already negotiated a policy blueprint with many austerity measures that aims to reduce government spending by $20.5 billion by 2017.

That savings package is a clear indication that the Netherlands will continue to follow the lead of the fiscally conservative German government, insisting that nations like Greece and Spain get their government finances in order if they want bailout money from the European Union.
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« Reply #2918 on: Nov 06, 2012, 06:51 AM »

11/05/2012 06:33 PM

Divided States of America: Notes on the Decline of a Great Nation


The United States is frittering away its role as a model for the rest of the world. The political system is plagued by an absurd level of hatred, the economy is stagnating and the infrastructure is falling into a miserable state of disrepair. On this election eve, many Americans are losing faith in their country's future.

The monumental National Mall in Washington, DC, 1.9 miles (3 kilometers) long and around 1,586 feet wide at its broadest point, is a place that showcases the United States of America is in its full glory as a world power. A walk along the magnificent swath of green space, between the white dome of the Capitol to the east and the Lincoln Memorial, a temple erected to honor former president Abraham Lincoln, at its western end, leads past men in bronze and stone, memorials for soldiers and conquerors, and the nearby White House. It's a walk that still creates an imperial impression today.

The Mall is lined with museums and landscaped gardens, in which America is on display as the kind of civil empire that promotes the arts and sciences. There are historic sites, and there are the famous steps of the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King once spoke of his dream, and of the dreams of a country to be a historic force, one that would serve the wellbeing of all of mankind. Put differently, the National Mall is an open-air museum for an America that, in 2012, is mostly a pleasant memory.

After a brilliant century and a terrible decade, the United States, in this important election year, has reached a point in its history when the obvious can no longer be denied: The reality of life in America so greatly contradicts the claim -- albeit one that has always been exaggerated -- to be the "greatest nation on earth," that even the most ardent patriots must be overcome with doubt.

This realization became only too apparent during and after Hurricane Sandy, the monster storm that ravaged America's East Coast last week, its effects made all the more devastating by the fact that its winds were whipping across an already weakened country. The infrastructure in New York, New Jersey and New England was already in trouble long before the storm made landfall near Atlantic City. The power lines in Brooklyn and Queens, on Long Island and in New Jersey, in one of the world's largest metropolitan areas, are not underground, but are still installed along a fragile and confusing above-ground network supported by utility poles, the way they are in developing countries.

No System to Protect Against Storm Surges

Although parts of New York City, especially the island of Manhattan, are only a few meters above sea level, the city still has no extensive system to protect itself against storm surges, despite the fact that the sea level has been rising for years and the number of storms is increasing. In the case of Sandy, the weather forecasts were relatively reliable three or four days prior to its arrival, so that the time could have been used to at least make improvised preparations, which did not happen. The only effective walls of sandbags that were built in the city on a larger scale did not appear around power plants, hospitals or tunnel entrances, but around the skyscraper of the prescient investment bank Goldman Sachs.

Large parts of America's biggest city and millions of people along the East Coast could now be forced to survive for days, possibly even weeks, without electricity, water and heat. Many of the backup generators intended for such emergencies didn't work, so that large hospitals had to be evacuated. On the one hand, these consequences of the storm point to the uncontrollability of nature. On the other hand, they are signs that America is no longer the great, robust global power it once was.

Europeans who make such claims have always been accused of anti-Americanism. But now Americans themselves are joining the chorus of those declaring the country's decline. "I had to catch a train in Washington last week," New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, whose columns are read worldwide, wrote last April. "The paved street in the traffic circle around Union Station was in such poor condition that I felt as though I was on a roller coaster. I traveled on the Amtrak Acela, our sorry excuse for a fast train, on which I had so many dropped calls on my cellphone that you'd have thought I was on a remote desert island, not traveling from Washington to New York City. When I got back to Union Station, the escalator in the parking garage was broken. Maybe you've gotten used to all this and have stopped noticing. I haven't. Our country needs a renewal."

Such everyday observations are coalescing into a new, tarnished image of America. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, the creator of many legendary television series, has come up with a new, brutal look at America. The 10-part drama, "The Newsroom," tells the story of a cynical news anchor who reinvents himself and vows to do everything right in the future. In the show's brilliant premiere, he is asked at a panel discussion to describe why America is the greatest country in the world. After a few tired jokes, the truth comes gushing out of him. "There's absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we're the greatest country in the world," he ways. "We're seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined."

A Land of Limited Opportunities

In the show, the audience reacts with shock, just as a real-life American audience would. But the truth is that America has transformed itself into a land of limited opportunities. In fact, that was the way SPIEGEL referred to the United States in a 1979 cover story, when the US economy had been hard-hit by the oil crisis.

But today's crisis is far more comprehensive, extending to the social, political and spiritual realms. The worst thing about it is that the country still refuses to engage in any debate over the reasons for its decline. It seems as if many Americans today no longer want to talk about how they can strengthen their union. Criticism is seen as a betrayal of America's greatness.

But that notion of greatness leaves much to be desired. Other numbers can be readily added to those rattled off by the protagonist in Sorkin's "The Newsroom," and the results are sobering. For instance, the United States is no longer among the world's top 10 countries when it comes to the state of its infrastructure. In fact, it spends less than Europe to maintain its roads and bridges, tunnels, train stations and airports.

According to the US Federal Highway Administration, one in four of the more than 600,000 bridges in the world's richest country are either "inadequate" or outdated. According to some studies, the United States would have to invest some $225 billion a year between now and 2050 to regain an adequate, modern infrastructure. That's 60 percent more than it invests today.

A Lack of Strength

It isn't hard to predict that this won't happen. The hatred of big government has reached a level in the United States that threatens the country's very existence. Americans everywhere may vow allegiance to the nation and its proud Stars and Stripes, but when it comes time to pay the bills and distribute costs, and when solidarity is needed, all sense of community evaporates.

Then the divides open up between Washington and the rest of the country, between the North and the South, between the East and the West, between cities and rural areas, and between states whose governors often sound as if the country were still embroiled in a civil war.

The country has forgotten the days when former President Franklin D. Roosevelt courageously told his fellow Americans that a collectively supported social welfare system didn't translate into socialism but freedom, a "New Deal" that would strengthen America in the long term. Gone are the days when former President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched bold government programs to cover a country 27 times the size of Germany with a network of interstate highways. Gone are the years when former President Lyndon B. Johnson declared war on poverty and enacted federal laws declaring that there could be no second- or third-class citizens, regardless of skin color. And gone is the spirit of renewal after former President John F. Kennedy's visionary promise to send Americans to the moon within a decade, a program that would cost taxpayers billions.

Today America lacks the financial strength, political courage and social will to embark on such large-scale, government-directed programs. The United States has long been drawing down its savings, writes Fareed Zakaria, another American critic of his own country and a respected columnist with Time. "What we see today is an American economy that has boomed because of policies and developments of the 1950s and '60s: the interstate-highway system, massive funding for science and technology, a public-education system that was the envy of the world and generous immigration policies."

Two Hostile Camps
Zakaria's words resonate with the questions that have dominated this long election year, and have long sharply divided the country into two hostile camps, roughly equal in size: Does America need more or less government? Are higher taxes the right approach to fairly distributing collective tasks, or are they infernally un-American?

For a time President Barack Obama, 51, and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney, 65, made this question a key theme in their respective campaigns. The Democrat invoked the helping hand of government while the Republican demonized it. The fact that this old dispute has returned with such vehemence says a lot about the declining cohesion of a nation that runs the risk of losing its way in a changing world.

This rift between the two opposing views of the role of government helps to explain America's current weakness. The deep cultural divide that took shape 150 years ago in the bloody battles of the American Civil War has returned, awakened by the multiple crises of our time. It seems that it was only buried and concealed by consistent economic success during the 20th century, when the United States became the dominant power in the West. For the longest time, Americans were buoyed by the certainty that their children would be better off than they were.

At the beginning of the 21st century, this American dream, which consisted mainly of confidence and optimism envied the world over, is failing. It began to fail around the turn of the millennium, with the crash landing of the New Economy, and it imploded altogether in 2008, when Wall Street became the epicenter of a global financial meltdown, and when millions of Americans lost their homes and jobs. In some polls, almost half of Americans today say that the country's best days are gone.

"Americans are tired after the war in Iraq and also after Afghanistan," says Obama advisor and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. This exhaustion, when combined with the traumatic terrorist attacks of 2001, has weakened the social glue that held America together in the 20th century. This is only too apparent in the absurd squabbles between Republicans and Democrats during the Obama years.

The president didn't keep his promise to unite the country politically, but for that to happen, the participation of both parties would have been required. Instead, the more Obama sought to accommodate the Republicans, the more extreme their positions and the more hysterical their criticism became, eliminating any prospect of compromise. The three most important pieces of legislation Obama pushed through Congress since his inauguration in January 2009 were achieved with the votes of his fellow Democrats, even though they incorporated key Republican demands.

Obama's biggest economic stimulus package, which provided for government investments of $787 billion, contained substantial tax cuts that the Republicans had demanded and to which the Democrats were in fact opposed, and yet only three Republicans in the Senate and none in the House of Representatives voted for the legislation. All Republicans in both houses of Congress rejected the healthcare reform that will be viewed as a historic achievement one day. And the financial reform legislation, which turned out to be far more moderate than the Democrats had hoped, received the votes of only three Republicans in each house of Congress.

A Systematic Crisis

Does this sort of stonewalling already signify the collapse of a representative democracy? Naturally, an opposition party's role must be to fight the government's policies. Nevertheless, such deep-seated opposition as there has been in the Obama years is unprecedented in the last few decades of American politics. Many bills were never even put to a vote in Congress, because the Republicans, more frequently than ever before, threatened to use or did in fact deploy the so-called filibuster, a delay tactic with which votes on legislation can be completely obstructed. In the last five years, Republicans in Congress have used the filibuster a record-breaking 385 times, or as much as it was used in the seven decades between World War I and the end of the administration of former President Ronald Reagan in 1989.

According to a current study, since 2007 Republican lawmakers have tried to torpedo more than 70 percent of all bills before they were even put to a vote. This applied to only 27 percent of proposed legislation in the 1980s, and only 8 percent in the 1960s. "This level of obstruction is extremely unusual," Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, told Newsweek. "And the core of the problem is the GOP."

The claims that Republican leaders agreed, on the day of Obama's inauguration, Jan. 20, 2009, to rigidly block his policies, are now well-supported by credible reporting. In the last four years, it seems as if one half of America -- the Republicans -- has been determined to spoil everything for the other half -- the Democrats -- regardless of the issue and whether or not these obstructive tactics have helped or harmed the public good. This is hardly anything less than a systemic crisis.

This obstructionism is largely attributable to the group within the Republican Party known as the Tea Party. As filmmaker Sorkin claims, the coalition of ultraconservatives has developed into the "American Taliban." They view Darwin's Theory of Evolution as the stuff of the devil, homosexuals as diseased and women as subordinate to men. They oppose contraception and are so filled with hate in their efforts to ban abortion that they don't seem to object when violent anti-abortion activists burn down the offices of liberal doctors.

They claim that according to the American Constitution, the United States is a Christian country, which isn't true, and their platform contains demands to eliminate all taxes or even get rid of the central government altogether. All of this could be dismissed as some marginal aberration if the Tea Party were not such a driving force behind the Republicans, shaping the tone and superficial content of the entire political discourse.

'Dropout Factories'

And when there is also a lack of perseverance on the part of the government -- an accusation that does apply to the Obama administration -- and when important proposals are abandoned in the face of the slightest resistance, the work to shape the future of the United States, which its founding fathers saw as a "work in progress," becomes gridlocked in a very fundamental way.

This gridlock applies to all political spheres. America's schools, for which the country spends more than any other nation on earth, are more like "dropout factories" in big cities like Chicago and the capital Washington. Some 1.3 million students drop out of high school each year in the US before they have the chance to graduate.

Although many American universities are still among the world's top institutions, they have become unaffordable for many Americans. Every year, universities are forced to raise their already outrageously high tuition levels, partly because of declining government support. In fact, states like California now spend more money on prisons than universities.

American college and university graduates owe a total of $1 trillion in student loan debt, which exceeds total American consumer credit card debt. The prospect of incurring such massive debts deters prospective students, especially those from poorer families, from attending colleges and universities in the first place. A person's socioeconomic background now plays a stronger role in America in determining his of her social and educational opportunities than it does in Europe, whose class society the founders of the United States once set out to leave behind.

One Dead End after Another

In the fall of 2012, America is a country filled with such dead ends.

The fight against climate change is one of them. Impending environmental threats were a major theme in Obama's first election campaign, but then they were dropped at the first sign of Republican resistance and remained a non-issue in the current campaign -- until Hurricane Sandy inundated New York City and parts of New Jersey. Since then, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a former Republican who has since become politically independent, has endorsed Obama for reelection, citing the dangers of climate change and the incumbent's positions on the environment. And as a result of the storm, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie suddenly became the only Republican governor to find himself working side-by-side with the president.

Such political reversals don't change the fact that important projects have turned into failed undertakings, while visions have been put on the back burner. The sad fight for more high-speed rail in America is a case in point. High-speed trains only travel on a few routes in the United States at the moment, at an average speed of 70 miles per hour (112 kilometers per hour), which is much slower than Europe's ICE and TGV trains.

Obama recognized this as a problem and asked Vice President Joe Biden, a railroad buff who used to commute by train to Washington when he was a senator from Delaware, to improve the situation. As a result, the government announced a plan to invest $53 billion in new, modern trains and routes.

But Republican governors in states with routes where high-speed rail would make sense simply refused to accept the government funds. Once again, their refusal reflected the desire to thwart a plan by "Socialist" Obama, and the determination not to be accused by their supporters of having accepted money from the agents of "big government."

The failing project coincides with the image, already a worldwide cliché, of the United States as a country that doesn't understand the signs of the times and has almost willfully -- flying in the face of all scientific knowledge -- chosen to be backward.

America Falls Behind
This now seems to be dawning on many of those who used to come to the United States because it was the country of their dreams. According to new studies, highly qualified immigrants from India and China are increasingly turning their backs on the country after finishing their studies there, secretly hoping for better opportunities back home. America is no longer as attractive a magnet as it once was. And, of course, China and India, the native countries of many potential immigrants, have become significantly stronger.

America will feel the effects of this trend. Immigrants made America great and have kept it great. Immigrants, who make up about 12 percent of the current US population, founded more than half of all Silicon Valley companies and filed one in four patent applications between 1995 and 2005. Almost half of all doctoral candidates in engineering and science do not speak English as their first language.

The most talented American students will not be filling the resulting gap, because they'd rather work on Wall Street than in technology and engineering fields. About a third of the students in every graduating class at Harvard University accept jobs in investment banking and consulting, or with hedge funds -- that is, industries that produce one thing above all: fast money.

In Today's America, Long-Term Goals Stand No Chance

Obama proposed several projects to improve the country's schools, raise education levels and promote equal opportunity for all children. But instead of supporting his efforts, governors obstructed them. Some even blocked guidelines to bring healthier food into school cafeterias, merely because they were created by people in Washington. In this environment, long-term goals don't stand a chance.

Obama's major economic stimulus package, which critics claim is more of a crisis management program than the blueprint for a new beginning, set aside $90 billion to promote renewable energy. This is a lot of money, but because the "green jobs" the program promised didn't materialize right away, the president's adversaries ridiculed the entire project and cited it as an example of his failure. Obama's search for a green future was nothing but a money pit, scoffed the Republican front men, who want nothing to do with environmental protection and ecological progress, because they assume that electricity comes from an outlet and gasoline from a pump.

Solyndra, a promising startup company in the sunny town of Fremont, California, which had a seemingly brilliant idea to make more effective solar panels, became a symbol of the fight over Obama's allegedly failed environmental policy. In March 2009, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics, awarded the company a $535 million loan.

"The promise of clean energy isn't just ... some abstract possibility for science fiction movies," Obama said. But that was wrong, at least when it came to Solyndra. The company went bankrupt in 2011, 1,100 employees lost their jobs, the government's money was gone and the Republicans had fodder for the election campaign.

Solyndra was in fact the exception to the rule. Of 63 companies that received government assistance under Obama's green economy programs, 58 were successful and only five went bankrupt -- a 92-percent success rate. But none of that mattered. Obama's opponents, or about half of the American population, ignored the underlying goal of the "green" offensive, which is ultimately to make the entire country more competitive.

Within a few years, major competitor China has increased its share of the global solar market from 6 to an impressive 54 percent. Less than two decades ago, the United States was still making more than 40 percent of solar technology sold worldwide. Today it's just over 5 percent.

Even as America falls behind, some of its more enlightened citizens sometimes return from abroad to report on all the things they have learned in other countries. For instance, while campaigning for Obama, former President Bill Clinton often cited the "German model" as one worth emulating. In "a country where on average the sun shines as much as it does in London," he told an audience, "the Germans have netted 300,000 jobs out of their commitment to a solar future." America, he suggested, could create a million such jobs if it wanted to. But in 2012, this is a goal that no more than half of the people in the United States would support, which is why the country is beginning to lose its edge.

Losing Ground

Nevertheless, "decline" is a big word, especially for a nation that is still the world's number one economic and military power, and will remain so for at least the next decade. It's also a country whose innovative energy seems unbroken in many fields, and one that, unlike Europe, has balanced population growth and enormous mineral resources. In fact, when it comes to the demise of former world powers, Europe's decline is much more evident than that of the United States.

But America is losing ground: as a model, as a driving force and as an old and bright beacon for the West. It's been half a century since a US president last promised to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty." These were the words of John F. Kennedy, but even his direct successors were much more selective as to which tasks they were willing to take on to defend liberty after US withdrawal from Vietnam.

Ronald Reagan, whose fans credit him with having disarmed the "Evil Empire," sent Marines into Lebanon, and brought them home again after 241 soldiers were killed in a suicide attack. Otherwise, Reagan only captured tiny Grenada in the name of liberty. Bill Clinton recalled US troops from Somalia after images of a dead US soldier's body being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu were broadcast on television. He chose not to intervene in the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. And, like the Europeans, he spent years watching the wars of succession in Yugoslavia until he ordered the bombing of the troops of then Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

Even George W. Bush, who, at least during his first term, was convinced that the United States had to defend freedom and democracy, with military force if necessary, did so under the delusion that major successes were possible with a relatively small commitment of troops and equipment. But he was mistaken. Annual costs of between $100 billion and close to $200 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were a key determining factor in the US's current financial plight.

Obama can be credited with having finally admitted that his country's options in foreign policy are not unlimited. "We can no longer afford troop-heavy interventions, unless our national survival is at stake," he said. But in the toxically divided United States, his detractors interpreted this realization to mean that the commander-in-chief was personally preaching that the country should abandon its leadership role.

Economic Crisis Forces Foreign Policy Rethink

But it was the economic crisis and the crisis within the political system that forced the president to rethink his options in foreign policy. And it would be an illusion to believe that the outward expression of political strength has nothing to do with the economic, domestic state of a country. But it is precisely this adjustment to reality that raises the anger of those who have always seen America as the country that could tell everyone else what to do.

In fact, the more palpable and undeniable the country's economic and political weakening, the louder the nationalist bluster coming from Tea Party leaders becomes. And even as it indiscriminately demands cost cuts, especially in social and educational budgets, the Republican Party, the Grand Old Party, wants to make an exception for the defense budget. In fact, if the Republicans had their way, the defense budget would grow to historically high levels.

The Republicans paint their agenda as a commitment to a "strong America," while portraying the Democrats and, most of all, Obama, as cowards. That's why, during the campaign, there were billboards along America's highways that showed Obama bowing subserviently to oil sheikhs. And that's why the Republicans have outrageously characterized Obama's trips to the Arab world and his major speech in Cairo, offering reconciliation to the Muslims, as an "apology tour."

But foreign policy rarely decides elections in the United States. The legendary words "It's the economy, stupid" were coined by an advisor to Clinton during his successful 1992 presidential campaign. But the economy and foreign policy have never been as closely connected as they are in today's world, in which the United States faces serious competition for economic dominance. When there is talk of the Chinese challenge in the State of Ohio, whose 18 electoral votes could be critical in determining who wins the election, it relates directly to local jobs in the domestic automobile industry, so that no candidate can afford not to have an opinion on Washington's China policy.

The Mother of all Austerity Measures
In the 2012 campaign, many Americans have realized for the first time that the US's role as a global power is no longer uncontested, something the Republicans blame on their enemy Obama, arguing that he hasn't been aggressive enough in places like Libya, Syria and Iran. "We can neither retreat from the world nor try to bully it into submission," he said before coming into office, a statement that Republicans interpret as a sign of weakness, a conviction they feel is only reinforced by the military withdrawals during Obama's term.

Obama wanted to withdraw US troops from Iraq and, by 2014, from Afghanistan, but he also had no choice. Both cost considerations and the dramatic failure of both operations spoke in favor of withdrawals. Contrary to what many a global strategist at the Pentagon may have envisioned, Iraq has not turned into a nucleus for new democracies in the Arab world. Instead, the country continues to stagnate today as a new dictatorship in disguise, and it remains plagued by terrible bombing attacks. After 10 years of war, and despite the collaboration between NATO and the United Nations, Afghanistan, a major global project, remains a failure for the United States, which has already lost 2,144 soldiers and has brought home tens of thousands of troops with physical and emotional injuries, without being able to celebrate a tangible success.

The upheavals in the Arab world took America's diplomats by surprise, and they ended Obama's offensive in the Islamic world. But they also showed how poorly connected and, ultimately, uninfluential the United States is in the region today. A member of the Muslim Brotherhood is now Egypt's president, Iran apparently remains undeterred in advancing its nuclear program and the situation in Israel is more precarious that ever. These are all signs that America has far less influence than many Americans still want to believe.

This is not solely attributable to an American decline, but also has to do with various shifts in the global power structure. The unique role the country enjoyed for a short period after the collapse of the Soviet Union is gone. There was a moment, at the time, in which the apologists for American greatness had already declared the end of history, because they felt that there was now proof that there could only be one model of governmental organization: the Western, economically liberal democracy based on freedom. But that moment is over.

The Beginning of the Post-American World

Romney's campaign speeches sounded especially empty when he proclaimed the 21st century as an "American century," once again. In fact, there is much more to be said for the notion that, as Time columnist Zakaria believes, the "age of the post-American world" is beginning. In his new book "In No One's World," Washington political scientist Charles Kupchan writes that there are apparently "multiple paths to modernity," even if this isn't what the old West wants to hear. The world, says Kupchan, is not getting more homogeneous and more American, but rather more diverse and less American.

China is a case in point. For the time being the country, with its authoritarian government, has apparently managed to enable a sufficiently large middle class to take part in its economic success, so that a majority of Chinese citizens are not as likely to challenge Communist Party control. Some 80 percent of respondents to a survey in China said that they were satisfied with the country's direction, compared to less than 30 percent of respondents to a similar survey in the United States. Many developing countries are now looking to China instead of the US as a role model on how to structure a country. They are no longer seeking the light of the American beacon on the horizon. And unless a miracle occurs after the election, specifically by Dec. 31, 2012, that light could go out soon, or at least be reduced to a flicker.

That's when an ultimatum expires that is known as the "fiscal cliff," which Democrats and Republicans set for themselves, after the dramatic failure of their budget negotiations in the summer of 2011, so as not to drive the world's largest government budget against a wall. If both sides can't agree to a joint solution, budget cuts and tax increases will automatically take effect on Dec. 31 that will massively reduced the deficit by $900 billion.

So far, both sides have shown little willingness to compromise. The Democrats insist on tax increases for the rich, which the Republicans reject, arguing that the budget should be consolidated through spending cuts alone. President Obama, who will remain in office until at least Jan. 20, 2013, regardless of the election outcome, has announced that he will veto any proposal that doesn't include higher taxes for the rich.

The automatic emergency savings package would reduce the budget deficit by $607 billion. This would translate into cuts for doctors and hospitals, schools and day care, theaters and museums, train stations, airports and universities. Purchasing power would be reduced and investments would not be made, all because, in today's America, political compromises and the reasonable balancing of interests no longer seem possible.

An austerity program of this magnitude would cost the economy about 5.1 percent of the gross domestic product. Not even the crisis-ridden countries of the euro zone have instituted such drastic austerity programs.

According to official government sources, the country could face a "significant recession" unless it finds a solution to its budget problem. The economy, which is predicted to grow by at least 2.5 percent next year, could shrink instead, leading to an unemployment rate of more than 9 percent. It's a nightmare scenario that even the International Monetary Fund, normally a proponent of drastic austerity programs, warns against. Behind the fiscal cliff is a gaping abyss into which all hopes for America's future could disappear.

Perhaps it is already merely a question of controlling the problem and making preparations for the post-American age.

That would require changes to the National Mall in Washington, DC. Memorials for the soldiers killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be needed, memorials that are still missing in the open-air museum of imperial American greatness. One day, a statue would also have to be erected for the first black president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama. The plaque could very well read that he had the misfortune of coming into office when the American empire was just turning into a beautiful memory.



11/05/2012 06:07 PM

Destroyed by Total Capitalism: America Has Already Lost Tuesday's Election

A Commentary by Jakob Augstein

Germans see the US election as a battle between the good Obama and the evil Romney. But this is a mistake. Regardless of who wins the election on Tuesday, total capitalism is America's true ruler, and it has the power to destroy the country.

The United States Army is developing a weapon that can reach -- and destroy -- any location on Earth within an hour. At the same time, power lines held up by wooden poles dangle over the streets of Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey. Hurricane Sandy ripped them apart there and in communities across the East Coast last week, and many places remain without electricity. That's America, where high-tech options are available only to the elite, and the rest live under conditions comparable to a those of a developing nation. No country has produced more Nobel Prize winners, yet in New York City hospitals had to be evacuated during the storm because their emergency generators didn't work properly.

Anyone who sees this as a contradiction has failed to grasp the fact that America is a country of total capitalism. Its functionaries have no need of public hospitals or of a reliable power supply to private homes. The elite have their own infrastructure. Total capitalism, however, has left American society in ruins and crippled the government. America's fate is not just an accident produced by the system. It is a consequence of that system.

Obama couldn't change this, and Romney wouldn't be able to either. Europe is mistaken if it views the election as a choice between the forces of good and evil. And it certainly doesn't amount to a potential change in political direction as some newspapers on the Continent would have us believe.

A Powerless President

Romney, the exceedingly wealthy business man, and Obama, the cultivated civil rights lawyer, are two faces of a political system that no longer has much to do with democracy as we understand it. Democracy is about choice, but Americans don't really have much of a choice. Obama proved this. Nearly four years ago, it seemed like a new beginning for America when he took office. But this was a misunderstanding. Obama didn't close the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, nor did he lift immunity for alleged war criminals from the Bush-era, or regulate the financial markets, and climate change was hardly discussed during the current election campaign. The military, the banks, industry -- the people are helpless in the face of their power, as is the president.

Not even credit default swaps, the kind of investment that brought down Lehman Brothers and took Western economies to the brink, has been banned or even better regulated. It is likely the case that Obama wanted to do more, but couldn't. But what role does that play in the bigger picture?

We want to believe that Obama failed because of the conservatives inside his own country. Indeed, the fanatics that Mitt Romney depends on have jettisoned everything that distinguishes the West: science and logic, reason and moderation, even simple decency. They hate homosexuals, the weak and the state. They oppress women and persecute immigrants. Their moralizing about abortion doesn't even spare the victims of rape. They are the Taliban of the West.

The Winner Makes No Difference to Europe

Still, they are only the symptom of America's failure, not the cause. In reality, neither the idealists and Democrats, nor the useful idiots of the Tea Party have any power over the circumstances.

From a European perspective, it doesn't matter who wins this election. Only US foreign policy is important to us -- and Obama is no dove and Romney no hawk. The incumbent president prefers to wage his wars with drones instead of troops, though the victims probably don't care if they're killed by man or machine. Meanwhile, despite all the criticism, his challenger says he wouldn't join Israel were the country to go to war with Iran because the US can now no longer afford such a thing.

In any case, it is wrong to characterize Republicans as the party of warmongers and Democrats as the party of peace -- or even to call the latter a left-wing party at all. After all, it was Democratic presidents Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson who started the wars in Korea and Vietnam. Republican presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon ended these wars. And Ronald Reagan, who Europeans see as the embodiment of both the evil and absurd aspects of American politics, was a peaceful man compared to the standards we have since become accustomed to. He only ever invaded Grenada.

The truth is that we simply no longer understand America. Looking at the country from Germany and Europe, we see a foreign culture. The political system is in the hands of big business and its lobbyists. The checks and balances have failed. And a perverse mix of irresponsibility, greed and religious zealotry dominate public opinion.

The downfall of the American empire has begun. It could be that the country's citizens wouldn't be able to stop it no matter how hard they tried. But they aren't even trying.
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« Reply #2919 on: Nov 06, 2012, 06:57 AM »

November 5, 2012

As China Awaits New Leadership, Liberals Look to a Provincial Party Chief


GUANGZHOU, China — As the once-a-decade tussle over how to fill seats in the Communist Party’s supreme ruling body enters its final days, many of the nation’s beleaguered liberals are casting an anxious gaze southward to Guangdong Province in the hope that the top official of this booming export hub near Hong Kong might win a coveted spot in the central leadership.

Although his prospects have dimmed in recent weeks, Wang Yang, the provincial party boss who has cultivated a following by denouncing “entrenched interests” and promoting individual happiness over party perquisites, remains the reformist camp’s best candidate for counterbalancing the slate of colorless technocrats and conservatives who are likely to dominate the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee that runs China.

But anxiety among Mr. Wang’s followers has been heightened by the impending retirement of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, whose frequent pronouncements on democracy endeared him to liberal dreamers, even if his words proved to be largely empty talk during his 10 years in office.

“Wang Yang has become the main receptacle for the expectations and hopes of China’s reformers,” said Xiao Bin, a public affairs professor at Sun Yat-sen University here in Guangzhou, the provincial capital.

Even if he is something of a political chameleon, Mr. Wang has become a torchbearer for advocates of free-market economics and quasi-enlightened governance, much the way his former rival Bo Xilai, the fallen party chief of Chongqing in southwest China, had been championed by the neo-leftists who crave a return of Mao-style populism.

With Mr. Bo having been deposed in a salacious murder and adultery scandal, Mr. Wang stands as one of the country’s few charismatic political figures.

“There’s always a degree of maneuvering over who may or may not be promoted to Standing Committee positions, but I can’t recall a time when we’ve been so focused on the prospects of one person,” said Joseph Fewsmith, an expert on Chinese politics at Boston University.

For a variety of reasons, the Standing Committee, currently run by nine men, will probably be reduced to seven seats during the coming party congress, which begins on Thursday. With two spots already occupied by Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, who are set to become president and prime minister respectively, Communist Party power brokers, including retired President Jiang Zemin, 86, are in the throes of a secretive political dance to decide on the remaining handful of seats.

Even though he is considered unlikely to make it to the inner sanctum this time, party insiders say that Mr. Wang, 57, will play an important role in the next government, perhaps as a vice premier, and that he is an odds-on favorite to ascend to the Standing Committee during the next round of retirements in 2017.

A lifelong party stalwart and a current member of the 25-seat Politburo, Mr. Wang would not be mistaken for a Western-style liberal. He does not call for free elections, and he rarely strays far from the agenda set by Beijing. But at a time when the party apparatus has embraced a clenched-fist approach to news media censorship, rural unrest and demands for social justice, Mr. Wang stands out for his paeans to political liberalization and the virtues of American-style individualism.

“We should eradicate the wrong concept that happiness is a benevolent gift from the party and the government,” he said this year.

Known for his cherubic smile and a refusal to follow the pack of party elders who dye their graying hair jet black, Mr. Wang, the son of a laborer, is fond of folksy sound bites that sometimes take aim at the party elite. Since his appointment as Guangdong’s party chief in 2007, he has called on provincial officials to publicly reveal their assets and ordered government departments to communicate with the public via Sina Weibo, China’s wildly popular microblog platform.

In June, after one of several recent visits to Singapore, he returned home to extol the city-state’s soft-glove approach to authoritarian rule. “If China doesn’t reform,” he said, “we will be slow boiled like frogs.”

When he was faced with an insurrection last year in the fishing village of Wukan, Mr. Wang displayed a knack for coolheaded crisis management: he called off the riot police, tossed out Wukan’s corrupt party officials and allowed villagers to elect a new slate of leaders.

Mr. Wang is often mentioned in the same breath as Mr. Bo, who also managed — at least for a while — to navigate the narrow space between party establishment and political maverick. Their jousting took the form of a debate over economic policy, expressed most notably in cryptic talk about cake — as a metaphor for China’s wealth. Mr. Bo argued for cutting up the cake and distributing it more equally; Mr. Wang insisted on first making the cake bigger.

With their forceful personal styles and flair for self-promotion, both Mr. Wang and Mr. Bo are controversial figures within a party that expects its leaders to be wooden apparatchiks.

Mr. Wang’s office declined to make him available for an interview. But party insiders who have followed his career, which includes his unremarkable stint as the party boss of Chongqing, say his reformist credentials are overblown. He has repeatedly tacked away from the expectations of bolder change that he himself encouraged, and even die-hard supporters admit that his vows to fight corruption, reduce the power of vested interests and increase government transparency have had, at best, mixed results.

“The thunder is loud, but the rain has been rather light,” said Mr. Xiao, the academic, who nonetheless counts himself an admirer.

Some of Mr. Wang’s boldest ideas — like shifting Guangdong’s dependence on cheap exports to innovative and environmentally friendly industries — came to naught. Meanwhile, critics say, he has used an iron glove during the past year in a cynical attempt to burnish his appeal to the leaders up north who will decide his political future.

He initiated an aggressive anticorruption drive that resulted in scores of arrests, and, more ominously, tightened censorship rules ahead of the party congress. And his decision to solve the Wukan impasse through peaceful means appears to have been a one-shot gesture, say activists who point to a spate of recent protests over illegal land grabs that ended in violence.

Political analysts suggest that Mr. Wang simply adapted to the more liberal ethos of Guangdong, which is heavily influenced by Hong Kong, the former British colony that enjoys a measure of self-rule. Long a magnet for millions of rural migrants drawn to the region’s factories, Guangdong, with its 100 million people, is a weather vane for the social and economic pressures bearing down on China.

In the early 1980s, the paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, and his allies promoted China’s successful experiment with the free market here. And Mr. Deng returned in 1992 to symbolically swat back the party conservatives who threatened his reforms.

“People here are proud of Guangdong’s progressive streak,” said Ding Li, a senior researcher at the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences. “We are also happy to be far away from Beijing — and the least controlled by it.”

In addition to a few pilot projects that reduced red tape and shrank an unwieldy bureaucracy, Mr. Wang’s most notable accomplishment was to ease the restrictions that hobble nongovernmental organizations in much of China.

The changes have led to a flowering of local civil society groups, but the reforms appear to have come with some caveats. In Shenzhen, labor rights advocates say they have been dogged by local officials who object to their work and who they say forced seven such groups out of their offices.

“His words sound sweet to the ears, but they are hollow,” Guo Feixiong, 46, a human rights advocate who recently emerged from a five-year prison term, said of Mr. Wang.

If Mr. Wang does not make it onto the Standing Committee, some analysts say, it will be an indication of the waning influence of departing President Hu Jintao as well as Mr. Wen, who has been one of his most vocal supporters.

Mr. Wang’s rise may well be hamstrung as well by his relative youth. If elevated now, he could serve an unprecedented three five-year terms on the Standing Committee, which, apparently in the minds of some party elders, would allow him to amass too much power.

For the moment, members of China’s urban intelligentsia and the disenfranchised farmers who see him as their champion have been left to fret and speculate. Many, like Liu Zhengqing, 48, a rights lawyer in Guangdong, are fully aware that Mr. Wang may simply be a political pragmatist dressed as a liberal.

“I admit that Wang Yang isn’t a great reformer,” Mr. Liu said, “but considering the other leaders out there, he is the best hope we have.”

Patrick Zuo contributed research.
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« Reply #2920 on: Nov 06, 2012, 07:01 AM »

Israel to build 1,213 new settlement homes in Jerusalem and the West Bank

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, November 6, 2012 7:10 EST

Israel on Tuesday published tenders for 1,213 new homes in settlement neighbourhoods of east Jerusalem, and re-offered tenders for another 72 homes in a West Bank settlement, an Israeli NGO said.

Peace Now, citing tenders published by the Israeli housing ministry, said tenders for 607 units in Pisgat Zeev and 606 units in Ramot, both in east Jerusalem, were offered, along with 72 re-offered in the settlement of Ariel.

Peace Now, which opposes Israeli settlement in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, slammed the new tenders, pointing out they come after Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas reiterated his commitment to peace negotiations in an interview with Israeli television.

“Abbas declared again his strong commitment to the two state solution, and (Israeli Prime Minister) Netanyahu replied with thousands of new units in settlements,” the group said.

“It seems that Netanyahu is afraid of the new administration that is being elected today in the US, and he has chosen the day of election to publish the tenders so that there will be the least public attention to his action.”

Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues in stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The Palestinians say they will not hold talks while Israel builds on land they want for their future state, while Israel says it wants negotiations without preconditions.

The international community considers Israeli settlement construction to be a violation of international law, but the number of settlers in the West Bank has grown to around 340,000, with another 200,000 living in east Jerusalem.
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« Reply #2921 on: Nov 06, 2012, 07:02 AM »

Israel ready to strike Iran ‘if necessary’: Netanyahu

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 5, 2012 18:09 EST

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was ready to order a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities “if necessary”, in an interview aired by Channel Two television on Monday.

“I am, of course, ready to press the button if necessary,” Netanyahu said in the interview.

“I hope that that will not be the case. In the final reckoning, the responsibility rests with the prime minister and as long as I am prime minister, Iran will not have the atomic bomb,” he said.

“If there’s no other way, Israel is ready to act.”

The Israeli premier’s comments came on the eve of the US presidential election and after repeated and unsuccessful pressure from his government on President Barack Obama’s administration to set a clear “red line” for military action against Iran.

They also came after Channel Two reported on Sunday that Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak had given orders in 2010 for the army to prepare an attack against Iranian nuclear facilities.

The orders were later rescinded in the face of the opposition of then chief of staff Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi and then Mossad spy chief Meir Dagan, the television said.

Israel, like its US ally, has consistently refused to rule out a resort to military action to prevent Iran developing the capability to build a nuclear weapon.

Iran denies any such ambition, insisting its nuclear programme is for peaceful power generation and medical purposes only.

The UN Security Council’s five permanent members and Germany are involved in negotiations with Iran but several rounds of talks have failed to to produce much progress on increasing the transparency of Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Netanyahu insisted Israel was “not rushing into war”.

“If we can solve this issue with international pressure, that’s even better… But we are serious. This is not a show,” the hawkish prime minister said.

Israel, which has the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear arsenal, says it regards a nuclear Iran as a threat to its existence.

Ehud Barak has said he doubts negotiations could resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis and predicted that Israel would probably face a decision over whether to strike in 2013.
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« Reply #2922 on: Nov 06, 2012, 07:05 AM »

November 5, 2012

Europeans Losing Faith in Their Parliament


BRUSSELS — When cracks recently appeared in beams of the European Parliament’s main chamber, forcing its closing, one member, Nigel Farage of the U.K. Independence Party, proclaimed that he would “work for the day that the whole democratic facade of the European Parliament is shut as well.”

Mr. Farage is an avowed anti-European known for extreme views. But even for Europeans who do not actively resent the Parliament, it has become a powerful symbol of how institutions designed to build a united Europe have faltered as the project faces the most serious crisis of its 60-year history.

A poll conducted last November found “a sharp decline” in the European Parliament’s image compared with a similar poll in 2008, when Europe’s economic crisis bloomed. The Eurobarometer, conducted by TNS, found that 26 percent of the 26,594 people sampled from across Europe had a “negative” view of the Parliament, an increase of 9 percentage points.

The Parliament’s “diminishing legitimacy and authority,” said Fredrik Erixon of the European Center for International Political Economy, a research group in Brussels, was “really very worrying at a time when people have been protesting in the streets against diktats from Europe to fix their economies.”

Indeed, in a push for “more Europe” as the solution to the euro crisis, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and others have sketched elaborate visions of an elected European president and executive overseen by a strengthened parliament. But the current state of the Parliament — including corruption scandals and the appearance of excessive lobbying — has added to doubts about the likelihood of that prospect.

The Parliament, with 754 members, is the only directly elected part of the apparatus that runs the European Union. But the percentage of eligible voters who have cast ballots every five years has declined to just over 40 percent from more than 60 percent in less than a quarter of a century.

In the meantime, Mr. Erixon said, “lobbyists have stepped into the vacuum left by the weakening link between citizens and parliamentarians,” who are popularly resented for their web of generous allowances and the influence they wield over regulations.

On many days parts of the parliament building have the feel of a glitzy trade show. Business lobbies organize conferences in meeting rooms and host meals in the dining rooms at the invitation of friendly members. They also mount exhibitions — some in seeming violation of the Parliament’s own guidelines.

The Parliament is not alone in breeding disenchantment with Brussels. Last month, John Dalli, the European Union’s commissioner for health and consumer protection, resigned after investigators concluded that he had probably known about an attempt by a lobbyist to solicit money for a multimillion-dollar payoff aimed at easing a ban on chewing tobacco. Mr. Dalli denies any wrongdoing.

The episode arrived after a string of similar controversies in the Parliament this summer when the authorities in Austria, Romania and Slovenia accused representatives from their nations of abusing their positions.

Those accusations followed a scandal that began last year when the members were caught on camera apparently prepared to propose amendments in return for cash in a sting operation conducted by The Sunday Times of London.

Ernst Strasser, a former Austrian interior minister who resigned after the revelations, had demanded an annual advisory fee of €100,000, or $128,000, for influencing legislation and could face a 10-year prison term if found guilty, the Vienna prosecutor has said. Thomas Kralik, a lawyer for Mr. Strasser, did not return calls seeking comment.

Zoran Thaler, a former foreign minister of Slovenia, also resigned after the revelations. The Slovenian authorities filed a case in May concerning bribes in the Parliament but declined to name the person involved, citing the country’s privacy rules. Mr. Thaler said by telephone that he was confident the Slovenian authorities would find no wrongdoing.

In July, the Romanian authorities expanded an investigation into Adrian Severin, a representative and former foreign minister, accusing him of helping Romanian companies sell “fictive services” that robbed the Parliament’s budget of €436,663. Mr. Severin said by telephone that he was innocent of trading influence, calling the charges “a fairy tale” and politically motivated. He has refused to step down and can still enter the Parliament, sit on the Foreign Affairs Committee and cast votes.

The scandal led to the creation of the first ethics committee and, remarkably, for the first time an explicit ban on members taking money in exchange for amending legislation. But despite the recent overhauls, representatives are allowed to hold second jobs with no limits on salaries and accept flights and accommodations without declaring all of them. By comparison, such practices are explicitly forbidden to members of the U.S. Congress.

The rules prevent members who join or establish lobbying firms from using their lifetime access to Parliament once they leave office. But as of September, the parliament had not asked any former deputy to hand in a badge. More than 2,900 badges are held by registered lobbyists, according to officials in The Parliament’s press service.

A further 12,000 lobbyists can enter the parliament at almost any time at the invitation of a member, according to the Corporate Europe Observatory, a nonprofit group advocating reform. “Citizens simply don’t know how many lobbyists are active at the Parliament, who they are, who they represent and how much money they are spending,” said Erik Wesselius of the Observatory.

Lobbyists also have direct access to lawmakers through extra-parliamentary organizations like the Kangaroo Group, which promotes free trade. Its members include more than 50 representatives from industry groups and major companies like Philip Morris, Pfizer and Goldman Sachs — and about 20 lawmakers. The group used an office rent-free in a building maintained by the Parliament until renovation forced it to move last year.

Some guidelines already on the books are routinely ignored. The “rules governing the use of parliament’s premises by outside bodies” state that exhibitions should “under no circumstances have a commercial purpose” or “serve to advertise and promote individual companies or for-profit organizations.”

Nonprofit groups that are advocates for issues like the environment hold exhibitions, and every few weeks, a different industry plies its influence.

In April, for example, seven trade associations representing 130 companies with major interests in natural gas, including Total of France and E.ON Ruhrgas of Germany, sponsored an exhibition with 3-D video displays and projectors that bathed the parliament building with messages promoting natural gas.

Vladko Todorov Panayotov, a member from Bulgaria who was a co-host of the exhibition, told a large crowd that it should become “traditional event, maybe one time a year, maybe two.”

In May, the cosmetics industry followed. Lawmakers browsed stands with sunscreen made by L’Oréal and electric toothbrushes from Oral-B while their assistants jostled for goodie bags, some containing free bottles of Acqua di Giò Essenza, a fragrance by Giorgio Armani that retails for about €70.

The cosmetics exhibition was the second this term hosted by Françoise Grossetête, a French member. Her first exhibition involved support from Sanofi-Aventis, a major pharmaceutical company with operations in her constituency in southeastern France.

Deputies are limited to hosting one regional or informational exhibition and one artistic showing per five-year term. But Ms. Grossetête said it was “frequent and customary” for members to be granted more than one exhibition a term when space was available.
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« Reply #2923 on: Nov 06, 2012, 07:06 AM »

November 5, 2012

Changes Are Approved to Ease Germans’ Costs for Welfare Programs


BERLIN — Leaders from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition agreed Monday on a raft of changes to social welfare programs aimed at easing costs for average Germans, to bolster the government’s sagging popularity less than a year before parliamentary elections.

Germany, Europe’s strongest economy, can easily afford the measures. But they come at a time when Ms. Merkel has been pressing Germany’s struggling European partners to slash public spending, underscoring just how uneven the economic outlook is across the continent.

The measures include scrapping an unpopular quarterly medical fee, increasing spending to improve transportation infrastructure and introducing a bitterly disputed child care subsidy. Over all, they are expected to cost $3.9 billion a year. In contrast, the Greek Parliament will be voting Wednesday on yet another round of austerity measures, this one worth $17 billion — equal to 7 percent of gross domestic product — to meet the demands of international lenders standing between Greece and sovereign default. Unions have announced a series of strikes and protests against the cuts that will decimate the country’s already stretched social services net.

The most immediate criticism, however, came from Ms. Merkel’s political opponents, who denounced the largess as an expensive attempt to woo voters before next year’s election, in which Ms. Merkel will run for a third term.

“Ms. Merkel and Mr. Schäuble preach to the Europeans to drink water, but at home they are enjoying wine,” said Sigmar Gabriel, chairman of the center-left Social Democratic Party, referring to Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. That party, along with the opposition Greens, have threatened legal steps against the child care subsidy.

Nine years ago, Germany pushed through its own deeply unpopular austerity measures. They helped steel the German economy against the global economic downturn of 2008. Now, while Greece, Spain and other European economies crumble, Germany has a vigorous labor market that has contributed to record tax revenues for 2012, of about $783 billion. Mr. Schäuble said last week the jump in tax revenue would allow the country to balance its budget next year, but the coalition leaders set that target for 2014 — which is still two years earlier than required by law.

While the picture for Germany is not entirely rosy, the country’s relative riches have prompted calls for the government to spend more itself and act to spur private consumption — an uphill battle with citizens who prize saving over spending. But the political weakness of Ms. Merkel’s coalition government provided an opportunity. Dissension has dominated the coalition since it came to power in 2009 and leaders debated for more than eight hours deep into the night to reach agreement. Recent polls show that while the chancellor and her Christian Democratic Union remain popular, her coalition partner, the Free Democrats, have dropped below the 5 percent threshold needed for representation in Parliament.

The child care subsidy, starting in August 2013, will offer monthly payments of about $130 to parents who do not send their 1- and 2-year-old children to state-financed day care. The subsidy has been a pet project of the Bavaria-only wing of the Christian Democratic Union, seeking to maintain the support of its traditionally conservative voter base.

The Free Democrats had previously joined economists and labor representatives in opposing the subsidy, but agreed to support the measure in exchange for dropping the quarterly fees of about $13 that Germans insured through the public health care system have been required to pay since 2004. The move is expected to amount to savings of about $2.5 billion annually for those insured.

Calls for retracting the fee — equally hated by patients who paid it and health providers who were required to deal with the bureaucracy it involved — increased after the public health system reported record contributions this year. In the first six months of 2012, the surplus in public health coffers amounted to about $6.2 billion, largely generated by the country’s strong job market.

Recent figures, however, have shown that, three years into the debt crisis, the German economy is cooling. It is forecast to grow just 1 percent this year and next.

Philipp Rösler, leader of the Free Democrats, said the country was setting a good example for Europe by meeting its fiscal target two years ahead of schedule.

“We can hardly ask our European friends, neighbors and partners to balance their budgets in the most difficult of times if we are not able to balance our own budget in times of record tax revenues,” Mr. Rösler said.
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« Reply #2924 on: Nov 06, 2012, 07:08 AM »

November 5, 2012

G-20 Leaders Urge Balance for Growth


MEXICO CITY — Finance officials meeting here Monday from the world’s largest economies warned that efforts to deal with debt troubles in Europe and the United States must be balanced with actions to spur the global economy.

The meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of 20 countries came as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development forecast that the euro zone economies would endure a third year of recession in 2014.

But over the past six months concern over economic risk has spread from the focus on the euro zone’s sovereign debt crisis to a wider array of problems, including Washington’s political stalemate over its persistent deficits, Japan’s debt burden and slowing growth in China and other emerging markets.

“The economic context remains difficult, and the fragile recovery remains at risk if the needed policy actions are not implemented,” said the International Monetary Fund’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, at the end of the two-day meeting.

Ms. Lagarde listed several countries and regions where she said policy makers needed to act quickly, beginning with the United States “first and foremost,” where a $600 billion package of tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff are to take effect on Jan. 1.

Analysts fear that if the measures go into effect as planned, the United States economy could tip into recession, dragging global growth down with it.

Europe “remains a challenge,” Ms. Lagarde continued, and Japan needs to take action on its debt. “It is my impression over the last few days that the membership has shared a sense of urgency,” she added.

Striking the balance between reining in deficits without harming growth was the principal theme at the meeting here.

While the final communiqué contained a pledge that the group’s members “ensure our public finances are on sustainable paths,” it also opened up space for countries to adjust their budgets to support recovery.

“We have weak growth and high risk,” Finance Minister Felipe Larrain of Chile said of the global economy. Chile attended the talks as an observer. “This is a very delicate equilibrium.”

“There is nothing more important to the global economy than to lift growth in the world’s major advanced economies,” the Australian treasurer, Wayne Swan, said in a prepared statement released by Reuters.

As expected, the meeting, which took place just before the presidential election in the United States and as China begins its leadership transition, produced no major decisions, Indeed, several important players skipped the meeting, among them Timothy F. Geithner, the American Treasury secretary, and Mario Draghi, the European Central Bank president.

With recession and weak growth in Europe and the United States, emerging markets will account for much of the world’s forecast growth of 3.6 percent next year. For their part, though, officials in developing countries are concerned about monetary easing in advanced economies that can push up their exchange rates, making their exports more expensive.

The meeting turned attention to a 2010 pledge the group’s members made in Toronto to halve their deficits by the end of next year. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of Germany told the group that Germany and the euro zone as a whole were on track to meeting those targets. Other countries, including the United States, are much further off, though.

In response to the concerns about the approaching fiscal cliff, the final communiqué included a commitment from the United States to “carefully calibrate the pace of fiscal tightening.”

Ministers also discussed financial industry regulation. A series of measures, known as Basel III, intended to shore up banks’ capital reserves to protect against future financial crises are supposed to go into effect on Jan. 1. But several countries, including the United States, the European Union and Britain, are unlikely to meet the deadline.

Mr. Schäuble and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne of Britain called for international cooperation on harmonizing corporate tax collection, leading a drive by several G-20 countries, including the United States. Larger multinational companies have been able to take advantage of e-commerce to lower their tax burdens by shifting their profits to lower-tax countries, the ministers said.
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