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« Reply #4710 on: Feb 22, 2013, 07:39 AM »

02/21/2013 05:33 PM

Ukrainian Power Struggle: Tymoshenko Threatened with Life in Prison

By Benjamin Bidder in Moscow

Yulia Tymoshenko is already serving a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of office during her term as Ukraine's prime minister. Now public prosecutors in Kiev are gearing up for a second trial that could extend Tymoshenko's sentence to life. This time, the charge is murder.

The crime in question occurred so long ago that solving it would be difficult even in a country with a better functioning legal system than Ukraine. In 1996, businessman Yevhen Shcherban was fatally shot at the airport in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk. Shcherban was a member of the country's parliament, but more importantly he was also one of the country's "bisnismeni" -- half entrepreneur, half mafia -- who made a fortune after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Shcherban worked in the gas trade and his company Industrial Union of Donbass made its profits importing gas from Russia.

In doing so, the public prosecutor's office argues, Shcherban became "one of the obstacles" to competing "bisnismeni" looking to expand their own interests in the city of Dnipropetrovsk. Tymoshenko also comes from this city, which dominated the Ukrainian economy in the mid-1990s. "Kiev may be the country's political capital, but its economic heart is in Dnipropetrovsk," the Financial Times wrote at the time.

Another businessman from this industrial center on the Dnieper River went on to become the country's prime minister during the same period, a man whose name is closely linked to Tymoshenko's in the prosecutors' charges: Pavlo Lazarenko.

Transparency International named Lazarenko the eighth most corrupt political leader in the world and in 2006 a US federal court sentenced Lazarenko to nine years in prison for money laundering and extortion. According to court files from that case, Lazarenko diverted hundreds of millions of dollars in Ukrainian public funds during his time in office, transferring the money to foreign bank accounts.

$3 Million for the 'Sailor'

The natural gas business was considered particularly lucrative in Ukraine in the 1990s. In 1995, Lazarenko wanted to award the monopoly in gas imports to Tymoshenko's company United Energy Systems. In return, the prosecutors claim, Tymoshenko "systematically transferred 50 percent of all profits to bank accounts stipulated by Lazarenko."

Regional authorities in Donetsk, though, weren't willing to sit by and watch their rivals in Dnipropetrovsk edge them out of the lucrative gas business. Instead, the regional government granted itself rights to gas imports in the region. The company that benefitted from this arrangement was Shcherban's Industrial Union of Donbass.

Shcherban's Yak-40 aircraft landed in Donetsk on Nov, 3, 1996. The businessman was returning from Moscow, where he had attended the silver wedding anniversary celebration of singer Joseph Kobzon, known as "Russia's Frank Sinatra."

The hired killers followed as Shcherban's red Cadillac drove onto the airfield and when Shcherban disembarked from the plane, they fired at him with a Tokarev pistol and a submachine gun. Shcherban was fatally wounded, as were his wife and the flight mechanic. Even for Ukraine, where at the time contract killings were not uncommon, it was a shockingly brutal crime.

A Shaky Case

"He got in the way, so he was killed," says Renat Kuzmin, the country's first deputy prosecutor general and a powerful figure in Ukraine's legal system. Prime Minister Lazarenko, he claims, hired the hit on Shcherban, while Tymoshenko paid the fee to a gangster known by the nickname "Sailor." It is claimed that $3 million changed hands.

Prosecutor Kuzmin has a number of witnesses he says can prove Tymoshenko's involvement. Serhiy Zaitsev, for example, claims Tymoshenko had received a threat: One day, he says, someone brought a cake into her office bearing the inscription, "Greetings from Donetsk, the next time it will not be a cake." In other words, the next time it might be a bomb. Zaitsev says it was this that caused Tymoshenko to turn to Prime Minister Lazarenko, who set about "solving the Donetsk problem."

Another witness is Ihor Maryinkov, who was once "an important businessman in Donetsk with contacts to the criminal world," as he himself says. Maryinkov admits that he never had anything to do with Lazarenko or Tymoshenko directly, but he claims those who carried out the hit confided in him that "Yulia was the one organizing it all."

Tymoshenko's lawyers want to know why Maryinkov is only now coming forward with his accusation, since he has appeared in court previously. Maryinkov's answer is, "I don't know."

Tymoshenko's supporters are convinced current President Viktor Yanukovych is trying to frame Tymoshenko for the murder, to take his political rival out of the picture once and for all. "If they could, they would shoot Tymoshenko," says the former prime minister's lawyer and confidant Serhiy Vlasenko.

The case against Tymoshenko is certainly a shaky one. All witnesses named in the case so far have nothing more than rumors to draw on. And proving the charge isn't made any easier by the fact that Shcherban's murderers themselves didn't live long either. One was shot in 1997, another died in pre-trial detention and a third seems to have disappeared.

This means that the sole one of Shcherban's killers the authorities managed to catch alive plays a key role in the upcoming trial. Hitman Vadim Bolotskikh, nicknamed "the Muscovite," was accused of firing shots at Shcherban and sentenced to life in prison. Tymoshenko's lawyers fear the government will offer Bolotskikh early parole if he agrees to incriminate Tymoshenko.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

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« Reply #4711 on: Feb 22, 2013, 07:44 AM »

Serbia-Kosovo : ‘The North edges closer to Pristina'

Danas, 22 February 2013

The fifth round of negotiations between Serbian premier Ivica Dačić, and Kosovar Hashim Thaci was held in Brussels on February 19 and 20 under the auspices of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton. Discussions fcoused on the situation in the northern Kosovo, where the Serbian population is in the majority.

According to European diplomatic sources, the two leaders are in the process of finalising the chapter on the abolition of parallel Serbian insitutions and their integration into the Kosovar system. The daily reports that in exchange for concessions, Belgarde is demanding the creation of a community of nine Serbian municipalities in Kosovo.

Author: Jelena Tasic

Brussels, Pristina, Belgrade - Even in the fifth round of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, which lasted two days, there was no concrete agreements, diplomatic sources say unofficially that the EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo Ivica Dacic and Hashim Thaci "a lot of progress "in talks on northern Kosovo.

As it is now been told, negotiating trio made a list of questions that will be addressed. Among other things, without going into detail, discussed the technology of choice by which institutions of Serbia moved into Kosovo system, which would most likely by the laws of Kosovo organized by the OSCE.

There is speculation that an agreement in principle was reached on the activation of the Municipal Court in Kosovska Mitrovica, which would work under the laws of Kosovo, and that was the word on the new modalities of participation of Serbs in the KPS. Sources now expect to hold in March two more rounds of negotiations, and that in April, supposedly, decide whether to go for confirmation of the contract or the preparation of the framework agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on the "normalization of relations".

Ivica Dacic said after the fifth round of negotiations for the first time revealed that at the negotiating table and Belgrade's proposal for the formation of the Association of Serbian municipalities formed by nine municipalities throughout Kosovo where Serbs were the majority. He did not specify which local government operates, but announced that the details of their structure and responsibilities discussed later, first at the working group level, and then in the sixth round of dialogue scheduled for the fourth March.

Serbian Prime Minister said that the current Serbian institutions in Kosovo will not be rasfomirane until it is agreed that it will be replaced by new institutions under the auspices of the Association of Serbian municipalities, which "should provide practical Serbian government and plays a significant role in the political life of Kosovo."

Due to the decision of the previous government, which was first vice Dacic, that in K 2012th not maintain scheduled local elections, now has only the mandate power in seven of the 26 municipalities of the Serbian system, including Zvecan and Zubin Potok, where the Municipal Assembly organized the vote. In accordance with Athisaari plan in the Kosovar system for six Serbian municipalities.

Although Dacic said that between Belgrade and Pristina, there are still significant differences in relation to the community of Serbian municipalities, Pristina media reported that the "Serbian parallel institutions accepted the fire, but that Dacic political agreement on the north looking for a few more days." Pristina press speculates that "the EU committed to creating a community in the north of the municipality, which is acceptable to both Pristina, so that an agreement could be reached already at the next meeting."

Milovan Drecun, President of the Assembly of Kosovo and Serbia SNS official of the ruling, finding that denying "Dačićeva" Associations of Municipalities to be something changed Martti Ahtisaari, who is enshrined in the Constitution and the laws of the self-proclaimed state of Kosovo.

Drecun admits that "there are many modalities for addressing this problem," but warned that Belgrade should not "fall into the trap of accepting any model Ahtisaari plan." He argues that the solution must not be contrary to the Resolution and the Platform for the Assembly of Serbia and Kosovo to the Serbian community agreement on municipalities to be part of the overall solution.

Janjic: Under the realistic possibilities

- While waiting for a complete solution, from the point of urađenog Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic will say that they are successful because they realize most of the Platform and Resolutions on Kosovo, which is 80 percent copied from Antisarijevog plan, embedded in the Constitution of Kosovo. The question is how to inform clarity in Serbia, and in particular the Serbs in Kosovo, and Russia, have accepted autonomy under Kosovo law. Writers resolution went below the real possibilities - did not apply safeguards the rights of the Serbian community through national councils, which the Serbs would allow permanent control of Pristina, and omitted the possibility of introducing a transitional international administration in the north of Kosovo, aimed at regional autonomy - estimates Today, the political analyst Dusan Janjic.

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« Reply #4712 on: Feb 22, 2013, 07:47 AM »

02/21/2013 05:44 PM

'They Will Give In': Turkey Pressures Germany on EU Accession

By Jürgen Gottschlich in Istanbul

A European commissioner's remark that Germany and France would one day come crawling "on their knees" begging Turkey to join the EU has miffed Berlin and thrilled Ankara. As German Chancellor Merkel prepares for a visit to Turkey, the country is pushing for concessions.

The Turkish press certainly wasn't going to let this one go by. The comment made by European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, a German, made almost all of the front pages of the country's newspapers. "I would like to bet that one day in the next decade a German chancellor and his or her counterpart in Paris will have to crawl to Ankara on their knees to beg the Turks, 'Friends, come to us'," he reportedly said during a speech at the Brussels office of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung on Monday.

Such a gesture of humility appeals to the Turks, who feel they have been kept at arm's length for years when it comes to joining the European Union. But while Oettinger is being praised for his prediction in Turkey, his comments, reported by the German tabloid Bild, have dismayed his fellow Europeans.

Turkish EU Affairs Minister Egemin Bagis said that he is not sure whether the Europeans will one day "come grovelling or sink to their knees" to ask Turkey to join the EU, the Turkish media reported on Thursday. "But if there's one thing I know for sure," he added, "it's that they will certainly give in."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is less likely to be impressed with the statements of Oettinger, a member of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Relations with Ankara have been strained ahead of a planned two-day visit to Turkey starting Sunday, and his words won't make things easier for her to justify foot-draggin when it comes to strengthening Turkey ties to the EU.

The Turks will probably confront Merkel with Oettinger's statement to increase pressure on Germany. Bagis said Thursday that he hoped it would have an effect on the EU's policy. Negotiations for the country's accession to the 27-member bloc have been stalled for more than two years. Since beginning efforts toward joining in 2005, Turkey has fulfilled just one of the 34 chapters of the acquis communautaire required for entry, which focused on science and research.

France Urges New Chapter

But some movement has recently been seen elsewhere. France -- which, along with Germany, hindered the Turkish accession process under former President Nicolas Sarkozy -- signaled two weeks ago that it could lift the blockade. In a gesture of goodwill, the new government under Socialist President François Hollande is ready to open another chapter of the process. Turkish EU Affairs Minister Bagis traveled to Paris on Thursday to meet with Bernard Cazeneuve, his French counterpart, to discuss the next steps.

The attempt at reconciliation came after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned during a visit to Prague in early February -- just as he had in the fall of 2012 in Berlin -- that his patience was wearing thin with the EU. "After 50 years at the gates of the EU, the European community should now finally decide," he said. As an alternative, the prime minister suggested that his country might also join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes developing Asian nations, in addition to Russia and China. "The economic powers of the world are shifting from west to east, and Turkey is one of these growth economies," Erdogan said.

This scenario may have motivated Oettinger's remark, and it is one that Merkel will grapple with when she heads to Ankara for political talks on Monday after visiting German troops stationed along Turkey's border with Syria. That doesn't mean that Turkish officials expect an about-face from the chancellor, particularly because it's an election year. "But we hope that France coordinated with the Germans," says a source within the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Delicate Questions

In Ankara's view, the litmus test for Berlin's attitude toward the country is the question of how EU visas for Turkish citizens are handled. "It is shameful the way Turkey, as an accession candidate, is treated by the EU on the visa question," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently complained. "It's incomprehensible for our people."

For years, Turkey has called for visa restrictions to be eased for its citizens traveling to countries within the EU's Schengen Zone. During her visits to Turkey, Merkel has also repeatedly been told that even Turkish businesspeople who want to invest in Germany have trouble getting a visa. But little has been done to change this.

Now, Ankara has received a proposal from the European Commission urging Turkey to sign an accord requiring it to take back illegal immigrants that cross its borders into Greece. In exchange, talks about getting rid of the EU visa requirement for Turks would be resumed.

The Turkish government has delayed signing because it wants a guarantee that a gradual lifting of the visa requirement is actually planned. After German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich categorically rejected lifting the visa requirement for Germany during a visit to Turkey 10 days ago, the Turks are anxiously awaiting anything Merkel might have to say on the matter.

There is yet another issue that will be on officials' minds in Ankara, where they will have certainly registered that the debate over dual citizenship has once again flared up in Germany, which is home to a large Turkish diaspora of some 3 million. In an open letter to both Erdogan and Merkel, the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD) called for current barriers to dual citizenship to be lifted. It's a request that is likely to be well-received by the Turkish prime minister.

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« Reply #4713 on: Feb 22, 2013, 07:53 AM »

02/21/2013 12:43 PM

'Gambling Away Trust': Fears Rise of a Berlusconi Resurrection

European Parliamentary President Martin Schulz has warned Italians against voting for Silvio Berlusconi in upcoming elections. He joins a growing list of leaders who are wary of the return of "Il Cavaliere." The worry is particularly pronounced in the financial world.

Back in 2004, Silvio Berlusconi was seen as something of a salve for political wounds that had been plaguing Italy for decades. On May 5 of that year, a slew of newspaper articles pointed to the fact that, having been in office for 1,060 days, Berlusconi had become the longest serving postwar Italian prime minister -- beating out the 59 previous governments that had ruled from Rome since 1946.

Even then, of course, he was a divisive figure. His own comparison of his longevity with that of World War II-era dictator Benito Mussolini certainly didn't help. And now, after three terms as prime minister and a fourth looming should he be able to pull out a surprise victory in the election on Sunday and Monday, top German politicians have had enough.

Germany's Martin Schulz, the president of European Parliament, became the latest on Wednesday to warn Italians against casting their ballots for Il Cavaliere. Berlusconi, he said, "has previously sent Italy into a tailspin with his irresponsible actions as head of government and his personal escapades." He said that a lot was riding on the upcoming vote "including the avoidance of gambling away trust."

It is, of course, hardly news that Schulz is no great fan of Berlusconi. In 2003, when Schulz was a rank-and-file European parliamentarian and Berlusconi occupied the position of European Council president, the Italian prime minister took umbrage at critical comments made by Schulz. In response, Berlusconi said: "I know that in Italy there is a man producing a film on Nazi concentration camps. I shall put you forward for the part of guard." The comment unleashed a brief but intense diplomatic tiff between Rome and Berlin.

Concerned Business Leaders

Prior to Schulz's warning, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble allegedly told the Italian newsmagazine l'Espresso this week that his "advice to the Italians is not to make the same mistake again by re-electing (Berlusconi)," though his spokesman later denied the comment.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also issued an only slightly veiled warning against voting for Berlusconi in comments to the center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung on Tuesday. And the head of the Foreign Relations Committee in German parliament, Ruprecht Polenz, told the paper this week that "Italy needs political leaders who stand for the future. Berlusconi is certainly not one of them."

It is unclear whether the concern is warranted. Italy does not allow the publication of public opinion polls in the two weeks prior to elections. But surveys earlier this month showed that Berlusconi's center-right party was rapidly closing in on the center-left Democratic Party (PD) led by Pier Luigi Barsani.

For all the hand-wringing in Berlin and Brussels, however, it is business leaders who seem to be the most concerned. When Berlusconi resigned in the autumn of 2011 to make way for the technocrat government led by Mario Monti, the country was faced with skyrocketing borrowing costs as investors lost all faith in the ability of Rome to manage its enormous, €2 trillion ($2.64 trillion) sovereign debt load.

'Horror Scenario for Investors'

Since then -- with a timely assist from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, who last year promised unlimited bond buys to keep borrowing affordable -- Monti has been able to keep Italy out of the economic headlines.

But the country's vital signs remain weak, with the economy having shrunk by 2.2 percent in 2012, extending its longest recession in two decades. Unemployment is at a record high of 11.2 percent.

Echoing many of his financial world peers, Commerzbank chief economist Jörg Krämer told business daily Handelsblatt this week that a Berlusconi re-election "would be a horror scenario for investors and would bring the sovereign debt crisis back to a boil." Ulrich Kater, from Germany's DekaBank, said that "a Berlusconi victory would hinder the reestablishment of trust in the euro."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one assumes, is likely also opposed to seeing Berlusconi back in power in Rome, though she has been at pains to avoid comment on the Italian campaign. She has been the target of his unflattering comments more than once and a major element of his stump speeches has been that of attacking Merkel and Germany.

Mario Monti, however, seems to think that Merkel is opposed to the Italian center-left. In an interview with the Italian news agency Adnkronos, he said that "Merkel fears the consolidation of parties from the left, especially in an election year for her. I don't think she has any wish to see the PD arrive in government." His spokeswoman was quick to note that Monti had not spoken with Merkel on the subject.


02/21/2013 06:00 PM

Bersani's Bet: Will the Anti-Berlusconi Triumph in Italy?

By Hans-Jürgen Schlamp in Rome

Few outside Italy are familiar with him and even his compatriots say he's a bore. But polls suggest Social Democrat Pier Luigi Bersani may win this weekend's election on a platform of work and less spectacle that is the antithesis of Silvio Berlusconi.

Pier Luigi Bersani, 62, isn't just a political alternative to Silvio Berlusconi. He is also his polar opposite in terms of personality. For example, while Bersani has no qualms about showing his deeply receeding hairline, "Il Cavaliere" keeps his dome covered with surgical implants. While Bersani reluctantly makes low-key and sometimes even awkward public appearances, 78-year-old Berlusconi revels on the big stage and has perfected the skill of enthralling the audience. While the former has been married to the same woman for 30 years, the latter has engaged in countless affairs. Berlusconi is the lavish gesture, the big-letter headline of Italian politics, while Bersani is the fine print.

But how can such an unassuming and careful thinker get ahead in a country enamored of big operas, with their heros and villains? In the campaign for the election to be held on Sunday and Monday, all of his opponents are far ahead of him in terms of media savvy. This applies not only to Berlusconi, but also to Beppe Grillo, the former TV comedian, who fills entire piazzas with his snappy tirades against the political elite and the European Union. Even Mario Monti, the aloof economics professor who is Europe's dream candidate for becoming top dog in the important but unpredictable country, knows how things work and makes TV appearances with a cuddly pooch on his arm.

But Bersani appears to be the only candidate without a clue. Indeed, he is the gray mouse of Italian politics.

Although it defies belief, this gray mouse was ahead in recent polls, an indication that he has a good chance to become the next prime minister in Rome. Though he is more a stagehand than a hero opera tenor, perhaps it is exactly the unspectacular, dignified and boring aspects of Bersani that Italians now want more.

There is a rather authentic photo of Bersani that made its way into many newspapers last year. It shows Bersani sitting at a table in a bar writing down his keynote speech the day before his Democratic Party (PD) held its annual get-together. Bersani probably is just like the man seen in this tourist snapshot, and this is how many of the people who will vote for him see him, as well.

A Bridge-Builder

Bersani almost always has a cigar in his mouth, often even when he speaks in his dialectical manner. At such times, he tends to pull out bizarre metaphors whose sense is not immediately apparent, such as, "When it rains, it rains for everyone." Or, when he ends a long debate and exhorts his fellow party members to undertake sensible work, he says: "We aren't here to wipe the sea cliffs dry."

When he delivered a speech upon claiming the helm of the party a few days back, he said: "I am the one who directs traffic." Perhaps that's just how people talk where he comes from: Bettola, a small town of around 3,000 near Piacenza, in the northwestern state of Emilia Romagna, where his father ran a gas station and garage. The area is known for being "red," but of course they are Catholic, too, and little Pier Luigi also spent a few years as an altar boy. But then he studied philosophy, worked briefly as a teacher and soon became a professional "red" -- or perhaps more precisely a "pink" -- politician.

Initially, he was with the "reds" in the Italian Communist Party (PCI). But he went along with his comrades when the PCI evolved into the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) after the fall of communism. In 1998, he switched over to the Democrats of the Left (DS), which in turn merged with several other parties on the left in 2007 to form the Democratic Party (PD).

The fact that the party line became more closely aligned with social democracy through all of these permutations fit well for the gray mouse. In the end, the red camp threw its ideological ballast overboard and started championing more liberal economic policies. As a minister in three center-left coalition governments, Bersani was so successful that even the employers' association praised him -- which, in turn, put off those on the far left. Even so, he created a new foundation and won over new supporters for his party, which had been on its way to obscurity for years.

Laying the Groundwork for Change

Last October, Bersani succeeded in the primaries to determine who would be the leading candidate of a center-left alliance made up of his PD party and a small environmental party, Left Ecology Freedom (SEL). Then, as now, his opponent -- Matteo "The Scrapper" Renzi, the mayor of Florence -- had more glamour and rhetorical pizzazz. But fewer votes.

If Bersani ultimately wins the elections, things will probably proceed in the same no-frills, business-like manner. He has announced that his government would "move forward with austerity policies to reduce public-sector debt," but he also said he intends to strive for "a bit more fairness and work." What's more, Bersani has already spoken with other prominent socialist leaders in Europe, including French President François Hollande and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. In fact, he has even traveled to Berlin -- viewed as the lions' den in Southern Europe -- to speak with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Afterwards, Schäuble's spokesman told reporters it was "a good talk."


February 21, 2013

The Rise of a Protest Movement Shows the Depth of Italy’s Disillusionment


ROME — For months, he has been shouting his way from piazza to piazza, drawing tens of thousands as he rails against tax collectors, corrupt politicians and financial speculation. And when he arrives in Rome on Friday for the final campaign rally of his “Tsunami tour,” Beppe Grillo, the Internet-savvy comedian turned populist rabble-rouser, may lead Italy’s third-most popular party.

In the final weeks of a campaign marked by widespread voter disillusionment and growing economic distress, and after Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to step down on Feb. 28 upended once-solid assumptions, Mr. Grillo’s Five Star Movement has surged ahead, surprising the experts almost as much as Pope Benedict did. Ahead of national elections on Feb. 24 and 25, the party’s “antisystem” message has drawn strong support from both right and left, buoyed by corruption scandals that have undermined voters’ faith in government.

With his fiery language, mop of gray curls, grass-roots campaigning and calls for a referendum on Italy’s staying in the euro zone, Mr. Grillo, 64, has helped blunt the gains made by Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister. Mr. Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party is now in second place in opinion polls but lacks potential coalition partners, making it all but impossible that Mr. Berlusconi, the ultimate campaigner, will ever govern Italy again, political experts say.

The center-left Democratic Party, led by Pier Luigi Bersani, a subdued former industry minister, is expected to place first, but it may not win enough seats to govern without help from an ally, probably the civic movement started by Mario Monti, the caretaker prime minister who stepped down before the elections after leading a technocratic government for the past year. Mr. Monti is respected by world leaders but has fumbled into fourth place as a candidate, seriously tarnishing both his image and the agenda of change he promoted.

With no official polls allowed in the two weeks before elections — and with turnout expected to be at a record low — the outcome of the race remains uncertain. If the results fail to yield a government, the political uncertainty could set off a new round of market turmoil. But more worrisome in the longer term, political commentators say, is that the success of Mr. Grillo’s Five Star Movement, an opposition party, could make Parliament ungovernable.

“In my view, we will have a majority,” said Stefano Folli, a political columnist for the business daily Il Sole 24 Ore, speaking of a possible alliance of the Bersani and Monti forces. “But the second question is: Will the majority be enough to govern a Parliament where 20 percent of the M.P.’s come from Grillo’s party? That does not have a simple answer.”

What worries critics most about Mr. Grillo’s Five Star Movement is that it is an assemblage of first-time candidates with no shared vision except an opposition to politics as usual. That, combined with its consensus-driven approach, makes it hard to predict how its members will vote.

In speeches, Mr. Grillo has criticized Italy’s participation in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, questioned the need for mandatory vaccines for children and opposed some local plans to privatize Italy’s water supply. But on other issues, the party leans right. It is opposed to changing Italy’s laws to grant citizenship to the children of legal immigrants born in Italy, a move the Democratic Party supports.

“Theirs is a project of destruction, not of creation,” said Federico Fornaro, a candidate for the Democratic Party in the northern Piedmont region. “Their goal is chaos, the destruction of the old system. But there’s no concrete plan for a new system, not in the political, economic or social realms.”

The success of the Five Star Movement is not hard to explain. Taking cues from the themes of the Occupy Wall Street movement, it has tapped into voter disgust with the political establishment: the excesses and corruption scandals involving Mr. Berlusconi’s party, the tax increases of Mr. Monti’s government, and the ossification of the Democratic Party, which has also been hit by a widening scandal at the Monte dei Paschi of Siena bank.

The Five Star Movement has been gaining momentum since regional elections last spring, when it won the mayor’s race in Parma in the north and became the leading party in Sicily, after record low turnout.

As he took to the stage in Piazza del Duomo in Milan this week, Mr. Grillo was greeted by a huge crowd shouting: “Send them home! Send them home!” referring to the current Parliament. He began a tirade, saying that no one would have expected his party to win in Sicily, “where they pay for votes.” He added that Italy’s tax collection agency should be closed, and he criticized the country’s high youth unemployment rates.

Mr. Grillo, who cannot serve in Parliament because he has a conviction for manslaughter in a car accident in which three people died, has shied away from taking journalists’ questions.

In a rare television interview on Thursday, Mr. Grillo said that bond spreads — the difference in yields between Italian and benchmark German bonds — were a “hallucination,” and that financial markets had become dangerously disconnected from the real economy.

As he sat outside his shop in Rome, Stefano Anidori, 52, said he had voted for the left in the past, but was considering supporting Mr. Grillo. “I am undecided, but I am so angry that I think I’ll vote for Grillo,” he said. But he also worried that the movement was too new in politics.

“How can they propose laws or understand the system quickly enough for a country in such deep trouble?” he asked. “But I voted for the left for 20 years. I am tired of losing and tired of seeing the same faces over and over again.”

With such divergent supporters and candidates, it remains to be seen how the Five Star Movement will vote in Parliament.

Roberto D’Alimonte, a political scientist and a pollster at Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome, called Mr. Grillo a “uniquely Italian invention.”

“We invented fascism, the Christian Democrats, Berlusconi, and now we’ve even invented Grillo.”

Gaia Pianigiani and Elisabetta Povoledo contributed reporting.


Italy: Catholics: a crucial but undecided electorate

22 February 2013
Libération Paris

As the most populated and wealthy region in the country, Lombardy will play a key role in determining the outcome of the Italian legislative elections scheduled for February 24 and 25. However, troubled by the lack of ethics among politicians, the region's all-important Catholic vote is more undecided than ever.

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« Last Edit: Feb 22, 2013, 08:04 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #4714 on: Feb 22, 2013, 07:57 AM »

02/22/2013 12:08 PM

Turning Up the Heat: Banks Face Massive Fines over LIBOR Scandal

The European Commission plans to turn up the heat on banks allegedly involved in rigging the benchmark LIBOR lending rate. Not only has the body widened the scope of the investigations to include the Swiss franc, it has also threatened heavy fines on uncooperative banks.

Global banks will soon face even more intense scrutiny and the threat of heavy fines over their alleged involvement in the LIBOR rate rigging scandal . The European Commission is now widening the reach of its 18-month antitrust investigations to include Swiss franc-denominated swaps, the Financial Times reported late on Thursday. Until now, the probes by the competition authority have included yen and euro interbank lending rates.

Banking authorities are investigating dozens of banks from around the world for colluding to fix LIBOR (London Interbank Offered Rate), a key interbank lending rate used to price trillions of dollars of financial instruments.

Because banks face a penalty of up to 10 percent of their global turnover for each case, those found to be involved with all three cartels would potentially have to pay fines equal to 30 percent of total revenues, the FT reported.

In a speech in Paris scheduled for Friday, European Union's competition commissioner Joaquín Almunia is expected to turn up the heat on banks that have been uncooperative with antitrust regulators, the paper said. He is expected to deliver a stern warning to banks that are unwilling to discuss allegations with investigators.

Unlike the United States and the United Kingdom, which have been reaching settlements with individual banks over their involvement in LIBOR fixing, Europe is going after cartels as a whole and dealing with all participants together.

US and UK regulators have already fined three banks including Barclays and UBS. RBS settled with US and UK authorities this month, paying a $612 million fine and admitting to manipulating yen, US dollar and Swiss franc LIBOR rates. German regulators have also been looking into Deutsche Bank's involvement in the scandal. The EU's approach of going after cartels, by contrast, could take years.

The FT reports that Europe may consider settling with banks, but not while some refuse to cooperate with investigators.

"We suspect the existence of cartels between certain actors in the market for derivative products -- banks, but also brokers," said Almunia in the wake of the RBS settlement agreement. "These possible anti-competitive agreements consisting of manipulating rates could have allowed participants to make unfair additional profits on their market transactions.

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« Reply #4715 on: Feb 22, 2013, 08:01 AM »

02/22/2013 12:58 PM

Bail-In: Cyprus Bailout Could Hit Russian Bank Accounts

Foreign investors and wealthy Cypriots may be called to participate in the bailout of debt-plagued Cyprus. Two reports suggest that EU countries sponsoring the bailout are considering a debt relief option that would also hit rich Russian bank account holders.

In the negotiations over a bailout for crisis-plagued Cyprus, the German government is reportedly pushing for mandatory participation by banks and their customers in a bailout that might also hit wealthy Russians. The highly controversial move might make it easier for German Chancellor Angela Merkel to push approval for an aid package through parliament, where she is not currently ensured of a majority.

Both Handelsblatt and the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspapers on Friday cite anonymous sources familiar with the negotiations claiming consideration is being given to calls for some of the banks' outstanding debts to be converted into holdings in those financial institutions.

The most radical option would be to directly tap money that has been deposited in the country's bank accounts, including that of wealthy Russians. Handelsblatt is reporting that officials at the European Commission in Brussels are divided over the suggestion of a so-called "bail-in," with many viewing it skeptically. Some are concerned the dramatic step could shake financial-market trust in the euro zone and drive investors away from crisis-plagued countries. Nevertheless, it reported, a debate on the issue is underway.

Cyprus urgently needs €17.5 billion ($23.1 billion) in order to stabilize its financial sector and its government finances. Given the country's status as a tax paradise, especially for rich Russians, potential donors have shied away from providing swift aid. With federal elections slated for this autumn, the German government also isn't in any rush to put the aid package up for a vote in parliament.

With bailout packages unpopular within her own government coalition, Chancellor Angela Merkel may have to rely on opposition votes to pass any bailout. This backing is unlikely to happen without concessions, the main one being a demand by the center-left Social Democratic Party that Cyprus abandon the kind of loose tax policies that have made it a haven for foreign investors. At 10 percent, Cyprus has the lowest corporate tax rate within the euro zone, much lower than in countries like Germany and France, where it is 29 percent and 33 percent respectively. Germany has repeatedly pressured Cyprus to increase its corporate tax.

Money laundering is also thought to be a major problem, and it is believed that Russians have deposited billions in assets on the island from dubious sources.

'More Elegant' Solutions

In addition, the newspapers reported, the countries that would provide the bailout are concerned it will create another problem. In the event of an aid package totalling €17.5 billion, the Cypriot deficit would rise to 140 percent of gross domestic product, well above the 120 percent that is considered serviceable. This has prompted the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to push for participation by owners and creditors of the banks in order to reduce the size of the total bailout. But this option could also open the door to legal disputes in the countries whose depositors are affected.

The sources in Brussels said that the euro-zone also has to take into consideration the financial stability of the currency area. One possible way of addressing a bail-in could also be to ensure that the deposits of Cypriots would not be touched -- and that only those of foreign depositors would be part of the debt haircut. Although that would address concerns about Russian money laundering, it could also provoke Moscow at a time when the euro-zone members are encouraging Russia to participate in the Cyprus bailout.

According to sources cited by Süddeutsche, "more elegant" solutions are also being considered, including tax hikes. Higher taxes for corporations, capital yields, property as well as a wealth tax are all being considered.

Considerations over a possible wealth tax would mean that rich Cypriot citizens would also be forced to participate in the bailout. Recently, the European Central Bank, together with the 17 central banks of euro-zone member states, conducted an as-yet unpublished study showing that per-capita wealth in Cyprus is among the highest in the euro-zone, ahead of Germany, France and Italy.

Action on the Cyprus bailout is expected soon. The country goes to the polls for a run-off vote this Sunday in its presidential election, and officials with the troika, comprised of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the IMF, are hoping to commence talks swiftly with the new government in the hope of reaching a decision by the end of March.
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« Reply #4716 on: Feb 22, 2013, 08:06 AM »

White House warns of cyber threat from 'aggressive' China and Russia

US outlines new strategy to deal with theft of trade secrets and says pair remain 'capable collectors of sensitive information'

Paul Harris in New York, Thursday 21 February 2013 16.27 GMT      

The Obama administration has singled out China and Russia as "aggressive" players in the world of cyber-espionage and warned that they will continue to try and steal US industrial and technological secrets.

In a report outlining plans to deal with the theft of American trade secrets that comes in the wake of revelations about Chinese hacking in the US, the White House warned that both countries would remain active in trying to illegally obtain sensitive information.

"We judge that the governments of China and Russia will remain aggressive and capable collectors of sensitive US economic information and technologies, particularly in cyberspace," the report stated.

The study was part of a broad package of policies announced on Wednesday to combat cyber threats. It comes at a time when the issue is front and center in the US after numerous revelations about hacking. They include reports that hackers based in China have tried to penetrate the security of media organisations like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and a report by US cyber-security firm Mandiant, which has accused a secret Chinese military unit in Shanghai of years of cyber-attacks against more than 140 US companies.

The Chinese government has denied being involved in cyber-theft, with China's defense minister calling the Mandiant report deeply flawed. It has also furiously denied being involved in attempts to hack American media organisations.

In its section on China, the report said the Chinese intelligence services, as well as private Chinese companies, often used people with family ties to China as a way to hack into sensitive information. "[They] frequently seek to exploit Chinese citizens or persons with family ties to China who can use their insider access to corporate networks to steal trade secrets using removable media devices or e-mail," the report said.

The Obama administration's new initiative includes a new diplomatic push to discourage intellectual property theft abroad, along with better co-ordination with American companies so that they can improve their defences against hackers. It also wants to improve co-operation between its law enforcement agencies and those of other countries.

Aside from rival countries, the new report has also warned of the threat by online activist groups looking to leak secrets. "Political or social activists may use the tools of economic espionage against US companies, agencies or other entities, with disgruntled insiders leaking information about corporate trade secrets or critical US technology to "hactivist" groups like Wikileaks," the report said.

The mention of WikiLeaks in such a high-profile government document is likely to provide ammunition to supporters of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is currently claiming asylum in Ecuador's embassy in London while he fights extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sexual assault and rape. Assange claims that he fears the US will seek to extradite him from Sweden should he go there, as revenge for his WikiLeaks activities, which have included publishing highly sensitive American documents about the Iraq war and diplomatic cables from US embassies abroad.

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« Reply #4717 on: Feb 22, 2013, 08:10 AM »

02/22/2013 01:18 PM

World from Berlin: German Bishops Accept Morning-After Pill

In a significant reversal just one month after two Catholic hospitals refused to treat a victim of sexual assault, Germany's bishops on Thursday approved the use of the "morning-after pill" in rape cases. German commentators say the step doesn't go far enough.

This time, it didn't take the Catholic Church long to react. In mid-January, the church in Germany was blasted after two Catholic hospitals in Cologne refused treatment to a rape victim due to concerns about the provision of emergency contraception in the form of the "morning-after" pill.

On Thursday, the German Bishops' Conference completed an about-face on its approach to the treatment, saying that Catholic facilities in Germany were now free to prescribe such pills in rape cases, provided that the medication was used to prevent a pregnancy and not to abort an already fertilized egg.

Robert Zollitsch, head of the Bishops' Conference, announced the decision in Trier, saying that rape victims would "of course receive humane, medical, psychological and spiritual care" at Catholic hospitals. It applies to all Catholic facilities in Germany and follows a similar change made unilaterally by Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne in the immediate wake of the scandal.

The decision marks a carefully calibrated turnaround. Immediately after the rape victim -- who ultimately received treatment at a Protestant facility -- was refused attention, an emergency center doctor said that the hospital ethics commission had consulted with Cardinal Meisner and elected to forego treatment of rape victims because it could force doctors to provide consultation on unwanted pregnancies and ultimately medication to obviate such pregnancies.

Soon thereafter, however, the Catholic foundation that runs the two hospitals said it was the result of a misunderstanding. Meisner then announced that the morning-after pill was okay because medical research shows that the drug discourages fertilization rather than preventing the implantation of the embryo in the uterus. Studies appear to back up that interpretation, though research is not yet conclusive.

Nevertheless, Catholic bishops elected to toe that line on Thursday. Zollitsch, however, was careful to note that "medical or pharmaceutical methods that lead to the death of the embryo are still not permitted." In addition to the resolutions regarding the "morning-after" pill, the Bishops' Conference also announced its intention to increase the number of women working in church leadership positions.

The Cologne case has been followed closely in recent weeks by the German media. And on Friday, commentators take a closer look at the decision of the German Bishops' Conference.

Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"One has to be extremely orthodox to find unethical a women's wish to avoid pregnancy following rape, whether the egg has been fertilized or not. Legally, the situation is clear: As long as the egg has not yet become implanted in the uterus, preventing pregnancy is not considered an abortion. The discussion among the bishops as to whether the morning-after pill only prevents rather than disrupts a pregnancy seems like it is from a different galaxy."

"Yet Thursday's decision could still be an important step for the Catholic Church. ... It shows acceptance of the fact that there are gray areas, and that the conjoining of a sperm cell and an egg is not always a service to life. What about marital rape? What about the possible pregnancy of a desperate 17-year-old? The debate should continue."

Center-right daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Many theologians and medical ethicists in the US believe that the effects of the 'morning-after' pill have been clarified enough that 'deadly' side effects can be ruled out. And that is exactly the foundation of the logic used by a Catholic Church which believes that life begins with the fertilization of the egg. Anything aimed at intentionally terminating life is evil (unless the mother's life is in danger)."

"The Bishops' Conference affirmed this 'careful' line, though it also indirectly noted that the 'morning-after' pill has become a contraceptive device and a family-planning tool. The pill is now prescribed more than 400,000 times per year, in one-third of the cases to women under 20 years of age. There are also demands to make the pill available without prescription. Indeed, the successful career of the 'morning-after' pill clearly demonstrates what society expects from the church's moral lessons: Absolutely nothing."

Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung takes a broader look at what the change of course on the "morning-after" pill says about the state of the Catholic Church.

"The rationale presented by the German bishops for their reversal on the 'morning-after' pill is almost touching. They didn't change their minds; rather medical advances have made the shift permissible. Beyond that, everything stays the same: using the pill as a means of family planning remains forbidden as does ordination for women."

"That won't be enough to confront the deep crisis facing the Catholic Church in Germany. Even conservative Catholics have lost faith in the church, and the church has distanced itself from many of the faithful. The bishops might see their faint-hearted reforms as a great step. For the public it looks at best like a purely cosmetic improvement that will do little to change the devastating image the church in Germany has developed in recent years."

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« Reply #4718 on: Feb 22, 2013, 08:12 AM »

China holds general’s son for gang rape

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, February 22, 2013 7:38 EST

China has detained the 17-year-old son of a general on suspicion of involvement in a gang rape, reports said Friday, the latest allegation against the privileged children of officials to spark public outrage.

Li Tianyi, the son of general Li Shuangjiang — a popular singer and household name in the country — was held on Thursday, reported several Chinese news outlets including state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV).

Crimes by the offspring of China’s elite cause particular anger among ordinary people.

The latest reports did not go into detail about the alleged offence, but news of the teenager’s arrest was re-posted thousands of times on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, with many users leaving angry comments.

“Child, why don’t you stop disturbing everyone and quickly grow up,” said one. “Your father has a glorious past, and you are blaspheming it.”

Other Weibo users were more direct. “Put him to death,” said another.

Contacted for comment, a Beijing public security bureau official told AFP to refer to the domestic media reports.

It is not the first time the teenager has come to public attention.

He was sent to a government correctional facility for one year in 2011 for beating a couple while their young child looked on.

Hundreds of thousands of people went online to express their outrage at the time, and the general, a dean of the music department at the Beijing-based People’s Liberation Army Academy of Arts, apologised for his son’s actions.

“As the father, I bear the responsibility for my son’s behaviour. I’m so sorry that I’d rather now be beaten by you,” he was quoted as saying.

“I will not condone my son’s faults, and there will be a settlement.”

That incident came after a high-profile scandal in 2010, when the son of a top police officer tried to use his father’s status to escape a fatal car accident he had caused.

Li Qiming, 22, ran over a student in the northern province of Hebei, and shouted: “Sue me if you dare. My father is Li Gang!”. He was later sentenced to six years in prison.

Last March senior Communist Party official Ling Jihua’s son reportedly died when he crashed a Ferrari in the capital, leaving two women passengers — one said to have been naked — injured.

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« Reply #4719 on: Feb 22, 2013, 08:15 AM »

Australia gambles on move to tackle slot machine addicts

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, February 22, 2013 7:30 EST

It’s just after morning opening at Sydney’s Randwick Labor Club and already a few regulars are at the slot machines, or “pokies” as they are better known, for a quiet flutter.

Electronic poker machines are the most popular form of betting in Australia, but concerns about problem gamblers have prompted the government to introduce reforms to help keep their spending under control.

“The big picture is we’re becoming a nanny state,” said Peter Bell, a retiree who likes playing the machines, just like he enjoys to bet on horse races. He insists he is not a problem gambler.

“I spend a lot more money at the racetrack than I ever do at a poker machine,” the 70-year-old jokes.

There are about 200,000 electronic gaming machines in Australia, with about 600,000 Australians playing them at least weekly, according to a Productivity Commission report released in 2010.

But concerned that 15 percent of these players are problem gamblers whose money accounts for about 40 percent of spending, the government has moved to encourage all players to “pre-commit” to a financial limit before they start so they don’t over-spend.

Under legislation passed late in 2012, while the scheme will remain voluntary, poker machine manufacturers must put the new pre-commitment technology on all new machines by the end of 2014.

Warnings will also flash up on players’ screens with messages questioning them along the lines of, “How long have you been playing?” and “Have you spent beyond your limits?”

The biggest clubs will also limit daily cash withdrawals from automatic teller machines to Aus$250, although this will not apply to casinos.

Anti-gambling campaigners say the scheme does not go far enough, since played at high intensity, it is easy to lose Aus$1,500 (US$1,550) or more an hour on a poker machine.

“We think it’s next to useless,” said Erin McMallum, whose Getup! organisation has been pushing for maximum bets to be dropped to one dollar, a move that would limit losses to about Aus$120 an hour.

“People don’t voluntarily restrict themselves. Half the time they don’t even realise they have a problem.”

McMallum said problem gambling is widespread in Australia, with many stories of people losing their homes, their relationships and even family members to suicide.

“Australia does have quite a unique problem in relation to problem gambling addiction, especially to poker machines,” she said.

“The machines here are prolific, they are exceptionally high loss, and you can find them almost anywhere — every club, pub, bar, casino. They are hard to avoid if you do happen to have an addiction.”

The clubs industry, which derives revenue from the pokies, is also non-plussed by voluntary pre-commitment, with the executive director of Clubs Australia, Anthony Ball, saying players would be reluctant to use it.

“Let’s remember, people are playing a poker machine for the same reason they might bet on a horse or play the lotteries — they want to win. It’s a feeling of freedom, it’s their recreation,” he said.

“To get a card, to register brings a whole different feel to it.”

Australians love a gamble, with the Melbourne Cup horse race known as “the race that stops a nation” and the national day to commemorate war dead, Anzac Day, known for its “two-up” betting on the toss of a coin.

“The punt is engrained in Australian culture,” explains Ball.

Club membership is around 11.6 million people out of a population of around 23 million, and the industry says it employs 96,000, making an economic contribution of some Aus$7.2 billion each year.

What concerns Ball is that the national government has for the first time ever, with the voluntary pre-commitment legislation, “involved itself in the regulation of poker machines”.

Ball said the technology would not be a “silver bullet” for problem gambling, and the government’s plan for pre-commitment to be mandatory in the Canberra region as part of a trial will fail dismally.

“We think that mandatory pre-commitment will not help people — you don’t give a problem gambler a gambling card, that doesn’t work. It’s like giving an alcoholic drinking tickets. It’s a crazy thing to do,” he said.

“We say you need to get to those people and take them away from the gambling environment and into an effective treatment regime.”

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« Reply #4720 on: Feb 22, 2013, 08:17 AM »

02/22/2013 01:17 PM

Crash Course in Demagoguery: New Book Traces Education of Adolf Hilter

By Felix Bohr

Historian Othmar Plöckinger argues that Adolf Hilter's time in the military facilitated his transformation into a murderous dictator. His new book traces how in the army Hilter acquired skills and an education that he would put to use during his later rise to power.

What does a soldier do after his country has lost a war and he is left with nothing, has no education or vocational training, and no family and no friends? He remains a soldier.

On Nov. 21, 1918, 10 days after the armistice, lance corporal Adolf Hitler reported for duty at his regiment's garrison in Munich. He was given free rations, a monthly wage of about 40 Marks and a heated place to sleep, an important concession that winter.

Many years later, Hitler claimed that by the end of the war he had decided to become a politician. In truth, at the end of 1918 he wanted to remain a soldier for as long as possible. Another year and a half passed before Hitler had to leave the old military; it is the least-studied period in the life of the later dictator.

For decades, historians have tried to determine how a gaunt wannabe painter could turn into a murderous tyrant, and where the young Hitler received his most decisive influences. Was it in the Austrian city of Linz, where he grew up as the son of a violent customs official? In Vienna, where, as an unsuccessful artist, he spent most of the time between 1908 and 1913 living in a boarding house for men? Or during World War I, when he witnessed bodies being ripped to shreds on the Western Front?

Salzburg historian Othmar Plöckinger focuses on an entirely different period. "The decisive period that shaped Hitler's life," the academic concludes, "was his time in a military environment in Munich, from 1918 to 1920." That was where, according to Plöckinger, Hitler cemented his anti-Semitic worldview. It was where he became an anti-Bolshevik and where he had experiences "that he was later applied to his career as a propagandist and leader of the Nazi Party."

Plöckinger has compiled many good arguments to support his view of Hitler. As a member of an investigative commission in his regiment, the lance corporal learned how to fight political rivals. He attended anti-Bolshevik courses in which right-wing lecturers, who were hoping for an end to democracy in Germany, taught him the art of propaganda. And while working for the military, he also had opportunities to make a name for himself as a speaker to large audiences. In short Hitler, who had left school at the age of 16, acquired what amounted to a crash course, in "key competencies to lead a movement," as historian Plöckinger has discovered.

A Wave of Persecution

The political career of Hitler the soldier began in the spring of 1919, as the situation was escalating in Munich. On April 7, radical socialists proclaimed the Bavarian Soviet Republic and began forming a "Red Army" modeled after its Soviet counterpart. Most of the soldiers at Hitler's side refused to join the revolutionary troops. Although the Austrian lance corporal was elected to one of the soldiers' councils in his regiment, he remained a staunch opponent of the Bavarian Soviet Republic, as Plöckinger writes.

In early May 1919, after bloody fighting, German Reichswehr troops and right-wing militias occupied the Bavarian capital. Hundreds of sympathizers with the Soviet Republic were indiscriminately murdered. A wave of persecution gripped all of Munich.

Hitler, who had opposed the revolution, was now given the position of investigative commissioner in his regiment. As a former soldiers' council member, he was very familiar with the battalion. He helped compile lists of names, and he investigated the soldiers who had allegedly been in league with the Red Army.

In many cases, indictments were based on mere speculation and rumors. For example, Hitler's tribunal suspected August Klumpf, an officers' representative who was the same age as Hitler, of "promoting anti-government activities." In truth, however, Klumpf had rejected the Bavarian Soviet government. He was eventually rehabilitated.

Learning the Ropes

Plöckinger traces how Hitler, as commissioner, first became familiar with an instrument of power that he would later use to eliminate his enemies: political cleansing. It enabled him to achieve absolute power, initially within the German Workers' Party (DAP), the forerunner of the Nazi Party. He gradually forced all of his former political allies who had dared to rebel against him out of the splinter party, which Hitler led to regional prominence.

Because Commissioner Hitler was considered politically reliable, in July 1919 his regiment sent him to an anti-Bolshevik training course held by the "Information and Propaganda Division" of the Bavarian Reichswehr Command. Karl Mayr, an anti-Semite, was the head of the division. Although the lectures Hitler attended had harmless-sounding titles like "Education and Politics" and "The Development of German Economic Life Since 1871," the lecturers were anti-Semites and anti-Bolsheviks hostile to the Weimar Republic.

On the surface, the military leadership sought to portray itself as politically neutral. In reality, it promoted ideas hostile to the republic within its own ranks. In August 1919 Hitler, as one of 26 "propagandists," was assigned to the Reichswehr's mobile "Information Command." He made many contacts and established relationships that, as he wrote in "Mein Kampf," formed the "foundation of the new movement."

In the Lechfeld transit camp Hitler, now an openly radical right-wing propagandist, gave talks to fellow soldiers who had returned from war captivity "contaminated with Bolshevik and Spartacist ideas." About 150 men listened to Hitler's remarks on "Conditions of Peace and Reconstruction" and on capitalism, in which he also addressed the "Jewish question." In Munich, he handed out the propaganda division's flyers to soldiers.

Hitler also wrote political pamphlets on subjects such as the "settlement question," as well as a letter in which he agitated against Judaism, which was "absolutely a race and not a religious community." He called for an anti-Semitism that had to lead "to the methodical legal control and elimination of the prerogatives of the Jew."

From Solider to Politician

From sources like these, historian Plöckinger concludes that Hitler's development into a racist fanatic was complete in the fall of 1919. His latent anti-Semitism had been transformed into a radical hatred of Jews.

In early September, Hitler's superiors sent him to the DAP -- as the military's henchman, Plöckinger writes. This suited Hitler well, because he could remain a soldier and thus continue to receive wages, food and lodging. In this way, the army facilitated his entry into politics.

Soon afterwards, journalists reported on the rising propagandists for the first time. On Feb. 22, 1920, the Donau Zeitung newspaper wrote that Hitler had, "in the form of simple family entertainment," given the Passau Citizens' Militia a "patriotic speech that was received with thunderous applause."

During those months, the army apparently only required the later dictator to perform menial work, as a librarian, for example. A "daily order" in Rifle Regiment 41 instructed the soldiers to borrow "reading material" from "Lance Corporal Hitler, room 564, third floor."

Othmar Plöckinger's book "Unter Soldaten und Agitatoren. Hitlers prägende Jahre im deutschen Militär 1918-1920" (Among Soldiers and Agitators: Hitler's formative years in the German military from 1918-1920), was recently published in German by Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #4721 on: Feb 22, 2013, 08:40 AM »

In the USA...

Obama: Protecting the rich binds together the Republican Party

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 21, 2013 18:21 EST

President Barack Obama on Thursday said the only thing keeping Republicans together was a desire to shield the rich from higher taxes, in a new jab over an imminent budget confrontation.

Obama is mounting a full bore campaign push to heap blame on Republicans over a multi-billion dollar package of automatic spending cuts due to hammer the US economy on March 1.

The president wants to replace the cuts with a balanced set of spending cuts and revenue hikes obtained by closing tax loopholes, but Republicans in Congress are resisting the idea of higher taxes.

“My sense is that their basic view is that nothing is important enough to raise taxes on wealthy individuals or corporations,” Obama said, adding that Republicans prefer spending cuts even though they could slow economic growth.

“That’s the thing that binds their party together at this point,” the president told the liberal Al Sharpton radio show.

“I think Republicans right now have been so dug in on this notion of never raising taxes that it becomes difficult for them to see an obvious answer right in front of them.”

Republicans, who lost a previous showdown with Obama over raising tax rates for the rich, say the debate over hiking taxes is closed.

They say they are willing to close loopholes, but only in the context of a sweeping reform of the tax code, and maintain that Obama wants to use proceeds from any immediate revenue rises to hike government spending.

As time runs out before the so-called “sequester” cuts hit, Obama called Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner Wednesday, though the White House gave no details of the talks.

Cuts due on March 1 would slash defense spending by $55 billion and non-defense discretionary spending by $27 billion this year.

The Bipartisan Policy Center has said that a million jobs could be lost by the end of next year because of a slowdown brought on by the cuts.


Republicans Love to Regulate When it Benefits Their Wealthy Friends

By: Dennis S
Feb. 22nd, 2013

Republicans purportedly abhor regulations. Such regulations would include reasonable guidance for Wall Street/financial, health care, small business, educational and most particularly, any regulation that has to do with the environment and guns.

The typical Republican would much rather see children die of asthma and assorted respiratory diseases, cancer or any other pollutants that corporate factories introduce into innocent kid’s systems via the atmosphere. The GOP doesn’t care about kids. That was irrefutably proven in the right-wing reaction or lack thereof to the 20 deaths of 6 and 7-year-olds at Sandy Hook Elementary. And if the wanton killing of 6 and 7-year-old children doesn’t shake loose at least a few firearms, you’re a moral zombie and that pretty well describes the current crop of Republicans.

Being totally cuckoo for 30 capacity mags, these zombies will heartily endorse gun legislation that was recently advanced in the South Carolina State Senate that would pre-empt federal gun laws and allow concealed carry in restaurants. “Will that be a table for 2 and a high chair for your .223 Bushmaster?”

So rapacious are these zombies to gun-up America that in the wake of Sandy Hook, one gun dealer after another quickly sold out of their heavy weaponry and ammo and had back-orders a mile long. That’s how much deaths of precious children mean to zombie right-wingers.

Much has been written that some kind of meaningful gun regulations will come out of the 113th Congress. ROTFLMAO!!! There will be tissue-paper thin background check regs mirroring what already exists that will pass as a response to Sandy Hook and other obscene minute-by-minute murders and suicides that mark our gun culture. The Feinstein “exceptions” bill is pure snake oil and any hope for anything meaningful was dashed the day the President read off his gun reform Executive Orders to the mass guffaws and criticisms of Congressional Republicans, the NRA and gun manufacturers.

However, you must recognize a truism that has gone fundamentally unreported in today’s media. Republicans do believe in regulation. It’s the degree of regulation that separates them from the Democrats. Take the environment. Republicans vote all the time for environmental regulations. And in every case they vote on the side of the special interests. They’ll vote “yea” on environmental regulations for instance if they’re severely watered-down versions of tougher Democratic bills. They’ll just not vote for regulations that save lives. Same for the gun culture. Death, no matter the age or circumstance is not part of the equation. Only the guns and wealthy corporate polluters matter.

We’ve all heard of the Norquist tax pledge; how about the “No Climate Tax Pledge?” It’s sponsored by the Koch Brothers Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and the far-right climate deniers and tobacco industry puppets, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and National Taxpayers Union (NTU) headed by the former Executive Director of ALEC. The pledge: “I pledge to the taxpayers of my state, and to the American people, that I will oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.” Legislators will be cognisant that no regulations violate this sacred clever pledge. One that would guarantee that any efforts to address climate change would lack funding.

Under the constituent-friendly pretext of defending the population against the greenhouse gases corporate crowd, former prosecutor and my Congressional Representative Trey Gowdy makes grand pronouncements like “Aggressive prosecution of environmental crime is one of the best ways to show good stewardship of what we have been given.”

This gratuitous politicizing, backed by no action, was mouthed while voting yes on House Amendment 88 tacked onto the H.R. 1 spending bill. The amendment blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from funding enforcement to lower mercury emissions from U.S. cement plants that kill an estimated 8,100 people a year according to EPA estimates. Gowdy also supported industry friendly H.R. 2681, the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act of 2011. The cement folks drop $8,500 (about a buck for each annual death) on Gowdy’s campaign for the privilege of his votes. In spite of Gowdy, meaningful regulations remain in place, though they are at least 2 years or more away from enforcement.

There’s one slice of American life where Republicans really embrace regulations. The regulating of the most personal human interaction of all – marriage. In fact regulation of marriage is rampant in America. Republican homophobes introduced and codified most of these regulations in the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, state legislation, ballot initiatives or by way of state Constitutional Amendments. Of our 50 states, 42 of them “regulate” marriage to the point that a gay couple’s marriage would either not be recognized as legal or out-and-out denied. That’s 42 states effecting the most stringent regulation of all.

Women’s reproductive rights? Right-wingers are extraordinarily vigilant in regulating any and all such rights. Wisconsin is in the process of forcing transvaginal ultrasounds on newly-pregnant women. Virginia’s baby-faced and baby-brained Governor, Bob McDonnell, tried the same thing early last year before caving in to public pressures from thinking human beings. Draconian anti-abortion Republican regulations abound in a number of states; including Virginia and its Neanderthal peers in North Dakota, Mississippi and Michigan to mention but a few and the roster expands with every new session of red state legislatures. Regulations? They’re crawling out of state legislatures like stirred up fire ant mounds.

Parenthetically contraception also falls under the Republican ‘regulatory’ category. There’s an entire body of secular regulations (at least for Catholics) based on events from a couple of thousand years ago. Talk about your sophisticated lawmaking. A young guy named Onan, on papa Judah’s orders, laid his dead brother Er’s widow, Tamar, but pulled out early, thereby spilling his potentially impregnating seed. Media reports at the time (most likely from Wolf Blitzer of the Christ News Network) said Onan repeated the act on several occasions. “Spilling” your seed was a no no for which the Lord “slew” the second brother. Er had also ticked off the Lord resulting in an identical fate. Thus followed a “slew” of contraception regulations.

So there. Like daily fiber Republicans do, indeed, regulate; often with the same result.


Obama Routs Republicans on Sequester as 56% of GOP Support His Balanced Approach

By: Jason Easley
Feb. 21st, 2013

Republicans have lost the sequester battle so comprehensively that according to the new USA Today/Pew Research poll, 56% of Republicans support Obama’s balanced approach to reducing the deficit.

According to a new USA Today/Pew Research poll, 49% those surveyed support the president’s short term delay of the sequester. Forty percent think the spending cuts should be allowed to go into effect. The Republican argument that new tax revenue should not be a part of further deficit reduction is being soundly rejected. Seventy six percent of those surveyed believe that the president and congress should focus on lowering the deficit through a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. Only 19% agree with the Republican approach of spending cuts alone.

Republicans have also lost a majority of their party on this issue. Fifty six percent of Republicans support Obama’s balanced approach to reducing the deficit. Just 42% of Republicans support their own party’s position that the deficit should be reduced through spending cuts alone, but seventy three percent of all of those surveyed think that the balanced approach should be weighted towards spending cuts.

The entire standoff over the sequester is centered around whether or not the cuts will be avoided with a balanced approach of revenue and cuts. Judging by this poll. it appears House Republicans don’t have a leg to stand on. They don’t have public support for their cuts only position, and they even lack the support of a majority of their own party.

President Obama has already won the messaging war on taxes, the deficit, and the sequester. His victory is so comprehensive that even a majority of Republicans support his position. This poll illustrates that Republican members of Congress are no longer only out of step with the rest of the country. On this issue, they are out of step with a majority of their own party.

This same poll found that if the sequester cuts go into effect, congressional Republicans will be blamed by 49%-31% margin. The Boehner plan to blame Obama for the sequester is now a verified flop. If House Republicans maintain their unpopular position, you can expect their percentage of the blame to increase in the coming days.

House Republicans aren’t going to win a battle of public opinion with President Obama. The more they try, the bigger they lose.


John Boehner Whips Up a Batch of Desperate Lies After Getting Busted on the Sequester

By: Rmuse
Feb. 21st, 2013

Police officers often apprehend car thieves in stolen cars, or shoplifters wearing stolen merchandise, and instantly face a barrage of lies and excuses that are so unbelievably bizarre it is almost enough to make one embarrassed for the criminal frantic to avoid arrest. Yesterday, Speaker of the House John Boehner penned an op/ed in the Wall Street Journal that was tantamount to a criminal attempting to lie his way out of trouble after being caught red-handed, and if the subject were not so serious, one might pity Boehner’s peculiar attempt at logic and desperate pack of lies in his screed, but sequestration cuts are serious; Boehner is not. What Americans can take away from Boehner, and Republicans as a group, is that they are aware their rigid obstructionism and hostage-taking are bearing fruit in plain view of the public and their feeble attempt to cast blame on the President portrays them as lost and desperate.

The theme of Boehner’s fantasy-filled essay was “it’s all Obama’s fault,” and that Republicans are well-aware of the sequester’s devastating effects “that threatens U.S. national security, thousands of jobs and more,” but still the GOP are determined to allow the $1.2 trillion sequester go into effect unless President Obama agrees to an equal amount of entitlement spending cuts. Many Republicans are scoffing at the paltry $85 billion in domestic cuts, but Boehner opined the amount is indeed “deep” and devastating, but unlike Boehner and Republicans, President Obama wants to avoid them making Republicans look unreasonable and deliberately imposing unnecessary damage to national security and the economy.

Boehner, wrote that it was unfortunate the President “has put forth no detailed plan that can pass Congress,” but the President has proposed a plan that asks both sides to compromise, as have Senate and House Democrats, as well as the Congressional Progressive Caucus,  but Republicans have offered nothing. Boehner claimed “House Republicans have twice passed plans to replace the sequester with common-sense cuts and reforms that protect national security” and through his spokesman said, “We support replacing the indiscriminate cuts in the sequester with smarter cuts and reforms (of an equal amount).  That’s what we did with the sequester replacement bills written by Chairman Ryan that we passed last year.”

Last year was 112th Congress, and any eighth-grader knows bills, replacement or otherwise, passed in one house of Congress in the last session are moot in the current session, but when your only point of argument is fallacy, there’s little reason attend reality, and if Republicans do support replacement cuts: where is their proposal? The GOP is hopelessly clueless and desperate to avoid the blame they know the American people will saddle them with, and in lieu of even giving the appearance of a plan, or care about America, their last-ditch effort is blaming the President. However, even some Republicans understand the gravity of the sequester and that it does not fall under the purview of the President and one spoke up. Justin Amash (R-MI), is no friend of the Obama Administration, but he sees the folly of blaming the President for the sequester. He said, “it’s a mistake on the part of Republicans to try to pin the sequester on Obama, it’s totally disingenuous. The debt ceiling deal in 2011 was agreed to by Republicans and Democrats, you can’t vote for something and, with a straight face, go blame the other guy for its existence in law.” Amash has only been in Congress since 2011, so maybe he missed the memo that part and parcel of being a Republican is “blaming the other guy” for everything; especially Republican economic malfeasance.

The serious nature of the debt ceiling situation in 2011 will go down as a watershed moment for Republican malfeasance because for the first time in American history, every member of the Republican caucus held the debt ceiling hostage and gave President Obama the price for ransoming the credit and good faith of the United States. If the President failed to give Republicans more than $2 trillion in debt reduction, Republicans would crash the economy on purpose leading Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to boast, “I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting, most of us didn’t think that. What we did learn is this — it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming,” and said “he could imagine doing this again.” In fact,  he promised that “it set the template for the future. The President will not get the debt ceiling increased without spending cuts in 2013, so we’ll be doing it all over.” Republicans balked at a balanced approach to deficit reduction en masse in the debt limit crisis and during super-committee negotiations that set the course for the sequester to go into effect in eight days.

Republicans own the sequestration cuts and despite Boehner’s accusation it falls on President Obama, they cannot convince anyone it is not their intransigence that will damage national security and the economy. Perhaps Boehner took the time to pen his screed because a 2011 presentation he gave regarding the Republican’s use of the sequester as a strategy surfaced that has his name, literally, all over it. Boehner’s desperation was most evident in blaming the President’s demand for a balance of revenue and cuts to avoid the sequester, and it proves Republicans still cannot accept November’s election results. He said, “The president has repeatedly called for tax revenue, but the American people don’t support trading spending cuts for higher taxes,” and it leads one to wonder if Republicans are even in the same universe as the rest of America. Besides the results of the election, the people have overwhelmingly supported a balanced approach to deficit reduction and especially new revenue Republicans reject out of hand.

Boehner is the worst Speaker of the House since Newt Gingrich, and his inability to work with the President, or control his caucus, cannot possibly come at a more inopportune time. He can attempt to lay blame on the President and Democrats, but they have proposed several options to avoid sequester cuts while Republicans are pointing fingers instead of even attempting to stop certain damage to national security and the economy their sequester will bring. Yesterday the Department of Defense notified Congress it will be furloughing its civilian workforce of 800,000 employees if sequestration goes into effect on March 1, and House Democrats called for Congress to return from their vacation to get to work to prevent the damage the across-the-board sequester brings in eight days. Boehner’s answer is to blame the President and bemoan the “deep and devastating” cuts to national security and the economy, and write a 900-word op/ed full of mendacity that defies reality and demonstrates Republicans are desperate and guilty.


By Snubbing Chris Christie at CPAC, the GOP Proves They’ve Gone Fringe

By: Sarah Jones
Feb. 21st, 2013

CPAC is suggesting that they snubbed Chris Christie this year. He is not “invited” to the cray-cray. That’s what he gets for helping his constituents by dealing with the President.

Another way of looking at this is that only Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) is smart enough to avoid addressing CPAC this year. He’s already proven that he’s able to strategize for the long term and knows the value of being seen working with the President and Democrats.

The rest of the clowns are piling into the shrinking GOP tent, including electoral losers Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney. Of course, neither of them have a thing to lose; they’ve already lost.

For some reason, NBC suggests that this means CPAC is mainstream. While I get how they got there (CPAC used to be far right of the party, anti-establishment), I think what it really means is that the entire Republican Party has gone fringe. They just don’t know it yet.

Let’s recap: Republicans, including the headliners at CPAC, are all polling poorly and have lost national elections precisely because of their positions. CPAC is the driver of those losing positions (wrong on immigration, wrong on gay rights, wrong on women’s rights, wrong on taxing the rich, etc).

CPAC is also a happy home for white supremacists and the NRA while banning gay Republicans like GOProud. If you were planning to run for President in 2016 and thought you might like to actually win, would you want to be seen pallin’ around with plummeting poll contagion? Would you want your picture taken with Mitt 47% Cayman Romney or Sarah Death Panels Palin?

CPAC is snubbing the Republican with the highest approval ratings (Chris Christie), while cozying up to already-losts and never-will-bes. So while CPAC may be establishment Republican now, it’s not mainstream. And that’s because the Republican Party is no longer mainstream.

The Tea Party has driven the Republican Party off of the cliff of reality and national electability. Republican “stars” Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Paul Ryan will all be hawking their wares at CPAC (anyone want to buy a water bottle?).

Anyone seen their polling numbers lately? They have to go to CPAC. A section of the conservative fringe is all they have.

Christie had his fun playing the raging Obama hater last year at CPAC. But it’s time to get serious about winning a national election, and perhaps the governor distinguishes himself from his brethren via his ability to read a poll sans skewing.

Chris Christie is the only Republican who stands a chance in 2016 and he’s not going to ruin that by getting smeared with CPAC stench. Maybe they snubbed him, maybe it was mutual. No matter what, not appearing at CPAC will only help the Governor, who seems to have realized that appeasing crazy doesn’t feel as great as actually winning.


February 21, 2013 02:00 PM

Biden Smacks Down NRA In Fiery Speech

By karoli

Joe Biden just wrapped up one of his best on-fire speeches in Connecticut, not far from Newtown. He declared the days of NRA supremacy over, saying that "inaction on gun control is unacceptable." Then he aimed his verbal fire at the NRA, via TPM:

    The “standing assumption” today is that “this is kind of the third rail of politics,” Biden said. “That if you take this on, somehow, there will be a severe political price to pay for doing it. Because that’s what’s happened in the past.”

    The old rules no longer apply after the schoolhouse massacre in Newtown, Conn., Biden said, calling inaction on gun control “unacceptable.”

    “What I say to my colleagues … I say to you, if you’re concerned about your political survival, you should be concerned about the survival of our children,” he said. “And guess what? I believe the price to be paid politically will be to those who refuse to act, who refuse to step forward. Because America has changed on this issue.”

Also, the Washington Post:

    Biden, his voice getting louder and louder, delivered a point-by-point rebuttal of the National Rifle Association and other gun rights activists’ arguments against stricter gun restrictions. Biden argued that people do not need AR-15s and other so-called assault rifles for self-protection.

    “They say well, it’s about our culture,” Biden said. “The facts are our culture’s not killing 25 people a day. It’s weapons and high-capacity magazines. It’s criminals who get guns without going through a background check.”

    Biden accused some questioners on his online chats of planting questions designed to place roadblocks to his gun-control agenda.

    “They say, all you’re going to do, Biden, you and the president, you’re going to deny law abiding citizens their rights under the Second Amendment,” Biden said. “Not true.

Let the pearl-clutching begin! Tomorrow is a Day of Action on gun control, sponsored by Organizing for America. It's time for the majority to tell the NRA to sit down and let sane people work on reasonable gun laws, beginning with universal background checks.

click to watch:

February 21, 2013

Buying a Gun? States Consider Insurance Rule


Both sides in a nation sharply divided over guns seem to agree on at least one thing: a bigger role for the insurance industry in a heavily armed society. But just what that role should be, and whether insurers will choose to accept it, are much in dispute.

Lawmakers in at least half a dozen states, including California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, have proposed legislation this year that would require gun owners to buy liability insurance — much as car owners are required to buy auto insurance. Doing so would give a financial incentive for safe behavior, they hope, as people with less dangerous weapons or safety locks could qualify for lower rates.

“I believe that if we get the private sector and insurance companies involved in gun safety, we can help prevent a number of gun tragedies every year,” said David P. Linsky, a Democratic state representative in Massachusetts who wants to require gun owners to buy insurance. He believes it will encourage more responsible behavior and therefore reduce accidental shootings. “Insurance companies are very good at evaluating risk factors and setting their premiums appropriately,” he added.

Groups representing gun owners oppose efforts to make insurance mandatory, arguing that law-abiding people should not be forced to buy insurance to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms. But some groups, including the National Rifle Association, endorse voluntary liability policies for their members. And as several states pass laws making it easier for people to carry concealed weapons and use them for self-defense, some gun groups are now selling policies to cover some of the legal costs stemming from self-defense shootings.

The United States Concealed Carry Association recently began selling what it calls Self-Defense Shield. “If you’re forced to justifiably use your gun in self-defense,” its Web site says, “Self-Defense Shield will help pay for your expert pro-2nd Amendment lawyer by reimbursing your legal-defense expenses following your acquittal — an ingenious system critical to the arsenal of any responsibly armed citizen.”

Premiums for such insurance range from around $200 to $300 per year; in general, the coverage is narrowly written and excludes cases where a gun is used to commit a crime.

Some specialized underwriters are reviewing what their policies cover when it comes to shootings, and weighing whether they should offer new types of coverage for gun owners. And as more states pass laws allowing people to bring guns to public venues — including restaurants, bars, churches and the parking lots of their workplaces — some business groups have expressed concerns that they could be held liable for shootings on their properties, which could drive up their insurance costs.

On Thursday, when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut outlined his proposals to reduce gun violence — which included universal background checks, a ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines and a stronger assault weapons ban — he called for officials to study “whether owners of firearms should be required to carry additional insurance.”

The insurance industry is wary of some of the proposals to require gun owners to buy liability coverage — and particularly of bills, like one that was filed in New York that would require coverage for damages resulting not only from negligence but also from “willful acts.”

Robert P. Hartwig, the president of the Insurance Information Institute, said that insurance generally covered accidents and unintentional acts — not intentional or illegal ones. “Insurance will cover you if your home burns down in an electrical fire, but it will not cover you if you burn down your own house, and you cannot insure yourself for arson,” he said.

Some claims stemming from shootings have been covered by homeowners’ insurance — even by policies that said they did not cover illegal acts.

The families of the two students responsible for the 1999 killings at Columbine High School in Colorado were able to use money from their homeowners’ policies to settle a lawsuit brought by families of most of the victims. In 2001, a California court ordered an insurance company to defend a policyholder whose 16-year-old son shot and killed a friend with a Beretta handgun that he had found in his mother’s coat. But the year before, a North Carolina court ruled that an insurance company did not have to cover the expenses of a policyholder who had shot and wounded a prowler on his property.

Christopher J. Monge, an insurance agent and gun owner in Verona, Wis., recently wrote a book, “The Gun Owner’s Guide to Insurance for Concealed Carry and Self-Defense,” which he sells at gun shows. Mr. Monge said that the problem with most liability insurance is that it promises coverage only in cases of a gun owner’s negligence, or an accidental shooting — and not if the gun owner shoots someone intentionally in self-defense. “A negligent act is covered by your liability policy, but if you intentionally shoot somebody, it could be excluded,” he said.

So as more states pass self-defense laws, Mr. Monge said that he found several insurance companies that would specifically offer liability coverage in cases of self-defense, usually in the form of an “umbrella” policy that added a higher level of coverage than the routine coverage for negligence in a homeowners’ policy. An umbrella policy adds coverage for unusual, but potentially expensive, incidents.

But he opposes proposals to make liability insurance mandatory. “They’re barking up the wrong tree, if you ask me,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of gun owners are going to be safe and not go crazy.”

States have been considering mandatory gun insurance bills for years, but no state has passed one yet, said Jon Griffin, a policy associate at the National Conference of State Legislatures. When Illinois considered a bill in 2009, the National Rifle Association wrote that it would “put firearms ownership out of reach for many law-abiding Illinoisans.” The N.R.A. endorses a policy that offers excess liability coverage — “because accidents do happen no matter how careful you are” — and another that offers “self-defense insurance.”

The recent trend of allowing guns in more public places has alarmed some business groups. When Ohio enacted a law allowing guns in bars in 2011, the Ohio Restaurant Association opposed it, writing officials that restaurant owners “expect that this law would be perceived by insurance companies as increasing the risk of injury in establishments that sell alcohol, which of course would result in increased liability insurance costs.” Owners have not reported higher premiums because of the new law, said a spokesman for the association, Jarrod A. Clabaugh, but some worry that a shooting could drive up their insurance costs.

The current debate over mandatory liability laws is being watched with interest by Nelson Lund, the Patrick Henry professor of Constitutional Law and the Second Amendment at George Mason University School of Law. Professor Lund proposed the idea of mandatory insurance in a 1987 article in the Alabama Law Review, seeing it as a form of gun control that could be consistent with the constitutional right to bear arms. But he said that he had not studied any of the current proposals, and noted that it made a great deal of difference how they are written.

“If this were done, the private insurance market would quickly and efficiently make it prohibitively expensive for people with a record of irresponsible ownership of guns to possess them legally,” he wrote in the 1987 article, “but would not impose unreasonable burdens on those who have the self-discipline to exercise their liberty in a responsible fashion.”

Kitty Bennett contributed reporting.


February 21, 2013

Governors Fall Away in G.O.P. Opposition to More Medicaid


Under pressure from the health care industry and consumer advocates, seven Republican governors are cautiously moving to expand Medicaid, giving an unexpected boost to President Obama’s plan to insure some 30 million more Americans.

The Supreme Court ruled last year that expanding Medicaid to include many more low-income people was an option under the new federal health care law, not a requirement, tossing the decision to the states and touching off battles in many capitols.

The federal government will pay the entire cost of covering newly eligible beneficiaries from 2014 to 2016, and 90 percent or more later. But many Republican governors and lawmakers immediately questioned whether that commitment would last, and whether increased spending on Medicaid makes sense, given the size of the federal budget deficit. Some flatly declared they would not consider it.

In Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott reversed his position and on Wednesday announced his support for expanding Medicaid, proponents say that doing so will not only save lives, but also create jobs and stimulate the economy. Similar arguments have swayed the Republican governors of Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota and Ohio, who in recent months have announced their intention to expand Medicaid.

The shift has delighted supporters of the law.

“I think this means the dominoes are falling,” said Ronald F. Pollack, the executive director of Families USA, a consumer group. “The message is, ‘Even though I may not have supported and even strongly opposed the Affordable Care Act, it would be harmful to the citizens of my state if I didn’t opt into taking these very substantial federal dollars to help people who truly need it.’ ”

 Nationwide, Medicaid covers 60 million people, most of them low-income or disabled. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that 17 million more people could be enrolled if all states took the expansion option. So far, 22 states have said they will expand the program, 17 have opted against it, and 11 have not yet decided, according to Avalere Health, a consulting firm.

Some Republican governors remain firmly opposed to the expansion of Medicaid. In her State of the State address, Gov. Nikki R. Haley said, “As long as I am governor, South Carolina will not implement the public policy disaster that is Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.”

Gov. Rick Perry affirmed that “Texas will not expand Medicaid” and said he was proud that Texas did not follow other states “scrambling to grab every tax dollar they can.”

The change of heart for some Republican governors has come after vigorous lobbying by health industry players, particularly hospitals. Hospital associations around the country signed off on Medicaid cuts under the health care law on the assumption that their losses would be more than offset by new paying customers, including many insured by Medicaid.

Politics could also be a factor in states where Republican governors have decided to expand Medicaid. Mr. Obama won all of those states except Arizona and North Dakota in last year’s election, a fact that may have influenced several of the governors’ decisions. Some of the seven are also up for re-election next year.

Religious leaders have added a moral dimension to the campaign in some states. The Roman Catholic bishops of Salt Lake City and Little Rock, Ark., for example, have urged state officials to expand Medicaid.

The Obama administration has tried to win over skeptical state officials by offering new flexibility to manage Medicaid as they like. On the same day that he agreed to expand Medicaid in Florida, Mr. Scott got federal permission to move more Medicaid beneficiaries into private managed care plans.

Mr. Scott’s support for expanding Medicaid is particularly significant — Florida is the fourth most populous state — and surprising. A onetime hospital executive, he has been among the most strident critics of the health care law, and his opposition to it was a cornerstone of his 2010 campaign for governor.

The battle is not over, however. In Florida, as in many other states, expansion is subject to approval by the Legislature, whose Republican leaders have expressed misgivings. The legislative session begins next month, and advocates say they plan to press ahead with a lobbying campaign.

Leah Barber-Heinz, a spokeswoman for Florida Chain, a health advocacy group, said it was trying to inform lawmakers and the public about who would benefit from an expansion of Medicaid. More than one-fifth of Florida residents, roughly 4 million of 19 million people, lack health insurance.

“There are so many misperceptions about the uninsured,” Ms. Barber-Heinz said. “So we’re trying to show faces of who would be impacted: people who have been hit by the recession, people who have been laid off, educated people, people who own homes.”

Jeanie Vincent of Hawthorne, Fla., who has been uninsured since she lost her job teaching middle school in 2010, would probably be eligible for Medicaid if the state expanded its program. Ms. Vincent, 61, fell behind on her mortgage after she got emergency retinal surgery in 2011 and owed $2,000. She owes an additional $3,000 for a knee surgery, which she is paying off at the rate of $10 per month.

Qualifying for Medicaid would provide peace of mind, she said.

“It would be amazing because I wouldn’t have to worry,” she said. “What happens if I fall and break something or if I have a heart attack?”

Every few days, state hospital associations and advocates for poor people issue reports asserting that the economic benefits of expanding Medicaid would outweigh the costs. In recent weeks, such reports have been issued in Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. The existence of such a report was a decisive factor in Ohio, where Gov. John R. Kasich decided to embrace an expansion after months of lobbying by coalitions of churches, hospitals, business groups and others.

Publication of that study — by Ohio State University, the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, the Urban Institute and Regional Economic Models — was “a major watershed moment,” said Ari Lipman, lead organizer of Greater Cleveland Congregations and chairman of the Northeast Ohio Medicaid Expansion Coalition.

The study, Mr. Lipman said, helped proponents reframe the expansion of Medicaid as something that would help the state budget and the state economy while providing health insurance to more than 455,000 people by 2022.

Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, a Republican, noted an even more striking anomaly last month when she recommended expanding Medicaid. If a state does not expand Medicaid, some United States citizens will be unable to obtain health insurance, but some legal immigrants with the same income in the same state could get it.

“For poor Arizonans below 100 percent of the federal poverty level,” Ms. Brewer said, “only legal immigrants, but not citizens, would be eligible for subsidies.”

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British cardinal: Next pope should review marriage ban since ‘Jesus didn’t say that’

By Severin Carrell, The Guardian
Friday, February 22, 2013 18:36 EST

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s most senior Catholic figure, points to ecclesiastical celibacy as having no ‘divine origin’

Britain’s most senior Catholic has suggested Catholic priests should be able to marry and have children, saying the demand for celibacy was not of “divine origin”.

In one of the most significant breaks with Catholic orthodoxy, Cardinal Keith O’Brien said many priests found it “very difficult to cope” with the celibate life and suggested lifting that ban could soon happen in the wider church.

The cardinal suggested that the next pope could review the marriage ban for priests. Marriage is allowed in some cases within the church already. The English Catholic church has accepted married former Anglican priests, under a policy introduced in 2011 by the present pope, Benedict XVI.

O’Brien, who has been the focus of bitter controversy over his staunch opposition to gay marriage and gay adoption, will be the only Catholic from the UK involved in the conclave in the Vatican next month to choose Benedict’s successor.

That vote will be one of his final official duties. Now semi-retired, the cardinal is due to step down shortly as archbishop of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh, and as the head of the Roman Catholic church in Scotland.

In an interview with the BBC, he said there were some elements of Catholic teaching which were “basic dogmatic belief” – such as opposition to abortion and euthanasia. But the proscription against priest’s marrying was not one of them.

“For example the celibacy of the clergy, whether priests should marry – Jesus didn’t say that,” O’Brien said. “There was a time when priests got married, and of course we know at the present time in some branches of the church – in some branches of the Catholic church – priests can get married, so that is obviously not of divine of origin and it could get discussed again.”

Saying he had never considered marriage, as he was “too busy” with his duties, the cardinal said: “In my time there was no choice and you didn’t really consider it too much, it was part of being a priest. When I was a young boy, the priest didn’t get married and that was it.

“I would be very happy if others had the opportunity of considering whether or not they could or should get married.

“It is a free world and I realise that many priests have found it very difficult to cope with celibacy as they lived out their priesthood and felt the need of a companion, of a woman, to whom they could get married and raise a family of their own.”

Senior Scottish Catholics, including a former archbishop, have privately floated allowing priests to marry to cope with the severe shortage of young men entering the priesthood. Some parishes in the Scottish Highlands have to share priests because too few are available.

O’Brien said he could “hardly believe it” when he heard Pope Benedict had announced his resignation. The cardinal said he would welcome a new, young pope from outside Europe for the first time.

“It is something which the cardinals have to think about seriously, having had popes from Europe for such a long time now – hundreds of years – whether it isn’t time to think of the developing world as being a source of excellent men,” he said.

“And of course we do have excellent cardinals from other parts of the world as well – highly intelligent, well-trained, deeply spiritual men from other parts of the world.” © Guardian News and Media 2013

[Image: Catholic priest via Shutterstock]


Vatican condemns reports of intrigue and corruption

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, February 23, 2013 7:20 EST

The Vatican on Saturday condemned Italian media reports of intrigue, corruption and blackmail among senior prelates, saying these could be a form of pressure to sway voting in next month’s conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI’s successor.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi dismissed as “gossip, disinformation and sometimes calumny” the reports, which are linked to an investigation by a committee of cardinals last year over a series of damaging leaks of confidential papal documents.

In a statement on Vatican radio’s website, Lombardi also referred to the upcoming conclave saying there was “unacceptable pressure to condition the vote of one or other member of the college of cardinals, who might be disliked for one reason or another”.

“There are people who are trying to take advantage of this moment of surprise and disorientation of weak spirits to sow confusion and discredit the Church and its government,” Lombardi said.

“People who think in terms of money, sex and power and see different realities through this prism cannot see the Church any differently,” he said.

“The result is a profoundly unjust description of the Church and many of its people,” he added.

“We want this to be a time of sincere reflection as tradition and the laws of the Church indicate.”

The pope last year appointed three retired cardinals to conduct an investigation, in parallel with a police inquiry, into a scandal known as “Vatileaks”, which led to the conviction and later pardoning of the pope’s former butler Paolo Gabriele.

They submitted their secret report for the pope’s eyes only, but Italian media have reported they will also share their conclusions with the cardinals who will elect the next pope, ahead of the pontiff’s resignation next week.

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« Reply #4723 on: Feb 23, 2013, 07:27 AM »

Originally published Friday, February 22, 2013 at 3:56 AM

India villagers demand progress in fatal rape case

Angry villagers in western India threatened Saturday to resume a highway blockade unless police show progress in the search for suspects in the rape and killing of three young sisters.

Associated Press


Angry villagers in western India threatened Saturday to resume a highway blockade unless police show progress in the search for suspects in the rape and killing of three young sisters.

The girls' bodies were found Feb. 16 in a village well in Bhandara district of Maharashtra state after they had gone missing from school two days earlier. According to news reports, their mother has said the girls were 6, 9 and 10 years old.

The mother said police did not immediately take the case seriously and did nothing until villagers held protests this past week, including blocking the highway. On Saturday, they threatened to block it again if police do not show progress in their investigation.

Police officer Abhinav Deshmukh said Friday that 10 teams of 30 investigators were working on the case and that he was confident they would find the killers soon.

On Saturday, a senior police official investigating the case said that some men were being questioned about the rape and killing of the girls, but that no arrests had been made. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The headmaster of the girls' school was suspended Saturday for failing to inform the family or police that the girls were missing, CNN-IBN television channel reported. Teachers and students had reported to the headmaster that the three girls were not present during lunch on Feb. 14, the report said.

Hundreds of people, including schoolchildren, protested in Bhandara on Saturday, demanding greater safety for women and girls. They shouted slogans against police and district authorities, accusing them of failing to curb crimes against women.

The case has sent shock waves across India, coming just two months after a fatal gang rape of a young woman on a moving bus in New Delhi. The New Delhi incident sparked nationwide protests about India's treatment of women and spurred the government to hurry through a new package of laws to protect them.

A new law enacted by the government increases the prison sentences for rape from the existing seven to 10 years to a maximum of 20 years. It also provides for the death penalty in extreme cases of rape that result in death, or leave the victim in a coma.
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« Reply #4724 on: Feb 23, 2013, 07:29 AM »

Thousands riot in Bangladesh over writings of ‘atheist bloggers’

By Agence France-Presse

DHAKA — Bangladesh police fired tear gas and rubber bullets Friday in fierce clashes with conservatists demanding the execution of bloggers they accused of blasphemy, killing one person and injuring around 100.

Parts of central Dhaka turned into a battlefield as protesters attacked police with bricks and sticks in front of the national mosque.

The security forces responded with hundreds of rounds of rubber bullets and tear gas shells, according to witnesses.

The country’s 12 religious parties called the protests after the Friday prayers in nearly half a million mosques nationwide, demanding the execution of bloggers they say were behind blasphemous writings against Islam and Prophet Mohammed (PBUH).

One person was killed during the clashes in western district of Jhenidah, district police chief Altaf Hossain told AFP, adding that hundreds of protesters also clashed with ruling party activists.

“The person, most probably a supporter of an Islamic party, died on the way to hospital,” he said.

Fierce clashes also occurred in the port city of Chittagong, the northern city of Bogra and dozens of other cities and towns where police fired rubber bullets at thousands of protesters, leaving scores injured, police and local media said.

In Dhaka violence broke out outside the Baitul Mukarram national mosque, where the protesters also attacked around a dozen journalists.

Police tried to thwart the protest by locking the gates of the mosque where thousands of people were performing their weekly Jumma prayers, an AFP photographer at the scene said.

Sayeed Khan, an emergency doctor at Dhaka medical college hospital, told AFP that up to 50 people had been admitted, most injured by rubber bullets.

“Several cases are very critical,” he said.

Tensions have risen in the Muslim-majority nation over the alleged anti-Islamic blog posts by Ahmed Rajib Haider, who was hacked to death last week near his home in the capital Dhaka.

Since Haider’s death, Bangladeshi social media has been flooded with his alleged blog posts and those by other bloggers mocking Islam, triggering protests by a number of Islamic groups and clerics.

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