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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1015639 times)
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« Reply #5790 on: Apr 17, 2013, 06:57 AM »

April 16, 2013

Officials Urge Tight Security for London Marathon After Boston Bombs


LONDON — With security forces in many cities on alert for copycat attacks after the Boston Marathon bombings, British officials on Tuesday urged a review of security measures for the London Marathon on Sunday — the next big international race — as the police and military here prepared to deploy for another major public event with the ceremonial funeral of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on Wednesday.

The French authorities also ordered security forces to reinforce patrols in public places “without delay,” urging citizens to be on the alert for suspicious-looking packages or abandoned baggage but to avoid panicky reactions. In Berlin, the interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, said German security officials were in constant contact with their American counterparts, but the Boston attacks would not change Germany’s current assessment of a “critical” level of the threat from terrorism.

“The security and threat situation has not changed for many years,” he said. Organizers of the Hamburg Marathon, also set for Sunday, said 400 police officers would be on duty guarding the 15,300 runners or diverting traffic. “At the moment there is no cause to change anything,” said Frank Thaleiser, the head of the organizing body.

But Mark Milde, the race director of the Berlin Marathon to be held in September, said organizers would review security arrangements and the Boston bombs “will be forever in the back of our minds.” Even the 600 police officers assigned to patrol the event would have to improvise in the event of a similar attack in Berlin, he said. “You never know where something’s going to happen,” Mr. Milde added in a television interview. “We’re prepared for the worst, but of course you can’t secure an entire 42-kilometer route.”

In London, both the funeral and the marathon are likely to bring crowds of people onto the streets, as the Boston event did on Monday when two bombs near the finish line killed at least three people and wounded scores.

There had already been concerns that radical foes of Mrs. Thatcher’s wrenching, market-driven social and economic changes would seek to disrupt her funeral, during which her coffin is to be borne on a horse drawn gun-carriage through central London along a route lined by 700 military personnel leading to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Some of the city’s most important thoroughfares, including Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, The Strand and Fleet Street, are to be closed to traffic from early morning until midafternoon.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip are to attend the ceremony along with hundreds of dignitaries, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger.

As a mark of respect, lawmakers have ordered the chimes of Big Ben to be silenced during the funeral, while artillery rounds boom from the Tower of London as the funeral procession moves toward St. Paul’s with a mounted escort of nine police officers on black horses.

Draped in the Union flag, Mrs. Thatcher’s coffin was transported in a hearse on Tuesday to Parliament, where it will remain overnight in the 13th-century Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft in preparation for Wednesday’s funeral.

British news reports said officials were debating whether the most likely threat to the ceremonial occasion came from disruption by domestic protesters or from terrorists. Either way, said former Home Secretary John Reid, the calculation would be that “we will be more resilient than any terrorist in the long run.”

Last year, the city girded itself against potential terrorist threats during the London Olympics and Paralympics, fearful of any effort to reprise the London bombings of July 2005.

“Everyone will have been appalled at the terrible events in Boston,” Mr. Reid said in a radio interview. “While the culprits and motivation behind the U.S. terror attacks are still unclear, this will obviously entail a review of security arrangements for both Lady Thatcher’s funeral and the London Marathon.”

He continued, “In light of the awful attacks in Boston, they will require extra vigilance from everyone involved and it is also to be hoped that everyone recognizes the added responsibility of cooperating with the police and the authorities at both events.”

The London Marathon is among the world’s biggest and usually attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators. It starts in southeast London and ends on The Mall near Buckingham Palace, passing locations including the Houses of Parliament.

David Lowe, a specialist in security at sports events, told the BBC, “I think you are going to find a lot of surveillance on the crowds.” Among spectators, “there could be people looking elsewhere for totally different reasons; I can imagine that the security will be stepped up.”

He added, “We have the two events where we have got to make sure, certainly the security services and the police, have got to make sure it is as tight as possible.”

But the sports minister, Hugh Robertson, said that the marathon should definitely go ahead and that he was “absolutely confident” it could be protected.

“These are balance of judgments, but we are absolutely confident here that we can keep the event safe and secure,” he said. “I think this is one of those incidents where the best way to show solidarity with Boston is to continue and send a very clear message to those responsible.”

Mayor Boris Johnson of London said that “given events in Boston, it’s only prudent for the police and the organizers of Sunday’s race to re-examine” security arrangements.

Nick Bitel, the chief executive of the London Marathon, echoed that sentiment, saying, “The London Marathon, in common with most sports events in the world, have got fairly detailed contingency plans which one hopes can deal with anything that occurs. But when something of this nature does happen, you obviously want to review them and see if changes need to be made.”

Reporting was contributed by Stephen Castle from London, David Jolly from Paris, and Victor Homola and Chris Cottrell from Berlin.
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« Reply #5791 on: Apr 17, 2013, 06:59 AM »

Senegal acts on child begging after fire kills nine in care of renegade teacher

Government plans to shut substandard Islamic schools after fire shows risks to children forced to earn money for teachers

Misha Hussain in Dakar, Wednesday 17 April 2013 06.59 BST   

A fire in March that left nine children dead and a country in shock has prompted the Senegalese government to finally take action on the sensitive issue of the talibés, children who are forced to beg on the streets.

Around 45 talibés were trapped in a small room built of wood in the Medina district of Dakar after their marabout, a religious man entrusted with their Islamic education and wellbeing, locked them in and headed off for the night.

Marabouts in Senegal have received a lot of international criticism since a 2010 Human Rights Watch report revealed how many force children to beg so they can turn profit for themselves.

The fire on 3 March, believed to have been started by a candle that had been knocked over, has drawn nationwide condemnation of the marabouts in Senegalese society and triggered debate over how best to deal with this sensitive religious and political issue.

In an address to the country, President Macky Sall promised to close all Qur'anic schools that didn't meet basic safety standards. He told the local press that the government would identify all those schools that fail to meet standards and close them to stop the exploitation of children.

In the coming months, the Senegalese government is expected to unveil an ambitious plan that will regulate the Qur'anic schools, known as daaras, and put an end to children begging on the streets by the end of next year.

"The plan hopes to rejuvenate a law drafted in 2007 that regulates the daaras by introducing operating norms and standards, as well as evaluating and identifying daaras that need to be shut down," said Amsatou Sow Sidibe, a presidential adviser.

Two other laws on child begging and child trafficking have rarely been enforced because of contradictions in the legal system and pressure from religious quarters that still wield considerable political and economical influence within the country.

"[Child] traffickers take refuge behind article 245 of the penal code, which contradicts the 2005 law and states that soliciting alms as part of religious traditions is not an act of begging. What's more, there is intense lobbying and pressure from some Qur'anic masters whenever the government takes drastic measures against child trafficking," said Sidibe.

Parents sending their children away with marabouts in an informal system known as confiage is not a new phenomenon in Senegal. The parents see this as an opportunity for the child to learn about Islam but poverty often plays an important role in this decision. The victims of the fire were aged between seven and 12, and came from the Kolda region, one of the poorest areas of Senegal.

"Senegal allocates just 0.8% of its budget to the ministry of family, which is responsible for social safety nets," said Jean Lieby, head of child protection for Unicef Senegal. "Unicef is piloting a 'cash transfer' programme that aims to give impoverished parents grants so they can feed, clothe and protect their children from abuse, exploitation and trafficking."

Meanwhile, a parallel search and rescue type operation, which is also funded by Unicef, in urban centres including Dakar and Kolda identifies vulnerable children and reintegrates them with their families, many of whom have no idea of their child's suffering.

Mariama Diao, who sent her son, Mamadou, away with a travelling marabout from Guinea-Bissau, only found out how her son was suffering when a talibé from the same daara in Dakar told her that Mamadou had run away.

"We sent Mamadou away with the marabout to learn about Islam, but we didn't hear from him in four years," said Diao, from Guiré Yéro, a small village near the border with Guinea-Bissau. "The last time the marabout came back to the village, he told us Mamadou was doing fine, that he was not just begging, but also learning the Qur'an, even though he didn't know where Mamadou was," she said.

"Marabouts who mistreat children in this way should be punished with the full force of the law," Diao added.

Mamadou was eventually found and returned to his family by La Lumière, a local NGO that reintegrates children into their communities. According to the NGO, some parents had been told by marabouts that their children were dead when they were not.

The mistreatment of children has prompted some religious leaders to speak up against child begging. Just weeks before the fire, a highly respected relgious leader had told parents to stop sending their children away with marabouts in an article in the daily Le Quotidien that was seen as the first time such a high-ranking Khalife had spoken out publicly on the issue of talibés.

"Stop sending your children to study outside of your locality. There, they are good for begging, hard work and beatings," said Khalife Thierno Amadou Baldé, the 70-year-old spiritual leader of the Peuhl people. His intervention has been seen as possibly heralding a shift back to the old system of confiage, where Qur'anic schools were part of the village and parents could supervise their children. However, such alignment between political and religious powers has drawn suspicion.

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« Reply #5792 on: Apr 17, 2013, 07:07 AM »

FBI arrests Israeli billionaire’s agent over bribery cover-up claim in battle over $10 billion iron ore mountain

By Ian Cobain, The Guardian
Tuesday, April 16, 2013 14:01 EDT

Frenchman is accused destroying evidence of how an Israeli billionaire gained control of a mountain rich in iron ore in Guinea

A battle over one of the world’s richest mineral deposits has taken a dramatic turn after the FBI announced the arrest of a representative of the billionaire businessman who had acquired it in deal that raised eyebrows, even within the buccaneering world of African mining.

The arrest follows years of bitter claim and counter-claim over Simandou, a mountain in the remote interior of the impoverished west African country of Guinea that is so laden with iron ore that its exploitation rights are valued at around $10bn.

Beny Steinmetz, one of the world’s wealthiest men, acquired the rights to extract half the ore at Simandou by pledging to invest just $165m to develop a mine at the mountain. Shortly afterwards, he sold half of his stake for £2.5bn. It was hailed as the most stunning private mining deal for decades: the world’s finest untapped iron ore deposit, one worth billions of dollars, had been snapped up for a song.

After the wind of democratic change swept through Guinea, however – and after the US justice department decided to mount an investigation into circumstances in which the glittering prize at Simandou changed hands – that deal was appearing to look distinctly less attractive.

On Sunday evening, Frederic Cilins, an agent for Steinmetz’s company, was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida, after federal agents had covertly recorded a series of meetings. The recording shows, it is alleged, that Cilins plotted the destruction of documents which it is claimed could have shown the Simandou exploitation rights were acquired after millions of dollars were paid in bribes to Guinea government officials.

Unknown to either Steinmetz or Cilins, the FBI launched an investigation in January into whether payments allegedly made on behalf of Beny Steinmetz Group Resources, the Guernsey-registered mining arm of the tycoon’s business empire that acquired the rights, were in breach of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

According to a statement by an FBI special agent that was filed at the southern district court of New York yesterday, Cilins had been under surveillance during four meetings at Jacksonville airport with an individual who, it is claimed, had agreed to help the agency mount a sting operation. Sources familiar with the investigation say that this person was Mamadie Toure, the widow of Lansana Conté, the dictator who ruled Guinea for 24 years until his death in 2008.

Cilins, a 50-year-old Frenchman, was arrested by FBI agents shortly after the final meeting. He appeared in court on Monday facing three charges: interfering with a witness, obstructing a federal criminal investigation and conspiring to destroy evidence in a federal criminal investigation. The charges carry a penalty of up to 20 years’ imprisonment.

According to the FBI agent’s filed statement – which did not name BSG Resources – Cilins had in the past offered to pay $12m in bribes in order to influence the award of mining concessions. He had also paid out several million dollars, and had called the meetings in order to arrange for the destruction of documents concerning bribe payments and mining concessions.

“Cilins repeated the word ‘urgently’ several times,” the statement claims. “Cilins told the CW [co-operating witness] that Cilins was asked to be present in person to witness the documents being burned in order to guarantee that nothing is left behind.”

The filed complaint states that a federal grand jury is investigating whether an unnamed mining company and its affiliates – on whose behalf it claims Cilins has been working – allegedly transferred into the United States bribery money for the valuable mining concessions in Simandou.

After Cilins was remanded in custody, Mythili Raman, the US acting assistant attorney general, said: “The justice department is committed to rooting out foreign bribery, and we will not tolerate criminal attempts to thwart our efforts.” BSG Resources confirmed that Cilins had worked for the company. Asked about the arrest and the bribery allegations, a spokesman declined to comment.

While Cilins was flying to Jacksonville last week, Steinmetz was embarking on litigation at the high court in London, accusing Mark Malloch-Brown, the former Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister and deputy secretary general of the United Nations, of being involved in a smear campaign against BSG Resources. Malloch-Brown and FTI Consulting, the city PR firm he works for, deny the allegation.

Guinea, a former French colony, has almost half of the world’s bauxite reserves and significant reserves of iron ore, gold and diamond reserves, but the majority of its 11 million people live in poverty as a result of years of corruption that has deterred many would-be investors.

The rights to extract iron ore from Simandou had been held by Rio Tinto until late 2008 when Conté stripped the Anglo-Australian mining giant of half its stake. Apparently, the president signed the necessary paperwork while on his deathbed, one of the final acts of his dictatorial government. BSG Resources then acquired those rights, agreeing in return to invest $165m to develop what it described as “a world-class integrated mining project”.

In April 2010, Steinmetz negotiated to sell half his company’s stake – a quarter of the mountain’s ore – to Vale of Brazil, the world’s biggest iron ore miner. BSG Resources and Vale formed a joint venture company called VBG which would produce around 2m tons of iron ore a year.

When Vale agreed to pay $2.5bn, one veteran of African mining was quoted in the financial press as saying that Steinmetz had hit “the jackpot”. The 57-year-old Israeli tycoon was estimated by Forbes magazine to have a net worth of $4bn. But while Steinmetz’s corporation defended the deal in which it acquired the rights, others were highly critical: the African telecoms billionaire Mo Ibrahim, for example, asked publicly: “Are the Guineans who did that deal idiots, or criminals, or both?”

When Guinea’s first democratic government was elected later in 2010, Alpha Condé, the new president, began scrutinising the terms of several mining concessions granted under Conté’s rule. He focused firmly on the Simandou deal.

With the assistance of one of his advisers, the wealthy investor and philanthropist George Soros, the new president assembled a team of investigators who, it is understood, have unearthed a number of documents that shed light on the way in which the Simandou deal had been sealed.

There were reports that a number of luxury gifts and payments had been made to relatives and associates of Lansana Conté, and to senior officials in the short-lived military dictatorship that followed his death. They included claims that a gold-and-diamond encrusted miniature Formula One car was given to a former government minister. BSG Resources responded to this allegation by saying that the car was worth no more than $2,000, and had been given to the mining ministry, not an individual, in a ceremony that was held in public.

Claims that Conté had been given a diamond-studded gold watch, and that a substantial commission – as much as $2.5m – had been made to his wife, Mamadie Toure, were flatly denied.

The development of the mine stalled after Conde’s election. During talks between BSG Resources, Vale and the government of Guinea – which were held in London last month – it became clear that the Steinmetz group’s control of the Simandou rights were under threat, a situation that the company described as “bizarre”.

During the talks, the president of BSG Resources was barred from Guinea, and Vale told its business partner that it would not be paying the $2bn that was outstanding on the $2.5bn deal. © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #5793 on: Apr 17, 2013, 07:09 AM »

April 16, 2013

Candidate Disparages Gays in Paraguay, Stirring Dispute


ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay — Horacio Cartes, the tobacco magnate and front-runner for months in Paraguay’s presidential election on Sunday, has set off a fierce controversy here after publicly comparing gay people to “monkeys” and likening the support of same-sex marriage to believing in “the end of the world.”

In a radio interview this month, Mr. Cartes, 57, theatrically threatened to inflict harm on his own private parts if his 28-year-old son were to seek to marry another man.

“I would shoot myself in the testicles, because I do not agree,” he said, using slightly more colorful language to describe how he would react to such a possibility.

The comments by Mr. Cartes, who is also battling accusations of laundering money and profiting from the smuggling of contraband Paraguayan-made cigarettes into neighboring Brazil, have introduced an unexpected element into a presidential race he had long been leading. But one recent poll suggested the momentum in the race was shifting.

The contest pits Mr. Cartes, of the powerful Colorado Party, against Efraín Alegre, of the Liberal Party. While the two share ideological similarities, with relatively conservative and business-friendly proposals, Mr. Alegre, a senator, has adopted a more nuanced stance on gay rights. The issue gained prominence here after legislators in Uruguay voted this month to legalize same-sex marriage, making Uruguay the second country in South America to do so after Argentina.

While Mr. Alegre, 48, has said he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, he said Tuesday in an interview that he was open to more debate on the issue. “This is something that needs to be discussed in society,” he said. Mr. Cartes’s statements on same-sex marriage and other issues, he said, represent “the Paraguay of the past.”

The election on Sunday comes as the governing institutions in Paraguay, among South America’s poorest nations, seek to regain legitimacy. The Senate here drew criticism around the region last year after hastily ousting the president, Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop who had ended six decades of dominance by the Colorado Party.

Somos Gay, a Paraguayan gay rights group, issued a statement this month calling Mr. Cartes’s comments on same-sex marriage “cruel” and pressing him to apologize publicly. “The Colorado Party claims to protect the Paraguayan family, claiming that if lesbians and gays become visible in our society, the traditional family will disappear,” said Sergio López, a director of the group. “But in fact, they are ignoring reality since that traditional family is no longer the norm.”

Mr. Cartes has not issued an apology, and a spokesman for his campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.

Mr. Cartes is no stranger to controversy. His campaign has faced scrutiny over a State Department diplomatic cable, obtained by WikiLeaks, in which he was described as the focus of a money-laundering inquiry related to an institution under his control, Banco Amambay. He has rejected the accusations of laundering money as “laughable.”

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« Reply #5794 on: Apr 17, 2013, 07:13 AM »

April 16, 2013

Post-Election Tensions Escalate in Venezuela as Demonstrations Turn Deadly


CARACAS, Venezuela — Tensions escalated here on Tuesday as the newly elected president, Nicolás Maduro, and his opponent blamed each other for the violence that the government said had left seven people dead, and Mr. Maduro accused the United States of being behind that violence.

The new president vowed to crack down on protests and said he would block a march called by his opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski, to demand a recount of the vote. Mr. Capriles claims he is the real winner of the extremely close election on Sunday and has refused to recognize the result.

Mr. Capriles responded to Mr. Maduro on Tuesday by calling off the march to the headquarters of the National Electoral Council, which had been planned for Wednesday, saying he had received information that the government planned to infiltrate the march and cause violence. He called on his followers instead to bang pots at their homes in a traditional Venezuelan protest.

Mr. Maduro was declared the winner of Sunday’s election with 50.8 percent of the vote, to 49 percent for Mr. Capriles, according to the current government count. The tally has Mr. Maduro ahead by about 270,000 votes, out of 14.8 million cast, although not all votes have been counted. Among those outstanding are votes from Venezuelans living in foreign countries, who tend to vote for the opposition.

Mr. Maduro is to complete the six-year term of President Hugo Chávez, who had cancer and died March 5. His new term began in January.

In an extraordinary day of charges and countercharges, Mr. Maduro cut into regular television and radio programming three times with special national broadcasts that all stations are required to carry.

Each time he angrily criticized Mr. Capriles, sometimes working himself into what seemed to be near hysteria, shouting until he was nearly out of breath, often stabbing his finger directly at the camera. He compared the opposition to Nazi Germany, accused them of planning a coup, and said they hoped to bring about a civil war like those in Libya and Syria.

“The march to the center of Caracas will not be permitted,” Mr. Maduro said in his first broadcast, from a government-run health clinic. “I will use a hard hand against fascism and intolerance. I declare it. If they want to overthrow me, come and get me. Here I am, with the people and the armed forces.”

He said five people died at opposition protests on Monday in different parts of the country, and, pointing a finger at the camera, he said Mr. Capriles was responsible. Mr. Maduro later raised the death toll to seven, but the number of deaths related to the protests could not be independently confirmed.

At an afternoon news conference, Mr. Capriles said the government had given T-shirts to people who would attend Wednesday’s march and then carry out violent acts. “Their agenda is violence,” he said. “Our agenda is peaceful protest.”

Mr. Capriles also questioned the government claims that all the deaths cited were associated with the protests.

In a second broadcast, from an office of the government-run oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, Mr. Maduro lashed out at Washington.

“The United States Embassy has financed all the acts of violence in this country,” he said, adding that violent groups were directed by two American military attachés whom he had expelled the day that Mr. Chávez died. He accused another American Embassy employee of plotting to sabotage the nation’s electrical system.

In each broadcast, Mr. Maduro returned to the theme of threats to his government. At one point he demanded that television stations choose sides. “Decide who you are with, with the country and peace and the people, or are you going to go back to be with fascism?” he shouted.

A United States State Department spokesman said in a written statement, “We continue to completely reject the Venezuelan government’s claim that the United States is involved in any type of conspiracy to destabilize the Venezuelan government or to harm anyone in Venezuela.”

The third time Mr. Maduro broke into regular television and radio programming, he cut off the broadcast of Mr. Capriles’s news conference. Speaking from a hospital, he told his supporters to play loud music and shoot off fireworks each night to drown out the opposition’s pots and pans protest.

In his news conference, Mr. Capriles said that his campaign had received information on thousands of voting irregularities, including opposition witnesses who were forcibly removed from voting centers and voters intimidated by armed motorcyclists.

The government said that the seven people who were killed were supporters of Mr. Maduro. But the father of one of those killed, Ender José Bastardo, 21, disputed that account. 

The Justice Ministry said that Mr. Bastardo, a mechanic, was among a group of people celebrating Mr. Maduro’s victory in Cumanacoa, in eastern Venezuela, when they were attacked by a group that opened fire. Mr. Bastardo was killed and two other people were wounded.

But Mr. Bastardo’s father, William Bastardo, 45, said he and his son were marching in a protest against Mr. Maduro’s election, banging pots, when shots were fired from a nearby building. “I demand justice for my son,” the father said at the morgue in the nearby city of Cumaná, “and that peaceful protest be respected.”

Paula Ramón and María Eugenia Díaz contributed reporting from Caracas, and María Iguarán from Cumaná, Venezuela.


U.S. criticizes Venezuela election certification of Chavez heir Nicolas Maduro

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 16, 2013 15:15 EDT

The United States on Tuesday questioned Venezuelan authorities’ decision to certify the election of late president Hugo Chavez’s heir but condemned the violence during political protests.

The National Election Council’s proclamation of President Nicolas Maduro as “the victor before completing a full recount is difficult to understand,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.

“They did not explain their haste in taking this decision,” he said, adding that the United States was not ready to recognize Maduro as the winner.

Ventrell said that the United States supported the right to peaceful protests but condemned the violence, which has left at least seven people dead.

“Violence has no place in a democratic electoral process. So we join in others in calling on all Venezuelans to refrain from violence at this time,” Ventrell said.

The United States, which had fraught relations with the leftist firebrand Chavez, had called for a full recount of the election results which showed a narrow victory to Maduro.

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has refused to concede defeat and called for protests, although several Latin American powers have recognized Maduro as victorious.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, conceded that Venezuela is unlikely to agree to a recount in the coming days but said that Washington did not want to get ahead of the opposition’s decisions.

“The opposition needs some space to be able to express the views of the 50 percent of the people of Venezuela who didn’t vote for the guy,” the official said.

“I think it would be unusual for us, having been so clear that this recount needed to happen… to suddenly just come out and say ‘no problem,’” he said.

Chavez, a strident critic of US policies in Latin America, accused the United States of involvement in a 2002 coup in which he was briefly overthrown.

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« Reply #5795 on: Apr 17, 2013, 07:19 AM »

The Christian Science Monitor

Antarctic ice tells conflicting story about climate change's role in big melt

Two different areas of Antarctica tell two very different stories about how climate change might be affecting ice melt. The data appear to confirm that climate change impacts can be very local.

By Pete Spotts, Staff writer / April 16, 2013 at 8:36 am EDT

Since the early 1990s, glaciers draining Antarctica's vast ice sheets have dumped ice into the ocean at an an eye-popping rate.

Now, two new studies of ice cores from different parts of the continent are yielding important clues as to why the loss rates have been so high.

On the Antarctic Peninsula, global warming appears to be taking a direct toll. Glaciers are melting mainly from the top down. The peninsula is losing land ice in the summer at a rate unmatched in the past 1,000 years.

For the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, one of two vast continental sheets, losses also have been relatively large. There, however, floating ice shelves that form the seaward end of glaciers are melting from the bottom up. Today's losses are comparable to those that have occurred a few other times over the past 2,000 years. The authors say that for now, the evidence points to the extended reach of naturally shifting climate patterns in the tropical Pacific as driving the losses.

At first blush, the two might appear to be at loggerheads. Instead, researchers suggest, the two highlight how, as on other continents, the intensity of global warming's impact at the bottom of the world depends on location, location, location. And both point to the challenge researchers still face in forecasting the future of the continent's ice chest in a warming climate.

Each in its own way "provides guidance on projecting the future of sea-level rise," notes Richard Alley, a glaciologist at Penn State University in University Park, Pa., who was not a participant in either study.

Researchers have a keen interest in trying to understand and project ice losses in Antarctica, as well as on Greenland, with global warming. Previous studies have shown that since 1992, the loss of ice from polar caps is raising sea levels by an average of about 0.59 millimeters a year.

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet alone could boost sea levels an average of 10 feet if it melts – an increase that would occur over hundreds to thousands of years, notes Eric Steig, a researcher at the University of Washington who led one of the two research efforts.

Between 1992 and 2011, the peninsula lost ice at rate of 20 billion tons a year, according to a study published last November in the journal Science. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet lost 65 billion tons a year, and the East Antarctic Ice Sheet – the continent's largest – lost 14 billion tons a year, although the uncertainties in that number are so large the loss could just as well have been nothing.
Antarctic Peninsula

The Antarctic Peninsula is an extended arm of land that last shook hands with the southern tip of South America roughly 235 million years ago when the two continents drifted apart. It's mountainous and extends into the Southern Ocean to some 250 miles above the Antarctic Circle.

"In some ways, it's a climate oddity," writes Robert Mulvaney, a researcher with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and a member of the team formally reporting its results on the region's ice Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience, in an e-mail. Relatively warm westerly winds, laden with with ocean moisture, blow across the peninsula. So it tends to be warmer than the mainland and experiences higher snowfall rates.

Even so, the buildup of the loss of ozone in the stratosphere and the buildup of greenhouse gases – both from human industrial activity – have affected circulation patterns over the region in ways that have left the peninsula as one of the fastest-warming regions on the planet.

The BAS team, led by Nerilie Abram a researcher with the Australian National University and the BAS, analyzed portions of a 1,194-foot-long ice core from a glacier on James Ross Island.

They found that from the coldest point in their record, between 1410 and 1460, melt rates are about 10 times higher today than they were then. But most the most intense melting has occurred since the middle of the last century. And it's been occurring at the surface, providing water that can lubricate the bottom of land glaciers and filling crevasses to act as ice-breaking wedges when the trapped water refreezes.

The results show that "the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed to a level where even small increases in temperature can now lead to a big increase in summer ice melt," said Dr. Abram in a prepared statement.
West Antarctic Ice Sheet

Meanwhile, Dr. Steig's team analyzed an ice core from high on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, some 350 miles inland from the Amundsen Sea – comparable to the distance between Los Angeles; and Flagstaff, Ariz. The core covers 2,000 years of climate history. In addition, the team used data from other cores taken in the region and found that its core does a good job of representing conditions in the region as a whole.

In general, the climate on the ice sheet is significantly different, notes Steig. It lacks the warmer temperatures that accompany an oceanfront view. And the surface at the drill sites is around 6,000 feet above sea level. When the sheet loses ice, it's at the ocean end of glaciers that typically become grounded on the sea floor. But changing wind patterns can bring to the surface warm water that usually stays deeper in the ocean. This warm water melts the shelves from underneath until they no longer are grounded. The ungrounded portions break free as vast icebergs, leaving the glacier to deliver more interior ice to the coast, where the process repeats.

As the BAS team found, Steig and colleagues noted warming during the 1990s, accelerating the ice loss. But the team also found that comparable conditions in the 1830s and 1940s, as well as further back. That suggests a loss of ice comparable to the rates seen today, he and his colleagues say.

The '90s, '40s, and 1830s were characterized by strong El Niños – conditions in the tropical Pacific in which waters in the eastern tropical Pacific are warmer than normal, while the waters in the western Pacific are cooler than normal. This alters atmospheric circulation patterns. While the effects are strongest in the tropics, they appear at higher latitudes as well.

Thus, at least for now, it would appear that natural climate swings are playing a greater role in the loss of ice from West Antarctica than global warming, the researchers suggest.

If conditions are largely governed by conditions in the tropical Pacific, as they appear to be, an ability to project the ice sheet's future in a warmer world depends on researcher's ability to figure out whether El Niño conditions will predominate in the future, or La Niña conditions – El Niño's opposite. This study also was published Sunday in Nature Geoscience.

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« Reply #5796 on: Apr 17, 2013, 07:39 AM »

In the USA...

FBI: Hunt for Boston Marathon bombing suspect is ‘wide open’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 16, 2013 18:58 EDT

US investigators said Tuesday the range of suspects and motives in the grisly Boston bombings remained “wide open” as experts assessed remnants of the crude devices designed to inflict maximum suffering.

US President Barack Obama condemned Monday’s attack at the finish line of the city’s marathon, which killed three people and wounded more than 170 others, as “an act of terror.”

Obama, who will attend a special service for the victims in Boston on Thursday, said there was still no indication who carried out the attack, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said no claim of responsibility was made.

Boston’s Boylston Street, scene of the carnage, remained sealed off as investigators sought leads in the worst attack on civilians in the United States since the September 11, 2001 atrocities.

US authorities threw virtually every investigation agency into the hunt with more than 1,000 officers working in Boston alone, said Rick DesLauriers, head of the FBI’s Boston office.

“This will be a worldwide investigation,” DesLauriers told reporters. “We will go to the ends of the Earth to identify the subject or subjects responsible for this despicable crime,” he added.

DesLauriers said fragments of “possible” pressure cookers used to pack the bomb had been found and were being put together by experts. He added that BB pellets, nails and shreds of black nylon from bags had also been recovered.

Similar easy-to-make crude bombs are used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The range of suspects and motives remains wide open,” DesLauriers said later in the day, adding: “But rest assured we’re working hard to get the answers.”

“Someone knows who did this,” he said, urging the public to come forward with any relevant information. No one was in custody so far.

Doctors, who carried out at least 10 amputations, some at the scene, gave details of the bomb impact.

“These bombs contained small metallic fragments more consistent with pellets and other small pieces of metal, but also spiked points that resembled nails without heads,” said George Velmahos, head of emergency medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Roger Walls at Brigham and Women’s Hospital said a dozen carpentry nails were taken from the body of one victim.

The two bombs, which were 13 seconds and about 100 meters (yards) apart, sprayed the shrapnel into the crowd of thousands of people lining the Boylston Street to watch the runners cross the finish line.

Three people were killed and 176 injured, with 17 people in critical condition, Boston police commissioner Ed Davis told reporters. The dead and injured were aged between two and 71 and included nine children.

Among the dead was an eight-year-old boy, Martin Richard, who had been waiting at the finish for his father to cross the line. His mother suffered grievous brain injuries and his sister lost a leg.

Massachusetts resident Krystle Campbell, 29, was also named as one of the dead. The third victim was a Boston University graduate student whose name has not yet been given.

Liz Norden tearfully told the Boston Globe how two of her sons, both in their 30s, lost legs in the blast.

Most of the 23,000 runners in the 26.2-mile (42-kilometer) race had finished when the first bomb went off, sending out a powerful shockwave.

Boston relived the horror in the many videos taken with telephone cameras that investigators also pored over in the hunt. Police appealed for the public to send in pictures or videos.

While vigils and other remembrance ceremonies were to be held, armed National Guard troops and police patrolled Boston airport, commuter trains and buses. Authorities warned that tight security would be imposed for several days.

Federal and state investigators searched an apartment in the Boston suburb of Revere, and took away bags after a man described as “a person of interest” was stopped.

“There were no intelligence warnings that we know of,” said Representative Peter King, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, who added that investigators had not determined whether foreign or domestic groups were involved.

New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and several other major US cities boosted security as Russian President Vladimir Putin led global condemnation, describing the twin explosions as “barbaric.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “nothing justifies such a malicious attack on people attending a peaceful sporting event.” Iran also strongly condemned the blasts.

The national flag over the White House was lowered to half-staff and the New York Stock Exchange held a minute of silence before trading started.

Organizers of Sunday’s London Marathon said the race would go ahead, but security arrangements were under review.


Background checks legislation short of 60 votes in the Senate

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, April 16, 2013 17:08 EDT

The US Senate faces a showdown this week over gun rights, but even supporters of a contentious compromise on background checks conceded Tuesday that they are still short of the necessary votes.

President Barack Obama expressed optimism about the proposed bill and said it would be “unimaginable” if Congress defied strong public support for the measure, especially after the Newtown school massacre in December.

The chamber’s top Democrat Harry Reid insisted they had the momentum in the Senate to pass the legislation, which would expand background checks to all commercial firearms sales, including purchases made at gun shows and online.

A deal was being sought that would allow Reid to call for votes on several proposed amendments to the underlying gun bill, beginning with the background check measure as early as Wednesday, he said.

Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot in the head in 2011 and has emerged as a powerful voice for stronger gun laws, made a dramatic appearance on Capitol Hill to lean on some undecided members.

“I’m optimistic, I think we can get there,” her husband Mark Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut, told AFP as he and Giffords, who both strongly back the constitutional right to bear arms, began their last-minute appeals.

But the numbers simply were not there on Tuesday, one of the architects of the compromise conceded.

“We’re not ready for a vote,” Senator Mark Kirk, who helped craft the legislation with fellow Republican Pat Toomey and Democrats Joe Manchin and Chuck Schumer, told reporters after a debate on the measure officially began.

Supporters would need 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to overcome blocking tactics and ensure final passage. Democrats and independent allies hold 55 seats.

But with a handful of Democrats including Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska facing tough re-election fights in red-leaning states in 2014, senior Democrat Dick Durbin said his side would need “nine or 10″ Republicans on board to meet the threshold.

“They don’t have the votes to pass it… and I think they know it,” a defiant Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley said in the Senate.

“We haven’t voted because despite claims from the other side, background checks are not and never have been the sweet spot of the gun control debate.”

Schumer said his side was “trying to get the votes” from moderate Republicans such as John McCain and a handful of Democrats, but such lobbying was being countered by that of the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA).

Schumer and McCain were meeting with Obama later Tuesday to discuss a different subject — immigration reform — but the veteran Democratic lawmaker said he had a message for the president on guns: “Just help us pass the bill.”

Last week the Senate agreed to debate what has emerged as the most significant guns legislation in nearly 20 years — 16 Republicans voted to proceed to the bill, arguing that it deserved a debate and a vote, but several have said they would not support it.

Manchin and Toomey spent much of Monday in the chamber seeking last-minute support for the deal, which got a surprise boost when the second-largest US gun rights group, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, came out in favor of it.

The legislation would expand background checks to all commercial firearm sales, stiffen penalties for gun trafficking and boost school safety measures.

Several amendments are expected to be put forward, including some which gun control advocates say would water down the legislation.

With the bill under threat, Obama has engaged in a full-court press, phoning Republicans as well as Democrats from right-leaning states.


Nonpartisan review concludes Bush knowingly ordered torture

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, April 16, 2013 10:53 EDT

A nonpartisan group led by a former top Bush administration official concluded a two-year review on Tuesday that finds the former president and his top advisers knowingly ordered interrogation techniques that U.S. officials have previously referred to as torture.

“After conducting our own two-year investigation, weighing the credibility of all sources and studying the current public record, we have come to the regrettable, but unavoidable, conclusion that the United States did indeed engage in conduct that is clearly torture,” former Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR), who served as undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security during the Bush administration, said in an advisory.

The 577-page review, put together by the advocacy group The Constitution Project, includes interviews with dozens of people who have first-hand knowledge of the discussions about interrogation techniques and their implementation. Although Bush administration loyalists said at the time that “enhanced interrogation tactics” like stress positions, waterboarding, mock executions, sensory deprivation and prolonged diapering were not torture, this report aims to specifically and finally emphasize that these activities meet the clinical definition of “torture.”

“As long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United States could again engage in torture,” the report says, according to The New York Times, which received an advance copy.

Both President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have admitted in public that they specifically ordered the use of enhanced interrogation tactics. Both men used the same words several years apart, saying they “damn right” ordered such abuse. Cheney has since lobbied the Obama administration to embrace the tactic, and insisted he would order it again if given the chance. They have continued to say that the tactics were legal thanks to preclearance by Department of Justice attorneys, one of whom once compared waterboarding a prisoner to breaking the speed limit and said that the president could theoretically order a child’s testicles to be crushed without violating any law.

“We went to a lot of trouble to find out what we could do, how far we could go, what was legal and so forth,” Cheney said in 2011. “Out of that emerged what we called enhanced interrogation. It worked. It provided some absolutely vital pieces of intelligence. It was a good program. It was a legal program. It was not torture. I would strongly recommend we continue it.”

The Obama administration has consistently denied that the use of torture led to information that helped them find and assassinate al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, as many torture proponents suggest.

“What sets the United States apart as a world leader, in addition to our military might, are our values and respect for the rule of law. All the available evidence led us to conclude that, for many of these detainees, the U.S. violated both international law and treaties and our own laws, greatly diminishing America’s ability to forge important alliances around the world,” former Rep. James R. Jones (D-OK) added in the group’s advisory.

The report also notes dozens of instances in which U.S. officials and U.S courts treated similar tactics as torture when applied to U.S. persons, and urges the Obama administration to declassify a 6,000-page Senate report on the extent of torture’s use during the Bush years.

“This has not been an easy inquiry for me, because I know many of the players,” Hutchinson told The New York Times. “But I just think we learn from history. It’s incredibly important to have an accurate account not just of what happened but of how decisions were made.”

All criminal investigations into the Bush torture program have been called off by the Obama administration.


April 16, 2013

A Fight in Colorado Over Uranium Mines


SLICK ROCK, Colo. — The Dolores River bends through southwestern Colorado like a gooseneck, shaded by red rock canyons that leave those who pass through here breathless.

Hidden from the riverbanks, behind cottonwoods and mule deer tracks, are different, artificial formations. Off a nearby road, an aging tower marks the property of the Burros Mine, partly owned by State Representative Don Coram. Heaps of rocks tinged with the greenish hue of uranium are visible. Abandoned mining equipment lies strewn about. A darkened portal is gated shut. Downstream, another mine, owned by the Cotter Corporation, lies similarly silent.

Despite bursts of activity from 2003 through 2008, most uranium mines scattered across Colorado have largely been out of production for decades, a testament to fluctuating mineral prices. Now the future of these mines is at the crux of a dispute that could set a precedent for how they are handled.

Environmental groups in Colorado contend that many of the state’s 33 uranium mines should be forced to clean up, given that uranium mining, which flourished here during the cold war, has gone dormant. In legal filings, they have alleged that companies like Cotter are skirting potential costs associated with cleanup, which is required by the state after an operation shuts down.

The environmental groups say the companies should be prohibited from obtaining state-issued exemptions, under which the companies do not have to produce but are not obligated to restore the land, either. Letting the mines idle heightens the risk of contaminating treasured areas like the Dolores with radioactive substances like uranium and radon, the groups argue. At a hearing on Wednesday, Colorado’s mining board will review the environmental groups’ objections.

The dispute cuts especially deep in the West, where abandoned uranium mines pock the region and have cost the federal government millions to reclaim.

“State law says that you should be either mining the land or you should be reclaiming the land so it can released for other uses,” said Travis Stills, a lawyer with the Energy Minerals Law Center, which represents the Information Network for Responsible Mining, a Colorado watchdog group that goes by the acronym Inform. “But you can’t just go out and occupy the land for decades while doing essentially nothing, except be an ongoing source of pollution.”

Over the last two months, the minerals law group has filed objections with Colorado’s mining board over seven uranium mines that recently filed for the exemptions, known as “temporary cessation” permits. The permits allow mines to stop production for five years without closing, and are intended to consider the nexus between mining activity and mineral prices. Operators can reapply, but production cannot be halted for more than a decade. A mine must eventually show activity or shut down and restore the land it used.

In their objections, the environmental groups note that the mines in question, in all but one case, exceeded the 10-year limit years ago, and have merely applied for additional permits.

The groups filed several more objections Tuesday over Mr. Coram’s Gold Eagle Mining company, which has applied for the extensions on four mines.

“We feel these mines are doing everything they can not to reclaim,” said Jennifer Thurston, Inform’s executive director. “These are sites where there’s a great potential for radioactive contamination. They shouldn’t be just casual operations.”

In response, Colorado’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety, part of the Natural Resources Department, said that many of the mines are legally still eligible for temporary cessation. A lawyer for the division, Julie Murphy, wrote that state law restricts the permits to 10 consecutive years, not 10 years total.

Cotter’s mines, for example, had reached their limit in the early 1990s. But Ms. Murphy noted the mines had since switched “to intermittent status,” allowing them to stay open with minimal activity, remaining eligible for a third exemption.

Officials with Cotter or its parent company, General Atomics, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But the company has defended its operations in legal filings.

“Inform seeks to permanently close the mines as if they have no value, are unregulated by the division and were abandoned long ago by their owner,” wrote Robert Tuchman, a lawyer for Cotter. “Nothing could be more remote from the truth. The mines are of great importance to Cotter.”

Nonetheless, Tony Waldron, minerals program supervisor for the division, said Colorado was “taking a hard look” at when a mining operator needed to shut down and begin reclamation — the cost of which can range from a few thousand dollars into the millions.

Mining has long been a source of glory and ghosts in Colorado’s Uravan mineral belt, especially during the cold war, before the industry crashed in the 1980s.

As the United States now seeks homegrown energy sources, the uranium industry has shown signs of a resurgence. Beginning in 2009, one company, Energy Fuels, began seeking a license for the first new uranium processing mill in more than three decades, in Colorado’s Paradox Valley.

Still, there has been no major uranium ore production in Colorado since 2009, according to state records.

The dispute in Colorado is complicated by a federal injunction that temporarily prohibits all mining activities on 25,000 acres of Department of Energy land here, including tracts leased by Cotter and Gold Eagle. A federal judge ordered the ban in 2011, after the Energy Department moved to extend its leasing program for uranium mining. Judge William Martinez found the government had failed to consider the environmental impacts.

The Energy Department recently drafted a new environmental impact statement, and public hearings are scheduled for this month. Mr. Coram said he had already completed reclamation on one of the mines and planned on using the other mines when the timing was right.

But Mr. Stills said that granting Gold Eagle’s mines and others another five years to avoid reclamation would only increase the risk of contamination.

Both Colorado’s mining division and the state’s Public Health and Environment Department monitor water quality around mines, which are also subject to inspections. And mines must now present a detailed plan showing how they will stay environmentally compliant. In 2010, mining inspectors found that uranium from Cotter’s closed Schwartzwalder mine contaminated a creek flowing into a local reservoir. The company has agreed to clean up the mine and the creek.

The United States Geological Survey is also poised to start researching the potential long-term impacts of uranium mining on wildlife, the environment and humans.

For now, the future of uranium mining here remains murky. Near a ridge named Last Chance, uranium mines bought by Energy Fuels in 2012 sit vacant, generators abandoned, wires clawing the air as if searching for signs of life. A company spokesman said it hopes to restart mining as soon as the price of uranium rises again.

But Ms. Thurston of Inform said that time has passed. “The uranium boom ended a long time ago, and it hasn’t come back all this time,” she said. “I don’t understand why we have to wait for the past to be cleaned up.”


Racist House Republican Uses Boston Bombing As an Excuse to Kill Immigration Reform

By: Jason Easley
Apr. 16th, 2013

Tea Party Republican Rep. Steve King (R-IA) is trying to exploit the bombings in Boston to kill immigration reform.

According to National Review,

    “Some of the speculation that has come out is that yes, it was a foreign national and, speculating here, that it was potentially a person on a student visa,” King says. “If that’s the case, then we need to take a look at the big picture.”

    On immigration, King says national security should be the focus now, and any talk about a path to legalization should be put on hold.

    “We need to be ever vigilant,” he says. “We need to go far deeper into our border crossings. . . . We need to take a look at the visa-waiver program and wonder what we’re doing. If we can’t background-check people that are coming from Saudi Arabia, how do we think we are going to background check the 11 to 20 million people that are here from who knows where?”

It should be noted that the person from Saudi Arabia that Rep. King referred to in his comments is not a suspect, and there has been no official confirmation or evidence that the attack came from from a foreign national.

Rep. King has a long history of racism and bigotry. In 2010, King said that he had no problem with tea party protesters who shouted ni**er and fa**ot at members of Congress. That same year Rep. King said that President Obama, “has a default mechanism in him that breaks down the side of race, on the side that favors the black person.” King has also called the President of the United States, “very, very urban,” and that Muslim extremists have infiltrated the Justice Department.

King went for the bigot’s daily double by trying to link the Boston bombings to immigration reform. He attacked both both Hispanics and Muslims in a single swoop. The anti-immigrant right is desperate to stop immigration reform and they will use anything, including baseless bigoted speculation about the Boston Bombings to accomplish their goal.

Rep. King exhibits vile racism every chance he gets. He is also part of the crowd that thinks Obama is going to blame them for the Boston bombings. King demonstrated just how low some Republicans are willing to go in order to carry out an agenda that is based on racism, bigotry, and hate.


John Boehner Calls for Tax Fairness Via a $200,000 Tax Cut for Millionaires

By: Jason Easley
Apr. 16th, 2013

Speaker of the House John Boehner showed who he really sympathizes with by calling for more ‘tax fairness’ for millionaires to the tune of a $200,000 tax cut.

Here is the video:

In his call for “tax fairness” Boehner said,

    This is Senator McConnell’s infamous “Red Tape Tower.”

    It’s 20,000 pages high, seven feet tall, and includes all of the regulations generated by the president’s health care law.

    Now take a good look. Now picture this: FOUR of these.

    Our tax code is four million words long. Add to that the regulations, explanations, annotations, and more, and there are 74,000 pages.

    And just like ObamaCare, our tax code is a headache for families and workers, and it’s a nightmare for small business owners.

    That’s why Republicans want to fix it.

    Our balanced budget not only repealed ObamaCare and its 21 tax hikes – it laid the groundwork for a fairer tax code.

    Closing tax loopholes and lowering rates will mean more jobs, higher wages, and a stronger economy.

Speaker Boehner tried to hide his intentions with vague mentions of closing tax loopholes, families, and workers, but what he was really referring to can be found in the House budget.

When Boehner mentioned lowering tax rates, he was referring to lowering tax rates for the wealthiest Americans from 39.6% to 25%. According to the House budget, millionaires would receive a $200,000 tax cut in 2014. The House budget also repeals the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), and lowers the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%. Even worse, the House wants to “fix” our tax code by raising taxes on middle class families by an average of $3,000 a year. (The problem that Boehner and his fellow House Republicans are trying address is that they think the rich are overtaxed, and everyone else should be paying more.)

Congressional Republicans are still trying to fool the American people into supporting their agenda by leaving out key details. Conceptually, tax fairness sounds very democratic. Fairness is a value that appeals to most people, but Republicans have redefined fairness to mean the people at the top pay less while everyone else pays more.

Republicans aren’t trying to appeal to the American people. They are trying to trick them. By leaving out the details, Boehner was trying to deceive people into supporting something that would be economically detrimental to them.

If what Boehner is trying to pull seems sleazy, that’s because it is. Speaker Boehner knows that the devil is in the details, which is why he tried to leave the details out.

Click to watch the buffoon:

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« Reply #5797 on: Apr 18, 2013, 05:54 AM »

Video Shows an Angry Putin Threatening to Dismiss Officials


MOSCOW — A Kremlin-linked Web site on Wednesday leaked a video clip of an angry President Vladimir V. Putin threatening to dismiss top officials, fueling speculation that Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev and members of his cabinet are in danger of being fired.

The video was published hours before Mr. Medvedev was to report to Parliament, a yearly event in which he is expected to respond to criticism. Mr. Putin’s press secretary called the leak “unacceptable from an ethical standpoint,” and said the Kremlin might have to “stop our relationship with Life News,” a tabloid-like site that published the clip. Before beginning his blistering rebuke, Mr. Putin asked that the camera be turned off.

But politics here takes place amid onionskin layers of artifice, and many analysts concluded that the Kremlin intentionally released it as a warning shot to Mr. Medvedev.

Mr. Medvedev’s influence deteriorated sharply when he and Mr. Putin switched positions last year. Each heads a powerful apparatus and each has his own priorities: Mr. Medvedev cares more about innovation and economic development, whereas Mr. Putin prioritizes the expansive social pledges that were central to his re-election bid, said Aleksei Mukhin, director of the Center for Political Information, a research group in Moscow.

“The population expects these promises to come true,” Mr. Mukhin said. “This can only be implemented by the government, and the government is not in a hurry to implement them.”

That tension emerged in the video clip, taken as Mr. Putin was meeting with governors and top ministers, among others, on housing issues.

He criticizes their progress in fulfilling his campaign promises, like increasing the stock of emergency housing and spots in public kindergartens. He calls the quality of their work “negligible” and, without offering specifics, instructs them to improve their performance or pack their bags.

“If we do not, it will be necessary to come out and admit it — either I am not working effectively, or all of you work badly and you have to go,” Mr. Putin says. “I call your attention to the fact that, today, I am inclined toward the second option! I think this is clear. So that no one has any illusions.”

Mr. Medvedev was greeted with anemic applause at the Duma, Parliament’s lower house, and began his presentation by warning that Russia faces “serious risks” because of a global economic slowdown and a drop in commodity prices. He faced particular grilling over his education minister, Dmitry Livanov.

Gennadi A. Zyuganov, the Communist Party leader, said that conditions in Russia were deteriorating and that a new cabinet should be put in place. “We must warn society that should the current social and economic course be continued, Russia will face a collapse,” he said.

Even Vladimir Vasiliev, a member of Mr. Medvedev’s party, United Russia, said he hoped that ministers would take a cue from members of Parliament who have stepped down voluntarily recently amid corruption cases.

“We hope that in the government there will be people who will resign, understanding that they are not equal to the position they occupy,” he said.

Mr. Medvedev defended Mr. Livanov, noting that “a minister who is liked by everyone simply is not performing his professional duties.”

“I’ll just say one thing: a minister is not a ruble, something that pleases everyone,” he said. “Moreover, there are a whole lot of positions in the government that could be considered ‘firing squad’ positions. Among them are the responsibilities of the education and health ministers.”

After Mr. Medvedev finished speaking, one lawmaker, Nikolai Levichev, of the party A Just Russia, warned that if Russia entered a recession in the fall, “we will simply be obliged to raise the question of confidence in the government.”

Here is the link to the Russian site in which you can click on the video of PIG PUTIN snarling his dictates:

And this is the English translation of that Russian, state owned, media site:

Vladimir Putin threatened to dissolve the government   

Alexander Yunash, Life News Online
9:55, Thursday 17 April 2013

The closed-door meeting with ministers in Kalmykia, the president said that inclined to send to the Cabinet to resign.

It has proved to Life News sensational video with the closed part of the meeting of heads of state and ministers and governors, which was held on Tuesday evening in Elista and was devoted to the residential patterns of old and dilapidated housing.

Vladimir Putin, did not mince words, criticized members of the government and regional leaders for the sluggishness in implementing the decrees of May, which secured his election promises.

The head of state said that if the government and the governors do not fix it, will have to part with them. And officials tried to set up a working mood.

If the presence of the press only mildly criticized the president of regional heads of breakdowns terms of resettlement and non-relevant programs in time, when the journalists are gone, Putin made a real debriefing.

The President reminded the subordinates that the May decrees should be under special control. They contain the pre-election promises head of state - higher wages in the social sphere, the elimination of queues in kindergartens or to reduce them to a minimum, as well as the resettlement of emergency housing.

- How do we work? Quality of work - negligible. All surfactants do. If we work well, then do not fucking do it! And if we work more aggressively and professionally, it will do - began the rout Putin. - Let's raise the quality of our work.

- It is (to execute orders.. - Ed.) To do! - Said the president. - If we do not, it will be necessary to recognize that either I work inefficiently, or you are running bad and you need to go! I draw your attention to the fact that to date, I'm leaning toward the latter! I think that's understandable. In order not to have any illusions.

The meeting was attended by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, Minister of Economic Development Andrei Belousov, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, head of the Ministry of Regional Development Igor Slyunyaev, director general of the State Corporation "Fund of assistance to reforming housing and communal services" Konstantin Tsitsin, director general of the Federal Fund for Housing Development Alexander Braverman, general director of the Agency for Mortgage Lending Alexander Semenyaka envoy Vladimir Ustinov, as well as the heads of the republics of Buryatia, Kalmykia and the governor of the Tula, Astrakhan regions, etc.

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« Reply #5798 on: Apr 18, 2013, 05:59 AM »

04/17/2013 02:33 PM

Blogger on Trial: Putin Adversary Faces Long Prison Term

By Benjamin Bidder in Moscow

Blogger Alexei Navalny, a leading figure in Russia's opposition movement, helped to deprive President Vladimir Putin's party of its two-thirds majority in the 2011 parliamentary election. Now he's on trial for embezzlement, and even investigators aren't hiding the fact that the case is politically motivated.

A court notice succinctly summarized the showdown that kicked off in the Russian provincial town of Kirov on Wednesday: The first hearing in the Lenin District Court in the case against the accused, Navalny, Alexei Anatolievich, born in 1976.

Navalny and his legal team arrived in court on Wednesday and requested that the trial be delayed a month, saying they had not been given sufficient time to prepare. The judge agreed to postpone it for one week, calling for the trial to reconvene on April 24.

The charge against the great hope of the Russian opposition is embezzlement. According to the state prosecutor, Navalny in 2009 exploited his position as advisor to the governor of the Kirov region and earned money through dubious dealings -- 16 million rubles, the equivalent of €400,000 ($528,000).

But the defence sees a political conspiracy, initiated by the Kremlin with the aim of neutralizing a competitor. Navalny made his name as an Internet blogger campaigning against corruption. For years he has been uncovering embezzlement and criminal deal-making in state-owned companies.

During the Russian parliamentary election of 2011, Navalny gained nationwide attention with his slogan "No vote for the party of crooks and thieves." He was referring to United Russia, the party of Vladimir Putin, whose functionaries and deputies are seen by many as chronically corrupt. The slogan struck a chord with many people. United Russia lost more than 10 million votes and no longer has a two-thirds majority in parliament.

Fighter for the Opposition

After the election, Navalny became a leading figure in the mass demonstrations that followed. Tens of thousands of Moscow residents protested in the winter of 2011-2012 against election rigging and the return of Putin's regime. And if there was one figurehead the diverse crowd of democratically-minded intellectuals and students, nationalists and neo-communists could have agreed on, it would have been Navalny.

Navalny didn't just talk big -- he didn't shirk from confronting state authority. Many found that impressive. As a lawyer, he went up against state corporations. And during protests, he often stayed so long that he was led away by police.

The protests have subsided, and the Kremlin, aided by its propaganda machine, has defeated the opposition in all subsequent elections, despite Navalny's charisma. He recently declared his intention to run in the next presidential election.

His blogging has continued unabated. He recently revealed which United Russia parliamentarians own expensive properties abroad, especially in the United States. Three of them were forced to resign.

The indictment in Kirov is essentially the Kremlin's revenge. The case is under the auspices of the Investigative Committee of Russia, which is the equivalent of the American FBI. The chairman of the organization is a man named Alexander Bastrykin. Last summer, Navalny accused Bastrykin of concealing real estate holdings and a residence permit in the Czech Republic and called on the Kremlin to sack him. But the chief investigator is a former classmate of Putin's and belongs to his circle of friends.

The trial had not yet begun when a spokesman of the Investigative Committee described Navalny in an interview as a "crook." Navalny has "drawn attention to himself and challenged the power of the state with all his strength," said spokesman Sergei Markin -- a thinly-veiled admission that politics is playing a larger role here than the actual offense.

Alleged Embezzlement

The accusations against Navalny date back to 2009. Kirov had become a mecca for Kremlin opponents. Then-President Dmitry Medvedev had appointed former opposition leader Nikita Belykh as regional governor in Kirov. Maria Gaidar, the daughter of former prime minister and economic reformer Yegor Gaidar, was vice-governor, and Alexei Navalny was Belykh's advisor.

The prosecution accuses Navalny of using this position to his own financial advantage. It's alleged that he and a partner founded the company WLK and then pressured the state-run timber company "Kirovles - Kirov Forest" to sell the firm 10,000 cubic meters of wood below market price.

Navalny maintains his innocence. He says he was not involved with WLK. He was simply trying to rehabilitate Kirovles, which at that point was the equivalent of €5.4 million in debt because employees had been selling wood off the books for their own benefit.

The main witness for the prosecution is the former director of Kirovles, Vyacheslav Opalev. Last year, Opalev confessed to embezzling 16 million rubles. He reached an agreement with the investigators and was sentenced to four years probation. Nawalny believes that the investigators promised Opalev leniency in exchange for his cooperation.

Should Navalny be convicted, his political career could be over before it begins. President Putin recently introduced a bill in the Russian parliament, the Duma, that prohibits people with criminal records from standing in elections.

The head of the district court in Kirov has given a strong hint that Navalny faces a conviction. An acquittal, says Judge Konstantin Zaitsev, is "seven times more difficult than a conviction." He himself has "never yet made a single acquittal."


The Lede - The New York Times News Blog
April 16, 2013, 4:14 pm

Russian Activist Aleksei Navalny: ‘I Am Absolutely Sure We Will Win’


Shortly before his trial on embezzlement charges was to begin, the blogger and opposition activist Aleksei A. Navalny, 36, sat down for an interview in the Moscow office of his anti-corruption fund.

His office was as sparse as a hotel conference room, and the molding had been stripped from his doorway last summer, when he and his colleagues uncovered a microphone and video camera with the help of a wiretap detector. His comments were translated and edited for clarity.


Do you feel like the possibility of imprisonment has come closer?


I am practically sure that they will lock me up. It is just a feeling, I don’t have any inside information or anything. But the case went slow, slow, slow, and the investigators understood that it was a set-up. Then suddenly, at some moment, it started to move very fast, and then faster and faster, and then to the court.


Soviet dissidents always seemed prepared to sacrifice themselves in order to fight the system, but you always seemed like an optimistic person who expected to win. Do you still feel confident, or has that been changing?


I am absolutely sure we will win, and that we are right. The dissidents were spiritual titans. In the Soviet period, it was clear that if you went out to Red Square with a poster, you understood they would put you in prison and there was no other outcome. You might understand that the U.S.S.R. was going to fall apart sometime, but no one expected their concrete deeds to affect it. These were great people who from the beginning came out so they would be put in prison. Our situation is different now. It is not the Soviet Union.

From when I started my work, they always told me I would be locked up. If you scroll through my blog from 2008, when I was writing about Gazprom, you will see comments there like, “You will be put in prison” and “You will be killed for this soon.” So when I do this in Russia, I know there is a possibility I will be put in prison.

So, for dissidents in the Soviet Union, they knew there was 100 percent probability. Now it is less than 100 percent, and we are not in the Soviet Union. I see there is a large number of people who support me and I am sure we will win. I am absolutely sure. I consider that it will happen in some relatively short period of time. But on the other hand, O.K., if it happens in two years or 22 years, either way, we need to do it. To compare me to the Soviet dissidents would be a big exaggeration.

There are certain moments of hope, when it seems to me that it’s happening quickly, like at Bolotnaya and Sakharova, when I think, “Everything is about to change.” And there comes a period of reaction, and it is hard. I understand well that in the next year it will be a hard time for all of us in Russia.

In 2008 and 2009, everything looked much more demotivating. If I had enthusiasm then, I definitely have it now. I just remember what it was like in 2007, when the G.D.P. was growing at 10 percent a year, and everyone loved President Vladimir V. Putin. And even in 2005, when Mr. Putin was doing more or less normal things. You spoke out about the elimination of gubernatorial elections, there were only four people doing it. There was no Internet then, only First Channel, and everything seemed hopeless. Now things look a million times more optimistic, and we have something to compare it to.


If you compare today’s atmosphere a year or 18 months ago, did you ever have moments when you actually thought, ‘The public wants stability?’


I had moments of disappointment connected with my own activities, when I understood I was acting less effectively. I had romantic ideas from articles, including Western articles, about crowdsourcing – it doesn’t work, that was exaggerated. I probably didn’t know how to use it. So my disappointments are related to organizational details, with processes, not with the overall situation.

People want stability. Any new power will provide the same stability, but stability with less corruption. The alternative to Mr. Putin does not mean the collapse of the country, or revolution. It will be an absolutely normal government, except for the trillions of dollars from oil and gas we can use for the people, so they can build a normal life instead of sending it to France. So I have no disappointment in that sense. I see that time works in our favor, technology works in our favor. So everything is getting better.


Those organizations and people who stopped supporting you – do you consider that a betrayal?


As I said, man is weak. People are afraid. I can’t expect each of them to be some kind of heroic person. I’m sorry about some people who would sit there and talk about awful Mr. Putin, and how they support me, and then they disappeared. C’est la vie. There’s nothing I can do about it. We feel growing support, I would say. A lot of people are disappointed that we didn’t win back in December – “what was the reason that the revolution didn’t happen right away, when it happened everywhere, even in Egypt and Tunisia?” Well, it didn’t happen. And they are upset and stopped going to demonstrations because it’s useless. O.K., we will convince these people, and we will work with them.

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« Reply #5799 on: Apr 18, 2013, 06:02 AM »

April 17, 2013

No Deal Yet in Talks to Reduce Strife Between Serbia and Kosovo


PARIS — Talks aimed at overcoming ethnic enmities between Serbia and its former province, Kosovo, ended Wednesday without an agreement, senior Kosovo officials said, as the two countries struggled to negotiate a deal that would enhance regional stability and help clear the way for their eventual membership in the European Union.

After nearly 14 hours of talks in Brussels, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, described the differences between the two sides as “narrow and very shallow.” She said a window remained for them to come to an agreement before she presents a crucial report at a union ministerial meeting on Monday, which is expected to determine whether Serbia will get a start date for talks to join the bloc.

Having admitted the divided island of Cyprus in 2004, the European Union has been unwilling to import another frozen conflict, and it had made clear to Kosovo and Serbia that normalizing relations is the only way to smooth a path to their eventual membership.

An agreement would be a turning point in relations between Serbia and Kosovo, which declared independence on Feb. 17, 2008, almost a decade after NATO intervened against the Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic to halt a brutal civil war with Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians.

Serbia, which has long considered Kosovo its medieval heartland, has steadfastly refused to recognize Kosovo, arguing that the declaration of independence was a reckless breach of international law. Kosovo’s independence has been recognized by the United States and a majority of European Union countries. But countries including Russia and Spain have refused recognition, fearing separatist movements in their own territories.

Any deal will fall short of Serbian recognition of Kosovo’s independence. But analysts said an agreement would nevertheless herald a new reconciliation after the Balkan wars of the 1990s, which broke up Yugoslavia.

In addition to undermining Serbia’s and Kosovo’s chances of joining the European Union, failure to reach a deal would be a blow to both countries’ struggling economies and weaken regional stability.

Officials close to the talks said the two countries had agreed on the broad principle that Serbs in the small Serbian-majority area in northern Kosovo would gain more powers in return for tacitly recognizing the authority of Kosovo’s government. But in a sign of the tough challenges ahead, the prime minister of each country blamed the other’s intransigence for undermining a deal.

Kosovo’s prime minister, Hashim Thaci, told reporters that as in previous rounds of talks, Serbia had refused a deal. But Prime Minister Ivica Dacic of Serbia insisted that Kosovo had torpedoed the agreement by demanding too many conditions, including insisting on its membership in the United Nations, according to an independent Serbian broadcaster, B92.

At a time when the European Union is mired in a euro crisis, an accord would also be a vindication of the soft power of the world’s biggest trading bloc, its ability to press countries that want to join to make difficult compromises.

Trying one last push after talks collapsed earlier this month, Ms. Ashton, invited Serbia and Kosovo back to the negotiating table on Wednesday, delaying her report, scheduled for Tuesday, on Serbia’s readiness to start membership talks.

At stake is how much autonomy Kosovo is willing to cede to its Serbian minority. Serbia has retained de facto control over the area in northern Kosovo where Serbs have lived in isolated enclaves that do not recognize the authority of the Kosovo government.

Under a potential agreement, municipal structures in that area would attain greater autonomy over services like health care and education in return for Belgrade’s recognition of Pristina’s authority there. But Kosovo’s deputy foreign minister, Petrit Selimi, said the talks had faltered Wednesday over Belgrade’s demand for too much autonomy over judges and police in northern Kosovo, which he said Pristina regarded as a breach of its sovereignty.

It was a sign of progress that the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia, both former archnationalists, sat at the same table. Mr. Thaci is reviled by many Serbs as a guerrilla commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which fought the war in the 1990s.

His Serbian counterpart, Mr. Dacic, was the wartime spokesman of Mr. Milosevic’s, who was overthrown in 2000 and died in jail in 2006 while being tried for crimes against humanity.

Kosovo’s security is guaranteed by roughly 5,000 NATO troops, and the international community hopes that the potential calming of ethnic tensions engendered by any agreement would tip the scale decisively toward peace.

An agreement would pave the way for Serbia to get a date to begin European Union membership talks. It would help Serbia rejuvenate its economy and cement its links to the West, an important psychological and geopolitical landmark.

It would also enhance regional harmony. Slovenia, a former Yugoslav republic, joined the union in 2004. Croatia is set to join in July. A deeply divided Bosnia remains the regional laggard, though analysts predicted that a potential Kosovo deal would help focus minds there.

For Kosovo, a desperately poor, predominantly Muslim landlocked country of two million, warmer ties with Serbia would help buttress its standing and lift a beleaguered economy. Unemployment in Kosovo is about 40 percent, and lawlessness and corruption are rife.

But vocal critics on both sides have expressed visceral anger and skepticism, underlining the challenges to enforcing any deal. The Kosovo opposition movement Vetevendosje — which means self-determination in Albanian — said it planned mass protests if any deal emerged.

Shpend Ahmeti, the vice president of Vetevendosje, insisted by phone from Pristina that a deal would reinforce rather than overcome ethnic divisions. Giving further autonomy to Kosovo’s Serbs, he said, would effectively make Kosovo “another Bosnia,” where a decentralized institutional structure and ethnic rifts make it hard to govern.

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« Reply #5800 on: Apr 18, 2013, 06:03 AM »

April 18, 2013

Portugal Launches Another Round of Spending Cuts


LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal's government is pushing ahead with deeply unpopular austerity policies, announcing plans Thursday to save 800 million euros ($1 billion) this year — about 0.5 percent of annual GDP — by slashing spending on public sector staff, goods and services.

The center-right government said the new money-saving measures are needed to meet deficit targets stipulated by creditors who gave the country a 78-billion-euro bailout two years ago.

With the recent rescue of Cyprus indicating the eurozone's financial crisis is far from over, the bailout lenders — the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission — are insisting that Portugal abide by its three-year bailout agreement. That involves painful cuts to public spending and tax increases to reduce debt.

If it doesn't comply, the creditors won't disburse the bailout loans, which are paid in installments. They said in a brief statement Thursday that discussions on Portugal's progress are continuing.

Portugal's deficit target for this year is 5.5 percent. Last year, it stood at 6.4 percent, above the 4.5 percent target. In 2010, it was 10.1 percent.

However, there are signs the austerity strategy is backfiring. Despite following its austerity program closely, Portugal has repeatedly missed its deficit goals.

That is partly because the measures have hurt the economy, which contracted 3.2 percent last year and is forecast to shrink 2.3 percent in 2013 for a third straight year of recession. As the economy shrinks, the government loses vital revenue it needs to lower debt.

And as joblessness increases, the government faces higher social welfare bills. The unemployment rate, currently at 17.5 percent, is forecast to climb to 18.5 percent in 2014.

The government is trying to plug a 1.3-billion-euro hole in its budget after the Constitutional Court recently ruled that some of this year's austerity measures were unlawful. After the 800 million euros, it still has to make up for the rest of that shortfall.

Officials said the latest cuts, which are to be presented in detail next month, will likely result in staff cuts and prompt some public services to be scrapped. Government official Luis Sarmento, who oversees the budget, said the steps "will place public services under great pressure."

The government drew up the measures — announced after a late-night Cabinet meeting — under the eyes of inspectors from the bailout lenders. The inspectors were in Lisbon to make sure Portugal doesn't backslide on the May 2011 agreement.

The government's job has become harder as street protests have mounted. Also, the broad political consensus that initially surrounded the bailout agreement has frayed, leaving the government isolated.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho invited the leader of the main opposition Socialist Party to a private meeting at his official residence Wednesday. Passos Coelho said in his written invitation to Antonio Jose Seguro that Portugal has to follow a "very narrow" path to economic recovery and that political consensus is "fundamental" to achieve the country's goals.

But after the 90-minute meeting Seguro said he couldn't sign up to the government's approach. Austerity "isn't working," Seguro said.

The center-left Socialists, who have built a clear lead in opinion polls, want to ease up on austerity, negotiate an extension to Portugal's loan repayments and other aspects of the bailout agreement, and switch the focus to fostering growth, investment and job creation. The government has balked at many of those options, saying it must get its finances back in order first.

European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said Thursday in Brussels that "political consensus for us is still ... an important requirement."


AP reporter Juergen Baetz in Brussels contributed.
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« Reply #5801 on: Apr 18, 2013, 06:05 AM »

April 17, 2013

More Children in Greece Are Going Hungry


ATHENS — As an elementary-school principal, Leonidas Nikas is used to seeing children play, laugh and dream about the future. But recently he has seen something altogether different, something he thought was impossible in Greece: children picking through school trash cans for food; needy youngsters asking playmates for leftovers; and an 11-year-old boy, Pantelis Petrakis, bent over with hunger pains.

“He had eaten almost nothing at home,” Mr. Nikas said, sitting in his cramped school office near the port of Piraeus, a working-class suburb of Athens, as the sound of a jump rope skittered across the playground. He confronted Pantelis’s parents, who were ashamed and embarrassed but admitted that they had not been able to find work for months. Their savings were gone, and they were living on rations of pasta and ketchup.

“Not in my wildest dreams would I expect to see the situation we are in,” Mr. Nikas said. “We have reached a point where children in Greece are coming to school hungry. Today, families have difficulties not only of employment, but of survival.”

The Greek economy is in free-fall, having shrunk by 20 percent in the past five years. Unemployment is more than 27 percent, the highest in Europe, and 6 of 10 job seekers say they have not worked in more than a year. Those dry statistics are reshaping the lives of Greek families with children, more of whom are arriving at schools hungry or underfed, even malnourished, according to private groups and the government itself.

Last year, an estimated 10 percent of Greek elementary- and middle-school students suffered from what public health professionals call “food insecurity,” meaning they faced hunger or the risk of it, said Dr. Athena Linos, a professor at the University of Athens Medical School who also heads a food assistance program at Prolepsis, a nongovernmental public health group that has studied the situation. “When it comes to food insecurity, Greece has now fallen to the level of some African countries,” she said.

Unlike those in the United States, Greek schools do not offer subsidized cafeteria lunches. Students bring their own food or buy items from a canteen. The cost has become insurmountable for some families with little or no income. Their troubles have been compounded by new austerity measures demanded by Greece’s creditors, including higher electricity taxes and cuts in subsidies for large families. As a result, parents without work are seeing their savings and benefits rapidly disappear.

“All around me I hear kids saying: ‘My parents don’t have any money. We don’t know what we are going to do,’ ” said Evangelia Karakaxa, a vivacious 15-year-old at the No. 9 junior high school in Acharnes.

Acharnes, a working-class town among the mountains of Attica, was bustling with activity from imports until the economic crisis wiped out thousands of factory jobs.

Now, several of Evangelia’s classmates are frequently hungry, she said, and one boy recently fainted. Some children were starting to steal for food, she added. While she did not excuse it, she understood their plight. “Those who are well fed will never understand those who are not,” she said.

“Our dreams are crushed,” added Evangelia, whose parents are unemployed but who is not in the same dire situation as her peers. She paused, then continued in a low voice. “They say that when you drown, your life flashes before your eyes. My sense is that in Greece, we are drowning on dry land.”

Alexandra Perri, who works at the school, said that at least 60 of the 280 students suffered from malnutrition. Children who once boasted of sweets and meat now talk of eating boiled macaroni, lentils, rice or potatoes. “The cheapest stuff,” Ms. Perri said.

This year the number of malnutrition cases jumped. “A year ago, it wasn’t like this,” Ms. Perri, said, fighting back tears. “What’s frightening is the speed at which it is happening.”

The government, which initially dismissed the reports as exaggerations, recently acknowledged that it needed to “tackle the issue of malnutrition in schools.” But with priorities placed on repaying bailout funds, there is little money in Greek coffers to cope.

Mr. Nikas, the principal, said he knew the Greek government was laboring to fix the economy. Now that talk of Greece’s exiting the euro zone has disappeared, things look better to the outside world. “But tell that to the family of Pantelis,” he said. “They don’t feel the improvement in their lives.”

In the family’s darkened apartment near the school, Themelina Petrakis, Pantelis’s mother, opened her refrigerator and cupboards one recent weekend. Inside was little more than a few bottles of ketchup and other condiments, some macaroni and leftovers from a meal she had gotten from the town hall.

The family was doing well and was even helping others in need until last year. It was able to afford a spacious apartment with a flat-screen TV and a PlayStation.

Then her husband, Michalis, 41, was laid off from his shipping job in December. He said the company had not paid his wages for five months before that. The couple could no longer afford rent, and by February they had run out of money.

“When the principal called, I had to tell him, ‘We don’t have food,’ ” said Ms. Petrakis, 36, cradling Pantelis’s head as he cast his eyes to the ground.

Mr. Petrakis said he felt emasculated after repeatedly failing to find new work. When food for the family ran low, he stopped eating almost entirely, and rapidly lost weight.

“When I was working last summer, I even threw away excess bread,” he said, tears streaming down his face. “Now, I sit here with a war running through my head, trying to figure out how we will live.”

When the hunger comes, Ms. Petrakis has a solution. “It’s simple,” she said. “You get hungry, you get dizzy and you sleep it off.”

A 2012 Unicef report showed that among the poorest Greek households with children, more than 26 percent had an “economically weak diet.” The phenomenon has hit immigrants hardest but is spreading quickly among Greeks in urban areas where one or both parents are effectively permanently unemployed.

In rural areas, people can at least grow food. But that is not enough to eradicate the problem. An hour’s drive northwest of Athens, in the industrial town of Asproprigos, Nicos Tsoufar, 42, stared vacantly ahead as he sat in the middle school that his three children attend. The school receives lunches from a program run by Prolepsis, the public health group. Mr. Tsoufar said his children desperately needed the meals.

He has not found work for three years. Now, he said, his family is living on what he called “a cabbage-based diet,” which it supplements by foraging for snails in nearby fields. “I know you can’t cover nutritional basics with cabbage,” he said bitterly. “But there’s no alternative.”

The government and groups like Prolepsis are doing what they can. Last year, Prolepsis started a pilot program providing a sandwich, fruit and milk at 34 public schools where more than half of the 6,400 families participating said they had experienced “medium to serious hunger.”

After the program, that percentage dropped to 41 percent. Financed by an $8 million grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, an international philanthropic organization, the program was expanded this year to cover 20,000 children at 120 schools.

Konstantinos Arvanitopoulos, Greece’s education minister, said the government had secured European Union financing to provide fruit and milk in schools, and vouchers for bread and cheese. It is also working with the Greek Orthodox Church to provide thousands of care packages. “It is the least we can do in this difficult financial circumstance,” he said.

Mr. Nikas, the principal at 11-year-old Pantelis’s school, has taken matters into his own hands and is organizing food drives at the school. He is angry at what he sees as broader neglect of Greece’s troubles by Europe.

“I’m not saying we should just wait for others to help us,” he said. “But unless the European Union acts like this school, where families help other families because we’re one big family, we’re done for.”

Dimitris Bounias contributed reporting.

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« Reply #5802 on: Apr 18, 2013, 06:07 AM »

04/17/2013 05:06 PM

Waiting in Pain: Migrant's Case Highlights Modern Slavery in Germany

By Matthias Bartsch and Özlem Gezer

Injured on the job, a Bulgarian migrant worker desperately needs surgery, but his official status as an independent contractor has allowed the companies involved to shirk responsibility. His case exposes a troubling gray area in Germany's labor market.

Before Biser Rusev left to live his own German dream, he took his goats out every morning to graze in the fields of Vetovo, in northeastern Bulgaria. Rusev was a good goatherd, never losing a single animal. The livestock dealers were pleased with his work. They paid him with anise liqueur, potatoes or bread, only a few paid in cash. Rusev rarely left his village in northern Bulgaria, near the Danube River. He felt safe in Vetovo, never locked his door. Most of all, his work was in demand there.

Since Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007, many Vetovo residents left for the West, most of them going to Germany. When they returned, they drove German cars, renovated their houses, bought land and wore gold around their wrists. "A lot of gold," says Rusev. He became curious about this faraway country, this place where money grew on trees, at least according to the rumors coming from those returning to his village. That was in the late summer of 2011.

Today, 18 months later, Rusev is lying in a decommissioned hospital bed in Room 35 of a hostel for the homeless near Ostpark, a park in Frankfurt, sorting out the wreckage of his life. His body is emaciated, there are dark rings around his eyes and his cheeks are sunken. The plaster is crumbling from the ceiling, fluorescent lights illuminate the cracked walls and trains rattle by outside. A blonde anchorwoman smiles from the TV set, but Rusev can't understand what she is saying. This is the new world of a goatherd from Vetovo: eight square meters (86 square feet) of Germany, in a place next to a freight yard that represents the end of the line for the homeless.

A plastic tube is taped to Rusev's stomach. One end leads to a catheter in his penis, while the other end is attached to a urine bag in a blue bucket. "I no longer dream about German gold," he says. "I just want to get rid of this tube."

Rusev, 36, is wearing an adult diaper. His wound is infected. He contorts his thin face into a smile. He is in pain, as has often been the case in recent weeks, since his urethra was torn in a serious work accident in January at a Frankfurt chemical plant.

He was working as a laborer and had no health insurance. For weeks, it has remained unclear who would pay for the surgery Rusev needed. The companies he was working for at the chemical plant didn't even report the accident.

The 2,000-Kilometer Trip to Prosperity

Rusev is one of the so-called "pseudo self-employed" in the German labor market -- one of tens of thousands who are formally registered as small business owners, but who in reality are modern slaves. He is stranded in Germany, lured there by the promise of prosperity, exploited by companies to do dirty work for starvation wages, and now abandoned because he can no longer perform as desired. The gray area of the laws governing Europe's nomadic work force has no provisions for cases like Rusev's.

"Things didn't go well," says Rusev. He seems cautious, not wishing to sound ungrateful. Most of all, he doesn't want to abandon the hopes that prompted him to leave Vetovo in the first place. His only knowledge of Germany, 2,000 kilometers away, came from Bulgarian television, where he had seen images of tall buildings and clean streets. The returnees said that Germany had job centers and an intact social welfare state. He decided it was time to follow their lead and seek his own fortune in Germany.

Modern-day slave traders have divided up the villages among themselves in the region where Rusev comes from. Since Bulgaria joined the EU, they have been supplying the German market with day laborers. Their vans make the trip to Germany three times a week. Rusev also bought a ticket from the traffickers. With five kilos of luggage, Rusev set out to start his new life. The trip took one night and the rest of the next day.

He ended up in Offenbach, a city near Frankfurt, where he had relatives who had moved to Germany earlier. Together they would collect scrap metal, earning between €50 ($66) and €100 a day. But the money was divided up among eight people, and Rusev rarely got his fair share. He was angry, and it made him wonder why he had left his wife and two children behind in their village.

Rusev decided to set out on his own. For three months, he slept on a mattress in an abandoned and condemned building. There were 15 Bulgarians living there, without running water or electricity, and only a small gas stove for cooking. But Rusev wasn't paying any rent, and he was satisfied with his situation.

The men explained the rules of his new world to Rusev. They told him about Germany's policy of "limited freedom of movement" for Bulgarians, which will last until 2014. He would be allowed to remain in Germany for no longer than three months, unless he registered a business.

Small Business Owners, in Name Only

On Oct. 4, 2011, the City of Offenbach issued Rusev a business registration. He was now a self-employed "laborer in the field of construction." For unskilled laborers like Rusev, the business registration is the ticket to fictitious self-employment. The central customs office, which handles cases like his, estimates that in the Frankfurt area alone, there are well over 10,000 pseudo self-employed workers from Bulgaria and Romania, working on construction sites or in factories and restaurants. They are officially independent contractors, meaning they have more than one employer, are scarcely regulated and work as their own bosses. But the only responsibility Rusev had in the ensuing months was to show up at the market square on time so that employers could pick him up.

In the weeks that followed, the former goatherd worked 12-hour days on construction sites, earning €60 a day. He emptied out apartments for €50 a day and cleaned businesses for €30. On days when no one hired him, he collected recyclable bottles and returned them for the deposit. He kept his money in his pant pockets, and sometimes hid it in his underwear, depending on how full the abandoned building was at night. He managed to save some money -- not much, but enough to buy his first home in Germany: a sky-blue Golf III, which he bought from a Turkish man for €250.

Rusev, who doesn't have a driver's license, had the man drive the car onto a parking lot. He kept his clothes in the trunk, and he used a wool blanket to stay warm at night. Sometimes he allowed homeless Bulgarians to sleep in his car. Others would have charged €2 a night, says Rusev, but he never did that.

Then, on a cold winter morning, the engine wouldn't start. Two months after it became his temporary home, the Golf went to the junkyard and Rusev moved into the apartment of a welfare recipient, into a room shared by eight Bulgarians. Those who didn't pay the monthly rent of €150 on time were thrown out, Rusev recalls. Nevertheless, he says it was his happiest time in Germany. The shower worked, the door could be locked and business was going well.

One evening there was a dispute in the apartment, and the neighbors called the police. The overcrowded apartment was promptly cleared out, and Rusev was back on the streets. Someone in the market square told him there was work to be had, even for Bulgarians, in the vicinity of Frankfurt's main train station. So Rusev set out for Frankfurt.

Meeting the 'King of the Bulgarians'

When he arrived, he saw the city's skyline, the bank towers and the men in suits carrying leather briefcases. The first night he slept under a bridge, where he met a fellow Bulgarian who took him to the train station district and to a makeshift apartment complex in the courtyard behind an old building at Münchener Strasse 55. The Bulgarian kept Rusev's mobile phone as a deposit.

When Rusev moved into the building, more than 40 Bulgarians were living on the top floor. After a raid in October 2012, the tabloid press described the building as "Frankfurt's worst tenement." That's exaggerated, says Rusev. He admits that there were cockroaches, and that they sometimes crawled into his ears at night. But cockroaches are far less dangerous than rats. He paid €155 a month to sleep in the kitchen.

In the next few days, some of the other Bulgarians in the apartment took him to Can 58, a combination Internet café, phone shop and Turkish export business. Rusev belongs to the Turkish-speaking minority in Bulgaria, and they spoke his language at the shop. For stranded migrants like Rusev, places like this serve as an employment office, real-estate agency, bank, social gathering place and a source of hope. The word "can" means "life" in Turkish.

According to its entry in Frankfurt's commercial register, one of the businesses Can 58 is involved in is "demolition work and construction services," followed by telephone services, kiosk operations, imports and exports. Across the street shines the bright red façade of a large brothel. In this neighborhood, sex is sold cheap and geared toward the masses, just like the labor provided by the pseudo self-employed.

The registered owner of Can 58 is a smartly dressed, 43-year-old man with a well-kept short haircut and stubble, a man everyone in the neighborhood knows simply as Aydin. He was Rusev's first point of contact in the neighborhood. Aydin lends money to the needy and has them work for him to pay off their debts. When he meets with someone in his office, he has an assistant serve Turkish tea, puts down his smartphone and asks one of his employees to leave the room before getting down to business. For desperate men like Rusev, Aydin is the King of the Bulgarians in this neighborhood.

Aydin is one of the profiteers of poverty-related migration. As employers, they save themselves the cost of social security contributions by hiring men like Rusev. This is unlikely to change after 2014, when Romanians and Bulgarians will be allowed to work jobs covered by social insurance in Germany without needing a work permit. "Many employers will still try to use this approach to circumvent the expense of payroll taxes and minimum wages," says a spokeswoman for the central customs office.

The Accident, Hidden from View
Aydin is upset with Rusev. He says that the Bulgarian begged him for a job so that he could pay his rent. And Aydin only wanted to help the man. Of course, says Aydin, he had no idea that Rusev didn't have any health insurance. He admits that it was his mistake for not checking. Other than that, however, he insists he did nothing wrong.

On the evening of Jan. 28, Rusev and a group of Bulgarian laborers were standing in front of Can 58. They were waiting for a van Aydin was sending to take them to the Höchst Industrial Park, a 460-hectare (1,137-acre) site in the western part of Frankfurt, home to roughly 90 companies operating chemical plants. Rusev's shift began at 7 p.m., and he was paid €84 for 12 hours of hard work. But he was pleased. He hadn't had such a good job in a long time.

At the plant entrance, Rusev showed the security guard an access permit with his photo and registration number, I 608475. The plastic card is made by Infraserv Höchst, a company that handles infrastructure and security at the plant. Infraserv also owns the plant were Rusev was assigned to work that night. But when he is asked who his employer was, his only response is: "Aydin Company."

The van took Rusev and the others across the industrial park, past gloomy brick buildings and under thick pipes to building E 264, which looked like a large, sheet-metal container in the light of the lanterns on the plant walls. Rusev still doesn't know exactly what happens in the building. Weeks after the accident, he still refers to it as a "furnace," and says that his job was to remove "rocks" from it. In actuality, the building is a filtration system for the foul-smelling exhaust air that comes from a sewage treatment plant for production residue.

Infraserv classifies the work in this plant as "dangerous." Rusev was given a white protective suit and a dust mask for his mouth and nose -- not by Infraserv, but by a small demolition company called O.A.M., which Infraserv had hired to replace the filters.

Rusev climbed up an iron ladder to a work platform about three meters off the ground. His job was to lift and move heavy ceramic filters. At about 2:30 a.m., he slipped from the platform and fell down the ladder. Shortly before he hit the ground, one of his legs became caught between the rungs of the ladder.

Rusev remembers the moment very clearly. He flinches as he describes how his body smashed against the iron rung. He was in so much pain that everything went dark. Then Rusev felt something wet under his protective suit. He still had no idea that it was blood, perhaps because of his intense focus on completing the job. Aydin's assistant told him not to draw attention to himself. He was quickly taken away from the plant grounds through an unguarded side entrance and put into a taxi. The driver was instructed to take him to the "company office."

No One Claims Responsibility

Rusev got out of the taxi in front of Cam 58 about half an hour later. One of Aydin's men paid the driver and sent the Bulgarian home. Rusev managed to walk the short distance, past nightclubs and strip joints, and even up the 100 steps to reach the top floor of his building at Münchener Strasse 55. Only after removing the protective suit in the apartment did he realize that his entire abdomen was drenched in blood.

The sight of the blood scared Rusev, who dragged himself back to Cam 58. Aydin himself took him to the university hospital. Rusev says that Aydin repeatedly told him to tell the doctors he had had an accident at home, although Aydin denies this. As it is, Rusev could only have said two words to the doctors: "Stairs. Fell."

The diagnosis read: "pre-bulbar urethral tear," "hematoma" and "transurethral hemorrhage," terms that meant nothing to Rusev. But he did understand that without an operation, the pain would not go away and he would no longer be able to work. The doctors "strongly" recommended that the surgery be performed "within the next 4-6 weeks." That was 10 weeks ago.

None of the companies involved in the filter replacement feels responsible for Rusev's accident. Anyone working in the industrial park is "required to have a work permit," says a spokesman for Infraserv. He adds that Rusev was able to present his business registration. When asked whether the Bulgarian was state-insured, the spokesman says that Infraserv has "no further information," and notes that this would have been the responsibility of the people who hired him. The demolition company, O.A.M., says that it had hired a subcontractor, Best Nova, and that Aydin had acted as its "construction manager."

The company was apparently paid a sum in the low five figures to provide cheap labor for what was a dirty job. The head of O.A.M. says Best Nova had confirmed "that all employees are registered, through immediate reporting, with the German Federal Pension Fund and the statutory health insurance system, and that the applicable social security contributions are paid." It isn't O.A.M.'s fault, he adds, that the company did not live up to its obligation. The managing director of Best Nova says that Biser Rusev "is not one of our employees."

Dashed Hopes in a German Hospital

Now that Rusev could hardly walk and could no longer earn any money, he was quickly evicted from the apartment on Münchener Strasse. He placed the urine bag into a plastic bag and walked gingerly through the neighborhood, searching for help. An Italian took him to "MigrAr," a drop-in center for immigrants with no place to stay, run by the service sector union Ver.di.

Rusev doesn't know what a trade union is. To this day, concepts like German labor law and employer liability mean nothing to him. All he knows is that "Madame Huckenbeck" works at MigrAr and is helping him. Kirsten Huckenbeck, 46, obtained a bed for Rusev at the homeless shelter, food vouchers from the job center, as well as clothing vouchers and medication. She submitted applications to a health insurance agency, and she took him to an outpatient treatment center run by Catholic relief agency Caritas. The doctor who treated him there ordered an emergency admission.

Rusev was convinced that everything would be okay now. "German doctors can make you into a new person," he says.

It's shortly before Easter. After getting up early, Rusev showers, shaves, puts on a black knit cap and places his urine bag into a red plastic bag. Huckenbeck drives him to the university hospital in her small Opel. But at the front desk in the urology department, the receptionist pushes the emergency admission slip back to Rusev. "We don't do anything unless someone is covering the costs," she says.

Huckenbeck calls the social assistance office and the health insurance agency. A case manager at the hospital is sympathetic with Rusev's case, but remains firm. "If we operate, we'll be stuck with the costs," she says, "and our boss doesn't allow that." The case manager tells them that the operation would cost about €15,000, and that payment is expected in advance.

Rusev sits dejectedly in a chair in the hallway. At least someone replaces his catheter, after he has been waiting for six hours. His urethra has been inflamed for days. "Without Madame, I would probably be under a bridge or dead," says Rusev. "She is my German mommy." Huckenbeck says that most of the pseudo self-employed are simply put on a train back to Bulgaria when someone goes wrong. It's important, she adds, that someone finally expose what is happening every day on Germany's construction sites.

No Path Back to Bulgaria

In the evening, Rusev, exhausted, is back at the homeless shelter. He runs his hand across his bed and says: "This is my first bed in Germany." When he arrived in Offenbach, Rusev was still dreaming about a Mercedes and a house for his wife. Today he hopes that his urine bag won't spring a leak by the next morning.

He also refers to his first bed in the West as "my office." Rusev has collected the documents attesting to his German life in a blue folder that he keeps under his pillow. It contains his business registration, work ID cards, a letter from the city stating that it agrees to pay for his stay at the hostel and his hospital records. An inexpensive bottle of red wine is on the wooden table, and German-Bulgarian dictionary from 1975 is on the windowsill. Rusev has emptied the tobacco from cigarette butts he collected on the street into a tobacco bag.

The goatherd doesn't want to return to Bulgaria. What would he say? That he failed in the West? Rusev is quiet for a moment. His wife sent him a text message to tell him that she was leaving him. He didn't send her enough money, he says.

Rusev misses his children. He also misses the open fields and the goats. When he starts talking about his days as a goatherd, his eyes light up. He says that the livestock dealers even asked for his advice in the evening. It seems as if this were the last thing Rusev truly felt proud of in his life.

But he refuses to give up. "I haven't tried everything yet," he says. Madame Huckenbeck mentioned something about an appointment for surgery, and this time, he says, it will happen. "Soon, I hope," he says. Only after locking the metal door to his room does Rusev feel a little safer, here in Germany, his new home.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #5803 on: Apr 18, 2013, 06:12 AM »

Germans are right to be upset over the 'poverty lie', but wrong about the target

The finding that Germans' net wealth is lower than those in the south is more to do with low wages than imaginary riches

Costas Lapavitsas, Wednesday 17 April 2013 16.33 BST   

The findings of a recent European Central Bank report into household wealth have inflamed public opinion in Germany. In 2010, the average net wealth of German households – all assets minus all liabilities – stood at €195,000 (£168,000). In the southern member states, the figures were surprisingly high: €291,000 in Spain, €275,000 in Italy, €153,000 in Portugal, €148,000 in Greece and, wait for it, €671,000 in Cyprus. It makes it look as if the German people have been asked to rescue southerners who are often richer than their rescuers. "The poverty lie", says the front page of this week's Der Spiegel. Are German citizens right to be annoyed? The answer is yes, but they have chosen the wrong target.

The answer to why some southerners appear richer than Germans is straightforward: housing. The systems through which European nations meet their housing needs differ widely, reflecting history, politics, and social custom. Germans and Austrians tend to rent their houses. Spaniards, Italians, Greeks, Cypriots and others have very high percentages of owner occupation. With steadily higher inflation in the periphery during the last 15 years, plus outright housing speculation in Spain and Cyprus, the value of houses has risen, making southerners appear richer.

Households also have debts, though, which must be serviced out of income. How do southerners compare with Germans in this respect? Judging by the ratio of household debts to assets, Germans appear to be worse off than southerners, which is quite natural, since southerners have overvalued houses and so large assets. But when it comes to servicing debts, things are very different. The ratio of household debts to income is 37% in Germany, but 114% in Spain, 50% in Italy, 134% in Portugal, 47% in Greece and 157% in Cyprus. Not so rich in the periphery, then.

Low net wealth in Germany has nothing to do with Germans being taken for a ride by southerners, but reflects the failure of the European monetary union. For about 15 years German governments have been following a strict policy of very low wage increases, thus holding inflation below that of other EMU countries, and even below the inflation target of the ECB. By doing so, Germany has kept the prices of its exports low, creating an enormous advantage for its exporters within the EMU.

Peripheral enterprises have thus found it difficult to compete against German enterprises, and eurozone markets have become dominated by German industry. However, in the domestic German economy it has been another story. Since wage increases have been low, demand has been weak, incomes have been rising slowly, and inequality has increased greatly. Most German people have been counting the pennies and, as we know, have not accumulated substantial wealth. Their main benefit has been relatively low unemployment on the back of strong exports.

Meanwhile, the German export juggernaut has caused mayhem in the rest of the EMU. Peripheral countries, unable to compete, have accumulated huge public and private debts. Indebtedness masked their inherent weakness for a while by boosting domestic consumption and, in some countries, leading to a housing bubble. But then the global crisis arrived and the essential failure of peripheral Europe became evident. The southerners have found themselves sitting on overvalued houses while holding large debts that they can hardly service. Riches indeed.

Germany's plan to fix this mess has made things even worse. Peripheral countries have been forced to cut wages to increase their competitiveness as well as adopting austerity. Inevitably, the result is deep recession and rising unemployment. The apparently rich southerners are now teetering on the edge of depression, their incomes falling and the value of their houses declining. Their wealth is disappearing and yet their debts persist and are becoming more and more difficult to service. If Germany forces southerners to commit some of their putative wealth to meeting the costs of the crisis, for example, by having a "haircut" on bank accounts, as has happened in Cyprus, the result will be accelerated economic devastation.

The German public is right to be annoyed at how things have turned out in the eurozone. But it should seek the real culprit, which is the German policy of keeping wages low, suppressing domestic demand and increasing exports. That is the cause of income tightness, and even poverty, in Germany. If Germans want an effective answer, they should not seek to punish the imaginary rich of the south even further but instead aim for higher wages, boosting domestic demand and reducing the weight of exports. Now, that is a fight worth fighting.

• This article was amended on 17 April 2013. It originally stated that average net wealth in a list of southern eurozone countries was much higher than in Germany. In two of those countries, Greece and Portugal, the figure is actually lower than in Germany. This error, introduced in editing, has now been corrected.
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« Reply #5804 on: Apr 18, 2013, 06:15 AM »

04/18/2013 01:27 PM

Broad Majority: German Parliament Approves Cyprus Bailout

The Bundestag, Germany's parliament, voted Thursday to approve a 10 billion euro European Union and IMF bailout for Cyprus. Legislators also voted in favor of seven-year extensions for crisis loans provided to Ireland and Portugal.

Germany's parliament on Thursday approved the planned bailout for Cyprus. In a vote in the Bundestag, the aid program obtained a clear majority after most members of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens voted to approve it. The bailout legislation received 487 votes in favor and 102 against it, with 13 abstaining.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) said the billions in aid for Cyprus are necessary in order to ensure the stability of the entire euro zone. "We must prevent Cyprus' problems from becoming problems for the other countries," he said on behalf of the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Schäuble warned there was a "significant risk" of contagion, especially to Greece and other vulnerable euro-zone countries.

Levy a 'Huge Mistake'

Despite his faction's broad support, SPD's party whip Frank-Walter Steinmeier accused Merkel's government of management failures in the way it handled the Cyprus crisis. He said the mandatory levy originally planned even for small-scale depositors had been a "huge mistake." Nevertheless, the SPD cast its votes Thursday in favor of the bailout.

Opponents of the bailout packaged failed in an attempt on Wednesday night to halt the vote after the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsuhe rejected a petition to delay it. The court did not provide information on who had filed the petition.

Under the bailout package, which is currently undergoing the mandatory approval process in euro-zone national parliaments, the European Union's permanent euro bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will provide Cyprus with a €10 billion ($13 billion) loan. The loan conditions stipulate that the country must radically restructure its banking sector. A mandatory levy must also be applied on bank accounts with large deposits in the country. Through the deposit tax and other measures, Cyprus is expected to raise €13 billion in additional funds for the bailout on its own.

The Bundestag also approved on Thursday an extension of the maturity dates on bailout loans issued to the euro-zone countries Portugal and Ireland beginning in 2011. A broad majority within Merkel's conservatives, the business-friendly Free Democratic Party, the SPD and the Greens voted in favor seven-year loan extensions for the countries.

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