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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1081299 times)
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« Reply #2625 on: Oct 08, 2012, 07:07 AM »

October 7, 2012

With Affirmative Action, India’s Rich Gain School Slots Meant for Poor


CHENNAI, India — The two women both claim that affirmative action cost them coveted spots at elite public universities. Both cases have now reached the Supreme Court.

One of the women, Abigail Fisher, 22, who is white, says she was denied admission to the University of Texas based on her race, and on Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court is to hear her plea in what may be the year’s most important decision. The other woman is from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and two weeks ago the Indian Supreme Court ordered that she be admitted to medical school pending the outcome of a broader court review.

“When I came to know that I could not get into any medical college, I was really shocked,” C. V. Gayathri, the Indian student, said in an interview. “I didn’t speak to anyone for a week. I cried. I was very depressed.”

Though the outlines of the two cases are similar, differences between how the world’s two largest democracies have chosen to redress centuries of past discrimination are striking. While affirmative action in the United States is now threatened, the program in India is a vast system of political patronage that increasingly works to reward the powerful rather than uplift those in need.

Indeed, the caste-based affirmative action here raises questions, not only for India and the United States, but also for nations like Brazil and Malaysia that have adopted similar anti-discrimination programs. Without diligent judicial oversight, experts say, the efforts can help perpetuate inequality rather than redress it.

In Tamil Nadu, for instance, 69 percent of university admissions are now set aside for what the state has determined to be “backward castes.” Many of those favored with these set-asides have controlled Tamil Nadu’s government and much of its resources for generations, but they claim special status by pointing to a caste survey done in 1931. (Ms. Gayathri, 17, is a Brahmin whose parents are civil servants with modest incomes.)

Five prominent university officials in Tamil Nadu said in interviews that those given set-asides at their institutions were generally the children of doctors, lawyers and high-level bureaucrats. The result is that rich students routinely get preference over more accomplished poor ones who do not happen to belong to the favored castes. None of the officials would allow their names to be used for fear of angering the government ministers who benefit politically and personally from the program.

India’s caste system was created nearly 1,500 years ago to organize occupations in a feudal agricultural society. Those at the bottom of the system, now known as Dalits, were forbidden in some places from even allowing their shadows to fall on those at the top, known as Brahmins. Most castes were deemed “backward,” which meant that they were consigned to menial jobs.

Over the last 30 years, however, India’s economy has been transformed, much of its populace has moved from villages to sprawling cities, and once distinct castes have been scrambled. That has led to the erosion of historic differences in education and increased income mobility within castes in India, recent studies have found.

“Caste is no longer an economic restriction,” said Viktoria Hnatkovska, an assistant professor of economics at the University of British Columbia, and a co-author of several studies on the changing role of caste in India.

Nonetheless, quotas have transformed the taint of “backwardness” into a coveted designation.

The Gujjars of Rajasthan, for instance, held violent riots two years ago to protest the government’s refusal to declare them as “most backward.” Politicians win elections in India by promising to bestow this one-time curse, which has led to a dramatic expansion in those considered backward decades after the designation had true economic meaning.

Indeed, caste awareness among the young is sustained in part because of set-asides, so a program intended to eliminate the caste system is now blamed by many for sustaining it.

“When I was filling out my college application forms, there was this box for caste,” said Sneha Sekhsaria, 25, of Calcutta. “I had to ask my dad what our caste was, and he had to think about it for 15 minutes before telling me that we were in the general category.”

The general category meant that she received no preference, a fact that Ms. Sekhsaria blames for her failure to qualify for medical school. She went to dental school instead.

“Being a doctor was always my dream, but I got a dental degree instead and that’s O.K.,” she said.

But she remains bitter that some of her friends who scored more poorly than she did on entrance exams were able to become doctors even though she and others in her circle were entirely unaware that they were “backward.”

Nonetheless, the benefits that flow from caste quotas have made them popular, and supporting them is one of the few issues on which the present government and its opposition agree. Within the next few months, the Indian Parliament is expected to overwhelming approve a constitutional amendment that would allow caste-based quotas not just in educational settings and in government hiring but also in government promotions.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly tried to curtail the scope of caste quotas, but the Parliament has passed amendments in response to protect and even expand them. The court has ruled that quotas should not exceed 50 percent of university admissions, but Tamil Nadu has ignored this restriction and a case challenging the state’s larger quota has been pending since 1994.

In the meantime, the court has ordered the state to provide extra slots to at least some students who contest the higher quotas, including Ms. Gayathri, who has been admitted to Tirunelveli Medical College. In an interview, Salman Khurshid, India’s law minister and minister for minority affairs, said that wealthy beneficiaries of caste quotas should acknowledge that they no longer need set-asides and voluntarily bow out of the system.

Some rules forbid the wealthy — or “creamy layer” — from taking advantage of quotas, but those rules have not been implemented in many states and are widely ignored in others.

D. Sundaram, a retired professor of sociology from Madras University and a longtime member of Tamil Nadu’s now-disbanded Backward Classes Commission, defended the state’s quotas by saying that even three generations of wealth and power cannot reverse centuries of backwardness.

“The system has not been in place long enough,” Dr. Sundaram said.

To be sure, many Dalits and people from tribal backgrounds are still overwhelmingly poor, and even many critics of India’s caste-based quotas acknowledge that set-asides for them may still be worthy.

Ravi Kumar, general secretary of a Dalit political party in Tamil Nadu, agreed that many of those who benefit from the state’s vast caste-based quotas are wealthy and powerful. But his party supports quotas, also known as reservations, for the wealthy “because if we opposed them they would stop all reservations,” Mr. Kumar said.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, said that caste-based quotas will gradually become less important as the quotas themselves make public universities less attractive to the most talented students. “The talented people will simply migrate away,” he said.

But that is no comfort to Ms. Sekhsaria, whose family ended up spending tens of thousands of dollars to send her to a private dental school after she was turned down for a government medical school, where the fees are modest.

“Of the thousands of reasons to hate the government, reservations is definitely one of them,” she said.

Niharika Mandhana contributed reporting from Chennai and New Delhi.
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« Reply #2626 on: Oct 08, 2012, 07:17 AM »

In the USA...

October 7, 2012

Deadly Meningitis Outbreak Increases to 91 Cases


NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - U.S. health officials on Sunday reported an additional 27 cases in a fungal meningitis outbreak linked to steroid injections that has killed seven people and now infected 91 in nine states.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the new total of 91 cases in an update on its website, up from 64 on Saturday. Most of the new cases were reported in Michigan, where the total increased to 20 from eight. Virginia's total increased to 18 from 11.

The widening outbreak has alarmed U.S. health officials and focused attention on regulations of pharmaceutical compounding companies like the one that produced the drugs, the New England Compounding Center Inc in Framingham, Massachusetts.

The company shipped 17,676 vials of the steroid methylprednisolone acetate to 76 facilities in 23 states from July through September, the Massachusetts Health Department said.

The steroid is used as a painkiller, usually for the back, and could have been injected in thousands of patients, authorities have said.

Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, and affected patients started showing a variety of symptoms from one to four weeks after their injections.

The company, which was previously the subject of complaints, has suspended its operations while an investigation proceeds and earlier recalled the three lots of the drug. It expanded its recall on Saturday to all products compounded and distributed at its Framingham facility.

According to an announcement on its website, the company issued the broader recall out of "an abundance of caution" because of the "potential risk of contamination."

A compounding pharmacy takes medications from pharmaceuticals manufacturers and makes them into specific dosages and strengths for use by doctors.

Complaints against the company in 2002 and 2003 about the processing of medication resulted in an agreement with government agencies in 2006 to correct deficiencies, the Massachusetts Health Department said.


In 2011, there was another inspection of the facility and no deficiencies were found. In March 2012, another complaint was made about the potency of a product used in eye surgery procedures. That investigation is continuing, the state health department said.

The U.S. Food and Drug administration has limited authority over the day-to-day operations of compounding pharmacies, which are regulated primarily by state boards that oversee the practices, licensing and certification of pharmacies and pharmacists.

Compounded products do not have to win FDA approval before they are sold, and the agency has no jurisdiction over how the products are manufactured or labeled for use. Instead, the FDA investigates cases of adulterated drugs in cooperation with state regulators.

The FDA has tried to exert greater authority over compounded drug products under a section of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act that covers new drugs. But those efforts led to federal court challenges that resulted in two separate and conflicting rulings at the appellate level.

The nine states where fungal meningitis cases have been reported are Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia.

Tennessee, where the outbreak was first detected, accounted for most of the cases, with 32, including three deaths. Many patients there remain hospitalized, some in critical condition.

Michigan had 20 cases and two deaths. One person died in Maryland and another in Virginia, the CDC said.

Reuters had reported 65 cases on Saturday, including one additional case after the CDC published its total.

Fungal meningitis is not contagious, the CDC said. Symptoms include fever, headache, nausea and neurological problems that would be consistent with deep brain stroke.

The steroid was sent to California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia, the CDC said.

A list of facilities that received vials from the infected lots can be found via the website (Additional reporting by David Morgan and Karen Brooks; editing by Daniel Trotta and Mohammad Zargham)


U.S. House report: Chinese telecom firms are a national security risk and should be banned

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 7, 2012 21:20 EDT

Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE pose a security threat to the United States and should be barred from US contracts and acquisitions, a yearlong congressional investigation has concluded.

A draft of a report by the House Intelligence Committee, obtained Sunday by AFP, said the two firms “cannot be trusted” to be free of influence from Beijing and could be used to undermine US security.

“Based on available classified and unclassified information, Huawei and ZTE cannot be trusted to be free of foreign state influence and thus pose a security threat to the United States and to our systems,” the draft document said.

The congressional panel launched its probe over concerns that Beijing could use the fast-growing firms for economic or military espionage, or cyber attacks.

Both Huawei and ZTE have denied any ties with the Chinese government. Top executives of the firms appeared at a hearing held by the panel last month, stressing that they were focused on business, not politics.

Huawei reiterated that position in response to queries.

“The integrity and independence of Huawei’s organization and business practices are trusted and respected across almost 150 markets,” Huawei vice president William Plummer said in an emailed statement.

“Purporting that Huawei is somehow uniquely vulnerable to cyber mischief ignores technical and commercial realities, recklessly threatens American jobs and innovation, does nothing to protect national security, and should be exposed as dangerous political distractions.”

ZTE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


SpaceX set for first NASA-contracted supply mission

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, October 6, 2012 14:48 EDT

US firm SpaceX aims for its next big launch into orbit Sunday — the first of 12 flights in its $1.6 billion contract with NASA to bring supplies to and from the international space station.

The launch is the next step in American efforts to commercialize the space industry, in the hope of keeping down costs and spreading them among a wider group than governments alone.

SpaceX, owned by billionaire Paypal co-founder Elon Musk, is one of several private companies working with the US space agency to send flights to and from the space station. NASA has been relying on Russian spacecraft for the last year, after retiring its fleet of shuttles.

On Sunday, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to fire at 8:35 pm (0035 GMT) to launch the company’s Dragon capsule from Florida’s Cape Canaveral into orbit, loaded with around 1,000 pounds (455 kilograms) of supplies.

However, the latest reports indicate that a 40 percent chance of unfavorable weather could push the launch back one or two days.

This is to be SpaceX’s second flight this year: in May, the company proved its mettle with a test flight to the ISS, conducting a near flawless nine-day trip to deliver cargo to the $100 billion orbiting outpost — the first time a commercial outfit had sent its own capsule there and back.

Musk said he aims to massively expand the program.

“Next year, we’re aiming to do probably four to six launches and then double it again the year after,” he said during an online “hangout” on Google+.

“The ultimate thing is to try to get spaceflight as routine as air flight. I don’t think it can quite get there but it can get closer than it has been in the past,” he said.

Like traveling by airplane, Musk said he hopes one of the payoffs will be that everyday people, not just the rich, can one day afford a seat.

“Right now there are a lot of people that buy seats on the Russian Soyuz,” he said. “If we could offer them at a lower cost, we could expand the market.” “Perhaps it can be brought down to being only 10 times more expensive” than a seat on an airplane, he said. “It can happen. If we can make rapidly and fully reusable spacecraft.”

NASA administrator Charles Bolden added that part of commercializing the space industry will mean the private sector building new low-orbit destinations where companies can use the zero gravity environment for things like materials processing and pharmaceuticals research.

“That’s what we’re trying to do, is facilitate the true development of a real commercial industry where the government is an anchor tenant but not the primary source of income,” Bolden noted, during the Google+ chat.

SpaceX says it has 50 launches planned — both NASA missions and commercial flights — representing about $4 billion in contracts.

But the cargo on Sunday’s launch is all government: the manifest lists supplies from the Japanese and European space agencies, in addition to ones from NASA.

Jeff Foust, an aerospace consultant and the editor of said the industry is at the start of “a very slow transition” from something that is all government to something involving the private sector.

“NASA can’t keep doing everything. At some point it has to start turning over the things that are more routine,” like ferrying supplies to the space station.

If Sunday’s launch goes as planned, the Dragon capsule should reach the space station by Wednesday, where it should stay for two weeks. It is scheduled to return to Earth — splashing down off the coast of southern California — on October 28, carrying about 734 pounds (333 kilograms) of scientific materials.

So far, SpaceX has only sent unmanned flights into orbit, but the company aims to send a manned flight within the next three or four years. It is under a separate contract with NASA to refine the capsule to make it crew-capable.


October 7, 2012

With Biden Up Next to Debate, Obama’s Aides Plot Comeback


WASHINGTON — President Obama’s campaign is working feverishly to restore its momentum after a lackluster debate performance last week, an effort that began with a conference call 10 minutes before the debate even ended and led to new advertisements, a rewritten stump speech, a carefully timed leak and a reversal of months-old strategy.

Perhaps most important as the president’s team struggles to put his campaign back on track is a renewed effort to win the three remaining debates, starting with Thursday’s face-off between Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Paul D. Ryan. Mr. Biden began traveling to a Delaware hotel on Sunday for three days of debate camp.

Under the tutelage of David Axelrod, the president’s chief strategist who is personally overseeing the preparations, Mr. Biden will be counseled on how to avoid Mr. Obama’s mistakes and even correct them with a more aggressive prosecution of the Republican ticket. Mr. Axelrod’s involvement highlights the stakes the Obama campaign places on the debate, and Mr. Biden has been reading “Young Guns,” the book co-written by Mr. Ryan, and practicing attack lines that Mr. Obama avoided.

The focus on Mr. Biden comes as the campaign tries to diagnose what went wrong in Denver and what to do about it. Advisers had seen two presidents during practice debates, one who had been listless and passive two nights before and another energetic and aggressive the next night. It turned out the former was the one who showed up in Denver. He kept looking down and was not using the lines they had practiced assailing Mitt Romney, who kept the president on the defensive and presented a forceful case against his re-election.

For Mr. Obama, it was arguably the lowest point in his campaign for a second term. The campaign’s own focus groups and research indicated that he lost. Mr. Obama did not fully realize as he walked off the stage just how badly it had gone, but aides said he resolved to step up his game. “He doesn’t brood — he acts,” Mr. Axelrod said. “Whatever the concerns were about yesterday, he wakes up the next day ready to take it on again.”

On the conference call convened by aides in Denver and Chicago even as the candidates were still on stage, there was no debate in the Obama campaign about the debate. None of the advisers fooled themselves into thinking it was anything but a disaster. Instead, they scrambled for ways to recover. They resolved to go after Mr. Romney with a post-debate assault on his truthfulness. Ad makers were ordered to work all night to produce an attack ad. And they would seize on Mr. Romney’s vow to cut financing for Big Bird.

Mr. Obama has been helped by two subsequent events. A labor report on Friday showed that unemployment had dropped to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent, still historically high but back down to where it was when he took office. And his campaign privately spread the word that fund-raising had soared, giving him a bankroll for a comeback attempt.

But the debate remains a singular event in the life of the campaign, watched by more than 67 million people — a larger audience than for any of Mr. Obama’s 2008 debates, either of his nominating conventions or any of his State of the Union addresses.

Thursday’s debate between Mr. Biden and Mr. Ryan may not draw quite the same audience, but both sides view it as critical and are preparing for a contentious clash. “With Paul Ryan, it’s a different dynamic” than when he debated Sarah Palin in 2008, said Jennifer Granholm, a former Michigan governor who played Ms. Palin in debate practice then. The vice president “can go hard on policy.”

In rehearsals, Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat who is playing Mr. Ryan, has mimicked what he considered the Republican’s staccato speaking style and penchant for slashing arguments wrapped in a smile. “I expect the vice president to come at me like a cannonball,” Mr. Ryan told The Weekly Standard.

Mr. Biden’s advisers view Mr. Ryan as a walking encyclopedia of numbers and policy and hope he might get lost in the weeds. “The key is to be able to cut through the numbers that often don’t make sense,” said Mr. Van Hollen. Also crucial is helping Mr. Biden tame his own loquacious nature and proclivity for gaffes.

The Obama-Biden team approached the debate knowing the perils. History showed that incumbents tended to lose their first debate, both because of their own confidence and the chance for a challenger to appear as an equal to a sitting president.

Like other presidents, Mr. Obama’s debate preparations were hindered by his day job, his practice sessions often canceled or truncated because of events, advisers said. One session took place just after he addressed a service for the four Americans slain in Libya, leaving him distracted.

Mr. Obama does not like debates to begin with, aides have long said, viewing them as media-driven gamesmanship. He did not do all that well in 2008 but benefited from Senator John McCain’s grumpy performances. Mr. Obama made clear to advisers that he was not happy about debating Mr. Romney, whom he views with disdain. It was something to endure, rather than an opportunity, aides said.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts was recruited to play Mr. Romney. The preparation team was kept small. The most important players were Mr. Axelrod; David Plouffe, the president’s senior adviser; and Anita Dunn, a former White House communications director. Others included Joel Benenson, the president’s pollster; Ronald A. Klain, Mr. Biden’s former chief of staff; and Robert Barnett, a longtime Democratic debate coach.

By the time Mr. Obama retreated to Nevada for a final couple days of practice, the debate prep team was getting by on as little as three hours of sleep a night as they crafted answers and attack lines. Mr. Kerry played a range of Mr. Romneys — aggressive, laid back, hard-edge conservative — and got in the president’s face, according to people in the room. Mr. Obama’s alternating performances left aides walking off Air Force One in Denver looking worried.

On stage, Mr. Obama seemed thrown off as Mr. Romney emphasized elements of his agenda that seemed more moderate and was surprised that the moderator, Jim Lehrer of PBS, did not pose more pointed questions. The president’s team had decided in advance not to raise Mr. Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, aides said, but Mr. Obama held back on other attack lines they had intended to use. The base wanted him “to gut Romney,” one adviser said, but swing voters hate that and he was seeking a balance. Few thought he found it.

Joining the damage-control conference call were Mr. Axelrod, Mr. Plouffe, Jim Messina, the campaign manager, and Stephanie Cutter, his deputy, in Denver; and Ms. Dunn, Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, and Larry Grisolano, a political adviser, in Chicago. In just minutes, they reversed a longstanding strategic decision; at the start of the campaign they had decided to attack Mr. Romney as a committed conservative rather than a flip-flopper, but now they decided to use his debate statements to argue that he was reinventing himself.

Mr. Obama walked off the stage thinking he at least had gotten in some of his points. “This was a terrific debate,” he said in the closing minutes.

“He knew that Romney had had a decent night as well,” Mr. Axelrod said later. “But it’s very hard when you’re standing there. It’s hard when you’re up there to judge it completely.”

Mr. Obama’s advisers were so off balance that they did not show up in the media filing center for the traditional post-debate spin until long after the Republicans. But they were relieved that at least there was no single memorable moment to be used against Mr. Obama in an ad. And they took some solace from focus groups showing that he broke even with Mr. Romney on substance even if he lost over all.

By morning, the Democrats had an ad criticizing Mr. Romney. They had scheduled a morning rally and were surprised that the Romney team had not. As they watched Twitter and some of the entertainment shows on television, they noticed a lot of attention on Mr. Romney’s pledge to cut money for public broadcasting, so they added a line to Mr. Obama’s speech and dispatched a volunteer in a Big Bird costume to a Romney event.

The president proved as aggressive in his post-debate rallies as he was passive in the debate, but the campaign was besieged by anxious Democrats. Mr. Messina had to pep up a demoralized staff in Chicago. Mr. Obama took the blame during calls with advisers. “This is on me,” he told them. Asked by some if Mr. Kerry was at fault, Mr. Obama said no. “It wasn’t Kerry,” he sad. “Kerry was fine.”

Beyond the vice-presidential debate, Mr. Obama is focused on his next encounter with Mr. Romney, on Oct. 16; lines unused in Denver may finally be aired in Long Island. But for a hypercompetitive politician, the first debate remains a raw subject. Asked if Mr. Obama was making fun of his performance, one adviser said, “We’re not at that point yet.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 8, 2012

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was moving into a Delaware hotel for three days of debate preparations. He will actually spend the nights at his home in Wilmington.


Team Obama steps up attacks on ‘dishonest’ Romney

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 7, 2012 16:40 EDT

President Barack Obama’s campaign intensified attacks Sunday on Mitt Romney’s honesty as it tried to halt the Republican challenger’s momentum after a strong first debate performance.

Romney’s people hit back, and did so sarcastically, depicting Obama’s people as childish sore losers after he came across as flat, nervous and unassertive during their first face-to-face encounter in Denver, Colorado.

As both sides gear up for a debate this week between the vice presidential candidates, the race for the November 6 election has degenerated into a testy back-and-forth over who advocates what and how the other side spins it.

Romney’s ideas for rejuvenating a listless economy by getting more money into consumers’ wallets and purses include a package of tax cuts that the Obama side says, citing a non-partisan think tank, would amount to $5 trillion over the next 10 years.

At the debate, Obama mentioned the package several times, and that big number. Romney essentially said he did not know what the president was talking about, and insisted any tax cuts he enacted would be offset by closing tax loopholes and ending deductions, so the effect on the deficit would be nil.

Robert Gibbs, a senior Obama strategist, conceded that the former Massachusetts governor did very well at the debate in Denver.

“But the underpinnings and foundations of that performance were fundamentally dishonest,” Gibbs said on the ABC program “This Week.”

“If you’re willing to say anything to get elected president, if you are willing to make up your positions and walk away from them, I think the American people have to understand, how can they trust you if you are elected president?, Gibbs said.

“It’s impossible,” top Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said, insisting Romney has failed to name even one such loophole he would shut and that even if he closed all the ones enjoyed by wealthy Americans, he would fall far short of making his plan revenue-neutral.

“He has to sock it to the middle class or explode the deficit,” Axelrod said. “This is a shell game. Whichever shell you pick up, the middle class loses.”

Last week the Obama campaign put out an attack ad about Romney allegedly disavowing his own tax plans, and entitled it simply “Dishonest.” On Sunday Romney’s side returned fire with an ad that says Obama “continues to distort” Romney’s economic plan.

The new Romney ad features a sound bite from Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, telling CNN, “Well, O.K., stipulated, it won’t be near $5 trillion.”

Romney campaign senior adviser Ed Gillespie said Romney had made a fact-based critique of Obama’s handling of the economy, the president could not answer, and now his people are throwing a tantrum.

“They remind me a little bit of a seven-year-old losing a checker game, and then instead of being frustrated at the outcome, they sweep the board off the table,” Gillespie said on ABC’s “This Week”.

Going into the first debate, the 65-year-old Romney was in dire need of a turnaround as a month of campaign misfires and missteps since the nominating convention had left him trailing in the opinion polls.

The first surveys since the debate do indicate some kind of bounce for Romney but it is too early to tell how significant or how lasting, especially in the key battleground states that will decide the November 6 election.

Obama’s campaign for re-election did get some good news last week, with word that a 2012-campaign record $181 million in donations poured into its war chest in September and the jobless rate fell from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent.

Romney will come in for further scrutiny on Monday when he gives a major address on foreign policy, an area seen as his weak point and Obama’s forte.


ari moshe
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« Reply #2627 on: Oct 08, 2012, 07:38 AM »

This is hilarious! Hope this brings out a laugh in some of you (-;
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« Reply #2628 on: Oct 08, 2012, 04:34 PM »

And now, from the evil twin brother of the Arkansas state senator who thinks in retrospect slavery was a good thing for African slaves as it got them citizenship in the greatest country that has ever existed on earth, and who also thinks exterminating immigrants is inevitable, comes this additional freak running for state Rep, also in Arkansas.  No doubt he is "pro-life" too.  People actually vote for these folks.  Who are these voters?
Arkansas Republican endorses death penalty for children
By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, October 8, 2012 16:42 EDT
A man running as a Republican for State Representative in Arkansas published a book in which he endorses the death penalty for rebellious children and much, much more.

In his book “God’s Law: The Only Political Solution,” published in April, former Arkansas Department of Human Services attorney Charlie Fuqua explains that he supports killing wayward kids because that’s what a Bronze Age tribe did in his favorite religious text.

“The maintenance of civil order in society rests on the foundation of family discipline,” he wrote, according to an excerpt published by The Arkansas Times. “Therefore, a child who disrespects his parents must be permanently removed from society in a way that gives an example to all other children of the importance of respect for parents. The death penalty for rebellious children is not something to be taken lightly. The guidelines for administering the death penalty to rebellious children are given in Deut 21:18-21.”

He goes on to write: “Even though this procedure would rarely be used, if it were the law of land, it would give parents authority. Children would know that their parents had authority and it would be a tremendous incentive for children to give proper respect to their parents.”

Fuqua’s run is being bankrolled by established Republicans in the state, including the party itself and the House Republican Leadership PAC.

In his book, Fuquoa also expresses his opposition to paying minimum wage, funding public education and what he calls the “Muslim problem,” which he believes could be dealt with by expelling all the Muslims from America. He adds that prisoners who cannot be rehabilitated within two years should just be executed to save money.

And in a diatribe published to his campaign website, Fuqua explains that liberals and Muslims have formed a “strange alliance” around their links to the “antichrist,” because, as he explains, “they both deny that Jesus is God in the flesh of man, and the savior of mankind. They both also hold that their cause should take over the entire world through violent, bloody, revolution. Both want to end freedom of speech so that their doctrine cannot be criticized. Neither can survive in a free marketplace of ideas.”

He’s running against incumbent State Rep. James McLean (D), a conservative Democrat with an A- rating from the National Rifle Association.

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« Last Edit: Oct 08, 2012, 06:33 PM by Steve » Logged

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« Reply #2629 on: Oct 09, 2012, 07:00 AM »

October 8, 2012

Georgian Leader Emerges as an Enigma


TBILISI, Georgia — More than 20 years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the West has become familiar with a wide variety of leaders to emerge in this space — Soviet apparatchiks, fierce nationalists, K.G.B.-trained strongmen — but Bidzina Ivanishvili, nominated Monday as Georgia’s next prime minister, does not resemble any of them, not even remotely.

Before last year, when Mr. Ivanishvili, a reclusive oligarch, vowed to topple President Mikheil Saakashvili, barely anyone knew what he looked like. The country’s richest man, Mr. Ivanishvili lived in a sealed environment of his own making, raising zebras, practicing yoga and amassing a $1.3 billion art collection from his palatial compounds, including one in the mountain village where he was born.

Western leaders had a year to get used to Mr. Ivanishvili, 56, as an opposition figure. But his first hours as a national leader set off alarm bells: Moments after Mr. Saakashvili had conceded defeat in parliamentary elections, Mr. Ivanishvili gave an acrimonious news conference in which he recommended that the president resign immediately, a year before his term ends. A day later Mr. Ivanishvili retracted his comment, suggesting that he had not been aware that it would set off a panic in Western capitals.

This political transition is no casual matter. The United States has sunk extraordinary resources into this small country, a pro-Western bastion on Russia’s southern border and a transit point for energy and military goods. Mr. Ivanishvili has such a scant track record in public life that it is difficult to know how he will handle decisions in the coming months, as Russia seeks to draw Georgia closer and as his followers call for punishing departing officials.

“My main feeling is that he’s a bit of a blank page, politically speaking,” said Thomas de Waal, an expert on the Caucasus at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “He is a page with a lot of blank spaces, and he is prepared for a lot of people to write in policies in the blanks. It’s undeserved luck on the part of the U.S.”

Mr. Ivanishvili moved to Moscow in 1982 and returned to Georgia two decades later with a fortune made in the metals and banking industries that Forbes now estimates at $6.4 billion.

His success in Russia prompted rumors that his candidacy was being quietly backed by the Kremlin, and though no proof of this has emerged, much about his past is mysterious. Georgians came to know him gradually through his lavish, anonymous gifts: he paid for Tbilisi’s gold-domed cathedral, bought boots for the army and drenched his own village with free benefits.

Though he earned his money in a cutthroat environment, Mr. Ivanishvili appears soft-spoken and curiously unsophisticated. His first interviews with Western reporters yielded little sense of how he would govern, beyond removing Mr. Saakashvili, a former ally. A devotee of psychoanalysis, Mr. Ivanishvili would reflect on the struggle between the president’s conscious and unconscious minds, or say that Mr. Saakashvili “is not managing his character well” and “doesn’t understand what love is.”

Mr. Ivanishvili’s first high-level government contacts were rocky, despite the efforts of prominent Washington lobbyists. When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Georgia in June, he refused to meet her unless the meeting was one on one — treatment reserved for high-ranking officials — rather than alongside other opposition leaders whom he considered illegitimate. Each side felt snubbed, and a distinct chill set in through June and July.

Meanwhile, Western observers underestimated the effectiveness of Mr. Ivanishvili’s campaign. Polls followed by Westerners in Tbilisi suggested that Mr. Saakasvhili’s party was ahead by 20 points in early September — a lead too large to be wiped out by the release of videos showing prison abuse. When Tedo Japaridze, a veteran diplomat and Ivanishvili adviser, visited the State Department a week before the vote, American officials were focused on avoiding protests by Ivanishvili supporters, he said.

“They kept saying, ‘What will happen when you lose?’ ” Mr. Japaridze said. “I kept asking: ‘What will happen when we win? Are you prepared for that?’ But they didn’t believe it.”

Mr. Ivanishvili provides a contrast with Mr. Saakashvili, a cosmopolitan charmer who speaks fluent English and intuitively understands what the West expects. Mr. Japaridze described Mr. Ivanishvili as “immensely realistic and pragmatic” with the “basic instincts of a Georgian.”

With the arrival of a new American ambassador, Richard B. Norland, a month before the vote, Mr. Ivanishvili’s links with the United States government rebounded, and the two men often confer twice a day, aides say.

Mr. Ivanishvili has said he would preserve Georgia’s close ties with the United States and its bid to enter NATO, despite the risk of irritating Russia. His victory set off “a cascade of delegations” from the United States and Europe, Mr. Japaridze said.

“As I understand it, the Westerners now realize that this is the reality, but at the same time they don’t know what this reality is — I mean, Ivanishvili,” he said. “They are asking him questions.”

Some of these conversations are clearly not comfortable. After Mr. Ivanishvili recommended that Mr. Saakashvili resign, three American senators released a statement saying they were “disappointed and troubled” by the remarks and by “unspecified threats of prosecutions.” By that time, Mr. Ivanishvili had retracted the remark.

Esben Emborg, the Danish consul in Tbilisi, said the episode was part of a “steep learning curve” Mr. Ivanishvili was scaling. The new leader, he noted, was emerging from “a completely secluded life, where he had no contact with anyone.”

“Maybe he has been guided to understand that he needs to be a politician now, he cannot just be a thug,” Mr. Emborg said. “It’s not a fistfight that you’ve won, it’s an election. There are 50 percent of the population that did not vote for you. Somebody told him: ‘Look, this is not the way the victor behaves. This comes across as a very small person.’ ”

Those discussions seem likely to recur over the coming weeks as a relatively inexperienced team takes charge. Mr. Ivanishvili ruffled more feathers with the publication last Thursday of an interview in New Times, a Russian magazine, in which he wondered why ethnic Armenians lived in Georgia when “their own homeland is next door,” a troubling remark in a country with a history of ethnic tensions.

Mr. Ivanishvili then released a statement saying he had been quoted out of context and meant to praise the “special gift of the Armenians and the Jews to be citizens of the world and succeed everywhere they live.” And with that ended his first workweek as a national leader.

“He is a novice, and that has its good side and its bad side,” said Mr. de Waal, the Carnegie analyst. “The bad side is he is quite unpredictable and says some quite eccentric things. The good side is he is still learning and corrects himself. He is receptive to advice.”

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« Reply #2630 on: Oct 09, 2012, 07:03 AM »

October 8, 2012

Chávez Calls for Unity After Victory in Venezuela


CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chávez followed his least convincing election victory — a still powerful 55 percent of the vote — with a phone call to his challenger on Monday and an appeal for national unity. But there appeared to be little prospect of concessions to the opposition, despite its relatively strong showing.

With 97 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Chávez won with 8 million votes, compared with 6.4 million votes and 44 percent for his rival, Henrique Capriles Radonski, the closest race since Mr. Chávez took office in 1999. In the last election, in 2006, Mr. Chávez won by 26 percent.

Both Mr. Chávez and Mr. Capriles mentioned the call in Twitter posts, referring to unity and mutual respect. That was something of a change, particularly for Mr. Chávez, who spent much of the campaign calling his opponent “good for nothing” or “little Yankee.” In a news conference on Monday, Mr. Capriles’ campaign manager, Armando Briquet, related that Mr. Capriles said of the call that Mr. Chávez had, for the first time, called him by his proper name.

But there was little indication of a warmer tone on display at a news conference held by the National Assembly president, Diosdado Cabello, a leader in Mr. Chávez’s party, who called the vote for Mr. Chávez “a resounding majority.”

“You hear some people now, the opposition, saying, you’ve got to recognize the six million-and-some who voted against the government,” Mr. Cabello said. “Oh please! Don’t forget about the eight million who voted for Chávez.”

Mr. Chávez will start his new six-year term in January, after 14 years in power. But there is uncertainty about at least some of his direction.

On Sunday night, he said he planned to take the country farther down the road to his version of “21st century socialism” — but he has yet to make clear what that means.

Analysts said it could include steps to extend state control further over portions of the economy, possibly through a new wave of expropriations of privately owned companies.

He is likely to increase emphasis on a system of thousands of so-called communes, community councils that are meant to encourage grass-roots democracy like the creation of communally run businesses. But Mr. Chávez may be hindered in the short term by a looming economic reckoning, which economists said could include a sharp cut in government spending, a devaluation of the currency, and an increase in inflation.

The government used a huge spending increase to boost the economy and consolidate support before the election, according to Ricardo Hausmann, the director of the Center for International Development at Harvard University. At the same time it used price controls and cheap imports to tamp down inflation.

“They engineered an electoral year boomlet that is now going to fizzle,” said Mr. Hausmann, who supported Mr. Capriles. He predicted a recession that could bring political consequences. “I think there’s going to be disappointment with Chávez fairly soon,” he said.

Mr. Chávez’s health is a major question. He has been fighting cancer, and his illness forced him to maintain a reduced schedule during the campaign. But he has refused to provide details about the cancer, including the type and where it was found. That has led to speculation that he may become too ill to govern and may eventually have to step down.

Mr. Chávez has built a highly centralized and personalized administration in which he makes most important decisions, and he commands near savior status among some supporters. That combination is unmatchable by anyone in his circle, complicating succession.

If a president dies or leaves office in the first four years of his term, the Constitution calls for a new election. In the event that Mr. Chávez’s health deteriorated, that provision could offer the opposition another shot at the presidency.

Francisco Rodríguez, an economist with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, speculated that Mr. Chávez might propose changing the succession rules so that the vice president, who is selected by the president, serves out the remainder of a vacated presidency. If the opposition weakens from its defeat, the change might win the necessary popular approval.

“He can catch the opposition in a state of disarray and get that passed without much trouble and then he would control the succession issue,” Mr. Rodríguez said.

At a news conference on Monday, Ramón Guillermo Aveledo, a leader of the opposition coalition that backed Mr. Capriles, called Sunday’s election clean but not fair because, he said, Mr. Chávez had used vast state resources to promote his campaign.

Mr. Aveledo said the coalition looked forward to state governor elections in December. “The only risk for the opposition is to not keep going,” he said.

What seems unlikely to change is Mr. Chávez’s list of international detractors and supporters. Venezuela is a major oil supplier to the United States, but political relations are tense. Mr. Chávez criticizes the United States as an imperialist power bent on having its way in Latin America and elsewhere. On Monday, the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, acknowledged “differences with President Chávez,” but congratulated “the Venezuelan people” on a peaceful election.

Cuba offered a message of support for Mr. Chávez, who helps prop up the Cuban economy with cheap oil. President Raúl Castro congratulated Mr. Chávez in a message published in Granma, Cuba’s state newspaper, saying his re-election showed the strength of his revolution “and its unquestionable popular support.”

María Eugenia Díaz contributed reporting.
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« Reply #2631 on: Oct 09, 2012, 07:05 AM »

October 9, 2012

Philippine High Court Suspends Contentious Internet Law


MANILA — The Supreme Court of the Philippines on Tuesday suspended a new Internet law that critics had said could lead to imprisonment for sharing posts on social media.

“We respect and will abide by it,” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima wrote Tuesday in a text message to reporters, referring to the court’s unanimous decision to suspend enforcement of the law for 120 days. “Our advocacy for a safe cyberspace and interdiction of organized crime will continue.”

Fifteen petitions had been filed with the court opposing the law, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which took effect Oct. 3. A spokeswoman for the high court, Maria Victoria Gleoresty Guerra, said the government had 10 days to file an initial response to the petitions. Oral arguments are scheduled for Jan. 15, she said.

The law establishes penalties for various computer-related crimes, including child pornography, identity theft, online fraud and illegally accessing computer networks. It also makes online libel punishable by imprisonment, which critics said could result in the criminalization of common activities like sharing Facebook and Twitter posts.

Critics also said that the law gives the government wide-ranging powers to access information on Internet users and to block Web sites. The law’s passage was followed by a public outcry, including street protests, social media campaigns and the hacking of government Web sites.

Senator Edgardo J. Angara, the author of the legislation in the Senate, said he welcomed the suspension so that the law could be publicly debated and better understood.

“I’m not disappointed,” Mr. Angara said. He added later: “What the Cybercrime Prevention Act does is only to regulate socially destructive acts, because you cannot enjoy your right fully and confidently if others have an equal right to interfere with your right.”

Others pledged to fight until the law is repealed or struck down by the Supreme Court. “A temporary restraining order, unanimously issued, is the first victory in our battle to defend our freedom and right of expression,” said Senator Teofisto D. Guingona III, who had voted against the measure. “For a court to issue a T.R.O. unanimously is a strong message of its belief that the dangers and fears of the people are real and must be addressed.”

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called for the high court to strike down the law and for any new Internet legislation to be debated in a transparent manner. “All provisions in Philippine law that allow for imprisonment for peaceful expression should be repealed,” said Brad Adams, the advocacy organization’s Asia director.
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« Reply #2632 on: Oct 09, 2012, 07:07 AM »

October 8, 2012, 8:57 pm

Ireland Plans Bold Measures to Lift Housing


DUBLIN - With its economy still reeling from the housing crash, Ireland is making a bold move to help tens of thousands of struggling homeowners.

The Irish government expects to pass a law this year that could encourage banks to substantially cut the amount that borrowers owe on their mortgages, a step that no major country has been willing to take on a broad scale.

The initiative, which would lower a borrower's monthly payment, could prevent a tide of foreclosures, an uncertainty that has been hanging over the Irish housing market for years. If it works, the plan could provide a road map for other troubled countries.

Without the proposed law, Laura Crowley, a nurse who lives in a village 30 miles west of Dublin, figures she will lose her home. In 2007, Ms. Crowley and her husband bought a small home for the equivalent of $420,000. But they can no longer afford the $1,400 monthly payment. Her husband, a construction worker, is earning far less and her take-home pay has been cut by the country's new austerity measures, which include new taxes. "This bill is the only light at the end of the tunnel for us," she said.

Most countries that have suffered housing busts, including the United States, have made limited use of so-called mortgage write-downs, the process of forgiving a portion of the principal on the loan. The worry has been that some borrowers who can afford their mortgages will stop making payments to take advantage of a bailout. Banks have also been reluctant since they could face unexpected losses.

Ireland is different from the United States and most countries. During the financial crisis, Ireland bailed out the banks, and the government still has large ownership stakes in some of the biggest mortgage lenders. So taxpayers are already responsible for mortgage losses. In other countries, the burden of principal forgiveness would largely fall on privately owned banks.

But the debate is the same: whether to push lenders to take losses now, in hopes that things will get better faster, or wait for the housing market to heal on its own, which could cloud the economy for years to come.

Countries suffering from a housing hangover will most likely be watching Ireland closely to see how the law works. Spain, swamped with mortgage defaults, introduced a measure in March that allows for debt forgiveness, though under strict conditions.

In many ways, Ireland has to try something audacious. House prices are still 50 percent below their peak, compared with 30 percent in the United States. And more than half of Irish mortgages are underwater, meaning the house is worth less than the outstanding debt. While some of those borrowers can afford to keep making payments, more than a quarter of mortgage debt on first homes, roughly $39 billion, is in default or has been modified by lenders.

The housing market is now in a state of limbo as the government and the banks have made little effort to clean up the mortgage mess.

Unlike in the United States, Irish banks have foreclosed on very few borrowers. While Ireland's leaders have considered it socially unacceptable for banks to seize large numbers of homes, they also feared the fiscal cost of foreclosures.

This approach creates doubt about the true level of bad mortgages at Irish banks. And borrowers, unsure of whether they will keep their homes, remain in a state of financial paralysis.

The new law aims to end this stalemate by overhauling Ireland's consumer debt and bankruptcy laws.

While banks aren't required to reduce the mortgage debt, the legislation gives them a powerful incentive to write down mortgages for troubled borrowers. Under the new rules, it will be less onerous to declare bankruptcy, making it easier for people to walk away from their homes altogether. As the threat rises, banks are more likely to reduce homeowners' debt, rather than risk losing the monthly income and getting stuck with the property.

"For the banks, where there are losses, they have to be recognized," said Alan Shatter, Ireland's justice minister, who has sponsored the new law, called the Personal Insolvency Bill. "This legislation gives homeowners hope for their future."

The legislation is intended, in part, to reach homeowners who are on the verge of running into trouble, as Geraldine Daly is.

A health care worker, Ms. Daly bought a home in 2009 in Belmayne, a new development in northern Dublin. Until last month, Ms. Daly said, she has been making her $1,200 payment. Then she fell behind after some unexpected expenses, including a car repair.

Ms. Daly estimates that her finances would become manageable if her monthly mortgage payments were cut to around $900. "Right now, I am a slave to this dog box."

Critics contend the law could have unintended consequences.

One fear is that banks won't have the money to absorb the potential losses on the mortgages. A big mystery is the level of defaults on so-called buy-to-let mortgages, loans that many Irish people took out to buy second homes to rent. In theory, the insolvency bill allows for write-offs on this type of mortgage, and analysts expect defaults on such loans to be higher than on first homes. Ireland's central bank is expected to release the data soon.

To qualify, borrowers will have to prove that they are in a precarious financial position and cannot afford to pay. Analysts are concerned that the bill may actually be too restrictive and homeowners will continue to default. "There are so many layers that borrowers have to go through to get a write-down," said Paul Joyce, senior policy researcher at Free Legal Advice Centers, a legal rights group that has supported moves to make Irish bankruptcy law more lenient. For instance, borrowers will most likely have to pay a big fee upfront to the person who handles their case.

John Chubb, a former construction worker who lives on a quiet cul-de-sac on the outskirts of Dublin, isn't too worried about the process right now. He just wants to save his home.

Since having an operation for colon cancer in 2004, Mr. Chubb has lived primarily on government disability payments, and the bank has allowed him to pay only mortgage interest. But the lender is in the process of deciding whether to foreclose.

"I am expecting the word any day now," he said. "I don't know if I will be out on the front path before the bill passes."
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« Reply #2633 on: Oct 09, 2012, 07:09 AM »

October 8, 2012

Radicalism Prompts Warnings in France


PARIS — Jewish and Muslim leaders here warned on Monday of rising anti-Semitism among young Muslims, two days after the police arrested 11 men and fatally shot one in raids in a handful of cities aimed at young radical French Muslims.

President François Hollande met with Jewish and Muslim leaders on Sunday and promised tighter security at Jewish religious sites. He said that a new law would soon make it a crime to travel to militant training camps. “Nothing will be tolerated; nothing should happen,” Mr. Hollande said in a statement. “Any act, any remark will be prosecuted with the greatest firmness.”

News of the raids added to the anxieties of France’s Jewish and Muslim populations, which were already unnerved by the killings in March of three French service members, a rabbi and three Jewish children in the Toulouse region by a French Muslim who had trained with Islamic militants in Pakistan. Muslim and Jewish spokesmen say they worry about the domestic expansion of radical Islam.

“We must take the measure of this type of ideology,” Richard Prasquier, the head of Crif, a major Jewish organization in France, told France Inter radio on Monday. “I say that radical Islamism is Nazi ideology.”

Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of the Grande Mosquée in Paris, also warned of radicalism, but said those arrested did not represent Muslims as a whole.

The raids took place near Paris and in Nice, Cannes and Strasbourg, where police officers killed Jérémie Louis-Sidney, 33, after he fired on them with a .357 Magnum pistol when they entered the apartment he was in. His DNA was found on the remnants of a small grenade that was thrown into the kosher market in Sarcelles, a suburb of Paris, last month. The police described him as a French-born drug dealer who had become radicalized in prison and converted to Islam there. They said he had been under surveillance for months.

On Monday, French newspapers similarly described the 11 suspects as young men born in France who had adopted a radical form of Islam, usually after coming into trouble with the law. An editorial in the daily newspaper Libération called them “the lost children of the lost territories of the republic for whom the Jew is the enemy.”

In another newspaper, Le Figaro, a former antiterrorism judge, Jean-Louis Bruguière, wrote: “In this case, the first elements collected seem to show that there is a phenomenon of self-radicalization that expanded in a rather worrisome way. Many of them haven’t traveled to training camps in Afghanistan.” He added that he was struck by the fact that “the networks change so fast.”

Mr. Prasquier and other Jews across France say that anti-Semitic threats have escalated since the March attacks in and near Toulouse by Mohammed Merah, 23. Mr. Merah had traveled to Pakistan for training and said before he died in a shootout with the police that he was acting on behalf of Al Qaeda.

“Contrary to what we believed or said, the violence of Mr. Merah’s act caused emulation among some people,” Alain Jakubowicz, the president of the International League Against Racism and Anti-Semitism, was quoted as saying in Libération. “For some young people, this murderer created empathy.”

The 11 suspects arrested on Saturday were described in various news reports as admirers of Mr. Merah, and some of them even called his actions “the battle of Toulouse.”

Just hours after Mr. Louis-Sidney was killed, blank shots were fired at a synagogue in Argenteuil, a working-class suburb of Paris. “It is an additional act against the Jewish community,” said Moshe Cohen-Sabban, a local Jewish leader. “It worries us a lot.”
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« Reply #2634 on: Oct 09, 2012, 07:10 AM »

October 8, 2012

Syria Rebukes Turkey as Artillery Fight Continues


Syria escalated tensions with Turkey on Monday, accusing its neighbor and former friend of imperialist delusions reminiscent of Ottoman dynastic rule, as Syrian Army gunners exchanged artillery blasts with their Turkish counterparts across the border for the sixth consecutive day.

Insurgent sympathizers and the Syrian government described an extremely violent day in the nearly 19-month-old uprising in Syria. In unverified accounts, killings and destruction were reported in the cities of Aleppo, Homs and Dara’a and in northern Idlib Province, where members of the rebel Free Syrian Army claimed to have discovered a massacre committed by security forces at a makeshift prison.

In Damascus, there were reports that a suicide attacker had detonated a bomb near a government intelligence compound.

The new violence coincided with word that the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group in exile, which has been plagued by leadership dysfunction and factionalism, was trying to make itself more relevant to a future political solution by convening a special conference next week in Doha, Qatar.

In what appeared to be part of that effort, the council’s president, Abdulbaset Sieda, was said by the news organization Al Arabiya to have visited Bab al-Hawa, a rebel-held border town, on Monday. If true, the trip would be his first into Syria since he became the group’s leader in June.

Mr. Sieda was quoted in a telephone interview with The Associated Press as saying the group would not rule out a future role for any members of President Bashar al-Assad’s government, as long as they had not ordered killings or participated in them. By some estimates more than 20,000 Syrians have died.

Mr. Sieda seemed to be trying to revive suggestions floated in the council that some of Mr. Assad’s subordinates could have a soft landing in a post-Assad government. Those suggestions had gained little support as others in the council, which has rarely spoken with a unified voice, insisted that everyone in Mr. Assad’s government was irrevocably tainted.

As a possible interim leader, Mr. Sieda mentioned a Syrian vice president, Farouk al-Sharaa, whose name had also been floated in an Arab League peace plan that went nowhere.

George Sabra, a spokesman for the council, played down the significance of Mr. Sieda’s statement, saying the council welcomed anyone who had not participated in killing. What constitutes participation, however, is unclear. Mr. Sharaa has been an important figure in Mr. Assad’s hierarchy for years.

“The issue is not just names,” Mr. Sabra said by telephone. “But we need a plan. What’s the benefit if we change names and keep the regime? Do you think people will accept that?”

He also said that the council had “no problem” with Mr. Sharaa, but that “no one can decide, or approve, except the Syrian people.”

Mr. Sharaa’s name as an interim president also was broached over the weekend by the Turkish government, which has long hosted members of the Syrian National Council. The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said Mr. Sharaa’s hands “are not contaminated in blood.”

But that idea was dismissed on Monday by Syria’s information minister, Omran al-Zoubi, in a reaction reported by the official Syrian Arab News Agency. Mr. Zoubi accused the Turkish government of behaving as if the world had reverted to the Ottoman dominance that shaped the Middle East for centuries.

“Turkey isn’t the Ottoman Sultanate,” Mr. Zoubi said. “The Turkish Foreign Ministry doesn’t name custodians in Damascus, Mecca, Cairo and Jerusalem.”

He said the Turkish foreign minister’s statements reflected “obvious political and diplomatic confusion and blundering,” according to SANA.

Mr. Zoubi’s rejoinder came as Turkey shelled Syrian targets across the border on Monday after a Syrian shell hit the Altinozu district of Hatay Province, where farmers were working. The semiofficial Anatolian News Agency said there were no injuries.

Turkey and Syria once enjoyed one of the strongest friendships among Middle Eastern neighbors. They became estranged after Mr. Assad’s government brutally suppressed the political opposition that started with peaceful demonstrations in March 2011.

Turkish and Syrian border troops have been shelling each other since Wednesday, after a Syrian mortar shell killed five civilians in Turkey, a NATO member. The shelling has raised fears that the unrest in Syria will broaden into a regional war.

Syria has accused Saudi Arabia and Qatar of joining with Turkey in arming the insurgents, an accusation that gained some credibility with a report on Monday by BBC News, which said its correspondent had seen three crates of what appeared to be Saudi weapons diverted to a rebel base in Aleppo.

Reporting was contributed by Anne Barnard, Hwaida Saad, Hala Droubi and Hania Mourtada from Beirut, Lebanon, and Sebnem Arsu from Istanbul.
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« Reply #2635 on: Oct 09, 2012, 07:12 AM »

10/09/2012 12:05 PM

Merkel in Athens: Greece's Debt Problems Aren't Going Away

By Stefan Kaiser

Greeks are hoping to hear Chancellor Angela Merkel express solidarity with the crisis-stricken country during her Tuesday visit to Athens. The situation, however, remains dire. If Greece is to remain in the euro zone, either more aid or another debt restructuring program will be necessary -- and possibly both.

For months, Greek political leaders have been asking Chancellor Angela Merkel to come for a visit. Yet now that she is heading to Athens for a one-day trip on Tuesday, it has become clear that her mission is an impossible one.

The Greeks are hoping that Merkel will arrive with expressions of solidarity and pledges of support for the crisis-torn country. But 2013 is an election year, and members of her own governing coalition, not to mention much of the German electorate, would prefer to see her continue playing the role of the Iron Chancellor and reiterate her demands for reform and austerity. Germans simply don't want to send any more money to Athens.

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert has sought to ensure journalists that Merkel will be able to satisfy both groups. She is traveling to Greece to "express her support for the demanding reforms" the country has embarked upon, he said on Monday. At the same time, she will "stress all that must still be done." It seems likely that her tightrope walk won't be entirely successful and that at least one camp will be disappointed. Perhaps even both.

The attempt to save Greece from bankruptcy has been underway now for two-and-a-half years. And at the moment it is looking more than ever as if a decisive point has been reached. Euro-zone member states must soon decide if they want to provide Athens with yet more aid and allow the country to pay back the emergency loans later than planned. Or if they want to forgive Greece a significant portion of the emergency aid the country has already received. Or, perhaps even both.

The current aid package runs until the end of 2014 and foresees Greece being able to return to the capital markets in 2015. At the moment, however, few believe that the timeline is realistic. Indeed, estimates point to Greece needing an additional €78 billion in funding between 2015 and 2020. Where exactly that money should come from remains unclear.

Rapidly Shrinking Economy

Equally unclear is how the country can reduce its sovereign debt load to a bearable 120 percent of gross domestic product by 2020. The Greek government's current budget proposal envisions this year ending with a debt load of 169 percent of GDP. In 2013, it will be 179 percent of GDP. "The debt level is extremely high," says Jens Boysen-Hogrefe of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. "Given current conditions, the country won't likely be able to handle it."

Greece's spiralling debt load is primarily a function of the country's abysmal economy. In the last four years, the Greek economy has shrunk by fully 20 percent with economists expecting a further 6.5 percent drop this year. Athens expects that 2013 will see the economy shrink by an additional 3.8 percent, but most economists are more pessimistic.

The further the economy shrinks, the more difficult it becomes for Greece to pay the interest on its debt. "Thanks to the austerity packages, the Greek budget, minus interest payments, is largely balanced," says Boysen-Hogrefe. "The country requires external aid almost exclusively to service its debt."

At the beginning of 2012, that burden was lightened slightly when a large share of the country's private creditors agreed to forgive more than half of the debt they held. But the effects of that debt haircut have long since faded.

As a result, economists are convinced that Greece will need yet more assistance. "Either one can put together a new aid package or one can push through another debt haircut," says Boysen-Hogrefe. "It is possible that it will be a mixture of both methods."

A second default, however, would be much more painful for euro-zone member states than the first. This time, it wouldn't be just private debt holders who would suffer, but also public ones, such as Germany and its taxpayers.

A €63 Billion Hit

Euro-zone states, together with the International Monetary Fund, have thus far sent some €149 billion to Greece. It is considered highly unlikely that the IMF would forgive Greece a portion of the aid it has provided, leaving the €126.8 billion from euro-zone countries, €34 billion of it from Germany.

If one takes the debt cut from earlier this year as a model, which saw private creditors forgive 50 percent of the debt they held, that would mean that countries in the common currency zone would take a €63 billion hit -- with Germany alone bidding farewell to €17 billion. On top of that comes the potential hit that the European Central Bank might take. In its effort to drive down borrowing costs for euro-zone nations, the ECB purchased Greek sovereign bonds with a face value of some €45 billion, though the actual purchase price was much lower.

Were the ECB to take part in a program of debt forgiveness, Germany's share of the losses could be as high as €3.5 billion, resulting in a total haircut bill for Berlin of over €20 billion. Still, Greece would suddenly find itself free of some €170 billion in debt.

If everyone plays along, that is. And that isn't likely. The European Central Bank in particular has indicated that it would not take part in any such debt forgiveness program. Even a debt restructuring program involving the extension of the bond periods or a reduction of the interest owed on those bonds is unappetizing.

Pushing the Problem into the Future

"We can neither extend the periods on Greek sovereign bonds nor can we lower the interest payments," Jörg Asmussen, the German member on the ECB board, told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag over the weekend. "Both would be a form of debt forgiveness and thus a direct financing of the Greek state. Legally, the ECB is not allowed to do that."

Beyond the legal concerns, however, are the political concerns facing Merkel. With general elections looming next autumn, the last thing she wants to do is write off €20 billion in German taxpayer money during what promises to be a difficult re-election campaign. As such, it seems more likely that euro-zone countries will opt for a soft debt restructuring program involving an extension of bond repayment periods and a lowering of the interest rate due on those bonds. That, however, would also mean that Europe continues following the Merkel course of the last two-and-a-half years -- that of simply pushing the problem into the future.

Merkel, however, is running out of room for further delays. In 2014, the exact same conundrum will crop up once again. Either Greece will need additional billions of euros in aid or its creditors will have to forgive billions in debt. Or both. Meanwhile, the third alternative -- that of simply ceasing to provide aid and plunging Greece into an uncontrolled bankruptcy -- becomes more expensive with each passing year.

No matter what happens, it will be expensive for the euro zone and expensive for Germany. "Either way," says Boysen-Hogrefe, "we will have to bear our share of the costs." And that is a reality that Merkel's visit to Athens on Tuesday will do nothing to change.
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« Reply #2636 on: Oct 09, 2012, 07:14 AM »

October 8, 2012

Missing List of Names Widens Greek Political Fissure


ATHENS — Can a memory stick bring down a political order? That is the question in Greece, where a tragicomic debate over what became of a list of nearly 2,000 Greeks with Swiss bank accounts is rapidly turning into a full-blown political crisis that is imperiling Greece’s fragile coalition government at a crucial time.

When the Greek finance minister and one of his predecessors said last month that the list was missing — and another former finance minister then said he had belatedly handed it over to the authorities — the story was seen as an almost laughable caper. But amid other high-profile corruption investigations that have opened in recent weeks, it assumed a darker cast. On Thursday, a former deputy interior minister — who according to the Greek news media was under investigation for corruption himself — was found dead in what appears to have been a suicide.

As the coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras struggles to agree on a package of austerity measures to secure the foreign financing the country needs to stay afloat — and ahead of Tuesday’s expected visit to Athens by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany — the corruption investigations are seen as a gloves-off fight, with politicians breaking allegiances in a destabilizing climate of suspicion and even blackmail.

“What we see unfolding in the political system is a tragedy with elements of low comedy,” said Pantelis Boukalas, a columnist for the newspaper Kathimerini.

The same people singled out in the investigations are in the parties that form the pillars of Mr. Samaras’s government — a government blessed and supported by European leaders — and it remains to be seen how much self-examination, and how many criminal charges, it will take before the entire structure collapses.

As the investigations gain momentum, the relationship between the Socialists and Mr. Samaras’s New Democracy party, “is that of the scorpion and the frog,” Mr. Boukalas said. “It’s in their nature for one to sting the other” until both sink.

“They might be forced allies now, but each other’s value is based on the devaluation of the other,” he added. “However, if the Socialists completely fall apart, there goes the government; New Democracy and Democratic Left alone cannot hold it together,” a reference to a smaller third party in the coalition.

The investigations have also revealed the close ties between Greece’s political establishment and its oligarchs and business elite. There is growing public outrage that no Greek government wanted to touch the infamous list of 1,991 Greeks with accounts at a Geneva branch of the global bank HSBC that the French government gave Greece in 2010 to crack down on tax evasion.

After Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras told The Financial Times last month that the list appeared to have gone missing in the Finance Ministry, one of his predecessors, George Papaconstantinou, gave an interview on Greek television saying that he had received the list in late 2010 from Christine Lagarde, then the French finance minister and now the managing director of the International Monetary Fund. He said he had given a handful of names from the list to the chief of Greece’s financial crimes unit in early 2011 and the full list to that official’s successor, Ioannis Diotis, in June of that year.

Speaking to Parliament’s ethics committee last week, Mr. Diotis said he had received a memory stick with the names from Mr. Papaconstantinou in June 2011, the month the finance minister left office. Mr. Diotis said that he had passed the list to Mr. Papaconstantinou’s successor, Evangelos Venizelos, the current Socialist leader, but that Mr. Venizelos had not instructed him to investigate it. Mr. Diotis also suggested that the list appeared to have been obtained illegally and might not have been usable in an investigation.

On Monday, the committee said it would summon the current and three former finance ministers to testify about the list. In a television interview last week, a furious Mr. Venizelos said he had handed the memory stick to Mr. Samaras when he realized that no investigative agencies had a copy. On Monday, he said he never received the list from Mr. Papaconstantinou.

Beyond the memory stick’s contents, the claims and counterclaims reveal “a difficult period, the most difficult we’ve had since the war, and you find very few exemplary figures in public life,” said Thanos Veremis, a professor and a co-author of a history of modern Greece. “There’s also fear — fear that they will be accused of this, that or the other — so they behave accordingly.”

That much was clear last month when the Greek news media published a list of 36 politicians who were ostensibly under investigation on corruption charges. It included the speaker of Parliament, who temporarily stepped down on Sept. 24, and several former ministers and mayors. It was also believed to include Leonidas Tzanis, 57, a Socialist politician and former deputy minister. Mr. Tzanis’s wife found him dead in the basement of their house, where he had apparently hanged himself on Thursday, days before he was expected to testify to the authorities, the Greek news media reported.

Greece’s financial crimes unit has not confirmed the existence of the list but has not denied that it is investigating politicians for corruption. It did not respond to requests for comment.

In another investigation, the authorities are looking at a list of 54,000 people who transferred nearly $29 billion abroad since 2009 and, in 15,000 cases, declared income significantly smaller than that found in the foreign accounts.

After 40 years in which the Socialists and New Democracy alternated rule before their traditional support dropped by half, punished by austerity-weary voters in elections last spring, analysts said the investigations could turn into the kind of bribery scandal that brought down Italy’s political establishment in the early 1990s, leaving a vacuum eventually filled by Silvio Berlusconi.

But in Greece, it remains to be seen what new political forces might emerge. The political landscape has already been radically transformed by the debt crisis and three years of austerity, during which the gross domestic product has dropped 25 percent and unemployment has hit 50 percent for young people and 25 percent over all.

In last spring’s elections, the neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, a growing antipolitical force that preys on fears of illegal immigration and has accused the mainstream parties of corruption, earned seats in Parliament. Last week during a parliamentary session, members of Golden Dawn shouted at their Socialist colleagues, calling them thieves who had stolen from the country for 20 years.

The main opposition party, the leftist Syriza, is finding its footing. It placed second in the elections.

Mr. Boukalas, the political columnist, said Greek politicians accused of corruption used to stay out of the public eye before re-emerging, wagging their fingers at others to “regain their virginity.” With the old leadership in disarray, that strategy no longer worked, he said.

“There is this lake in Argos where Hera would take a swim after every copulation session with Zeus, so she would always be a virgin,” he said, adding, “This lake doesn’t exist anymore. It was dried up in a public works project.”

Dimitris Bounias and Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting.
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« Reply #2637 on: Oct 09, 2012, 07:16 AM »

IMF warns U.S. ‘fiscal cliff’ would set back world economy

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 8, 2012 19:33 EDT

WASHINGTON — The International Monetary Fund warned US leaders that hitting the looming “fiscal cliff” would not only crush the American economy but spin havoc through the rest of the world.

The US needs to shrink its huge fiscal deficit over the medium term but steep spending cuts and tax hikes scheduled for January are too extreme, and are already sending worries across the globe and hitting growth, the IMF said.

The IMF said, in its global economic report released in Tokyo, that the US could plunge back into recession if policymakers fail to agree a way to avoid the poison-pill plan to cut the country’s deficit and debt.

“Growth would stall in 2013 with the full materialization of the cliff and… would inflict large spillovers on major US trading partners and also on commodity exporters,” the Washington-based global lender said.

The Fund warned the US economy is likely slow slightly next year from this year’s forecast 2.2 percent expansion even if the cliff plan is avoided.

Growth has lost momentum, it said, with one factor being the uncertainty related to the outlook for government plans and the eurozone crisis.

The IMF conceded that worries wrought by uncertainty in Europe could help the United States, as capital has moved to the safe-haven dollar, helping to keep US interest low despite the government’s hefty debt burden.

However, the IMF warned, this can also drive up prices, hurting the country’s exports.

But most worrisome is the so-called “fiscal cliff”, an impossible political compromise agreed last year as Democrats and Republicans battled without conclusion over how to close the fiscal deficit over the medium term.

The plan forces deep, immediate spending cuts on the government from January 1, while raising taxes which will crunch household spending.

Legislators are under pressure to come up with an alternative before the end of the year. But, with Congress now on recess ahead of the November 6 national elections, there will be little time to fashion a more moderate plan before the deadline.

If implemented, the IMF said, the plan could cut four percent from gross domestic product.

“It is imperative to avoid excessive fiscal consolidation in 2013, to raise the debt ceiling promptly, and to agree on a credible medium-term fiscal consolidation plan.”
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« Reply #2638 on: Oct 09, 2012, 07:19 AM »

U.N. says global hunger is down but progress is slowing

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 9, 2012 7:35 EDT

The UN’s food agency revised down the number of the world’s hungry on Tuesday to just under 870 million but slammed the figure as “unacceptable” and warned that the fight against hunger was slowing down.

“With almost 870 million people chronically undernourished in 2010-2012, the number of hungry people in the world remains unacceptably high,” the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) said in its 2012 report on food insecurity.

One in eight people around the world are still going hungry, it said.

“In today’s world of unprecedented technical and economic opportunities, we find it entirely unacceptable that more than 100 million children under five are underweight,” FAO head Jose Graziano da Silva was quoted as saying.

The Rome-based food agency, which compiled the report along with the World Food Programme (WFP) and International Fund for Agricultural development (IFAD), said the number of hungry was down from 925 million in 2010.

The figure is well under the one billion barrier crossed in 2009.

New methods for estimating hunger levels also showed that progress against hunger in the past two decades was “better than previously believed,” it said.

“Most of the progress, however, was achieved before 2007-08. Since then, global progress in reducing hunger has slowed,” and must rally again to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the world’s hungry by 2015, it said.

The slowdown is due to multiple factors, including “the global economic crisis, rising food prices, the growing demand for bio-fuels, food speculation and climate change,” said Jomo Sundaram, FAO assistant director-general.

The vast majority of the world’s hungry — 852 million — live in developing countries, where hunger affects 14.9 percent of the population. Most sufferers live in South and East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, the report said.

While hunger rates were down annually over the past 20 years, the FAO warned that “considerable differences among regions and individual countries remains.”

The numbers of undernourished people has dropped sharply in East Asia, for example, down from 261 million people in 1990-1992 to 176 million in 2010-2012.

But in Sub-Saharan Africa, the figures in the same period have shot up from 170 million to 234 million, the report said.

The latest figures are based on new estimates of the proportion of hungry people in the world after the FAO updated its methodology, Sundaram said, adding that the figures for the past 20 years had been revised.

Figures will from now on be collated over three year periods, he said.

“We note with particular concern that the recovery of the world economy from the recent global financial crisis remains fragile,” said Graziano da Silva.

However, despite the warnings of a slowdown in beating hunger, the report said the damage done by the crisis was not as bad as had been expected.

“The increase in hunger during 2007-2010, the period characterized by food price and economic crises, was less severe than previously estimated,” it said.

The knock-on effect of “economic shocks to many developing countries” from the struggling West in particular “was less pronounced than initially thought.”

“Recent GDP estimates suggest that the ‘great recession’ of 2008-09 resulted in only a mild slowdown in many developing countries, and increases in domestic staple food prices were very small in China, India and Indonesia,” it added.

Boosting the lagging fight against hunger will rely on “strong economic growth,” which leads to greater dietary diversity as salaries rise, as well as government action, including financing public nutrition and health programmes.

“Growth alone is unlikely to make a significant impact on hunger reduction.

“In order to reduce undernourishment as rapidly as possible, growth must not only benefit the poor, but must also be nutrition-sensitive,” the FAO said.

“Improving food security and nutrition is about more than just increasing the quantity of energy intake — it is also about improving the quality of food in terms of dietary diversity, nutrient content and safety,” it added.
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« Reply #2639 on: Oct 09, 2012, 07:20 AM »

Modern life comes to Nepal Himalayas

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 9, 2012 7:25 EDT

In the Nepalese hamlet of Simen, five days’ walk from the nearest town, children pay for schooling with wood or animal dung, and life appears untouched by modernity — but change is coming.

Just two valleys away in Dho Tarap village, business is booming and satellite dishes that beam in American wrestling are set up beside prayer flags as the high Himalayan landscape of Upper Dolpa opens up to the outside world.

The contrast between the two settlements points to the future for one of the highest inhabited regions on Earth, and local children like Pema Lama are likely to lead lives full of bewildering new experiences.

Pema’s parents cannot afford the 3,000-rupee ($35) charge for six months of schooling and, like most of their neighbours, send the children to classes with wood or yak dung which is weighed and accepted in lieu of cash.

“The school doesn’t have much money,” says his teacher Sonam Tsering, 26, over salty Tibetan tea prepared on a woodburning stove in the kitchen of Shree Tsering Dolma primary school.

“Students have to bring 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of firewood and if they can’t do that then many bring yak and horse dung.”

Upper Dolpa, a hidden land of deeply notched canyons and swollen rivers, is virtually sealed off from the rest of Nepal by passes more than 5,100 metres (17,000 feet) above sea level.

The region is marked by high peaks abutting the Tibetan plateau, with trails snaking along high cliffs for farmers and nomadic herders who take their shaggy, black yak south for winter grazing.

Small fields, planted with barley, buckwheat, potatoes and radish are cultivated, but yield is just enough food to sustain families.

Yak, sheep and goats provide milk, butter and meat, and the wool and hides are used for cloth and boots.

Most locals speak a Tibetan dialect called Dolpo, and the literacy rate is about 20 percent.

Pupils study just six months of the year due to the harsh winter, and in summer most also spend weeks with their parents on the hazardous task of harvesting yarchagumba, a wild fungus prized for its alleged aphrodisiac qualities.

Closed to trekkers until 1989, Upper Dolpa is ranked one of the worst places in the world for food security by the UN World Food Program (WFP), due to its inaccessibility and harsh terrain.

But, a few days’ walk away, in Dho Tarap village the pleasures and problems of 21st century living are clearly in evidence.

In the comfortable Caravan Guest House, one of a number of hotels springing up in what some claim is “the world’s highest village”, Jyampa Lama, 42, watches his new flatscreen TV.

He moved to the village, 4,200 metres (13,780 feet) above sea level, 18 years ago to cash in on the nascent trekking trade and increasing number of yarchagumba harvesters passing through the village.

“There are 252 houses here now and maybe five to 10 have televisions. Most people still don’t know what is happening in the outside world, or even inside the country. But that is changing,” he said.

“A new generation is now going to school, learning Nepali with the help of international donors and learning to keep in touch with the outside world.”

Lama said since he bought his television he had been able to keep up with domestic and world news and had been able to invite friends around to watch English Premier League football and WWE Wrestlemania — a particular favourite.

Upper Dolpa is expected to benefit financially from a further opening up to Western culture with the new Great Himalayan Trail, one of the longest and highest trekking routes in the world, passing right through the region.

SNV, the Dutch development organisation behind the trail, is training locals in villages across its 1,700-kilometre (1,050-mile) stretch to provide services for trekkers and to offer a better selection of cuisine and Western toilets.

But the tourist dollar brings with it dangers of its own, according to Amchi Namgayal Rinpoche, 44, a senior Tibetan lama who has spent his life in Dho Tarap.

“People have a bit of money now and craftsmanship is slowly disappearing. They used to craft thanka paintings here and even make their own shoes,” he said.

“Tourists come in with flashy clothes and shoes and, if people have money, they want the same. When people have money, there is always something to want.”

Television, he says, is a mixed blessing as the images of Western culture can be corrupting.

“It’s OK to see the outside world,” said the monk, who watches Nepali programmes on his own television.

“But our people need to retain their culture and take the good examples from the outside world, not the bad ones.”
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