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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1090138 times)
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« Reply #2640 on: Oct 09, 2012, 07:22 AM »

Why Einstein never received a Nobel prize for relativity

By Stuart Clark The Guardian
Monday, October 8, 2012 8:16 EDT

Nobel prizes often attract controversy, but usually after they have been awarded. Albert Einstein’s physics prize was the subject of argument for years before it was even a reality.

There was a lot riding on Einstein winning a Nobel prize. Beyond his academic reputation, and that of the Nobel Institute for recognising greatness, the wellbeing of his former wife and their two sons depended upon it.

In the aftermath of the first world war, defeated Germany was being consumed by hyper-inflation. The government was printing more money to pay the war reparations and, as a result, the mark went into freefall against foreign currencies. Living in Berlin, Einstein was naturally affected by the crisis.

He had divorced Mileva in 1919, several years after she had returned to Switzerland with the boys, Hans-Albert and Eduard. As part of the settlement, Einstein pledged any eventual Nobel prize money to her for their upkeep. As the hyper-inflation bit ever deeper, so he needed that cash.

By this time, Einstein had a decade’s worth of Nobel nominations behind him. Yet each year, to mounting criticism, the committee decided against his work on the grounds that relativity was unproven. In 1919, that changed. Cambridge astrophysicist Arthur Eddington famously used a total eclipse to measure the deflection of stars’ positions near the Sun. The size of the deflection was exactly as Einstein had predicted from relativity in 1915. The prize should have been his, but the committee snubbed him again.

Why? Because now dark forces were at work.

Antisemitism was on the rise in Germany; Jews were being scapegoated for the country’s defeat in the war. As both Jew and pacifist, Einstein was an obvious target. The complexity of relativity did not help either. Opponents such as Ernst Gehrcke and Philipp Lenard found it easy to cast doubt upon its labyrinthine mathematics.

The situation reached crisis point in 1921 when, paralysed by indecision, the Nobel Committee decided it was better not to award a prize at all than to give it to relativity. The arguments raged for another year until a compromise was reached.

At the suggestion of Carl Wilhelm Oseen, Einstein would receive the deferred 1921 prize, but not for relativity. He would be given it for his explanation of the photoelectric effect, a phenomenon in which electrons are emitted from a metal sheet only under certain illuminations. The work had been published back in 1905.

It has been argued that this work, which introduced the concept of photons, has had more impact than relativity. I’m not sure. With relativity, Einstein gave us a way to understand the Universe as a whole. It was a staggering leap forward in our intellectual capability.

The Nobel citation reads that Einstein is honoured for “services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”. At first glance, the reference to theoretical physics could have been a back door through which the committee acknowledged relativity. However, there was a caveat stating that the award was presented “without taking into account the value that will be accorded your relativity and gravitation theories after these are confirmed in the future”.

To many, and to Einstein himself, this felt like a slap in the face. Hadn’t Eddington proved the theory? Yes, but the trouble was Eddington’s observations had not been perfect and he had discarded data he considered poor from his final analysis. To some, as related in Jeffrey Crelinsten’s Einstein’s Jury, this smacked of cooking the books in Einstein’s favour. In reality it was just good scientific practice.

There is also another way to read the Nobel caveat. Could it have been that the committee was leaving the door open for a second Nobel prize in the future, once relativity had been more rigorously tested? We will never know. As Einstein’s fame spread, so he alienated himself from the physics community by refusing to accept quantum theory. A Nobel prize for relativity was never awarded.

The final twist in this story is that Einstein did not attend his prize giving. Despite being informed that he was about to receive the prize, he chose to continue with a lecture tour of Japan. Partly, this was because he no longer valued the prize and partly it was because he needed to disappear.

German foreign minister Walther Rathenau had been murdered by anti-Semites. In the subsequent investigation, the police had found Einstein’s name on a list of targets. In the face of such a death treat, leaving Germany to spend months in the Far East, rather than a few days in Stockholm, must have seemed prudent.

In the end, perhaps the best thing that came out of Einstein’s Nobel prize was the money. It went towards keeping Mileva and the boys secure, and became essential when Eduard developed schizophrenia as a young adult and needed to be hospitalised.

The 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded on Tuesday. This week’s prize schedule is here. You can watch each announcement live in the viewer below.
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« Reply #2641 on: Oct 09, 2012, 07:38 AM »

In the USA............

The GOP’s Blatant Support for Theocracy

By: Hrafnkell HaraldssonOctober 9th, 2012   

Bishop Harry Jackson, who earlier claimed he prayed a gay newspaper out of existence, wants churches to become “prophetic voices.” In a four-minute video, he now tells the faithful to pray for their local churches to “speak to us and give us direction; they need to tell us who to vote for.”

Watch the video from Right Wing Watch:

    I want to encourage you to pray for the local church and for the radio and television ministries around our nation; we need to pray that they become prophetic voices to our generation. I believe especially in this election season they speak to us and give us direction. They need to tell us who to vote for. Who has a the prophetic  mantle of god upon them? in other words, who is carrying out god’s will in our day?

Not only is this a blatant call for illegal activity on the part of churches, it is an invitation to chaos. What happens when different churches produce different prophetic wisdom? Is Jackson forgetting that in 2008 God chose Sarah Palin, the new Esther? Or that Sarah Palin, as God’s chosen, assured America that God would do the right thing for America?

You know that she wasn’t talking about an Obama victory.

Has Jackson forgotten that each Republican candidate in 2012 announced that God had directed them to run? Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, in particular, acted like messiah wannabes. If God can’t even make up his mind in direct communication with these little messiahs, who are churches supposed to do any better as intermediaries?

Even if it is denominations that decide – and yes, humans will decide, not whatever God Evangelicals think they are praying to – there are many denominations. And here is a big conundrum for “especially this election season”: Mitt Romney’s Mormon god is not the Christian god in the mind of most Christians (it was not in mine during my brief experience with Mormonism once I found out he was a dime-a-dozen godling and not the Supreme Being I’d been brought up as a Lutheran to believe in). How could the Evangelical god tell his faithful to vote for another god’s candidate?

The politics of heaven are pretty messy in 2012.

But those are problems for America’s fundamentalist crazies. There is a bigger problem for the rest of us: what happened to the First Amendment? What happens when you have a Catholic candidate, a Protestant candidate (or several), and maybe a Jewish candidate and a Muslim candidate and other religions put forward their own candidates? It is an invitation to religious strife.

The Founding Fathers lived at the end of a long era of brutal religious wars in Europe: Catholic vs. Protestant strife had reigned since the Reformation. All Englishmen were aware of the violence on their island that was the result of these differences. Seeking the endorsement of churches is exactly what the Founding Fathers hoped to save America from.

Yes in 2012 we saw the Republican platform written by the likes of David Barton and Tony Perkins and other religious extremists. The influence of these religious extremists have never been higher than in 2012. If you think about how frighteningly close America came to theocracy under George W. Bush, you won’t be able to sleep for thinking about what will happen on Romney’s watch.

A concomitant effort is under way by Rick Scarborough to pray the “ungodly” out of office:

    In the course of the next forty days, we’re going to pray for every member of Congress by name, every member of the Senate by name, the President, the Vice-President and the Attorney General every single day and also every member of the Supreme Court every single day. But we do want to call out, cry out, for these major leaders for our country and forty days from now we want to be able to report to them that thousands of people called their name to Heaven and asked God to give them wisdom, and if their heart is hardened, to remove them from leadership so that godly people can take their place.

Glenn Beck says that Romney’s debate performance was divine providence, and Rick Joyner says Romney may be the fulfillment of the White House prophecy.

We have seen the reintroduction of forbidden religious tests too. These are naked power plays by the Religious Right. They have, over the past decade or so, made a mockery of the First Amendment. Theocracy is their goal and they get closer every year.

Look at how Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham interprets our system of government:

    Americans must remember that while our nation was founded upon godly principles, we do not have a state religion; rather, our Constitution provides for the freedom to worship without interference from government. Our forefathers shed their blood to win this right. We must be committed to electing leaders who will protect this liberty and uphold the Constitution as one nation under God that ensures God’s moral laws will not be violated by man’s ever-changing laws.

In other words, the American revolution was all about establishing a nation and a government for Christians. The government can’t interfere in religion but in some bizarre way government exists to serve the best interests of Christianity and “God’s moral laws”, whatever those are. I think our forefathers would be shocked by this. There is certainly nothing in their writings to suggest that this was behind their thinking.

Graham says,

    In recent days, former President Clinton said that President Obama “has a plan to rebuild America from the ground up,” but God-fearing Americans have no desire to see America rebuilt — but rather, restored. To “rebuild it” would be to create a new nation, perhaps without God or under many gods. This was never the intent of those who shed their blood for the freedom to worship as “one nation under God.” I pray that all Americans who love and fear God will put aside labels and vote for principle — God’s principles — that for many years resulted in His blessing upon our nation.

Going back to my earlier question, “How could the Evangelical god tell his faithful to vote for another god’s candidate?” Graham makes an argument for the Mormon Romney, saying that “an evangelical Christian [can] vote for a Mormon.” His reasoning is this: “If a biblically faithful evangelical could only vote for a candidate who was perfectly aligned theologically, he or she would be unable to cast a vote for president on November 6 — and that poses another problem for the believer; citizenship in God’s kingdom and in this country demands that we participate by voting and praying for those who govern this earthly kingdom.”

Apparently, close counts not only in horseshoes and hand grenades, but in religion. Romney will indulge them in their desire for a Bartonic fantasy America. The Religious Right is eager to define this election as a clear-cut choice: Mitt Romney and the Bible or Barack Obama and the Constitution?

The Religious Right is generally wrong but they got this one right. I’d say that’s a pretty clear-cut choice for the rest of us too. America was founded on the ideals not of the Bible but of the Constitution, which does not mention God, not the Christian God nor any other God. Those who believe in the very secular Enlightenment ideals embodies by the IUnited States Constitution must vote for Barack Obama.


Originally published Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 12:04 AM    

Diminished GOP brand heightens Romney's challenge

Even with his strong debate performance, Mitt Romney needs every possible advantage to overtake President Barack Obama in the next four weeks. Not helping him much is the Republican Party he leads.

Associated Press


Even with his strong debate performance, Mitt Romney needs every possible advantage to overtake President Barack Obama in the next four weeks. Not helping him much is the Republican Party he leads.

Thanks in part to congressional Republicans' no-compromise stands on key issues, and an unpopular past president in George W. Bush, the GOP's image is at one of its lowest points in modern times. Romney is now distancing himself a bit from some party policies, most notably by emphasizing that he doesn't want to cut taxes for high earners.

That's probably a smart move, say Republican activists in regions where it's getting harder to sell the party's brand.

When talking with unaffiliated voters, "it's more important to sell Romney" than Republican policies, said Jordan McSwain, 19, who makes about 800 phone calls a week for GOP candidates from the central North Carolina town of Salisbury. A lot of undecided voters tell him "the Republicans have stopped all work in Washington," McSwain said, although he reminds them that Democrats controlled Congress for Obama's first two years.

Ten months ago, Americans were fuming over a near crisis in the economy triggered by Congress' partisan showdown over raising the debt ceiling and keeping the government operating. A Pew Research poll found that considerably more adults thought the Republican Party was "more extreme in its positions" than the Democratic Party. They saw the GOP as less ethical and less willing to work with the other party. And more Americans blamed Republican leaders for Congress' paltry list of accomplishments.

Recent polls spell out the Republican Party's challenge. A CBS-New York Times poll last month found that 49 percent of adults had a favorable view of the Democratic Party, and 36 percent unfavorable. The GOP was upside down on the question, with 43 percent viewing it favorably, and 55 percent unfavorably.

This is partly because more Americans see themselves as Democrats. The latest AP-GfK poll found that 31 percent of adults considered themselves Democrats, 22 percent Republicans and 29 percent independents. When unaffiliated voters were pressed to say which way they lean, the results were 50 percent Democrat and 37 percent Republican.

The Democratic Party's favorable ratings are nothing to brag about. But party identification is less important to Obama, who has a four-year record for voters to judge. Romney, being less well known, must rely at least in part on the "Republican brand."

"The Republican brand name is in terrible shape, and people are not naturally sympathetic to the Republicans in Congress," Fox News commentator Brit Hume said in June.

Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer, speaking in February of the rambunctious GOP primary, said, "This process has certainly hurt all the Republican candidates, and diminished the brand, unfortunately."

Romney's hopes may rest, at least somewhat, on distancing himself from the brand's less popular parts, while sacrificing as little fundraising and enthusiasm from the base as possible. The less popular parts, in some voters' eyes, include the uncompromising stand that many tea party-leaning Republicans have taken in Congress, especially on tax and spending issues.

In recent days, Romney has said he does not want to reduce the overall tax burden for high-income families, even though he still calls for a 20 percent cut in all federal income tax rates. He says changes in tax deductions would keep Americans' overall tax burden about the same. But he has not detailed how he can accomplish both goals.

Polls show significant support for Obama's call to increase taxes on households making more than $250,000 a year.

Romney's new emphasis on a no-net-decrease tax policy puts him at odds with many congressional Republicans, who say tax cuts for high earners will spur job growth.

The move delights GOP commentators such as David Brooks. During the presidential primaries, "the GOP did its best to appear unattractive," Brooks wrote last week in The New York Times. In Wednesday's debate with Obama, he wrote: "Romney did something no other mainstream Republican has had the guts to do. Either out of conviction or political desperation, he broke with tea party orthodoxy and began to redefine the Republican identity."

With the Nov. 6 election nearing, it's unclear what effect Romney's efforts will have.

Brian Nick, a Republican consultant based in Charlotte, said neither party "has a good brand right now," because Washington's constant partisan quarreling has given politics in general a bad name. He said, however, that Democrats have sometimes benefitted in competitive states by painting all Republicans as being more interested in party purity than in solving problems.

"Democrats do use the tea party label to attack Republicans and try to tie them to a strict orthodoxy," Nick said.

Further hurting the Republican brand is the status of each party's most recent former president. Only one-fourth of Americans had a favorable view of Bush when his presidency ended, according to Gallup. His standing has improved somewhat since then, but he lags far behind former President Bill Clinton. A recent Bloomberg News poll found that nearly 2 in 3 Americans favorably view the former Democratic president.

Ron Thomas, 26, is an independent voter with a fairly dim view of the national Republican Party.

"Who will help the working man more? It's definitely Barack," said Thomas, who works for a rental car company in Charlotte.

Thomas, who endured a chilly drizzle this week to discuss politics, has few problems with Republicans at the state level. In fact, he supports Republican Pat McCrory in the governor's race, saying the former Charlotte mayor is good on urban issues.

But Thomas said Romney turned him off with his claim that the 47 percent of Americans who don't owe federal income taxes will not take responsibility for their lives.

"I'm part of that 47 percent," Thomas said. "I have a college degree, and I work two jobs," he said, but it's still a struggle.


Originally published Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 12:06 AM

Big gaps in Romney plan on pre-existing conditions

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he has a plan to help people with pre-existing medical conditions get health insurance. But there's a huge catch: You basically have to be covered in the first place.

Associated Press


Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he has a plan to help people with pre-existing medical conditions get health insurance. But there's a huge catch: You basically have to be covered in the first place.

If you had a significant break in health insurance coverage an insurer still could delve into your medical history, looking for anything - from a bad back to high blood pressure - that could foreshadow future claims. They'd be able to turn you down.

That's a contrast to President Barack Obama's health care law, which guarantees that people in poor health can get comprehensive coverage at the same rates everybody else pays, and provides government subsidies to help low- to middle-income households pay premiums.

Starting Jan. 1, 2014, an insurer "may not impose any pre-existing condition exclusion," the law says.

Romney mentioned his pre-existing conditions plan during last week's presidential debate. "I do have a plan that deals with people with pre-existing conditions," he said.

His campaign has not spelled out details other than it would help people who have maintained continuous coverage. That involves making incremental changes to insurance laws and regulations, and may or may not whittle down the number of uninsured.

"It will solve some of the problems," said health economist Gail Wilensky, a longtime adviser to Republicans. "It won't solve the problem of people having gone for a long time without health insurance."

Since losing health insurance is often connected to major life upheavals like job loss or divorce, many people aren't able to keep up continuous coverage. More than 70 percent of the uninsured have been without coverage for a year or longer, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Obama's answer - it's the law of the land unless repealed - is more like hitting the reset button. About 30 million uninsured people would gain coverage as the U.S. moves closer to other economically advanced countries that provide health care for all citizens.

The differences between the Obama and Romney approaches reflect a fundamental disagreement about the role of government in dealing with the nation's health care woes: high costs, uneven quality, widespread waste and nearly 49 million uninsured.

Republicans are looking for private-sector solutions that government can encourage. Under Obama, government has taken the wheel, framing a grand bargain in which insurance companies will have to accept all applicants in exchange for a requirement that virtually all Americans carry coverage.

About 13 percent of people age 64 and younger who apply for an individual policy are turned away for medical reasons, according to insurance industry statistics. In 2008, that was more than 220,000 individuals. The denial rate rises to nearly 25 percent for people age 50 to 64.

While Republicans are united in their desire to repeal Obama's law, there is no consensus within the party on how or whether to replace it.

Romney has been stressing his pre-existing conditions plan as he works to soften his public image in the homestretch of a campaign that appears to have tightened since last week's debate with Obama. Yet his campaign has only provided a bare-bones set of talking points.

Romney himself addressed the issue in a recent column for The New England Journal of Medicine. "Regulation must prevent insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions who maintain continuous coverage."

Most people already enjoy such protection under a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton. It works fairly seamlessly for people who switch from one job-based plan to another.

It's harder for people switching from job-based coverage to an individual plan. They first have to exhaust a coverage option known as COBRA, which allows people with job-based insurance to keep their health plan for up to 18 months after leaving the company, provided they pay the full premium. Many can't afford that.

And there's no federal protection against being turned down for people trying to switch from one individual plan to another.

Romney could address those two gaps, making it easier for people to switch from job-based to individual coverage and among individual plans. His campaign has not specified how.

In his journal article, Romney also proposed to allow people purchasing coverage individually to deduct the cost from their income taxes, and he expressed support for purchasing pools and for allowing insurers to sell across state lines. His campaign says states will have the flexibility and resources to design programs for residents who cannot afford coverage on their own.

Individual insurance market expert Karen Pollitz, who served in the Obama administration as a consumer regulator, says the components of Romney's plan are unlikely to provide as comprehensive a guarantee as the president's Affordable Care Act.

"The ACA just says insurance companies can't discriminate against you, period," said Pollitz, now with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. "If you've been uninsured, you can come into this market on Jan. 1, 2014, no questions asked."

Fact check: Romney's one-sided story on defense and trade

Mitt Romney blamed President Obama solely Monday for potential defense cuts that Republicans in Congress agreed to, and left the misimpression that Obama has ignored free-trade initiatives.

A closer look at some of the Republican presidential nominee's statements in his foreign-policy speech:

MITT ROMNEY: "I will roll back President Obama's deep and arbitrary cuts to our national defense that would devastate our military."

THE FACTS: "Arbitrary" defense cuts do not belong to Obama alone but also to congressional Republicans, including Romney's vice-presidential running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan. The first round of cuts in projected defense spending comes from a bipartisan deal in August 2011 between Congress and the White House. Unless a new budget deal is reached in time, additional spending cuts will begin in January across government, and the cost to the Pentagon would be $500 billion over a decade. The Pentagon's budget, including war costs, is $670 billion this year, or about 18 percent of total federal spending. Even setting aside the costs of the wars, military spending has more than doubled since 2001.

ROMNEY: "The president has not signed one new free-trade agreement in the past four years."

THE FACTS: Obama hasn't opened new trade negotiations, but after taking office, he revived a free-trade deal with Colombia that had been negotiated by his Republican predecessor but left to languish and sought similar progress with South Korean and Panamanian free-trade pacts.

ROMNEY: "I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel."

THE FACTS: Romney apparently has moved toward the balance enshrined in U.S. policy from one administration to another on the question of Israelis and Palestinians and away from his provocative remarks to a May fundraiser when he said "the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace," "the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish," Palestinians are "committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel" and it would be "the worst idea in the world" to put pressure on the Israelis to give up something in hopes Palestinians would respond accordingly.

ROMNEY: "As the dust settles, as the murdered (in the Libya consulate attack) are buried, Americans are asking how this happened, how the threats we face have grown so much worse, and what this calls on America to do."

THE FACTS: It's unclear whether terrorism has gotten worse. There has been no incident even remotely comparable in scope or symbolic meaning to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Assailants stormed the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, and there has been an uptick in attacks on American troops by supposedly friendly Afghan forces. But many counterterrorist experts say al-Qaida has been weakened and the threats of global terrorism better countered over the past decade.

ROMNEY: "When we look at the Middle East today — with Iran closer than ever to nuclear-weapons capability, with the conflict in Syria threatening to destabilize the region, with violent extremists on the march and with an American ambassador and three others dead likely at the hands of al-Qaida affiliates — it is clear that the risk of conflict in the region is higher now than when the president took office."

THE FACTS: Obama entered office in 2009 with the United States still engaged in a conflict in Iraq. U.S. troops are no longer there. Israel and Hamas had just finished a three-week war. That was two years after another war between Israel and an Iranian-backed force, in that case, Hezbollah in Lebanon. There has been no significant Israeli military conflict since Obama has come into office. However, Syria's conflict has become the region's deadliest since the Iraq war. The United States has stayed out of that conflict under Obama.

The Associated Press


Pro-Romney energy company accused of extorting contributions from workers

By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, October 8, 2012 17:27 EDT

The Ohio Democratic Party on Monday formally requested that the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio launch an investigation of Murray Energy, which has been accused of forcing its employees to make political contributions to Republican candidates.

“I write to formally request a criminal investigation concerning a recent report suggesting the Murray Energy Corporation, its subsidiaries, and management (“Murray Energy”) may have engaged in a pattern of illegal activity, extorting millions in financial contributions from employees and vendors for Republican candidates running for public office,” Ohio Democratic Party chairman Chris Redfern wrote to U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach.

Two Murray Energy managerial sources told The New Republic that the company pressures employees into giving money to the Murray Energy political action committee (PAC) and to Republican candidates. In addition, internal documents revealed that the company tracks which employees are and are not making contributions. Employees of the company allegedly fear that if they do not make the political contributions and attend fundraisers, they will face repercussions including demotions and being refused bonuses.

Murray Energy has given more than $1.4 million to Ohio state and federal candidates for public office, with the majority of that money going to Republicans.

The energy company has also been accused of forcing employees to attend an August rally with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Coal miners said they feared being fired if they did not attend the event. Images from that event have been used in Romney campaign ad, sparking a Federal Elections Commission complaint by the liberal group OhioProgress.

Murray Energy denies any wrongdoing. In a statement, the company said the allegations “are simply an attempt to silence Murray Energy and its owners from supporting their coal mining employees and families by speaking out against President Barack Obama’s well known and documented War on Coal.”

“It is unfortunate that there are political entities in America, such as The New Republic and the Ohio Democratic Party, that will go to no limits to destroy innocent people to get their candidates elected,” Murray Energy added.


Paul Ryan ends interview after being pressed on guns and taxes

By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, October 8, 2012 19:22 EDT

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan on Monday ended an interview with ABC12 in Michigan after being questioned about how he would prevent gun violence in the United States.

During the interview, Ryan denied the U.S. had a “gun problem.” He said the country only had a “crime problem.”

“If you take a look at the gun laws we have, I don’t even think President Obama is proposing more gun laws,” Ryan told the interviewer. “We have good strong gun laws. We have to make sure we enforce our laws. We have lots of laws that aren’t being properly enforced. We need to make sure we enforce these laws, but the best thing to help prevent violent crime in the inner cities is to bring opportunity to the inner cities, is to help people get out of poverty in the inner cities, is to help teach people good discipline, good character, that is civil society. That is what charities and civic groups and churches do to help one another make sure they can realize the value in one another.”

“And you can do all that by cutting taxes?” the interviewer asked.

At that point, Ryan ended the interview, saying the reporter had asked a “strange” question and put words in his mouth.

“The reporter knew he was already well over the allotted time for the interview when he decided to ask a weird question relating gun violence to tax cuts,” spokesman Brendan Buck told BuzzFeed. “Ryan responded as anyone would in such a strange situation. When you do nearly 200 interviews in a couple months, eventually you’re going to see a local reporter embarrass himself.”

The National Rifle Association has endorsed the Romney-Ryan ticket last week, even though Romney has previously described assault rifles as “instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.”


Atlanta Archdiocese: Donations to Komen charity ‘constitute a direct cooperation with evil’

By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, October 8, 2012 20:32 EDT

The Archdiocese of Atlanta has told Roman Catholic organizations in the region to cut off their support for the Susan G. Komen breast cancer charity because it provides grants to Planned Parenthood.

“Until recently, donations to the greater Atlanta affiliate of the Komen fund did not constitute a direct cooperation with evil, because none of the money they raised went to Planned Parenthood,” Pat Chivers, communications director of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, said in a statement.

Earlier this year Komen decided to halt grants to Planned Parenthood, but the charity reversed course after a public outcry. Funds from Komen helped underwrite cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood health centers for more than 170,000 lower-income women in the last five years.

According to the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Komen Atlanta “worked behind the scenes to encourage the national Komen office to resume funding for Planned Parenthood.”

“We no longer support the Komen fund in any manner because of this very public display of pro-abortion conformity. We found the action of the Komen fund disappointing, discouraging, and we do not see how continued support is possible at this time.”

However, Komen Atlanta has never provided grants to Planned Parenthood, though the national Komen office has, according to

Approximately 36 percent of Georgia women over age 40 have not had a mammogram in the past year, according to Komen Atlanta. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates breast cancer will be responsible for nearly 40,000 deaths this year.


U.S. will oppose global telecommunications regulations

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 8, 2012 12:53 EDT

The United States will oppose any major revision to 24-year-old global telecommunications regulations at an international conference in December, the head of the US delegation said Monday, insisting the Internet must remain free and open.

“We need to avoid suffocating … the Internet space through well-meaning but overly-proscriptive proposals that would seek to control content or seek to mandate routing and payment practices,” said Terry Kramer, the special envoy named for World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai at the end of the year.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Kramer said Washington was eager to cooperate with other nations to reach a consensus on alterations to global regulations set up by the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 1988, but stressed that only minimal changes would be acceptable.

Kramer reiterated Washington’s opposition to proposals from a number of countries to expand the ITU’s authority to regulate the Internet, insisting, for instance, that his country did not want cyber security to fall under the UN agency’s mandate.

While acknowledging a sharp hike in hacking and cyber crimes, with around 67,000 so-called malware attacks reported around the world every day, the US ambassador insisted that ITU regulations were “not an appropriate or useful venue to address cyber security.”

“There are a lot of cyber threats ? but the nature of cyber issues requires agility, it requires a technical expertise, and it requires a distributed effort, so we are very sensitive about any one organisation taking on the sole role of solving cyber threats,” he explained.

Kramer also said that Washington strongly disagreed with a proposal from the European Telecommunications Network Operators (ETNO) calling for network operators to be able to charge for sending content on to Internet users.

“Making content generation more costly and uneconomical will likely lead many content providers and non-profits to restrict or charge for downloads, even leading to black-outs in less developed countries,” he said, urging nations “not to kill the content golden goose.”

Kramer also said that the US strongly opposed proposals from some “non-democratic nations” for the tracking and monitoring of data routing, which he cautioned “makes it very easy for nations to monitor traffic,” including content and customer information.

The ITU regulations in place for nearly a quarter of a decade “have been a huge success,” Kramer said, insisting this was because they addressed only “high-level principals” in a non-proscriptive manner.

If few or no changes were made to them during the December meeting, he said, “I think it would not be a terrible outcome at all.”

The Internet today, he stressed, “is a very vibrant and dynamic place … Anything that seeks to put structure and control and limitations around that is a very worrisome philosophical trend for us.”


Study: Number of cyber attacks against U.S. doubled in three years

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 8, 2012 16:35 EDT

The number of cyberattacks targeting US organizations has doubled over the past three years, leading to hefty losses, a study released Monday showed.

The study conducted by the Ponemon Institute and sponsored by Hewlett-Packard said most of the attacks involve malicious code, denial of service, stolen or hijacked devices, or “malevolent insiders.”

“The occurrence of cyberattacks has more than doubled over a three-year period, while the financial impact has increased by nearly 40 percent,” the report said.

The 2012 study showed organizations experiencing an average of 102 successful attacks per week, compared to 72 attacks per week in 2011 and 50 attacks per week in 2010.

Among the organizations surveyed which were hit by successful cyberattacks, the average losses was $8.9 million, up six percent from 2011 and 38 percent increase over 2010.

“Organizations are spending increasing amounts of time, money and energy responding to cyberattacks at levels that will soon become unsustainable,” said HP’s Michael Callahan.

Information theft accounts for 44 percent of losses, while lost productivity accounted for 30 percent.

The average time to resolve a cyberattack is 24 days, but it can take up to 50 days, according to the new study.
« Last Edit: Oct 09, 2012, 07:56 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #2642 on: Oct 10, 2012, 06:27 AM »

October 9, 2012

U.S. Military Is Sent to Jordan to Help With Crisis in Syria


WASHINGTON — The United States military has secretly sent a task force of more than 150 planners and other specialists to Jordan to help the armed forces there handle a flood of Syrian refugees, prepare for the possibility that Syria will lose control of its chemical weapons and be positioned should the turmoil in Syria expand into a wider conflict.

The task force, which has been led by a senior American officer, is based at a Jordanian military training center built into an old rock quarry north of Amman. It is now largely focused on helping Jordanians handle the estimated 180,000 Syrian refugees who have crossed the border and are severely straining the country’s resources.

American officials familiar with the operation said the mission also includes drawing up plans to try to insulate Jordan, an important American ally in the region, from the upheaval in Syria and to avoid the kind of clashes now occurring along the border of Syria and Turkey.

The officials said the idea of establishing a buffer zone between Syria and Jordan — which would be enforced by Jordanian forces on the Syrian side of the border and supported politically and perhaps logistically by the United States — had been discussed. But at this point the buffer is only a contingency.

The Obama administration has declined to intervene in the Syrian conflict beyond providing communications equipment and other nonlethal assistance to the rebels opposing the government of President Bashar al-Assad. But the outpost near Amman could play a broader role should American policy change. It is less than 35 miles from the Syrian border and is the closest American military presence to the conflict.

Officials from the Pentagon and Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East, declined to comment on the task force or its mission. A spokesman for the Jordanian Embassy in Washington would also not comment on Tuesday.

As the crisis in Syria has deepened, there has been mounting concern in Washington that the violence could spread through the region. Over the past week, Syria and Turkey have exchanged artillery and mortar fire across Syria’s northern border, which has been a crossing point for rebel fighters. In western Syria, intense fighting recently broke out in villages near the border crossing that leads to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. To the east, the Syrian government has lost control of some border crossings, including the one near Al Qaim in Iraq.

Jordan has also been touched by the fighting. Recent skirmishes have broken out between the Syrian military and Jordanians guarding the country’s northern border, where many families have ties to Syria. In August, a 4-year-old girl in a Jordanian border town was injured when a Syrian shell struck her house, and there are concerns in Jordan that a sharp upsurge in the fighting in Syria might lead to an even greater influx of refugees.

Jordan, which was one of the first Arab countries to call for Mr. Assad’s resignation, has become increasingly concerned that Islamic militants coming to join the fight in Syria could cross the porous border between the two countries.

The American mission in Jordan quietly began this summer. In May, the United States organized a major training exercise, which was dubbed Eager Lion. About 12,000 troops from 19 countries, including Special Forces troops, participated in the exercise.

After it ended, the small American contingent stayed on and the task force was established at a Jordanian training center north of Amman. It includes communications specialists, logistics experts, planners, trainers and headquarters staff members, American officials said. An official from the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugee Affairs and Migration is also assigned to the task force.

“We have been working closely with our Jordanian partners on a variety of issues related to Syria for some time now,” said George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, who added that a specific concern was the security of Syria’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. “As we’ve said before, we have been planning for various contingencies, both unilaterally and with our regional partners.”

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta met in Amman in August with King Abdullah II of Jordan and at that time pledged continuing American help with the flow of Syrian refugees. Mr. Panetta was followed in September by Gen. James N. Mattis, the head of Central Command, who met with senior Jordanian officials in Amman.

Members of the American task force are spending the bulk of their time working with the Jordanian military on logistics — figuring out how to deploy tons of food, water and latrines to the border, for example, and training the Jordanian military to handle the refugees. A month ago, as many as 3,000 a day were coming over the border. But as the Syrian army has consolidated its position in southern Syria, the number of refugees has declined to several hundred a day.

According to the United Nations, Jordan is currently hosting around 100,000 Syrians who have either registered or are awaiting registration.   American officials say the total number may be almost twice that.

The American military is also sending medical kits to the border and has provided gravel to help keep down the dust at the Zaatari refugee camp, which the task force helped set up and is now home to 35,000 Syrians. It has also provided four large prefabricated buildings to be used at Zaatari as schools. One official estimated the cost so far at less than $1 million.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington, and Ranya Kadri from Amman, Jordan.
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« Reply #2643 on: Oct 10, 2012, 06:28 AM »

October 10, 2012

Turkey Warns Syria It May Use ‘Greater Force’


BEIRUT, Lebanon — With Syria’s civil strife coursing through major cities and unsettling neighboring countries, the Turkish military sounded a somber warning on Wednesday that it may respond more forcefully after days of shelling from Syria.

News reports on Wednesday spoke of intensified fighting close to the Turkish-Syrian border near the Syrian frontier settlement of Azamarin, with mortar and machine-gun fire clearly audible from the Turkish side.

As fighting near the 550-mile border has unfolded over the past week, several mortar bombs have landed on Turkish soil, prompting Turkish gunners to return fire. It has not been clear whether the Syrian mortar is deliberate or the result of inaccurate fire in clashes between government forces and rebels seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad.

“We responded but if it continues we will respond with greater force,” state television quoted the Turkish chief of staff, Gen. Necdet Ozel, as saying, according to Reuters.

On Monday, Syrian Army gunners exchanged artillery blasts with their Turkish counterparts across the frontier for the sixth consecutive day.

The exchange of fire has raised concerns that the conflict will ignite a broader crisis in the region. On Tuesday, the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, emphasized that NATO, of which Turkey is a member and which considers an attack on one member to be an attack on all, had “all necessary plans in place to protect and defend Turkey if necessary.”

But Mr. Rasmussen also made it clear that he had no desire to embroil NATO in the conflict.

The fighting has touched many of Syria’s neighbors with fighting reported recently in villages near a border crossing to Lebanon in the west while, in the east, Syrian authorities have lost control of some border crossings to Iraq. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled into Turkey and Jordan in particular since as the revolt, which began in March, 2011, has evolved into bloody sectarian warfare. Last month several mortar shells launched from Syria landed in the Golan Heights near Israel’s northern border. Skirmishes have been reported between Syrian troops and Jordanians guarding their northern border, and Jordan is worried that the porous frontier could become a conduit for Islamic militants joining the anti-Assad struggle.

Renewed turmoil on the Turkish-Syrian border on Wednesday, with civilians reported to be fleeing the fighting, came a day after a jihadist insurgent group that Western intelligence officials have linked to Al Qaeda claimed responsibility on Tuesday for a multiple bombing by suicide attackers who struck an intelligence compound on the outskirts of Damascus overnight. It was the second major assault that the group has claimed to have carried out against a government facility in a Syrian urban center in about a week.

The group, Al Nusra Front for the People of the Levant, posted a statement on the Internet with details of what it called a three-stage attack on a compound run by a branch of the air force intelligence service in Harasta, on the edge of Damascus. It released a video showing nighttime blasts that it said were set off by vehicles packed with explosives.

The number of casualties from the attack was not known, and the Syrian state news media did not immediately report on it. On Oct. 3, the same group posted a statement on a Web site affiliated with Al Qaeda that claimed responsibility for explosions in the embattled northern city of Aleppo that killed dozens of people in areas held by the government, including an officers’ club.

The attacks have highlighted a worrisome theme in the Syrian conflict, in which Sunni extremist groups like the Nusra Front, some of which are suspected of having links to Al Qaeda, are claiming responsibility for deadly attacks on government targets, including suicide bombings, with increasing frequency. While the main opposition fighting force, the Free Syrian Army, has denied any ties to such groups, their presence has strengthened President Bashar al-Assad’s argument that the nearly 19-month-old uprising is being orchestrated by terrorists.

The Nusra Front gave details about the operation in the Damascus area, like the name of the man who drove the car laden with what it said was nine tons of explosives in the first stage of the operation. Twenty-five minutes later, another man drove an ambulance laden with explosives to the scene, to kill those remaining or coming to assist, the group said. Shelling followed.

Fighting was also reported on Tuesday in other areas, including Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, and Deir al-Zour, in eastern Syria. The Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group, said in its daily tally of violence that at least 115 people had been killed and that in Maaret al-Nouman, in Idlib Province, the Free Syrian Army had captured more than 40 government troops and seized weapons. Casualty claims by antagonists in the Syria conflict are often difficult to confirm because of restrictions on independent news reporting there.

While most Syrian insurgents are members of the country’s Sunni majority, many of them defectors from the military, much of the Alawite minority, which Mr. Assad belongs to, remains intensely loyal to him. Nonetheless, recent signs of fracturing have surfaced in his Alawite base, including unconfirmed reports of deadly clashes last weekend in his ancestral home, Qardaha, a village in Latakia Province, which borders Turkey.

In another possible signal of Alawite ambivalence about Mr. Assad’s political leadership, opposition figures in Syria and in neighboring Jordan said that as many as seven high-ranking Alawite military and intelligence officers had defected in recent days, with some saying they had entered Jordan.

Anne Barnard reported from Beirut, and Christine Hauser from New York. Reporting was contributed by Alan Cowell from Paris, Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Ranya Kadri from Amman, Jordan, and Rick Gladstone from New York.
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« Reply #2644 on: Oct 10, 2012, 06:30 AM »

October 9, 2012

North Korea Says Its Missiles Can Reach U.S. Mainland


SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea claimed Tuesday to have missiles that can reach the American mainland, and it said that the recent agreement between the United States and South Korea to extend the range of the South’s ballistic missiles was increasing the risk of war on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea has often threatened to strike the “heart” of the United States, and a popular propaganda poster there shows a North Korean missile hitting what looks unmistakably like Capitol Hill. But the warning issued Tuesday was more detailed.

The North Koreans “do not hide” that their armed forces, “including the strategic rocket forces, are keeping within the scope of strike not only the bases of the puppet forces and the U.S. imperialist aggression forces’ bases in the inviolable land of Korea but also Japan, Guam and the U.S. mainland,” a spokesman at the North’s National Defense Commission said in a statement. North Korea often refers to the South Korean military as “puppet forces,” a reference to the South’s alliance with the United States.

The North’s “strategic rocket forces” are believed to be in charge of the country’s missiles. The North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, visited the unit’s headquarters in Marchand mentioned it by name during his first public speech in April.

Estimating the missile capabilities of a country as secretive as North Korea is notoriously difficult. But military experts and South Korean government officials have said that the North has already deployed ballistic missiles capable of reaching targets as far away as Guam, the American territory in the Pacific.

In addition, North Korea has repeatedly conducted what it calls satellite launchings that American and South Korean officials, as well as the United Nations Security Council, have condemned as a cover for developing and testing intercontinental ballistic missile technology.

In 1998, the North sent up a rocket called the Taepodong-1 that flew over Japan and crashed into the Pacific. In 2006, the Taepodong-2 exploded seconds after liftoff. The North launched yet another long-range rocket, the Unha-2, in 2009, but American and South Korean officials said the third stage never separated.

In April of this year, the Unha-3 rocket disintegrated in midair shortly after liftoff, a failure that the new government in Pyongyang publicly acknowledged.

But the North claimed to have successfully placed satellites into orbit in 1998 and 2009. The country has also conducted two nuclear tests, the first in 2006 and the second in 2009, although it remains unclear whether it can make a nuclear warhead small enough to fit atop a missile. Robert M. Gates said in early 2011, while he was the American defense secretary, that North Korea was within five years of being able to strike the continental United States with an intercontinental ballistic missile.

“Even if they failed to put the satellites into orbit, these rocket tests mean that the North Koreans may have already acquired the missile range” they claimed on Tuesday, said Jeung Young-tae, a military analyst at the government-run Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.

In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said, “Rather than bragging about its missile capability,” North Korea “ought to be feeding its people.”

Mr. Jeung said the North’s strident statement on Tuesday was driven in part by a domestic political need to highlight the supposed threat from the United States and its allies. On Sunday, South Korea announced a deal with Washington that would allow it to nearly triple the range of its ballistic missiles to 800 kilometers, or 500 miles, to better cope with the North’s growing missile and nuclear capabilities.

On Tuesday, North Korea called the agreement “a product of another conspiracy of the master and the stooge to push the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the extreme pitch of tension and ignite a war.”

“We should not forget even a moment that wolf never subsists on grass as long as it breathes,” it said, adding that the missile agreement disproved the United States’ insistence that it had no intention to invade the North.
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« Reply #2645 on: Oct 10, 2012, 06:34 AM »

October 9, 2012

India’s Embrace of Foreign Retailers


PATNA, India — A long-festering controversy about whether India should allow foreign retailers like Wal-Mart into the country has often been cast as a battle between millions of small shopkeepers and large corporate interests. But in much of the country, including in this eastern city, the issue often divides Indians as much by age as by their livelihoods.

Those younger than 25, a group that includes about half the country’s 1.2 billion people, appear quite open and eager to try foreign brands and shopping experiences, researchers say. They already while away their afternoons at Western-style malls like the year-old P&M mall here where they try on T-shirts by Benetton, eat pizza from Domino’s and watch movies in a Mexican-owned theater chain, Cinepolis.

Aakash Singh, a 20-year-old college student who recently came to the mall here one afternoon, summed up his generation’s attitude toward foreign retailers this way: “Absolutely, they should come. The country will benefit.”

But many older Indians who came of age in an earlier era of socialist policies say they are not entirely comfortable with the idea of big-box stores and sprawling malls. They worry that foreign companies will siphon profits and business from Indian competitors, forcing millions of family-owned shops to close.

Isahak Sanatan, 34, counts himself among that worried generation even though he has worked for foreign telecommunications companies for most of his career. “Why are we allowing outsiders” into this industry? he asked during a recent visit to the mall with his wife and 3-year-old daughter. “The foreigners will take the profits out of the country.”

So far, the older generation is prevailing. After years of debating the issue, Indian policy makers last month allowed big foreign chains like Wal-Mart and Tesco to set up stores in the country. But, in an acknowledgment of the significant dissent that remains, each of the country’s 29 state governments was granted the ability to forbid foreign-owned outlets in their territories.

Leaders of most Indian states, including Bihar, of which Patna is the capital, have said they will not allow foreign retail outlets to operate within their borders. Companies like Benetton and Domino’s that sell goods under a single brand or through franchisees had already been free to set up stores with Indian partners.

The policy change has touched off a political reaction, with one important regional political party withdrawing support from the national governing coalition led by the Indian National Congress Party. Analysts say the opposition from many politicians reflects in part the fact that the median age of Indian ministers is 65, compared with 25 for the general population.

Also, the young have so far been less likely than their parents to vote, so their strength in numbers has not yet compelled policy makers to pay much heed to them.

Still, the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appears to be counting on their support. Many of those in their 20s or younger were born just before or after the country began introducing free-market policies and opening its economy to greater trade and foreign investment in the early 1990s. Last month, Mr. Singh invoked the benefits of accepting foreign retailers for the young in a rare address to the country to defend the change in policy.

“Foreign companies are creating jobs for our youth — in information technology, in steel, and in the auto industry,” he said. “I am sure this will happen in retail trade as well.”

India’s youth grew up during a time when foreign brands like Coca-Cola, Suzuki and Levi’s became touchstones across the country. Some foreign companies have become ingrained in the fabric of Indian culture. For instance, many Indians now serve Cadbury milk chocolates at religious festivals, along with traditional sweets.

Moreover, unlike their parents, today’s young people were not as indoctrinated by their schools and families to believe in swadeshi, a slogan that roughly means self-sufficiency and that was championed by freedom fighters like Mohandas K. Gandhi during their struggle against Britain.

“Now, the consumers are essentially the young generation who are a post-’80s product,” said Shaibal Gupta, member secretary of the Asian Development Research Institute, a research group based in Patna. “The people born in the ’60s and ’70s had some idea about the freedom movement,” but the newer generations do not.

Still, retail analysts say change will come slowly to India’s $500 billion retail industry, more than 90 percent of which is still dominated by small family-owned stores. Young Indians do not yet have as much purchasing power as their parents, for one thing, though because many live with their families they often have disposable income to spend on goods like clothes and cellphones.

Indians ages 16 to 23 already account for a quarter of the spending on clothing and 16 percent of spending in restaurants in India’s 50 biggest cities, according to Technopak, a research and consulting firm. The young also tend to spend more money in modern retail stores and on foreign brands than their parents, who tend to shop at traditional outlets and buy more Indian products.

“This is a segment that will flourish over the years because there are so many young people,” said Saloni Nangia, president of Technopak. “A lot of people are taking part-time jobs or are working so that gives them a lot more disposable income.”

The growth has been particularly strong in smaller cities like Patna, which has two million people. A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group found that retail sales were growing by about 15 percent a year in these cities, compared with 12 percent in bigger cities like Mumbai and New Delhi.

Patna, in particular, is seen as a shining example of a newly resurgent Indian heartland. Bihar, one of India’s poorest states, had long languished under incompetent and corrupt leaders. But over the last seven years, a new administration has brought the state’s crime rate under control, built new roads and improved school enrollment, allowing the economy to recover.

The P&M mall, owned by a prominent Bihari film director and producer, Prakash Jha, is a prime example of the city’s renaissance. Though small at 225,000 square feet by the standards of most malls in the United States, or even in Mumbai, many city residents say they look at it and the foreign-brand stores in it like Puma and Nike with pride. On any given afternoon, the mall is filled with college students, families and seniors. Many come just to take a ride on the escalators, which are still novel here.

Benetton, the Italian clothing chain, has two franchised stores in the mall and another elsewhere in the city. It will soon add two more outlets in the city, which has been one of its best markets among India’s smaller cities, said Sanjeev Mohanty, managing director of Benetton India. The company has sales of nearly 100 million euros, or $130 million, and is growing more than 20 percent a year.

“In the last five years, India’s retail landscape has changed quite dramatically,” Mr. Mohanty said. He cited two reasons: “increase in income in big and small cities, and the second is a lot of real estate development.”

Alisha Manubansh, a 22-year-old college student, is one reason for the company’s success. She said she and her friends come to the mall at least a couple times a week — as much as their parents will allow them to and spend a lot of their time at Benetton, in part because it is the most fashionable brand in the mall.

“Since this mall opened, we don’t like going to other stores,” she said.

Other patrons like Abhishek Kumar, a 24-year-old student, come primarily to watch movies, eat at the food court and window shop. “We first come and look and see what’s available and what’s on sale. Then we come back later to buy,” said Mr. Kumar, whose family owns a cloth store about a 10-minute drive from the mall. “Our resources are limited.”

Though Bihar has said no to big foreign retailers that sell multiple brands, Wal-Mart’s top executive in India, Raj Jain, said the company saw a huge market in places like Patna, which he argued were filled with “value-conscious” consumers like Mr. Kumar who would be drawn by the chain’s low prices.

Many in the older generation say while they are not entirely comfortable with the move toward modern stores and foreign brands, they think little can be done to reverse the tide.

Mr. Kumar’s father, Anant Kumar Sinha, who rarely goes to the mall, says he has seen the changing tastes in his business. Unlike their parents’ generation, most young people are not interested in buying cloth and taking it to a tailor. His sales have been stagnant in recent years as the youth move to off-the-rack clothes from domestic and foreign labels.

“The kids of the poor are also wearing jeans and T-shirts,” he said. “The new generation does not care about the way it was done before.”

Neha Thirani contributed reporting from Mumbai.
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« Reply #2646 on: Oct 10, 2012, 06:36 AM »

10/10/2012 09:28 AM

Among Friends?: The True Face of the German-Greek Partnership

By Julia Amalia Heyer  in Athens

Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed solidarity and friendship with Greece during her Tuesday visit in Athens with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. On the streets outside, however, protests revealed the strain Greek society is under. The chancellor's visit will do little to improve the situation.

She actually did bring along a gift in the end, a gift basket wrapped carefully in cellophane with a fat, gold ribbon. Chancellor Angela Merkel, likely the most hated politician in Greece, presented the offering to Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras while standing in front of a couch in his office. Both were smiling, even beaming, and grabbed each others' elbows in a half embrace. There was also a card, which they both read together with smiles on their faces.

Merkel's visit in Athens was, as they both insisted following a two-hour tête-á- tête in Samaras' office, a meeting among friends, among partners. It is, they said, important for friends and partners to "speak together" and to remain "in intensive contact."

Outside, helicopters buzzed over the city in the overcast sky. Despite the overwhelmingly peaceful protest against Merkel's visit on Syntagma Square in central Athens, a few troublemakers fulfilled the expectations of violence. The images that we have all become used to were the result: clouds of teargas, stun grenades, people running in all directions and, more than anything, riot police everywhere.

The chancellor would be appropriately received, Merkel's host Samaras had promised once it became clear that the chancellor would finally travel to Athens for the first time in five years.

It was a promise repeated by left-wing opposition leader Alexis Tsipras, though he meant it more as a threat. And the images produced in the Greek capital on Tuesday were powerful in their expression of the desperation that has enveloped the country's citizens: burning swastika flags, posters reading "Merkel Go Home" and black-clad protesters throwing rocks at the police. One friendly-looking, moustachioed gentleman showed just how ugly relationships can be, even among partners: "Get out of our country, bitch," read the sign he was holding.

'Breaking an International Isolation'

Samaras seems to have been aware that Greek hospitality would be stretched to the limit by Merkel's visit. Security precautions were greater than any previous such visit in the Greek capital's recent history, including that of US President Bill Clinton in 1999. Police even shut down the road running into Athens from the airport, one of the city's main arterials. Much of the city center, for once, was completely free of automobile traffic.

Following their meeting in Villa Maximos, Merkel, with Samaras at her side, faced the press -- and the obvious question as to why she had come. "For me, it is very important to really get to know a country," Merkel said. Whether a half-day in a high-security cocoon is sufficient seems doubtful. But the gesture was well received. The visit, Samaras said, "proves that we are breaking an international isolation." Greece's image abroad is much better now than it was just a few months ago, he insisted, and Merkel's visit is the proof.

Still, despite the public display of affection, Merkel's visit does little to change the current situation facing the highly indebted country. The country is in urgent need of fresh aid funding, with the troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission currently assembling its assessment as to the progress Athens has made toward achieving the reforms Greece's creditors are demanding. The next aid tranche of more than €30 billion ($39 billion) hangs in the balance.

Greece's economy, furthermore, remains in freefall, having shrunk by 20 percent in four years and facing another 6.5 percent hit this year. Whether the country will ultimately be able to remain in the euro zone remains to be seen, particularly given the troika's growing frustration that Athens has yet to approve further austerity measures and has been slow to introduce necessary reforms.

Plenty to Do

International demands for additional painful cuts, many of them coming from Berlin, have fuelled the hatred on the streets. That, though, was largely ignored on Tuesday in Villa Maximos, where it was pleasantly quiet even though the demonstrations were raging just 200 meters away. "Europe is our home," Samaras said. Merkel, for her part, insisted that: "I hope and wish that Greece remains a member of the euro zone. As partners, we are working hard to achieve that."

Cynics might point out that 40 percent of German exports are delivered to partners in the euro zone. Any further fractures in the common market could hit Germany hard. But Merkel stuck to her message -- that her visit was to "gain a deeper understanding of the situation in Greece."

And she was determined to paint an image of that situation that was as bright as possible. She noted that the country's foreign trade deficit had stabilized and that reforms had reduced unit labor costs. Other things, such as deep structural reforms, take time. She did not, she said, come to Greece as a "teacher or an evaluator," though she added that the country had covered "much of the ground" necessary, but that there was still plenty to do.

Merkel's visit was not limited to her meeting with Samaras. She also met briefly with Greek President Karolos Papoulias before being rushed over to the nearby Hilton Hotel with a full police escort. Sharpshooters lined the route to protect the "friend of our country," as Samaras repeatedly referred to the German chancellor. Blue buses belonging to crack police troops lined the streets.

In the Hilton, behind the metal detectors, Merkel and Samaras met with Greek and German business representatives in the hopes of opening a "new chapter" in bilateral cooperation, as the chancellor phrased it. Stimulating growth was the catchphrase. The European Investment Bank is prepared to make €10 billion available for projects and Germany's KfW state-owned development bank is also supposed to help with financing. The money is to help finally move forward long-planned ventures, such as the municipality reform designed with the help of German experts. Greece is finally to be able to call on EU funding that has been set aside for the purpose.

It is a reform that was to have been undertaken long ago. But that was left unmentioned on this day of friendship in Athens.
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« Reply #2647 on: Oct 10, 2012, 06:37 AM »

10/10/2012 01:00 PM

Global Financial Stability at Risk?: IMF Demands Swift Banking Union in Europe

The International Monetary Fund is losing patience with European politicians. Officials at the Washington-based institution are calling on the EU to present a clear plan for its banking union. Europe's debt and euro crisis, the IMF warns, remains a persistent threat to the global economy.

Five years after the start of the global financial crisis, officials at the International Monetary Fund fear the stability of the global financial system may yet again be threatened. As in the past, the global institution is pointing its finger at the euro zone as a primary cause of the threat.

In a report on global financial stability released on Wednesday, just days before an IMF meeting that will bring together the world's finance ministers in Tokyo, the Washington-based institution has called on European countries to move swiftly to implement a pan-euro zone banking oversight regime and other measures aimed at preventing a recession and restoring market confidence.

"Commitment to a clear roadmap on a banking union and fiscal integration are needed to restore confidence, reverse the capital flight and reintegrate the euro area," said José Viñals, the head of the IMF's monetary and capital markets department. "Despite many important steps already taken by policymakers, this agenda remains critically incomplete, exposing the euro area to a downward spiral of capital flight, break-up fears and economic decline," the IMF said in its report.

Faltering market confidence has led to capital flight from countries on the periphery to the core of the euro zone, the IMF stated. This is leading to higher borrowing costs and a "growing wedge between the economic and financial 'haves' and 'have nots'."

Asset Shrinkage

The IMF warned that unless additional, decisive policy measures are taken "urgently," mounting pressure on banks could result in "asset shrinkage by as much as $2.8 trillion to $4.5 trillion" through the end of 2013.

The warning shot from the IMF comes in the midst of a heated debate over the form a future pan-European banking supervisory authority should take. The establishment of the authority is considered to be an important step toward creating a true European banking union. Currently, Germany and the European Commission are bickering over those plans, which German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble believes are poorly conceived. Schäuble, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, has also expressed doubts about the planned start date of January 2013, which he has described as overly ambitious. Some have said it could take months or longer before an agreement is reached.

The European Commission foresees a key role for the European Central Bank in monitoring European banks, but Schäuble has warned of conflicts of interest at the ECB, which is responsible for both monetary policy and interest rate decisions. But the start date for a common supervisory authority for banks operating within the common currency zone is important, because it is considered to be a prerequisite for providing direct aid from the euro bailout funds to troubled banks, including those of Spain that have been particularly afflicted by the crisis.

Germany is also at odds with France, which would like to see all 6,000 financial institutions in the euro zone be monitored by the ECB. Berlin, however, believes that a regime which keeps an eye just on "systemically important" banks would be sufficient.

Credit Crunch Warning

In its report on Wednesday, the IMF also warned of a potential credit crunch in Europe. The report warns that a rapid contraction of bank balance sheets could cause lending by these institutions to decline by 4.5 percent by the end of 2013. The report warns that in a worst-case scenario, if only "weak policies" were pursued, that rapid bank deleveraging could lead to a contraction of GDP as high as 4 percent of the periphery euro-zone countries and 1.5 percent at the core. "It is important that Europe as a whole … that there be regional efforts to support the recapitalization of banks," David Lipton, the IMF's first deputy managing editor, told Reuters.

In addition to the euro-zone crisis, IMF officials are also concerned about the threat of high national debt in the United States and Japan, which it claims is eroding market confidence. On Tuesday, the IMF had already warned of the threat of a global recession -- a forecast attributed to both the euro crisis and American fiscal policies. The IMF said it was unable to see how the US would manage to deal with its major budget problems in the medium term. In the short term, the IMF warned, the United States presents a threat to the global economy.

The IMF also forecasts slow growth for the global economy in the report. It is expecting growth of 3.3 percent in 2012, following by an increase of 3.6 percent in 2013 -- 0.2 percent and 0.3 lower, respectively, than the IMF's previous forecast in July. The IMF also trimmed its 2013 growth forecast for Germany by 0.5 percentage points to 0.9 percent.
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« Reply #2648 on: Oct 10, 2012, 06:38 AM »

10/09/2012 05:05 PM

Taming the Markets: Eleven EU Countries Agree on Transaction Tax

The idea of a financial transaction tax in the European Union has been slowly gaining support over the last two years, with Germany and France advocating most vehemently in favor. Now they have convinced nine other EU states to join them -- though details remain scarce.

Finance ministers from 11 European Union countries agreed at a meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday to support a tax on financial transactions, hoping to discourage risky trading while simultaneously raising revenue.

Germany and France, the EU's two largest economies, have long supported the idea of the tax, while countries like the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom remained staunchly opposed out of fears the tax could harm the competitiveness of their financial markets.

Sweden imposed a similar tax in the 1980s, only to lose much of its trading activity to London. Stockholm later repealed the law.

"We still think that the financial transaction tax is a very dangerous tax," Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg said ahead of the meeting. "It will have a negative impact on growth."

There are still few details on how the tax -- referred to as the "Tobin tax" after the Nobel laureate American economist James Tobin who first proposed it in 1972 -- would work and how its revenue would be used. The European Comission, the EU's executive branch, has proposed taxing trades in bonds and shares at a rate of 0.1 percent per transaction and taxing trades in derivatives at 0.01 percent.

Beef Up the Budget

Some have proposed the revenue be put into a fund that would help struggling banks, while others -- particularly Brussels -- want the money to beef up the EU's budget. Austrian Finance Minister maria Fekter said that a model for how the tax might work would be presented by the end of the year in the hopes that it could be installed by 2014.

Talks on the tax are one element of European Union efforts to create banking rules that could help prevent a repeat of the debt crisis which continues to ravage euro-zone finances. European finance ministers also addressed efforts to create a euro-zone banking union involving centralized oversight of financial institutions. Thus far, however, agreement has not been reached on who would be responsible for such oversight or even which banks would be monitored.

At the Tuesday meeting, Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager urged care in designing the oversight architecture. "It's important that we do it step-by-step and that the substance is leading and not the calendar," he said according to the Associated Press. His French counterpart Pierre Moscovici, however, expressed confidence that a deal could still be reached by the end of the year. France is still hoping for any supervisory regime to cover all 6,000 banks in the euro zone while Germany would like to see only larger institutions monitored.

The 11 countries supporting the financial transaction tax were Austria, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain -- all part of the euro zone. The countries still have to put their plans in writing and submit it to Brussels, according to European Tax Commissioner Algirdas Semeta.

Imposing the tax across the entire EU is impossible without the support of more countries, however the EU treaty allows for "enhanced cooperation" in policy matters when at least nine states come together in agreement.

Countries that choose to opt out of such an agreement could also block the action, but the non-participating countries said at the meeting that they would not plan on doing so.
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« Reply #2649 on: Oct 10, 2012, 06:40 AM »

October 9, 2012

French Assembly Approves European Budget Discipline Treaty


PARIS — The lower house of the French Parliament approved the ratification of a European budget discipline treaty by a large majority on Tuesday, with final adoption expected this week.

To the relief of President François Hollande, a Socialist, his party and its leftist allies in the Assembly passed the measure without needing the votes of the center-right. Some Socialists and their Green allies vociferously opposed the bill, which Mr. Hollande had originally criticized during his presidential campaign as a German-driven austerity measure.

He had vowed to amend the treaty, but in the end he settled for a parallel “growth pact” and then pushed the bill on his own party as a necessary act to preserve European unity and the euro. France is the second-largest economy in the euro zone, and its effort to maintain leadership together with Germany was an important undercurrent to the vote.

The treaty obliges the 25 members of the European Union who signed it in March to limit their deficits to prevent further debt crises. Countries are supposed to keep their budget deficits to 3 percent of gross domestic product, and countries with high debt must keep their structural deficits below 0.5 percent of gross domestic product. Only Britain and the Czech Republic refused to sign.

The bill passed by 477 votes to 70, with 21 abstentions and 9 deputies not voting. Some 282 members from the left voted for the bill, more than the 274 required for a majority. But 20 Socialists voted against it, and 9 abstained. Of the 17 members belonging to the allied Greens, 12 voted no and 2 abstained. Mr. Hollande and his prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, have given no indication that they will try to discipline the Greens or dismiss ministers who opposed the bill.

The Senate is expected to pass the bill as early as Wednesday, meaning that France will probably ratify the treaty by the end of the week. Opposition votes will be needed to pass it in the Senate, where the left does not have an absolute majority. The fiscal pact is expected to enter into force on Jan. 1, 2013, assuming that 12 of the 17 members that use the euro ratify it. Some have already done so, including Germany.

In a statement, Mr. Hollande praised the vote and the unity of the left in getting behind the bill without needing to rely on opposition votes in the Assembly, though he also praised the center-right for approving the bill, initially backed by his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, as part of his efforts to work with Germany on solving the crisis of the euro.

Mr. Hollande said that the treaty would pave the way for “stability, serious fiscal discipline but also growth” and that the large majority would give “France an extra boost to make its voice heard” in Europe.

The president, whose popularity is plummeting, has committed to tax increases and a spending freeze in nominal terms to bring the 2013 budget deficit down to 3 percent of gross domestic product.

But the budget is based on a forecast for economic growth of 0.8 percent, which many economists believe is too high. The International Monetary Fund said Monday that it expected growth of only 0.4 percent in France for 2013, and a continuing rise in unemployment.

French business executives are unhappy at paying higher corporate taxes, which they say make it harder to hire. As the Assembly voted Tuesday, tens of thousands of French union members and workers marched to call for job protection, and paralyzed the port of Le Havre.
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« Reply #2650 on: Oct 10, 2012, 06:43 AM »

Palestinians set first private sector minimum wage

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 9, 2012 19:09 EDT

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories — The Palestinian government on Tuesday approved a minimum wage of 1,450 shekels ($376, 290 euros) a month for the private sector, labour minister Ahmed Majdalani said.

“This is an unprecedented decision… on which we can build,” Majdalani told AFP, dismissing criticism that the rate was to low.

Responding to a call by Palestinian trade unions, scores of workers demonstrated outside the parliament building, chanting: “The poor do not agree with Fayyad.”

Tuesday’s vote also set a daily private sector minimum wage of 65 shekels ($16.80, 13 euros) and an hourly floor of 8.5 shekels ($2.20, 1.7 euros). It is the result of recommendations made by a committee of government and trade union officials and employers’ representatives, after 18 months of discussions.

Shaher Saad, head of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions, said that the low minimum would “further encourage the exodus of Palestinian labour to Israeli settlements and abroad.”

But the head of the General Union of Palestine Workers, which is linked to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), hailed the move as “a historic day for Palestinian workers.”

“We agreed to a minimum wage, given the fact that this is the first time in Palestinian history,” Haidar Ibrahim told AFP. “It is to be reviewed in a year.”

Ibrahim said that the Palestinian private sector employs about one million people including “nearly 100,000 workers earning between 400 and 700 shekels ($104-$181, 80-140 euros) per month.”

The Palestinian Authority, which governs the autonomous areas of the West Bank has lately been facing mounting social discontent driven by mounting inflation, especially higher fuel prices.
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« Reply #2651 on: Oct 10, 2012, 06:44 AM »

Australian PM’s sexism speech sparks divisive reaction

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 7:10 EDT

A blistering attack by Prime Minister Julia Gillard labelling Australia’s opposition leader a misogynist has gained global attention but sparked a divisive reaction about her judgement and the role of sexism in politics.

Gillard, the nation’s first woman leader, lashed out Tuesday at Tony Abbott after he called for the removal of parliamentary speaker Peter Slipper over lurid text messages, which referenced female genitalia.

Slipper, who stood aside in April amid claims of gay sex harassment, survived an opposition motion to dump him with the support of Gillard and her ruling Labor party, but later resigned.

During the debate, a fired-up Gillard accused Abbott of hypocrisy, saying she had been offended by many of his remarks over the years and she would not be “lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man”.

Her tough comments went viral and won international praise.

But her decision to defend Slipper, who she was instrumental in appointing to bolster Labor’s voting numbers, while at the same time criticising Abbott, was slammed in Australia.

Deputy opposition leader Julie Bishop accused Gillard of using sexism as a weapon against criticism and said women deserved better.

“The prime minister is setting back the cause of women decades by using sexism as a shield against criticisms of her performance,” she said.

“Instead of being remembered as Australia’s first female prime minister, she’ll be remembered as the prime minister who let down the women of Australia when she was put to the test.”

Abbott also weighed in, saying it was time “everyone in this parliament moved on from the gender card which so many members of the government have been playing”.

The media was also critical, with The Sydney Morning Herald saying Gillard faced the stark choice of defending her parliamentary numbers, or defending the principle of respect for women.

“She chose to defend her numbers,” said the newspaper’s political editor Peter Hartcher.

“She chose power over principles. It was the wrong choice. The prime minister gained nothing and lost a great deal.”

Elsewhere, her scathing words were praised, with US feminist blog Jezebel calling her “badass”.

Another American media outlet The Daily Beast said “Margaret Thatcher must be smiling,” referring to the former British leader, known as the Iron Lady, while the New Yorker said Barack Obama could learn debating tips from Gillard.

Gillard’s colleagues also defended her reaction to Abbott’s “outrageous personal abuse”.

“He calls her names across the table, repeatedly,” Families Minister Jenny Macklin said, while Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said there was a key difference between Abbott and Slipper.

“The difference between Peter Slipper and Tony Abbott is Peter Slipper takes responsibility, he puts his hand up, he apologises, he acknowledges it’s wrong, and he resigns,” she said.

Slipper’s demise was a blow to Gillard, who last year engineered his promotion to speaker after he defected from Abbott’s Liberal Party.

That move lost the opposition one vote and shored up Labor’s wafer-thin hold on power.

Following his departure and the promotion of Anna Burke to speaker, Labor now has 70 MPs on the floor to the coalition’s 72. There are seven crossbenchers, with Labor needing the support of five to win any votes.
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« Reply #2652 on: Oct 10, 2012, 06:45 AM »

October 9, 2012

Netanyahu Calls for Early Elections in Israel


JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Tuesday called for elections early next year instead of as scheduled in October 2013, saying that conversations with his coalition partners had proved it would be impossible to pass “a responsible budget” with deep cuts.

“Sadly, parties and factions find it difficult to put aside their personal interests and prioritize national interests,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a five-minute speech timed to the start of the nightly news here. “The good of the State of Israel requires going to elections now, and as quickly as possible. It is preferable for Israel to have a short election campaign of three months rather than what would effectively end up a yearlong campaign that would damage the Israeli economy.”

The balloting could be as early as Jan. 15, but many here have speculated it would be set for mid-February, which would make Mr. Netanyahu’s the first Israeli government in more than two decades to complete a four-year term. A victory around the same time that the United States is either inaugurating a new president or starting a second Obama term would probably embolden the prime minister, allowing him to continue his aggressive approach toward Iran, while mostly ignoring the Palestinian conflict.

The campaign begins with the prime minister and his right-leaning Likud Party in strong positions, political analysts said, while the center is fragmented and the opposition leader, Shelly Yacimovich of the Labor Party, has little credibility with the public for the top job because she lacks security credentials.

With his recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly saying the spring would be the critical deadline for stopping Iran from having the capacity to develop a nuclear bomb, Mr. Netanyahu helped ensure that his signature issue would be at the center of the campaign debate. True to form, he mentioned Iran and other security matters repeatedly in his short statement, a bullet-point version of his likely stump speech.

Analysts here said the critical question of the campaign was not whether Mr. Netanyahu would win, but whether he would retain what are known as his “natural allies” — right-wing and religious parties — or make a move to the center to form a broader, or at least different, coalition, perhaps with different priorities. “The battle is really on the center,” said Abraham Diskin, a political scientist at Hebrew University and the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. “I’m sure he will try to form a coalition with centrist parties.”

Mr. Netanyahu originally announced in May that the time had come for a new vote, only to reverse course the next day with a secret late-night deal to form a so-called unity government with the leader of the Kadima Party, Shaul Mofaz.

That partnership unraveled two months later over a failure to resolve the question of how many ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students should be exempt from military service, an issue that has since faded from public discussion, to the chagrin of Mr. Mofaz, who on Tuesday described the election as “an opportunity to replace Netanyahu’s bad government that had isolated Israel, damaged its deterrence, and weakened its middle class.”

One wild card is Tzipi Livni, who was ousted as head of Kadima early this year and is weighing a re-entry, perhaps heading a new party or joining with Ms. Yacimovich. Writing on Facebook Tuesday night, Ms. Livni did not reveal her plans but said, “Today Israel needs to re-examine its path.”

Gabriel Weimann, a professor of communication at the University of Haifa, said he was struck by the fact that Mr. Netanyahu did not mention his Likud Party as he highlighted accomplishments of the past four years.

“He spoke about give me the mandate again, trust me again, re-elect me,” Professor Weimann said. “This is going to be a very, very personal type of election.”

Isabel Kershner and Gabby Soleman contributed reporting.
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« Reply #2653 on: Oct 10, 2012, 06:48 AM »

>b>Hobbit coins to become legal tender in New Zealand

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 7:15 EDT

New Zealand will release commemorative “The Hobbit” coins worth thousands of dollars ahead of next month’s premier of director Peter Jackson’s latest Tolkien epic.

The coins featuring characters such as Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the wizard will be legal tender in the country, New Zealand Post said, although their face value will be only a fraction of the cost collectors will be expected to pay.

The most expensive, made from one ounce (28.3 grams) of pure gold, will set Tolkien enthusiasts back NZ$3,695 ($3,020) but has a face value of just NZ$10, while the cheapest is a NZ$1 coin retailing for NZ$29.90.

The coins go on sale from November 1 and New Zealand Post said it expected strong international interest in the build up to the premiere of the first of the three Hobbit movies in Wellington on November 28.

Jackson, who was responsible for the Oscar-winning adaptation of Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, announced earlier this year that he would make three films from “The Hobbit” book, rather than two as originally planned.

British actor Martin Freeman, from “The Office”, takes on the central role of Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug.

Other big names appearing include Cate Blanchett, Ian McKellen, Barry Humphries, Stephen Fry, and Billy Connolly.

New Zealand enjoyed a huge tourism boom after the original trilogy and is hoping to repeat the success with the Hobbit movies, launching a campaign branding the country “100% Middle Earth” to coincide with the premiere.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #2654 on: Oct 10, 2012, 06:49 AM »

Russia frees one Pussy Riot member, keeps two in jail

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 7:59 EDT

A Russian appeals court Wednesday ordered the release of one member of punk band Pussy Riot after turning her two-year prison sentence into a suspended term but kept two others in jail with unchanged verdicts.

The judge at the Moscow city court ordered the release of Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, after giving her a two-year suspended prison camp term for performing a protest stunt against President Vladimir Putin in Russia’s main church.

However the two-year prison camp sentences of Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, were upheld by the court.

Judge Larisa Polyakova ruled “to leave Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova’s sentences without changes” while bowing to the appeal filed on behalf of Samutsevich, who was judged not to have taken actual involvement in the “punk prayer” performance.

The judge stressed that Samutsevich could be jailed again if she “violates several restrictions established by law or commits some other crime.”
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