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« Reply #2655 on: Oct 10, 2012, 07:15 AM »

In the USA....

October 9, 2012

Before Hearings on Libya Attack, Charges of Playing Politics

By MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and ERIC SCHMITT

WASHINGTON — On the eve of the first Congressional hearing on the attack last month at the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, members of the House committee investigating the assaults spent Tuesday accusing one another of exploiting the violence to score partisan political points.

The hearing, four weeks after the attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, is expected to focus on any potential intelligence failures in assessing a growing militant threat in Benghazi and eastern Libya; possible security lapses at the mission; and whether the Obama administration underestimated the dangers posed by Al Qaeda’s franchise in northern Africa and other extremist groups in Libya.

Summoned to testify Wednesday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are two senior State Department officials responsible for embassy security worldwide, a former head of security at the United States Embassy in Tripoli and the former head of an American military team assigned to provide security at the embassy.

Underscoring the attack’s increasing political and policy significance, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, visited Libya on Tuesday to discuss the F.B.I.’s investigation of the killings with American and Libyan officials, Reuters reported from Tripoli.

And in a sign of the administration’s concerns over the House hearing, the State Department held a hastily arranged conference call with reporters on Tuesday night to offer its first extended account of what happened in Bengazi on the night of Sept. 11, after having repeatedly cited a continuing F.B.I. investigation as a reason for not releasing information on the attack.

Democrats and Republicans on the oversight committee traded similar accusations — that the other party had shown scant interest in dealing with the broader issues of intelligence warnings and security matters, and had focused instead on trying to show that their party was better equipped to address volatile and shifting national security challenges.

“Never in all of my years in Congress have I seen such a startling and damaging series of partisan abuses,” said Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the panel’s ranking Democrat. “The Republicans are in full campaign mode, and it is a shame that they are resorting to such pettiness in what should be a serious and responsible investigation. We should be above that.”

Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah and chairman of the panel’s subcommittee on national security issues, said the Democrats’ strategy was to “blame it on politics rather than addressing the nature of the issue.”

“They can blame it on politics,” Mr. Chaffetz said, “but we are concerned about the more than a hundred embassies and thousands of Americans abroad.”

Democrats accused the Republicans of preventing them from interviewing witnesses they plan to call at the hearing, including Lt. Col. Andrew Wood of the Utah National Guard, who led the military security team in Tripoli. Colonel Wood has appeared on several national television programs in recent days and has said that he and other embassy officials unsuccessfully sought to extend his team’s tour at the embassy because of mounting security concerns.

A memorandum circulated by Democratic staff members of the panel said that Republicans concealed until last Thursday their plans to depart on the next day for an investigative trip to Libya and that “due to this inadequate notice, no Democratic members or staff were able to join.” A Congressional staff member provided a copy of the memo to The New York Times.

A spokesman for the committee’s chairman, Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, did not respond to several messages seeking comment.

Mr. Chaffetz, who said he went on the trip to Libya, said he was told about the trip only the day before it. He said that the committee had handed over a list of witnesses to the Democrats on the panel and that it was their responsibility to interview them.

Soon after the attack, Congressional Republicans began accusing the administration of trying to play down the possibility that Al Qaeda’s franchise in North Africa, or extremist groups with ties to it, were more involved in the assault than administration officials first acknowledged. They said the administration did not want to acknowledge the Qaeda links because it would detract from the message that Mr. Obama’s policies had significantly weakened the terrorist network, especially since the Navy SEALs raid in Pakistan last year that killed Osama bin Laden.

Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York and chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, said that at an intelligence briefing on Sept. 13, he was told that there had been terrorist involvement. The next day, Mr. King said, he received another briefing that was “not as conclusive.”

“It was clear that there was likely terrorist involvement,” he said of his impression after those two briefings.

Republicans have singled out Susan E. Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, for criticism because she first attributed the attack to a spontaneous mob protest that spun out of control. Ms. Rice has fired back, saying that she relied solely on information from intelligence agencies and that the government’s understanding of what happened had evolved as more information became available.

Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting.

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October 9, 2012

Lawmakers Focus on Small Drugmakers as Meningitis Death Toll Rises

By SABRINA TAVERNISE

The number of people who have died in a national meningitis outbreak linked to injections of a contaminated drug rose to 11 on Tuesday as lawmakers called for a Congressional inquiry into pharmacies of the kind that made the medicine and new laws to ensure tighter federal oversight of their operations.

In all, a total of 119 people have been affected in the outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. All of them had been injected with a pain drug shipped around the country by a pharmacy in Massachusetts.

Health officials on Tuesday reported three new deaths, and state and federal health officials scrambled to notify the 13,000 people who may have been given the drug, methylprednisolone acetate, an epidural steroid that is injected into the neck and spine for pain.

The drug that federal health officials suspect was contaminated with fungus was made by the New England Compounding Center, registered as a pharmacy in Framingham, Mass.

Tennessee has had by far the most cases, and state health officials said Tuesday that a fungus called Exserohilum was the primary cause of infection there. Initially, the main suspect was another fungus, Aspergillus. At a news briefing, the state health commissioner, Dr. John Dreyzehner, called Exserohilum “a fungus so rare that most physicians never see it in a lifetime of practicing medicine.”

Compounding pharmacists typically prepare medicines for individual patients at a doctor’s request. But critics say some of the businesses have become miniature drug companies, without the federal oversight that goes with them.

The New England Compounding Center was founded in 1998, and says it has 49 employees. A Boston public relations man acting as a spokesman for the company, Cosmo Macero, said the company’s chief pharmacist, Barry Cadden, is also an owner, as is another company officer, Gregory Conigliaro. He said that both men were “singularly focused on managing the national recall” and that lawyers for the company, which is not now in operation, were not available to comment. Mr. Conigliaro is also associated with a real estate company and a recycling company, according to documents filed with the Massachusetts secretary of state.

“This incident raises serious concerns about the scope of the practice of pharmacy compounding in the United States and the current patchwork of federal and state laws,” said a statement by Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, and two other Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Diana DeGette of Colorado and Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey. The committee has jurisdiction over the Food and Drug Administration.

The Democrats are the minority on the committee and cannot call a hearing. A spokeswoman for the committee’s Republican chairman, Fred Upton of Michigan, said he was joining the call for an inquiry, together with three other Republican members.

Representative Edward J. Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts who represents the district where the New England Compounding Center is based, said he would introduce legislation requiring certain pharmacies that send products across state lines to register with the F.D.A. Currently, states oversee compounding pharmacies.

Federal drug regulators have tried to crack down on the larger compounding pharmacies with limited success. Gary Dykstra, a professor at the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy who was the F.D.A.’s deputy associate commissioner for regulatory affairs in the 1990s, said large-scale compounding first came to the F.D.A.’s attention in the early 1990s.

“They were pushing the limits of pharmacy practice,” said Mr. Dykstra, who retired from the F.D.A. in 2007. “We were seeing some very clever entrepreneurs that were trying to get a foothold in what they saw as a need but taking it to extremes.”

Inspection proved difficult. They were politically adept, he said, using lobbyists.

“They were making a lot of money so they fought us pretty hard,” Mr. Dykstra said. “They argued this was a doctor-patient relationship and the F.D.A. couldn’t interfere.”

A surge of litigation created uncertainty and raised the specter of costly court cases, dampening the agency’s enthusiasm for such cases, he said.

“We would put a lot of work into an investigation but our recommendations would find little support,” he said.

The F.D.A. has said it knows of 200 “adverse events,” involving 71 compounded products since 1990. Among them were two patients at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Washington who were blinded by a product used in cataract surgery that was contaminated with bacteria. In August 2005, the F.D.A. announced a recall of the contaminated solution.

Denise Grady and Jess Bidgood contributed reporting. Sheelagh McNeill contributed research

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Supreme Court lets AT&T wiretapping immunity stand

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 9, 2012 19:17 EDT

WASHINGTON — The US Supreme Court let stand Tuesday an immunity law on wiretapping viewed by government as a useful anti-terror tool but criticized by rights activists as a flagrant abuse of executive power.

The top US court declined to review a December 2011 appeals court decision that rejected a lawsuit against AT&T for helping the National Security Agency monitor its customers’ phone calls and Internet traffic.

Plaintiffs argue that the law allows the executive branch to conduct “warrantless and suspicionless domestic surveillance” without fear of review by the courts and at the sole discretion of the attorney general.

But President Barack Obama’s administration has argued to keep the immunity law in place, saying it would imperil national security to end such cooperation between the intelligence agencies and telecom companies.

“Electronic surveillance for law enforcement and intelligence purposes depends in great part on the cooperation of the private companies that operate the nation’s telecommunication system,” the Obama administration said, making its case.

“If litigation were allowed to proceed against those who allegedly assisted in such activities, the private sector might be unwilling to cooperate with lawful government requests in the future, and the possible reduction in intelligence that might result is simply unacceptable for the safety of our nation,” it stressed.

The Supreme Court is set to hear a separate case later this month in which civil liberties’ group are suing NSA officials for authorizing unconstitutional wiretapping.

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Americans who claim no religious affiliation at an all-time high

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 9, 2012 19:11 EDT

WASHINGTON — Protestants no longer make up the majority of the US population, while the proportion of Americans who claim no religious affiliation is at an all-time high, the Pew Research Center said Tuesday.

In a report, the Washington think tank’s Forum on Religion & Public Life said 48 percent of American adults currently identify themselves as Protestant, down from 53 percent five years ago.

“This marks the first time in Pew Research Center surveys that the Protestant share of the population has dipped significantly below 50 percent,” it said.

“The decline is concentrated among white Protestants, including those who consider themselves born-again or evangelical Protestants as well as those who do not.”

Over the same five years, the proportion of those with no religious affiliation — the so-called “nones” — has grown from just over 15 percent in 2007 to a record high of just under 20 percent, Pew said.

That includes more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics, and nearly 33 million who say they have no particular religious affiliation despite, in most cases, believing in God.

“The growth in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans … is largely driven by generational replacement, the gradual supplanting of older generations by newer ones,” Pew said.

Thirty-two percent of adults under 30 have no religious affiliation, compared with nine percent of over-65s, and they are “much more likely” to be unaffiliated than previous generations were at a similar stage in their lives.

Pew said its report was based on an analysis of dozens of surveys it has conducted in recent years among tens of thousands of respondents.

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October 9, 2012

Schumer Shakes Up Deficit Talks With Call to Raise Taxes on the Rich

By JONATHAN WEISMAN

WASHINGTON — Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, threw cold water on Tuesday on one emerging approach for striking a bipartisan deficit-reduction deal — an overhaul of the tax code that lowers top income tax rates but raises more revenue. Mr. Schumer’s position complicates efforts to seal a deal before January, when the “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and automatic spending cuts goes into effect.

In a speech to the National Press Club, Mr. Schumer branded the idea of a tax code overhaul that could simultaneously lower the top rates, bring in more revenue and protect middle-class taxpayers from increases as “little more than happy talk.”

Instead, he said that the top two income tax rates should be frozen around 36 percent and 39.6 percent, which are levels from the Clinton era, and that any additional revenue generated by closing loopholes and curtailing or eliminating tax deductions and credits should be devoted to deficit reduction.

“It is an alluring prospect to cut taxes on the wealthiest people and somehow still reduce the deficit, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too,” said Mr. Schumer, a member of the tax-writing Finance Committee. “The reality is, any path forward on tax reform that promised to cut rates will end up either failing to reduce the deficit or failing to protect the middle class from a net tax increase.”

Republicans reacted harshly to Mr. Schumer’s position, which they said could ensure that the nation careers off the fiscal cliff in January, when all of the Bush-era tax cuts expire and $1 trillion in automatic across-the-board cuts to military and domestic programs over the next 10 years begin to go into force.

“A tax reform framework that lowers rates and closes loopholes has support from both parties, including the Obama administration, and it offers the best hope for bipartisan efforts to create robust economic growth and reduce our deficit,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio. “Senator Schumer seems to be off an island with these remarks.”

Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who is negotiating with Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, on a deficit-reduction framework, said: “While many of us from both parties are working quietly to try to find common ground for a budget agreement that will get the economy moving, Senator Schumer is on the front pages four weeks before an election offering a proposal to raise taxes. In my view, both his timing and his recommendations are unhelpful and unsound.”

But some Democrats involved in the negotiations say Mr. Schumer’s position could prove helpful by demarcating the left’s opening position on tax cuts for the rich and by opening a new avenue for negotiation over entitlement programs. Mr. Schumer said Republicans would be drawn to the table by the prospect of making changes to Medicare and other entitlements. While he did not specify what changes he would accept, Republicans in deficit talks have demanded the restructuring of entitlements in exchange for added revenues.

A White House official said Mr. Schumer’s remarks underscored President Obama’s position that the wealthy and big corporations would have “to pay their fair share” in any deficit deal.

“Schumer’s speech puts him squarely in the get-a-deal camp, and he willingly put entitlements on the table,” said Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist Democratic group. “That’s a big move.”

The speech also signaled that negotiations previously confined to backbench lawmakers are beginning in earnest. Leaders from both parties are becoming more engaged. Business groups and industry titans have rallied around a “Fix the Debt” campaign, which is led by Maya MacGuineas’s Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and is designed to pressure both sides to reach a deal before the first of the year. So far the effort has raised $30 million and hopes to more than triple that.

Republicans, and some senior Democrats, had been gravitating to a deficit-reduction framework that relied heavily on tax changes that lowered rates across the board to bring along both parties.

With enough changes to tax deductions and credits, negotiators argue that they could raise as much as $2 trillion over the next decade. Republicans could claim they prevented an increase in tax rates. Democrats could say they forced Republicans to add additional revenues to spending cuts to get a handle on deficits that again topped $1 trillion for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

That framework was embraced by senators of both parties — including the second-ranking Democrat, Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois — when it was proposed by the chairmen of Mr. Obama’s deficit-reduction commission, Erskine B. Bowles and Alan K. Simpson. Mr. Boehner has also accepted in theory that revenues from a tax overhaul could be used for deficit reduction, as long as the current tax rates do not rise.

The so-called Gang of Eight — four Democratic senators and four Republican senators — have been negotiating a deficit-reduction deal that embraces tax changes that lower rates and increase revenues as a central pillar. The group held a closed-door meeting on Tuesday.

The Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, and his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, have also proposed overhauling the tax code to lower rates across the board, but they have said they want to keep overall revenues about where they are now.

With his speech Tuesday, Mr. Schumer is planting a new Democratic flag. Any overhaul of the tax code, he said, should freeze the top two personal income tax rates, hold the middle class harmless and raise rates on capital gains to close the difference between how the tax code treats earned and unearned income.

Mr. Schumer said the reason three years of bipartisan negotiations on the deficit have been fruitless is that they have started from a mathematically impossible position: that all tax rates should come down while revenues go up.

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Goldman Sachs ‘in bid to change’ Volcker rule

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 7:30 EDT

Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS – news) is seeking changes to the Volcker rule, which keeps banks from speculative trades in their own accounts, to protect its merchant-banking unit, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The rule, named after former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, was part of the sweeping reforms introduced in the wake of the 2008 recession and aimed at preventing another meltdown of the financial sector.

It forbids banks from actively trading in their own accounts to boost profits, what is known as proprietary trade.

Goldman is lobbying US regulators to allow its merchant-banking unit’s credit funds, which mostly concern pension funds and insurers, to be exempted from the rule, the Journal said, citing people briefed on the matter.

In meetings with and letters to regulators, the firm has argued that the credit funds function like banks, though with a different structure, according to the report.

Goldman also claims the funds help the struggling US economy by making more credit available, and says the credit funds present less risk than other investments affected by Volcker limits.

Regulators have yet to respond definitively to Goldman’s requests, according to the Journal.

The newspaper noted that the credit funds are a significant part of Goldman’s business. Its (Euronext: ALITS.NX – news) two main credit funds are GS Loan Partners, with $10.5 billion in investments, and GS Mezzanine Partners, at $13 billion.

Since Congress passed the Dodd-Frank package of financial regulation in July 2010, the financial industry has spent more than $330 million on lobbying to affect how the Volcker rule is applied, the newspaper said.

It cited the lobbying as a reason why regulators have yet to bring forward a final version of the Volcker rule, now set to be issued by year’s end, with financial firms given until July 2014 to comply.

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October 9, 2012

As Romney Repeats Trade Message, Bain Maintains China Ties

By SHARON LaFRANIERE and MIKE McINTIRE

The tale of Asimco Technologies, an auto parts manufacturer whose plants dot eastern China, would seem to underscore Mitt Romney’s campaign-trail complaint that China’s manufacturing juggernaut is costing America jobs.

Nine years ago, the company bought two camshaft factories that employed about 500 people in Michigan. By 2007 both were shut down. Now Asimco manufactures the same components in China on government-donated land in a coastal region that China has designated an export base, where companies are eligible for the sort of subsidies Mr. Romney says create an unfair trade imbalance.

But there is a twist to the Asimco story that would not fit neatly into a Romney stump speech: Since 2010, it has been owned by Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Mr. Romney, who has as much as $2.25 million invested in three Bain funds with large stakes in Asimco and at least seven other Chinese businesses, according to his 2012 candidate financial disclosure and other documents.

That and other China-related holdings by Bain funds in which Mr. Romney has invested are a reminder of how he inhabits two worlds that at times have come into conflict during his campaign for the White House.

As a candidate, Mr. Romney uses China as a punching bag. He accuses Beijing of unfairly subsidizing Chinese exports, artificially holding down the value of its currency to keep exports cheap, stealing American technology and hacking into corporate and government computers.

“How is it China’s been so successful in taking away our jobs?” he asked recently. “Well, let me tell you how: by cheating.”

But his private equity dealings, both while he headed Bain and since, complicate that message.

Mr. Romney’s campaign insists he has no control over his investments since they are held in a blind trust. That said, a confidential prospectus for one of the Bain funds, obtained by The New York Times, promotes China as a good investment for some of the same reasons that Mr. Romney has said concern him: “Strong fundamentals” like manufacturing wages 85 percent lower than what Americans earn, vast foreign exchange reserves and the likelihood that China will surpass the United States as the world’s largest economy.

“Accordingly, Bain Capital expects to see an increasing array of high-growth companies available for investment,” the prospectus says, noting the relative dearth of private equity in China.

Among the companies in which the Bain funds have invested is a global auto parts maker that is in the process of closing a factory in Illinois and moving most of the equipment and jobs to Jiangsu Province, where the Chinese government has built it a new plant; a Chinese electronics retailer accused by Microsoft of selling computers with pirated software; and a Hong Kong-based Chinese appliance maker that was sued for copying another company’s design for a deep-fat fryer.

Asked if Mr. Romney sees any conflict between his Bain investments in China and his policy positions, the campaign said: “Only the president has the power to level the playing field with China. No private citizen can do that alone.”

The campaign said Mr. Romney put his fortune, estimated at $250 million, in a “blind trust” when he became Massachusetts governor in 2003. “The trustee of the blind trust has said publicly that he will endeavor to make the investments in the blind trust conform to Governor Romney’s positions, and whenever it comes to his attention that there is something inconsistent, he ends the investment,” the statement said.

Should Mr. Romney become president, however, the structure of the trust would most likely not meet the federal requirements for independent management. It is managed by a Boston-based law firm, Ropes & Gray, that has a long history of doing legal work for both Mr. Romney and Bain Capital, including representing some of the same Bain funds in which it invested Mr. Romney’s money.

Mr. Romney’s trustee, R. Bradford Malt, who is chairman of Ropes & Gray, declined to comment.

Bain Capital declined to comment on specific investments, but said in a statement that its Chinese holdings “are consistent with the widely accepted principle that the private sector has a critical role to play in the continuing interdependence of the world’s economies.”

For many sophisticated and wealthy investors, as well as for ordinary workers invested in pension funds, China is a part of any diversified investment strategy. President Obama, a former Illinois state senator, has as much as $100,000 in a state retirement plan that contains shares of Sensata Technologies, the same auto parts company controlled by Bain that is closing its Illinois factory.

Last year, Mr. Romney’s trust sold its stake in an array of foreign holdings, including two Chinese state-owned companies: an oil company and a bank that have done business in Iran. But Mr. Romney continues to have money in Bain funds with sizable holdings in China.

He has as much as $250,000 in the Bain Capital Asia Fund and as much as $1 million each in Bain Capital Funds IX and X, all Cayman Islands entities used by Bain to make sizable investments in China, according to the 2012 candidate financial disclosures and confidential Bain prospectuses obtained by The Times through a public records request.

Among those funds’ holdings is $234 million that Bain invested in 2009 in Gome Electrical Appliances, a major Chinese retailer that was accused by Microsoft this year of selling computers with pirated software. In 2007, Bain’s Asia fund also invested $39 million in Feixiang Group, a Chinese producer and exporter of chemicals that is a designated “state high-tech enterprise,” making it eligible for tax breaks and other government incentives. Ropes & Gray represented Bain in the partial sale of Feixiang three years later for a 53 percent return on the fund’s investment.

The Asia fund withdrew from another deal in 2008 that could have proved politically embarrassing to Mr. Romney. After the Bush administration objected, Bain dropped plans to team up with a Chinese technology giant, Huawei, to buy 3Com, a network equipment maker that supplies software and equipment to the Pentagon and other federal agencies.

The administration said intelligence reports indicated that Huawei, which was founded by a former People’s Liberation Army officer, posed “national security problems,” according to a lawsuit stemming from the deal’s collapse. A House Intelligence Committee report released Monday said Huawei continued to have troubling connections to the Chinese government, something the company denies.

Bain’s interest in China dates to when Mr. Romney ran the firm. During a panel discussion at the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston in February 1998, he told of touring an appliance factory in China where 5,000 employees “were working, working, working, as hard as they could, at rates of roughly 50 cents an hour.”

Not long afterward, a Bain affiliate, Brookside Capital Partners, acquired about 6 percent of Global-Tech Appliances, whose factory in many ways matched Mr. Romney’s description. The next year, Brookside and another Bain-related entity increased their stake to 9 percent, before selling their shares in 2000.

Just before Bain bought shares, a French firm accused Global-Tech of stealing its deep-fat fryer design. In a decision affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2011, the company was found to have willfully violated the French firm’s United States patent, selling the knockoffs even after it was sued.

Mr. Romney also has millions invested in a series of Bain funds that have a controlling stake in Sensata Technologies, a manufacturer of sensors and controls for vehicles, aircraft and electric motors that employs 4,000 workers in China. Since Bain took over the operation in 2006, its investment has quadrupled in value. Bain continues to own $2.6 billion worth of Sensata’s shares.

Two years ago, Sensata bought an operation that made automobile sensors in Freeport, Ill. At the first meeting with the plant’s 170 workers, Sensata managers announced that by the end of 2012 all the equipment and jobs would be relocated, mostly to Jiangsu Province. Workers have staged demonstrations, pleading for Mr. Romney to intervene on their behalf.

Chinese engineers, flown to Freeport for training on the equipment, described their salaries as a pittance compared with Freeport wages. Tom Gaulrapp, who has operated machines at the factory for 33 years, said he fears he will go bankrupt after he loses his job on Nov. 5.

“This goes to show the unbelievable hypocrisy of this man,” he said of Mr. Romney. “He talks about how we need to get tough on China and stop China from taking our jobs, and then he is making money off shipping our jobs there.”

It is often difficult to determine precisely how much Mr. Romney benefits from specific investments by Bain funds, since his money goes into a pool used to buy stakes in companies. In the case of Sensata, however, it is clearer because he reported a charitable donation of $405,000 in Sensata stock that he received as “partnership distributions” in 2010 and 2011, according to his tax returns.

Jiangsu Province, where most of the Freeport jobs are moving, is one of China’s designated “export bases” for auto parts. Asimco, the other auto parts manufacturer in Bain’s portfolio, also has factories in Jiangsu Province and three other regions designated as export bases.

The Chinese government incentives offered to companies in those “bases” set off a complaint from the United States to the World Trade Organization last month. The United States asserted that in 2011, China spent $1 billion on grants, tax preferences, lowered interest rates and other subsidies to increase exports of auto parts in violation of fair trade rules.

Mr. Romney has been critical of these types of Chinese incentives to bolster exports.

The state-controlled Chinese Academy of Sciences has provided free research and development to Asimco, which exports at least 15 percent of its products, primarily to the United States. The authorities also gave the company land to build the factory that replaced the plants in Grand Haven, Mich.

Asimco’s China operations became a point of contention in bankruptcy proceedings that accompanied the closing of the Michigan plants. The bankruptcy trustee said that internal Asimco e-mails showed the company had transferred money to China to qualify for a Chinese tax rebate available only to manufacturers of exported products.

Jack Perkowski, the former longtime chairman of Asimco who now advises Western companies seeking to enter the Chinese market, said Asimco never benefited from export-related subsidies because most of its customers are in China. “I honestly can’t think of anything we could have gotten that was tied to the fact we were exporting,” he said.

But the company is striving for more overseas buyers. Last year Zhang Dejiang, the Chinese vice prime minister in charge of transportation, visited an Asimco assembly line and offered encouragement to workers. According to a statement on the company’s Web site, Mr. Zhang was particularly impressed that “the company’s products can rival their Western counterparts.”

Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Beijing. Amy Qin and Shi Da contributed research from Beijing. 

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McCain Confirms Romney’s Desire for an Indefinite Iraq and Afghanistan Presence

By: Sarah JonesOctober 9th, 2012

In case you were wondering about Mitt Romney’s plans for Afghanistan, since he has been saying that real Americans don’t care about what he would do there, Romney surrogate John McCain confirmed this morning that Romney would keep troops there indefinitely.

Romney also plans to keep troops in Iraq indefinitely, which is beyond bizarre since Iraq is a sovereign nation and they have not indicated that they would even be open to discussing that idea.

TRANSCRIPT

LAUER: But in his speech he said things like we need to be bold and decisive. He said what you said, that we’re leading from behind, but that’s pretty standard material for a speech like this. Did he offer specifics? Did he tell voters why he is going to be a game-changer when it comes to foreign policy?

MCCAIN: I’m confident that he did, because, again, America’s role in the world has been one of retreat and disarray.

LAUER: But can you give me an example?

MCCAIN: Sure, sure, Iraq, Iraq. We should have left a residual force there, and it’s now Al Qaeda is back returning and resurgence is there. In Afghanistan, Mitt Romney would have listened to the advice of our military leaders. Instead, he decided on his own to withdraw early and often, and we are now in a serious situation there.

END TRANSCRIPT.

In his foreign policy speech Monday, Romney attacked President Obama for withdrawing troops from Iraq, saying “America’s ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence. The President tried—and failed—to secure a responsible and gradual drawdown that would have better secured our gains.”

It was, in fact, Former President Bush who signed an agreement with the Iraqi government that we would withdraw our troops by December 31, 2011. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was unwilling to address the agreement when President Obama broached the subject of keeping some of our troops there in order to continue the advise and assist mission, given the power vacuums that predictably presented a vulnerability as we drew down. How would Mitt Romney unilaterally decide to keep troops in Iraq? John McCain knows better, but as is typical with Republicans these days, they will say anything — no matter how false — in oder to get a dig in at this President.

Finally, though, we are filled in on Romney’s plan to have no plan to withdraw from Afghanistan. He said, “But the route to war – and to potential attacks here at home – is a politically timed retreat that abandons the Afghan people to the same extremists who ravaged their country and used it to launch the attacks of 9/11. I will evaluate conditions on the ground and weigh the best advice of our military commanders. And I will affirm that my duty is not to my political prospects, but to the security of the nation.” [Romney Foreign Policy Address, Lexington VA, 10/8/12]

If you can get past Romney’s fear-mongering, what he’s actually saying is that he would cede power to the generals. Not only is that is not what a Commander-in-Chief does, but when you consider that the CIC appoints the generals, this really means whatever the Romney foreign policy team wants, they will get.

Our government is set up so that strategic decision-making is done by civilian political leadership precisely to avoid the sort of scenario Romney is proposing. In the U.S., the generals advise and inform, the CIC makes the ultimate decisions because he/she has access to more information, including complicated diplomatic issues, than the generals. Civilian control of the military is seen by many as necessary for a democracy. Now you know why Republicans are in favor of the gun running the country.

Romney must think that the belligerence with which he delivers non-specifics will come across as strong. This is the man who bumbled his way through a the London Olympics, managing to make a mockery of himself while having to crawl back and apologize repeatedly for stupid and insulting things he said the day before. Belligerence does not a foreign policy make, particularly in this new climate, but it does disguise an agenda for endless war as “strength”.

Ben LaBolt, Obama’s National Press Secretary, issued a statement in response to McCain’s comments, “In his seventh ‘major’ foreign policy speech yesterday, Mitt Romney doubled down on the failed policies of the past that weakened America’s standing in the world. And he’s not backing down – this morning, Romney surrogate John McCain, when pressed for any specifics on what Romney would do as president, reaffirmed his commitment to an indefinite troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama ended the war in Iraq. Now he is bringing our troops home from Afghanistan because we’re doing what we went there to do – decimate al-Qaeda and prevent a return to the safe haven it had before 9/11 – and it’s time to do some nation-building here at home. But Romney would have kept tens of thousands of U.S. troops fighting in Iraq, and has no concrete plan to bring our troops home from Afghanistan.”

The troops I speak with who are currently deployed or just returned from Afghanistan don’t want to stay there indefinitely, and this is just one reason why Romney has previously refused to tell us his plans for Afghanistan. American civilians don’t want an indefinite presence in Afghanistan either.

Romney says he will increase defense spending by 2 trillion dollars, but doesn’t tell us how he will pay for it. Actually, the way he words this is that he would tie military spending to 4 percent of GDP, which translates to 2 trillion dollars over ten years. In case you’re thinking that will go to the troops in the field, think again (note: beware of the deliberately confusing conflation of defense spending with military spending).

On Mitt Romney’s foreign policy team is a former Vice Chairman of Blackwater, Cofer Black. I think we all know where a Romney administration would be spending that 2 trillion. The military isn’t asking for this increase, by the way and according to PolitiFact, “military leaders have testified in support of the president’s spending plan.”

Mitt Romney would leave our troops in Afghanistan indefinitely and would apparently override the Iraqi government in order to leave our troops there. Finally, we get some clarity on Romney’s endless war foreign policy. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Romney’s “foreign policy” is much like his “energy policy” that he let the oil companies write. Romney is ceding his foreign policy vision (if he ever had one – he has flip flopped so consistently that the only thing we are sure of is that he has no guiding principle) to the Blackwater Cheney types.

In other words, it’s all about the money. Romney wants to harvest American taxpayers for more Blackwater-esque no-bid contracts in sovereign nations, against the will of their leaders.

Romney’s foreign policy speech has been widely panned as both non-specific and failing to draw contrast between his policies and the President’s. Underneath his raging vagueness, a scary picture of a Romney presidency is emerging. In matters of foreign policy, Romney is Dick Cheney.

*************

Romney Plans to Stab Conservatives in the Heart by Shifting Left

By: Sarah JonesOctober 9th, 2012

Conservatives were so excited by Mitt Romney’s manic attack performance during the first presidential debate that they missed the fact that Romney changed all of his positions except kill PBS. Indeed, Romney fashioned himself into an Obama-lite during the first debate, abandoning his previous positions in order to appeal to more voters.

Conservatives didn’t seem to mind, which might indicate that they are more on board with attacking Obama than any real ideology. However, that’s a slippery slope for the Republican presidential candidate to navigate, because if conservatives realize what he actually said, they might not appreciate being played by Romney.

Conservatives are going to be played, like it or not, because the Romney camp interpreted their blood lust as tacit approval to move further to the left.

Romney campaign officials told Politico that while their electoral map still looks terrible, “conservatives were so down on the campaign before the debate — and so rapturous during it — that they will give him a lot of maneuvering room to talk in more moderate ways.”

I suspect the Romney campaign has underestimated the Right if they think that the Right was giving them the okay to moderate his positions. It’s more likely that conservatives were distracted by the rapture of Romney attacking Obama and ignored the substance of how he accomplished it.

Just today, Romney, who on the trail promised conservatives he was for the Personhood Amendment that would make even some forms of birth control illegal, told the Des Moines Register that he had no abortion legislation planned. Romney said, “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.” That’s quite a switch from even the Republican Party platform, which seeks to make abortion illegal even when the life of the mother is at risk.

In February of this year, Romney was telling conservatives another story in Toledo Ohio. He said, “I’m in favor of a pro-life policy. The legislation that relates to abortion which is something that is going to have to be approved by the Supreme Court and the key decisions I’ll take as the president will be number one, stopping funding for Planned Parenthood, re-instituting the Mexico City policy which says our funds can’t be used for abortion around the world and appointing justices to the Supreme Court that will follow the Constitution, hopefully reverse Roe v. Wade, and return to the states, the authority for making law with regards to abortion.”

We mentioned this during the debate freakout, but it’s worth repeating. Romney “won” by losing himself and all of his previous positions except for the kill PBS stance. Will conservatives allow him to move so far to the left that he is the Obama lite he presented at the debate? That would suggest that conservatives don’t really disagree with Obama’s policies at all, and don’t really have an ideology other than hating Obama.

Perhaps conservatives are clinging to the fact that while Romney changed his rhetoric, he hasn’t officially changed any of his policies to match the rhetoric. But that’s a lot of faith to put in someone who is best known for flip flopping, and someone whom the base has never trusted fully. It’s not as if Romney has specified any of his plans in detail, so anyone taking him at his constantly evolving word is risking being had.

Conservatives love seeing anyone beat down Obama, even if it’s not politically wise or even a winning strategy. They’ve been so programmed to hate this President that they can’t bear anything but a Palin or Romney attack dog mode from their leader.

As the polls are already showing, Romney’s debate performance didn’t win him approval or likability or trust. It also didn’t win him the image of someone tough enough to be President. What the Right sees as tough, the rest of the nation sees as manic hysteria and/or bullying. As adults know, bullies aren’t really strong; they can dish it out, but they can’t take it. Belligerence doesn’t pass for strength in the middle as it does on the Right.

We’ll have a chance to see how Romney takes it from the public during the town hall debate, a challenging format for Romney who can’t stand to be questioned by anyone, including children.

The Romney etch-a-sketch move to the middle has commenced. We await the moment when the Right realizes they’ve been stabbed in the heart, again. If they don’t care, then they are lending further proof to the suspicion that their four year rager was never about policy or ideas, and certainly wasn’t about taxes or abortion.

***************

Husted Appeals Early Voting to the Supreme Court

By: Adalia Woodbury October 9th

Ohio’s Secretary of State will Appeal last Friday’s Federal Court ruling that reinstated early voting during the last 3 days before the election, in Ohio.

In a statement, Husted didn’t hide his disapproval of a Federal Court ruling, quashing Husted’s effort to suppress the vote.

    This is an unprecedented intrusion by the federal courts into how states run elections and because of its impact on all 50 states as to who and how elections will be run in America we are asking the Supreme Court to step in and allow Ohioans to run Ohio elections.”

    “This ruling not only doesn’t make legal sense, it doesn’t make practical sense. The court is saying that all voters must be treated the same way under Ohio law, but also grants Ohio’s 88 elections boards the authority to establish 88 different sets of rules. That means that one county may close down voting for the final weekend while a neighboring county may remain open. How any court could consider this a remedy to an equal protection problem is stunning.

    “As a swing state, we in Ohio expect to be held to a high standard and level of scrutiny when it comes to elections. However, it is troubling that the federal courts have failed to recognize that there is not another state in the union, which can claim Ohio’s broad menu of voting options and opportunity to vote. In Ohio, ALL voters already have at least 230 hours available to vote in person prior to Election Day, ALL registered voters received an application to vote by mail and ALL voters still have the ability to vote during the 13-hour window on Election Day itself.

Husted’s problem with the ruling has nothing to do with the law and everything to do with political realities and a little arithmetic.

According to a Study of early voting habits in Cuyahoga County, 8% of the electorate voted early and in person. When the numbers are broken down by race, the study found that blacks, representing 29 percent of the vote in Ohio, cast more than 77 percent of the in person early ballots.
Suppressing those votes is more than enough to influence the outcome in the Presidential Election.

The jig was up when Husted sought to decrease early voting hours in Democratic strongholds while maintaining the previous voting hours in districts friendlier to his and Mitt Romney’s politics.

It begs the question, if as Husted claimed in his statement; there are ample voting options in Ohio without early voting as it once was, why was it necessary to maintain those early voting provisions in Republican friendly districts?

After a week of bad press, Husted opted for restricting voting across the state under the pretense that would provide everyone with equal opportunity to vote.

The logic falls flat because reduced voting hours will mean longer lines and more pressure on poll workers. Those pressures will be more profound in larger, read urban districts.

Ironically, one of Husted’s arguments before the Federal Court was that eliminating early voting for the last three days before the election would alleviate pressure on poll workers. Yeah, the court didn’t buy it either.

When defending his directive in court, Husted’s council argued the purpose of it was to extend early voting hours for members of the Military because Military voters face special circumstances.
That’s a reality, which no one would deny. However, by recognizing that the troops face special circumstances, and therefore need special provisions to have equal opportunity to vote, Husted demonstrated a capacity to understand that different segments of the population do have different needs. The Court offered a practical solution: Why not continue with the old system that worked. Voting accessible to everyone, without creating undue pressure on poll workers.

Finally, there is a billboard placed in the heart of the African American Community. “reminding” voters of the legal penalties for voter fraud.

Perhaps it was just a public service announcement conveniently placed “across from a subsidized housing development, a few blocks from three other projects, and down the street from Cuyahoga Community College.”

Frankly, if anyone needed a reminder about the penalties of election fraud, it would be the company that Republicans hired for their voter registration drives. It might be helpful to remind True to Vote as well.

No one disputes that Husted has a legal right to appeal the lower court decision. Again, let’s not pretend that this is about the law, nor is it about states’ rights. The simple truth is Husted only wants voting to be accessible to certain segments of the electorate. Another simple truth lies in the fact that appealing the ruling at this late date will cause confusion for voters, not to mention apply added pressure to poll workers.




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« Reply #2656 on: Oct 10, 2012, 03:12 PM »

Laws is for the Little People - Republican hypocrisy, part 1,213:
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Report: Anti-choice Republican forced mistress to have an abortion
By Arturo Garcia
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 11:52 EDT

A Tea Party Republican congressman who has backed anti-abortion legislation has been revealed to have pressured a mistress to get an abortion of her own.

The Huffington Post reported Wednesday that Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN), a former physician, had an affair with a patient that resulted in him pressuring the unidentified woman to get an abortion in September 2000.

Earlier this year, DesJarlais denounced fellow Republican Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) over Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments. However, DesJarlais has not backed away from his support of the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” co-sponsored by Akin and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the GOP candidate for vice president.

“I have been a consistent supporter of pro-life values,” DesJarlais told The Chattanooga Times Free-Press in August. “This bipartisan bill simply prevents taxpayer dollars from being used to perform abortions. Human life is sacred and taxpayer funding of abortion is counter to the values a great many Tennesseans hold.”

The bill, which passed in the House of Representatives last year but stalled out in the Senate, sought to increase restrictions on government funding for abortions — which already prohibits federal funding from being used for abortions except in cases of rape, incest and the life of the pregnant woman — by limiting eligibility to victims of “forcible rape.” In August, Ryan tried to distance himself from the bill by saying it used “stock language.”

The Post’s report is based on the transcript of the call, which was recorded by DesJarlais. In a statement, DesJarlais did not deny making the call when presented with a copy of the transcript, but dismissed it as partisan gamesmanship.

“Desperate personal attacks do not solve our nation’s problems,” the statement said. “Yet it appears my opponents are choosing to once again engage in the same gutter politics that CBS news called the dirtiest in the nation just 2 years ago.”

Former Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-TN), who lost his reelection bid to DesJarlais in 2010, told the Post his campaign was sent a transcript of the call late in the campaign, but did not use it because Davis wasn’t able to verify it at the time.

However, Davis said DesJarlais’ ex-wife, Susan, later confirmed the information.

“She said he did it himself,” Davis said. “She said the doctor did. She said, ‘He recorded it and let me listen to it.’ She confirmed to me that Scott DesJarlais is the one who actually did the recording, and let her listen to it.”

According to the Post, DesJarlais called the woman as part of a failed attempt to repair his marriage.

“I’ve been going crazy,” “I mean, if Susan could talk to you, she’d tell you that I’ve been psychotic for months over this.”

DesJarlais and the woman subsequently argued over who initiated the affair and where to meet for the abortion procedure.

“If we need to go to Atlanta, or whatever, to get this solved and get it over with so we can get on with our lives, then let’s do it,” he said.

Court records indicated that DesJarlais confessed to having at least four affairs during the marriage. At one point, the couple had “a written agreement” allowing them to see other people. The DesJarlais’ divorce was finalized in 2001.

Raw Story (http://s.tt/1pHvV)
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« Reply #2657 on: Oct 11, 2012, 06:38 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/11/2012 12:42 PM

Dangerous Cargo from Moscow: Syrian Jet Incident Ups Turkish-Russian Tensions

By Raniah Salloum in Beirut, Lebanon

Moscow is denying that weapons were on board the Syrian Air jet forced to land in Ankara on Wednesday. But the incident is likely to increase tensions between Turkey and Syria. As Putin's cancellation of a Monday visit to Istanbul shows, Turkey's relationship with Russia could also be threatened.

The development must have come as a terrifying surprise for the 35 passengers and crew members. Their jet, a scheduled Syrian Air flight, had barely entered into Turkish airspace on a flight from Moscow to Damascus when it suddenly found itself flanked by two Turkish fighter jets. At 5:15 p.m. local time, Turkish officials forced the aircraft to land in Ankara.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu later declared Turkey had "received information this plane was carrying cargo of a nature that could not possibly be in compliance with the rules of civil aviation." It is believed that the plane was carrying a Russian delivery for Bashar Assad's military.

"We are determined to control weapons transfers to a regime that carries out such brutal massacres against civilians," Davutoglu said. "It is unacceptable that such a transfer is made using our airspace."

This may sound like a new version of the Cold War -- with NATO member Turkey on one side and Russian ally Syria on the other. And it can also be certain that Ankara only forced the plane to land after close contact with its Western allies. It is also likely that the information about "non civilian cargo" on board came from American intelligence.

In recent months, Washington has repeatedly asserted itself in order to stop weapons deliveries to the Syrian regime. In June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went public about a Russian delivery of combat helicopters that was being shipped to Damascus.

Officials in Moscow declared at the time that the country was not providing new weapons, but was merely fulfilling previous orders under contracts that had been concluded prior to the insurgency. In the end, the US pressure led the British company that insured the ship to repeal its policy because the cargo violated the European Union embargo on weapons deliveries to Syria. And if it now emerges that the jet forced to land in Ankara was in fact carrying Russian weapons, then it will almost certainly prove to be an embarrassment for Moscow.

Conflicting Reports on Plane's Cargo

It is still uncertain what Turkish special units found in the cargo hold of the Syrian Air jet on Wednesday night. Various Turkish media reported investigators had found some 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of military goods on the aircraft. Turkish news channel NTV reported that "rocket parts" had been found, while CNNTurk claimed "communications devices" were on board that were intended for the Syrian military. Without citing a source, Turkish state television TRT reported on Thursday that the intercepted plane had been carrying military communications equipment, news agency Reuters reported. And Yeni Sefak, a newspaper close to the Turkish government claimed it had been carrying 10 containers that contained radio receivers, antennas and "equipment that is thought to be missile parts."

The Russian news agency Interfax on Thursday morning cited an unnamed source in a Russian arms exporting agency stating that neither weapons nor military equipment had been on board the plane.

On Thursday, the move to force the plane to land drew criticism from both Syria and Russia. Lebanese broadcaster al-Manar quoted Syrian Transportation Minister Mohammad Ibrahim Said as claiming that the decision to force the plane down had been tantamount to "piracy." And the Foreign Ministry in Moscow claimed in a statement that "the lives and safety of the passengers were placed under threat." The Airbus A320 aircraft had been carrying 17 Russian nationals on board.

Meanwhile, media outlets aligned with the regime concentrated on reports that all passengers were safe after the plane was allowed to continue its flight to Damascus on Wednesday night. On Wednesday, night, Turkish officials sought to de-escalate the situation. Following border skirmishes last week, Turkish-Syrian relations are tenser than ever before during Bashar Assad's 12 years of rule.

In order to prevent provoking a Syrian reaction that could threaten to escalate into mutual reprisals, Ankara has ordered Turkish aircraft to avoid Syrian airspace. A correspondent with the news agency Reuters even observed a Turkish aircraft as it swiftly turned just before reaching the Syrian border.

Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu emphasized he didn't believe the incident would have any influence on Turkish-Russian relations. But that appeared uncertain on Thursday after Russian President Vladimir Putin cancelled a trip to Turkey that had been planned for Monday. Officially, Putin's staff said he had a scheduling conflict that would prevent him from meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, the Russian daily Vedomosti quoted an unnamed Kremlin source claiming that Putin did not want to appear to be taking sides in the escalating conflict between Damascus and Ankara.

Efforts to Halt Weapons Deliveries to Syria

The flow of weapons and military equipment to the regime in Damascus has been a major concern for the international community for months now -- a worry that is shared as much by Ankara as it is by Washington. US politicians have applied pressure on Syria's neighbor Iraq to prevent possible weapons deliveries to Assad. In September, the US provided officials in Baghdad with a list of 117 Iranian civil aircraft that it believes are used almost daily to fly weapons and military forces from Tehran to Damascus. Washington also claims that Iranian trucks are being used to transport weapons to Damascus via Iraq. Iran is one of Syria's closest allies, but Tehran is also an ally of Russia.

Washington's efforts to work together with Baghdad on the issue don't seem to be functioning nearly as well as those with Turkey. Although US troops continued to be stationed in Iraq until the end of 2011, Baghdad tends to be more on the side of Assad and the Russians in the Syria conflict. On Oct. 9, Moscow announced that Baghdad would buy more than $4.2 billion worth of Russian weapons under contracts signed in recent months.

There have also been instances of Iraq cooperating with the Americans. Responding to US pressure, Baghdad last week demanded that an Iran Air flight traveling through Iraqi airspace land for inspection. Officials later declared that nothing illegal had been found on board the aircraft.

There are frequent allegations circulating in Syria that Assad uses Syria Air in order to deliver weapons from Damascus to hard-fought Aleppo because ground routes have become too unsafe for the regime. It has been impossible, however, to confirm such reports.

In its fight against the insurgents, the Syrian military has had to rely heavily on air power. Indeed, the United Nations has frequently condemned the regime for deliberately targeting civilians in air strikes. The Syrian army is also better equipped than the insurgents, who have fewer and very often lighter weapons.

Through its allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, the US has provided support and weapons deliveries to the rebels -- primarily offering Kalashnikovs and munitions. But a recent New York Times report noted that Washington has shied away from providing the rebels with anti-aircraft missiles out of concern they might fall into the wrong hands.

So far, an estimated 30,000 people have been killed during the 18-month uprising in Syria, according to Reuters.
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« Reply #2658 on: Oct 11, 2012, 06:44 AM »

October 10, 2012

Russia Won’t Renew Pact on Weapons With U.S.

By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN

MOSCOW — The Russian government said Wednesday that it would not renew a hugely successful 20-year partnership with the United States to safeguard and dismantle nuclear and chemical weapons in the former Soviet Union when the program expires next spring, a potentially grave setback in the already fraying relationship between the former cold war enemies.

The Kremlin’s refusal to renew the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program would put an end to a multibillion-dollar effort, financed largely by American taxpayers, that is widely credited with removing all nuclear weapons from the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus; deactivating more than 7,600 strategic nuclear warheads; and eliminating huge stockpiles of nuclear missiles and chemical weapons, as well as launchers and other equipment and military sites that supported unconventional weapons.

“The American side knows that we would not want a new extension,” a deputy foreign minister, Sergey Ryabkov, told the news agency Interfax. “This is not news.”

In a statement on its Web site, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that the Obama administration had proposed renewing the arrangement but that Washington was well aware of Russia’s opposition. “American partners know that their proposal is not consistent with our ideas about what forms and on what basis further cooperation should be built,” the statement said.

Russian officials, meanwhile, noted that their country’s financial situation is far improved from the days after the collapse of the Soviet Union, raising the possibility that Russia would be willing to continue initiatives started under the Nunn-Lugar agreement, but with its own financing and supervision. The Foreign Ministry, in its statement, noted that Russia has increased its budget allocation “in the field of disarmament.”

American officials, including one of the original architects of the program, Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, have said they still have hope of reaching some form of new agreement with Russia.

But the prospects seem bleak.

President Vladimir V. Putin, while expressing a willingness to cooperate on nonproliferation issues, has said that a more pressing priority is to address Russia’s opposition to United States plans for a missile defense system based in Europe. President Obama has shown little willingness to make any concessions, other than to offer repeated reassurance that the system is not intended for use against Russia. And the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, seems even less likely to compromise on the missile defense issue.

The plan to end the Nunn-Lugar program appears to be the latest step by the Russian government in an expanding effort to curtail American-led initiatives, and especially the influence of American money, in various spheres of Russian public policy.

Last month, the Kremlin directed the United States Agency for International Development to halt all of its operations in Russia, which similarly entailed two decades of work, but in support of nonprofit groups like human rights advocates and civil society and public health programs.

The Russian government had made no secret of its unhappiness with some programs financed by the Agency for International Development, like Golos, the country’s only independent election-monitoring group, which helped expose fraud in disputed parliamentary voting last December.

Mr. Lugar, who is leaving the Senate at the end of this year, visited Moscow in August to begin pressing for renewal of the program and found Russian officials resistant. “The Russian government indicated a desire to make changes to the Nunn-Lugar Umbrella Agreement as opposed to simply extending it,” he said Wednesday. “At no time did officials indicate that, at this stage of negotiation, they were intent on ending it, only amending it.”

But Mr. Lugar, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, lost a primary election this year in his bid for a seventh term, and he has acknowledged that there are few lawmakers who seem willing to carry on his efforts, which began in partnership with Senator Sam Nunn, Democrat of Georgia.

During his August visit to Moscow, Mr. Lugar said he hoped that the United States and Russia could use their past successes as a basis for expanding their efforts to reduce the threat of unconventional weapons in other countries. He raised the idea of trying to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria.

Russian officials, however, seem increasingly unwilling to let the United States set the agenda in global diplomacy — blocking demands, for example, for more aggressive intervention in Syria.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 11, 2012

An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of a deputy foreign minister. His name is Sergey Ryabkov, not Ruabkov.

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« Reply #2659 on: Oct 11, 2012, 06:47 AM »

French Islamic group ‘biggest terror threat since 90s’

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 11, 2012 7:11 EDT

 A French prosecutor said Thursday he would pursue charges of attempted murder and terrorism against seven of the 12 suspected Islamist extremists arrested at the weekend.

Francois Molins, the Paris prosecutor, said the seven had been part of an “active terrorist cell” that posed the biggest threat of its kind that France has faced since the mid-nineties, when the Algerian-based GIA was dismantled.

The attempted murder charges relate to a grenade attack on a Jewish grocery store in the Paris suburbs last month.

The attack left one person slightly injured but Molins said the Yugoslav-made grenade had been capable of seriously injuring anyone within a ten-metre radius, indicating the consequences could easily have been much worse.

The prosecutor added that the profile of the suspects detained in custody was “much more dangerous than we initially assumed” and said the investigation had uncovered evidence they were planning to go on ‘jihad’ in Syria and other countries.

The grenade attack on a kosher grocery in Sarcelles, just outside Paris, triggered an investigation which led to Saturday’s arrests.

One alleged leading member of the group, 33-year-old Jeremie Louis-Sidney, was shot dead after he opened fire on officers seeking to arrest him in a dawn raid at his home in Strasbourg.

Police have since discovered weapons and significant amounts of bomb-making equipment at the homes of some of the other men detained under anti-terrorism legislation.

Five of the 12 initially detained were released without charge on Thursday. The other seven are all French citizens, aged between 19 and 25, Molins said.
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« Reply #2660 on: Oct 11, 2012, 06:48 AM »

October 11, 2012

Malaysian Court Rejects Challenge to Cross-Dressing Ban

By LIZ GOOCH
IHT

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A Malaysian court dismissed on Thursday an application to review a state Islamic law that bars Muslim men from dressing as women, prompting concern that prosecutions of transgender people in the Muslim-majority country could increase.

In Malaysia, Muslim men can be fined and jailed for dressing or posing as women. Penalties differ in individual states, but in Negri Sembilan, where the case was heard, convicted offenders may be sentenced to up to six months in prison, fined as much as $325 or both.

The case, which was brought by four Muslims who were born male but act and dress as women, marked the first time anyone had sought to challenge the law in a secular court. While Malaysia’s secular laws apply to all citizens, only Muslims are subject to Islamic, or Shariah, law.

The Negri Sembilan High Court ruled that because the litigants are Muslim and were born male, they must adhere to the law because it is part of Islamic teaching, said Aston Paiva, a lawyer representing them.

“In my view, it sets a very dangerous precedent because it’s effectively saying that state-enacted Islamic law overrides fundamental liberties. She has basically said that even if it conflicts with freedom of expression, the Islamic laws override the Constitution,” Mr. Paiva said, referring to the judge. He said the ruling could lead to stricter enforcement of the law.

The judge also said that a Malaysian nongovernmental organization that supports the transgender community, the PT Foundation, should work with the religious authorities to ensure that transgender people receive counseling, Mr. Paiva said.

The four litigants, all of whom have been arrested for dressing as women, had argued that the law violates Malaysia’s constitution, which bans discrimination based on gender and protects freedom of expression. They also said the law should not apply to them because they have been diagnosed with gender identity disorder.

While the four litigants dress as women, use hormones and go by feminine names, their official identification cards declare them to be male and carry their male names. They want to legally change their names and their officially recognized gender because they say transgender people face considerable discrimination in Malaysia, where homosexual acts are banned not only for Muslims but for the general population, punishable by caning and up to 20 years’ imprisonment.

“I’m disappointed because it basically deprives me of my freedom and deprives me of the right for me to be myself,” one of the litigants, whose legal name is Mohammad Juzaili Bin Mohammad Khamis, said of the verdict.

“Now that it’s out and the court decision is not in our favor, I’m concerned that more arrests, more harassment will happen again and again,” added the 25-year-old, who has been fined 1,000 ringgit on three separate occasions for dressing as a woman. She said she planned to appeal the decision and that the other litigants were considering whether to do so.

Thilaga Sulathireh, a researcher and advocate for transgender rights who attended the hearing, said of the verdict, “It basically tells everyone that Muslims have no rights. It’s basically governing how one chooses to dress and how one chooses to express one’s self. It’s a very shocking judgment.”
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« Reply #2661 on: Oct 11, 2012, 06:49 AM »

October 10, 2012

Long Reliant on China, Myanmar Now Turns to Japan

By THOMAS FULLER
IHT

YANGON, MYANMAR — On a street in central Yangon the final moments of Kenji Nagai’s life were captured in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo, an image that exemplified the brutality of military rule in Myanmar.

Mr. Nagai, a Japanese journalist, was shot five years ago during a crackdown on protesters by security forces, and his death was a low point in relations between Myanmar and Japan.

Now, as Myanmar seeks to shed its authoritarian past, a much different picture is emerging. Japan is rapidly ramping up its presence in the country with a heavyweight deployment of government assistance and corporate heft reminiscent of the large investments at the height of Japan’s global economic power in the 1980s.

One block away from the spot where Mr. Nagai was killed, on the fourth floor of City Hall, two dozen Japanese engineers are drawing up a master plan to remake the roads, telephone and Internet networks, water supply and sewage systems of Yangon, the country’s long-neglected commercial capital.

With the attention to detail they are famous for, Japanese engineers are measuring traffic patterns in Yangon, inspecting 70-year-old water pipes and poring over maps and blueprints.

“Myanmar is saying, ‘Welcome! Please help us,”’ said Ichiro Maruyama, the deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy in Yangon.

President Thein Sein, who traveled to Tokyo earlier this year to plead for help, is outsourcing crucial parts of his drive to redevelop the country to the Japanese. In addition to the makeover for Yangon, a Japanese consortium has been tasked with building a large industrial zone and satellite city on Yangon’s outskirts. The totality of Japanese assistance has stunned those who watch the country closely.

“I’ve been somewhat astonished by the extent of the Japanese involvement and alacrity with which they’ve moved,” said Sean Turnell, an expert on Myanmar’s economy at Macquarie University in Sydney.

By choosing Japan for these crucial projects, Myanmar is diversifying away from China, its largest foreign investor in recent years.

Myanmar has become a sort of strategic battleground between Asia’s two economic titans, China and Japan, Mr. Turnell said.

“This is a competition for pre-eminence and influence in Asia,” he said.

China and Japan have diverging interests in the country. Japan is eager to tap into Myanmar’s cheap labor force and extend its massive network of factories spanning Thailand and Indochina. China is more focused on extracting Myanmar’s natural resources like natural gas, gems, timber and rubber as well as electricity from hydroelectric dams.

The impression that China is robbing the country of these resources has led to an anti-China backlash, including recent protests against a copper mine near the central city of Monywa and the suspension last year of the Myitsone hydroelectric dam.

John Pang, the chief executive of CARI, a research organization based in Malaysia, says the Myanmar government’s pivot toward Japan “is not so much an attraction to Japan as much as a revulsion against the Chinese.”

“It’s a game the Chinese gave away,” he said.

The Japanese, Mr. Pang said, “come across as nonthreatening” and have managed to build up trust with Myanmar’s leaders.

Many other governments have sought to upgrade relations and business contacts with Myanmar — South Korean and Singaporean companies are very active in the country — but Japan has been far more comprehensive in its approach.

Japan’s overall strategy is to deploy the full force of what used to be called Japan Inc. Some of the country’s largest conglomerates — Mitsubishi, Marubeni and Sumitomo — are working in cooperation with the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

“We haven’t had any project like this in at least 20 years,” said Masahiko Tanaka, the chief representative of Japan’s International Cooperation Agency, which will provide financing for the projects.

The Japanese government says it is willing to lend Myanmar money for the projects on terms that are near-giveaways: loans with 0.01 percent interest payable over 50 years and with no payments due for the first 10 years.

While the cheap money is no doubt attractive to the cash-strapped nation, Mr. Thein Sein appears to be counting on something else: help in winning the next election, scheduled for 2015.

“They are requesting that the project be finished before 2015,” said Mr. Maruyama, the Japanese deputy chief of mission, referring to the industrial zone, which is called Thilawa and which will also include banks, schools, hospitals and other amenities of a city built from scratch. He jokingly calls the timetable “mission impossible.”

Yohei Sasakawa, the chairman of the Nippon Foundation, a Japanese charity that focuses its assistance on areas where impoverished ethnic minorities live, says the government is very aware that the population will want to see a “democracy dividend” — tangible benefits from the transition away from military rule.

“Every single person in the country will want the fruits of democratization,” Mr. Sasakawa said.

Mr. Thein Sein has requested that the Nippon Foundation give priority to projects that can be completed quickly, like the construction of primary schools in remote areas, Mr. Sasakawa said.

Japan’s plans for the makeover of Yangon stretch the meaning of the word ambitious. Large parts of the city’s infrastructure were built during the British colonial days, which ended in 1948. Train cars on British-built tracks ride on rotting railway ties. Yangon sidewalks are scarred by deep and treacherous crevices. A dilapidated sewage system covers only the central area, and pipes meant to deliver clean water are a Swiss cheese of leaks.

“Leakage control is an urgent problem,” said Masaru Matsuoka, one of the engineers sent to fix the water system. In his native city of Fukuoka, in southern Japan, 2.6 percent of tap water leaks from the system. In Yangon, the figure is more than 40 percent. Equipment has been dispatched from Japan that will help pinpoint leaks underground, Mr. Matsuoka said.

Much of Yangon’s infrastructure is held together with Band-Aid fixes. At a reservoir on the edge of the city, workers have jury-rigged strips of bamboo as a filtration system to prevent fish, foliage and trash from entering the pumping station. (Japanese engineers working on the project recommend against drinking the city’s tap water.)

The Japanese government is also studying plans for mass transit systems, the rehabilitation of four power plants that provide electricity to Yangon, the construction of a second bridge over the Bago River and the addition of six berths to the port near Yangon that will serve the Thilawa project.

The Japanese government says it will have a better idea about the cost of the projects once feasibility studies are completed at the end of the year. But it is sure the price tag will be in the billions of dollars. It has already reached a deal that would forgive or reschedule Myanmar’s outstanding debt to Japan.

While Japan’s interest in Myanmar is partly geostrategic, for some older Japanese the re-engagement by Japan also cements a longstanding — and checkered — relationship between the two countries. Aung San, the country’s independence hero (and father of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now leader of the opposition in Parliament), trained in Japan before leading efforts to oust the British from the country.

By helping main figures of the Burmese independence movement, the Japanese see themselves as the having been “midwives” of Burmese independence from the British, according to Mr. Turnell.

The subsequent Japanese occupation of Burma during World War II was brutal. But the two nations developed a kind of kinship of former foes, something akin to the United States and Vietnam today.

The sentimentality that many Japanese have toward Myanmar may be in part because of a popular 1956 film, “The Burmese Harp,” in which a Japanese soldier dons the robes of a Buddhist monk and remains behind after the war.

For Mr. Sasakawa of the Nippon Foundation, re-engaging with Myanmar is personal. He remembers eating rice shipped from Burma in the lean years after the war in Japan. “We are really late in repaying our obligation,” he said. “We are passionately looking forward to paying back the kindness of Myanmar.”
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« Reply #2662 on: Oct 11, 2012, 06:54 AM »


France sets marriage equality draft law date

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 15:43 EDT

France on Wednesday named October 31 as the date when a draft law authorising gay marriage will be approved by government ministers, amid mounting opposition to the proposed legislation.

More than 1,200 French mayors or deputy mayors have signed a petition opposing the government’s plans, with many of them warning they will not preside over same-sex ceremonies.

But, in an interview with AFP, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault insisted there would be no backtracking on a manifesto promise by President Francois Hollande which has also run into strong opposition from the Catholic church.

The text to be presented to Hollande’s cabinet will redefine marriage to stipulate that it is “contracted between two persons of different sex or of the same sex,” Ayrault said.

The draft legislation will include provision for married gay couples to adopt children but the right will not be immediately extended to unmarried homosexuals, he added.

That question and the issue of gay couples’ access to medically assisted conception will be addressed in secondary legislation at a later date.

“After a very broad consultation process that, of course, involved religious leaders, I’ve made up my mind,” Ayrault said. “This is about ensuring fairness and equality that reflects the evolution of our society.”

Six bishops in Normandy called for further debate on the legislation.

“We believe that such a decision, which would represent a turning point for civilisation, cannot rest on the principle of equality and non-discrimination alone,” they said in a statement.

Xavier Lemoine, a mayor who has said he will not allow gay weddings to take place in his town hall in the Paris suburb of Montfermeil, said the proposed legislation would be a disaster for society.

“I can refuse to apply the law if the law is tyrannical,” he said. “Above all else, I have to respect my conscience.”

The mayors’ petition against gay marriage is being orchestrated by Jacques Bompard, mayor of the southern French town of Orange and a member of the far-right National Front.

The 1,200 signatures represent less than one percent of the total number of mayors and deputy mayors in France.

Opinion polls suggest up to two thirds of French voters back the right of homosexuals to marry but they are evenly split on allowing them to adopt.

The further one goes from Paris, the stronger the opposition. A group of mayors on the Mediterranean island of Corsica have vowed they will refuse to carry out gay marriages and the reform is particularly controversial in France’s Caribbean and Pacific territories.

Hollande has promised that the legislation will be on the statute books by mid-2013 and there is sufficient cross party support to ensure the government will be able to push it through on schedule.
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« Reply #2663 on: Oct 11, 2012, 06:57 AM »


Archaeologists claim to find spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 15:46 EDT

Archaeologists said Wednesday they believe they have found the exact spot in Rome where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death on March 15, 44 BC.

The stabbing of the dictator by Roman senators was recorded by ancient historians and dramatised by William Shakespeare who gave Caesar the last words: “Et tu Brute? Then fall, Caesar.”

Now, a team from the Spanish National Research Council say they have unearthed evidence that, they believe, reveals precisely where the attack took place.

They say they have found a concrete structure, three metres (10 feet) wide and two metres (nearly seven feet) high, that was erected by his adoptive son and successor, Augustus.

After taking power himself, Augustus ordered the structure be placed exactly over the place where the attack took place so as to condemn the slaying of his father, the scientists said.

“This finding confirms that the general was stabbed right at the bottom of the Curia of Pompey while he was presiding, sitting on a chair, over a meeting of the Senate,” the Spanish research council said in a statement.

The Curia of Pompey was a closed space used sometimes for senate meetings at the time. The building’s remains are in the Torre Argentina archaeological site in the centre of Rome.

What the archaelogists found was not the spot where Caesar died but the point where he must have been stabbed and fell, Spanish council researcher Antonio Monterroso told AFP.

“We know this because there is a structure that seals the place where Caesar must have been seated presiding over the senate session where he was stabbed,” he said.

“There is a structure from the later period of his successor, the period of Augustus, placed where Caesar must have sat, and that is how we know.”

A comparison of the archaeological remains and the ancient texts led the researchers to their conclusion, said Monterroso, a member of the Institute of History of the Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences.

It was impossible to know if Caesar died in the same place, however, the researcher said.

“From there the body was taken to the Roman Forum for his veneration and then it was cremated,” Monterroso said.

“We don’t know if he died in that instant or if he died hours later.”

He agreed that the finding was open to dispute.

“It is not indisputable. All archaeological science is open to dispute, it should be open to dispute, it should be open to argument, it should be open to debate and open to criticism, of course.”

The three-year archaeological project, which began last year, is supported by the Rome City Council, Spanish government financing and the Spanish research council’s Spanish School of History and Archaeology in Rome.

The discovery in the centre of Rome was impressive, Monterroso said. “Thousands of people today take the bus and the tram right next to the place where Julius Caesar was stabbed 2,056 years ago.”

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« Reply #2664 on: Oct 11, 2012, 06:59 AM »


Fossil reveals complex brains evolved earlier than previously thought

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 15:51 EDT

A 520-million-year-old, three-inch (7.6-centimetre) fossil has yielded evidence that complex brains evolved much earlier than previously thought, scientists said Wednesday.

The preserved external skeleton of Fuxianhuia protensa, an extinct type of arthropod, is the earliest known fossil to show a complex brain, according to a study published in the journal Nature.

“No one expected such an advanced brain would have evolved so early in the history of multicellular animals,” co-author Nicholas Strausfeld, a neurobiologist at the University of Arizona, said in a statement.

The fossil was deposited in mudstone during the Cambrian period in what is today China’s southwestern Yunnan Province.

It was a member of the family of arthropods, creatures without backbones which today include insects, spiders and crustaceans.

The researchers found two eyes on stalks which contained traces of a substance they interpreted to be nerve tissue — optic nerves connected to a three-segment brain.

“This fossil provides the most convincing, and certainly the oldest, description of nervous-system tissue in a fossil anthropod,” Graham Budd of Sweden’s Uppsala University Earth Sciences Department wrote in a comment on the study.

He pointed out that soft tissue like brain matter is much less likely to be preserved in the fossil record than bone and shell as it decayed much more easily.

The team also claimed that their findings settled a long-standing scientific argument about the evolution of insects.

They said their research ruled out branchiopods, shellfish with much simpler brains, as direct ancestors of insects — lumping today’s bugs instead with another arthropod line that includes crabs and shrimp.

“In principle, Fuxianhuia’s is a very modern brain in an ancient animal,” added Strausfeld.

“It is remarkable how constant the ground pattern of the nervous system has remained for probably more than 550 million years.”


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« Reply #2665 on: Oct 11, 2012, 07:12 AM »

In the USA....

October 10, 2012

This Election, a Stark Choice in Health Care

By ABBY GOODNOUGH and ROBERT PEAR
NYT

Joyce Beck, who runs a small hospital and network of medical clinics in rural Nebraska, is reluctant to plan for the future until voters decide between President Obama and Mitt Romney. The candidates’ sharply divergent proposals for Medicare, Medicaid and coverage of the uninsured have created too much uncertainty, she explained.

“We are all on hold, waiting to see what the election brings,” said Ms. Beck, chief executive of Thayer County Health Services in Hebron, Neb.

When Americans go to the polls next month, they will cast a vote not just for president but for one of two profoundly different visions for the future of the country’s health care system. With an Obama victory on Nov. 6, the president’s signature health care law — including the contentious requirement that most Americans obtain health insurance or pay a tax penalty — will almost certainly come into full force, becoming the largest expansion of the safety net since President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed through his Great Society programs almost half a century ago.

If Mr. Romney wins and Republicans capture the Senate, much of the law could be repealed — or its financing cut back — and the president’s goal of achieving near-universal coverage could take a back seat to Mr. Romney’s top priority, controlling medical costs.

Given the starkness of the choice, historians and policy makers believe this election could be the most significant referendum on a piece of social legislation since 1936, when the Republican Alf M. Landon ran against Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal programs. (Nearly eight decades have passed, but the debate sounds strikingly familiar: Landon described the Social Security Act, passed in 1935, as “the largest tax bill in history” and called for its repeal.)

“It is very rare for a political party to pass a social program of this magnitude and then to face the possibility of a rollback or repeal in a presidential election,” said James A. Morone, a professor of political science at Brown University who has studied the history of health policy.

For Medicare and Medicaid, the government health programs for older Americans, low-income people and the disabled, the candidates have sharply different visions as well. Mr. Romney’s proposals call for fundamental changes in the structure of the programs, placing more emphasis on private-sector solutions and much less on government regulation.

Mr. Obama would expand Medicaid to cover millions more people; Mr. Romney would effectively shrink it, giving each state a fixed amount of federal money to cover its disadvantaged population with more control over eligibility and benefits. Mr. Romney would eventually give each Medicare beneficiary a fixed amount of federal money to pay premiums for either the traditional Medicare program or private insurance. Mr. Obama would preserve the structure of Medicare but try to rein in costs, in part by trimming payments to health care providers.

Passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 was, to many, Mr. Obama’s most significant legislative accomplishment. But the law proved so divisive that undoing it has become a central rallying cry of Republicans seeking to retake the White House.

Julian E. Zelizer, a history and public affairs professor at Princeton, said that Mr. Obama “has not embraced his own record with as much enthusiasm, passion and confidence” as either Roosevelt or Johnson. But the president has, in recent weeks, responded more aggressively to the critics. He has even embraced the derisive term “Obamacare,” saying: “I do care. That’s why we passed the bill.”

Armed with data suggesting that the law is popular with crucial groups of voters — including young people, women and Hispanics — Mr. Obama plans to run more television commercials and distribute fliers taking credit for popular provisions of the 2010 health law and asserting that Mr. Romney would take away Medicare’s “guaranteed benefits.”

As seen in last week’s presidential debate, the health care discussion has become a dizzying flurry of numbers, bold claims and counterclaims. But the outlines of what might happen under a Romney administration or a second Obama administration go something like this:

If Romney Wins

Even though he helped develop the landmark 2006 law that required most Massachusetts residents to have health insurance — a model for the Obama law — Mr. Romney has said repeatedly that he believes that requiring Americans to buy health insurance as national policy is the wrong approach. The focus should not be on increasing the number of insured Americans, his advisers say, so much as on controlling health costs by fixing the dysfunctional insurance market.

Mr. Romney has been less specific about what he will put in place if the law is repealed. But most of his ideas are aimed at bolstering market forces. One of the biggest problems, he says, is that people who get health insurance through their employers receive a tax break — the value of employer contributions to their premiums is not counted as income — while people who buy coverage in the individual insurance market generally get none. Mr. Romney says he would level the playing field by creating tax breaks for people who buy insurance on their own — a measure that might encourage even those with the option of employer-sponsored coverage to buy their own plans instead.

“As a result,” Mr. Romney said in a summary of his health care proposals in The New England Journal of Medicine, “they will be price-sensitive, quality-conscious, and able to seek out the features they want.”

Mr. Romney believes that if more people buy coverage on their own, insurers will compete harder for their business, thus presumably lowering costs. And if insurance is separated from employment, the Romney campaign says, people will be able to keep their coverage if they lose or change jobs.

Paul Fronstin, an economist at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a nonpartisan organization, said the proposal would work only if Mr. Romney made additional efforts to bring down the cost of health care. In the past, he said, advocates of such proposals typically offered tax credits ranging from about $1,500 to $2,500 a year for an individual — not necessarily enough to make coverage affordable.

“Will other things bring down premiums to make those tax credits more meaningful?” Mr. Fronstin asked. “That’s an open question.”

The new health care law prohibits insurers from turning people away or charging them more because they are sick, and Mr. Romney says he will guarantee access to insurance for people with pre-existing conditions. But his guarantee would extend only to people who have maintained coverage without a significant gap. That means millions could still be rejected.

Mr. Romney says many of them could get coverage through health plans known as high-risk pools. Many states have such pools, but the coverage they offer can be prohibitively expensive.

If Obama Wins

If Mr. Obama is re-elected, he would step up efforts to carry out the health care law. Given the controversy over the law and the logistical challenge of setting up state insurance “exchanges” where people can shop for coverage, the transition will probably be rocky. But many doctors, hospitals and insurance companies are determined to make it work.

On Jan. 1, 2014, the requirement that most Americans have medical coverage takes effect. Private health plans will start enrolling people in October 2013. The result, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is that 30 million uninsured people will eventually gain coverage. To help them afford it, the federal government would subsidize private insurance premiums for people with incomes up to four times the federal poverty level ($92,200 for a family of four). And it would expand Medicaid to cover more poor people, including many adults without children.

Mr. Obama and Democrats in Congress have beaten back efforts to change the law before its major provisions take effect. But after the election, Congress will be under intense pressure to rein in deficits and debt, and lawmakers will focus anew on the costs of Medicare, Medicaid and the new health care law, which together could account for one-third of all federal spending in 2022.

Paul B. Ginsburg, president of the nonpartisan Center for Studying Health System Change, said that a willingness to compromise might help Mr. Obama persuade Republicans to accept the health care law if he wins a second term. For example, Mr. Ginsburg said, the president and Congressional Democrats might agree to delay the biggest, most expensive parts of the law for a year, giving the administration and states more time to prepare and saving a substantial amount of money. He also suggested that to help with deficit reduction, Mr. Obama and Congress might reduce the size of the federal subsidies meant to help middle-income people buy insurance.

In the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama often told voters that he would lower premiums by $2,500 a year per family “by the end of my first term as president.” It has not happened, though the White House says the law has slowed the growth of premiums, in part by establishing new procedures to review proposed rate increases.

Some provisions of the law may tend to increase premiums in 2014. Insurers and health policy experts say young adults could face higher premiums because of a provision that limits how much rates can vary based on a person’s age.

Whether Mr. Obama’s law will slow the overall growth of health care costs remains to be seen. Marc Goldwein, senior policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan group, said a few provisions — such as a new tax on high-priced health insurance plans, to take effect in 2018 — could help rein in costs.

In the meantime, people like Sarah L. Moseley of Birmingham, Ala., are simply hoping that the next president and Congress will guarantee coverage at more affordable rates. Ms. Moseley, who has ovarian cancer, said she had been denied commercial insurance and was paying more than $600 a month for limited coverage in the state’s high-risk pool.

“I don’t have much longer to live,” she said.

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U.S. economy grew ‘modestly’ in September: Fed

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 15:42 EDT

The US economy grew “modestly” in September despite weak momentum in consumer spending, a Federal Reserve report published Wednesday showed.

In its report known as the Beige Book, based on anecdotal information, the Fed said it was told “that economic activity generally expanded modestly since the last report” six weeks ago.

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Appeals court reinstates Montana’s campaign finance limits

By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 16:03 EDT

Less than a day after a lower court struck down a Montana state law that places a cap on campaign contributions by groups and individuals, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals intervened, restoring the state laws for the time being.

Montana is ground zero for the nation’s legal battle over “Citizens United,” a controversial Supreme Court decision that classifies campaign contributions as free speech and lets anonymous donors spend unlimited money trying to influence U.S. elections. In Montana, the ruling conflicted with numerous state laws, which conservatives have been picking off one by one ever since.

The most recent to fall was Montana’s cap on total campaign contributions, struck down a week ago by U.S. District Judge Charles Lovell. That 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, put that decision on hold Tuesday night, asking the judge for more information on his reasoning while they consider an appeal.

Since the passage of “Citizens United,” Montana Democrats have found themselves at the forefront of a push to amend state constitutions — and eventually the U.S. constitution — to limit or completely prohibit corporate spending on elections. Nationally, Democrats in Congress and President Barack Obama , which would require campaign advertising to identify who purchased it. However, a unified Republican front in the Senate, along with several dozen House Democrats who crossed over, ensured that it never passed.

“The United States Supreme Court has just told the American people that the facts don’t matter when it comes to protecting Montana and the country from corruption of corporate money in our democracy,” Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D) said in June, after the Supreme Court cited “Citizens United” in striking down the state’s corrupt practices law. “The United States Supreme Court blocked our law because they said corporations are people — I’ll believe that when Texas executes one.”

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October 10, 2012

Federal Court Blocks Voter ID Law in South Carolina, but Only for Now

By CHARLIE SAVAGE

WASHINGTON — A federal court on Wednesday blocked South Carolina from enforcing its new voter photo ID law in next month’s election, saying that there was not enough time to educate voters and officials about it. The ruling was the latest in a string of judicial interventions blunting a wave of Republican-led efforts to impose new restrictions on voting for the Nov. 6 election.

But the court also ruled that South Carolina might put the law into effect in 2013. That permission, however, was contingent on a promise by state election officials to use an “extremely broad interpretation” of a provision that will make exceptions for voters who lack photo ID cards, allowing them to cast ballots as long as they give a reason for not having obtained one.

The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia portrayed that interpretation, offered by officials at a trial this summer, as crucial to its ruling that the law could go into effect next year. The judges said that if South Carolina later wanted to interpret the law more strictly, it would first have to seek federal permission under the Voting Rights Act.

“At first blush, one might have thought South Carolina had enacted a very strict photo ID law,” wrote Judge Brett Kavanaugh. “Much of the initial rhetoric surrounding the law suggested as much. But that rhetoric was based on a misunderstanding of how the law would work.” The law, as construed by South Carolina officials, “does not have the effects that some expected and some feared,” the judge wrote.

The Justice Department blocked South Carolina’s law in December, shortly after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. gave a speech vowing to take an aggressive stance in reviewing new laws that civil rights advocates say will dampen minority participation in elections. The state then filed a lawsuit asking the judges to allow it to enforce the measure.

There is no evidence of significant levels of voter impersonation fraud. Supporters of photo ID laws, mostly Republicans, say such fraud is rampant but undetected. Critics say the laws are a veiled effort to suppress turnout among legitimate voters who lack driver’s licenses and tend to support Democrats, among them students and poor and disabled people.

Because South Carolina is heavily Republican, the impact of the ruling on national politics is likely to be more limited than in similar disputes elsewhere, including decisions by state courts in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to block new voter restrictions for the coming election. (In August, a different federal panel struck down a voter ID law enacted by Texas.)

Under a 1988 law, South Carolina voters could cast ballots by showing voter registration cards that did not include photographs. In 2011, the State Legislature enacted a new law requiring voters to show photo ID cards unless they faced a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining one.

Under the Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions with a history of discrimination, like South Carolina, must receive federal permission before changing election rules to ensure that the modifications will not disproportionately suppress minority turnout. About 4 percent of white voters in South Carolina lack a photo ID card, as compared with 6 to 8 percent of African-American voters.

The judges, in approving the South Carolina law starting next year, emphasized the sweeping testimony offered by South Carolina officials about the “reasonable impediment” exception. Under that interpretation, voting officials must accept any reason asserted by voters who do not have photo identification for why they have not obtained it — and must count their ballots — unless the affidavit is false.

South Carolina’s attorney general, Alan Wilson, called the ruling “a major victory for South Carolina and our election process” and said it affirmed that the Justice Department should have cleared the law to go into effect last December.

“The fact remains, voter ID laws do not discriminate or disenfranchise; they ensure integrity at the ballot box,” he said.

The Justice Department praised the decision to block the law for 2012 and welcomed “the court’s agreement that South Carolina’s law required broad modification in order to respond to the serious concerns raised by the attorney general that the law as written would exclude minority voters.”

The other two judges on the panel, John D. Bates and Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, also made clear that they viewed the testimony South Carolina officials had given about the “reasonable impediment” provision as having effectively changed the law, known as Act R54.

“To state the obvious, Act R54 as now precleared is not the R54 enacted in May 2011,” Judge Bates wrote in a concurring opinion.

Judge Bates also argued that the case showed the “continuing utility” of the section of the Voting Rights Act that requires pre-clearance for certain jurisdictions in “deterring problematic” changes to voting laws. The Supreme Court is currently deciding whether to hear a constitutional challenge to that section of the act.

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Walmart worker strikes go viral, hitting 28 stores in 12 states

By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 14:16 EDT

Walmart workers who recently went on strike in Illinois and California appear to have inspired some of their fellow big box employees, and now it looks like the movement is going viral.

Labor leaders said Tuesday, just one day before Walmart’s annual shareholder meeting, that workers at 28 stores in 12 states walked out and went on strike to demand the anti-union employer raise wages, improve working conditions and end retaliations against employees who attempt to form unions.

“It’s not a hard sell because these people are tired of being treated the way we are being treated by Walmart,” Evelin Cruz, a striking Walmart worker in the Los Angeles area, told Raw Story on Wednesday. “They disregard us as workers. They think that we are machines, we should have no emotions. We should not have families. We should not have the right to speak. So it’s pretty easy to convince people to get on-board. We need to have more voices around the country being heard with the same message, because it is the same situation in every store and throughout their supply chain.”

The strikes on Tuesday were just the second time in more than a half century that Walmart workers walked off the job at multiple stores, and comes on the heels of strikes at nine Walmart stores in Los Angeles. Those followed a 21-day action put on by Chicago-area Walmart warehouse workers, whose strike recently ended after their employer agreed to a major settlement over allegations of wage theft.

In the wake of these two strikes and the ripple-effect being felt across the company, it suddenly looks like a whole new ballgame for organized labor.

One of the problems striking workers cite is the lack of access to full-time working hours, which prevents them from obtaining even the meager health benefits the company offers. The National Consumer’s League (NCL) told Raw Story that Walmart’s refusal to provide those benefits by exploiting part-time labor leads to a number of spillover costs that taxpayers ultimately pick up.

“Many Walmart workers are dependent on public assistance programs due to their low wages and not having access to full time jobs and being denied benefits because they’re not working the number of hours required to get access to those benefits, or the benefits are just so expensive that on their low wages they just can’t afford them,” NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg said in an exclusive interview. “Walmart has a record of even working with employees to sign them up for public assistance programs, which we think is really atrocious.”

She added that Walmart’s position of keeping wages low in order to pass the savings along to consumers doesn’t wash either: “Companies that pay a decent wage and provide benefits to their workers help create a middle class that is able to buy the kinds of products that Walmart sells,” Greenberg explained. “It is actually a plus for companies if they provide fair compensation to workers. It’s also better for consumers when they’re able to actually afford housing, healthcare and have access to benefits of the kind we think Walmart, with all its success and profits, ought to be able to pay workers.”

The famously anti-union retailer, which says it employs more than 2.1 million people, raked in $114.3 billion in revenues during just the second fiscal quarter of 2012, earning a profit of $4.02 billion. Berkeley labor economist Sylvia Allegretto found last year that just six of the Walton family’s richest members have a combined wealth greater than the bottom 30 percent of American earners put together.

The problem with increasing labor’s leverage against that kind of wealth is that most Walmart workers don’t realize that U.S. law guarantees their right to strike if their employer has violated labor law, which is why organized workers are calling for an end to illegal “retaliations” against workers who discuss forming unions. Groups on a conference call organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union on Wednesday said they’re planning another round of strikes on Black Friday, the biggest sales day of the year, if their demands aren’t met.

Colby Harris, a striking Walmart worker in Dallas, told Raw Story that the primary obstacle to growing their numbers is fear, plain and simple. “It’s not hard to convince people,” he said, stressing that “there is no such thing as job security” at Walmart. “We all work there together, they see what’s going on. They know that what Walmart does is not right. The thing about it is that those people who haven’t joined are just so fearful.”

“They want to see someone stand up for them first, and that’s what [we] are here for, to show them that you can go on strike and you can go back to work and not face any injustice or termination because you chose to stand up for your rights,” he added. “We can’t be fearful. We have to set the example for other workers.”

Mike Compton, who joined the victorious strike put on by Walmart warehouse workers in Illinois, insisted that Tuesday’s actions were just the beginning. “The fact that we were on strike for 23 days and we are now back in, the workers see now they do have rights,” he said. “We’re planning a ‘Know Your Rights’ class for workers, where we’ll go over the [National Labor Relations Bureau] handbook and teach them that we do have the right to organize and stand up for fair labor practices. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re going to get it done.”

Walmart did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

**************

Kids in solitary confinement: State-sponsored child abuse

By Jean Casella, The Guardian
Wednesday, October 10, 2012 22:38 EDT

Molly J said of her time in solitary confinement:

some purpose.”

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« Reply #2666 on: Oct 12, 2012, 05:38 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/11/2012 12:42 PM

Dangerous Cargo from Moscow: Syrian Jet Incident Ups Turkish-Russian Tensions

By Raniah Salloum in Beirut, Lebanon

Moscow is denying that weapons were on board the Syrian Air jet forced to land in Ankara on Wednesday. But the incident is likely to increase tensions between Turkey and Syria. As Putin's cancellation of a Monday visit to Istanbul shows, Turkey's relationship with Russia could also be threatened.

The development must have come as a terrifying surprise for the 35 passengers and crew members. Their jet, a scheduled Syrian Air flight, had barely entered into Turkish airspace on a flight from Moscow to Damascus when it suddenly found itself flanked by two Turkish fighter jets. At 5:15 p.m. local time, Turkish officials forced the aircraft to land in Ankara.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu later declared Turkey had "received information this plane was carrying cargo of a nature that could not possibly be in compliance with the rules of civil aviation." It is believed that the plane was carrying a Russian delivery for Bashar Assad's military.

"We are determined to control weapons transfers to a regime that carries out such brutal massacres against civilians," Davutoglu said. "It is unacceptable that such a transfer is made using our airspace."

This may sound like a new version of the Cold War -- with NATO member Turkey on one side and Russian ally Syria on the other. And it can also be certain that Ankara only forced the plane to land after close contact with its Western allies. It is also likely that the information about "non civilian cargo" on board came from American intelligence.

In recent months, Washington has repeatedly asserted itself in order to stop weapons deliveries to the Syrian regime. In June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went public about a Russian delivery of combat helicopters that was being shipped to Damascus.

Officials in Moscow declared at the time that the country was not providing new weapons, but was merely fulfilling previous orders under contracts that had been concluded prior to the insurgency. In the end, the US pressure led the British company that insured the ship to repeal its policy because the cargo violated the European Union embargo on weapons deliveries to Syria. And if it now emerges that the jet forced to land in Ankara was in fact carrying Russian weapons, then it will almost certainly prove to be an embarrassment for Moscow.

Conflicting Reports on Plane's Cargo

It is still uncertain what Turkish special units found in the cargo hold of the Syrian Air jet on Wednesday night. Various Turkish media reported investigators had found some 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of military goods on the aircraft. Turkish news channel NTV reported that "rocket parts" had been found, while CNNTurk claimed "communications devices" were on board that were intended for the Syrian military. Without citing a source, Turkish state television TRT reported on Thursday that the intercepted plane had been carrying military communications equipment, news agency Reuters reported. And Yeni Sefak, a newspaper close to the Turkish government claimed it had been carrying 10 containers that contained radio receivers, antennas and "equipment that is thought to be missile parts."

The Russian news agency Interfax on Thursday morning cited an unnamed source in a Russian arms exporting agency stating that neither weapons nor military equipment had been on board the plane.

On Thursday, the move to force the plane to land drew criticism from both Syria and Russia. Lebanese broadcaster al-Manar quoted Syrian Transportation Minister Mohammad Ibrahim Said as claiming that the decision to force the plane down had been tantamount to "piracy." And the Foreign Ministry in Moscow claimed in a statement that "the lives and safety of the passengers were placed under threat." The Airbus A320 aircraft had been carrying 17 Russian nationals on board.

Meanwhile, media outlets aligned with the regime concentrated on reports that all passengers were safe after the plane was allowed to continue its flight to Damascus on Wednesday night. On Wednesday, night, Turkish officials sought to de-escalate the situation. Following border skirmishes last week, Turkish-Syrian relations are tenser than ever before during Bashar Assad's 12 years of rule.

In order to prevent provoking a Syrian reaction that could threaten to escalate into mutual reprisals, Ankara has ordered Turkish aircraft to avoid Syrian airspace. A correspondent with the news agency Reuters even observed a Turkish aircraft as it swiftly turned just before reaching the Syrian border.

Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu emphasized he didn't believe the incident would have any influence on Turkish-Russian relations. But that appeared uncertain on Thursday after Russian President Vladimir Putin cancelled a trip to Turkey that had been planned for Monday. Officially, Putin's staff said he had a scheduling conflict that would prevent him from meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, the Russian daily Vedomosti quoted an unnamed Kremlin source claiming that Putin did not want to appear to be taking sides in the escalating conflict between Damascus and Ankara.

Efforts to Halt Weapons Deliveries to Syria

The flow of weapons and military equipment to the regime in Damascus has been a major concern for the international community for months now -- a worry that is shared as much by Ankara as it is by Washington. US politicians have applied pressure on Syria's neighbor Iraq to prevent possible weapons deliveries to Assad. In September, the US provided officials in Baghdad with a list of 117 Iranian civil aircraft that it believes are used almost daily to fly weapons and military forces from Tehran to Damascus. Washington also claims that Iranian trucks are being used to transport weapons to Damascus via Iraq. Iran is one of Syria's closest allies, but Tehran is also an ally of Russia.

Washington's efforts to work together with Baghdad on the issue don't seem to be functioning nearly as well as those with Turkey. Although US troops continued to be stationed in Iraq until the end of 2011, Baghdad tends to be more on the side of Assad and the Russians in the Syria conflict. On Oct. 9, Moscow announced that Baghdad would buy more than $4.2 billion worth of Russian weapons under contracts signed in recent months.

There have also been instances of Iraq cooperating with the Americans. Responding to US pressure, Baghdad last week demanded that an Iran Air flight traveling through Iraqi airspace land for inspection. Officials later declared that nothing illegal had been found on board the aircraft.

There are frequent allegations circulating in Syria that Assad uses Syria Air in order to deliver weapons from Damascus to hard-fought Aleppo because ground routes have become too unsafe for the regime. It has been impossible, however, to confirm such reports.

In its fight against the insurgents, the Syrian military has had to rely heavily on air power. Indeed, the United Nations has frequently condemned the regime for deliberately targeting civilians in air strikes. The Syrian army is also better equipped than the insurgents, who have fewer and very often lighter weapons.

Through its allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, the US has provided support and weapons deliveries to the rebels -- primarily offering Kalashnikovs and munitions. But a recent New York Times report noted that Washington has shied away from providing the rebels with anti-aircraft missiles out of concern they might fall into the wrong hands.

So far, an estimated 30,000 people have been killed during the 18-month uprising in Syria, according to Reuters.

*******************

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/11/2012 06:21 PM

Putin Confidant Yakunin: 'Russia and the West Are Drifting Apart'

Vladimir Putin has delayed a planned trip to Turkey following the forced landing of a Syrian plane in Ankara. In an interview, Vladimir Yukanin, a confidant to the Russian president, defends Russian weapons deliveries to dictator Bashar Assad and accuses the West of provoking a confrontation.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You're the initiator of World Public Forum "Dialogue of Civilizations." What is the current state of relations between Russia and the West?

Vladimir Yakunin: We're on a dead-end road. At the same time, we face many common problems. The world order as we once knew it is breaking into pieces. During the Cold War, we at times found ourselves on the brink of nuclear war. The balance of terror ensured a kind of stability -- we were able to avoid a major war. But today's world is no less dangerous, as the conflict along the Syrian-Turkish border shows.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What needs to be done?

Yakunin: A war must be avoided at all costs. Russia is against any type of use of external force. We say that particularly in regards to Syria. We also said that in the run-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003 -- at the time together with Germany and France. Today we know that talk of weapons of mass destruction was only used as a pretext, an American lie told at the highest level of state and presented before the United Nations.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Isn't Russia's support for Syria based on the fact that the country is a traditional partner of the Kremlin?

Yakunin: It is based on the fact that Russia has good knowledge of the Middle East. We think that Assad is still supported by a majority of the population. And we know that Assad's opponents are being armed from abroad.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: An airplane that was en route from Moscow to Damascus believed to be carrying military equipment was just forced to land in Turkey. And Assad is fighting his opponents with helicopters and heavy artillery he has obtained from Russia. Is that not true?

Yakunin: You shouldn't equate the two. Russia has delivered weapons -- and this happened on the basis of long existing contracts -- to the legitimate, internationally recognized government of Syria. But what the West wants is regime change, the toppling of this government. I have no concrete knowledge about the aircraft incident in Turkey.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Are you not concerned about the human rights violations committed by the Assad regime?

Yakunin: The democratization of the Middle East, as propagated by the West, leads to an increase in the influence of Islamists, who had previously been confined to the margins of society.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But it was years of oppression that allowed the Islamists to become such a large force in the first place.

Yakunin: But that doesn't justify external attacks. In the minds of many Western politicians, military interventions and air strikes appear to have become legitimate policy tools since the NATO attacks on Yugoslavia during the 1990s. That's how they intend to bring everyone into line who don't share the Western view of democratization of society and the liberalization of the economy. The co-founder of our Dialogue of Civilizations, Indian philosopher Jagdish Karpur, who died two years ago, speaks of a consumerism that some states clearly want to impose by force of arms. But there is no future for that kind of globalization.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: He was insinuating that recent wars were waged primarily over economic interests. Would you deny, however, that former leader Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, for example, was a brutal tryant?

Yakunin: ... one with whom France or Italy had long had the best of relations. The West has a double standard. Look at Saudi Arabia -- is that really a wonderful democracy in the Western sense? But silence prevails because the country is an important ally of the West. The West wants to draw a new world map, but it doesn't even recognize that by doing so it has creating circumstances that are already turning against it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The people in some Middle Eastern countries had grown weary of their leaders.

Yakunin: But they don't want to be dominated by the West. The Soviet Union attempted to export communism to the entire world. We know what came of that. Now the West is trying to export democracy, including to regions where there is no traditional foundation for it. That cannot end well. But when Russia calls for moderation and negotiations, we are criticized as well. Russia and the West are drifting apart.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: There are, however, common goals, like the fight against terrorism. And the "restart" in relations with Russia announced by US President Barack Obama resulted in a nuclear disarmament treaty. Why do you believe a new crisis in East-West relations is brewing?

Yakunin: NATO isn't even interested in our proposals for a joint missile defense -- instead NATO is going it alone on our borders. Or take a look at the scandal surrounding Pussy Riot. One might get the impression that the West has no greater problems right now than this shameless appearance by a few delinquent brats in the church.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The outrage was mostly directed at the severity of the two-year sentences. Do you think it was fair?

Yakunin: I can assure you that the majority of our people are in complete agreement with it. The truth is that more people are in support of tougher sentence than for a milder one.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You're an orthodox Christian. Is love and forgiveness not the core teaching of Christianity?

Yakunin: Forgiveness also calls for regret. I don't see any signs of that with the women. To the contrary, their fellow campaigners are planning further actions.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In recent months, the Russian parliament has passed a number of new laws that limit civil rights and the freedom of protest. Do you consider this to be the correct path?

Yakunin: What right does the West have to constantly criticize Russia? There are a few things about the West that I don't like either. But I am not constantly pointing my finger and criticizing things that are a country's internal affairs.

Interview conducted by Matthias Schepp in Moscow
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« Reply #2667 on: Oct 12, 2012, 05:39 AM »

October 11, 2012

Panetta Warns of Dire Threat of Cyberattack on U.S.

By ELISABETH BUMILLER and THOM SHANKER
NYT

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta warned Thursday that the United States was facing the possibility of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” and was increasingly vulnerable to foreign computer hackers who could dismantle the nation’s power grid, transportation system, financial networks and government.

In a speech at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, Mr. Panetta painted a dire picture of how such an attack on the United States might unfold. He said he was reacting to increasing aggressiveness and technological advances by the nation’s adversaries, which officials identified as China, Russia, Iran and militant groups.

“An aggressor nation or extremist group could use these kinds of cyber tools to gain control of critical switches,” Mr. Panetta said. “They could derail passenger trains, or even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.”

Defense officials insisted that Mr. Panetta’s words were not hyperbole, and that he was responding to a recent wave of cyberattacks on large American financial institutions. He also cited an attack in August on the state oil company Saudi Aramco, which infected and made useless more than 30,000 computers.

But Pentagon officials acknowledged that Mr. Panetta was also pushing for legislation on Capitol Hill. It would require new standards at critical private-sector infrastructure facilities — like power plants, water treatment facilities and gas pipelines — where a computer breach could cause significant casualties or economic damage.

In August, a cybersecurity bill that had been one of the administration’s national security priorities was blocked by a group of Republicans, led by Senator John McCain of Arizona, who took the side of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and said it would be too burdensome for corporations.

The most destructive possibilities, Mr. Panetta said, involve “cyber-actors launching several attacks on our critical infrastructure at one time, in combination with a physical attack.” He described the collective result as a “cyber-Pearl Harbor that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life, an attack that would paralyze and shock the nation and create a profound new sense of vulnerability.”

Mr. Panetta also argued against the idea that new legislation would be costly for business. “The fact is that to fully provide the necessary protection in our democracy, cybersecurity must be passed by the Congress,” he told his audience, Business Executives for National Security. “Without it, we are and we will be vulnerable.”

With the legislation stalled, Mr. Panetta said President Obama was weighing the option of issuing an executive order that would promote information sharing on cybersecurity between government and private industry. But Mr. Panetta made clear that he saw it as a stopgap measure and that private companies, which are typically reluctant to share internal information with the government, would cooperate fully only if required to by law.

“We’re not interested in looking at e-mail, we’re not interested in looking at information in computers, I’m not interested in violating rights or liberties of people,” Mr. Panetta told editors and reporters at The New York Times earlier on Thursday. “But if there is a code, if there’s a worm that’s being inserted, we need to know when that’s happening.”

He said that with an executive order making cooperation by the private sector only voluntary, “I’m not sure they’re going to volunteer if they don’t feel that they’re protected legally in terms of sharing information.”

“So our hope is that ultimately we can get Congress to adopt that kind of legislation,” he added.

Mr. Panetta’s comments, his most extensive to date on cyberwarfare, also sought to increase the level of public debate about the Defense Department’s growing capacity not only to defend but also to carry out attacks over computer networks. Even so, he carefully avoided using the words “offense” or “offensive” in the context of American cyberwarfare, instead defining the Pentagon’s capabilities as “action to defend the nation.”

The United States has nonetheless engaged in its own cyberattacks against adversaries, although it has never publicly admitted it. From his first months in office, Mr. Obama ordered sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment plants, according to participants in the program. He decided to accelerate the attacks, which were begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games, even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010.

In a part of the speech notable for carefully chosen words, Mr. Panetta warned that the United States “won’t succeed in preventing a cyberattack through improved defenses alone.”

“If we detect an imminent threat of attack that will cause significant physical destruction in the United States or kill American citizens, we need to have the option to take action against those who would attack us, to defend this nation when directed by the president,” Mr. Panetta said. “For these kinds of scenarios, the department has developed the capability to conduct effective operations to counter threats to our national interests in cyberspace.”

The comments indicated that the United States might redefine defense in cyberspace as requiring the capacity to reach forward over computer networks if an attack was detected or anticipated, and take pre-emptive action. These same offensive measures also could be used in a punishing retaliation for a first-strike cyberattack on an American target, senior officials said.

Senior Pentagon officials declined to describe specifics of what offensive cyberwarfare abilities the Defense Department has fielded or is developing. And while Mr. Panetta avoided labeling them as “offensive,” other senior military and Pentagon officials have recently begun acknowledging their growing focus on these tools.

The Defense Department is finalizing “rules of engagement” that would put the Pentagon’s cyberweapons into play only in case of an attack on American targets that rose to some still unspecified but significant levels. Short of that, the Pentagon shares intelligence and offers technical assistance to the F.B.I. and other agencies.

Elisabeth Bumiller reported from New York, and Thom Shanker from Washington.
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« Reply #2668 on: Oct 12, 2012, 05:43 AM »

October 11, 2012

Cutoff of U.S. Money Leads Unesco to Slash Programs and Seek Emergency Aid

By STEVEN ERLANGER
IHT

PARIS — A year after the United States cut off its financing to Unesco, following a vote to make Palestine a full member, the organization remains engaged in a frantic effort to cut back programs, reduce costs and raise emergency money.

Unesco’s director general, Irina Bokova, has secured pledges of about $70 million since December to try to make up for the roughly $144 million in dues that the United States has withheld, she said in an interview here. Major contributors have included Saudi Arabia, with $20 million, and Norway, with $20 million over two years for crucial programs.

“But there is still an enormous shortfall,” Ms. Bokova said, calling the loss of American financing “a big blow to the organization” that was also costing the United States.

“The suspension has diminished the possibility of the United States to be involved together with Unesco,” the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, she said, limiting its ability “to outreach to the Muslim world, to talk of democracy building in Arab countries” and to promote programs for gender equality, freedom of expression and the protection of journalists.

“I think this is deplorable,” she said. “I think it is regrettable that the U.S. is not with us when we are upholding some important values, I believe, for the American people.”

The cutoff last October came as a shock, Ms. Bokova said, because the United States observed it immediately, withholding the $72 million in dues it would normally have paid at the end of the year, money that had already been allocated or spent. The United States’ share was 22 percent of the Unsesco budget, the proportion it pays throughout the United Nations system.

“They say don’t miss a good crisis to make reform, but I think it’s too good of a crisis,” Ms. Bokova said. When Unesco did not receive the American money late last year, it immediately used its working capital fund of $31 million for the budget, froze all programs, canceled any program in the pipeline, ended some programs, froze hiring, initiated a voluntary retirement plan, changed its travel rules, reduced translations, renegotiated contracts and limited the use of outside consultants.

“I can’t think of a single program that was not affected,” Ms. Bokova said.

The suspension of payments also took the Obama administration by surprise. Congress had passed two little-noticed laws in the early 1990s requiring an immediate cutoff of money to any United Nations agency that accepted Palestine as a member. Efforts by the American ambassador, David T. Killion, and the Obama administration to get the money restored have failed, and the issue has been put off until after the presidential election next month. If the financing is not restored, the next Unesco general assembly, in two years, can vote to suspend American membership.

In a statement on Oct. 8 to the Unesco executive board, Mr. Killion praised the organization’s efforts to promote freedom of expression, education for young women, the protection of journalists and the preservation of threatened cultural monuments in Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere.

“This is the beauty of Unesco: it uses the most basic building blocks of our civilization — education, science, culture and communication — and finds new ways to harness them in the service of peace,” Mr. Killion said. He added: “The United States remains a full and active member of the organization. President Obama is committed, and I am committed, to working with the U.S. Congress to seek a solution that would resolve the U.S. funding situation at Unesco and restore our ability to pay our dues.”

Ms. Bokova said in the interview that the cutoff had weakened American influence within Unesco, and some Unesco officials said Mr. Killion was in an awkward position. During a recent meeting of the executive board, Mr. Killion was skipped over by accident, diplomats said. He responded, “We’re still here!” Some in the room interpreted the comment as defensive. Others sympathetic to the American position said it was a statement that the United States “is not going anywhere and is still at the table as a defender of the ideals of the organization,” as one Western diplomat said.

Mr. Killion declined a request to respond on the record.

Congressional supporters of the cutoff have argued that it has sent an important message of support to Israel and a warning to the United Nations, and that it has helped persuade the Palestinians not to pursue full United Nations membership.

The Palestinians have used their membership to ask that certain sites, especially in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, be labeled heritage sites, requests that Unesco is studying. The cutoff was based on laws passed when the Palestine Liberation Organization was considered a terrorist organization and before it recognized Israel.

All agree that programs of value to the United States have been damaged, including education programs for young women and the Afghan police, early warning systems for tsunamis, and journalism and democracy training in North Africa, including Egypt, and Iraq. Even programs financed by other nations have been hurt, officials argue, because they operate out of offices and often use staff members paid for out of the general budget.

Besides Saudi Arabia and Norway, other donors have included China, Malaysia, South Korea, Algeria, Monaco and Chad. Individual Americans also sent Unesco checks after the cutoff, Ms. Bokova said, which helped encourage her to start the emergency appeal in December.

The American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, argued in Congressional testimony in March that the cutoff was too blunt an instrument and that the laws mandating it “run counter to U.S. national security interests because they enable the Palestinians to determine whether the United States can continue to fund and lead in U.N. agencies that serve a wide range of important American interests.” She added, “A law that was intended to deter is failing to deter and then boomeranging on us.”
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« Reply #2669 on: Oct 12, 2012, 05:45 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/12/2012 11:58 AM

'From War to a Continent of Peace': European Union Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Many had thought the award would go to human rights activists in Russia this year. But on Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee honored the European Union with this year's peace prize for its contribution "to the advancement of peace and reconciliation" in Europe.

The list of candidates for this year's Nobel Peace Prize was long, ranging from outsiders such as Helmut Kohl and Bill Clinton to favorites like Russian human rights activist Ludmilla Alexeeva or the protesting monks of Burma.

In the end, however, nobody won. An organization did. At 11:00 sharp local time, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that the European Union would be honored with the 2012 prize. The prize committee said that the EU had been chosen for its 60-year-long contribution "to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe."

Nobel committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland added: "The stabilizing part played by the European Union has helped to transform a once torn Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace."

The EU had long been considered one of the favorites for the prize, particularly given the Nobel's tradition of periodically honoring organizations instead of individuals. Other organizations that have recently received the award include the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 and the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2005. The International Committee of the Red Cross has won three times.

Reactions to the announcement came quickly on Friday. European Parliament President Martin Schulz announced on Twitter that "(We are) deeply touched and honored that the EU has won the Nobel Peace Prize." He added that "reconciliation is what the EU is about. It can serve as an inspiration. The EU is a unique project that replaced war with peace, hate with solidarity."

'Rejection of Nationalism'

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was likewise quick to praise the decision, saying it was "a great encouragement" for Europe. "The prize comes at the right time for Europe as it grows together and reinforces the efforts for further integration across the European Union," he told Reuters. "It's a definitive rejection of nationalism."

The prize comes at a difficult time for the EU. Increasingly, people are beginning to associate the 27-nation bloc with economic difficulties and the debt crisis. Its key role in knitting together a fragmented Europe in the wake of World War II, and again following the Cold War, has faded into the background as concerns have mounted that debt problems could threaten both the currency union and the EU as a whole.

It is a perception that has benefited right-wing populist parties across the Continent as they campaign on platforms deeply skeptical of both the euro and of a unified Europe. The prize could be interpreted as an effort by the Norwegian Nobel Committee to remind Europeans of the true value of the union. The prize comes with a monetary prize, which is the equivalent of €930,000 ($1.2 million).

Though the EU has long been seen as a candidate for the prize, Friday's announcement -- leaked an hour before the official announcement to a Norway's leading public broadcaster -- still comes as something of a surprise. The Norwegian committee includes representatives from the country's political parties, two of which are critical of the EU. The country itself isn't even a member of the European club.

'Very Proud'

Prior to the announcement, the smart money had been on Russian human rights activists. In addition to Alexeeva, the Moscow radio station Echo Moscow had been nominated as had the punk protest band Pussy Riot. Last year, a trio of women were honored, including the Yemeni journalist Tawakkul Karman, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee, who is also from Liberia.

Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, a primary architect of European integration, also welcomed Friday's announcement. "It is right that this extraordinary effort that has been accomplished by the Europeans and their leaders to establish a lasting peace on their continent -- historically ravaged by war -- is rewarded and honored," he said in a statement.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso called it a "great honor for the entire EU." European Council President Herman Van Rompuy added: "We are all very proud that the efforts of the EU for keeping the peace in Europe are rewarded."
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