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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1076609 times)
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« Reply #2670 on: Oct 12, 2012, 05:47 AM »

10/11/2012 05:25 PM

Growth Warning: Top German Economists Say Greece Is Lost

Several top German economic institutes on Thursday warned that German growth is slowing as the country continues to be hampered by the ongoing euro-zone debt crisis. And Greece, they say, will be unable to "free itself from its debt burden" and will need another haircut.

Chancellor Angela Merkel had been hoping that her trip to Athens earlier this week would help demonstrate Germany's solidarity with Greece as it struggles to overcome its debt crisis. Just two days later, however, leading economic institutes in Germany have darkened the mood considerably. The institutes presented their autumn economic forecast on Thursday, and cast doubt on whether Greece would be able to remain part of the euro.

"We believe that Greece cannot be saved," said Joachim Scheide from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, one of several top economic institutes tasked by the German government with examining the state of the country's economy twice a year.

Oliver Holtemöller, of the Halle Institute for Economic Research, was also pessimistic at the Thursday press conference called to present the evaluation. He said it is unlikely that Greece will ever be able to free itself from its debt burden -- and called for a new debt haircut for the country.

The idea is not likely to go over well. Any new restructuring of Greek debt would necessarily involve the country's international creditors rather than solely affecting private investors as last spring's €100 billion haircut did. On Thursday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble rejected a debt-haircut proposal by the International Monetary Fund, saying it was not helpful. Euro-zone finance ministers also oppose the idea and the European Central Bank has said that forgiving the Greek debt it has on its books is out of the question.

Bad News for Germany and Europe

Alternatives, however, are few and far between. And that, combined with the threat of further euro-zone turbulence, the report makes clear, spells bad news for both the German and European economies.

Specifically, the report forecasts that German economic growth for 2012 will only end up being 0.8 percent, slightly down from recent predictions, and that growth next year will likely be weak. Instead of the 2 percent previously forecast, the report released on Thursday now estimates GDP growth of just 1 percent in Germany in 2013. That growth, such as it is, will come almost entirely from exports, which are holding up, the report says.

But that is the best-case scenario, based on the assumption that the debt crisis in the euro zone does not worsen. The report's authors, however, do not believe the worst has passed. "The current evaluation of the German economy is based on the assumption that the situation in the euro zone … will gradually stabilize and investor confidence will return. That, however, is in no way assured," the report reads. "Downside risk dominates … and the danger is great that Germany will fall into recession."

Furthermore, Germany's top economic institutes made clear that they are dissatisfied with the steps thus far taken in the euro zone to solve the ongoing crisis. First and foremost, the analysts repeated a demand made in earlier reports that the euro zone come up with a framework for ensuring orderly bankruptcy proceedings for member states. "Domestic debate in countries like Germany and Finland has made it clear that there is a decreasing willingness to increase aid payments or make transfer payments," they write. As such, they say "it makes more sense for creditors to take part in the costs of the crisis."

Inflation Warning

Report co-author Kai Carstensen, of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, put it more clearly at the Thursday press conference. Referring specifically to the unlikelihood that Greece will be able to manage its debt burden anytime soon, he said, "it is time to draw the consequences: No to aid payments, yes to debt restructuring."

The report was also heavily critical of the European Central Bank's plan to purchase unlimited quantities of sovereign bonds from debt-ridden euro-zone member states on secondary markets. "The ECB is becoming the guardian of national budgetary policy and possibly even holds sway over the solvency of individual countries," the report reads. "In addition to the bank's independence, its credibility is also in danger."

Furthermore, the report adds, such behavior could trigger high inflation, which would seriously damage the ECB. "Should higher rates of inflation result, it will be extremely difficult to re-establish the ECB's credibility," the report says. Still, for 2013, the research institutes forecast a modest inflation rate of 2.1 percent.
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« Reply #2671 on: Oct 12, 2012, 05:49 AM »

Canada warns against letting Mali go the way of Afghanistan

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 11, 2012 17:08 EDT

PARIS — Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird on Thursday warned against letting the situation in Mali, sliced in two since a coup and partly controlled by Islamist radicals, go the way of Afghanistan.

“Terrorism is the great struggle of our generation,” said Baird after holding talks with French counterpart Laurent Fabius.

“We must not allow the same problems that the world allowed to happen in Afghanistan to show their face in the Saharan region and Mali,” he said.

“The territorial integrity… the humanitarian situation, the fight against terrorism must remain a priority,” he said.

The European Union is planning to send military trainers to help Mali’s army oust rebels and Islamic extremists controlling the north of the country, according to EU sources and a draft document obtained by AFP on Thursday.

France has drawn up a UN Security Council resolution seeking a detailed plan within 30 days on an international military intervention following a formal request from the authorities in Bamako.

The draft resolution by the former colonial power also calls on UN member countries and organisations such as the EU to train and equip the Malian army, which diplomats estimate at 1,500 men against twice that number for the rebel groups and fighters from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the north.

Both the French resolution and the EU proposals also demand political action, calling for the return of democracy and negotiations with the rebels to restore government in the north.

In March, military putschists seized power in the capital Bamako, ousting president Amadou Toumani Toure, only to see the north and east fall to Tuareg rebels and militias linked to Al-Qaeda.
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« Reply #2672 on: Oct 12, 2012, 05:50 AM »

U.S. says nuclear disarmament deal with Russia not dead yet

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 11, 2012 17:12 EDT

ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE — The United States urged a reluctant Russia on Thursday to engage in talks to extend a program that has helped disarm thousands of ex-Soviet nuclear warheads and missiles.

Russian officials said this week that they had notified Washington that the Nunn-Lugar program, due to expire in May 2013, would not be extended, in the latest challenge to a vaunted “reset” of US relations with the Kremlin.

But the Obama administration said that it understood Moscow wanted revisions to the program and that it was ready to continue negotiations about it.

“There’s surely more work to be done in that program and we’re going to engage in that effort,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One.

At the State Department in Washington, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that US diplomats started talking to Moscow about the 20-year US-financed program’s renewal in July, and that discussions were still going on.

“They have told us that they want revisions to the previous agreement. We are prepared to work with them on those revisions, and we want to have conversations about it,” Nuland said.

“This is a program that has paid dividends for the Russian people, for the American people. It’s paid dividends globally, and we hope to be able to continue it.”

Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday that Moscow wanted to end the program, named after former senator Sam Nunn and retiring Indiana Senator Richard Lugar.

“The American side knows that we do not want another extension,” Ryabkov told Russia’s Interfax news agency. “This is not news to the American side.”

The report said Ryabkov was responding to Russian newspaper speculation that the initiative had been shut down as a consequence of the Kremlin’s decision to kick out the USAID development program organized by the US embassy in Moscow.

USAID has been ordered out of the country over accusations it supported opposition leaders who helped organize a wave of demonstrations against President Vladimir Putin’s rule.

But Ryabkov said the Nunn-Lugar decision was in no way related to the USAID case.

Lugar, who is leaving the Senate after losing a Republican primary challenge, traveled to Russia in August to talk about extending the deal.

He said in a statement on Wednesday that he knew Russia wanted to make changes to the deal rather than to simply extend it.

“At no time did officials indicate that, at this stage of negotiation, they were intent on ending it, only amending it,” he said.

The Nunn-Lugar plan was created in 1992 after the breakup of the Soviet Union amid worries over the fate of the Soviet Union’s vast arsenal of nuclear as well as chemical and biological weapons.

It began with an effort to safeguard materials by improving security at nuclear complexes and graduated to decommissioning work.

Ryabkov suggested that Moscow was starting to feel constrained by the deal because it gave Washington access to sensitive information that Moscow could not get about America’s nuclear arsenal.

Lugar says the scheme has deactivated 7,610 strategic nuclear warheads and destroyed 902 intercontinental ballistic missiles and 906 nuclear air-to-surface missiles along with 684 submarine launched ballistic missiles, among other stockpiles that have been eliminated.
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« Reply #2673 on: Oct 12, 2012, 05:52 AM »

Botswana court gives women inheritance rights

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 12, 2012 7:35 EDT

AFP - In a landmark ruling Botswana’s High Court on Friday gave women inheritance rights for the first time, up-ending a male-dominated system that had prevailed in the thriving African nation.

Announcing the ruling, Justice Key Dingake said, “It seems to me that the time has now arisen for the justices of this court to assume the role of the judicial midwife and assist in the birth of a new world struggling to be born.”

The court ruled that a tribal law, giving the youngest-born son rights to inherit the family home was not in line with the country’s constitution, which guarantees gender equality.

The court had been hearing a case brought by three sisters aged over 65, whose claim to family property was being challenged by their nephew.

“This is a significant step forward for women’s rights not only in Botswana but in the southern Africa region, where many countries are addressing similar discriminatory laws,” said Priti Patel of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.
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« Reply #2674 on: Oct 12, 2012, 05:53 AM »

October 11, 2012

Light Gang Rape Penalties Provoke Outcry in France


PARIS — A French jury handed down light sentences and acquittals in a closely watched gang-rape case late Wednesday, prompting outrage from women’s advocacy groups and consternation from government ministers.

Fourteen men were accused of participating in repeated rapes of two teenage girls in the housing projects of Fontenay-sous-Bois, outside Paris, from 1999 to 2001. The victims, now 29, reported being surrounded and raped by as many as two dozen aggressors at once.

Ten of the 14 defendants, all minors at the time the crimes were said to have occurred, were acquitted Wednesday. More worrisome to critics, however, were the relatively light sentences for the four men who were convicted of gang rapes: two were given a year in prison; the third, six months; and the fourth, a suspended sentence. Under French law, minors convicted of gang rape can receive terms as long as 10 years in prison.

Similar gang rapes have been reported in the country’s poor suburbs in recent years. The crimes are viewed as the violent expression of a misogyny that is often described as deep and pervasive in those communities.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the junior minister for women’s rights and the government spokeswoman, spoke Thursday of the “anger inspired by the atrocity of these crimes.”Speaking on France Inter radio, the social affairs and health minister, Marisol Touraine, said, “Obviously, this affair is not going to encourage victims to declare themselves.”

A lawyer for the two women who brought the rape complaint, Laure Heinich-Luijer, said that given the lack of physical evidence in the case and the confusion and hesitation in the women’s testimony, the acquittals in the case were “understandable.” But for the men who were convicted, Ms. Heinich-Luijer said, “these are sentences that make no sense.”

Feminist groups in France reacted angrily. “This verdict sends a catastrophic message to the whole of our society,” said the organization Osez le Féminisme in a statement. “To rape victims: bringing a complaint is useless. To rapists: you’re allowed to rape!”

The group said that only a small minority of the 75,000 women it estimates are raped each year in France complain to the authorities.

Another advocacy group, Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whores Nor Submissives), said it was “scandalized” by the verdict. “The girls who dare to finally speak, and who step out of their silence, find themselves newly condemned by a justice system that has not heard them,” the group said.

Ms. Heinich-Luijer said it was not clear whether prosecutors would appeal the verdicts. Lawyers for the defendants did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

One of the women, identified as Nina, brought her complaint in 2005, saying she had been raped by dozens of local teenage boys almost daily for six months beginning in September 1999, according to Ms. Heinich-Luijer. Nina, who was then 15, said she was forced to perform sex acts in apartments, in basements, in a public park and on the roofs of housing towers.

The four convictions in the case were solely for acts committed against Nina, not for any described by the other woman, identified as Aurélie. In an interview on Europe 1 radio on Thursday, Aurélie said she regretted having gone to court. “What good is it to bring a complaint if you end up with results like this?” she asked. “I just wanted to be recognized as a victim.”

One of the convicted defendants, identified in the French news media as Mahamadou Doucouré, is awaiting trial in the killing of his wife and is said to have confessed to her 2010 stabbing death.

Mr. Doucouré’s penchant for violence was ultimately behind Nina’s decision to tell the authorities about the rapes, years after they had ceased: In October 2005, he assaulted Nina in the street, breaking her nose and leaving her unconscious. She went to the police about that attack, Ms. Heinich-Luijer said, and the officer taking her statement asked whether she wished to report anything else. She said that she did.
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« Reply #2675 on: Oct 12, 2012, 06:00 AM »

Astronomers discover planet covered in graphite and diamond

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 11, 2012 17:06 EDT

WASHINGTON — Twinkling stars are not the only diamonds in the sky. Scientists Thursday reported the existence of a “diamond planet” twice the size of Earth, and eight times its mass, zooming around a nearby star.

In fact, this is not the first diamond planet ever discovered, but it is the first found orbiting a sun-like star and whose chemical makeup has been specified.

The discovery means that distant rocky planets can no longer be assumed to have chemical constituents, interiors, atmospheres, or biologies similar to those of Earth, said lead researcher Nikku Madhusudhan, a Yale postdoctoral researcher in physics and astronomy.

The planet was first observed last year — but researchers initially assumed it was similar in its chemical make-up to Earth.

It was only after a more detailed analysis that the French-American research team determined the planet is vastly different from our own.

It “appears to be composed primarily of carbon (as graphite and diamond), iron, silicon carbide, and, possibly, some silicates,” the authors wrote in a statement ahead of their findings’ publication in the US journal “Astrophysical Journal Letters.”

“The surface of this planet is likely covered in graphite and diamond rather than water and granite,” he explained.

In fact, the planet, dubbed Cancri 55 e, appears to have no water at all. And as much as a third of the planet’s substantial mass could be made of diamond, a super-dense compound of carbon.

In comparison, the Earth’s interior is rich in oxygen and very poor in carbon, explained Kanani Lee, also of Yale and another of the study’s co-authors.

The researchers estimated the planet’s radius with data collected while it was transiting in front of its star.

That information, combined with an estimate of its mass, was used to model the planet’s chemical composition, based on a calculation of just what elements and compounds could result in that specific size and mass.

The planet’s orbit around its star is lightning fast — a year lasts just 18 hours, compared to the 365 days of an Earth year. And because it is so close to its star, the surface temperatures average 3,900 degrees Fahrenheit (2,148 degrees Celsius), rendering it completely inhospitable to life.

But the planet — 40 light years away from Earth in the Cancer constellation — opens new avenues for studying geochemical and geophysical processes of Earth-sized planets outside our solar system.

* Diamond-plant-via-AFP.jpg (48.59 KB, 615x345 - viewed 239 times.)
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« Reply #2676 on: Oct 12, 2012, 06:02 AM »

Pussy Riot ruling sows division says Russia media

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 11, 2012 7:35 EDT

AFP - The court ruling that saw one member of the anti-Kremlin punk band Pussy Riot walk free from court has generated new tensions in a case that is far from over, Russian media reported on Thursday.

A Russian appeals court on Wednesday unexpectedly ordered the release of Yekaterina Samutsevich, but upheld the two-year prison camp sentences against her two bandmates Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova.

“The release of one of the Pussy Riot members has caused a new split in society,” said online newspaper

“Instead of being happy for the release of the Pussy Riot member, those on social networks are beginning to accuse her of betrayal,” it said.

Mass-circulation newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets struck a similar note.

“Which new game exactly have our authorities begun?” the newspaper said on its frontpage.

“Are we once again talking about an attempt to apply the time-honored formula ‘divide and rule’”? it asked.

The ruling, the newspaper said, did nothing to calm tensions around the highly controversial case that has polarised the predominantly Orthodox country.

“Unfortunately, the scandal around Pussy Riot which is absolutely unnecessary for our society and the country is still endlessly far from being over,” said Moskovsky Komsomolets.

Liberal business daily Vedomosti said the court’s decision had nothing to do with justice.

“…the case itself and the trial remain absurd,” the broadsheet said in an editorial. “All the three accused will appeal the verdict.”

Pro-Kremlin tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda meanwhile acidly remarked that the most important thing for the freed Pussy Riot band member Samutsevich was not to allow a sense of “euphoria” go to her head.

The two jailed rockers have now a choice to make: “dubious fame obtained through a prison camp or going home but with new laywers”, the tabloid added.

Samutsevich’s release came after her announcement at the first appeals hearing on October 1 that she was changing her lawyer.

Samutsevich vowed defiantly after the appeals hearing that the group’s protest actions would continue.

“We are not finished, nor are we going to end our political protest,” Samutsevich told CNN. “We have to act in such a way that they do not learn about concerts ahead of time and arrest us.”

Samutsevich said efforts by the Russian authorities to divide the group would not work and that her “negative” attitude toward President Vladimir Putin and his “mega authoritarian project” remained unchanged.

The band’s three members were convicted in August of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for a protest performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in February.

* Pussy-Riot-members-in-court-via-AFP-615x345.jpg (44.24 KB, 615x345 - viewed 155 times.)
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« Reply #2677 on: Oct 12, 2012, 06:21 AM »

In the USA...

October 11, 2012

Tribes Add Potent Voice Against Plan for Northwest Coal Terminals


FERNDALE, Wash. — At age 94, Mary Helen Cagey, an elder of the Lummi Indian tribe, has seen a lot of yesterdays. Some are ripe for fond reminiscence, like the herring that used to run rich in the waters here in the nation’s upper-left margin, near the border with Canada. Others are best left in the past, she said, like coal.

“I used to travel into Bellingham and buy my sack of coal,” she said, standing in sensible shoes on a pebbled beach at a recent tribal news conference, talking about her girlhood of rural subsistence and occasional trips to the nearby market town. The idea that coal producers would make a comeback bid, with a huge export shipping terminal proposed at a site where she once fished, called Cherry Point, is simply wrong, she said. “It’s something that should not come about,” Ms. Cagey said.

Many environmental groups and green-minded politicians in the Pacific Northwest are already on record as opposing a wave of export terminals proposed from here to the south-central coast of Oregon, aiming to ship coal to Asia. But in recent weeks, Indian tribes have been linking arms as well, citing possible injury to fishing rights and religious and sacred sites if the coal should spill or the dust from its trains and barges should waft too thick.

And as history has demonstrated over and over, especially in this part of the nation, from protecting fish habitats to removing dams, a tribal-environmental alliance goes far beyond good public relations. The cultural claims and treaty rights that tribes can wield — older and materially different, Indian law experts say, than any argument that the Sierra Club or its allies might muster about federal air quality rules or environmental review — add a complicated plank of discussion that courts and regulators have found hard to ignore.

Lummi tribal leaders recently burned a mock million-dollar check in a ceremonial statement that money could never buy their cooperation. Last month, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, a regional congress of more than 50 tribes in seven states, passed a resolution demanding a collective environmental impact statement for the proposed ports, rather than project-by-project statements, which federal regulators have suggested.

Leaders of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which focuses on fishing rights, said in a statement in support of the resolution that moving millions of tons of coal through the region could affect a range of issues, like road traffic and economic life on the reservations, not to mention the environment.

“It brings another set of issues to the table,” said Gov. John Kitzhaber of Oregon, a Democrat who earlier this year asked for a broad federal environmental review that would examine implications of the coal plan from transit through the region by train or barge to the burning of the coal in China. The tribes, Mr. Kitzhaber said, have now added a voice that even a governor cannot match. “It definitely increases the pressure,” he said.

Coal producers across the nation have been wounded by a sharp drop in demand in the United States — down 16.3 percent in the period from April through June, compared with the same period in 2011, to the lowest quarterly level since 2005, according to the most recent federal figures. With prices falling and abundant supplies of natural gas flowing because of new fields and drilling technologies, especially hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, many electricity producers that can switch are doing so.

That has made coal exports, which have increased this year in every region of the country except the West, according to federal figures, even more crucial to the industry than they were when the six terminals on the Pacific Coast were first proposed. Jason Hayes, a spokesman for the American Coal Council, said that with coal-producing nations like Australia and Indonesia competing for Asian markets, a roadblock on the West Coast is an issue for the entire American economy.

The first public hearings for the terminal projects, conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers, are set to begin this month in Bellingham, near the Lummi reservation.

“The people that can produce efficiently and can ship quickly and reliably — those are the big things — they are going to be the ones that are chosen for being reliable business partners,” Mr. Hayes said. “If we can build the ports on the West Coast, then it just becomes that much more reliable.”

But by coincidence of history, geography, culture and law, the West Coast, especially Washington and Oregon, is also a center for Indian tribe muscle, legal scholars said.

Although many tribes around the nation received rights to hunt and fish in the treaty language of the 1800s that consigned them to reservations, few places had a focus on a single resource — fish, especially from the Columbia River and its tributaries — that tribes here did. They also, crucially, persisted in using the resources that the treaties had granted them; fishing did not become a hobby or a cultural artifact.

Then, in the 1970s, when the Indian rights and environmental movements were both surging, tribal timing was fortuitous in pushing court cases that reinforced their claims.

“They made really good use of those rights, and have become major players,” said Sarah Krakoff, a law professor at the University of Colorado who teaches Indian law and natural resources law. Tribal rights have been a cornerstone in the long battle over restoring salmon stocks in the Columbia River. This year, one of the biggest dam removal projects in the nation’s history reached a milestone when a section of the Elwha River near Olympic National Park in Washington was restored to wild flow, with fishing rights an important driver in the process.

Coal has also become an element in the presidential race, as energy executives have poured tens of millions of dollars into campaigns backing Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, and accusing the Obama administration of harboring hostility to coal through tightened air pollution rules.

An executive order dating from the administration of Bill Clinton could give further ammunition to Northwest tribes in their coal fight, Professor Krakoff and other experts said. The order directs federal agencies to allow tribal access to sacred sites and to take into account religious practices in federal decision making.

Lummi leaders, in the protest this week where Ms. Cagey spoke, said the Cherry Point site in particular — though partly developed years ago by industry, with a major oil refinery nearby — is full of sacred sites and burial grounds. The tribe’s hereditary chairman, Bill James, said in an interview, however, that the tribe would not reveal the locations of the graves for fear of looting.


U.S. warns meningitis cases could rise

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 12, 2012 7:28 EDT

AFP - US authorities have managed to contact most of the thousands of people exposed to the tainted drug blamed for a meningitis outbreak that has killed 14, but warned the number of infections could rise.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had contacted 12,000 of the nearly 14,000 patients who may have been exposed to the contaminated steroid injection believed to have caused the fungal meningitis outbreak.

“CDC and public health officials are referring any patients who have symptoms (of) possible meningitis or possible joint infection to their physician,” the CDC’s Dr. J. Todd Weber said in a conference call Thursday.

“However, we know we are not out of the woods yet.”

Weber said the onset of symptoms typically comes one to four weeks after the injection, which is usually made in the spine or joints.

“However, we want to emphasize that we know fungal infections can be slow to develop, and that there are indeed reports of longer periods of time between the injection and the onset of symptoms,” he said.

“Patients and their doctors will need to be vigilant for at least several months following the injection.”

Health officials on Thursday said the total number of cases had risen to 172 in 11 states.

The rare fungal infection — which inflames the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord — often goes undetected until it is too late because its flu-like symptoms can be mild at first.

Treatment requires a hospital stay and intravenous anti-fungal medications, but meningitis is not contagious in this form.

US health officials launched an investigation after the first case was discovered in September and found fungal contaminants in steroids produced by the New England Compounding Center.

The Massachusetts-based company subsequently issued a voluntary recall of all of its products and shut down all operations.

The outbreak has led to calls for tighter regulation of the loosely controlled pharmaceutical compounding industry.

Critics said drug manufacturers have found a way to sidestep costly and strict oversight by classifying themselves as pharmacies, which are given freer rein to mix drug compounds for patients.

U.S. names new Libyan ambassador after death in September 11 attack

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 11, 2012 13:48 EDT

The United States on Thursday named a new charge d’affaires to Libya following the murder of ambassador Chris Stevens in last month’s militant attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.

Veteran diplomat and Arabic speaker Laurence Pope has arrived in Tripoli already, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.

His appointment “emphasizes the commitment of the United States to the relationship between our two countries and to the people of Libya as they move forward in their transition to a democratic government,” Nuland said.

“We will continue to assist as Libya builds democratic institutions and broad respect for the rule of law — the goals that Ambassador Stevens worked hard to achieve.”

Pope has come out of retirement to take up the post at a time when the State Department is still investigating the September 11 attack in which Stevens and three other American diplomatic staff were killed.

Stevens was the first ambassador to be killed on duty since 1979 and the horrific attack on the Benghazi consulate when dozens of armed men stormed the building, bombarding it and torching it, has shocked the US diplomatic community to the core.

But the US administration of President Barack Obama has vowed to stand by the people of Libya as it struggles to build a democracy following the toppling of long-time autocratic leader Moamer Kadhafi last year.

“Pope looks forward to working with the Libyan government and the Libyan people during this historic and challenging time, as we build strong economic, social, political, and educational bridges between our two people,” Nuland added.

Pope retired from the Foreign Service in 2000 after 31 years, during which he notably served as ambassador to Kuwait, as well as ambassador to Chad from 1993-1996.

He was also director for Northern Gulf Affairs from 1987-1990, associate director for counterterrorism 1991-1993, and political advisor to the commander in chief of the US Central Command from 1997 to 2000.


Joe Biden Dominates Paul Ryan and Gives Democrats Back Their Mojo in VP Debate

By: Jason EasleyOctober 11th, 2012

It was a night when Democrats needed a morale boost, and Vice President Joe Biden delivered with a dominating performance over Paul Ryan in the vice presidential debate.

The first question of the debate went to Joe Biden on Libya, and the vice president both touted Obama’s record on terrorism and promised that those who carried out the attack will be brought to justice. Ryan responded by painting Libya as a failed leadership moment. Ryan threw in all the red meat buzzwords about the Obama foreign policy unraveling. Biden called out Ryan for giving a lecture that wasn’t accurate. Biden then hammered Ryan for voting to cut embassy security by $300 billion. Biden called Ryan’s right wing red meat a bunch of malarkey. Biden called out Romney and Ryan for, “betting against America all of the time.”

Ryan was asked about Romney’s no apologies line and whether that applies to burning Qurans and urinating on dead Taliban, and he said yes we should apologize. Paul Ryan has just stated that the Romney/Ryan platform is to apologize for America, except when it involves our “values.” Ryan then claimed that under Obama, Iran is racing towards a nuclear weapon. The topic turned to Iran, and Ryan claimed that the administration has been weak on sanctions, but Biden was there to knock Ryan’s talking points down, and ask him, “What are they talking about?” Ryan avoided the question, and when asked if he could avoid the two month red line before attacking Iran, Ryan fumbled and bumbled. Biden jumped in and talked about how the Iranian economy is going into free fall. Biden also said that Obama has met with Netanyahu 29 times. Biden said this is simply a bunch of stuff. Ryan responded by repeating his malarkey. Biden came back at Ryan by saying facts matter and explained how close Iran really is to a nuclear weapon.

The topic then turned to the economy. Biden was asked can unemployment be lowered to below 6% and how long will it take? He answered I don’t know how long it will take and detailed Obama’s economic achievements, and threw out let Detroit die, and let foreclosure take it’s course. Biden scored big points by laying into Romney and Ryan for the 47% remarks. Biden said it was about time to that the wealthy took some personal responsibility. Ryan warped the statistics and used the unemployment in Scranton, PA to claim that the jobs numbers are going in the wrong direction. Ryan then launched into Romney’s 5 point plan that won’t create jobs. Biden literally laughed out loud as Ryan was spinning his bull.

Ryan tried to explain away the 47% remarks by pointing to Romney’s personal generosity. Biden responded by saying if you believe what Ryan was pushing I have a bridge to sell you. Biden then hit Romney/Ryan again on wanting to let Detroit die. Biden talked about how Republicans need to just get out of the way and stop talking about how much they care about people, and do something. Biden also pointed out that Republicans ran up the debt. Ryan claimed that Obama came in with one party control. Ryan was asked again when he could get unemployment down to 6%, and he wouldn’t answer. Biden then hit Ryan on asking for stimulus money.

Ryan floundered on Social Security and Medicare, while Biden continued to hammer away at him. Ryan once again refused to name what specific deductions he would eliminate. One of Biden’s strongest lines of the night was telling the American people to use their common sense when they hear Romney and Ryan talking about Medicare and Social Security. Biden flat out dominated this debate. He wasn’t afraid to hit Romney, the Republicans in Congress, and Paul Ryan’s votes in the House.

Towards the end of the debate Ryan got totally desperate and repeated the right wing slur that Obama supports China’s one child policy. Biden talked with sincerity on abortion, a woman’s right to choose, and debunked the religious freedom anti-contraception talking point. Biden even put Ryan on the defensive on abortion. Ryan also lied and claimed the Romney policy supports the exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.

In closing statements, Biden made a plea to the middle class, while Paul Ryan repeated his stump talking points and tried to sell Mitt Romney as an economic savior.

Ryan looked way, way, way in over his head in foreign policy, and he wasn’t helped by the fact that foreign policy is a Biden specialty. In fact, every time the topic turned to foreign policy, Paul Ryan completely vanished for minutes on end. The difference between the two men was the Joe Biden looked like a Senate veteran and a sitting vice president, while Paul Ryan looked like a middling member of the House.

If this was the debut of the new Obama strategy for handling the Romney/Ryan pathological lying express, it was a resounding success. Biden called out every single Ryan lie, and gave him no wiggle room. Vice President Biden wasn’t abrasive or angry. He was solid, steady, and confident. Much like when he debated Sarah Palin in 2008, Biden owned the room.

On the last question of the night about a member of our military who is dejected about the tone of the campaign, Paul Ryan couldn’t resist whining about the Obama campaign and then launched into a talking point anti-Obama barrage that verified exactly who and why this campaign is so negative.

Biden hit all the points that Obama didn’t touch in the first debate, and he hit them hard.

Democrats needed a morale boost and their momentum back. Vice President Joe Biden gave them both tonight.


Paul Ryan’s 5 Biggest Lies of the First Half of the Vice Presidential Debate

By: Jason Easley October 11th, 2012

Paul Ryan has been throwing the lies around in rapid order, and here are his five biggest fibs during the first half of the vice presidential debate.

1). Ryan claimed the Obama administration has blocked sanctions on Iran and tried to stop them.

The truth: In July, the Obama administration ordered new sanctions on Iran. According to The Hill, “Obama signed an executive order that imposes new sanctions on the Iranian energy and petrochemical sectors to block the country from circumventing existing sanctions. The order also expands sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical industry by making the purchase or acquisition of Iranian petrochemical products sanctionable. Separately, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against two international financial institutions — Bank of Kunlun in China and Elaf Islamic Bank in Iraq — for facilitating transactions on behalf of Iranian banks that are subject to international sanctions.”

2). Ryan claimed that Obama slashed security funding for embassies.

The truth: Paul Ryan and the House Republicans slashed funding for diplomatic security. According to The Washington Post, “For fiscal 2013, the GOP-controlled House proposed spending $1.934 billion for the State Department’s Worldwide Security Protection program — well below the $2.15 billion requested by the Obama administration.”

3). Ryan said a Medicare board appointed by Obama will be making healthcare decisions for seniors.

The Truth: According to PolitFact Ohio, “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act creates the 15-member Independent Payment Advisory Board to suggest ways to limit Medicare’s spending growth. It can be overruled by Congress. Its appointments will be done in public. It will not make decisions on individual cases. The board can reduce how much the government pays health care providers for services, reduce payments to hospitals with very high rates of readmissions or recommend innovations that cut wasteful spending. It may not raise premiums for Medicare beneficiaries or increase deductibles, co-insurance or co-payments. The IPAB also cannot change who is eligible for Medicare, restrict benefits or make recommendations that would raise revenue.”

4). Ryan said Obamacare takes $716 billion out of Medicare for seniors, and turns Medicare into a piggy bank for Obamacare.

The Truth: According to, “Republicans claim the president’s $716 billion “cuts” to Medicare hurt the program’s finances. But the opposite is true. These cuts in the future growth of spending prolong the life of the Medicare trust fund, stretching the program’s finances out longer than they would last otherwise…It’s true that experts, including Medicare’s chief actuary, doubt that some of those spending cuts will actually be implemented. But if they are, Medicare would spend less each year than it had been expected to otherwise, allowing Medicare to stretch further the income it receives from payroll taxes and premiums.”

5). Ryan claimed 6 studies guarantee that the Romney tax cut math adds up.

The Truth: found that there aren’t 6 studies. There aren’t five studies. In fact, there are no studies, “But the five “studies” aren’t all studies and none of them was nonpartisan. Of the three that could be considered studies, two were written by Romney campaign advisers and a third was written by a former economic adviser to President George W. Bush.”


What Last Night’s Debate Tells us About How Team Romney Sees Women

By: Hrafnkell HaraldssonOctober 12th, 2012

It’s safe to say, “I feel ya, Joe”

What I take away from the Biden-Ryan debate last night is this: Team Obama is willing to stand up for women and to make their position unequivocally clear. Moreover, tested time and again, they stand by it.

What you get from Team Romney is all over the place. Romney is busy clarifying clarifications, Tuesday saying he knows of no abortion legislation that is part of his agenda, and on Wednesday announcing that he will defund Planned Parenthood.

Ryan, for his part,  when asked by moderator Martha Raddatz, “I want to go back to the abortion question here. If the Romney-Ryan ticket is elected, should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?”


“We don’t think that unelected judges should make this decision; that people, through their elected representatives and reaching a consensus in society through the democratic process, should make this determination.”

Unelected judge? We are not talking about unelected judges making decisions. We are talking about women making decisions. About their own bodies. About their own health.

Compare and contrast that again with what Biden said:

“I do not believe that — that we have a right to tell other people that women, they — they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor, in my view.”

Team Obama wants to leave women in control of their bodies. Team Romney wants to leave elected representatives in control of women’s bodies.

Romney can dance all over the spectrum trying to act like a sane, moderate candidate, but he has sold his soul to America’s religious extremists on the issue of abortion and contraception.

What Americans need to remember is that in Team Romney we have a conservative Mormon and a conservative Catholic allied to conservative Protestants, none of whom are much interested in what the U.S. Constitution says about anything.

Once upon a time, America was a safe haven for those who did not want to be told how to live their lives according to the dictates of one religion or another. That time is rapidly passing. The forces of theocracy have massed for one last push.

Through some twists and turns in the electoral process (and a whole whompin’ lot of money) they have ended up with a Mormon of all things as their flag waver and they have more or less enthusiastically lined up behind him.

Any woman expecting a fair shake out of this unholy alliance isn’t paying attention.

At the debate, Ryan did an excellent job of avoiding direct answers to questions, but on the abortion issue, he slipped up:

    I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, about how to make sure that people have a chance in life.

He claims, “Now, I understand this is a difficult issue. And I respect people who don’t agree with me on this.”

Now Ryan’s claim about giving people a chance in life is pure bullshit. Even the Jesuits recognize this and they’re Catholic Dammit.

And as for respect, no, he really doesn’t. He expects people who disagree with him to live their lives according to his religious doctrines, no matter what religion they may belong to; no matter what the dictates of their own system of belief tells them is right where abortion and contraception are concerned.

Biden also says his religion is important to him. But he recognizes that it is his religion; not yours and not mine:

    With regard to — with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a — what we call de fide (doctrine ?). Life begins at conception. That’s the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.

    But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and — I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman.

And this is the point Ryan fails to understand. This is the point the Religious Right as a whole fails to understand. We don’t all hold the same religious beliefs. And it is the GOP that has made this fight about religion, calming it has nothing to do with women’s health (remember why Sandra Fluke was excluded from the discussion about her own vagina).

If this is, as the Republicans insist, a religious issue, and Ryan is a Catholic, why don’t we just invite the Pope in to make a ruling on these matters? Well, because the Constitution forbids it. We don’t have state sponsored religion here in this country. It’s forbidden.

And that goes for any religion. The Right wants to defeat Sharia Law but they want to put in its place an almost identical law code, Mosaic Law. Neither law code is women-friendly. Let’s face it. Bronze Age Palestine was not a time for feminism and neither was Arabia in the early Middle Ages.

But Romney and Ryan are insisting that our laws should be based on their religious beliefs, despite the First Amendment’s prohibition on state-sponsored religion.

Ryan sings the persecution song the hypocritical aberrochristians love so well . He claimed last night, “They’re infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion.”

But nobody is telling Ryan that he can’t let his religion inform his choices. All we are telling him is that his religion cannot inform our choices.

The people threatening our freedom of religion are named Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Joe Biden gets it. Barack Obama gets it, as we saw from the evolution of his position on marriage equality. But Romney and Ryan don’t get it. Conservatives can’t unbend their minds. They can’t haul them out of the past and from thoughts of how things “have always been.”

It’s time to shed the Bronze age status quo. As President Obama said, we’ve got to go forward. We can’t go back.

But that is exactly what Team Romney wants and it is exactly what Paul Ryan supported at the debate last night. Not only will all forward momentum cease immediately, but we will all take three steps back for every step we took forward, until women are silent and obedient and pregnant when their men want them to be. As Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said: “Women simply can’t trust (Romney).”

Know your role, ladies. The Sky Father’s holy men are pissed, and you know by now that no good ever comes of that.


Romney Politicizes Libya Attacks While House GOP Outs CIA Base

By: Sarah JonesOctober 11th, 2012

Mitt Romney couldn’t leave the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya alone today. Ignoring the fact that consulates have been attacked under other Presidents, including a rise of attacks under Reagan, Romney said, “No President Obama. It’s an issue because this is the first time in 33 years a U.S. ambassador has been assassinated. It’s an issue because … we were attacked by terrorists on the anniversary of 9/11. This is an issue because Americans wonder why it was it took so long for you … to admit this was a terrorist attack.”

Rumor has it that the President was waiting for all of the intel, but waiting for information is not a speciality of Mitt Romney’s. That is why the headlines the next day were so brutal:

    Associated Press Headline: “Fact Check: Romney Misstates Facts On Attacks.” [Associated Press, 9/13/12]

    Washington Post Headline: “Fact-Checkers Say No To Romney ‘Apology’ Claims.” [Erik Wemple, Washington Post, 9/13/12]

    Washington Post Headline: “Mitt Romney Has Mess To Clean Up After Falsely Accusing Obama On Libya.” [Dana Milbank, Washington Post, 9/12/12]

    Reuters Headline: “Romney’s Account Of Egypt Embassy Attack Flawed.” [Reuters, 9/12/12]

    Washington Post Headline: “Romney Owes An Apology.” [Ruth Marcus, Washington Post, 9/13/12]

    CNN Headline: “Romney Camp Tries To Manage Fallout From Libya Response.” [CNN, 9/12/12]

If Romney wants answers all he has to do is turn to a) himself b) Paul Ryan and c) the House Republicans. Congressman Ryan and House Republicans have pushed for deep cuts affecting diplomatic security for years. Romney’s track record on Libya is so frantic that it involves him fleeing down a hallway to avoid a reporter’s question about Libya:

    In March, Romney said he’d have done it sooner and accused the President of following the French into Libya.

    In April, he refused to answer journalists questions about his Libya stance, described as “fleeing” down a hallway to avoid reporters, Romney gave them this version of leading, “I’ve got a lot of positions on a lot of topics, but walking down the hall probably isn’t the best place to describe all those.”

    Later in April, Romney said Obama was being “too aggressive”, saying, “(i)t is apparent that our military is engaged in much more than enforcing a no-fly zone. What we are watching in real time is another example of mission creep and mission muddle.”

    In August, Romney said praised the mission as Muammar el-Qaddafi fell.

Remember when the House that Ryan built defunded security for consulates, even after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “warned that Republicans’ proposed cuts to her department would be “detrimental to America’s national security” — a charge Republicans rejected”:

    For fiscal 2013, the GOP-controlled House proposed spending $1.934 billion for the State Department’s Worldwide Security Protection program — well below the $2.15 billion requested by the Obama administration.

    House Republicans cut the administration’s request for embassy security funding by $128 million in fiscal 2011 and $331 million in fiscal 2012. (Negotiations with the Democrat-controlled Senate restored about $88 million of the administration’s request.)

Ryan’s 2014 budget cuts non-defense discretionary spending, “which includes State Department funding, would be slashed nearly 20 percent in 2014, which would translate to more than $400 million in additional cuts to embassy security.”

Maybe you don’t remember any of that because you were busy screaming “Valerie Plame!” today when you found out that in their (yet another) Darrell Issa led witch hunt with taxpayer money, Republicans accidentally outed the location of a secret CIA base.

Dana Milbank wrote Wednesday:

    Through their outbursts, cryptic language and boneheaded questioning of State Department officials, the committee members left little doubt that one of the two compounds at which the Americans were killed, described by the administration as a “consulate” and a nearby “annex,” was a CIA base. They did this, helpfully, in a televised public hearing.

So Issa accomplished outing the location of a CIA base in their big show, but no doubt this will magically be blamed on Obama by Republicans. Dana Milbank wrote, “When House Republicans called a hearing in the middle of their long recess, you knew it would be something big, and indeed it was: They accidentally blew the CIA’s cover.”

So the committee investigating whether or not secrets were leaked is now leaking secrets. Will this clown show ever end? Oh, no. They even managed to out that their investigation might be looking into the wrong agency. It looks like it might be the CIA, not the State Department.

Obama for America spokeswoman Lis Smith released the following statement in response to Mitt Romney’s political attacks regarding Libya tonight at an event in North Carolina, “While President Obama has been focused on getting the facts, finding the terrorists responsible, and bringing them to justice, Mitt Romney has attempted to use the tragedy to his political advantage.”

The truth is that Americans do deserve to know what happened on September 11, but the truth is not likely to come from anything Darrell Issa touches, nor does the truth come from the Republicans’ hope of projecting the result of their own budget cuts onto the President, and it certainly won’t come from Republicans’ obvious desperation to smear Obama with the truth about George Bush ignoring intel.

Republicans were warned about denying funding to Libya by their own side, but they played with fire anyway. They were warned by their own conservative policy makers that their actions on Libya were undermining America and emboldening our “enemies”. In June of 2011, Republicans voted for the first time since 1999 to deny a president’s authority to carry out a military operation.

Now they want to obscure these truths and this history by shouting fire at the top of their lungs. We will never get the truth from Republicans who are on record as having sworn that their only agenda was to make Obama a one term president. It’s hard to take them seriously when they only considered denying the funding for Libya in order to obstruct Obama, and now that it’s blown up in their faces, they’re trying to blame him even more. Maybe he does share blame for something, but we’ll never know that so long as Darrell Issa is in charge.

Democrats might have thought that Newt Gingrich’s obsession with destroying Bill Clinton was a one-off, but now they know that whenever Republicans are in power, they will spend all of their time and the people’s money investigating the Democratic president on witch hunts, and ignoring the real work of the people. Republicans will no doubt be very sorry when Democrats have the gavel again.


Obama Pounces and Challenges Romney’s Lies and Political Shape Shifting

By: Jason EasleyOctober 11th, 2012

While campaigning in Florida today, President Obama used his strongest language yet to take on Mitt Romney’s strategy of lies and political amnesia.

Here is the video:


    Now, Governor Romney has been pitching this plan for almost a year now. He stood up on the stage in one of his primary debates proudly promised that his new tax cuts on top of the Bush tax cuts would include the top 1%. Now, you wouldn’t know this from listening to the new latest version of Mitt Romney. He’s trying to go through an extreme makeover. After running for more than a year in which he called himself severely conservative, Mitt Romney’s trying to convince you that he was severely kidding. Look – what he was selling was not working because people understood his ideas wouldn’t help the middle-class so these days Mitt Romney’s for whatever you’re for. Suddenly he loves the middle-class. Can’t stop talking enough about them. He loves Medicare. Loves teachers. He even loves the most important parts of Obamacare. What happened?

    Now, what does he have to say this new version of Mitt Romney about all the things he’s actually promised to do as president? Tax breaks for outsourcers? Never heard such a thing. Saying we should cut back on teachers? Doesn’t ring a bell. Don’t boo. Vote. Kicking 200,000 young Floridians off their insurance plans. Who me? And when he’s asked about the cost of his tax plan, he just pretends it doesn’t exist. What $5 trillion tax cut? I don’t know anything about a $5 trillion tax cut. Pay no attention to the $5 trillion tax cut on my website. Look, Governor Romney thinks we have not been paying attention for the last year and a half. He is going to say whatever it takes to try to close the deal and he’s counting on the fact that you don’t remember that what he’s selling is exactly what got us into this mess in the first place. So Florida, you got to let him know we remember. We know full well that if he gets a chance, Governor Romney will rubber stamp the top down agenda of this Republican Congress the second he takes office and we cannot afford that future.

In the days since the first presidential debate, the Obama campaign seems to have found their message. Their strategy for dealing with Romney the moving target appears to be to attack his credibility. It doesn’t matter what Romney says at the debates or on the campaign trail, because that is just shape shifting Mitt adopting another position to get elected.

For those who are wondering if President Obama is going to be ready for the second debate, you are getting your answer in his recent stump speeches. The president isn’t going to talk around Mitt Romney in their second meeting. His recent behavior on the campaign trail suggests that he is going to take him on directly.

Mitt Romney has a strategic problem. He played all of his cards in an attempt to catch Obama in the first debate. It didn’t work. Obama is still leading, and now the question is, what can Romney possibly do in the second debate that he didn’t already do in the first?

It took the Obama campaign time to adjust to what they saw from Romney at the first debate, but if this is the way that the Republican nominee is going to run the remaining weeks of his campaign, look for Obama to use his trust and likability advantages to knock Romney down at every turn.


Beneath the Romney/Ryan Lies Is an Austerity Plan that Spells Economic Doom

By: RmuseOctober 11th, 2012

The organization, identification and interpretation of information in order to represent and understand conditions is perception, and it can be influenced by controlling information dispensed to large numbers of people. In Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, understood that the public would accept fallacies if “you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth,” and it is a favorite tactic of America’s version of Goebbels, Willard Romney and his Republican cohort. Romney has spent the past eight months telling the American people the economy is in such dire shape that unless he is elected and gives trillions of dollars in tax cuts to the rich while instituting harsh austerity measures on 98% of the population, the nation is doomed. It is true the economy is still recovering after 8 years of Republican malfeasance that Romney intends to repeat, but it is moving forward and whether Romney and Republicans admit it or not, under President Obama, America’s economy is the “sole bright spot in a sluggish world economy.”

There is little doubt unemployment is still elevated and the middle class is being squeezed by lower wages as the wealthy get richer, but according to the Financial Times and Brookings Institution, America is faring much better than other developed nations against the threat of a renewed recession and is still “the brightest spot in the world economy.” The news contradicts Romney’s contention that President Obama’s economic policies are not working, and eviscerates their contention that greater tax cuts for so-called “job creators,” coupled with the harshest austerity measures, are necessary to save America from financial ruin. The truth Romney is mortified of the people learning is that in the developed world, America’s economy is performing much better than every other developed country on Earth, and it is because of President Obama’s economic policies.

The group known as TIGER (Tracking Indices for the Global Economic Recovery) employed statistical methodology illustrating simultaneous movements of indicators that are measured very differently in various countries, but the results, according to the Financial Times front page headline, are that the “US defies threat of global recession.” The statistics demonstrate that momentum in the global economy is dissolving, but in the United States the economic momentum remains reasonably robust. Romney favors austerity similar to that of Germany, which is not experiencing growth or robust employment, but the comparisons end at harsh cutbacks. Germany, which is faring slightly better than countries like Greece, promotes regulating the financial sector and a financial transaction tax to boost revenue and prevent another catastrophic recession. Romney promises to “get government out of the way” of Wall Street and investment banks and promises to repeal Wall Street reforms  like Dodd-Frank. The Great Recession of 2008 was caused by unregulated risks in the financial sector that caused countries like Germany, France, and Great Britain to pay for America’s folly, and yet Romney pants to return the same conditions that tanked the global economy.

The only reason America is experiencing job growth, positive GDP, and financial sector strength is because President Obama and Democrats stimulated the economy and did not make drastic cuts like European austerity ideologues. If Republicans in Congress were the least bit interested in strengthening America’s economy further, unemployment would be under 5% and revenue would increase, but their single goal for the last four years was retarding economic growth and keeping Americans unemployed. America’s economic recovery is even better when one figures that President Obama and Democrats faced an obstructive House of Representatives for the past two years, and still managed to stimulate the economy during the President’s first two years in office.

Romney and Ryan’s economic austerity plans are slated to slash government spending on social safety nets like food stamps, Veteran’s benefits, and aid to seniors and the poor, but their Draconian cuts will not reduce the deficit or create jobs. Romney’s mystery tax plan includes a 20% cut in tax rates that will reduce revenue and give wealthy Americans like Romney a negative tax liability with elimination of capital gains and investment taxes. The cuts to government programs like education, construction, police, and fire fighters will increase unemployment and decrease tax revenue, and slashing social programs may save money for a fraction of Romney’s tax cuts for the rich, but creates more lost jobs and millions of sick and hungry children and seniors.

America’s economy is not ideal and no-one in their right mind would disagree, but to real economic experts at home and around the world who see the stock market back to pre-recession levels, retail sales near peak 2007 numbers, and rising employment agree President Obama’s economic policies are working. Romney’s greatest offense is going around the country lying that the President’s agenda has made the economy worse to convince ignoramus voters that harsh austerity measures and more tax cuts for the richest Americans will create a booming economy,  when the reality is playing out across Europe and the developed world with economies stagnating and teetering on the verge of another recession.

If there were no evidence that austerity measures were destructive in a fragile economy, one might be inclined to give Romney and Ryan a pass for proposing something novel, but there are real-world examples of nations that fell into the austerity trap that are struggling to prevent their economies from coming to a crashing halt in the global recession. And yet, there is a shining city on a hill that is the “brightest spot in the world economy,” and as real economic experts survey the rest of the developed world, they have come to a universal conclusion that under President Barack Obama, the “US defies threat of global recession as the sole bright spot in a sluggish world economy.”  All the while, Willard Romney lies often to earn the right to repeat Europe’s austerity mistakes and give massive tax cuts to the rich that will deny America’s exceptional economic recovery and doom this country to wallow in global recession with the rest of the developed world that makes Romney either incredibly stupid, or exceedingly evil.


10 Things Paul Ryan Doesn't Want You to Know

By Jon Perr

There's a saying that the only second chance you get in life is the chance to make the same mistake twice. As he prepares to debate Joe Biden, Paul Ryan will almost certainly confirm that adage. After all, following his first big moment in the national spotlight, the GOP vice presidential nominee was pilloried for his Republican National Convention speech chock full of omissions, misrepresentations and outright lies. Thursday night in Kentucky, the self-proclaimed "numbers guy" will doubtless deny them.

Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney can't handle the truth. And the only way they can win is if you don't know it.

1. Economists Warn Romney-Ryan Plan Means Huge Job Losses
Like Mitt Romney, Rep. Ryan will claim that the GOP ticket will produce 12 million new jobs over the next four years. What Ryan won't mention is how they'll do that, or that forecasts this year from Moody's Analytics, Macroeconomic Advisers and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office already projected that based on recent trends the U.S. economy will generate roughly 12 million jobs by 2016 anyway. But a Romney-Ryan ticket isn't planning to do nothing in office, but instead intends to implement draconian spending cuts that studies suggest could cost up to 600,000 jobs in 2013 and another 1.3 million in 2014.

It's no wonder a survey of hundreds of economists by The Economist found that "by a large margin they rate [Obama's] overall economic plan more highly than Mr. Romney's, credit him with a better grasp of economics, and think him more likely to appoint a good economic team."

2. Romney and Ryan Both Supported Social Security Privatization
Paul Ryan didn't merely call Social Security a "Ponzi scheme." In 2005, he authored legislation to privatize Social Security that was so extreme even the Bush administration labeled it "irresponsible." (Part of his original "Road Map for America's Future," Ryan quietly dropped privatization of the retirement program for 46 million seniors from his 2010 GOP budget.) Romney, too, repeatedly offered his support for diverting trillions from the Social Security Trust Fund into private accounts managed by Wall Street firms during the 2008 campaign ("that works") and in 2010 book, No Apology. But given the staggering unpopularity of Social Security privatization, Romney is quick to deny that it is his current position.

3. 98 Percent of Congressional Republicans Voted for Ryan's Plan to Ration Medicare
In the spring of 2011, 235 House Republicans and 40 GOP Senators voted for the Ryan budget's proposal to transform Medicare into an under-funded voucher program dramatically shifting the cost of health care onto America's seniors. Confronted with the inescapable conclusion that his proposal would inevitably lead to de fact rationing, Ryan protested:

    "Rationing happens today!" The question is who will do it? The government? Or you, your doctor and your family?"

Ryan, of course, omitted the real culprits: private insurers. Which is why the 2012 version of the Ryan budget (similar to the Romney plan) maintaining the traditional "public option" as one choice for future Medicare beneficiaries now 55 and younger will nevertheless still lead to cherry-picking of healthier seniors and higher costs for everyone.

4. Ryan Budget Takes $716 Billion from Medicare to Give Tax Cuts to the Rich
Nevertheless, as he did at the RNC, Congressman Ryan will doubtless charge that $716 billion has been "funneled out of Medicare by President Obama." Ryan's baseless claim, deemed "flat-out wrong" by BusinessWeek and "repeatedly debunked" by the New York Times, tries to ignore that the Affordable Care Act extended the life of the Medicare Trust Fund by 8 years and expanded seniors' prescription drug benefits and preventative care by slowing the growth of payments to private insurers and providers. (It is precisely these overpayments Mitt Romney wants to restore.)

But Ryan's fraud does not end there. His 2011 and 2012 budgets enjoying the near-total support of Capitol Hill Republicans take the same $716 billion and use it to pay for over $4 trillion in tax cuts. As with Mitt Romney's proposed tax cut scheme, the lion's share of the payday from the U.S. Treasury goes into the accounts of the wealthiest America.

5. Romney and Ryan Will Cut Benefits for Today's Seniors
Both Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney take great pains to proclaim that "I don't want any change to Medicare for current seniors or for those that are nearing retirement." They are pained because the statement isn't true. Their call to repeal Obamacare would take away free preventative care now part of Medicare and reopen the "donut hole" in its prescription drug program. (That change alone saved N million seniors over Y billion last year.)

But the Republicans' attack on today's elderly doesn't end there. The Romney-Ryan ticket has proposed slashing Medicaid by a third over the next decade and turning over the reduced funds to the states in the form of block grants. Those steep reduction threaten the 6 million elderly recipients of Medicaid, a program will which pays for 33 percent of all nursing home care.

6. Romney-Ryan Plans Leaves 44 Million More Without Health Insurance
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan don't merely want to repeal the Affordable Care Act current estimated to enable insurance for 30 million more Americans by 2020. All told, ending the ACA and s giving states control of shriveled Medicaid funding would leave up to 44 million people without insurance. Earlier this month, the Commonwealth Fund estimated President Romney would preside over a staggering 72 million Americans without coverage.

7. GOP Ticket Adds Trillions More Than Obama in New Debt
Thursday night, Rep. Ryan will echo Mitt Romney's charge that President Obama has added $5 trillion to the national debt during his tenure. But Romney's running mate won't just omit mention that Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt and George W. Bush roughly doubled it again. Ryan will also fail to explain that the drivers of most of the debt under Obama--two wars, the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, and the Medicare prescription drug plan--are all bills he voted for. All told, the same Republicans leaders who held the debt ceiling hostage last summer voted to raise it seven times under President Bush.

Nevertheless, as the non-partisan Tax Policy Center and other analysts have detailed, Mitt Romney's tax plan would slash federal tax revenues by roughly $5 trillion over the next decade. With Romney's demand that core defense spending be at least 4 percent of GDP, new Pentagon spending will add another $2 trillion to the red ink. Even with the steep cuts to Medicaid and non-defense discretionary spending, Romney and Ryan can't come close to offsetting the new debt unless they close all or most of the $1 trillion plus in tax credits, loopholes and deductions central to their pledge to lower rates and "broaden the base." The result is not only more "immoral" debt for the next generation of Americans, but more than projected under President Obama's plan.

8. Romney and Ryan Won't Name a Single Loophole They'd Close
Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan could cauterize that hemorrhage of red ink if they could explain which of that trillion-plus dollars in tax expenditures they would stop. But Paul Ryan, who promised "We won't duck the tough issues," is just that.

Will the Romney-Ryan administration end the $63 billion Earned Income Tax Credit for working families that Ronald Reagan called "the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress?" How about the $89 billion a year home mortgage tax deduction? Many of those breaks help explain the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes, otherwise known as Mitt Romney's "victims" and Paul Ryan's "takers."

Neither Mitt Romney nor Paul Ryan will say. Not, that is, until after the election. And not because, as Paul Ryan recently claimed, "It would take me too long to go through all the math." The two men who call each other "bold" and "courageous" are simply too chicken.

9. Ryan Supports GOP Platform's Ban on All Abortions
Despite his past support for it, Mitt Romney has declared his opposition to the Republican platform's so-called Human Life Amendment. But while Romney would allow for abortions in the cases of rape, incest or to protect the health of the mother, Paul Ryan would permit no exceptions--period.

Ryan co-sponsored a so-called "personhood" amendment defining a fertilized egg as a human being and sought to prohibit access to abortion for rape victims. And in a performance on the House floor reminiscent of John McCain's famous 2008 debate "air quotes" surrounding "the health of the mother," Paul Ryan protested:

    "The health exception is a loophole wide enough to drive a Mack truck through it."

10. Ryan Voted for the Defense Sequestration He Attacks Obama for
In August 2011, Paul Ryan was among the House Republicans who voted for the debt ceiling compromise which would sequester $1.2 trillion in spending (half of it from the defense budget) if Congress did not otherwise trim the debt by that amount over the next decade. Of course, you'd never know that listening to him. In this exchange, Ryan's rewriting of recent history left Norah O'Donnell stunned:

    O'DONNELL: Now you're criticizing the President for those same defense cuts you're voting for and called a voted for it!

    RYAN: No, Norah. I voted for the Budget Control Act.

    O'DONNELL: That included defense spending!

    RYAN: Norah, you're mistaken.

No, Paul Ryan is mistaken. But if Americans vote for him and his running mate, the mistake will be all ours.

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« Reply #2678 on: Oct 12, 2012, 09:19 AM »

On the Brink: The people of Kenya's Maasai Mara are struggling to preserve their culture and environmental heritage.

Filmmakers: Tom Evans and Kevin Rushby

The annual migration of the wildlife through the Serengeti is one of the great spectacles of the natural world. And in Kenya, the migration runs across the Maasai communal lands.

Recent reforms have made it possible for individual Maasai landowners to sell their land. And the temptation to do deals with commercial farms and hotel chains is huge.

But this commercial development is threatening both Maasai traditions and the great migration itself.

However, at the Naboisho Conservancy project, a groundbreaking project that aims to conserve communal Maasai land, big changes are underway.

The Conservancy is a wildlife reserve of 20,000 hectares, owned by about 500 Maasai families. It is run by a team of Maasai whose challenge is to balance the needs of local people, the wildlife and the tourists.

And now at a critical point, it is trying to secure a corridor of land to connect with the Maasai Mara National Reserve. This additional corridor will save the great migration route.

The Conservancy gives landowners around a $170 a month for a 60 hectare plot. But by dealing with a commercial business, a landowner could get up to 10 times that amount - which is a tempting offer for a struggling farmer.

But land division is only one of many challenges to the Conservancy ideas. Balancing human populations with the wildlife that brings in the tourists is the Conservancy's ongoing challenge.

"We have already given out land and we are losing cattle. We are losing money, it's really bad. If lions are killing cattle, why would we be happy? We are losing our livelihood. If Maasai communities don't benefit from this land, you will not see these animals again. We will use arrows and spears to eliminate them until they are no longer here."

- A Maasai landowner

Every tourist who visits the Conservancy, helps pay the Maasai landowners and provide jobs for the local community.

Unlike the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Naboisho is onwed and run by local Maasai - this money is causing revolution within Maasai society and it is having unexpected consequences.

And already, the scheme is pushing deep social change, in particular the growing involvement of Maasai girls and women in business and public life.

These women - traditionally uneducated - have found a new place within tourism.

The demand for female Maasai guides is leading to a wave of young Maasai women signing up to Naboisho's very own guiding school.

Naboisho is designed to allow wildlife to flourish but on the edge of the Conservancy, where the Maasai are allowed to graze their cattle, increased numbers of animals like lions and leopards, have brought humans and predators into conflict.

However, in the face of the dangers posed by globalisation, with 500 families already members of the project, and more joining every week, the Conservancy might just be the best way to ensure Maasai culture and Kenya's environmental heritage survives into the 21st century.

Click on this link to watch the documentary:

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« Reply #2679 on: Oct 13, 2012, 07:15 AM »

October 12, 2012

On Edge as Syria’s War Knocks Ever Harder on the Door to Turkey


HACIPASA, Turkey — The men stood at the road’s edge and watched the war that is inching ever closer to home. Amid the rumble of explosions, workers picked cotton and red peppers in this nook of Turkey’s fertile southwest.

“Since 6 this morning, they have been pounding that village,” Enver Elmas, a 46-year-old farmer, said as Syrian government forces battled with rebels in the village of Azmerin, just across the narrow Orontes River. “We’re scared. Our village is right by the border.”

Turkey and Syria share a meandering border over 500 miles long, where in places the villages seem to merge, families share their names and pedigrees, if not their passports, and twisted olive trees roll out over the hillsides. Here, amid the quiet rhythms of rural life, people are witnessing what for 19 months had been one of the gravest concerns about the war next door: that it would spill over the border, draw in neighboring nations and, in a flash, become a regional conflagration.

War, it becomes clearer by the day, is inching closer to home.

Cross-border tensions were particularly high on Friday, when Turkey scrambled two fighter planes here after reports that Syrian helicopters were attacking Azmerin, raising fears of another incursion in Turkish territory.

In a village on the outskirts of Akcakale, a five-hour drive from here through hilly farmland carpeted with cotton fields, mourners continued to fill a funeral tent this week for five civilians killed a week earlier by a Syrian mortar shell, the first time the civil war brought death inside Turkey, and the first time Turkey’s military fired back into Syria. Turkey’s top military officer, Gen. Necdet Ozel, visited the mourners on Wednesday and, within earshot of television cameras, leaned in toward a family member and promised an even stronger military response should the cross-border attacks from Syria persist.

A journey through these borderlands reveals a region increasingly on edge. As Turkey’s leaders show less willingness to play only a behind-the-scenes role in aiding Syria’s rebels, it is here where people are feeling the heat. From the start, there has been a slow-boiling resentment over the tens of thousands of refugees, the economic hardships and the ethnic tensions wrought by the Syrian conflict.

But those burdens now feel like a troublesome prologue to the real danger that lies ahead. Turkey has intensified security measures in military zones, deploying artillery and antiaircraft batteries aimed at Syria. It has stationed F-16 fighter jets near the border, ready to carry out airstrikes, should it come to that.

“It’s messed up now,” said Mehmet Ali Mutafoglu, who runs his family’s multimillion-dollar textile business in Gaziantep, a border city known for pistachios and shopping centers that used to attract busloads of Syrians.

“People from Istanbul, from Ankara, they don’t know what’s going on here,” he said, echoing a familiar complaint up and down the region.

Before the war, Mr. Mutafoglu invested $40 million in two factories in Syria that he said generated $25 million in annual revenue. Now he fears his investment will be lost, along with the ties that bound the two nations and brought opportunity to both.

He said that he fully expected Turkey to be dragged deeper into the fight, and that the country should have done more from the start to mediate the dispute. He now pays 25 Syrian men to guard his empty factories, and he relies on connections with rebels and Syrian government officials to ensure that they are not destroyed in the fighting. He said his brother was planning a dangerous journey to Aleppo, with the help of smugglers, to check on the facilities.

“It’s a $40 million investment,” he said. “I can’t just let it go.”

This region benefited from the commercial and cultural openings to Syria under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose Justice and Development Party rose to power in 2002 and began orienting the country away from the West and toward the Arab world. The opening to Syria was the centerpiece of that strategy. But now, with no swift resolution to the conflict at hand, few — not the local residents, not the rebels — seem supportive of Turkey’s approach to Syria.

In another border city, Kilis, Mr. Mutafoglu said that the price of food and apartment rents had risen sharply and that the local hospital was so full of Syrians that there was sometimes no room for residents.

No single road links these cities, towns and villages stretching east and west over such a vast area. But the crossings are the common denominator, the portal to the challenges this region shares.

At one crossing just outside Kilis, next to a refugee camp that houses thousands of Syrians, a rebel fighter who gave his name as Abu Bashir was busy trying to get a taxi driver to take him and some friends back into Syria, back to the fight. His wife and three children were to stay behind, in a camp, and he said he was grateful for that help from Turkey.

As he negotiated with the taxi driver, a farmer, Davut Bayramoglu, stood nearby, selling tea and biscuits and cigarettes, and nursing his own discontent.

“I don’t like this, because these people are going to be here forever, and they will cause problems,” said Mr. Bayramoglu, who added that his farm was picked bare of grapes and cherries by Syrian refugees and that he now earned only 10 Turkish lira, or $5.50, a day from his tea stand. “We keep saying that they are Muslim and we have to help them, but are there no other Muslims to help them?”

In the city’s center, at a park with a tea shop, men played backgammon and worried about war. They said the social fabric was fraying with the arrival of so many Syrians. Apartment rents are rising, and residents cannot get adequate health care. There seemed no end to their complaints.

“Our state hospital is one of the best in Turkey, but it can no longer serve its own people,” said Osman Altinoymak, a retired banker. “It is full of Arabs.”

At the hospital, a desk attendant said that was true. “There are so many Syrians coming each day for treatment because it is free,” said the attendant, who declined to give her name after her boss walked over and said workers were not allowed to speak to reporters. “There is no room for locals. It is a big problem for Turkey.”

But this region is also the most important staging area for rebel fighters and a hub for Syrian opposition figures. That was, initially, how the government seemed to want it, giving the rebels a haven, letting them plot, plan, rest and arm, all while safely in Turkish territory. The rebels would then cross back into Syria.

But that strategy, or tactic, has now frayed, as war inches closer to home.

Just outside Akcakale, where the civilians were killed by a Syrian mortar, a Turkish tank was positioned next to the border outpost, its gun aimed at Syria. Snipers could be seen atop a grain silo, as the flag of the Free Syrian Army fluttered on the other side.

“They have to feel the weight of Turkey,” said Mehmet Toktimur, 24, who used to earn money driving a taxi back and forth across the border. “The retaliation is good.”

In a valley outside Hacipasa, Turkish soldiers watch Syrians freely cross the little river, and white vans driven by Turks maneuver down a narrow dirt road to the river’s edge, where they collect the wounded and take them to hospitals.

On Wednesday, at a busy intersection, a man driving a white Renault was injured when he crashed into another vehicle. A half-hour later he was still lying on the pavement, suffering from chest injuries, as he waited for an ambulance that took longer than usual because of the number of Syrians needing medical attention, a police officer said.

At the same time, men were gathered for another reason. A farmer said that a shell had just landed in his field nearby but had not detonated.

“I called the military,” said the farmer, Ahmet Pehlivan. “Now we are expecting the bomb squad.”

Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Antakya, Turkey.


October 13, 2012

U.S. Says Russian Shipment to Syria Didn’t Violate Sanctions


MOSCOW — The Obama administration acknowledged on Friday that a shipment of Russian-made equipment confiscated on its way to Damascus did not violate sanctions, but said that Moscow’s policy of supplying aid to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was “still morally bankrupt.”

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said the cargo confiscated on Wednesday contained electronic components for a radar station and that such equipment fell within the bounds of international agreements. In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Victoria Nuland, did not dispute that but expressed the administration’s “grave concern” over Russia’s support for Mr. Assad, whose government is fighting a 19-month-old uprising that has turned into a civil war.

“No responsible country ought to be aiding and abetting the war machine of the Assad regime and particularly those with responsibilities for global peace and security as U.N. Security Council members have,” Ms. Nuland said.

Of the shipment, she said, “we have no doubt, this was serious military equipment.”

On Friday, Mr. Lavrov offered the most detailed explanation Russia has given in its dispute with Turkey over the Moscow-to-Damascus flight, which was intercepted by Turkish warplanes on Wednesday and forced to land in the Turkish capital, Ankara, where the passengers and crew members had to wait for hours. Turkish inspectors examined the aircraft and impounded what Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described as Russian munitions bound for Syria’s Defense Ministry.

“We have no secrets,” Mr. Lavrov said. “We have studied the situation: there were no weapons on this airplane, of course, and there could not be. On the airplane there was cargo, which a legal Russian shipper sent via legal means to a legal customer.”

It remains unclear why the shipment was sent to Damascus via a commercial airliner.

The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported on Saturday that the cargo had been sent by a company based in Tula, which produces antitank, antiaircraft and anti-artillery systems, as well as radar equipment. The company identified, KBP Tula, was accused by the United States in 2003 of providing weapons and sophisticated military equipment to Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, in violation of United Nations sanctions.

The plane was permitted to leave on Thursday, but Russia and Syria protested the Turkish actions. Russia demanded a further explanation, and Syria said it would file a complaint with international aviation authorities.

The dispute has escalated tensions between Turkey, a NATO member, and Russia, the major arms supplier to Mr. Assad. The fighting has shown no sign of easing and has raised fears that the Middle East will be destabilized, as hundreds of thousands of refugees have spilled into Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

Turkey’s leaders, who were once close to Mr. Assad, have turned against him and are major backers of the insurgents, who have operated from Turkey and have secured areas of Syrian territory along the Turkish border.

In Istanbul on Saturday, according to news reports, Mr. Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, criticized the United Nations Security Council, and in particular China and Russia, for failing to take decisive steps to end the Syrian crisis.

China and Russia — both permanent members of the Security Council — have vetoed resolutions intended to pressure the Syrian government to end the fighting and seek a peaceful political transition.

“If we wait for one or two of the permanent members,” Mr. Erdogan said, according to The Associated Press, “then the future of Syria will be in danger.”

The inaction, Mr. Erdogan said, according to media reports, was encouraging the Damascus government to continue its brutal assault.

“The U.N. Security Council has not intervened in the human tragedy that has been going on in Syria for 20 months, despite all our efforts,” Mr. Erdogan said, according to Reuters. “There’s an attitude that encourages, gives the green light to Assad to kill tens or hundreds of people every day.”

Ellen Barry reported from Moscow, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Hatay, Turkey, and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon.


October 12, 2012

Secret Israel-Syria Peace Talks Involved Golan Heights Exit


JERUSALEM — For several months in 2010, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel engaged in secret, American-brokered discussions with Syria for a possible peace treaty based on a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

But the process was cut short by the Arab Spring uprisings that swept the Middle East in early 2011, soon spreading to Syria, and the treaty did not come to fruition, according to an Israeli, Michael Herzog, who was involved in the talks.

“Nothing was agreed between the parties,” Mr. Herzog said Friday. “It was a work in progress.”

Yediot Aharonot, a leading Israeli newspaper, first published details of the American-led effort on Friday, and Mr. Herzog, a former chief of staff to Israel’s defense minister and an Israel-based fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, confirmed the outlines of the discussions. He said in a telephone interview that he was called in to help with the process in 2010, although he had already retired from military and government service.

The contacts were mediated by Frederick Hoff, who recently retired from the United States State Department, where he had served as a special coordinator for Lebanon and Syria, and Dennis B. Ross, who was then a special assistant to President Obama on the Middle East.

“There was a detailed list of Israeli demands meant to serve as a basis for a peace agreement,” said Mr. Herzog, adding that they centered on security arrangements and the regional context. “The idea,” he said, “was to see if we could drive a wedge in the radical axis of Iran-Syria-Hezbollah” by taking Syria out of the equation. Next, he said, the idea was to pursue peace with Lebanon.

But Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, apparently would not give clear signals about his willingness to split with Iran, his patron in the region. And Mr. Netanyahu was proceeding cautiously as well, distrustful that Mr. Assad would deliver.

The negotiations never came to a head. By early 2011 the region was in upheaval and the talks fell apart.

Raising one point of contention, Yediot Aharonot, which is generally centrist but often critical of Mr. Netanyahu, said that in exchange for a peace agreement, the prime minister was prepared to agree to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights, the strategic plateau that Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 war and later annexed in a move that has not been internationally recognized.

The prime minister’s office denied on Friday that Israel had agreed to a withdrawal.

“This is one initiative of many that was proposed to Israel in the past years,” Mr. Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. “At no stage did Israel accept this American initiative. The initiative is old and irrelevant, and its publication now stems from political needs,” apparently a reference to the fact that both Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu are facing elections in the coming weeks and months.

With Israeli elections expected in January, it would not be in Mr. Netanyahu’s interest to be seen as having made far-reaching concessions to Syria in the absence of a deal. But it is not clear how far Mr. Netanyahu might have gone in the talks, since he did not reach the point of having to make a decision.

More than a year before those talks, American officials were already apparently trying to engage the Israelis and the Syrians. In a press briefing in July 2009, a State Department spokesman, Ian Kelly, told reporters that Mr. Hoff, who then worked in the office of former Senator George J. Mitchell, then Mr. Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East, was in Israel meeting with senior officials, and after Israel, planned to visit Damascus.

“The visit is part of ongoing efforts by senator, or special envoy Mitchell and his team to secure a lasting, comprehensive peace in the region,” Mr. Kelly said.

The intensive contacts began in the fall of 2010, presumably around the time that Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinians came to a standstill. Mr. Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, were involved in the indirect discussions. The few Israeli officials and experts privy to the talks were made to sign a secrecy agreement.

Israeli leaders, including Mr. Netanyahu, have explored the possibility of reaching a deal with the Syrians in the past, based on at least a partial withdrawal from the Golan Heights, which overlook northern Israel. During Mr. Netanyahu’s first term in office in the late 1990s, contacts with Syria took place through Mr. Netanyahu’s envoy at the time, the American businessman Ronald Lauder.

Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin conducted inconclusive negotiations with the Syrians, as did Mr. Barak when he was prime minister. Ehud Olmert, Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor as prime minister, held indirect talks with Syria through Turkish mediators; those talks broke off when Israel opened an offensive in Gaza in the winter of 2008.

The denial by Mr. Netanyahu’s office of any agreement on a full withdrawal was reinforced by a former aide.

Dore Gold, who was an adviser during Mr. Netanyahu’s first term in office, specifically rejected the assertion in Yediot Aharonot that Mr. Netanyahu had agreed to withdraw all the way to the eastern shoreline of the Sea of Galilee.

Mr. Gold said that in September 1996, he personally secured an assurance from the United States, under instructions from Mr. Netanyahu, that all previous Israeli statements regarding readiness for a full withdrawal to that line “have no political or legal standing.”

Mr. Gold, who is now president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a conservative-leaning research institute, said that Mr. Netanyahu “has always viewed the Golan Heights as a strategic asset for the defense of Israel,” and that it was “completely unthinkable that Prime Minister Netanyahu would ever contemplate the kind of withdrawal” described by Yediot Aharonot on Friday.

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« Reply #2680 on: Oct 13, 2012, 07:17 AM »

10/12/2012 06:40 PM

Schoolgirl Shooting: Pakistanis Fear Resurgent Taliban in Swat Valley

By Hasnain Kazim in Islamabad

Tuesday's shooting of a 14-year-old advocate of girls' education in Pakistan has shocked and appalled the world. Doctors say Malala Yousufzai will most likely survive the attack, but it has still left Pakistanis outraged -- and afraid that a return of the Taliban's fundamentalist rule might lie ahead.

People in Mingora, Pakistan, speak of a "very strange feeling" that has crept over them since Tuesday. The gruesome images are suddenly back, memories of the Taliban marauding through the streets, throwing women on the ground and whipping them, and publicly executing their rivals. The extremists ruled here in northern Pakistan's Swat Valley for two years, until the Pakistani military drove them out in the spring of 2009. But the shooting that took place here on Tuesday has brought back their fears, people say. It's as if the Taliban had never left.

Merchants, teachers and workers say that two men tried to kill a young schoolgirl on a bus in the middle of the day. Their target was Malala Yousufzai. During the Taliban's rule, the 14-year-old girl had written a blog about the horrors of everyday life under the extremists for the BBC's website. Since then, she has publicly championed girls' right to education. Yousufzai was shot in the head and shoulder. Two other passengers on the bus were wounded, one severely.

The Taliban are apparently afraid of a girl who dared to raise her voice against them. Three years ago, when they still ruled over the Swat Valley, they warned her to stop writing the blog, which she had penned under the pseudonym Gul Makai for her own safety. In December 2011, when Yousufzai was awarded Pakistan's first National Peace Prize, Ahasnullah Ahsan, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, announced that she had been placed on the extremists' hit list.

After this week's attack, the same spokesman told reporters that Yousufzai is a "symbol of Western culture" and was propagating it in a Pashtun area. "She is against Islam and spreads secular thoughts," he said. He also added that, if she survives, she will remain a target for assassination -- as well as her family and, in particular, her father, who runs a private school in the Swat Valley. "According to Islamic law," he said, "whoever acts against Islam must be killed." The girl's shooting, he said, is a "warning to all young people involved in similar activities that they will likewise become targets if they don't stop."

Hopes of Recovery

On Friday, Pakistani police announced the arrest of a number of people suspected of involvement in the shooting. But the announcement has done little to calm the worries of people in the Swat Valley. They fear the Taliban is regaining strength. Pakistan's military regularly stresses that it defeated the militants during its operations in 2009. But, in reality, it only succeeded in dispersing them and, at the time, it didn't arrest or kill any senior Taliban military commanders. Indeed, if you ask around, it doesn't take long before you are put in contact with a Taliban representative. "We are afraid that they will be back on the streets again soon, spreading fear and terror," says one merchant who claims the extremists have ransacked his store multiple times.

Yousufzai has survived the attack. She was treated in a hospital in the Swat Valley before being airlifted by military helicopter to Peshawar, where doctors removed the bullet from her shoulder. Mumtaz Khan, a doctor, reported that she had made movements but remained unconscious. Although he couldn't say whether she would have permanent damage, he predicted that her chances of survival were very good. On Thursday, Yousufzai was flown to a military hospital in Rawalpindi, reputed to be among the best in Pakistan. There, she will be cared for by leading surgeons in the Pakistani army.

The doctors say that she will be taken abroad for treatment if her condition stabilizes. Dubai, England and Germany are reportedly under consideration. Several politicians and governments have indicated a willingness to cover the costs of her treatment.

Widespread Condemnation in Pakistan

The episode has sparked outrage and protests of an intensity rarely seen in Pakistan. Mian Itikhar Hussain, the information minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province whose son was shot dead by the Taliban in 2010, announced a bounty of 10 million rupees (roughly €80,000 or $100,000). Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf called for battling the "mind-set behind this deed." Speaking before parliament, he added: "Malala is my daughter, and yours as well." "If the mind-set of the perpetrators establishes itself," he asked, "then whose daughter will ever be safe?"

Even the charity organization Jumaat-ud-Dawa, a part of the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba, wrote on its Twitter feed that the deed was "shameful, despicable (and) barbaric," adding that it is "shameful … to justify this horrendous attack through Islam."

General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the head of the Pakistani army, visited the young girl in the hospital on Wednesday and circulated a press release saying: "The cowards who attacked Malala and her fellow students have shown time and again how little regard they have for human life and how low they can fall in their cruel ambition to impose their twisted ideology."

Still, the Taliban isn't impressed by such statements. Reached by phone, a Taliban commander told SPIEGEL ONLINE: "These statements show who represents the true Islam and who merely uses the religion as an adornment."

Comments like this are proof that the Taliban are unwilling to compromise or negotiate, that they are still striving to assume power and that they are pursuing a society in which girls are not allowed to go to school. In recent years, they have destroyed over 200 schools in Pakistan.

Prayers and Protests

There have also been loud protests against the assassination attempt outside of Pakistan. US President Barack Obama called the act "reprehensible, disgusting and tragic." US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she hoped that advocates of women's rights in Pakistan would be bolstered in the wake of the attack. United Nations Secretary-Germany Ban Ki-moon called it a "heinous and cowardly act." And Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign affairs chief, said: "This vile aggression is an assault both on basic human values and against all human rights defenders in Pakistan."

American pop star Madonna even discussed the attack on Yousafzai during a concert in Los Angeles on Wednesday. "The 14-year-old schoolgirl who wrote a blog about going to school. The Taliban stopped her bus and shot her. Do you realize how sick that is?" Madonna said to a sold-out crowd of 18,000, according to the Hollywood Reporter. She had also stenciled "Malala" on her back for the concert and dedicated a song to her.

On Friday, a number of schools in the Swat Valley held a moment of silence to show solidarity with Yousufzai -- and to express their hope that the Taliban never returns to power.
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« Reply #2681 on: Oct 13, 2012, 07:21 AM »

October 12, 2012

China and Japan Say They Held Talks About Island Dispute That Has Frayed Relations


TOKYO — A senior Chinese diplomat made a secret visit to Tokyo this week to hold talks aimed at defusing tensions between Japan and China over a group of disputed islands, Japan’s top government spokesman said Friday.

The spokesman, Osamu Fujimura, said Luo Zhaohui, who leads the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Asian Affairs Department, met Thursday with Shinsuke Sugiyama, the director general of the Asian and Oceanic Affairs Bureau at Japan’s Foreign Ministry. Mr. Fujimura was confirming a statement issued Thursday night by the Japanese ministry that revealed the meeting.

The talks appeared to signal a willingness by the nations to at least begin discussing their often highly emotional disagreement over control of the island group, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. According to the ministry’s statement, the diplomats “exchanged opinions” on the dispute and held preparatory talks for a higher-level meeting between the two nations to take place at an unspecified date.

While neither the Japanese nor the Chinese offered much additional detail, the meeting offered the first glimpse of behind-the-scenes diplomacy aimed at cooling a heated territorial dispute that has set the two Asian powers increasingly at odds and has begun to damage their extensive economic ties. The fact that the meeting took place at all seemed to signal that the two nations wanted to pull back from a confrontation that has led to violent street protests in China and cat-and-mouse games between their patrol ships on the high seas.

Mr. Fujimura expressed hope that a higher-level meeting, which is expected to involve vice ministers, who are usually the nations’ top-ranking career diplomats, would be a first step toward lowering tensions.

“It is important for both Japan and China to work toward an environment of improved relations by starting with various efforts at communication,” Mr. Fujimura said. “We expect there to be a frank exchange of opinions.”

On Friday, the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo confirmed the Thursday meeting and said that its diplomat, Mr. Luo, had left Japan.

Reports in Japanese newspapers said the two diplomats had spoken by phone to arrange the meeting after talks last month in Beijing ended inconclusively. This suggested that the diplomats might be using personal rapport to try to bridge the differences between their two nations.

The islands at the center of the dispute are uninhabited, rocky outcroppings, surrounded by the shark-infested waters of the East China Sea. But they hold a highly symbolic value for many Chinese, who say that Japan’s annexation of them in 1895 was a first step in empire-building that culminated in its invasion of China in the 1930s. Japan says that China only started making a claim to the islands in the early 1970s, after evidence emerged that the seabeds around the islands might hold rich oil and natural gas deposits.

The long-running dispute flared anew this year, when the nationalist governor of Tokyo suddenly proclaimed that he wanted to buy some of the islands from their owner, a Japanese citizen. This prompted activists from both nations to stage landings on one of the islands, which are controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan.

Tensions spiraled last month after Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, announced that the Japanese government would buy the islands instead. While Mr. Noda apparently hoped to defuse the standoff by keeping the islands out of the Tokyo governor’s hands, the move drew outrage in China, where attacks on Japanese businesses and boycotts of Japanese goods hurt economic relations. Trade between the two totaled $345 billion last year, economists say.

Spurred by nationalist fervor at home, the Chinese government had kept up the pressure on Japan, sending small flotillas of unarmed patrol ships into waters near the islands. These were shadowed by Japanese coast guard vessels, resulting at times in verbal clashes in which each side used bullhorns and radios to accuse the other of trespassing.

The growing tensions have even held the tiny but still worrisome prospect of dragging the United States into a military confrontation with China: Washington is obligated by treaty to defend Japan if it is attacked, and American officials have said in the past that the islands fall within the scope of that security treaty. So far, American officials have avoided supporting the claims of either side, while calling on both nations to ease the dispute.

Hisako Ueno and Makiko Inoue contributed reporting.
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« Reply #2682 on: Oct 13, 2012, 07:28 AM »

Northern Ireland's first abortion clinic to open

BELFAST, United Kingdom (AFP)

Pro-life activists protest at the March for Life rally in Washington, DC, in January. The first abortion clinic in Northern Ireland will open next week amid fears it will attract protests along the lines of violent opposition to similar facilities in some US states.

The first abortion clinic in Northern Ireland will open next week amid fears it will attract protests along the lines of violent opposition to similar facilities in some US states.

The privately-run clinic in Belfast will be run by the Marie Stopes group, which said it would offer "a wide range of family planning and sexual health services under one roof".

It is extremely difficult to get an abortion in Northern Ireland, and pro-life groups and smaller political parties have already voiced opposition to the Marie Stopes clinic.

Jim Allister of the Traditional Unionist Voice party told BBC radio: "Where is the need for this clinic? There could not possibly be one.

"So there are ulterior motives and I suspect the ulterior motives might be to try and push the boundaries."

Just 35 pregnancies were terminated in Northern Ireland in the past year and it is estimated that about one thousand women from the province travel to England every year for abortions.

The clinic will not have a police guard because it is privately-run.

"They would have to provide their own security, but if there was an incident we would attend," said a spokesman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Marie Stopes said a security guard has been posted at the building, which the clinic shares with several other tenants.

A spokeswoman for the group said that before women enter the building to attend the clinic, they "will have to give certain details, booking numbers, so that we know it's them and not someone else".

Abortion laws which allow terminations up to 24 weeks in England, Wales and Scotland, the other three nations of the United Kingdom, do not cover Northern Ireland.

However, it is not illegal -- it is legal to terminate a pregnancy if the mother's life is in danger or there is a risk to her mental or physical wellbeing.

Marie Stopes said it will operate within the laws and guidelines.

There is little political will in Northern Ireland to legalise abortion. An attempt by the British government to introduce it in 2008 was met with strong opposition.

Pro-life activists protest at the March for Life rally in Washington, DC, in January. The first abortion clinic in Northern Ireland will open next week amid fears it will attract protests along the lines of violent opposition to similar facilities in some US states.

Brendan Hoffman/AFP/Getty Images/File

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« Reply #2683 on: Oct 13, 2012, 07:29 AM »

10/12/2012 02:20 PM

Kim's Empire: Advancing Globalization Makes its Mark in North Korea

By Susanne Koelbl  in Pyongyang

A trip through Kim Jong Un's North Korea reveals a country where one can find widespread poverty as well as an increasing number of Western products. Government minders, however, remain vigilant.

"Potemkin villages," I scribble onto a scrap of paper for the interpreter, Mr. Kim. "What does that mean?" he asks. "It means that you are just showing us facades here to feign growth and progress, just as the Russian Prince Potemkin once did," I reply. "You should google it."

That, though, is not an option available to Mr. Kim. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the only country on earth in which the people have no connection to the World Wide Web.

The 21-year-old interpreter has never left North Korea. He believes in the imminent victory of the socialist revolution and is now trying to show us the achievements of his native country: The capital, cleaned up for the 100th birthday of the country's founder, Kim Il Sung, and a new high-rise development that looks like something the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser might have designed, albeit in concrete. Western diplomats in Pyongyang sardonically refer to the development as the city's new "Manhattan skyline."

Mr. Kim doesn't understand why foreign guests always ask these questions: Why are so many men here dressed in uniforms? Does North Korea really need long-range missiles? Why does the government spend 60 percent of its budget on defense if annual GDP per capita is only $960 (€742) and the average adult only has access to 2,150 kilocalories a day? Why does the regime need reeducation camps? Why are we only driven on boulevards but are not shown any ordinary residential neighborhoods? And, finally: Why can we never move around without minders?

This is too much for Mr. Kim. At the end of the day, he asks to be replaced.

That evening, a man with darting eyes and thinning hair is standing at the entrance to the Yanggakdo Hotel, a 47-story structure built in 1995. His dark suit is positively elegant, as if it had been tailored for Mao Zedong at Emporio Armani.

Familiar with the World

Mr. Hong introduces himself as our team's new guide. We are in North Korea to find out whether things are changing under its new dictator, Kim Jong Un. There will be many questions on our 10-day journey, by train and by car, through a country that is sealed off from the rest of the world. Mr. Hong, 57, used to work at the North Korean embassy in Berlin, both before and after German reunification. Mr. Hong is familiar with the world.

He smiles and shakes hands affably. According to Western experts, a person of his rank and age who assumes the task of attending to curious guests in Pyongyang is undoubtedly a member of the Ministry of State Security.

The next day is to be a special one, both for us and for our minder. It's the 64th anniversary of the proclamation of the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea. There are huge parades, massive dance performances and, in the city's stadium, a gymnastics demonstration so large that the mere idea of choreographing such an event -- with 100,000 participants -- seems unimaginable.

Before long, Mr. Hong begins rolling his eyes. "Enough with these photos! They're giving me a headache," he says. Hong's anger is directed at photographer Andreas Taubert, who is apparently taking far too many pictures. The argument over right and wrong images of North Korea will accompany us until the last day of the trip.

Photographing mass gymnastics is basically okay, even though the dancers outnumber the audience in the stadium three to one. But military parades are taboo, especially when the army drives by in its smoke-belching trucks, some of which are powered with wood because of a gasoline shortage.

Stopped Time

It's verboten to take pictures of battery vendors squatting by the side of road to sell their meager goods, because it could suggest that the planned economy is a failure. We can photograph cars in Pyongyang traffic, because if we don't show these images they'll be saying, once again, that the streets of the capital are empty, says Mr. Hong, although he tells us not to photograph the shiny VW Touaregs driven by senior party officials. Apple orchards and small livestock farms are on the approved list, because they depict the production of healthy food products, but photos of women carrying heaving loads on their heads or sweating in the fields are not.

North Korea remains the world's most enigmatic nation. It's as if history had placed a glass dome over the country and stopped time -- in the middle of the Cold War.

At the "Three Villages Spring" collective farm near the port city of Wonsan, women are already in the fields shortly after sunrise, cutting sheaves of rice with a scythe. They wear visor caps decorated with a red star. A photo of the most productive farm worker, framed by a wreath of plastic flowers, is displayed in front of the brigade clubhouse. Five-year-old Jun Hak Ljong is standing in his parents' kitchen. They are already out in the fields. What are you going to do today, we ask? "I'll wait," he says. What's your greatest wish? "To be a soldier."

A military checkpoint has been set up on the road leading out of Wonsan. Soldiers wearing brown uniforms and armbands check vehicles and all pedestrians. Everyone is required to have a pass. No one in this country can leave a district, a province or even a housing development without being noticed.

The government is everywhere, monitoring and regulating the lives of its citizens, like a domineering father figure.

Three-year-olds learn marching in kindergarten, and Young Pioneers -- 10 or 11-year-old children -- are assigned to work details. Men are required to serve in the military for at least three years, and soldiers seem to be everywhere, sweating in their turquoise uniform shirts on construction sites, in roadside ditches and on public squares -- almost as if they were digging up the entire country with their shovels and pickaxes. The ambitious campaign to spruce up the capital was only finished in April, in time for the festivities surrounding Kim Il Sung's centennial, because a large number of students were pulled out of universities for a year and assigned to work details.

In North Korea, there is no such thing as individuals. There is only the collective.

The people are thin and the children are too small for their age. Although rice and the fermented cabbage dish known as kimchi are filling, the diet is deficient in protein and many vitamins. Government guides like to take visitors to newly established ostrich and turtle farms, which they tout as progress.

Is Dior the New Socialism?
But the pull of globalization has reached even the world's last Stalinist holdout. And now that a little money has reached the country, it is clearly beginning to corrupt socialist ideals.

On the night train from Beijing to Pyongyang, the aisle is almost impassable, stacked as it is with boxes containing stereo speakers, air-conditioners and kitchen appliances. The men on the train, smoking and playing cards in their ribbed undershirts, are officials and soldiers with the North Korean regime. At the border, the customs agent is willing to look the other way in return for a few hundred Chinese yuan and a carton of cigarettes.

A mobile phone costs at least $150 (€116) in Pyongyang, many times the monthly salary of a teacher. Nevertheless, more than a million North Koreans already have one, having found unofficial ways to come up with the money. They can't make calls abroad, which means that North Koreans with mobile phones can only talk to fellow North Koreans. But the republic has become more porous. It takes only a few minutes for news to spread from the port city of Haeju in the south to Kyongwon in the far north.

China, after having paved the way, is now opening the door to capitalism for North Koreans. Ships loaded with containers of flat-screen TVs, fashionable clothes and food products leave the Chinese port of Dalian for the North Korean port of Nampo every day. In Pyongyang, the Rakwon ("Paradise") Department Store recently began selling whiskey from Kentucky, Adidas athletic shoes and the most popular French perfumes -- for hard dollars or euros.

Is Dior the new socialism? Mr. Hong narrows his eyes. He knows that many things are beginning to feel incongruous here: The capital's new skyline versus the barracks in the countryside; the three Maybach luxury sedans Western observers say they've seen in the capital recently versus the oxcarts in the fields.

For Mr. Hong, it's about more than just a few contradictions. Western diplomats are constantly wondering when the regime will collapse. Preventing that from happening is the job of men like Hong.

They've been successful so far, blundering along as well as they can. Take, for example, Dr. Un Ja Su. A man in his fifties, he has a full head of hair, a broad smile and gold teeth. Dr. Un works in a small practice, and his patients are farmers who have had tractor accidents or construction workers who have fallen from roofs. The supplies in Dr. Un's glass medicine cabinet are currently limited to alcohol and disinfectant solution, as well as containers of disposable syringes soaking in a cleaning solution.

Opening to Tourism

What do you need most urgently? "Modernization," says the doctor. Dr. Un isn't supposed to say more than that, and Mr. Hong quickly ushers us out the door.

Some 10,000 North Korean guest workers now work in restaurants and on construction sites in China, sending money home to their families. The Chinese embassy has just issued 10,000 additional work visas, and about the same number of North Koreans work at logging operations in Russian forests or in Gulf states like Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

According to the Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang, it costs €1,900 a month to have a North Korean doctor work temporarily in a country like Germany. Un Kjung Kim hopes to become one of those doctors soon. She is 25 and is currently attending a language course at the Peoples Palace of Studies, a sort of adult education center for the masses. Speaking with almost no accent, Un Kjung Kim says, in German: "How are you? I would very much like to come to your country."

The North Koreans could likewise count on plenty of business from the US -- if, that is, they were to abandon their nuclear program or at least permit inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But the government in Pyongyang would rather try its luck with a risky balancing act, one that it hopes will bring an upturn through trade with China and new ties to Russia, whose government has just forgiven the poor country a large chunk of its debt. Tourism is also another new potential source of hard currency. As crazy as it sounds, Pyongyang will soon allow 100,000 visitors a year into the country to help restructure its struggling economy.

Mr. Hong is only a few years younger than the republic itself. As the first of seven children of a railroad engineer from Wonsan, he experienced the euphoric early phase of socialism, finishing high school and attending a university. There is no illiteracy in North Korea, the soil is fertile, and the people are clever and hardworking. Until the end of the 1960s, the industrialized People's Republic was more successful economically than South Korea.

Then, like all Eastern bloc countries, North Korea slid into a crisis, from which it has never recovered. The Iron Curtain fell, and most communists eventually became capitalists. Only North Korea staunchly held its ground. Perhaps one reason the regime has survived is that many North Koreans, unlike people in Russia or Poland, feel connected to their leader, as if they were part of a religious cult or an extended family. The photos aren't always contrived when the young leader, Comrade Kim Jong Un, visits the troops and young, hysterical female officer cadets, with tears in their eyes, line up to pose with him.

Road to Negotiating Table Is Blocked

Like almost all of his countrymen, Mr. Hong is proud of the North Korean nuclear program. The effect is phenomenal, he says. "Who else would protect us?" he asks, pointing out that American missiles threaten Pyongyang from across the border in South Korea, and that the North Koreans are merely defending themselves.

North Korea built its five-megawatt magnox-type nuclear reactor with almost no outside help. In the 1990s, nuclear engineers were able to greatly modernize the program with the help of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadir Khan.

In April, during Kim Il Sung's birthday parade, the Korean People's Army unveiled a long-range missile that, if it works, could reach the west coast of the United States, armed with a nuclear warhead. Intelligence experts don't know how sophisticated the model is, but it's clear that the regime in Pyongyang remains determined to challenge the much more powerful United States. The road back to the negotiating table seems blocked at the moment.

Captain Kim Shang Shin is standing on the platform of an observation tower at the Military Demarcation Line, looking at the other Korea through a telescope. His father was a soldier in the Korean War, and Kim himself has been stationed at the border post for eight years. At the moment, Captain Kim is watching South Korean soldiers doing their early morning exercises behind a tall fence.

There have been no incidents in his sector since 1980. Nevertheless, the belligerent rhetoric has intensified recently. "One shot from them, and we mobilize our entire army immediately," says Kim, turning down the corners of his mouth and adjusting his officer's cap.

Decisions over war and peace depend on a young man whose age isn't even quite clear: he could be 29, or perhaps he's only 28. Kim Jong Un, the youngest grandson of the founder of the nation, assumed power in December 2011, after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il. He has done a good job so far, in Mr. Hong's opinion. "People like him and his wife."

Drinking Schnapps

There isn't much else to be said in a dictatorship with single-party rule, where political prisoners are sent to penal and labor camps. But there could be some truth to it.

Kim Jong Un's image consultants have carefully styled his hair to make sure that the young regent resembles his grandfather even more than he already does. He even wears his grandfather's old-fashioned straw hat, a style that's currently in vogue in the streets of Pyongyang. His mother was a Korean dancer born in Japan, and Kim Jong Un seems determined to put his own, idiosyncratic stamp on his father's legacy. Kim Jong Il hardly ever spoke even a single sentence in public, and he was rarely seen. His son makes almost daily television appearances, and he talks and jokes a lot.

When he first came into office, Kim Jong Un only visited the military. But now he is also paying closer attention to the general public, turning up at soup kitchens to dispense seasoning advice or sitting on the floor in the living rooms of Pyongyang residents. During such visits, the men drink schnapps and the Kim's young wife Ri Sol Ju, who he met at university, washes the dishes. All of this can be seen in the evening, in an endless loop, on North Korean television's only channel.

The political sphere in North Korea today is as opaque as the Soviet power struggles in the Kremlin once were. Currently, the most important question is whether power truly rests in Kim Jong Un's hands, or with the older men who surround him.

The replacement of the former military chief Ri Yong Ho in mid-July could offer an answer. There was reportedly a disagreement within the innermost circle of power over budget cuts for the bloated and completely outdated military. With 1.2 million soldiers, North Korea has the world's fourth-largest army. The powerful General Ri refused to give his blessing to the end of the existing "military first" doctrine, and he apparently believed that his views would prevail. The military had dominated the party until then, but now the tables seem to have been turned, with the party controlling the military once again.

With a Smile

It is unclear whether General Ri is now sitting at home enjoying his retirement, or whether he ended up in a labor camp or may even be dead. Intelligent agents are reporting, however, that the new young ruler has ordered an increased number of executions.

Is the cautious movement toward greater economic freedom coming at the price of even greater repression? Where are the clearest signs of progress to be found?

Once again, Mr. Hong rolls his eyes, dragging deeply on his cigarette. "No, no, no, that isn't on your schedule!" he says. He has already said it seven times, always with a plucky smile. First we complain, then we cajole and, finally, we drink three glasses of wheat schnapps together. He sticks to his guns. The Tong Il market is off-limits.

Ironically, Mr. Hong himself lives across the street from the Tong Il market, in a Pyongyang high-rise apartment building. Tong Il means unification in Korean, which is allegedly the North's political objective. But unification now seems to be an even more remote possibility than ever before.

Conversely, the Tong Il market is currently the most coveted destination in the capital. The market, housed in a large building reached through an archway, is the best place to go shopping in Pyongyang. Vendors there sell fresh chard, peppers and tomatoes, either grown in private gardens or surplus from farm production. Women in turquoise shirts and bright-red aprons stand crowded together, selling good meat at good prices. Other vendors sell motorcycle helmets, computer keyboards, shoes and fabric -- all the things that are normally unavailable in Pyongyang -- and everyone is buying, from soldiers to police officers to government officials.

There is one thing Mr. Hong is willing to say about the Tong Il market. It's where he bought his suit, he notes with a smile.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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« Reply #2684 on: Oct 13, 2012, 07:31 AM »

Mars meteorite may contain bubbles of 700,000-year-old Martian air

By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Friday, October 12, 2012 9:22 EDT

Gas trapped in meteorite could help scientists reconstruct conditions on Mars when the rock was blasted into space

A lump of space rock that shattered the predawn calm of the Moroccan desert with a fireball and double sonic boom last year was knocked off Mars in a cosmic collision roughly 700,000 years ago.

The date of the Martian impact means the rock was flung into space and began its journey to Earth when the shared ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals was still alive and well in Africa.

Scientists dated the collision through a fresh analysis of the remains of the meteorite, based on the exposure of its elements to intense cosmic rays during its journey through space.

The Tissint meteorite, as it is known, is particularly valuable because it was recovered before it had suffered any weathering on Earth.

Witnesses said it split in two as it fell to Earth and landed in the desert near Tata, south-east Morocco, at 2am local time on 18 July last year. Pieces weighing between 100g and 2kg have been recovered, along with thousands of smaller fragments. The intact meteorite is estimated to have weighed 17kg.

Researchers at the Hassan II University of Casablanca found regions of black glass inside the meteorite that are thought to contain gas, rock and traces of Martian soil. “What is really exciting in this meteorite is that it has this black glass trapped inside,” said Hasnaa Chennaoui Aoudjehane, who worked on the specimen.

Further analysis of the glass and the gas locked up in its tiny bubbles may help scientists reconstruct the conditions on Mars when the rock was blasted into space.

“Those bubbles are interesting because they trapped Martian conditions at the moment the meteorite formed, and it hasn’t had any exchange with other materials,” Chennaoui Aoudjehane said.

The research appears in the latest issue of Science. © Guardian News and Media 2012

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