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« Reply #2700 on: Oct 15, 2012, 07:02 AM »

October 14, 2012

As Tension Escalates, Turkey Issues a Ban on All Syrian Aircraft

By SEBNEM ARSU and MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ
IHT

ISTANBUL — Turkey’s foreign minister announced on Sunday a ban on all Syrian aircraft entering his country’s airspace, days after the authorities discovered what they said were Russian military munitions on board a passenger plane bound for Damascus.

The announcement followed Syria’s ban on Turkish aircraft a day earlier and became the latest volley in an increasingly aggressive dispute between the two neighbors over Syria’s devastating civil war.

In televised remarks, the foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, accused Syria of using civilian flights as a cover for transporting military equipment. Turkey had already banned military aircraft from entering its territory.

Last week, Turkish fighter jets forced a Syrian passenger plane to land in the Turkish capital, Ankara, on suspicion that it was carrying weapons. Turkish officials later said the plane, which was en route from Moscow, had been carrying Russian munitions, an assertion that both Syria and Russia have vehemently denied.

Turkey and Syria share a 500-mile border that is quickly becoming a fault line in what many fear could be an expansion of the civil war into a regional conflict.

Turkey has been a strong supporter of efforts by insurgents to topple Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad. It has harbored anti-Assad fighters on its territory and has hinted that it may take military action against Syrian forces. On Sunday, Mr. Davutoglu said Turkey would not be open for talks with Mr. Assad’s government unless violence against civilians ceased.

Syria has responded to perceived Turkish incursions aggressively. In June, Syria shot down a Turkish fighter plane that it said had entered its airspace, killing two crew members. And last week, a mortar shell fired from Syria fell across the border in a Turkish village, killing five civilians.

On Sunday, government forces pounded rebel strongholds with artillery, and rebel fighters continued a series of strikes in the heart of Damascus.

A suicide bomber rammed a car bomb into a coffee shop in the upper-class neighborhood of Mezzeh in Damascus, Syria’s state news agency reported. The huge explosion caused no injuries or deaths, but was likely to further undermine the sense of security in the capital, where such attacks have become increasingly common.

Video taken in the aftermath of the blast showed twisted chairs and tables scattered in front of the mangled facade of the coffee shop. Hours later, an explosion ripped through the car of a Syrian journalist, also in Mezzeh, wounding him severely, The Associated Press reported.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement that the journalist, Ayman Youssef Wannous, might have been attacked for his pro-Assad sympathies.

Witnesses said a third bombing in the city injured a pro-Assad lawyer.

Heavily armed security forces flooded the city, erecting checkpoints and conducting searches of anyone carrying bags.

As many as 200 people have been killed in violence over the weekend, the Syrian Observatory said in a statement. In Aleppo on Sunday, where at least 22 died in fighting on Saturday, Syrian forces continued to bombard neighborhoods, killing fighters as well as civilians, the statement said.

The Syrian Observatory also reported that Syrian authorities had for the first time conducted a prisoner swap with rebel fighters, releasing two detainees for the son of a prominent official. The details of the swap could not be verified, nor could reports of fighting because of restrictions on reporting in Syria.

Sebnem Arsu reported from Istanbul, and Michael Schwirtz from New York.

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

October 14, 2012

Rebel Arms Flow Is Said to Benefit Jihadists in Syria

By DAVID E. SANGER
NYT

WASHINGTON — Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster, according to American officials and Middle Eastern diplomats.

That conclusion, of which President Obama and other senior officials are aware from classified assessments of the Syrian conflict that has now claimed more than 25,000 lives, casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States.

“The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” said one American official familiar with the outlines of those findings, commenting on an operation that in American eyes has increasingly gone awry.

The United States is not sending arms directly to the Syrian opposition. Instead, it is providing intelligence and other support for shipments of secondhand light weapons like rifles and grenades into Syria, mainly orchestrated from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The reports indicate that the shipments organized from Qatar, in particular, are largely going to hard-line Islamists.

The assessment of the arms flows comes at a crucial time for Mr. Obama, in the closing weeks of the election campaign with two debates looming that will focus on his foreign policy record. But it also calls into question the Syria strategy laid out by Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger.

In a speech at the Virginia Military Institute last Monday, Mr. Romney said he would ensure that rebel groups “who share our values” would “obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters and fighter jets.” That suggests he would approve the transfer of weapons like antiaircraft and antitank systems that are much more potent than any the United States has been willing to put into rebel hands so far, precisely because American officials cannot be certain who will ultimately be using them.

But Mr. Romney stopped short of saying that he would have the United States provide those arms directly, and his aides said he would instead rely on Arab allies to do it. That would leave him, like Mr. Obama, with little direct control over the distribution of the arms.

American officials have been trying to understand why hard-line Islamists have received the lion’s share of the arms shipped to the Syrian opposition through the shadowy pipeline with roots in Qatar, and, to a lesser degree, Saudi Arabia. The officials, voicing frustration, say there is no central clearinghouse for the shipments, and no effective way of vetting the groups that ultimately receive them.

Those problems were central concerns for the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, David H. Petraeus, when he traveled secretly to Turkey last month, officials said.

The C.I.A. has not commented on Mr. Petraeus’s trip, made to a region he knows well from his days as the Army general in charge of Central Command, which is responsible for all American military operations in the Middle East. Officials of countries in the region say that Mr. Petraeus has been deeply involved in trying to steer the supply effort, though American officials dispute that assertion.

One Middle Eastern diplomat who has dealt extensively with the C.I.A. on the issue said that Mr. Petraeus’s goal was to oversee the process of “vetting, and then shaping, an opposition that the U.S. thinks it can work with.” According to American and Arab officials, the C.I.A. has sent officers to Turkey to help direct the aid, but the agency has been hampered by a lack of good intelligence about many rebel figures and factions.

Another Middle Eastern diplomat whose government has supported the Syrian rebels said his country’s political leadership was discouraged by the lack of organization and the ineffectiveness of the disjointed Syrian opposition movement, and had raised its concerns with American officials. The diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing delicate intelligence issues, said the various rebel groups had failed to assemble a clear military plan, lacked a coherent blueprint for governing Syria afterward if the Assad government fell, and quarreled too often among themselves, undercutting their military and political effectiveness.

“We haven’t seen anyone step up to take a leadership role for what happens after Assad,” the diplomat said. “There’s not much of anything that’s encouraging. We should have lowered our expectations.”

The disorganization is strengthening the hand of Islamic extremist groups in Syria, some with ties or affiliations with Al Qaeda, he said: “The longer this goes on, the more likely those groups will gain strength.”

American officials worry that, should Mr. Assad be ousted, Syria could erupt afterward into a new conflict over control of the country, in which the more hard-line Islamic groups would be the best armed. That depends on what happens in the arms bazaar that has been feeding the rebel groups. In several towns along the Turkey-Syria border, rebel commanders can be found seeking weapons and meeting with shadowy intermediaries, in a chaotic atmosphere where the true identities and affiliations of any party can be extremely difficult to ascertain.

Late last month in the Turkish border town of Antakya, at least two men who had recently been in Syria said they had seen Islamist rebels buying weapons in large quantities and then burying them in caches, to be used after the collapse of the Assad government. But it was impossible to verify these accounts, and other rebels derided the reports as wildly implausible.

Moreover, the rebels often adapt their language and appearance in ways they hope will appeal to those distributing weapons. For instance, many rebels have grown the long, scraggly beards favored by hard-line Salafi Muslims after hearing that Qatar was more inclined to give weapons to Islamists.

The Saudis and Qataris are themselves relying on intermediaries — some of them Lebanese — who have struggled to make sense of the complex affiliations of the rebels they deal with.

“We’re trying to improve the process,” said one Arab official involved in the effort to provide small arms to the rebels. “It is a very complex situation in Syria, but we are learning.”

Robert F. Worth and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

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« Reply #2701 on: Oct 15, 2012, 07:04 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/15/2012 01:25 PM

Codename 'Murky Water': Iran's Secret Plan to Contaminate the Strait of Hormuz

By Erich Follath

Iran could be planning to create a vast oil spill in the Strait of Hormuz, according to a top secret report obtained by Western intelligence officials. The aim of the operation is to both temporarily block the vital shipping channel and to force a suspension of Western sanctions.

If there is a man who brings together all the fears of the West, it is General Mohammed Ali Jafari, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Hardened by torture in the prisons of the former Shah, Jafari was among the students who stormed the US Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, 1979. He later fought in the Iran-Iraq War, and in 2007 Jafari, who has a degree in architecture, assumed command of the Revolutionary Guards, also known as the Pasdaran. The group, founded by revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khamenei to defend the Islamic regime, has since developed into a state within the state.

Today the Pasdaran control several companies and are likely a more effective military force than the regular army. Of the 21 ministers in the Iranian cabinet, 13 have completed Pasdaran training. Within this group of hardliners, Jafari, 55, is seen being particularly unyielding. In 2009, for example, he declared that Iran would fire missiles at Israel's nuclear research center in Dimona if the Israelis attacked Iran's nuclear facilities -- knowing full well that such an attack would result in several thousand deaths on both sides.

Now Jafari and his supporters are allegedly preparing new potential horrors. Western intelligence agencies have acquired a plan marked "top secret" and code-named "Murky Water." Together with Ali Fadawi, an admiral in the Pasdaran, Jafari is thought to have proposed a senseless act of sabotage: to intentionally cause an environmental catastrophe in the Strait of Hormuz.

Expression of Growing Frustration

The goal of the plan seems to be that of contaminating the strait so as to temporarily close the important shipping route for international oil tankers, thereby "punishing" the Arab countries that are hostile to Iran and forcing the West to join Iran in a large-scale cleanup operation -- one that might require the temporary suspension of sanctions against Tehran.

Western intelligence experts speculate that Jafari's planned operation is an expression of growing frustration. Contrary to claims made by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in an interview with SPIEGEL last week, the embargo imposed on Tehran is causing far more than "discomfort." Iran derives more than 50 percent of its government revenue from oil exports, which declined from about 2.4 million barrels a day in July 2011 to about 1 million barrels in July 2012. But Iran has only cut back production by less than a quarter, because of the technical complexity and expense involved in temporarily capping wells.

Iran can hardly sell its oil because of the embargo. Even countries that don't feel bound to uphold the sanctions are shying away from deals, because no one wants to insure the oil shipments. The storage tanks on the Iranian mainland have been full for some time, and there are no neighboring countries to which Tehran's leaders would entrust their treasure. For weeks now, tankers have been carrying 40 million barrels of oil through the Gulf around the clock.

Most of the giant 15 VLCC supertankers and five smaller Suezmax ships, sailing under the Iranian flag, have switched off their automatic identification system. This makes it more difficult for foreign spies to detect them, but it also increases the risk of accidents. Countries bordering the Gulf have apparently complained to Tehran about the risky practice several times.

The Final Decisions

Jafari's plan allegedly describes in detail how a massive environmental catastrophe could be created if, for example, the Iranians were to steer one of these supertankers onto a rock. During the 1991 Gulf War, then Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had millions of barrels of oil dumped into the Gulf. The fishing industry in Gulf countries was shut down for months, and the ecological damage was felt for years to come. In 1994 and 1998, accidental oil spills threatened desalination plants in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, thereby imperiling fresh water supplies for the two countries.

According to the Pasdaran leadership, if there were a tanker disaster today, the International Compensation Fund for Oil Pollution Damage would have to step in financially. But a decontamination effort would only be possible with the technical assistance of Iranian authorities, which would require lifting the embargo, at least temporarily. Iranian oil companies, some owned by members of the Pasdaran, could even benefit from the cleanup program. Jafari's plan also foresees the Iranian people rallying around the government in such a situation, pushing Tehran's failing economic policy into the background.

The "Murky Water" sabotage plan is currently thought to be in the hands of religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He makes the final decisions.
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« Reply #2702 on: Oct 15, 2012, 07:07 AM »

Israel facing ‘increasing number of cyber attacks’

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 14, 2012 9:17 EDT

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel was facing an increasing number of cyberattacks, just days after Washington issued a veiled warning to Iran over digital attacks on its interests.

“There have been increasing efforts to carry out cyberattacks on Israel’s computer infrastructure,” Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting, without giving details.

“Every day there are many attempts to infiltrate Israel’s computer systems. That’s why I established the National Cyber Directorate last year, which serves as an electronic ‘Iron Dome’ against computer terrorism,” he added.

He did not specify which systems had come under attack, nor did he say who was behind them.

On Friday, former US official James Lewis told AFP that Washington believed Iran was behind a major cyberattack on Saudi Arabia’s state oil company and a Qatari gas firm in August.

According to Lewis, who has worked for the State Department and other government agencies on national security and cyber issues, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a veiled warning to Tehran that Washington was ready to take preemptive action to protect US computer networks.

At the start of the year, various prominent Israeli websites were hacked, many of which were claimed by Arab hackers. Israeli hackers claimed to have attacked several Iranian websites in retaliation.

Cyberattacks against Iran in recent years have slowed down its nuclear programme, which the United States and Israel believe could be converted to serve military purposes.
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« Reply #2703 on: Oct 15, 2012, 07:09 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/15/2012 01:08 PM

'No Bankruptcy in Greece': German Finance Minister Rules Out Greek Euro Exit

Greece is not going bankrupt and it is not going to be forced out of the euro zone. That was the message delivered over the weekend by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in Singapore. But how much it will cost to keep Athens in the common currency club remains up for debate.

After weeks of saying that no decisions about Greece's future would be made until after the release of the next troika report, German Chancellor Wolfgang Schäuble broke his silence on Sunday and said that Athens would remain a member of the euro zone.

Answering a question about Greece during a speech in Singapore, Schäuble said, "I think there will be no government bankruptcy in Greece." He added that Athens could remain part of the common currency if it continued to fulfil the conditions set by its public creditors and monitored by the troika, which is comprised of the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The statement comes in the middle of an apparent split within the troika over the contents of its upcoming report. Originally, the international creditors had reached an agreement with Athens that the country must reduce its deficit to 120 percent of gross domestic product by 2020. Adherence to this agreement had been a precondition for the disbursement of the next €31.5 billion ($40.83 billion) tranche of credit to Athens. Given the current negative economic developments in the country, the troika has concluded in its internal calculations that Greece can no longer meet that target.

But there is disagreement over how far off Greece will be, according to a report in this week's issue of SPIEGEL. The IMF is predicting debt of 140 percent of GDP in 2020 and the ECB's calculations are similar. The European Commission appears to be alone in its more optimistic report of 128 percent by 2020. In order to create additional wiggle room within the report, experts at the troika have in recent weeks been requesting that euro-zone finance ministers give Greece an additional two years to meet its goal.

€30 Billion in Additional Costs

According to the current forecasts, that would lead to around €30 billion in additional financing -- a sum that could only be financed in one of two ways -- either through a debt haircut on the part of its government creditors or through a third bailout package. So far, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has refused either option out of concern there won't be support for it within her governing coalition.

"I don't think there is a majority for a third Greek package," said Rainer Brüderle, floor leader for the Free Democrats, Merkel's junior coalition partner. Michael Grosse Brömer, a senior conservative in parliament, said: "First we're working on getting the second package done. A third package for Greece isn't up for discussion right now." Resistance to further Greek aid is particularly strong with general elections approaching next autumn.

This weekend in Singapore, however, the focus of Schäuble's trip was primarily to promote the sale of government bonds -- namely those of Southern European countries. Schäuble is in southeast Asia for two days to try to generate interest among government and institutional investors for the bonds, which governments have had a tough time floating on the markets at affordable interest rates in recent months.

Can Southeast Asia Help Save the Euro Zone?

Singapore is not only home to the world's highest concentration of millionaires -- it also has cash to spend. The economy is growing at a breathtaking pace and Singapore's own finance minister is regularly reporting budget surpluses. In addition, the country has two sovereign wealth funds that have a combined investment capacity of $300 billion. Schäuble would like to see Singapore start investing in bonds in the euro zone again.

The finance minister's hope is that if he can get other countries to invest in bonds from crisis-plagued countries like Spain, Italy and Portugal, then the problems those countries are having refinancing themselves can be diminished to the point that neither the permanent euro bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, nor the ECB would have to engage in any mass bond-buying programs. If Schäuble could help make these Southern European bonds attractive again, long-term relief for the euro zone might finally become a realistic scenario.

Schäuble did not receive any concrete pledges on bond purchases while in Singapore. Concerns over the architecture of the euro zone, in which 17 members of the common currency are largely autonomous when it comes to economic and fiscal policy, remain significant. Nevertheless, Schäuble still sought to send out the message that much has been done to shore up the euro and that the common currency is on the path to good health again.

It's a message he also planned to convey at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit of finance ministers from both continents in Bangkok on Monday before returning to Berlin. With the current talk of new aid potentially being required for Athens, Schäuble will have plenty of persuading to do back at home in Germany as well.

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

October 14, 2012

Austerity Protests Are Rude Awakening in Portugal

By RAPHAEL MINDER
IHT

LISBON — Portugal has long been regarded a role model in the grinding euro zone crisis. In return for an international bailout, its government cut services and raised taxes while its citizens patiently endured with little of the popular outcry seen elsewhere in southern Europe.

That is, until now.

Suddenly, the Portuguese, too, have joined the swelling ranks of Europe’s discontented, following Greece and Spain, after the government tried to take another step up the austerity path last month. For many here, it was one step too far, driving tens of thousands into the streets in the largest protest of Portugal’s crisis.

As Pedro Passos Coelho, Portugal’s center-right prime minister, prepares to announce a new budget on Monday — filled with still more steep tax increases and public sector job cuts — he faces the kind of popular backlash that was, until recently, absent from the political and social landscape here.

Taking a page from the playbook of their Spanish neighbors, Portuguese protesters are planning to encircle the Parliament building here in the capital for the budget announcement. For their part, Portugal’s powerful trade unions are preparing a general strike for Nov. 14. Arménio Carlos, the leader of the CGTP union, compared Mr. Passos Coelho to Pinocchio, accusing him of constantly changing his austerity message.

“It’s clear that the amount of good faith the government enjoyed has been turned into large skepticism and distrust,” said Pedro C. Magalhães, a professor of politics at the University of Lisbon.

For a government that has assiduously followed the belt-tightening prescriptions of its international lenders — who rewarded Portugal with a 78 billion euro ($101 billion) bailout — it has been a rude awakening to the risks of austerity, which has even strained the governing coalition of Mr. Passo Coelho’s Social Democrats and the rival Popular Party.

Many here say the government has taken the population’s compliance for granted.

The turning point came in September when Mr. Passos Coelho offered a plan to redistribute social security funds by cutting employers’ social security taxes while significantly raising those of employees. Although the measure was meant to lower labor costs, the outcry from workers was so ferocious that he was soon forced to withdraw it.

But the damage was already done. The misstep is now credited with having rattled the social and political cohesion that had underpinned Portugal’s painful but steady progress.

The withdrawal of the tax plan left the Portuguese, who had once grudgingly accepted the pain of austerity, with a new sense of empowerment, Mr. Magalhães said. “The fact that the government backed down and the fact that no catastrophe or international censure came out of it suddenly shows that there are no inevitabilities,” he said.

Carlos Moedas, secretary of state to the prime minister and in charge of overseeing Portugal’s bailout program, said the reversal was “part of the journey” for any government forced to make significant adjustments in return for a bailout.

“The fact that we came back on our decision,” Mr. Moedas said, “had absolutely nothing to do with people coming out on the streets and everything to do with the fact that we got to understand that the ones who were supposed to be the beneficiaries actually did not want the measure.”

Still, the prime minister has struggled to regain the public’s confidence. The effort has been clumsy at best, his critics say. Many felt insult was added to injury when the government subsequently suggested that employers should lower not only their labor costs but their prices as well.

“We are at a low point in our relationship because a government seriously damages its credibility when it doesn’t take the pulse of the real economy before coming up with new measures,” said João Vieira Lopes, the president of the Portuguese Commerce and Services Confederation, which represents about 200,000 companies. Indeed, after watching helplessly while their economy shrank, many Portuguese are now openly challenging the austerity prescription as the wrong medicine for the malaise.

Mr. Vieira Lopes suggested that the fundamental problem was that the bailout assistance program from Portugal’s international lenders did not take sufficiently into account the specifics of the nation.

“The austerity model has been applied rather mechanically,” he said. “This is not a country full of big companies that can adjust to a decline in their domestic market, but rather small and medium-sized companies whose only option is then to close down.”

Many stores in downtown Lisbon are now either closed or advertising huge discounts, as citizens struggle in a deepening recession that has pushed unemployment to a record 15 percent. A sharp rise in the sales tax has decimated the restaurant sector. One measure of the hardship has been the sudden proliferation of the “marmita,” or lunch box, used by employees to take their home cooking to work. Even the investment banking division of Banco Espirito Santo, one of Portugal’s largest financial institutions, recently refitted a room with tables, refrigerators and microwaves to accommodate the trend.

As consumer spending is declining, so too are tax revenues. As part of its 2012 budget, the government anticipated that sales taxes would produce revenues 11.6 percent higher than in 2011. Instead, revenues were down 2.2 percent in the first eight months of this year, as the tax increases suffocate the economy.

This month, the International Monetary Fund predicted that Portugal would remain in recession next year, with an economy set to contract 3 percent this year and a further 1 percent in 2013.

Still, Abebe Selassie, the I.M.F.’s mission chief for Portugal, said that “it would be a mistake not to recognize the progress that has been made so far in Portugal despite stronger adverse negative shocks than assumed when we started the program.”

In particular, he added, “the Portuguese have been putting in place their program even in the face of strong headwinds from other parts of Europe.” In fact, like Spain, Portugal has recently been granted an additional year to meet previously agreed deficit targets, meaning that the new budget must allow Portugal to lower the deficit to 4.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2013 from an expected 5 percent this year. Portugal also recently managed to postpone the repayment of part of its debt after reaching an agreement with investors.

But the immediate concerns for Mr. Passos Coelho are on his doorstep. The aftermath of the social security reversal may be lasting, warned António Vitorino, a former Socialist minister and European commissioner.

“Such a political mistake can have permanent consequences when it hits a society that is already in a state of clear austerity fatigue,” he said.
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« Reply #2704 on: Oct 15, 2012, 07:10 AM »

October 15, 2012

Leaders Sign Agreement on Scottish Independence Vote

By ALAN COWELL
IHT

LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron and Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister, nudged their countries closer on Monday to a referendum that could end or preserve more than three centuries of sometimes uneasy and often uneven partnership between their lands since the Act of Union in 1707 brought them together in a united kingdom.

The two men met and shook hands in Edinburgh before signing the agreement, which has been depicted as a compromise.

According to British news reports, the vote will offer only a single yes-or-no question on independence, contrary to Mr. Salmond’s wishes; and, despite Mr. Cameron’s objections, the referendum will be open to voters as young as 16 — two years below the national voting age.

Technically, the agreement simply transferred the power to hold a referendum among Scotland’s five million people to the Scottish authorities, but its signing was widely seen as a defining moment in a long drive toward independence by Mr. Salmond, whose preferred date for the ballot is 2014.

The year is significant since it is later than the British authorities initially wanted and marks the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, when a vastly outnumbered Scottish army annihilated the army of King Edward II in 1314.

The signing also foreshadowed a strenuous bid by Mr. Cameron to keep the United Kingdom intact.

“This marks the beginning of an important chapter in Scotland’s story and allows the real debate to begin,” Mr. Cameron said in excerpts from a speech released by his office on Monday.

“It paves the way so that the biggest question of all can be settled: a separate Scotland or a United Kingdom? I will be making a very positive argument for our United Kingdom.”

“It is now up to the people of Scotland to make that historic decision. The very future of Scotland depends on their verdict. It is that important. This agreement delivers the people’s referendum,” he said.

The Scottish authorities had initially wanted the referendum to offer two questions — a straight yes or no on independence and an alternative granting greater autonomy and powers to the existing Scottish Parliament and government.

The agreement is expected to inaugurate a period of intense campaigning, particularly since the prestige of both leaders is at stake.

British political analysts say Mr. Salmond has invested much political capital in promoting Scottish independence, while Mr. Cameron does not want history to cast him as the prime minister who oversaw the unraveling of the union, particularly since he is to face the voters to seek a second term in 2015.

“The agreement will see Scotland take an important step toward independence and the means to create a fairer and more prosperous Scotland,” Mr. Salmond has been quoted as saying. “I look forward to working positively for a yes vote in 2014.”

John Curtice, a professor at Scotland’s Strathclyde University, said recent polling showed roughly 63 percent of potential voters opposed to independence and 37 percent in favor.

But, with two years to go before a vote, it remained uncertain whether those numbers would endure in an era of economic austerity and broader uncertainties over issues including Britain’s place in the European Union and Mr. Cameron’s shaky coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

While Mr. Salmond’s followers are hoping for a boost from younger voters, Mr. Curtice said 16-and 17- year-olds would account for only around 2.5 percent of the eligible electorate.

The battle over independence is likely to be fought on a broad front including the economy, with Mr. Salmond’s followers saying access to a greater share of Britain’s North Sea oil reserves would more than offset the loss of annual transfer payments from Britain.

Supporters of retaining the union are likely to argue that Scotland would have much greater international influence as a part of the United Kingdom than as a stand-alone nation of five million people.

“The opportunities in continuing to be part of the United Kingdom are strong,” said Michael Moore, Britain’s minister for Scottish affairs, who negotiated the terms of the referendum with Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s deputy first minister.

“We have much more clout as part of the U.K. at the top table at the United Nations and NATO, in the European Union, we’ve got much greater security as part of an economy, the fourth largest defense spender in the world, lots of jobs dependent on that.”

“I think these are the issues that people are going to focus on and that will be much more powerful than an uncertain prospect,” he said.

The impetus for a referendum gathered pace last year at Scottish elections in which Mr. Salmond’s Scottish National Party won an outright majority in the Scottish Parliament, bringing the party closer to the goal of independence which it has pursued since its founding almost 80 years ago.
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« Reply #2705 on: Oct 15, 2012, 07:11 AM »

October 14, 2012

All-Female Ticket Aims to Be Heard, if Not Seen

By JODI RUDOREN
IHT

HEBRON, West Bank — The faces of five men in business suits and one woman in a white head scarf beam under the slogan “Modern Hebron” on campaign banners along the streets of this famously conservative city ahead of local elections scheduled for Saturday. Other banners saying “Hebron Independents” feature 12 less formal photos, including three women, with looks more stern than smiling.

But the purple banners labeled “By Participating, We Can” show no faces, only a drawing of a vaguely female figure, arms aloft, in front of the Palestinian flag and the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The drawing stands in for the pictures of 11 women, the first all-female list of candidates for elective office in the Palestinian territories, and possibly the Arab world.

“My picture, perhaps it will lose a vote,” explained Maysoun Qawasmi, 43, the leader of the Participation ticket. “I’m sure if I put pictures on my fliers, people will say, ‘Maysoun is coming here to teach the women of Hebron to go against customs.’ ”

Ms. Qawasmi’s long-shot, low-budget campaign is one of hundreds unfolding across the West Bank this month in the first Palestinian elections of any kind in six years, which analysts describe as an important if imperfect taste of democracy in a place where politics are adrift.

Peace talks with Israel are frozen. Reconciliation efforts between the Fatah party, which controls the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and the Hamas faction that rules the Gaza Strip also seem to be perpetually stalled. Last month’s street protests were largely suppressed, and there is no internal challenge to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.

So the chance to elect municipal councils is seen as a much needed opportunity for political expression, and 4,696 candidates, including 1,146 women, are running in 94 cities and villages.

“People are fed up; they don’t think they should be held hostage until the reconciliation is there,” said Hisham Kuhail, chief executive of the Palestinian election commission. “There are things that can be moved.”

But the balloting, which has been postponed twice since 2010, is hampered by a Hamas boycott and the Fatah leadership’s ousting of members who chose to run outside the party’s official lists. (Some 250 localities are not voting either because no candidates registered in time or because only a single slate signed up.) And while municipal councils are the closest form of government to people’s lives the world over, in the West Bank they lack control over taxes, development projects and, in most places, even basic services.

“It’s an attempt on the part of Fatah to generate a sense of legitimacy,” explained Basem Ezbidi, a political-science professor at Birzeit University. “Of course it’s always nice to have the fresh blood, but in Palestine it’s a different story. It’s not going to make that much of a difference on the ground whether X or Z or Y is really running the city, knowing that the money comes from the Europeans and the ability to operate comes from Israel.”

A September poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 50 percent of West Bankers did not plan to vote, and 43 percent said the elections would not be fair; nearly half did not believe that the balloting would ultimately take place.

On the street, cynicism abounds. Ayub Sharawi has a “Modern Hebron” poster in his clothing store because he is a friend of two of the candidates, but he said he would probably not vote.

“We don’t trust Palestinian leaders; we see each one of them is working for himself,” Mr. Sharawi said. “Even the good people couldn’t do anything because of the pressures around.”

Some are trying. In Bethlehem, Fadi Kattan, a tourism entrepreneur, is managing a list of candidates called “The Future” and pushing the message on social media that, he said, “you don’t need any more people who are 75 years old, you need young people” who can run a modern city. In Nablus, Ghassan Shakaa, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said he resigned from Fatah to run an independent list because “people want to see change.” In the village of Qira, Mr. Kuhail of the election commission said, nine slates are vying for 600 votes.

For the first time this year, there are quotas requiring that one of every five council seats goes to a woman, and in nine cities, there are set-asides for Christians as well. Nour Odeh, a Palestinian Authority spokeswoman, said that 17 percent of the current municipal council members were women, and noted that a group of women was the first to lobby for Palestinian independence in 1920.

Here in Hebron, home to about 200,000 Palestinians, 50,000 of whom live in an area controlled by Israel, these will be the first local elections since 1976, when Ms. Qawasmi’s father-in-law was elected mayor. Khalil Shikaki, who runs the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, said the “all-female list is a very innovative idea, but Hebron is the worst place to test its viability.” (Another women’s slate is running in a village near Ramallah.)

This is a tribal, religious place where it is rare to see women’s hair; a decade ago it was unusual to see a woman driving. Few women work outside the home, and Ms. Qawasmi said she closed the women’s sports club in 2005 because the members were blocked from playing soccer or basketball in public or jogging on the street.

“If you are a nurse or you are a teacher, O.K., but to be a leader, a decision-maker — they think the woman has a small mind,” Ms. Qawasmi said of her neighbors. “The woman needs help, but she can’t do anything because she’s afraid to raise her voice. I will shout.”

Raised in Jordan, Ms. Qawasmi went to a university in Beirut before marrying an architect from one of Hebron’s leading families 21 years ago. She has five children, ages 7 to 20, and manages the local office of the Palestinian news agency while volunteering with women’s groups.

She said she was spending about $5,000 of her own money on the campaign, and struggling even to recruit candidates. People have warned that her husband would take a second wife because the campaign was causing her to neglect her duties at home. Her platform is, essentially, that more women should be on the 15-member council. At a meeting last week, when the owners of a factory raised issues like new roads, smoke-free workplaces, electric bills and public toilets, she responded mostly with statements like, “Those who took care of you are women — your mother.”

In the middle of a recent day of campaigning, she came home to a sink full of dirty dishes. Later, her youngest child, Lilah, complained, “You forget us,” and asked for a bedtime story.

“I said, ‘I’m tired,’ ” Ms. Qawasmi recalled. “So I told her a story about me, about my campaign. I said, ‘Give me a chance; in 10 years, you’ll be so proud of me.’ She said, ‘I’m proud of you now.’ ”

And then Ms. Qawasmi fell asleep in her daughter’s bed.

Khaled Abu Aker contributed reporting.
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« Reply #2706 on: Oct 15, 2012, 07:12 AM »

October 14, 2012

Ruling Party Shows Strength Amid Low Turnout in Russian Vote

By ELLEN BARRY and ANDREW ROTH
IHT

MOSCOW — Russians voted in nearly 5,000 regional and local elections on Sunday, as opposition candidates tried to take advantage of electoral laws loosened last year in response to demands for open political competition.

As polls closed, though, candidates from United Russia, the ruling party of President Vladimir V. Putin, were favored to win most races, and a low turnout in some places was testament to weak fields of competitors. United Russia’s incumbents were poised to win in all five elections for governors— including two who were considered so unpopular that they were vulnerable to Communist Party challengers.

Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev, who now heads United Russia, congratulated party members in Moscow, saying heightened competition had improved the party’s performance.

“Everyone expected a party fiasco after December’s elections,” he said. “Supposedly there was a downward trend, and everything was going to collapse under us. But nothing of the kind happened — under completely different circumstances, this was the result.”

What intrigue there was came from volunteer election monitors, who fanned out to polling stations across the country hoping to document fraud. Since last year’s parliamentary elections, election-monitoring has leapt in popularity.

“The types of violations which people used to accept calmly, and accepted as something unavoidable — people are now taking them much more seriously,” said Aleksei V. Makarkin of Moscow’s Center for Political Technologies.

A particularly dramatic showdown was in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, where one mayoral candidate was Yevgenia Chirikova, a young mother who organized against the destruction of a local forest and became one of the most recognizable faces of the protest movement. Late Sunday night, exit polls suggested that she was running well behind Oleg Shakhov, the acting mayor.

Officials said 3,000 election observers — some linked to individual candidates, others independent — fanned out to cover 72 locations in Khimki. Surrounded by a crowd of journalists, Ms. Chirikova traveled from one polling station to another all day, taking reports. Late at night, she spoke to reporters outside a station where, she said, one of her campaign’s observers had gotten into a brawl with an official. The police were guarding the site, but she was angry and protective.

“I am watching to make sure they do not beat my observers,” she said, adding that if that happened, “no riot police will be able to restrain me.”

Officials were braced for a wave of reported violations to be published online, a trend that caught the government unaware ahead of last December’s parliamentary elections. Mr. Shakhov said the opposition activists had flooded into Khimki hoping to sabotage the election.

“It’s a show,” Mr. Shakhov said. “These are provocations that are designed to raise questions about the elections here. They are playing a game, and they are going to lose it.”

Russians in five regions were voting for governor — a novelty in and of itself, since Mr. Putin abolished direct elections for governors eight years ago in favor of presidential appointments. More than 4,500 candidates were competing for seats in local councils, and Kaliningrad, Russia’s westernmost city, was electing a new mayor.

Most races turned out to be less than riveting. The contests for governor were micromanaged by the Kremlin, which imposed strict screening of candidates and then made back-room deals to force strong contenders to drop out. United Russia has made great efforts to avoid losing races, in part because its future is in question, Mr. Makarkin said.

“They want to win as many elections as possible with as few scandals as possible,” he said. “The priority is survival.”

Parliamentary elections last December showed that support for United Russia was strikingly low in a range of industrial regions surrounding Moscow — a fact that was lost amid reports of vote rigging and large antigovernment protests.

The rising discontent seemed to be stanched by March, when Mr. Putin was elected president for a third time after a campaign of lavish pre-election spending and targeted television coverage meant to discredit the opposition.

Early results on Sunday in the Siberian city of Barnaul showed that United Russia had won just over 50 percent in elections for the city council. In Nizhny Tagil’s mayoral race, meanwhile, which has been styled as a pro-Putin stronghold, the United Russia candidate was leading with 92 percent of the vote.

Andrei Y. Buzin, head of election monitoring for Golos, a nonprofit organization, said the number of violations recorded on Sunday was probably no higher than in previous elections, but there were more reports because observers were both trained and more motivated.

In Bryansk, a Communist Party candidate told the Interfax news service that one of the party’s observers had approached a parked Mercedes, suspecting that people inside were distributing absentee ballots. The driver suddenly accelerated, and the car sped about 300 yards with the observer on its hood, said the candidate, Vadim Potomsky. The police in Bryansk later detained the driver and said they were investigating.

In Khimki, one of Ms. Chirikova’s supporters said election commission workers refused to display the voting list until reporters had left. The observer, Alla N. Chernysheva, said she believed that officials were adding more than 1,000 pro-government votes at Polling Station 3008, which is near the forest Ms. Chirikova campaigned to protect.

“This is one of the areas of Khimki where the protest is the greatest,” Ms. Chernysheva said. “People are angry and they’re trying to cover it up.”

Not everyone was impressed with Ms. Chirikova’s defiance. As he left a voting station with his wife, one voter, Dmitri Trevin, watched her give an impromptu news conference. “I’ll tell you one thing,” he said. “No matter what she is saying right now, they all change when they come into power.”

Ellen Barry reported from Moscow, and Andrew Roth from Khimki, Russia.
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« Reply #2707 on: Oct 15, 2012, 07:19 AM »

50 years after Cuba Missile Crisis, US influence in hemisphere waning

Investment from emerging economies like China and Russia are diminishing Latin America's reliance on the United States, making it more difficult for Washington to isolate regimes like Cuba.

By Sara Miller Llana, Staff Writer / October 14, 2012
Ismael Francisco/AP

Mexico City

It was what many consider the most dangerous moment the world has ever faced: the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which saw the United States square off over nuclear missiles stationed by the Soviet Union in Cuba.   

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the tense standoff. And while the politics of the Cold War have little relevance for US-Latin American relations today, in some ways the US finds itself in the very position that set the stage for conflict in the first place, says Philip Brenner, a historian of the missile crisis at American University. With US influence waning in the region, Latin America is forging ahead with its own agenda.

It was not only the containment of communism that drove US attempts to oust Fidel Castro from the helm of Cuba in the early 1960s says Mr. Brenner. The US was also concerned about Latin American countries emulating Cuba, particularly its geopolitical stance in the Cold War, and thus undermining American leadership in the western hemisphere. Some 50 years later, the US faces the same situation, just a more modern iteration.

“What the US feared the most in 1962 has come to pass,” says Brenner, who authored "Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba's Struggle with the Superpowers after the Missile Crisis."  “We were concerned about our sphere of influence that we had taken for granted.… [Today] we cannot dominate this region anymore. They do not look to us for leadership. Countries look within the region, and to some extent to Cuba still.”

After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the US turned its attention from Latin America as it focused on terrorism and threats from the Middle East. At the same time, over the past decade Latin American democracy has flourished and the global economy shifted, with Latin America no longer looking just north to the US for leadership and investment, but to India, China, and Russia. China surpassed the US as Brazil’s biggest trading partner in 2009.

Investment from outside

Most of these relationships are economic in nature among emerging economies. If Russia, for example, once eyed Cuba to buoy its political project close to the American border, today it is inking energy deals and selling arms in Latin America because it finds willing partners and purchasers there.   

“Russia is going to sell all kinds of arms to Venezuela, not because [Venezuelan President] Hugo Chavez is saying he is socialist. It’s because he has money to pay for it,” says Alex Sanchez, a senior research fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

The flurry of investment in countries ranging from Venezuela to Bolivia helps to further undermine US global dominance in the region, a scenario that many leaders welcome today. Chief among them is Mr. Chavez, who just won another six-year term in office, and his allies including President Evo Morales in Bolivia and President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

Indeed, the anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis will likely provide an opportunity for the “extreme left” in Latin America to express support for Cuba, says Johns Hopkins Latin American expert Riordan Roett. “They will be in solidarity about the survival of the Castro brothers,” Mr. Roett says.
'A lynchpin' in the region

That kind of defiance – showing respect for a nation that for so long the US has considered a thorn in its side – would have been unthinkable 50 years ago. Before the Cuban Missile Crisis, after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, the US pressured Latin American countries to suspend Cuba’s membership from the Organization of American States (OAS). At the same time, Cuba signed onto the non-aligned movement, and Brenner says it was that move that the US feared other countries in Latin America might follow. At the time, US thinking on the movement was, ‘you are with us or you are against us.’

The politics surrounding Cuba at the OAS highlights the declining influence of the US on the region. Fifty years ago the US advocated for Cuba’s suspension, and was successful; but during the group’s summit in April, leaders across political spectrums said they would question attending another summit without Cuba at the table.

“This comes from [Colombian President Juan Manuel] Santos, our most loyal ally in the region," says Brenner. "Cuba was once the pariah state; it is now a lynchpin for all the other countries.”
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« Reply #2708 on: Oct 15, 2012, 07:25 AM »

Pussy Riot band members face hard life in Russian penal colony

Two members of punk band Pussy Riot convicted of performing a "punk prayer" against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral will wind up in one of Russia's prison colonies for women. There inmates live in barracks with 30 to 40 to a room and spend seven to eight hours a day at work, usually hunched over sewing machines working on uniforms and other clothing.

By MAX SEDDON
The Associated Press

MOSCOW — It's a far cry from Stalin's gulag, but the guiding principle of the Russian penal colony — the destination of two members of punk band Pussy Riot — remains the same: isolate inmates and wear them down through "corrective labor."

Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova will have to quickly learn the inner laws of prison life, survive the dire food and medical care, and risk bullying from inmates either offended by their "punk prayer" against President Vladimir Putin or under orders to pressure them.

"Everyone knows the rule: Trust no one, never fear and never forgive," said Svetlana Bakhmina, a lawyer who spent three years in a penal colony. "You are in no man's land. Nobody will help you. You have to think about everything you say and do to remain a person."

Alekhina, 24; Tolokonnikova, 22; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, were convicted of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for an impromptu performance in Moscow's main cathedral as Putin headed into an election that handed him a third term as president.

The women insisted their protest was political. But many believers said they were deeply offended by the sight of the band members dancing on the altar in balaclavas.

An appeals court released Samutsevich on Wednesday, but upheld the two-year prison terms of the others. The presiding judge said "their correction is possible only in isolation from society."

In colonies for women, inmates live in barracks with 30 to 40 to a room. They begin the day with compulsory exercises at daybreak, in temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees in winter. After roll call and a breakfast of gruel, they spend seven to eight hours a day at work, usually hunched over sewing machines working on uniforms and other clothing.

Since there is only one women's penal colony near Moscow, prisoners from the capital are commonly sent to Mordovia, a mosquito-infested province on the Volga River.

Defense lawyers said Alekhina and Tolokonnikova would be taken to a penal colony within two weeks. The location was not yet known.

Despite the harsh conditions, many prisoners prefer the colonies to the pretrial detention centers, where they are kept in cramped, sometimes spectacularly unhygienic cells and only allowed out for an hour a day.

The three Pussy Riot members were held in such a center since their February arrest.

Russian inmates are kept in a system that Russia's own justice minister has described as "monstrously archaic" and whose purpose has changed little for hundreds of years.

Czarist Russia sent prisoners to remote Siberian colonies where labor was in short supply; the system was inherited and expanded by the Soviet Union, which worked millions of prisoners to death in the gulag. Russia incarcerates more people than any country in the world bar the United States and China, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies.

There have been other high-profile penal colony inmates in Putin's Russia. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the imprisoned head of the Yukos oil company, served part of his 14-year sentence in an Eastern Siberian colony. Once Russia's richest man, he served his time making mittens.

Arrested in 2003, he was convicted in two cases seen as punishment for challenging Putin's power.

Bakhmina, who once worked for Khodorkovsky, said you have little free time to yourself in the prison colony, where guards often compel prisoners to attend classes or participate in cultural activities.

In a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks in 2010, former Ambassador William Burns recalled visiting a women's prison where inmates put on a "bizarre fashion and talent show" for American officials.

"Boredom doesn't exist in the colony. It's too good a concept for it. You just regret the time you spend," Bakhmina said. "A normal person can't even imagine that environment — you have to get used to it and people have to get used to you. It takes several months, maybe half a year. It's all about how you behave — you have to not be conceited and respect other people."

Prisoners are typically paid the equivalent of about $10 a day, which they can use to buy food, cigarettes and toiletries. Those whose families don't send them supplies scrape through on the unofficial labor market, cleaning up the facilities or doing work for wealthier inmates. Cigarette packs are the internal currency.

Alekhina and Tolokonnikova, both university graduates, are unlikely to have much in common with their fellow inmates.

"I didn't think there even were people like 90 percent of the people I met," Bakhmina recalled. "I never had any idea there were so many drug addicts, or so many people with speech impediments."

Spouses are allowed three-day conjugal visits four times a year. Prisoners who show especially good behavior can even be given two weeks' leave outside the camp. Mothers with children younger than 3 can keep them in centers on penal-colony grounds, or in the case of one colony in Mordovia in their barracks. Alekhina's 5-year-old son and Tolokonnikova's 4-year-old daughter will live with relatives.

The two punk-band members can be punished with up to 15 days in solitary confinement for minor infractions such as failing to greet guards quickly enough.

Perhaps the greatest danger, however, will be posed by their fellow inmates. Physical violence is relatively rare in comparison to men's colonies. But the psychological pressure can be greater, said Vitaly Borshchyov, head of the Public Monitoring Commission, a human-rights organization that works with the government to improve prison conditions.

"Colonies are all-consuming for women," he said. "Having a large group of women together in a single space is a recipe for tension and conflicts. You might get beaten up, sexually humiliated or forced to be someone's lover, especially if you're a young woman."

The band members' lawyers also fear that Orthodox believers may attack them, either inspired by the extremely negative coverage of their protest on state television or egged on by state officials.

"When things get worse on the outside, it gets transferred into the colonies," said Lev Ponomarev, who runs the Defending Prisoners' Rights foundation. "Scoundrels think they can get away with more. The authorities are totally indifferent."
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« Reply #2709 on: Oct 15, 2012, 07:31 AM »

Study: Moon water may come indirectly from the sun

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 14, 2012 16:39 EDT

Scientists on Sunday said they had found water molecules in samples of lunar soil, and their unusual signature points to the Sun as the indirect source.

Samples returned to Earth by the Apollo missions carry molecules of water and a precursor of water called hydroxyl, according to their study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Researchers led by Yang Liu at the University of Tennessee theorise that the molecules developed from a reaction between hydrogen ions in the solar wind — the blast of particles from the Sun — and a loose surface soil called regolith.

The Sun was formed around 4.5 billion years ago from a cloud of gas, a reaction in which all the deuterium in the nebula reacted with hydrogen to form helium.

As a result, unlike all other objects in the Solar System, the Sun is deuterium-less. Sure enough, the samples were tellingly poor in deuterium, the investigators found.

The tests used infrared spectroscopy to get a chemical signature of regolith grains from the Apollo 11, 16 and 17 missions. Two samples came from plains locations, and one from the lunar highlands.

Although the molecules are dissolved within the grains and do not exist as liquid water, the findings powerfully boost the notion that the Moon is not the utterly arid place it was once thought to be, say the authors.

Since 2009, when NASA found water crystals in a deep crater near the Moon’s southern pole, evidence has suggested that the Moon was once a pretty moist place and may still have frozen water at depth.

Until now, the source of water in the inner Solar System, the region extending to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, is believed to be comets and other water-rich rocks which whack into planets and other bodies.

So if the study is right, hydrogen from the solar wind could be a second, hitherto unimagined source.

The solar wind whacks into the lunar surface at 1.6 million kms (a million miles) per hour, penetrating the lunar soil to a depth of up to 100 nanometres (100 billionths of a metre), according to some calculations.

The impact is so brutal that the Moon’s mass diminishes by around million tonnes per hour, a figure that however is tiny when compared to the size of our satellite.

Hydroxyl is a bond between one hydrogen and one oxygen atom, while water (H20) comprises two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.

How the solar hydrogen combines with oxygen in the regolith grains to make the molecules is unclear.

But the phenomenon could occur in other places in the inner Solar System, the authors suggest.

“A similar mechanism may contribute to hydroxyl on the surfaces of other airless terrestrial bodies where the solar wind directly interacts with the surface,” says the study.

Examples of this could be Mercury, the rocky planet that is nearest the Sun, and Vesta, the second biggest (and the brightest) object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

On Earth, we are shielded from the solar wind thanks to the atmosphere and the planet’s magnetic field.
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« Reply #2710 on: Oct 15, 2012, 08:19 AM »

In the USA..

October 14, 2012

24 Miles, 4 Minutes and 834 M.P.H., All in One Jump

By JOHN TIERNEY
NYT

ROSWELL, N.M. — A man fell to Earth from more than 24 miles high Sunday, becoming the first human to break the sound barrier under his own power — with some help from gravity.

The man, Felix Baumgartner, an Austrian daredevil, made the highest and fastest jump in history after ascending by a helium balloon to an altitude of 128,100 feet. As millions around the world experienced the vertiginous view from his capsule’s camera, which showed a round blue world surrounded by the black of space, he stepped off into the void and plummeted for more than four minutes, reaching a maximum speed measured at 833.9 miles per hour, or Mach 1.24.

He broke altitude and speed records set half a century ago by Joe Kittinger, now 84, a retired Air Force colonel whose reassuring voice from mission control guided Mr. Baumgartner through tense moments. Engineers considered aborting the mission when Mr. Baumgartner’s faceplate began fogging during the ascent, but he insisted on proceeding and made plans for doing the jump blind.

That proved unnecessary, but a new crisis occurred early in the jump when he began spinning out of control in the thin air of the stratosphere — the same problem that had nearly killed Mr. Kittinger a half-century earlier. But as the atmosphere thickened, Mr. Baumgartner managed to stop the spin and fall smoothly until he opened his parachute about a mile above the ground and landed smoothly in the New Mexico desert.

“It was harder than I expected,” said Mr. Baumgartner, a 43-year-old former Austrian paratrooper. “Trust me, when you stand up there on top of the world, you become so humble. It’s not about breaking records any more. It’s not about getting scientific data. It’s all about coming home.”

Mr. Kittinger praised Mr. Baumgartner’s courage for proceeding with the mission and said that he had more than broken a record.

“He demonstrated that a man could survive in an extremely high altitude escape situation,” Mr. Kittinger said. “Future astronauts will wear the spacesuit that Felix test-jumped today.”

Mr. Baumgartner was backed by a NASA-style mission control operation at an airfield in Roswell that involved 300 people, including more than 70 engineers, scientists and physicians who have been working for five years on the project, called Red Bull Stratos, after the drink company that has financed it.

Besides aiming at records, the engineers and scientists on the Red Bull Stratos team have been gathering and publishing reams of data intended to help future pilots, astronauts and perhaps space tourists survive if they have to bail out.

“We’re testing new spacesuits, escape concepts and treatment protocols for pressure loss at extreme altitudes,” said the Red Bull Stratos medical director, Dr. Jonathan Clark, who formerly oversaw the health of space shuttle crews at NASA. “There are so many things that could go wrong here that we’re pushing the technical envelope.”

While building the customized suit and capsule, the team of aerospace veterans had to contend with one crucial uncertainty: What happens to the human body when it breaks the sound barrier? There was also one major unexpected problem for Mr. Baumgartner, known to his fans as Fearless Felix.

Although he had no trouble jumping off buildings and bridges, and soaring across the English Channel in a carbon-fiber wing, he found himself suffering panic attacks when forced to spend hours inside the pressurized suit and helmet. At one point in 2010, rather than take an endurance test in it, he went to an airport and fled the United States. With the help of a sports psychologist and other specialists, he learned techniques for dealing with the claustrophobia.

One of the techniques Mr. Baumgartner developed was to stay busy throughout the ascent. He conversed steadily with Mr. Kittinger, a former fighter pilot whose deep voice exuded the right stuff as he confidently went through a 40-item checklist rehearsing every move that Mr. Baumgartner would make when it came time to leave the capsule.

When the actual moment came, Mr. Kittinger said to him, “All right, step up on the exterior step. Start the cameras. And our guardian angel will take care of you now.”

Mr. Baumgartner stepped outside, saluted and made the jump right after delivering a message that was mostly garbled by radio static. Afterward, he repeated it: “I know the whole world is watching, and I wish the whole world could see what I see. Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you really are.”

Engineers forecast that Mr. Baumgartner would reach a supersonic speed of 720 miles an hour by jumping from 120,000 feet, the altitude that they had promised to reach. But all along they had hoped the balloon would go even higher — and lead to an even faster fall, which did occur. As a result, even though he fell farther than Mr. Kittinger
did, his fall took less time: 4 minutes and 20 seconds, which was 16 seconds less than Mr. Kittinger’s.

Mr. Baumgartner jumped from an altitude of 128,100 feet and landed in desert about 4,000 above sea level, so the jump from capsule to the ground covered about 23 and a half miles.

When Mr. Baumgartner lost control of his body during the early part of the jump, he feared going into a flat spin that would send blood away from the center of his body.

“At a certain R.P.M.,” he said afterward, “there’s only one way for blood to leave your body, and that’s through your eyeballs. That means you’re dead. That was what we feared most.”

Because of the limited sensation inside his pressurized suit, he said recovering from a spin was much more difficult than during an ordinary dive.

“As a sky-diver, you can feel the air on your right shoulder and you immediately know what to do,” he said. “Here you don’t feel the air, so you have to wait until the air pushes you around. Then you think, ‘Oh, it pushed me around clockwise — that means I have to do this.’ ”

Brian Utley of the FAI, the international federation that certifies aerospace records, calculated the height and speed of the jump by independently analyzing data gathered on microchips in Mr. Baumgartner’s suit. After a thorough analysis of the data is made over the next several weeks, Mr. Utley said, the precise official figures might be slightly different, but he had no doubt that Mr. Baumgartner had set a supersonic speed record.

As the balloon rose in the sky, viewers from around the world went to YouTube to watch a live video stream from the capsule and mission control. By the time Mr. Baumgartner made his leap into space, the audience grew to a peak of eight million.

Brian Stelter contributed reporting from Damascus, Md.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 14, 2012

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the inflation of the balloon. It started at 10:45 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, not standard time.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 14, 2012

An earlier version of a Web summary on this article said incorrectly that Mr. Baumgartner jumped from a balloon. He jumped from a capsule lifted by a balloon.

Click here to watch this incredible event: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_i6LhfQIy7Y

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

October 14, 2012

Death By Ideology

By PAUL KRUGMAN
NYT

Mitt Romney doesn’t see dead people. But that’s only because he doesn’t want to see them; if he did, he’d have to acknowledge the ugly reality of what will happen if he and Paul Ryan get their way on health care.

Last week, speaking to The Columbus Dispatch, Mr. Romney declared that nobody in America dies because he or she is uninsured: “We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.” This followed on an earlier remark by Mr. Romney — echoing an infamous statement by none other than George W. Bush — in which he insisted that emergency rooms provide essential health care to the uninsured.

These are remarkable statements. They clearly demonstrate that Mr. Romney has no idea what life (and death) are like for those less fortunate than himself.

Even the idea that everyone gets urgent care when needed from emergency rooms is false. Yes, hospitals are required by law to treat people in dire need, whether or not they can pay. But that care isn’t free — on the contrary, if you go to an emergency room you will be billed, and the size of that bill can be shockingly high. Some people can’t or won’t pay, but fear of huge bills can deter the uninsured from visiting the emergency room even when they should. And sometimes they die as a result.

More important, going to the emergency room when you’re very sick is no substitute for regular care, especially if you have chronic health problems. When such problems are left untreated — as they often are among uninsured Americans — a trip to the emergency room can all too easily come too late to save a life.

So the reality, to which Mr. Romney is somehow blind, is that many people in America really do die every year because they don’t have health insurance.

How many deaths are we talking about? That’s not an easy question to answer, and conservatives love to cite the handful of studies that fail to find clear evidence that insurance saves lives. The overwhelming evidence, however, is that insurance is indeed a lifesaver, and lack of insurance a killer. For example, states that expand their Medicaid coverage, and hence provide health insurance to more people, consistently show a significant drop in mortality compared with neighboring states that don’t expand coverage.

And surely the fact that the United States is the only major advanced nation without some form of universal health care is at least part of the reason life expectancy is much lower in America than in Canada or Western Europe.

So there’s no real question that lack of insurance is responsible for thousands, and probably tens of thousands, of excess deaths of Americans each year. But that’s not a fact Mr. Romney wants to admit, because he and his running mate want to repeal Obamacare and slash funding for Medicaid — actions that would take insurance away from some 45 million nonelderly Americans, causing thousands of people to suffer premature death. And their longer-term plans to convert Medicare into Vouchercare would deprive many seniors of adequate coverage, too, leading to still more unnecessary mortality.

Oh, about the voucher thing: In his debate with Vice President Biden, Mr. Ryan was actually the first one to mention vouchers, attempting to rule the term out of bounds. Indeed, it’s apparently the party line on the right that anyone using the word “voucher” to describe a health policy in which you’re given a fixed sum to apply to health insurance is a liar, not to mention a big meanie.

Among the lying liars, then, is the guy who, in 2009, described the Ryan plan as a matter of “converting Medicare into a defined contribution sort of voucher system.” Oh, wait — that was Paul Ryan himself.

And what if the vouchers — for that’s what they are — turned out not to be large enough to pay for adequate insurance? Then those who couldn’t afford to top up the vouchers sufficiently — a group that would include many, and probably most, older Americans — would be left with inadequate insurance, insurance that exposed them to severe financial hardship if they got sick, sometimes left them unable to afford crucial care, and yes, sometimes led to their early death.

So let’s be brutally honest here. The Romney-Ryan position on health care is that many millions of Americans must be denied health insurance, and millions more deprived of the security Medicare now provides, in order to save money. At the same time, of course, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are proposing trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy. So a literal description of their plan is that they want to expose many Americans to financial insecurity, and let some of them die, so that a handful of already wealthy people can have a higher after-tax income.

It’s not a pretty picture — and you can see why Mr. Romney chooses not to see it.


***********

Fox News Turns on Romney and Criticizes His Impossible Tax Cut Math

By: Jason Easley October 14th, 2012

Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace turned on the Romney campaign today, called out their bogus 6 studies statistic and criticized their tax cut math that doesn’t add up.

Here is the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dkQK4_FJ1Jw

Transcript:

    WALLACE: All right, let’s talk about what David Axelrod brought up in the question of taxes. In the vice presidential debate, Paul Ryan, once again, got roughed up for failing to explain how you’re going to pay for the 20% cut in tax rates by limiting deductions. Let’s take a look. Here it is.

    RYAN: We want to work with congress on how best to achieve this, that means successful. What we are saying, lower tax rates 20%, start with the wealthy, work with congress to do it.

    WALLACE: Ryan is saying, we don’t want to get hemmed in. Let’s leave it to negotiations with congress to get into the details. Here’s my question. Why is it all right to tell voters about the candy – hey, everybody is going to get a 20% tax cut, cut in their tax rates, but let’s not tell them about the spinach, which is you’re going to lose some deductions?

    GILLESPIE: We have talked about losing deductions…

    WALLACE: But you haven’t given specifics.

    GILLESPIE: Well, because Chris, in a campaign environment, to start negotiating in a campaign environment you’re going to lock in republicans, you’re going to lock in democrats…

    WALLACE: But you locked them in on the 20% tax rate.

    GILLESPIE: I think people understand that that is a broad principle, that that tax rate needs to come down and we need to broaden the base. That is the principle, the principle is also that we are not going to change the share of taxes paid by upper income earners, and we’re going to give tax relief to the middle class and it’s going to be deficit neutral. You can do all of those things and have people understand that this election was about this and we need this kind of pro-growth tax reform agenda. And, then work out the details in the same way, by the way, Ronald Reagan did with Tip O’Neill with working across the aisle. Governor Romney has a proven record of being able to work across this aisle.

    WALLACE: But you’re not explaining – because there are a lot of question from independent people – how do you pay for it? And you refuse say how you’re going to pay for it.

    GILLESPIE: What we have said is that we are going to pay for it with these, by limiting deductions and loopholes – and, by the way, making sure for the middle class, that protecting the home mortgage deduction and other important deductions for them, but at the high end you would eliminate deductions and, you know, a lot of special interest loopholes that would allow you to bring down the rate 20%. Six different studies have said this is entirely doable.

    WALLACE: Those are questionable, some of them are blogs, some of them are from the AEI, which is hardly an independent group.

    GILLESPIE: These are very credible sources…

    WALLACE: One of them is from a guy who is – from a blog from a guy who was a top advisor to George W. Bush. These are hardly nonpartisan studies.

    GILLESPIE: Well, Chris, I think if you look at Harvard an AEI and other studies, they are very credible sources for economic analysis.

    WALLACE: You wouldn’t say that AEI is a conservative think tank?

    GILLESPIE: I would say it is a right-leaning think tank. That doesn’t make it not credible.

    WALLACE: Chris: It doesn’t make it nonpartisan.

    GILLESPIE: It does make it nonpartisan. It’s not a partisan organization, I can tell you, there have been many instances where there have been things that AEI has come out with and said, that I didn’t find to be necessarily helpful to the Republican Party.

Fox News has been complaining about the fact that Romney won’t give them specifics since the general election campaign started, but Chris Wallace’s tough stance on Ed Gillespie shows how exasperated they have become with Romney.

What the Romney campaign doesn’t get is that Fox News is on their side, and would spin any details they gave them in a way that would help the Romney campaign. Romney could announce that he is going pay for his tax cut by cutting all food assistance to children and seniors, get rid of Head Start, and he is will be charging everybody $25 a year for the right to use the words United States and Fox News would still spin it in his favor.

It was also a bit surreal to see Chris Wallace do what most of the supposedly “neutral” mainstream media won’t do, by calling out Romney’s 6 studies statistic as completely bogus.

The reality is that Roger Ailes and Fox News see Romney’s lack of details as one of his major weaknesses. They know it could cost him the election. They are trying their best to help Romney out, but the Republican nominee’s campaign is either too paranoid or stupid to accept their assistance.

It is looking like the real reason why Mitt Romney won’t give the details about his tax plan is because there aren’t any. Romney might actually be telling the truth when he states that he is going to figure it out later with the Congress, but figuring it out later with the Congress is also political code for, “we’re not going to pay for this,” and that is a truth that the Romney campaign desperately does not want to admit.

The Fox News/Romney marriage should never be described as good. Much like most of the right, they are supporting Romney because he is the nominee. Chris Wallace’s questioning of Gillespie was more proof that Mitt Romney doesn’t trust Fox News, and Fox News doesn’t trust Mitt Romney.

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

Jake Tapper Calls Out Romney’s Conflict of Interest in China

By: Sarah Jones October 14th, 2012

On “This Week”, Jake Tapper called out Mitt Romney’s claim that he would get tough on China. Tapper said, “Is there not a disconnect between what Governor Romney says he wants to do with China and how he’s continuing to profit off of those very problems he criticizes?”

Watch here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=3Jmqu5c5DIc

TAPPER: In Ohio especially, Governor Romney has been making a big issue about cracking down on China and China’s cheating. There is this other issue though, Governor Romney gets a cut of the profits from Bain Capital’s investments in Chinese companies and in companies that are currently offshoring U.S. jobs to China. Is there not a disconnect between what Governor Romney says he wants to do with China and how he’s continuing to profit off of those very problems he criticizes?

In December of 2011, the Romney campaign attempted to deal with this conflict by claiming that the candidate shed all of his interests in China at the same time as Romney made “confronting China” a central part of his message, but the truth is that he still holds interests in Bain Capital that make a profit off of investments in Chinese companies, one of which is being sued by Microsoft for piracy of American products.

In September of 2012, the Romney campaign admitted to PolitiFact that Romney was still invested in China. The campaign claims the money is invested through Romney’s blind trust, but even Mitt Romney once warned that blind trusts were a ruse.

In fact, Mitt Romney’s blind trust doesn’t meet federal requirements for a blind trust. It’s called a blind trust because the candidate chooses to call it so, not because it adheres to the federal rules that would qualify it as such.

    Romney is much closer to his trustee, Malt, than federal rules would allow. The two men both have close ties to Bain Capital, Romney as founder, and Malt as a lawer to the firm. Romney retains large investments in Bain. None of this matches the criteria of independence and arm’s length dealings that are spelled out in the federal rules.

In March of 2012, Romney denied knowing that he was invested in Chinese companies but now in September, having the matter brought to his attention by an article in the New York Times, his campaign admits it, but claims Romney had nothing to do with it.

Not only is Romney profiting from his Chinese holdings, one of which is being sued for piracy of American products, but he also managed to pay a very low rate on those earnings by a trick that at once treats him as if he is still managing the company while he claims he’s not.

The Washington Post broke it down,
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« Reply #2711 on: Oct 16, 2012, 06:32 AM »

October 15, 2012

Portugal's Draft Budget Sticks With Deficit Targets

By RAPHAEL MINDER
IHT

LISBON — In the face of a mounting popular outcry against its austerity measures, Portugal’s government on Monday presented a draft budget containing a raft of new tax increases designed to allow Lisbon to meet its agreed deficit targets with international lenders.

The presentation of the draft budget came as protesters gathered before Parliament in the late afternoon, mirroring a similar protest last month in Madrid. Since Sept. 15, when tens of thousands of Portuguese took to the streets, the country has seen an unprecedented wave of protests against an austerity program whose benefits have been called into question by a deepening recession and Portugal’s apparent inability to balance its books on schedule.

The center-right coalition government of Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho is putting in place belt-tightening prescriptions that were negotiated in May last year by the departing Socialist administration with international lenders, in return for a bailout of €78 billion, or about $101 billion.

Portugal’s finance minister, Vítor Gaspar, said Monday that the government would stick to the austerity program agreed with lenders, warning that any deviation would risk the “viability” of Portugal’s economy and hurt its credibility among investors.

“A responsible country should do everything possible to avoid such a scenario,” he said. “We don’t have any room for maneuver.”

The draft 2013 budget is designed to yield savings of €5.3 billion. About 80 percent of the adjustments come from tax increases. They include an additional income tax of 4 percent that will be applied to all salaries and raised by a further 2.5 percent for people earning more than €80,000 a year.

Portuguese citizens also face a rise in the annual tax for driving their cars, from 1.3 percent to 10 percent, while electricity tariffs will be raised on average 2.8 percent next year.

“The increase in the fiscal burden is very significant,” Mr. Gaspar acknowledged at a press conference on Monday, calling the latest budget one of the toughest in Portugal’s recent history.

Like Spain, Portugal was recently granted an additional year to meet previously agreed deficit targets. The draft budget is meant to allow Portugal to lower its deficit to 4.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2013, from a target of 5 percent this year.

But recent tax revenues have been below expectations, as the recession has eroded domestic consumption; this has raised concerns that Lisbon will not be able to meet this year’s deficit target and that the tax increases would further stifle the economy.

In their most recent reports, credit rating agencies have suggested that Lisbon will need to extend the bailout program beyond next September — a suggestion that has been firmly rejected by the Lisbon government.

“The difficulties in formulating politically palatable measures to meet Portugal’s economic adjustment targets point to increased risks for program compliance,” Moody’s said in a report on Oct. 5.

The 2013 draft budget was officially handed over to Parliament on Monday, but it is only due to be debated by lawmakers and then voted upon at the end of this month.

Having won plaudits from the lenders, Mr. Passos Coelho unexpectedly deviated from the anticipated austerity script last month by unveiling a social security tax redistribution plan that caught employers off guard and created outrage among employees whose payments would have been significantly increased.

The social security plan was eventually withdrawn amid opposition also from the Popular Party, which is part of Mr. Passos Coelho’s governing coalition, forcing the government to come up instead with other tax hikes as part of its 2013 budget.

On Monday, Mr. Gaspar, the finance minister, highlighted a recent improvement in exports, which will leave Portugal this year with a trade surplus for the first time in 20 years. But economists expect Portuguese exports to lose steam next year due to falling demand from its main European trading partners, starting with Spain.

Among other measures unveiled on Monday, pensions over €1,350 a month will be cut by 3.5 percent under next year’s draft budget.

The government recently warned that the budgetary squeeze could lead to the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in a public sector that accounts for about half of Portugal’s economy.

Mr. Gaspar said Monday that the government planned to cut staff in the transportation sector by 20 percent. Under the draft budget, civil servants next year will lose their Christmas bonus salary, equivalent to one month’s pay.

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

October 15, 2012 06:00 PM

Portugese Force Leaders To Withdraw Social Security Tax Hike

By Susie Madrak

So now the previously well-behaved and compliant Portugese are protesting in the streets over their government's austerity plans:

    The turning point came in September when Mr. Passos Coelho offered a plan to redistribute social security funds by cutting employers’ social security taxes while significantly raising those of employees. Although the measure was meant to lower labor costs, the outcry from workers was so ferocious that he was soon forced to withdraw it.

    But the damage was already done. The misstep is now credited with having rattled the social and political cohesion that had underpinned Portugal’s painful but steady progress.

    The withdrawal of the tax plan left the Portuguese, who had once grudgingly accepted the pain of austerity, with a new sense of empowerment, Mr. Magalhães said. “The fact that the government backed down and the fact that no catastrophe or international censure came out of it suddenly shows that there are no inevitabilities,” he said.

Pay attention, will you, people? We may need this sooner than you think.

    [...] Mr. Vieira Lopes suggested that the fundamental problem was that the bailout assistance program from Portugal’s international lenders did not take sufficiently into account the specifics of the nation.

    “The austerity model has been applied rather mechanically,” he said. “This is not a country full of big companies that can adjust to a decline in their domestic market, but rather small and medium-sized companies whose only option is then to close down.”

    Many stores in downtown Lisbon are now either closed or advertising huge discounts, as citizens struggle in a deepening recession that has pushed unemployment to a record 15 percent. A sharp rise in the sales tax has decimated the restaurant sector. One measure of the hardship has been the sudden proliferation of the “marmita,” or lunch box, used by employees to take their home cooking to work. Even the investment banking division of Banco Espirito Santo, one of Portugal’s largest financial institutions, recently refitted a room with tables, refrigerators and microwaves to accommodate the trend.

    As consumer spending is declining, so too are tax revenues. As part of its 2012 budget, the government anticipated that sales taxes would produce revenues 11.6 percent higher than in 2011. Instead, revenues were down 2.2 percent in the first eight months of this year, as the tax increases suffocate the economy.

Imagine. Apparently leaving people without any money to spend depresses tax revenues and contracts the economy! Who would have guessed?

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

October 15, 2012 02:00 PM

IMF Reports That England's Austerity Program Isn't Working

By John Amato

Many of us have been blasting the politics of austerity because there has never been one fact to support it especially during an economic crisis, but England's grand poobah has been leading the austerity charge and hasn't backed down. The IMF is just the latest organization to throw could water on his predictions.

    George Osborne's drastic deficit-cutting programme will have sucked £76bn more out of the economy than he expected by 2015, according to estimates from the International Monetary Fund of the price of austerity.

    Christine Lagarde, the IMF's managing director, last week caused consternation among governments that have embarked on controversial spending cuts by arguing that the impact on economic growth may be greater than previously thought.

    The independent Office for Budget Responsibility implicitly used a "fiscal multiplier" of 0.5 to estimate the impact of the coalition's tax rises and spending cuts on the economy. That meant each pound of cuts was expected to reduce economic output by 50p. However, after examining the records of many countries that have embraced austerity since the financial crisis, the IMF reckons the true multiplier is 0.9-1.7.

Wow, who could have predicted that? Well, everybody who isn't a conservative.

    Neal Lawson, director of left-wing pressure group Compass, said, "the cuts were never going to work, but these calculations show the effect is bigger than anyone judged. The economy isn't suffering from government borrowing but a severe lack of demand that only the government can fix."

    Osborne told reporters in Tokyo that the IMF does not allow for the boost provided to growth by the Bank of England's £375bn of quantitative easing. "The point I would make about their study of the fiscal multipliers is that they explicitly say they were not taking into account offsetting monetary policy action. In the UK, I would argue we have a tough and credible fiscal policy to allow for loose and accommodative monetary policy and I think that is the right combination."

    But many economists believe the dent in growth caused by austerity policies may be larger than first thought, because the financial crisis has left banks starving firms and households of credit; and with many countries cutting back simultaneously, it is harder to fill the gap created by cuts with demand for exports.


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« Reply #2712 on: Oct 16, 2012, 06:35 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/16/2012 12:07 PM

New Powers for Brussels: Germany's Schäuble Presents Master Plan for Euro

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is determined to end the euro crisis once and for all. On Sunday he effectively ruled out a Greek bankruptcy, and is now proposing far-reaching reforms to stabilize the currency union. Under his plan, Brussels would be granted far greater powers over national budgets.

Wolfgang Schäuble knows that the quiet on the markets over the past few weeks has been deceptive and that the euro crisis could erupt again soon. After all, doubts remain about whether Greece can remain in the currency union in the long term. If it triggers a chain reaction, the entire euro project could collapse. In addition, the willingness of many euro-zone member states to eliminate the design defects of the common currency appears to be diminishing.

Cash-strapped Greeks, fatigued Europeans -- Germany now wants to solve both problems for the long term. "There will be no state bankruptcy in Greece," Schäuble said in a speech in Singapore on Sunday. He also wants to give a new boost to the reform impetus for restructuring the euro zone. "We now need to go a major step in the direction of a fiscal union that will go beyond the proposals made so far," Schäuble said on Monday night during his flight back to Berlin.

The finance minister, a passionate advocate of deeper European integration, has said he wants to concentrate on a small number of far-reaching reforms:

    The European commissioner for economic and currency affairs is to become equally powerful as the commissioner for competition. The competition commissioner is entitled to make decisions independently and does not require the agreement of the other commissioners in making those decisions. If the currency affairs commissioner were truly independent when it came to decision-making, it would depoliticize that office holder's position. That would enable the commissioner to make decisions based on content rather than interests.

    In order to strengthen the position of the currency affairs commissioner, individual member states would have to hand over part of their budget sovereignty to Brussels. Under Schäuble's proposal, the currency affairs commissioner, by now one of the most powerful positions in the EU, would be equipped with veto power over national budgets. The procedure might look like this: If a euro-zone member state sent its budget proposal to Brussels and the commissioner felt the deficit in the draft was too high, then the country's parliament would be asked to prepare a new draft. Member states would retain the power to decide which revenues to increase and which spending to to cut. But the proposed change still represents an improvement over the status quo. Under current rules, the European Commission's power is limited to making recommendations to member states on improvements to budgets.
    Schäuble also wants to create more democratic legitimation for European policies by including the participation of the European Parliament at a fundamentally earlier stage in all important processes. The representative body of the people would also be changed so that votes would only include members of the European parliament from the countries that would be directly impacted by proposals considered. For decisions relating to the euro-zone, for example, only members of parliament from the 17 nations in the common currency area would meet to vote -- and not MEPs from all 27 EU countries. Although critics will note that this ultimately cements the idea of a two-speed Europe, the advantage of the proposal is that it would enhance democracy without making decision-making processes that are already very difficult to understand any more complicated.

In principle, there is nothing new about these ideas. What is new, though, is that one of the most influential politicians in Europe has cherry-picked concrete measures from the complex reform suggestions for the currency zone and strung them together as his own reform package.

The chances of success for Schäuble's plan aren't bad, either, because the German finance minister already presented them to other other euro-zone members before going public. The four leaders of important European institutions who are currently tasked with putting together proposals for reforming the currency union -- European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, Euro Group President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi -- have also been briefed.

Schäuble's proposals may play a role as soon as this week's EU summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. Their implementation would require changes to the European treaties -- a process the finance minister would like to begin as soon as possible. Schäuble would like to convene an EU convention by the end of the year in which members of the European and national parliaments would work on a draft that would then have to be ratified by the 27 member states. Even if the process proceeded under the most optimal of conditions, it would still likely take one-and-a-half years before the changes could become law. However, it is more realistic that the changes would then go into effect at the beginning of 2015 at the earliest.

That, of course, assumes that Britain, which is not a member of the euro zone and which often opposes steps towards closer European integration, will play along. If it doesn't, it won't be possible to change the EU treaties. Euro zone governments would have to come up with a separate treaty as they recently did with the fiscal pact. It wouldn't be an optimal solution, but it wouldn't be acceptable.

The British should not underestimate Schäuble's determination to solve the euro crisis. Chancellor Angela Merkel backs the proposals even though Schäuble admits: "The chancellor is still a little more cautious than me." He added with a smile: "That's also why she is a little more successful than me."
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« Reply #2713 on: Oct 16, 2012, 06:36 AM »

October 15, 2012

Britain Takes a Step Back From Europe

By STEPHEN CASTLE
IHT

LONDON — Britain’s efforts to craft a looser, more detached relationship with the European Union gathered pace Monday when the government said it planned to opt out of more than 130 justice and police measures to which it had once agreed.

The move, which was welcomed by British critics of the European Union, represents a significant turnaround for a country that, until recently, pressed hard for closer police cooperation across the Continent.

Britain in fact still wants to continue in some of the estimated 133 measures but, under an agreement it struck some years ago, has first to choose whether it accepts all of them or none. It can then discuss with European allies whether it can opt back in to specific areas.

Theresa May, the home secretary, said in Parliament on Monday that the “government’s current thinking” is that it will opt out, then negotiate to rejoin those measures it deems to be in its national interest.

With the euro zone in crisis and British public opinion increasingly hostile to further European integration, the declaration Monday seemed intended to send a strong political signal.

The Conservative Party, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, is seeking to take some distance from the 27-nation bloc partly because his own parliamentarians feel under pressure from the United Kingdom Independence Party, which wants to take Britain out of the European Union altogether.

Mr. Cameron wants to keep Britain in the Union but redefine its relationship so as to put at its core the single market — which is vital for British exports — while loosening other ties. The idea is to create a durable settlement, acceptable to voters who may, eventually, be offered a referendum.

Meanwhile, the implications of the declaration remain unclear.

“This is the opening shot in a long and controversial negotiation over which European police and judicial cooperation Britain wants to stay in, and which it is allowed to stay in,” said Hugo Brady, senior research fellow at the Center for European Reform in London. Mr. Brady argued that it was too early to predict the ramifications but added that “Euro-skepticism is becoming a wild river, which is going to drag politicians in directions they don’t expect.”

Though most European partners will probably want Britain to take part in as many measures as possible, some may object to its picky attitude or hold an agreement to ransom on other issues.

The change arises because the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in December 2009, put justice and interior measures on a new basis, giving more power, for example, to the European Court of Justice. In exchange for agreeing to the treaty, Britain’s last government won the right to accept or opt out of the police and judicial measures. The new arrangements are due to come into effect in 2014.

Though it was well received by her Conservative colleagues, Ms. May’s declaration was not as clear-cut as some expected, reflecting tensions within Britain’s coalition government.

Yvette Cooper, who speaks for the Labour opposition on justice and police issues, accused the government of taking “an utterly chaotic position.”

The Liberal Democrats, who are the junior coalition partners and are more pro-European than the Conservatives, favor the European Arrest Warrant, which speeds and simplifies extradition between European Union nations. It was used in a recent high-profile case of a teacher, Jeremy Forrest ,who was accused of abducting a pupil.

Ms. May refused to give her view on the warrant, saying she was “not talking about individual measures today.”

European officials say there may be additional administrative costs associated with opting out, then opting back in — a suggestion not denied by Ms. May though she blamed the previous government for that situation.

Reaction from the European Commission, the E.U. executive body, was cautious. Mark Gray, a spokesman, said it would “assess the consequences.”

Hannes Swoboda, the leader of the Socialists and Democrats, the main center-left group in the European Parliament called the decision “utterly unreasonable”and said it “risks hampering the work of police and magistrates across the E.U.”
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« Reply #2714 on: Oct 16, 2012, 06:38 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
10/16/2012 01:45 PM

Autonomy Referendum Set for 2014: Cameron Lets Scots Agonize Over Independence

By Carsten Volkery in London

Scotland is free to hold an independence referendum in late 2014 after British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to the vote on whether to dissolve the union with England after more than three centuries. But most Scots are still opposed to a split with England, preferring more autonomy instead.

They have been talking about it for the last 300 years and now they're finally getting serious: in the autumn of 2014, the Scots will hold a referendum on whether to become an independent state. British Prime Minister David Cameron and the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, on Monday signed an agreement in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, outlining the terms of the vote.

Scotland's voters will get to decide with a simple Yes or No whether the union between England and Scotland, which has existed since 1707, should be dissolved. They will not be given the chance to vote on any half-way measures such as greater autonomy for Scotland within Great Britain, though. It is now up to the Scottish regional parliament to decide on the exact phrasing of the question to be voted on.

Both Cameron and Salmond said it was a historic day. But they didn't give a joint press conference -- Cameron, who opposes Scotland's push for independence, wanted to keep his distance from Scotland's nationalist leader. The Prime Minister said he was confident that the Scots would vote to keep the union and that Britain would be stronger if it stayed together.

"I passionately believe that Scotland would be better off in the United Kingdom but also crucially that the United Kingdom would be better off with Scotland," said Cameron. "I will be arguing to keep the family together."

The independence question has dominated Scottish politics for centuries. The government of Tony Blair, responding to growing demands for more self-determination, agreed to so-called devolution in 1998. Edinburgh got its own parliament and regional government, which have powers over education, justice and health policies. But the independence movement has gained force since Salmond's Scottish National Party became the strongest party in the parliament in 2007. Last year, the separatists won an absolute majority, making a referendum inevitable.

Conservatives Criticize Cameron

Many in Cameron's Conservative Party say he shouldn't have bowed to the demands of the Scottish nationalists. He could now become the Prime Minister under whom the kingdom broke apart. But Cameron evidently believed he had little choice. The people of Scotland could not be kept in Britain against their will, he said, adding that a majority of them had elected a party that wanted a referendum and that he respected the wishes of voters.

Salmon needed Cameron's blessing because his regional government has no constitutional powers. The agreement signed in Edinburgh gave the Scottish government the temporary right to hold a referendum.

The compromise followed months of horsetrading. Salmond had already presented a roadmap for the referendum in January in which he had envisaged two questions: in case of a No to independence, he also wanted to ask voters if they favored greater autonomy for Scotland. Cameron had categorically refused this option because he wants to end the debate once and for all. The Prime Minister hopes that a No vote in a referendum will undermine the Scottish nationalist, whose popularity stems in part from promises for ever greater independence.

Opinion polls show that at most a third of Scots want to break away from Great Britain. Most of them want more powers for the regional parliament.

But Salmond won a concession from London to allow Scotland to lower the voting age to 16 from Britain's countrywide 18 -- he believes that young people are more likely to vote in favor of independence. However, opinion polls suggest people that age won't vote differently from the rest of the population.

Can Scotland Afford to Be Independent?

Cameron wanted to hold the referendum as soon as possible, but Salmond wanted to delay it. In 2014, Scotland will host the Ryder Cup and the Commowealth Games, two major sporting events that Salmond hopes will make the Scots more patriotic.

Now that the procedural questions have been settled, both camps can concentrate on their campaigns. Cameron made a start even before he met Salmond on Monday with a highly symbolic visit to a shipyard in Rosyth near Edinburgh where the biggest British warship ever, the aircraft carrier "HMS Queen Elizabeth II," will be built.

The images from the shipyard were meant to send an unspoken but clear message: that independence will lead to the loss of lucrative orders and jobs.

The central question in the two-year campaign running up to the referendum will be whether Scotland can afford to be independent. The British government has avoided casting any doubt on this in public because it doesn't want to stir Scottish national pride. But this is doubtless its strongest argument. Unlike other European regions striving for independence such as Catalonia in Spain or Flanders in Belgium, Scotland isn't Britain's econonimc engine. The public sector here is bigger than in England and state spending per capita is as well.

The nationalists point to the oil platforms, most of them Scottish-owned, whose revenues currently flow into the British budget. But they amount to just 8.8 billion pounds (€10.9 billion, $14.2 billion) per year. Salmond likes to compare an independent Scotland to Scandinavian countries. They too are relatively small but have strong welfare states and are economically successful. He assures skeptics that an independent Scotland would continue to have close economic links with Britain through open borders. Scotland's strongest private sector industry is banking. In the boom years, Edinburgh became the country's second-biggest financial center after London.

But there is no proof that Scotland would be better off on its own, and the most likely scenario is that the Scots will vote against independence. Even if they do, they can still hope to get even more autonomy. Cameron has already hinted that he would be open to negotiations on that.
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