Pages: 1 ... 180 181 [182] 183 184 ... 1363   Go Down
Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1079243 times)
Most Active Member
Posts: 28666

« Reply #2715 on: Oct 16, 2012, 06:39 AM »

10/16/2012 01:29 PM

Border Tensions: Syrian Conflict Raises Kurdish Specter For Turkey

By Daniel Steinvorth

As the confrontation between Turkey and Syria escalates, Ankara is readying not only for possible war against Syrian President Bashar Assad, but also against Kurdish separatists. Turkey fears they may be emboldened by the situation in Syria and resurrect their cause.

Necdet Özel, the chief of the Turkish General Staff, pulled his visor cap deep down over his face and placed his right hand on his holster. In Akçakale, where a Syrian shell killed five civilians in early October, and which has come under more artillery fire from the neighboring country since then, the commander of the Turkish army threated to strike back with "full force" if the shelling from Syria didn't stop. "We are here," he said, "and we are standing tall."

Several tank groups rumbled up to a few meters from the border, and at least 25 additional fighter jets landed at the Diyarbakir air base. Özel's message was that Turkey, whose army of 612,000 troops is the largest in the Middle East, is preparing for war with Syria.

Aircraft Ban

The general's army, second in size only to that of the United States within NATO, would likely defeat the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad within a few days. But an attack could drag NATO into the conflict, and it also poses substantial risks. The few shells that are landing on Turkish soil should be the least of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's worries. Indeed, he should be more concerned over a strategic maneuver on the part of Syria, whereby Assad is allowing the Kurds to do as they please on his side of the border, fueling the Turks' fears of a new uprising by the Kurdish minority in their own country.

In principle, an enabling statute for military campaigns would allow Prime Minister Erdogan to strike at any time. The situation in the region is already volatile. Syrian artillery shells continue to strike near refugee camps that now house up to 100,000 Syrians. And with the forced landing last week of a Syrian passenger jet, which apparently had ammunition and missile parts from Russia in its cargo hold, Turkey irritated the Assad regime and antagonized Syria's ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The incident prompted Turkey to ban all Syrian aircraft from its airspace. Meanwhile, on Monday, an Armenian plane flying to the Syrian city of Aleppo was ordered to land. After its cargo was searched, the plane was allowed to continue on its way after it was confirmed the plane was carrying humanitarian aid as Armenian officials had stated.

Playing With Fire

Erdogan is also playing with fire by granting safe haven to the Syrian opposition in exile, providing the Free Syrian Army with space to retreat and probably helping resupply the rebels with weapons. Erdogan was the first foreign leader to call for the establishment of a buffer zone in northern Syria.

Assad took revenge in his own way, by withdrawing his military from Syria's Kurdish areas in the northeastern part of the country bordering Turkey in recent months. The area is now controlled by an organization affiliated with the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which reportedly has already proclaimed a "West Kurdistan Autonomous Region."

The possibility of a second Kurdish republic taking shape -- next to the semiautonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq -- is a nightmare for Erdogan. He already has his hands full with the chronic Kurdish problem in his own country. In fighting between the Turkish Army and PKK units, more than 700 people died this year alone, in what was the bloodiest summer in 20 years.

The True Targets?

Kurdish separatists in Turkey, who are already looking to Syria with envy, could now see a resurrection of their cause, even to the point of achieving a "Greater Kurdistan, which includes the southern borders of Turkey," as the daily newspaper Milliyet writes.

So are the freedom-loving Kurds, more than the Assad regime, the true targets of Turkey's potential war plans? There is a good reason that Erdogan's new military law only vaguely mentions "operations outside Turkish borders." Similar language was used in the past to legitimize operations against presumed PKK positions in northern Iraq.

It is clear that a military strike against Kurds in northeastern Syria could be easier to sell to the Turkish public than a war against the entire country. "We don't want our children's blood to be shed in Arab deserts," Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kiliçdaroglu said in parliament.

Personal Hostility

But it is also clear that if Turks are killed in another Syrian shelling incident, Erdogan could feel compelled to act. His personal hostility toward Assad would likely help him overcome any qualms. The Turkish premier feels personally deceived by his former "brother," after Assad promised reforms several times and then proceeded against his people with unchanged severity. Erdogan's best friend in the Arab world became his worst enemy.

To prepare his war-weary people for the worst, the Turkish premier has also appealed to their patriotic spirit, saying: "A country that is not prepared to go to war at any time is not fully developed."

Erdogan berates cautious people like Kiliçdaroglu as traitors to the Turkish people, noting that the opposition leader is, after all, an Alevi, which, of course, would make him a supporter of the Assad's Alawite regime. Alevis and Alawites are both sects of Shiite Islam.
Most Active Member
Posts: 28666

« Reply #2716 on: Oct 16, 2012, 06:47 AM »

October 15, 2012

With New Sanctions, European Union Tightens Screws on Iran Over Nuclear Work


BRUSSELS — The European Union toughened sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program on Monday, banning trade in industries like finance, metals and natural gas, and making other business transactions far more cumbersome.

The measures were the latest in a long series of sanctions from Europe, the United States and the United Nations Security Council, and were evidence of the worsening damage to Iran’s economy.

In a joint statement, European Union foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, expressed “serious and deepening concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.” They added that in continuing to enrich uranium, despite Western concerns that it is aiming for a bomb, Iran was “acting in flagrant violation of its international obligations.”

Ahead of the meeting, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said: “We want to see a negotiated agreement. But we will continue to keep up the pressure.”

Ms. Ashton represents six major powers, including the United States, in nuclear talks with the Iranians. There have been five rounds of discussions since late 2010, the last of which ended in frustration in June. Ms. Ashton said the major powers would keep in contact with Saeed Jalili, Iran’s negotiator, to assess when to convene another meeting.

Iran is suffering acute inflation from the weakness of the rial, the national currency, which lost 40 percent of its value against the dollar in recent weeks. Outside economists have pointed to Iran’s currency troubles as evidence that the sanctions, which have severely restricted Iran’s ability to sell oil and conduct international banking transactions, are having a profound impact. Iran has been showing new signs of problems, including severe drops in monthly oil and automotive production and in the number of foreign commercial ships docking at its ports. How to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions has become an issue in the American presidential race.

The new European sanctions were necessary as a result of a “continued failure to satisfy the world that the program was for peaceful purposes,” said William Hague, the British foreign secretary.

But Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, emphasized the need for a more intensive diplomatic effort alongside the sanctions.

“I think there are voices that sound like they want a war,” Mr. Bildt said. “We don’t want war.”

The latest measures make business deals between Europe and Iran far more complicated. The European Union “agreed to prohibit all transactions between European and Iranian banks unless authorized in advance under strict conditions with exemptions for humanitarian needs,” according to an official statement.

The statement said that the European Union also had “decided to strengthen the restrictive measures against the Central Bank of Iran. Further export restrictions have been imposed, notably for graphite, metals, software for industrial processes, as well as measures relating to the shipbuilding industry.”

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has described the Western sanctions as economic warfare, said the latest measures were nothing new.

“Creating instability is among the arrogant powers’ insidious policies,” the semiofficial Fars News Agency quoted him as saying during a speech in Shirvan, in eastern Iran. He praised Iran’s “exemplary political stability and tranquillity,” adding: “The enemies wanted to make our people depressed and exhausted through their sanctions. Our nation’s will and resolve to defend the ruling Islamic system should be a lesson to them.”

James Kanter reported from Brussels, and Thomas Erdbrink from Tehran. Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.
Most Active Member
Posts: 28666

« Reply #2717 on: Oct 16, 2012, 06:51 AM »

October 15, 2012

Philippine Government Signs Pact With Muslim Rebels


MANILA — The government of the Philippines signed an agreement on Monday with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group that both sides say they hope will lessen the chronic violence and poverty that have plagued the southern island of Mindanao.

“Sons and daughters who have had to sweep bullet casings from their yards will now get to pick fruit,” President Benigno S. Aquino III said during the signing ceremony. “Families who once cowered in fear of gunshots will now emerge from their homes to a bright new dawn of equity, justice and peace.”

The 13-page framework agreement creates a new political entity that will govern the predominantly Muslim areas of Mindanao, offering a degree of autonomy and more access to taxes and natural resources. As part of the deal, the 11,000-strong military of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will gradually be disarmed.

The signing Monday was witnessed by Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia, who helped broker the deal. The ceremony marked the first time that the rebel group’s chairman, Al Haj Murad Ebrahim — a former military leader who was once one of the most wanted insurgents in the Philippines — had ever visited the presidential palace.

“I come in peace,” Mr. Murad said shortly after he arrived.

An important part of the agreement is the establishment of a transition committee that will work out the details. Several hundred people gathered outside the presidential palace Monday to celebrate, though many said they did not have a deep understanding of the pact.

“We are in celebration mode,” said Jolly Lais, secretary general of the Bangsamoro Solidarity Movement, which helped organize the rally. “The framework agreement is an outline. It is a skeleton. We don’t have the details yet, so we don’t have anything to oppose yet.”

The government has said that the new region to be established, called Bangsamoro, will have a degree of autonomy but that it will not be an independent state.

Mr. Lais said that should be determined by the transition committee. “The definition of Bangsamoro is yet to be finalized,” he said. “Are the people of Bangsamoro still Filipinos? That is one of the details that needs to be discussed.”

Another important issue is that many in the Muslim areas of Mindanao feel that the taxes on the region’s natural resources rarely stay in the impoverished areas where they are needed. The tax code allows companies with operations in Mindanao to pay their taxes in the Makati business district in Manila, where their headquarters are located.

While much of the country celebrated the signing of the preliminary peace deal, a lone protester showed up at the palace Monday to oppose the announcement.

“They want power and territory,” said Jose Kwe, 64, from Navotas, north of Manila. “They call themselves Bangsamoro. Bangsa means country. They want to establish their own separate country. That is their hidden agenda.”

Mr. Kwe said he also feared that Christians living in the Bangsamoro area would not be allowed to practice their religion freely. He said leaders in the area should focus on economic development rather than political power.

“They should talk about poverty, not about making a different country,” Mr. Kwe said. “They should be building more schools and more roads in those areas, improving the livelihoods. Those are things that will actually improve their lives.”

The framework agreement faces significant legal and constitutional challenges before it can be fully implemented. Once the details are worked out, the finalized agreement must be passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the president and approved in a plebiscite.

Once the agreement is enacted into law, it must also withstand likely challenges in the Supreme Court. A 2008 agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front was struck down by the high court as unconstitutional. Despite the formidable challenges, people gathered outside the presidential palace Monday said they were hopeful that the deal could bring lasting peace to the troubled area.

“We can dream,” Mr. Lais said. “It’s free to dream.”
Most Active Member
Posts: 28666

« Reply #2718 on: Oct 16, 2012, 06:52 AM »

October 15, 2012

Mining Contract Details Disclosed in Afghanistan


KABUL, Afghanistan — Enmeshed in a bruising political battle over new mining rules seen as vital to Afghanistan’s economic future, the country’s mining minister on Sunday disclosed about 200 previous mining contracts for the first time, portraying the move as an attempt to bring transparency to a process vulnerable to corruption.

In the process, he appeared to take a swipe at a brother of President Hamid Karzai, citing as flawed the awarding of a contract in 2006 for a cement company in which he was a partner.

The action, by Mining Minister Wahidullah Shahrani, was likely to please his supporters in the West, including the United States, who made greater openness in the Afghan government’s financial dealings a condition of billions of dollars in development assistance and aid money pledged earlier this year.

But the move also comes at a precarious time for Mr. Shahrani. He is embattled politically and a target of critics for his shepherding of a proposed new mining law, vital to attracting foreign investment, which was blocked by the Afghan cabinet in July with President Karzai’s support. Mr. Shahrani is to resubmit the law in the coming weeks.

Developing Afghanistan’s potentially rich deposits of iron, oil, gold, copper, lithium and other natural resources is regarded as crucial to the country’s economic prospects, transforming it into a state that can begin to pay its own way and allowing the international community to cut back its financial and, ultimately, military support. But there are persistent concerns that any resource boom could be jeopardized by corruption, worsening security and political instability.

“From now on every contract will be made public,” Mr. Shahrani said at a news conference here. “No contract will be kept secret.”

However, Mr. Shahrani did not release the contract for one of the country’s biggest and most lucrative mining concessions, the 2007 agreement for the Aynak copper deposit in Logar Province near Kabul struck with a Chinese state-owned conglomerate, China Metallurgical Group Corporation. Accusations of bribery and a sweetheart deal for the mining concern have swirled for years, but without proof.

Mr. Shahrani said this agreement was made under a previous minister when nonpublication was subject to a legal deal with the Chinese. He said he had written to the Chinese with a request to make the contract public. Almost all of the other contracts published on the ministry Web site, struck as far back as 2002, covered an array of much smaller marble, coal and other mines, and until the details of the Aynak contract are released, analysts questioned whether the new initiative had full force.

“This is a start,” said Yama Torabi, director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, an anticorruption watchdog based in Kabul.

Mr. Shahrani said the ministry had discovered “financial, legal and technical flaws” in some of the contracts, and held up as an example at the news conference the operating rights for the country’s only cement factory, which was awarded at the time to a partnership of investors, among them Mahmoud Karzai, one of President Karzai’s brothers.

Mahmoud Karzai has been accused of using his brother’s position for financial gain, and the cement factory had been controversial, not least among local provincial leaders who said the investors had cut jobs and paid low salaries. The contract was only four pages long, for an agreement that under proper international standards would normally be far longer, Mr. Shahrani said.

“Look at the contract of Ghori Cement,” he said. “Nobody remembers a 30-year contract being signed in four pages.” He said that the shortcomings reflected a lack of capacity and experience among officials in the ministry when the agreement was put together, and that the flawed contracts would be revised.

A spokesman for President Karzai, Aimal Faizi, said on Monday that the decision to publish the contracts had been made in a cabinet meeting and had not been taken unilaterally.

He said that in the meeting Mr. Shahrani had raised concerns that some of the contract holders might object to the publication of the details, but that President Karzai had argued for disclosure.

“The president said, ‘No, there is nothing to hide and let’s make it public, it should be transparent,’ ” he quoted the president as saying.

He said that he could not speak for Mahmoud Karzai but that the government wanted every contract to be public — “whether it is Mahmoud Karzai’s or anybody else’s contract.”

Mahmoud Karzai did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Afghan and Western officials in Kabul, along with technical experts who advise the government, have said that the initial rejection of the new mining and oil drilling law in part reflected the minister’s political weakness. Mr. Shahrani, who took over in 2010, had expected the new law to breeze past the cabinet, yet instead found himself pitted almost alone against a range of more experienced and better-connected politicians — from those seen as pro-Western reformers to former communists and the religiously conservative who, among other things, objected to the proposals as being too generous to foreign mining interests eager to exploit Afghanistan’s natural resources.

President Karzai publicly sided with those lined up against the new law, sending it back for revisions over Mr. Shahrani’s objections.

Some Western officials fear the maneuvering reflects attempts by political rivals to snatch control of the Mining Ministry, a coveted post that oversees millions of dollars in contracts.

“A lot of groups, a lot of people in the government, want to be part of the mining now that it is seen as a way to generate large sums of revenue,” said one senior European diplomat in Kabul who follows the mining deliberations.

The diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the announcement Sunday could be seen as an attempt by Mr. Shahrani to address his political vulnerability by bolstering his standing among Afghans and the international community.

The Mes Aynak mine has been delayed by deterioration in security and the discovery of Buddhist ruins and artifacts. But Mr. Shahrani said that archaeologists preparing the site now had a deadline of the end of this year to finish their survey, and that he was confident that the Chinese could begin mining extraction in 2014.

Since he took over the ministry two years ago, Mr. Shahrani has been collecting details of agreements struck on natural resource deals going back over the past 10 years.

Earlier this year, fulfilling concerns raised by Western governments at the Tokyo Conference, where for the first time donors made it a condition that the Afghan government reduce corruption before receiving all of the money, President Karzai issued a decree calling for full details of natural resource contracts to be published, giving further impetus to his efforts.

Alissa Rubin contributed reporting.
Most Active Member
Posts: 28666

« Reply #2719 on: Oct 16, 2012, 06:53 AM »

Planet with four suns discovered 5,000 light years from Earth

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 16, 2012 0:13 EDT

WASHINGTON — An international team of amateur and professional astronomers announced the discovery of a planet with four suns — the first reported case of such a phenomenon.

The planet, located about 5,000 light years from Earth, has been dubbed PH1 in honor of Planet Hunters, a program led by Yale University in the United States which enlists volunteers to look for signs of new planets.

PH1 is orbiting two suns, and in turn is orbited by a second distant pair of stars. Only six planets are known to orbit two stars, researchers say, and none of those are orbited by other distant stars.

“Circumbinary planets are the extremes of planet formation,” said Yale’s Meg Schwamb, lead author of a paper presented Monday at the annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society in Nevada.

“The discovery of these systems is forcing us to go back to the drawing board to understand how such planets can assemble and evolve in these dynamically challenging environments.”

US citizen scientists and Planet Hunters participants Kian Jek and Robert Gagliano were the first to identify PH1. Their observations were then confirmed by a team of US and British researchers working in Hawaii.

PH1 is a gas giant with a radius about 6.2 times that of Earth, making it a bit bigger than Neptune. It orbits a pair of eclipsing stars that are 1.5 and 0.41 times the mass of the Sun roughly every 138 days.

The two other stars are orbiting the planetary system at a distance that is roughly 1,000 times the distance between Earth and the Sun.

The website was created in 2010 to encourage amateur astronomers to identify planets outside our solar system, using data from the US space agency NASA’s Kepler space telescope.

Kepler, launched in March 2009, is NASA’s first mission in search of Earth-like planets orbiting stars similar to our Sun.

The discovery of PH1 was made available online Monday at the site and has been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal for publication.

“It still continues to astonish me how we can detect, let alone glean so much information, about another planet thousands of light-years away just by studying the light from its parent star,” Jek said.
Most Active Member
Posts: 28666

« Reply #2720 on: Oct 16, 2012, 07:30 AM »

In the USA...

October 15, 2012

U.S. to Help Create an Elite Libyan Force to Combat Islamic Extremists


WASHINGTON — The Pentagon and State Department are speeding up efforts to help the Libyan government create a commando force to combat Islamic extremists like the ones who killed the American ambassador in Libya last month and to help counter the country’s fractious militias, according to internal government documents.

The Obama administration quietly won Congress’s approval last month to shift about $8 million from Pentagon operations and counterterrorism aid budgeted for Pakistan to begin building an elite Libyan force over the next year that could ultimately number about 500 troops. American Special Operations forces could conduct much of the training, as they have with counterterrorism forces in Pakistan and Yemen, American officials said.

The effort to establish the new unit was already under way before the assault that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya. But the plan has taken on new urgency as the new government in Tripoli tries to assert control over the country’s militant factions.

According to an unclassified internal State Department memo sent to Congress on Sept. 4, the plan’s goal is to enhance “Libya’s ability to combat and defend against threats from Al Qaeda and its affiliates.” A companion Pentagon document envisions that the Libyan commando force will “counter and defeat terrorist and violent extremist organizations.” Right now, Libya has no such capability, American officials said.

A final decision on the program has not been made, and many details, like the size, composition and mission of the force, are still to be determined. But American government officials say they have discussed the plan’s broad outlines with senior Libyan military and civilian officials as part of a broader package of American security assistance.

“The proposal reflects the security environment and the uncertainty coming out of the government transition in Libya,” said a senior Pentagon official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the program has not been officially announced. “The multimilitia fabric that’s providing security there needs to be brought into a more integrated national security system.”

A spokesman for Libya’s new president, Mohamed Magariaf, did not respond to detailed inquiries by e-mail, and other Libyan military officials did not return phone calls. Its transitional government continues to be in a state of flux as a newly chosen prime minister prepares to appoint defense and interior ministers.

Libyan commentators have expressed hope that a Western power would help train the country’s fledgling national army, so the proposal might be well received. But it still faces many challenges, including how to get the powerful militias to buy into it while taming their influence, and vetting a force to weed out Islamic extremists.

“Over all, it’s a sound strategy, but my concern is that in the vetting they make sure this doesn’t become a Trojan horse for the militias to come in,” said Frederic Wehrey, a senior policy analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who visited Libya recently and wrote a paper last month on security in the country, “The Struggle for Security in Eastern Libya.”

Mr. Wehrey cautioned that many Libyan officers and soldiers would also need training in English to help them understand various manuals. Other officials warned that any program must be transparent to the Libyan people to avoid starting rumors of ulterior American motives for wanting to train the new commandos. Also, trainers would have to build the professionalism in the officer corps that was lacking under the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Mr. Wehrey said.

The internal State Department budget document to Congress states that the program will also be “encouraging increased professionalism and respect for human rights.” It also proposes using some of the money to buy unspecified equipment for the commandos.

The document also describes an additional $4 million to help Libya improve control of its borders. After the revolution, vast arsenals of the Qaddafi-era army were looted, and Western officials are particularly worried that thousands of shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles were spirited out of the country, possibly into the hands of extremist groups.

The proposed Libyan commando force springs from an unusual partnership between the State Department and the Pentagon. Just last year, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the defense secretary at the time, Robert M. Gates, agreed to pool resources from their departments in a fund approved by Congress to respond more quickly to emerging threats from Al Qaeda and other militants in places like Libya, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

The program, the Global Security Contingency Fund, is small as government projects go with a budget of up to $250 million a year, mostly from the Pentagon, but it is meant to address many of the government’s counterterrorism and broader security challenges over several years.

American officials have had an eye on helping Libya since the NATO-led operation toppled Colonel Qaddafi’s government last year, and new civilian leaders began trying to bring order to the country.

In the first visit by an American defense secretary to Libya, Leon E. Panetta pledged last December that the United States “stands ready to offer security assistance cooperation once the government identifies its needs.” Mr. Panetta did not discuss the commando force during the visit, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Under Colonel Qaddafi, the Libyan Army had special forces units, but they were not particularly well trained or trusted by the government, American officials said. Members of the special forces in the east were among the first to defect, and American officials now envision a new, properly trained commando force as the core around which to rebuild the Libyan military.

The $8 million is considered seed money to begin building and equipping the commando force. One American official who formerly served in Libya said the initial vetting would probably be conducted by American and Libyan officials, and would include screening for physical skills, mental aptitude and ties to extremist groups that were hostile to the Libyan government.

American trainers would likely focus on basic skills, like marksmanship and small-arms tactics, and then move on to more advanced counterterrorism, reconnaissance and hostage-rescue skills.

“It’s basically a quick-reaction force at first,” said the official, who was not authorized to comment publicly on the planning.

Officials in Washington said they were expecting a final decision on the plan by the end of the year, with trainers fielding the initial units within 12 months.

The fluid, shifting security landscape is driving both American and Libyan officials to speed up the planning.

“The bad guys are making plans and organizing,” said the American official who formerly served in Libya. “It’s a footrace between the extremist groups and the Libyan government that’s trying to get organized.”

Suliman Ali Zway contributed reporting from Tripoli, Libya.


October 15, 2012

Clinton Takes Responsibility for Security Failure in Libya


WASHINGTON — On the eve of the second presidential debate, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday night that she took “responsibility” for the failure to successfully defend against the Sept. 11 attack on the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

“I take responsibility,” she said in an interview with CNN. “I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha.”

Mrs. Clinton made the comments shortly after she arrived in Lima, Peru, for a diplomatic visit, and they appeared to be an effort to inoculate President Obama from criticism for any security lapses in Libya as he prepared for Tuesday’s debate with Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger.

In a speech on Friday, Mrs. Clinton argued for continued American engagement in the volatile regions of the Middle East. She said it was the State Department’s responsibility to make sure that diplomats had the resources to carry out their duties abroad. But she stopped short then of taking responsibility for the events in Benghazi that led to the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Over the past week there has been an escalating debate over the security measures that the Obama administration established for the American Embassy in Tripoli and its diplomatic mission in Benghazi.

In a hearing last week, the embassy’s former security officer contended that the State Department had rejected his requests to extend security arrangements that were in place at the time.

Republican lawmakers have sought to focus on the White House’s role. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. sought to blunt that criticism during his debate with Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, by asserting that he had not been informed of security requests from the field.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said in an interview on Monday that he had sent two letters to the administration. One asked leaders of Mr. Obama’s national security team if they had informed the president of attacks against the Benghazi compound carried out in April and June and, if so, what action they had recommended. He said he had sent a separate letter to the president asking if he had been informed of those attacks and, if so, what actions he had taken.

“If he was informed, it is nobody’s responsibility other than the commander in chief to take corrective action,” Mr. Graham added, using the sort of arguments that Mr. Romney is expected to make on Tuesday.

In the CNN interview, Mrs. Clinton sought to explain why the administration had asserted that the attack in Benghazi was preceded by a demonstration over an anti-Islamic video, but later reported that there appeared to have been no such protest.

She said there is often confusion after such an attack. The State Department was involved in an “intense, long ordeal” to find out what had occurred, Mrs. Clinton said. She said her goal was to ensure that such attacks did not happen again.

“We can’t not engage,” she said. “We cannot retreat.”


October 15, 2012

Election-Year Stakes Overshadow Nuances of Libya Investigation


CAIRO — After a month of conflicting statements and partisan criticism, the circumstances surrounding the attack that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, have become clouded in ambiguities and questions: Did the attack grow out of anger against an American-made video mocking the Prophet Muhammad, or was it waged by an affiliate of Al Qaeda out to mark the 11th anniversary of its attack on United States soil?

To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.

“It was the Ansar al-Shariah people,” said Mohamed Bishari, a 20-year-old neighbor who watched the assault and described the brigade he saw leading the attack. “There was no protest or anything of that sort.”

United States intelligence agencies have reserved final judgment pending a full investigation, leaving open the possibility that anger at the video might have provided an opportunity for militants who already harbored anti-American feelings. But so far the intelligence assessments appear to square largely with local accounts. Whether the attackers are labeled “Al Qaeda cells” or “aligned with Al Qaeda,” as Republicans have suggested, depends on whether that label can be used as a generic term for a broad spectrum of Islamist militants, encompassing groups like Ansar al-Shariah whose goals were primarily local, as well as those who aspire to join a broader jihad against the West.

But in the heated election-year American political debate such distinctions have been lost, scholars said, as the administration has framed the attack around the need for American outreach to the Arab world, while Republicans have focused on the perils of American weakness there.

And the result has produced accounts at great variance with what witnesses said they saw.

To those on the ground, circumstances of the attack are hardly a mystery. Most of the attackers made no effort to hide their faces or identities, and during the assault some acknowledged to a Libyan journalist working for The New York Times that they belonged to the group. And their attack drew a crowd, some of whom cheered them on, some of whom just gawked, and some of whom later looted the compound.

The fighters said at the time that they were moved to act because of the video, which had first gained attention across the region after a protest in Egypt that day. The assailants approvingly recalled a 2006 assault by local Islamists that had destroyed an Italian diplomatic mission in Benghazi over a perceived insult to the prophet. In June the group staged a similar attack against the Tunisian Consulate over a different film, according to the Congressional testimony of the American security chief at the time, Eric A. Nordstrom.

At a news conference the day after the ambassador and three other Americans were killed, a spokesman for Ansar al-Shariah praised the attack as the proper response to such an insult to Islam. “We are saluting our people for this zeal in protecting their religion, to grant victory to the Prophet,” the spokesman said. “The response has to be firm.” Other Benghazi militia leaders who know the group say its leaders and ideology are all homegrown. Those leaders, including Ahmed Abu Khattala and Mohammed Ali Zahawi, fought alongside other commanders against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Their group provides social services and guards a hospital. And they openly proselytize for their brand of puritanical Islam and political vision.

They profess no interest in global fights against the West or distant battles aimed at removing American troops from the Arabian Peninsula.

Nevertheless, the group’s motivation became a source of disagreement. At last week’s Congressional hearing, Mr. Nordstrom tried to contradict lawmakers who insisted the group was at least “loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda.”

Representative Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana, cut him off. “Don’t split words,” he said. “It is a terrorist organization.”

Some analysts argue that the White House, meanwhile, sought to play down any potential characterization of the assault as a Qaeda attack, because that would undercut its claims to have crushed Al Qaeda.

Libyan guards at the Benghazi compound and other witnesses told journalists working for The New York Times as early as Sept. 12 that the streets outside the mission were quiet in the moments before the attack had begun, without any prior protests.

Other Benghazi militia leaders who know Ansar al-Shariah say it was capable of carrying out the attack by itself with only a few hours’ planning, and as recently as June one of its leaders, Mr. Zahawi, declared that it could destroy the American Mission. But in the days after the attack the Obama administration’s surrogates said it grew out of a peaceful protest against the video.

Peter Feaver, a political scientist at Duke University who advised the Bush administration on the domestic politics of its foreign policy, said, “The line was ‘Osama bin Laden has been killed, the war on terror has been won,’ so why muddy that?” He added, “Faced with a range of possibilities, they went with the one that was politically convenient.”

On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told CNN, “I take responsibility” for protecting diplomats. “I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha,” she said.

But in a speech at the United Nations 10 days after the attack she became the first administration official to suggest that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb might have had some role. “They are working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions under way in North Africa, as we tragically saw in Benghazi,” she said.

United States intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said they intercepted boastful phone calls after the fact from attackers at the mission to individuals affiliated with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. But they have also said that so far they had found no evidence of planning or instigation by the group. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, described the participation of individuals “linked to groups affiliated with or sympathetic with Al Qaeda” — acknowledging, at best, a tenuous or indirect link.

“It is a promiscuous use of ‘Al Qaeda,’ ” Michael Hanna, a researcher at the Century Foundation, said of those charging that Al Qaeda was behind this attack. “It can mean anything or nothing at all.”

Suliman Ali Zway contributed reporting from Benghazi, Libya.


October 14, 2012

No Shame

NYT Editorial

There are many unanswered questions about the vicious assault in Benghazi last month that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. And Congress has a responsibility to raise them. But Republican lawmakers leading the charge on Capitol Hill seem more interested in attacking President Obama than in formulating an effective response.

It doesn’t take a partisan to draw that conclusion. The ugly truth is that the same people who are accusing the administration of not providing sufficient security for the American consulate in Benghazi have voted to cut the State Department budget, which includes financing for diplomatic security. The most self-righteous critics don’t seem to get the hypocrisy, or maybe they do and figure that if they hurl enough doubts and complaints at the administration, they will deflect attention from their own poor judgments on the State Department’s needs.

At a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform last Wednesday, Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California and the committee’s chairman, talked of “examining security failures that led to the Benghazi tragedy.” He said lawmakers had an obligation to protect federal workers overseas. On Sunday, he said more should be spent on diplomatic security.

But as part of the Republican majority that has controlled the House the last two years, Mr. Issa joined in cutting nearly a half-billion dollars from the State Department’s two main security accounts. One covers things like security staffing, including local guards, armored vehicles and security technology; the other, embassy construction and upgrades. In 2011 and 2012, President Obama sought a total of $5 billion, and the House approved $4.5 billion. In 2009, Mr. Issa voted for an amendment that would have cut nearly 300 diplomatic security positions. And the draconian budgets proposed by Mitt Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, would cut foreign affairs spending by 10 percent in 2013 and even more in 2016.

Since 9/11, the United States has spent millions of dollars building new embassies and consulates around the world and fortifying existing ones. But despite the investment, there is still a lot of work to do to bring all facilities into compliance with safety standards that were set in 1985 after the bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut in 1983 and then updated after the attacks on the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Maybe now Congress will see fit to provide more money to do it.

Clearly, there is much we don’t know about what happened in Benghazi or what changes could have saved the four Americans. The former security chief at the embassy in Tripoli has been critical of the administration and said he had requested more security from State Department officials. However, he also said that a higher wall or a half-dozen more security guards would not have been enough to respond to the attack. (In the last debate, Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. said of the consulate in Benghazi, “we did not know they wanted more security.”)

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has appointed a panel of outside experts to investigate. More spending on security improvements will certainly help, but there will still be threats and risks. America’s diplomats must be protected, but they cannot do their jobs and interact with the world if they operate only behind fortress walls. There will always have to be a balance. Ambassador Stevens knew that.


October 15, 2012

Debt Impasse Shadows Race for Presidency


WASHINGTON — President Obama and Mitt Romney will again debate their visions for the next four years on Tuesday night, and if the campaign so far is any guide, they will not acknowledge that the winner’s agenda could depend on the fiscal showdown between Election Day and Inauguration Day.

If Mr. Romney wins, Republicans say they would seek to delay the year-end deadline for a bipartisan deal by up to a year to give him time to flesh out his budget plans and get Democrats to agree. But even if Democrats and the financial markets go along with the delay, the months before Mr. Romney’s swearing-in could be as crucial to his presidency as the transition period was for Mr. Obama four years ago, when the economic crisis led him to draft a big stimulus package while President George W. Bush still occupied the White House.

Mr. Romney’s ability to foster cooperation at the outset could determine his success on a range of issues. Yet Democrats have been dismissive, at best, about his budget plans, which have few specifics on how Mr. Romney would reduce deficits. He has mostly spoken about cutting taxes and increasing military spending.

Mr. Obama, if he loses, would still be president for the lame-duck Congress, but he would have limited leverage. If he gets another four years in the White House, he already has plans to go right back on the campaign trail to build support for his deficit-reduction framework, Democrats say, and administration officials are debating whether Mr. Obama should make some concession to Republicans to spur negotiations.

Without agreement of some kind, more than $700 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts would occur after Dec. 31, scheduled by a mix of coincidence and bipartisan agreement. How the re-elected president navigates this “fiscal cliff” could determine how much political clout and budget resources he will have.

“I think it’s the whole ballgame for the second term,” said John D. Podesta, the former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, who led Mr. Obama’s postelection transition planning four years ago.

Politically, Mr. Obama would have to build trust with Republican leaders who had hoped to make him a one-term president, even as he remained in campaign mode, seeking to assert his claim to a mandate to make the necessary trade-offs on spending and taxes. And the strength he shows in dealing with Republicans on Capitol Hill could also set the tone for the debate on other knotty issues, like immigration and climate change.

Substantively, any agreement in Congress, which opens a week after the election, could define the terms for how Mr. Obama and lawmakers move next year on efforts to contain the long-term costs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the programs that are driving forecasts of unsustainable debt. And it would determine how much money is available to address Mr. Obama’s priorities like education, energy and health care through his term.

“Absent this kind of a deal, I really don’t see what his second term does,” said Vin Weber, a Republican strategist and former House member.

To begin his fight for that deal, Mr. Obama would revive his dormant year-old deficit-reduction plan, which relies on tax increases on high incomes as well as spending cuts.

“He believes he has to play the outside game, so he’ll go all around the country and say, ‘Look, we need revenues,’ ” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York.

Mr. Obama, advisers say, will seek to mobilize Americans behind his argument that his plan is a balanced and more economically prudent alternative than to simply allow automatic across-the-board spending cuts to take effect and all Bush-era income-tax rate cuts to expire.

He will reinforce his vow not to sign another extension of the Bush tax cuts — which expire on Dec. 31 — except for taxable income below $250,000. The Democrats hope that will force Republicans to drop their demand to continue tax cuts for high incomes, lest they get the blame for an impasse that causes taxes to go up for everyone.

“I think back in the vault is an Obama plan to put on the table,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois. “He’s not going to let that opportunity on Nov. 13” — when Congress returns — “come and go without asserting some leadership.”

If Mr. Obama fails to win a broad budget compromise, Mr. Podesta said, his domestic agenda in a second term could be limited to finishing the main achievement of his first four years, his health care law. Its final stage takes effect in 2014, expanding private insurance to about 30 million uninsured Americans.

“He’s got to win a battle for a fiscal framework that gives him the ability to make the kind of investments that he’s out on the campaign trail talking about — whether that’s education, innovation, science and tech, infrastructure,” Mr. Podesta said. “He can’t go from one draining budget battle to the next.”

Because the budget impasse “has become emblematic of Washington’s dysfunction to people, I think their capacity to trust us here on a whole range of issues — on energy, immigration, education — is at risk if we don’t figure out how to come together in a bipartisan way to solve this problem,” said Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado.

People in both parties say much would depend on Mr. Obama’s margin of victory and how Republicans would interpret a loss. “Do they take that as, ‘Well, Obama won and he really took it to us on the issues, and we lost so we need to be reasonable?’ ” said a senior House Republican aide, who did not want to be identified discussing party strategy. “Or is it an all-out blame fest — ‘Mitt Romney was a horrible candidate. We didn’t really lose. Romney lost.’ ”

At the center of Republicans’ calculations would be two leaders who have had rancorous relationships with Mr. Obama: Speaker John A. Boehner in the House and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader.

“By the time the polls have closed on election night, if it’s decided that Obama gets re-elected, both Mitch McConnell and John Boehner will be saying to each other, ‘We’re going to clean up in the 2014 midterms,’ ” said Mr. Weber, the former Republican congressman.

Typically the president’s party loses Congressional seats in midterm elections. Mr. McConnell is also up for re-election in 2014 in Kentucky. If he negotiates a tax-raising deal, it would all but ensure a Tea Party challenger in the Republican primary. More immediately, Mr. Boehner will need the support of antitax House Republicans to win another term as speaker in January.

And Representative Paul D. Ryan, Mr. Romney’s running mate, would return as House Budget Committee chairman, his conservative following there intact and his antitax instincts likely to be sharpened by the ambition he is said to have for the presidential nomination in 2016.


October 15, 2012

China and Its Trade Practices Are Coming to the Debates


Halfway through the fall debates, the sparring between President Obama and Mitt Romney and their running mates has been notable for the absence of an issue Mr. Romney has pressed on the campaign trail and in his television advertising: China.

When American policy toward Beijing does come up Tuesday night — or next week, when it will be one of five designated topics in a debate focused solely on foreign affairs — Mr. Romney will have plenty of arguments to draw on.

In one recent ad, he accused the Obama administration of letting hundreds of thousands of American factory jobs vanish in the face of what he calls China’s unfair trade practices. “It’s time to stand up to the cheaters,” he says in the ad, “and make sure we protect jobs for the American people.”

And that is just part of a fusillade of soft-on-China accusations that Mr. Romney has leveled at Mr. Obama, who he says has allowed the Chinese to manipulate their currency, distort fair trade, steal American technology and hack into American government and corporate computers.

The Obama campaign has hardly been silent. In an ad earlier this month it said that while Mr. Romney ran a private equity firm, it invested in a Chinese company that exploited low-wage labor. “Mitt Romney tough on China? Since when?” the ad asks.

Many Asia experts say Mr. Romney’s comments are indeed tough. They begin with a pledge to brand Beijing a currency manipulator on his first day in office, and end with promises to increase America’s already formidable military presence in the western Pacific and sell new American fighter jets to Taiwan. Analysts say such moves would amount to a profound shift in a policy toward China that has remained remarkably constant for decades across Republican and Democratic administrations. And they would be virtually certain to upend relations with Beijing’s leaders.

Whether a President Romney would carry out such pledges, however, is another matter. ”There is a lot of game playing on both sides,” said Uri Dadush, director of the International Economics Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Once in office, presidents tend to recognize that the Chinese don’t react well when you point a gun to their head.”

Even some of Mr. Obama’s own current and former aides acknowledge that Mr. Obama went too far to accommodate China’s leaders during his first year in office. The White House hardened its approach after the Chinese gave the cold shoulder to the United States on issues ranging from climate change to Iran’s nuclear program. The president then pursued trade grievances, firmed up diplomatic and military ties with Beijing’s neighbors and designated the western Pacific as a central focus of American military strategy.

Mr. Romney promises to display even more spine.

“The policy that Obama has adopted of constantly acquiescing to China, constantly giving China more room in the hope that China will grant us some concessions, simply hasn’t worked,” said Alex Wong, the campaign’s foreign policy director.

Mr. Romney often promises to officially declare that China is deliberately weakening its currency, the renminbi, to make its exports more competitive, thereby costing American jobs. That action would only trigger bilateral consultations. But should Beijing refuse to bend, he has said, he would instruct the Commerce Department to impose duties on Chinese imports.

In the 2008 presidential campaign Mr. Obama also promised to label China a currency manipulator. But once in office, he opted for behind-the-scenes pressure on Beijing to let the renminbi strengthen. So has every president since 1994. Many economists argue that the pressure, combined with China’s own desire to rebalance its economy, has worked. The renminbi is no longer grossly undervalued, they say, although other powerful hidden subsidies, like artificially low interest rates, remain. Since 2005, the renminbi has appreciated about 30 percent, the International Monetary Fund concluded in July, revising its status from “substantially” to “moderately undervalued.”

Similarly, China’s current account surplus — which measures in part how much more money China makes from exports than it spends on imports — has fallen to three percent of gross domestic product, down from 10 percent in 2007. That suggests a stronger renminbi has reduced the trade imbalance between China and its partners.

”I think we should declare victory,” said Nicholas R. Lardy, a senior economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The Carnegie Endowment’s Mr. Dadush asserts that Mr. Romney’s pledge makes “no economic or trade policy sense, given what China has done and given its importance.”

Grant D. Aldonas, Mr. Romney’s trade adviser and a Commerce under secretary for international trade during President George W. Bush’s first term, acknowledges the renminbi’s gains but argues the government recently has been suppressing its value.

The renminbi has indeed weakened one percent against the dollar since February, according to Michael Pettis, a finance professor at Peking University and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment. But Mr. Pettis argues that the reason for the renminbi’s fall is capital flight, not government intervention. So many Chinese are taking money out of the country that Beijing is “actually forcing the renminbi up, not down,” he said.

Mr. Romney is threatening to use the Commerce Department’s powers to unilaterally impose tariffs on Chinese products, while the Obama administration’s main tactic against unfair trade practices has been to bring cases before the World Trade Organization. Mr. Romney argues there is no need to hold back because a trade war is already under way. But many economists say the current battles are mere skirmishes, not a real trade war. They warn that unilateral sanctions could trigger Chinese retaliation that would more than offset any economic benefits.

Consider 2009, when the Commerce Department imposed a duty on imports of Chinese tires — a move sought by the United Steelworkers Union and widely criticized by economists and by Mr. Romney as politically motivated. Gary Hufbauer, a trade expert with the Peterson Institute, said the action protected at most 1,200 American jobs but last year alone cost American consumers $1.1 billion in higher-priced tires.

China responded with tariffs on imports of American chicken parts that cost American poultry producers an estimated $1 billion in lost sales. Last month, the Obama administration let the tire tariff quietly expire.

On the military front, Mr. Romney’s aides have said he wants to build up the American military presence to counter China’s influence in the western Pacific. The Obama administration has moved in that direction, expanding an Australian base to 2,500 Marines and stationing four combat ships in Singapore. Mr. Romney has also criticized President Obama’s 2011 decision to sell Taiwan $5.85 billion in military hardware to update its air force instead of approving Taiwan’s request for 66 new and more advanced F-16 fighters. As president, an aide said, Mr. Romney would approve such a request.

“There would be a tough Chinese reaction,” said Bonnie S. Glaser, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who described China’s opposition to the sale as an unofficial red line. “The question is how tough.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 16, 2012

An earlier version of this article misidentified the region that Mr. Obama designated as a central focus of American military strategy. It is the western Pacific, not east Pacific.


October 15, 2012

Justices to Review Voter Law in Arizona


WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to decide whether Arizona may require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote in federal elections. The federal appeals court in San Francisco blocked the state law in April, saying it conflicted with a federal one.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case early next year, and the law will remain suspended in the meantime.

The state law requires prospective voters to prove that they are citizens by providing copies of or information concerning various documents, including birth certificates, passports, naturalization papers or Arizona driver’s licenses, which are available only to people who are in the state lawfully.

The federal law, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, allows voters to register using a federal form that asks, “Are you a citizen of the United States?” Prospective voters must check a box for yes or no, and they must sign the form, swearing that they are citizens under penalty of perjury.

The question for the justices is whether the state was entitled to supplement those federal requirements with its own.

A divided 10-judge panel of the appeals court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, ruled that the two sets of requirements “do not operate harmoniously” and “are seriously out of tune with each other in several ways.”

The federal law requires state officials to “accept and use” the federal form, Judge Sandra S. Ikuta wrote for an eight-judge majority, while the additional requirements sometimes make that impossible.

The requirements were also at odds with the federal law’s attempt to streamline the registration process, she wrote.

In a concurrence, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski said he found the case “difficult and perplexing,” largely because the Supreme Court has not set out principles for how to reconcile federal and state responsibilities for conducting federal elections.

In dissent, Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson wrote that the federal law specifically contemplated the use of a different form developed by the state, one that could itself test eligibility requirements, including citizenship.

The appeals court upheld a second part of the Arizona law that required registered voters to show identification in order to vote. That aspect of the decision is not before the Supreme Court.

In June, over the dissent of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the justices declined to stay the appeals court’s decision while state officials prepared their appeal. The effect of that order was to allow next month’s elections to proceed without the state law’s proof-of-citizenship requirement.

The law was a result of a 2004 voter initiative, and it has given rise to tangled proceedings ever since. Under the Voting Rights Act, Arizona was required to obtain federal approval before it changed its voting procedures. The Justice Department granted approval in 2005.

The next year, the Supreme Court unanimously voided an order from the Ninth Circuit that would have blocked the state law’s requirements in that year’s elections.

The recent decision from the 10-judge panel effectively affirmed a 2010 ruling from a three-judge panel that included Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who retired from the Supreme Court in 2006 but occasionally acts as a visiting appeals court judge. She joined the majority in ruling that the state law was inconsistent with the federal one and so could not survive.

In urging the Supreme Court to hear the case, Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, No. 12-71, state officials said the federal form amounted to an inadequate “honor system.”


October 15, 2012

F.D.A. Warns of Further Risk From Tainted Drugs


Health officials are warning that more people may be at risk from contaminated drugs made by a Massachusetts company linked to a growing meningitis outbreak.

The Food and Drug Administration reported on Monday that the company’s products may have also caused other types of infections in patients who have had eye operations or open-heart surgery.

The new warning is based on only two cases, and it was not known for sure whether the company’s drugs had caused the infections. Officials did not say how many people may be at risk, but the number is potentially significant, and a statement from the agency warned doctors, “The F.D.A. recognizes that some health care professionals may receive a high volume of calls from patients or be concerned about having to notify many patients as a result of today’s announcement.”

The company, the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., has already been linked to a meningitis outbreak that has killed 15 patients and infected 199 others in 15 states. The drug implicated in that outbreak is methylprednisolone acetate, a steroid used in spinal injections for back and neck pain. The drug is believed to have been contaminated with a fungus called Exserohilum, which causes a type of meningitis that is severe but not contagious.

Now, several other drugs made by the company are also possible suspects in infections. A heart-transplant patient exposed to a product that is used during open-heart surgery developed a chest infection with a different fungus, Aspergillus, the Food and Drug Adminstration said. The product is a cardioplegic solution, which is chilled and poured into the opened chest to stop the heart while surgeons work on it. Such solutions have caused problems in the past, according to the F.D.A., which reported that it issued a warning letter in 2006 to a firm that had produced a solution that caused fatal infections in three heart-surgery patients.

The agency emphasized that the heart case was still being investigated, and that it was possible that the infection had come from a source other than the cardioplegic solution. A second heart-surgery patient who had an Aspergillus infection and was initially reported to have received a solution made by the New England Compounding Center had been treated with solution made by another company.

Another patient contracted meningitis after receiving a spinal injection of another one of the company’s steroid solutions, triamcinolone acetonide.

The statement from the F.D.A. also warned of possible contamination in drugs made by the company that are injected into the eye or used during eye surgery.

The agency is recommending to doctors that all patients exposed to any of these products from the New England Compounding Center be notified of the risks and told to be on the alert for signs of infection, even though it is not clear whether the products caused the two additional infections.

Meningitis symptoms that patients are being told to watch for include fever, headache, neck stiffness, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and altered mental status.

Symptoms of other infections may include fever, swelling, increasing pain, and redness and warmth at the injection site. Eye infections may cause vision problems, pain, redness in the eye or discharge from the eye. Patients infected during heart surgery may have chest pain or drainage from their incisions.

The New England Compounding Center has shut down and recalled all its products. At least five states, besides Massachusetts, have suspended the company’s license: Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Maryland and Virginia.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said on Monday that the fresh information “further underscores the need for an immediate criminal investigation.” The Massachusetts attorney general’s office has declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for the New England Compounding Center said on Monday that the company would “continue to cooperate with the F.D.A.”

The meningitis outbreak has opened a debate among legal scholars about how much authority the Food and Drug Administration has over the compounding industry.

Compounding — traditionally a practice in which pharmacies mix medicine for an individual patient — is regulated by states. But in recent decades, some pharmacies began to push the legal limits, becoming mini-drug companies largely out of reach of federal authorities. Federal officials say they do not know what share of the compounding market large-scale pharmacies represent.

“Our drug experts went into some of these operations, and they said, ‘Whoa, these don’t look like ordinary pharmacies,’ ” said Gary Dykstra, who was the F.D.A.’s deputy associate commissioner for regulatory affairs in the 1990s.

Some scholars argue that the agency had more power than it is willing to admit and simply failed to use it.

“They have adequate authority to act, full stop,” said Peter Barton Hutt, a lawyer at Covington & Burling L.L.P. in Washington, who has written extensively on compounding law. “The issue is priorities and resources. Large-scale compounding expanded because the F.D.A. was focusing on other things.”

Even when the United States Supreme Court overturned the first clear legal definition of compounding in 2002, the F.D.A. could still invoke the 1938 Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, which forbids new, unapproved drugs to be sold across state lines, Mr. Hutt argued. The act was passed after more than 100 people died from an antibiotic that was prepared using a poisonous solvent.

But others contended that the agency had been more timid in pursuing compounders since the Supreme Court decision, in part because building a case meant figuring out how to defend it in court, and anchoring an argument is difficult because there are no laws or regulations formally defining compounded medications.

“There’s no bright line in statute distinguishing what the F.D.A. can regulate,” said Daniel Carpenter, a political scientist at Harvard University who specializes in regulatory law. “The only real attempt to draw one was in 1997, and that was struck down. Now to make a case they have to confront an army of industry lawyers.”

Politics were also important. Mr. Dykstra said the industry was adept at applying political pressure, which combined with the litigation, he argued, drained the enthusiasm in F.D.A. leadership to investigate.

“All the inspection work and the amount of time the F.D.A. was putting into it started to dry up,” said Mr. Dykstra, now a professor at the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the main trade association, the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists has spent about $1.1 million on lobbying since 2000. It has also contributed, through a political action committee, to lawmakers’ campaigns.


October 15, 2012

After a Childhood Pouring Refills, Reaching Beyond the Past



Bridgette the waitress glides through morning at Donna’s Diner with an easy, familiar air, as though she were born somewhere between the cash register and the coffee maker. She is a constant, like pancakes on the menu.

It has been this way since her hardworking grandmother, Donna Dove, opened the modest diner a dozen years ago here in the small Ohio city of Elyria. At 9 years old, Bridgette was taking phone orders, reciting daily specials and saving her tips for the princess canopy bed she had seen in a store window on Broad Street. Customers just loved little “Bridgy.”

Her mother and grandmother each became pregnant at 16, but little Bridgy Harvan, now almost 21, broke that emerging pattern. When not working, she attends Lorain County Community College, Elyria’s academic marvel. She studies her textbooks during the breaks in diner action, like a cartographer charting a path through the unknown.

All the while, though, she keeps an eye on her customers — especially the older regulars known as the Breakfast Club. They drink their coffee and reminisce about the days when Elyria was in ascent. She pours their coffee and tries to imagine such a place.

“More coffee, Jim?” she asks, wielding a coffeepot. “Dale, a refill?”

It is a small, unifying moment, shared between past and future in present-day Elyria, a city with cascading waterfalls and a declining downtown, Fortune 500 companies and a shuttered Y.M.C.A., upper-middle-class homes and homes in foreclosure, intense local pride and an acute need for economic rejuvenation.

“Speedy,” Bridgette calls to a white-haired man with a hearing aid. “Coffee?”

But as she patrols the narrow diner with coffeepot in hand, Bridgette is also juggling the hopes and obligations of a young woman trying to find her way. She is living with a boyfriend who is out of work. She is slowly inching toward degrees in ultrasound technology and business marketing. She is collecting coupons to save money. And lately she has been feeling tired, even a little woozy.

Bridgette can hardly be faulted, then, for not fully grasping the broad American experience to be found among her customers. With their anecdotes and war stories, these people provide the Elyrian context.

The Breakfast Club

Take the Breakfast Club. It began meeting many decades ago — before Donna was even born — at the old Paradise Restaurant on Broad Street, back when that commercial strip hummed. Its members carried “Birds of Paradise” business cards and flipped a coin daily to see who got stuck with the tab.

The faces changed with time, and so did the venue, as restaurants closed and downtown options narrowed. These days the gathering is at Donna’s Diner, in a 19th-century building on the city square, where the Breakfast Club’s nostalgia can create the illusion that Elyria’s manufacturing base never went away, that its commercial soul never fled to the Midway Mall on the city’s outskirts, near Interstates 80 and 90.

Here at the table, among others, are Jim Dall, who ran the Ford dealership, now gone; and John Murbach, who owned a prominent building-supply business, gone; and Janice Haywood, who with her husband, Tom, sold the finer things at Brandau Jewelers, gone.

Here, too, are Speedy Amos, who saw combat in both World War II and the Korean War; and Bill Balena, a bankruptcy lawyer whose business is hopping; and Connee Smith, who is related to THE Garfords, as in the industrialist Arthur Lovett Garford, the inventor of the padded bicycle seat. They used to say in Elyria that “Mr. Garford saved our butts.”

Bridgette and her mother, Kristy, take their orders, while Donna conducts the grill with her spatula baton, tucking at the whitening edges of eggs as she frets about unpaid bills and fewer customers. She is considering a suggestion by one of her regulars, a judge, to close the diner and run the cafeteria in the nearby county courthouse.

This, of course, would alter life in a small corner of Elyria and disrupt the general continuity of the Breakfast Club, whose daily gatherings are really extensions of the same never-ending meal. Conversations are left on the table, to be picked up like an unpaid tab the next morning, or maybe the next week.

These free-flowing discussions are salted with tidbits of Elyrian pride. The city’s founder, Heman Ely, a New Englander who came here in the early 1800s to build mills along the cascading Black River, is buried not far from the BP Station. The first chartered high school west of the Alleghenies is down the street. The First Congregational Church has stunning Tiffany stained glass.

The expected decorum at the table is the lack of it, reflected in everything from the mismatched plates and mugs to the occasional naughty aside.

“Good morning, ladies,” Dale Price, 70, a retired telephone repairman, says to his two eggs sunny-side up, jiggling them with his fork. But his plate has the last laugh; when he cuts into his sausage, juice squirts onto his blue shirt.

Eccentricities are tolerated. Everyone knows that Jim, 89, a fine athlete in his day, takes morning swims in his backyard pool, nude. That Dale always pays for his check with crisp $2 bills from the Lorain National Bank a few doors down. And that Speedy, 86, will inevitably bring up his battle career, for which he might receive a salute — partly in jest, mostly with deep respect.

As much as anyone, Speedy represents the Elyria that was.

Returning from World War II as a former Marine with shrapnel in his right arm — a piece of Okinawa — Speedy finished college at roughly the age that Bridgette is now, moved to Elyria from eastern Ohio and joined his uncle’s insurance agency, which was right across the street from where he sits in the diner. Was.

He rented a cheap room at the Y.M.C.A., bought a Ford from Jim Dall and joined the city’s upswing. Back then, you had the General Motors plant on Lowell Street, the General Industries factory on Olive and Taylor, and dozens of other manufacturers adding to the city’s prosperous din. Every side street seemed to have a tool and die shop.

From 1940 to 1970, the population doubled to more than 50,000, which meant a housing boom — and good luck finding downtown parking on a Friday night. There were three movie theaters, a J. C. Penney, a Sears, Merthe’s department store, the Paradise, on and on. At one point, Brandau Jewelers needed 24 employees to handle the demand for fine-cut diamonds and exquisite porcelain figurines.

Speedy began to make his mark here in Elyria. But when the Korean War broke out in 1950, he interrupted his insurance-and-golf life to innocently ask whether the Marines needed any reserves. Before he knew it, he was in the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea, among some 25,000 anxious, frostbitten troops who were surrounded and vastly outnumbered by Chinese soldiers.

Before making their improbable, heroic escape, fighting through deadly roadblocks and the forbidding cold, the men who came to be known as the Chosin Few were instructed to destroy the contents in their wallets. Gone went Speedy’s family photographs, his golf club membership card, his driver’s license with an Elyria address.

Speedy eventually returned to that address, returned to all that he believed he had been protecting. He married Helen Lou Henderson — Lou, everyone calls her — and joined the Junior Chamber of Commerce, the V.F.W., the Red Cross, the Rotary. He fathered two daughters and lost a son at birth. He became a deacon at the First Congregational Church, worshiping beneath that Tiffany glass. Retired now, he volunteers with literacy programs and Meals on Wheels.

For many years, his wife says, Speedy never talked about his war experiences. But as time has slipped away, so has his guard. His prior life as a battle-tested Marine is now central to who he is. Every November, he puts on his dress blues — still fits — and leads a birthday celebration for the United States Marine Corps.

Sometimes, when sipping hot coffee just poured by Bridgette, Speedy can feel the ice-hard Korean ground and see the trucks plowing snow over the frozen, contorted American dead. Sometimes, when eating one of Donna’s sweet pancakes, he can recall tucking packets of frozen food close to his chest, so that his body heat might thaw a few beans to be scraped off and eaten.

Sometimes, when the Breakfast Club banter is lively and the diner telephone’s ringtone is playing “There’s no place like home” and here’s another round of refills, Speedy has that isolating sensation known to battle veterans: of being among those who cannot know what it was like, of wondering why he was among those to survive.

How the hidden enemy would taunt with bell rings and bugle bleats. How boots marching on snow made a soul-chilling crunch. And how being on the other side of the world, shivering and scared, can make a place like Elyria seem so improbable.

Keeping Memories Alive

Memories are welcome at the Breakfast Club. Memories are expected. Memories fill the time while waiting for Bridgette to materialize with a refill.

For example, the sight of a rock-solid man who seems off somehow, hustling past the diner’s window with head down, will prompt a “There’s Ike.” This, in turn, will spur wistful memories of that man, Ike Maxwell, as the unstoppable, all-everything running back of the champion Elyria High School football team of 1971, back when high school sports dictated the social calendar.

And, of course, after every high school game, and after every high school reunion, you simply had to go to the Midway Oh Boy restaurant for an Oh Boy: two hamburger patties, cheese and shredded lettuce, with a slathering of a white sauce of secret ingredients. “So that when you bite into it,” says John Haynes, a lawyer — and everyone laughs in anticipation, including Speedy, because they all know the sloppy wonder of eating an Oh Boy.

It’s an Elyria thing. It’s their thing.

Bridgette has been to the Midway Oh Boy, which is still selling its signature burgers on Lake Avenue. But she has no memory of the Breakfast Club’s version of Elyria, her hometown. Heck, she wasn’t even born when the Capitol movie theater was demolished — or was it the Lincoln? — and Speedy got permission to take some of the bricks that now form his backyard patio.

Bridgette graduated from Elyria High School in 2009. Before long, she had joined more than half of her graduating class of 444 students in taking classes at Lorain County Community College, an ever-expanding academic institution on 270 acres in the city’s northeastern end. Everyone, from the mayor on down, sees it as vital to Elyria’s future.

The college’s longtime president, Roy A. Church, says he is committed to helping Elyria — and northeastern Ohio — regain its economic viability, now that its once-dominant manufacturing base has been displaced by the service industry. The low-paying jobs listed by Bridgette’s Facebook friends provide a glimpse into what’s out there now: crew person at McDonald’s, associate at Jo-Ann Fabric, counter sales at Budget Auto, sales associate at Victoria’s Secret, crew member at Burger King.

To change this pattern, Dr. Church has gradually broadened the institution’s scope well beyond what is usually understood by the term “community college.” It offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees through its association with 10 Ohio universities. It provides job retraining. It works with local leaders to attract larger companies seeking to relocate.

The campus looks like the grounds of a large technology company, which isn’t far from the truth. It has an “innovation institute” where would-be entrepreneurs receive start-up money, office space and technical support. It has a “fab lab” where students — and the general public — have access to digital-fabrication tools that can help them design and create products. It has a center that offers packaging solutions for companies that make sensors. It even has a ready-made technology park, with building sites available.

Most of this is directed toward a central goal: to help Elyria and the region find the Next Big Thing.

“We’ve had to raise the aspirations — and the spirit — of the place,” Dr. Church says. “It’s a slow go, but we’re well into it.”

Bridgette is part of these raised aspirations. She sees her grandmother, Donna, working hard every day, without ever seeming to get ahead, and her mother, Kristy, waiting on table after table. “That’s when I decided I’m not doing that,” Bridgette says. “I need sleep! I need insurance! And a 401(k)! I need those things. I need those things.”

Turning 21

The diner days blend together like eggs whisked in a bowl. Then, one midsummer morning, a large birthday cake with white and orange frosting is placed on the long table reserved for the Breakfast Club. Little Bridgy is 21.

“Do you have enough breath to blow those out?” teases Speedy Amos, motioning to the stand of candles plunged into the cake.

Bridgette assures the man who is four times her age that, yes, she can do it. Her familiar air is on display. When two more members of the Breakfast Club walk through the door and into the small commotion, Bridgette calls out:

“Hi, girls. Do you want to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and then I’ll come wait on you?”

Sure, the customers say.

The song is sung, the cake is divided, and Bridgette returns to work. In a few weeks, she will be back at school, plotting a better future for herself and the child she is carrying.

« Last Edit: Oct 16, 2012, 07:37 AM by Rad » Logged
Most Active Member
Posts: 28666

« Reply #2721 on: Oct 17, 2012, 06:42 AM »

Originally published October 16, 2012 at 2:42 PM |

Earth-sized planet found just outside solar system

European astronomers say that just outside our solar system they've found a planet that's the closest you can get to Earth in location and size.

AP Science Writer


European astronomers say that just outside our solar system they've found a planet that's the closest you can get to Earth in location and size.

It is the type of planet they've been searching for across the Milky Way galaxy and they found it circling a star right next door - 25 trillion miles away. But the Earth-like planet is so hot its surface may be like molten lava. Life cannot survive the 2,200 degree heat of the planet, so close to its star that it circles it every few days.

The astronomers who found it say it's likely there are other planets circling the same star, a little farther away where it may be cool enough for water and life. And those planets might fit the not-too-hot, not-too-cold description sometimes call the Goldilocks Zone.

That means that in the star system Alpha Centauri B, a just-right planet could be closer than astronomers had once imagined.

It's so close that from some southern places on Earth, you can see Alpha Centauri B in the night sky without a telescope. But it's still so far that a trip there using current technology would take tens of thousands of years.

But the wow factor of finding such a planet so close has some astronomers already talking about how to speed up a 25 trillion-mile rocket trip there. Scientists have already started pressuring NASA and the European Space Agency to come up with missions to send something out that way to get a look at least.

The research was released online Tuesday in the journal Nature. There has been a European-U.S. competition to find the nearest and most Earthlike exoplanets - planets outside our solar system. So far scientists have found 842 of them, but think they number in the billions.

While the newly discovered planet circles Alpha Centauri B, it's part of a system of three stars: Alpha Centauri A, B and the slightly more distant Proxima Centauri. Systems with two or more stars are more common than single stars like our sun, astronomers say.

This planet has the smallest mass - a measurement of weight that doesn't include gravity - that has been found outside our solar system so far. With a mass of about 1.1 times the size of Earth, it is strikingly similar in size.

Stephane Udry of the Geneva Observatory, who heads the European planet-hunting team, said this means "there's a very good prospect of detecting a planet in the habitable zone that is very close to us."

And one of the European team's main competitors, Geoff Marcy of the University of California Berkeley, gushed even more about the scientific significance.

"This is an historic discovery," he wrote in an email. "There could well be an Earth-size planet in that Goldilocks sweet spot, not too cold and not too hot, making Alpha Centauri a compelling target to search for intelligent life."

Harvard planet-hunter David Charbonneau and others used the same word to describe the discovery: "Wow."

Charbonneau said when it comes to looking for interesting exoplanets "the single most important consideration is the distance from us to the star" and this one is as close as you can get. He said astronomers usually impress the public by talking about how far away things are, but this is not, at least in cosmic terms.

Alpha Centauri was the first place the private Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence program looked in its decade-long hunt for radio signals that signify alien intelligent life. Nothing was found, but that doesn't mean nothing is there, said SETI Institute astronomer Seth Shostak.

The European team spent four years using the European Southern Observatory in Chile to look for planets at Alpha Centauri B and its sister stars Alpha Centauri A and Proxima Centauri. They used a technique that finds other worlds by looking for subtle changes in a star's speed as it races through the galaxy.

Part of the problem is that the star is so close and so bright - though not as bright as the sun - that it made it harder to look for planets, said study lead author Xavier Dumusque of the Geneva Observatory.

One astronomer who wasn't part of the research team, wondered in a companion article in Nature if the team had enough evidence to back such an extraordinary claim. But other astronomers said they had no doubt and Udry said the team calculated that there was only a 1-in-1,000 chance that they were wrong about the planet and that something else was causing the signal they saw.

Finding such a planet close by required a significant stroke of good luck, said University of California Santa Cruz astronomer Greg Laughlin.

Dumusque described what it might be like on this odd and still unnamed hot planet. Its closest star is so near that it would always hang huge in the sky. And whichever side of the planet faced the star would be broiling hot, with the other side icy cold.

Because of the mass of the planet, it's likely a rocky surface like Earth, Dumusque said. But the rocks would be "more like lava, like a lava planet."

"If there are any inhabitants there, they're made of asbestos," joked Shostak.


Seth Borenstein can be followed at
Most Active Member
Posts: 28666

« Reply #2722 on: Oct 17, 2012, 06:45 AM »

10/17/2012 01:38 PM

'Devastating Impact': Euro Exit by Southern Nations Could Cost 17 Trillion Euros

A new study by a German think tank warns that a euro exit by Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy would cut global GDP by 17 trillion euros and plunge the world into recession, with France suffering the biggest loss. A Greek exit alone would be manageable, but must be avoided to forestall a domino effect, it says.

A Greek euro exit on its own would have a relatively minor impact on the world economy, but if it causes a chain reaction leading to the departure of other Southern European nations from the single currency, the economic impact on the world would be devastating, a German study warned on Wednesday.

Economic research group Prognos, in a study commissioned by the Bertelsmann Foundation, estimated that euro exits by Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy would wipe a total of €17.2 trillion ($22.26 trillion) off worldwide growth by 2020.

The researchers arrived at a particularly bleak assessment because they didn't just calculate the losses of creditors who had lent money to the crisis-hit nations. They also analyzed the possible impact of a euro collapse on economic growth in the 42 most important industrial and emerging economies that make up more than 90 percent of the world economy.

Using an econometric model, Prognos first calculated the effect of a Greek euro exit, and then simulated the step-by-step fallout from Portugal, Spain and Italy abandoning the currency as well.

Chain Reaction Could Be 'Devastating'

"In their overall assessment, the authors of the study come to the conclusion that an isolated exit of Greece and an insolvency of this euro-zone country might well be something that the EU could cope with from a merely economic point of view," Bertelsmann said in a statement.

"At the same time, however, it is extremely difficult to assess if and to what extent this might trigger a wave of further euro-zone exits in Europe's South. If so, the implications for the global economy could be devastating."

A Greek exit on its own would lead to a loss of gross domestic product (GDP) totalling €164 billion or €14,300 per capita by 2020 through devaulation of the new currency, unemployment and a sharp fall in domestic demand, the researchers calculated, the researchers estimated.

It would cost Germany €64 billion in lost credit and €73 billion in lost economic growth between 2013 and 2020, the study said. But that only amounts to 2.9 percent of German GDP.

The impact of other countries leaving the currency union would be more dramatic:

• if Portugal went, Germany would lose €225 billion by 2020 and would have to write off credit amounting to €99 billion. Global losses in growth would add up to €2.4 trillion, with the US having to bear €365 billion and China €275 billion respectively.

• if Spain were to go as well, Germany would lose €850 billion in GDP by 2020 and would have to waive €266 billion of credit. The US would lose €1.2 trillion in GDP and the 42 countries under review would lose €7.9 trillion.

• if Italy, the euro zone's third largest economy, were to leave, "the situation would run totally out of control," the study said. It estimated that Germany would lose €1.7 trillion in GDP and would have to write off €455 billion. German unemployment would increase by more than one million by 2015. There would be a "severe international recession and global economic crisis," Bertelsmann writes. The biggest losers would be France, followed by the US, China and Germany.

"In the current situation we have to make sure that the crisis in Europe does not turn into a wildfire," warned Aart De Geus, Chairman of the Bertelsmann Foundation's Executive Board.


October 16, 2012

Talks on Euro Zone Approach, This Time Under Calmer Conditions


PARIS — The steam has gone out of the euro crisis for now, but many of the deeper structural problems of the euro zone remain, and several changes meant to address them will be the subject of the next European Union summit meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

The relaxed atmosphere is a welcome relief for Europe’s leaders, who are accustomed to conducting such meetings in crisis. Markets work on expectations, and expectations now are that the European Union and the euro zone, in conjunction with the European Central Bank, will muddle their way through the next few months at least with no threat to the currency.

There is always the risk that the currency will fall apart, but not soon, and even the markets appear to have recognized that the euro seems here to stay. Reassured by the European Central Bank and explicit German promises that Greece will not leave the euro, investors have brought down interest rates on loans to Spain and Italy, easing the immediate pressure on Spain to seek a politically unpopular bailout.

The visit last week to Greece by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany was an important moment, a conclusion to the long internal German debate about whether Greece should “Grexit,” or leave the euro. Her visit, and accompanying statements, made it clear that Germany was committed to Greek membership. Financial experts and officials say that implies that Berlin will also allow Athens more time, as it has asked (supported by the International Monetary Fund), to meet the terms of its bailout as its economy continues to shrink in a deep recession.

The issue will be how to give Greece more time without having to go back to the German Parliament to ask it to approve giving Athens more money (at least another $26 billion, analysts say), but that is also a decision that will be left unmade until after the American presidential election. The Germans remain convinced that pressure must be kept on Greece if long-delayed economic reforms are to be finally carried out. But the so-called troika — the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank — looking into Greek compliance with loan requirements, an important step toward approving the next, needed portion of loans, has gotten the message and delayed its report, too.

The mood has also been improved by the formation of the permanent bailout fund, the $650 billion European Stability Mechanism, which passed muster with the German constitutional court.

Investors seem reassured by the vow of the president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, to do whatever is necessary to keep the euro stable and to drive down Spanish and Italian yields to what it considers appropriate levels. In return for the bank’s intervening in bond markets, countries are supposed to agree to a program that is not quite a troika bailout but involves oversight.

While Spain is reluctant to sign up, and Germany is urging it not to ask for help unless it is really needed (stemming from the same reluctance to go back to the German Parliament), Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is already doing most of what he knows would be required. That will make it easier for Spain when it does decide, probably before Christmas, to seek some help.

And despite complaints from the German central bank, the Bundesbank, about the European Central Bank’s bond-buying program, it has the support both of Ms. Merkel and her main opposition, the Social Democrats.

Another important factor that is easing pressure is serious talk of institutional change in the European Union and the euro zone, in particular a kind of banking union, with a single supervisor for the bloc that would be more exacting in putting banks in order than national boards. That is coupled with discussion of more cohesion, coordination and oversight by Brussels of national budgets in the euro zone.

The summit meeting is not considered any sort of make-or-break session — in a way, it is a return to the more normal meetings the bloc used to have.

At issue is a draft paper by the European Council president, Herman Van Rompuy, to pull the 17 nations of the euro zone — and future members, like Poland — closer together. Mr. Van Rompuy’s agenda includes a banking union with a single supervisor, already agreed upon in principle by members in June, and a single budget for the euro zone, which could imply a euro zone treasury down the road.

The Germans talk a lot about more political and fiscal union for the euro zone. But in fact, Germany and its northern allies, like the Finns, Dutch and Austrians, do not want to rush into a broad banking union, fearing that they will be held responsible for fixing too many broken banks. And a single budget for the euro zone goes too far for many countries.

The leaders can also spend some time fighting over the existing European Union budget itself for the years 2014 to 2020, with Britain leading the charge to protest greater central spending at a time when member states are cutting their own budgets.

But most economists interviewed say that if the euro is to survive in the long run, the common currency needs common banking rules and supervision, including a collective bank-deposit insurance program, so that euro deposits in Greece are as safe as those in Germany. Combined with a more rigorous attitude toward reducing debt, economists like Daniel Gros, the director of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, maintain that the real economy will continue to work to adjust imbalances in the euro zone. Already, current account balances are improving, Greek prices are dropping (encouraging tourism again), and German exports are slowing.

But there remain worries about the longer-term future. David Miliband, the former British foreign secretary, said that there was too little strategic thinking. “The tragedy of the left is that it’s against reform, and the tragedy of the right is that it sees austerity and reform as the same thing,” he said in an interview. “The proper position is to encourage structural and institutional reform but without harping on too much austerity,” which, he said, is “worsening the disease and making the tunnel longer.”

The deeper problem of the European Union, Mr. Miliband suggested, is that its institutions as currently set up are “neither legitimate nor effective,” unlike the union in the 1980s, when there was a democratic deficit but it did not matter much, because the bloc’s leaders delivered. The “delivery deficit,” he said, “is more damaging than the democracy deficit.”

Most Active Member
Posts: 28666

« Reply #2723 on: Oct 17, 2012, 06:47 AM »

October 16, 2012

Iran Sanctions May Cut Supply of Currency


Western economic sanctions imposed on Iran over its disputed nuclear program have severely depressed the value of its national currency, the rial, causing higher inflation and forcing Iranians to carry ever-fatter wads of bank notes to buy everyday items. But the sanctions have also presented a new complication to Iran’s banking authorities: they may not be able to print enough money.

At least three European companies that have been providing currency production services to Iran say they have stopped doing business there. One of the companies, Koenig & Bauer AG of Würzburg, Germany, also says it has not responded to an Iranian request for bids to make presses to print new rials.

Koenig & Bauer’s disclosure was contained in a mailed response to a query by United Against Nuclear Iran, a New York-based sanctions advocacy group, which seized upon the 40 percent drop in the rial’s value this month to begin a campaign aimed at the currency itself.

The group began by pressing the Europe-based bank note industry, which has historically counted Iran as a client, to further ostracize the country by denying its central bank the basics of a functioning currency system: the printing presses, engraving paper, anticounterfeiting technology and other services needed to provide enough rials.

“By manipulating and increasing the printing volume of the rial, the regime can bolster its floundering currency and mask the disastrous impact of its political decisions, economic mismanagement and isolation,” Mark D. Wallace, the chief executive of United Against Nuclear Iran, said in announcing the campaign.

In letters to Koenig & Bauer and two other companies in the bank note business, De La Rue P.L.C. of Hampshire, England, and Flint Group of Luxembourg, he said that European Union sanctions already prohibit Europe-based bank note companies from providing such services to Iran’s central bank.

Rob Hutchison, a spokesman for De La Rue, said on Tuesday in a telephone interview, “We don’t provide technical support or services to Iran.”

Nathan Carleton, a spokesman for United Against Nuclear Iran, said in an e-mail that it had been contacted on Tuesday by Flint Group, which said it was no longer active in Iran.

As inflation erodes the rial’s purchasing power, Iran’s central bank must increase the supply of money, which risks hyperinflation, a cycle of rising prices and rising volumes of money in circulation. Denying the bank’s ability to increase the supply of money would theoretically hasten an economic crisis.

Some economists, however, say the campaign to restrict rial circulation may have the unintended consequence of helping Iran. They point to hyperinflation in the former Yugoslavia from 1992 to 1994 and Zimbabwe in 2007 and 2008. In both cases, the authorities could not print money fast enough to outpace their currency’s falling value and the systems collapsed; Yugoslavs began using a new currency tied to the German mark, and Zimbabweans used a currency tied to the American dollar. And the cycle of higher prices ended.

Steve H. Hanke, an economist at Johns Hopkins University, said that in Iran’s case, limiting the amount of rials in circulation “would solve the biggest problem they have: inflation.”

But Mr. Wallace said that in Iran’s economic system, the authorities “must maintain the ability to manipulate their money supply and must maintain the integrity of their currency.” Without sophisticated security and printing technology, he said, “Iran may not be able to do either — hastening the demise of the rial.”
Most Active Member
Posts: 28666

« Reply #2724 on: Oct 17, 2012, 06:49 AM »

October 16, 2012

Energy Price Increases Pose Challenge for Merkel


BERLIN — In the aftermath of the tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan last year, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced perhaps her most sweeping domestic ambition, a plan to shutter Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors and switch to 80 percent reliance on wind, solar and other renewable sources by 2050.

A year and a half later, the costs of that plan, known here as the Energiewende, or energy transformation, are becoming painfully clear, and they threaten to present one of the steepest popular challenges to Ms. Merkel as she prepares to face a general election next year.

The country’s four main grid operators released estimates this week showing that households will see a nearly 50 percent increase in the tax needed to fund the transformation, meaning that an average three-person household could be expected to see an additional €60, or $78, on their annual electricity bill.

The new estimates have added to an increasingly intense debate in Germany over how much is too much for cleaner energy and who should pay for it.

“Is it those who can really afford it, or those people for whom €60 is a lot of money?” asked Ulrike Mascher, president of the VdK welfare organization, which represents more than a million people nationwide.

Germans already pay some of the highest electricity prices in Europe, at about 25 euro cents, or 32 U.S. cents, per kilowatt hour. By comparison, consumers in neighboring France, which draws 78 percent of its energy from nuclear power plants, pay about 14 euro cents, while Poles pay 15 euro cents, according to European Union statistics.

The German price includes a surcharge that guarantees producers of energy from solar, wind, biofuels and other renewable sources a return on their investment above the market rate, which is widely credited with helping move the country to become a global leader in green technology.

Next year, that subsidy will rise to 5.3 euro cents from 3.6 euro cents per kilowatt hour, hence the higher energy bills for German consumers.

While those upper- and middle-class earners will hardly notice the increase, for a widow on a small monthly pension or a single parent struggling to raise a family on only one salary, the difference can be painful, said Ms. Mascher. She said that about 600,000 homes in Germany had their power cut off last year because people could not pay their bills.

The issue has already divided politicians, and with Ms. Merkel facing a general election scheduled for 2013, the country’s energy transformation is sure to feature as a point of intense debate.

Four months ago, Ms. Merkel pledged a renewed focus on the project, which had become less of a priority in the face of Europe’s pressing sovereign debt crisis. She replaced her environment minister with a loyal ally. Since taking over, Peter Altmaier has increased the visibility of his office and redoubled efforts to speed up needed reforms, such as expanding and updating the country’s grid.

Last week, he proposed changes to the complex law — the Renewable Sources Energy Act, known by its German initials E.E.G. — that governs the surcharge funding with goals of increasing market competitiveness and keeping costs in check.

Under the current law, the more energy produced by renewable sources, the higher the subsidy consumers must fund. This means that the law’s success has caused the green energy sector to grow explosively; the amount of the surcharge has more than quadrupled since 2009. Last year it generated €17 billion, about $22 billion, and analysts expect that it will bring in about €25 billion in 2013.

In addition, the current law allows exemptions for leading power-hungry industries in an effort to maintain Germany’s international competitiveness. More than 730 companies took advantage of the exemption in 2012, according to the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control.

“We need to look at this again and consider whether it was right to have granted exemptions to so many companies,” Ms. Merkel said in Berlin on Tuesday in calling for reforms to the law.

So far Mr. Altmaier’s response has been to encourage Germans to reduce the amount of power they consume, by expanding a program that offers energy-saving tips for lower-income households.

Dubbed simply Energy-Saving Check, the program is run by the Caritas social services organization and has reached about 80,000 households since its inception, said Nicola Buskotte by telephone from Caritas’s headquarters in Cologne.

Organizers recruit from a pool of the long-term unemployed, training them in simple ways to help reduce energy consumption, like turning down the temperature on a refrigerator or replacing an old showerhead with a more economical version, before sending them into mostly low-income households to teach people the techniques.

“That these people are turning every cent over twice is clear,” Ms. Buskotte said in response to criticism that asking welfare recipients to save more is unfair. “But to teach people how they can save €100 a year is useful, not only for them personally, but for the climate.”
Most Active Member
Posts: 28666

« Reply #2725 on: Oct 17, 2012, 06:51 AM »

October 16, 2012

Spanish Court Opens Trial Over Giant Prestige Oil Spill


A CORUÑA, SPAIN — A Spanish court on Tuesday opened the trial of a former ship captain and three other defendants over their involvement in one of Europe’s worst oil spills, the sinking of the tanker Prestige a decade ago, when it split in two and devastated Spain’s northwestern coastline.

If the long delay has fueled grievances here in Galicia, where the spill was most felt in November 2002, it has also given the trial special political resonance, coming ahead of a regional election in Galicia on Sunday.

A civil society association called Nunca Máis (Never Again) has been leading demands, albeit unsuccessfully, for past and present conservative politicians to stand in the dock and defend the decisions of the government at the time, which many blame for exacerbating Spain’s worst environmental disaster.

Among the politicians in their line of fire is Mariano Rajoy, a native of Galicia, who is now Spain’s prime minister.

Ten years ago, Mr. Rajoy was deputy prime minister as well as the government’s main spokesman, and as such directly involved in Madrid’s response to the Prestige’s accident. While the tanker ended up spilling 20 million gallons of oil into the sea, Mr. Rajoy initially predicted that any leakage would be contained and only amount to “little threads of oil that look like Plasticine.”

That turned out to be wildly inaccurate, as images of Spain’s oil-coated beaches made their way worldwide.

Xosé Sánchez, spokesman of Nunca Máis, was among about 200 protesters who braved the rain on Tuesday to stage a demonstration in front of an exhibition center that has been turned into a makeshift courtroom for the trial.

“It’s just incredible to see that Rajoy and other politicians who took all the wrong decisions have since managed to remain or even climb to the highest echelons of politics,” Mr. Sánchez said.

In the election on Sunday, Mr. Rajoy’s Popular Party is hoping to maintain its majority in Galicia’s regional parliament, even though the vote is taking place amid nationwide protests against his government’s austerity measures.

While Mr. Rajoy and other politicians have avoided rekindling memories of the Prestige disaster, protesters said they hoped witnesses would show that Spain’s government ignored technical advice by refusing to provide a safe harbor for the Prestige. “The people who are standing trial are not those who hold the most responsibility for the spill,” Mr. Sánchez argued.

The main defendant is Apostolos Mangouras, the Greek captain of the Prestige, against whom prosecutors are seeking a 12-year prison sentence. Two of the Prestige’s other officers and the former director general of the Spanish merchant marine are also on trial.

Beside pursuing criminal charges, prosecutors are demanding financial compensation from the ship’s insurers to cover the costs of the spill. The Spanish state on Tuesday raised its total claim to about €4.33 billion, from an initial estimate of €1.9 billion. France has so far claimed €86 million in damages.

The trial, however, is not expected to reach a verdict until the fall of next year, with more than 100 witnesses due to be heard in the meantime.

The Prestige ran into trouble after being caught in a storm, but was then kept at sea for almost a week while the government of Prime Minister José María Aznar unsuccessfully tried to convince neighboring France and Portugal to offer shelter to the damaged ship.

Federico Trillo, the defense minister, even proposed using military aircraft to bomb the ship. Mr. Rajoy appointed Mr. Trillo as Spain’s ambassador to London this year.

The trial “should make blatant the wrong decisions that were taken in this accident, in particular because everybody tried to get the problem off their hands,” said María Xosé Vázquez Rodríguez, professor of environmental economics at Vigo University.

Eventually, the Prestige split in half as it was being dragged further out into the Atlantic, helping spread oil as far as French shores.

The trial is taking place in a country where “justice doesn’t stand out because of its speed,” noted Fernando González Laxe, director of the institute of marine studies at Coruña University.

Still, Mr. González Laxe, who is also a former president of Galicia’s regional government, said that establishing legal responsibility was “not an easy task,” given how operators use different jurisdictions to their benefit. The Prestige was built in Japan, flying the Bahamas flag, under Liberian ownership but under the control of a Greek shipping company. It was insured in Great Britain and had American certification.
Most Active Member
Posts: 28666

« Reply #2726 on: Oct 17, 2012, 06:53 AM »

October 16, 2012

For the Crowded Masses, a Push to Provide More Escape Patches


MUMBAI, India — Not far from where Anusaya Nair lives, a room that measures barely 5 feet by 5 feet, is her main escape: a 9,200-square-foot park, boxed on three sides by a ramshackle garage, tenement housing and an apartment complex. A few women take their evening stroll on the walking track circling the park; elderly companions exchange gossip on a handful of scattered benches; neighborhood children play on a swing set at the back.

Ms. Nair, 43, lives in the Ambedkar Nagar slum, like many of the domestic workers who take care of the area’s high-rise apartment buildings. She spends her days cleaning the homes of more affluent residents of southern Mumbai and regards her twice-a-week visits to the garden as a welcome relief from her routine.

“I’ve liked gardens since I was a child and always try and find some time to visit,” Ms. Nair said. “I like the natural beauty. The mind finds peace.”

Small as it is, the relatively new garden, off First Pasta Lane in the city’s Colaba neighborhood, is a luxury in Mumbai: a green space accessible to anybody, where people can unwind without being jostled. Much of the open space in this fast-growing metropolis of more than 13 million people is inaccessible to typical residents, and much of the rest has been eroded or eliminated by commercial development.

A new study reports that Mumbai has only 11.6 square miles of open space, with just 3.9 square miles available to most of its residents. That is about nine square feet per person.

“Open spaces are like the lungs of the city,” said Ashoke Pandit of Save Open Spaces, an umbrella organization of more than 30 civic groups that advocates for more open spaces. “If you can’t breathe, you can’t survive.”

India’s growing middle class and the rich have plenty of places to escape the chaos and crowding of India’s most important business center. Developers typically build play areas, community halls, gardens and swimming pools into the housing complexes where most of them live. But a vast majority of Mumbai residents have access to only tiny scraps of green like Ms. Nair’s park or a handful of large open spaces, most of them in the historic downtown area, that are swarming with crowds.

In a study of Indian cities, the World Health Organization found that a number of environmental factors have led to a rise in respiratory infections, asthma, malaria, diarrhea and neuropsychiatric disorders. Citing the lack of open spaces and greenery, Dr. Agam Vora, secretary at the Environmental Medical Association here, said, “Overcrowding and industrialization have led to a significant increase in respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis and pulmonary fibrosis in Mumbai.” Based on his own experience, Dr. Vora estimated that the incidence and severity of asthma have increased by roughly half in the last decade.

Several local nonprofit groups have taken up the cause of more open space. One, CitiSpace, has worked with residents’ associations and lobbied local officials to restore parks and open spaces in many parts of the city.

Last month, the Mumbai government approved a plan to create a 23-acre “city forest” in the northern coastal neighborhood of Juhu, a favorite destination of rich and poor alike. The plan, conceived and designed by P. K. Das and Associates, a Mumbai architecture firm, calls for the planting of 1,000 trees along a creek. Now a barren ground fallen into disuse, a stretch in the area was first suggested in 1987 by a government official. But it languished for 25 years before Mr. Das and citizens’ groups in the area revived the idea.

The $4.6 million project, which will take a year to complete, was financed through a government fund that provides money to members of Parliament to help build public facilities in their districts.

After fierce lobbying by neighborhood associations, Mumbai’s government agreed to budget $28 million for gardens and open spaces this year, up from $24 million last year. But about half the money is aimed at a renovation of the city zoo, leaving little for parks and gardens in the rest of the city.

The city government is revising Mumbai’s development plan, a 20-year blueprint for land use. In the past, bureaucrats and politicians drafted the plan behind closed doors with little input from residents.

“There is a need to cultivate a sensitivity towards environmental features when creating the development plan,” said Ashwini Bhide, a newly added commissioner at the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority. “Development and environment have to go hand in hand.”

But many experts say the plan itself is not the problem. “We have open spaces clearly set aside in the development plan for the city,” said Ashutosh Limaye, head of research at Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate company. “What we lack is proper implementation. Political interference and profiteering is getting in the way of that.”

The tiny parcel where Ms. Nair unwinds, for instance, was bought by the city in 1974 to create a pocket park. But officials initially leased the land to a popular local fast-food chain, a car-repair shop and a warehouse. Residents learned that they had been deprived of a planned park only when they filed a request under India’s freedom of information law in 2006 to find out more about the restaurant, Kailash Parbat, which many complained was creating too much noise and traffic and a disturbing odor. The owner of the restaurant did not return calls seeking comment.

In 2008, the First Pasta Lane Residents’ Association took the city to court. The case wound its way to the Indian Supreme Court, which ruled in the group’s favor in 2010. The garden finally opened to the public in July 2011.

“It was an uphill struggle all the way; our lawyers made over a hundred appearances in court,” said Vijay Advani, joint secretary of the First Pasta Lane Residents’ Association. “But today the children of the neighborhood have a place to play — and they relish it.”

* 17mumbai-articleLarge.jpg (87.91 KB, 600x380 - viewed 69 times.)
Most Active Member
Posts: 28666

« Reply #2727 on: Oct 17, 2012, 07:32 AM »

In the USA...

Legal spat delays World Trade Center rebuild

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 16, 2012 18:39 EDT

OTTAWA — A Quebec steel firm is delaying the finishing touches on the rebuilt World Trade Center by refusing to deliver the antenna for New York’s tallest skyscraper, saying on Tuesday it was owed money.

“We’ve just about finished making the antenna but it will remain here until our invoices are paid,” Jean Paschini, head of ADF Group, a fabricator of complex structural steel components in Montreal, told AFP.

The Quebec company supplied steel for two more towers erected at the site where the original World Trade Center towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, as well as a new subway hub beneath the complex, due to open in 2013.

The final piece of the centerpiece “Freedom Tower,” a 458-foot antenna to cap the massive column of glass and steel and bring the skyscraper’s height to 1,776 feet, was to be delivered on November 1.

But the company last week warned the government agency that oversees the World Trade Center, that it would stay in Quebec until payment is received for other work at the site, “a sum of money that was due more than a year ago.”

The base and mast of the antenna weigh more than 700 tons and must be transported by boat. If it is not shipped soon, the Saint Lawrence river will freeze making delivery impossible until spring.

The tower owner filed a lawsuit on Friday in New York Supreme Court alleging that ADF is holding the antenna “hostage” until it receives $8.2 million in arrears in what it described as a contractual dispute.

“At some point, business is business,” said Paschini.


On ballots: Has pro-marijuana camp found way to win over middle America?

Ballot initiatives in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington would make recreational use of marijuana legal. At least one is likely to succeed. Pro-legalization groups have been honing their message.

By Patrik Jonsson, Staff Writer / October 16, 2012
Ted S. Warren/AP


The failure of Prop. 19 – a California legalization measure – two years ago was widely seen as a stunning defeat for high-flying pro-marijuana forces.   

Yet judging by three new pot legalization proposals now on ballots in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado, the lessons of Prop. 19 were hardly lost.

Instead, pro-legalization groups including the ACLU studied exit polling, conducted their own focus group research, found moderate spokesmen, and tweaked proposals to try to build “trust” with a middle America that has grown steadily more accepting of pot use, yet, as Prop. 19 showed, remains wary of the impact of making the drug legal.

Three weeks ahead of Election Day, it now appears that at least one of those initiatives – Initiative 105 in Washington State – is heading toward passage, with some 57 percent of likely voters now backing the measure, according to a Survey USA poll taken in September. If that happens, it would be the first time a government has lifted pot prohibition, setting up a potential Constitutional showdown with a federal government that still prohibits growing, selling, and using marijuana.

But more critically, a successful legalization campaign in Washington would give the strongest evidence yet of how pro-marijuana groups can spin a winning message to the American center, even against entrenched and deputized opposition. How closely the promise of that message dovetails with the reality of legalization, however, will be the real test for broader adoption.

“I think these campaigns did learn a lot from the Prop. 19 experience,” says Beau Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Corporation’s Drug Policy Research Center.

“There were a lot of meetings after the fact and there’s some serious money [involved], all of which makes it easier to tease out potential liabilities and run a campaign where you’re doing focus groups and you have lots of televised advertisements.”

The initiatives in the three states differ slightly, but all have managed to cobble together ideologically diverse coalitions. They’ve also managed to balance societal safeguards with the promise of sizable tax revenues. Where Prop. 19 left it to municipalities to license growers and retailers, the new measures impose state regulation on the pot trade. And proponents have also picked a presidential election that’s likely to draw lots of younger voters and stuck to libertarian-leaning Western states to make their case.

In Washington State, Initiative 105 combines a 25 percent excise tax that could raise nearly $2 billion over the next five years with a ban on pot smoking in public, an intoxication limit of 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, and an exception that would allow employers to fire workers for smoking on the job.

That “not-in-your-face” tack is proving powerful enough that some of America’s biggest drug warriors are challenging US Attorney General Eric Holder to do something to help sway attitudes away from Initiative 105.

On a conference call Monday, several former senior DEA officials and directors of the Office of National Drug Control Policy said Washington should make it clear to voters that even if states pass the initiatives, pot smokers in those states would still be violating federal law.

On a conference call Monday, several former senior DEA officials and directors of the Office of National Drug Control Policy said Washington should make it clear to voters that even if states pass the initiatives, pot smokers in those states would still be violating federal law.   

The former drug-war officials on the conference call said that states like Colorado, which have legalized medical marijuana, have seen problems mount as a result, including reports of higher crime, more drug use by teens, and growing numbers of drug driving arrests.

On the call, former US drug czar John Walters said he thought it was “shocking” that Mr. Holder hasn’t made a statement on the referenda. “All you have to do is say things that this administration has already said. It would help enormously and I think it would defeat these measures,” said Mr. Walters.

The federal response, if any of the initiatives pass, will be critical. Obama said early on in his presidency that arresting medical marijuana users would not be a priority, although Mr. Holder said ahead of the 2010 election that the Department of Justice would “vigorously enforce” drug laws.

This year, Holder has been notably silent about the Western legalization referenda. And while Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan at one point said it’s up to states to decide, he later walked back that statement to Mitt Romney’s position, which is to fight legalization “tooth and nail,” as he recently said.

But stanching legalization at the state level may not be that easy. If voters approve such measures, it may force the federal government to adopt a nuanced approach. In Colorado, for example, the law is written so that revenues would go to schools, meaning federal enforcement could be seen as taking money away from education.

Other results could whittle away support for legalization, contends Mr. Kilmer at RAND. Lower prices – which would be inevitable if pot could be grown legally as an agricultural product – may drive more usage in other states and could seriously reduce expected tax receipts from legal weed sales, all of which may raise federal ire.

In the end, the focus of the new initiatives has been on assuring those who don’t smoke pot that the laws will actually have a net social benefit. To produce such benefits, marijuana proponents have now acknowledged, serious and complex regulatory safeguards have to be proposed, all of which means the growth of state government.

The "libertarian … dream of legal pot with no regulations" does not play well with voters, Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project tells the Huffington Post.

What may be playing the biggest role in the success so far of the Washington initiative specifically is that former US law enforcement officials have joined the pro-legalization movement.

In an ad running now, former US Attorneys John McKay and Kate Pflaumer appear with Charles Mandingo, the FBI’s former Seattle chief, to support Initiative 105’s licensing of marijuana growers, processors, and retailers.

"We know firsthand that decades of marijuana arrests have failed to reduce use," Mr. Mandigo says. "And the drug cartels are pocketing all the profits."

Rick Steves, the well-known PBS travel show host, is also currently touring the state, touting a pro-legalization message. Mr. Steves has said he does not believe that Washington will become a drug “mecca” if the law passes.
Most Active Member
Posts: 28666

« Reply #2728 on: Oct 18, 2012, 06:45 AM »

10/18/2012 01:02 PM

Growing Tensions: Far-Right Protest Targets Roma in Hungary

Carrying torches and chanting accusatory slogans, more than 1,000 far-right extremists protested the Roma community in Hungarian city of Miskolc on Wednesday night. Tensions were high following a Roma protest against discrimination earlier in the day, and police presence was strong.

Opposing protests by both the far-right and members of the Roma minority on Wednesday in Hungary highlighted growing tensions in the country, which continues to struggle through a recession and long-term economic crisis.

Bearing banners and burning torches, more than 1,000 supporters of the far-right opposition Jobbik party rallied at housing projects in the northeastern city of Miskolc where many Roma live. The radical nationalist party blames the Roma community for a number of Hungary's social problems, including crime and a lack of public security.

Although the nationalist party had called for the protest, uniformed members of the banned paramilitary group Magyar Gárda, or the Hungarian Guard Movement, were also present among the protesters, who reportedly shouted anti-Roma slurs.

"Those who don't work shouldn't bring children into this world," Jobbik parliamentarian Zsolt Egyed told the crowd. "We must act now to save our future and free Hungary from the gypsy crime."

Amid fears of clashes after a Roma protest in a different part of the city earlier in the day, several thousand Hungarian police in riot gear secured the city and the protest at the Avas projects, home to some 40,000 residents. A number of Roma from poor villages surrounding the former communist industrial city moved to the housing area as part of a controversial welfare program some years ago, but many have been unable to find work.

Ecomonic Tensions

At the Roma demonstration earlier in the day, several hundred members of the minority group rejected the characterization that they are to blame for Hungary's problems and called for an end to discrimination. "We want peace, justice and a Hungary without Nazis," one banner read.

Nearly one-tenth of Hungary's population of 10 million are Roma. Amid a difficult recession in the country, Jobbik has targeted the Roma community as a scapegoat. The conservative government in Budapest has called for tough austerity measures to slash its budget deficit, but Jobbik, which holds 45 of 386 seats in parliament, has said these cuts have made it impossible to ensure public safety in parts of the country.

In response, Roma leaders told news agency Reuters that law enforcement isn't the real issue. Instead, they appealed for greater integration of Roma within a Hungarian society that is often intolerantof the minority population.

"I won't lie to you, there is an integration problem, but what we need is a lot of social workers, not police," said Gabor Varadi, chief of the local Roma Minority Government.
Most Active Member
Posts: 28666

« Reply #2729 on: Oct 18, 2012, 06:46 AM »

10/18/2012 01:44 PM

Poisoned Atmosphere: France and Germany at Odds ahead of EU Summit

By Carsten Volkery

Germany has a clear vision for the future of the European Union -- but so does France. Unfortunately, the two concepts are radically different, and neither side seems interested in backing down. The conflict is set to dominate the EU summit on Thursday and Friday.

A bit of brinksmanship on the eve of European Union summits is to be expected. Heads of state and government are fond of going public with what they hope to achieve, only to make concessions once negotiations begin in Brussels. What might look like a deep abyss prior to the meeting will often be bridged.

But this time around, the self-serving rhetoric has been so intense that it is difficult to imagine the 27 EU leaders coming to agreement at the two-day summit, which begins on Thursday afternoon. First, it was German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, from Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats, who went on the offensive on Tuesday with a far-reaching plan to outfit Brussels with a veto right over national budgets. The position, widely referred to as a "super-commissioner," would even be able to override national parliaments, a taboo in Paris and in many other European capitals.

Then, in an interview with five leading European dailies, French President François Hollande repeated a proposal that isn't any less controversial. He wants to see the introduction of euro bonds, in addition to the installation of a euro-zone wide banking oversight authority by the end of the year. In Berlin, euro bonds are categorically rejected. And Hollande's timeline for banking oversight, combined with serious differences between Paris and Berlin on what such a regime might look like, is seen in Germany as unrealistic to the point of being an affront.

It almost seems as though Paris and Berlin are intentionally getting in each other's way. Germany wants to further stiffen EU budgetary rules and would like to amend EU treaties as quickly as possible next year to make it possible. France, on the other hand, believes the priority should be the collectivization of debt and rapidly installing bank oversight. For the summit, the result is likely to be a stalemate. The new Franco-German partnership of Merkollande is on the verge of earning a less flattering moniker: Merde.

Remaining Taboo

Sources in the Berlin government have already tried to lower expectations for the summit. There will be no decisions made, they said, adding that the summit is only one step on the way to the next meeting of EU leaders in December.

Merkel is likely to find herself on the defensive once again in Brussels, though. The eight-page pre-summit document distributed by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy mentions neither Berlin's demand for a super-commissioner nor its desire for EU treaty changes. Both proposals have not yet found a majority in the European club -- and the idea of changing the EU treaty is likely to remain taboo until after the European Parliament elections in 2014.

Van Rompuy's paper does, however, include explicit references to euro bonds and the creation of a separate budget for the euro zone, in the hopes that it could help to iron out the economic inequalities between northern and southern Europe.

Schäuble's proposal was an attempt to redirect the European discussion. It is unclear whether Merkel will broach the subject of a European super-commissioner during the two-day summit in Brussels. But government sources have made it clear that Merkel agrees with her finance minister's analysis regarding the reforms necessary to attack the roots of the euro crisis. Focusing solely on a banking union is not enough, Berlin believes.

As such, it appears that an agreement on how to proceed with the creation of an EU bank oversight regime will not be reached at this summit. It is a question that already proved divisive during the EU summit back in June. Spain, Italy and France want the creation of a collective bank oversight system to be completed by the end of the year so that the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the euro bailout fund, can begin providing direct aid to banks beginning in January 2013. At the moment, such aid must be given indirectly via national governments.

Taste of the Coming Conflict

In the short term, a quick agreement would be a boon for Spain and Ireland, both of which are having difficulties meeting the requirements of their crisis-stricken financial sectors. Germany, however, believes that the timeline is much too rushed. Thoroughness should take a higher priority than speed, Berlin has grown fond of repeating. Furthermore, German officials are opposed in principle to helping countries dispose of liabilities inherited from past profligacy.

Hollande provided a taste of the coming conflict in his interview, which appeared in Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung and the UK's The Guardian, among other newspapers. Demands to further the project of integration by deepening political union, he said, are often made to distract from more urgent problems. "The question of institutions is often addressed so that no decisions must be made," he said. "Those who speak most passionately about political union are often the ones who hesitate the most when it comes to making pressing decisions."

He insisted that the comment was not directed specifically at Germany, but he did not shy away from accusing Merkel of being overly worried about domestic political concerns. "She's very sensitive to questions of internal politics and to the demands of her parliament," he said. "I understand that, and can respect that. But we all have our own public opinion. Our common responsibility is to put Europe's interests first." Perhaps this is easy to say given that French elections are a number of years off, while Merkel faces a general election in 2013. But it certainly won't contribute to Franco-German harmony in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

European leaders have said they are not going to reach any decisions regarding euro-zone crisis countries. That hasn't stopped investors from speculating that Spain might finally apply for aid from the ESM, though. Rumors that Madrid is preparing to submit such an application have been rife for months, and such a move would allow the European Central Bank (ECB) to buy large quantities of Spanish sovereign bonds, thus lowering Madrid's borrowing costs. Indeed, the euro exchange rate against the dollar has risen in anticipation. There is, however, no concrete evidence that a Spanish application is imminent.

Deepening of the Currency Union

The crisis in Greece is likewise not expected to play a large role. There seems to be little remaining doubt that Athens will receive the next tranche of its bailout package despite the fact that the country has not yet implemented all of the reforms it has promised. The next report of the troika, made up of the International Monetary Fund, the ECB and the European Commission, has not yet been completed, but unofficially the decision has long since been made not to allow Greece to go bankrupt. SPIEGEL learned this week that the German Finance Ministry has worked out a solution with the troika and other euro-zone member states that involves depositing the next tranche, worth €31.5 billion, into a blocked account so that Greek access to the money can be stopped at any time. By doing so, pressure will remain high on Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to pursue reform.

The focus of the summit is to be the deepening of the currency union. In addition to the banking union, the creation of a discrete budget for the euro zone will also be addressed. That would, however, require taking in revenues in addition to the European Union budget, which makes the idea controversial. In the paper submitted by Van Rompuy, there is merely a mention of a "fiscal capacity" for the common currency zone. Berlin too has been at pains to avoid the term "budget," preferring instead to speak of a "special fund."

Just how the budget might be funded and what it would be used for remains unclear. Some have mentioned the planned financial transaction tax as a potential revenue source. But there are problems with that idea. For one, revenues from the tax aren't likely to be terribly high. For another, the transaction tax, as it currently stands, will only apply in 11 euro-zone member states. But any euro-zone budget would have to be financed by all 17 members of the common currency area -- and the system would have to be an equitable one.

Berlin, at least, has a concrete proposal for how such a budget could be used -- as a pot to reward reform efforts in crisis-stricken euro-zone countries.


Merkel pushes EU veto over national budgets

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 18, 2012 7:48 EDT

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday the European Union’s top financial official should have the power to veto the national budgets of member states.

Merkel, addressing the Bundestag lower house of parliament ahead of an EU summit beginning later in Brussels, said the EU’s economics commissioner should have the authority to declare a budget “invalid”.

“We believe, and I say that for the whole government, we could go further by granting the European level real rights to intervene in national budgets” that breach the limits of the EU’s growth and stability pact, Merkel told lawmakers.

She added that “unfortunately” she knew some EU member states were not ready for such a step.

But she said that if a national budget could be declared invalid, “we would be at the stage of needing someone in the (EU) Commission who has the authority to do that” and that person would be the EU’s economics commissioner.

On Tuesday, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble called for the EU’s Economic and Monetary Commissioner to be empowered to send back budgets to national parliaments.

Several hours before EU leaders gather in Brussels, Merkel outlined in an around 40-minute speech the position of Germany, Europe’s top economy and effective paymaster, calling the euro “much more than a currency”.

She pointed to the significance of the EU having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in the midst of a crisis that has at times posed a question mark over its future, rather than at other key moments in its history.

“This euro stands symbolically for the economic, social and political unification of Europe with great effect beyond Europe,” she said.

The problems buffeting Europe have not arisen overnight and will not be resolved overnight either, she said highlighting a lack of competitiveness, some countries’ debt problems and mistakes in the design of the euro.

But she said that strengthening the single currency was a process of steps and measures, some of which had already been taken.

“We can already clearly see the outlines of a stability union,” she said.

She also said many countries were undertaking tough reforms or had introduced other programmes to tackle their problems, including Greece where she said the situation was “anything but simple”.

Turning to Spain, she said the decision on whether Madrid sought rescue funds from the EU was the Spanish government’s alone.

“We know that people in Spain, in Greece and in other affected member states, an awful lot is demanded of them,” she said, adding however that results were also being seen.
« Last Edit: Oct 18, 2012, 07:02 AM by Rad » Logged
Pages: 1 ... 180 181 [182] 183 184 ... 1363   Go Up
Jump to: