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« Reply #2820 on: Oct 27, 2012, 06:29 AM »

October 26, 2012

Noted Women’s Rights Activist in Congo Eludes Group of Gunmen

By JOSH KRON
IHT

KAMPALA, Uganda — A leading human rights activist from the Democratic Republic of Congo said on Friday that he had narrowly escaped what appeared to be an assassination attempt when gunmen infiltrated his home, took his children hostage and killed a security guard in a spray of bullets before fleeing in the family car.

On Thursday evening, four or five unidentified gunmen entered the home of the activist, Dr. Denis Mukwege, 57, while he was out, forced his two daughters and their friend onto the floor, confiscated their telephones and threatened to shoot them if they made any noise, according to a statement from Physicians for Human Rights, a humanitarian organization based in the United States, and a neighbor.Dr. Mukwege, one of Congo’s most high-profile personalities and a past Nobel Peace Prize nominee, said in a telephone interview on Friday that when he pulled up to the gate at his home in Bukavu, in eastern Congo, about an hour later, he saw “very strange people.” The gunmen forced their way into his car, and one stepped out and trained his gun on the doctor. Then one of his security guards appeared out of nowhere. The gunman menacing Dr. Mukwege whirled around and opened fire on the guard instead, Dr. Mukwege said, then fired at him. “They were shooting bullets in my direction,” he said. He scrambled to get away, and the assailants ran out of ammunition without hitting him. “And then they just jumped again in the car.”

The three children were also unharmed, but Dr. Mukwege’s security guard — Papa Djef, as he was known to the family — was killed. “He was like my child,” Dr. Mukwege said. “He was really a brave man. He just paid his life to save mine.”

Amnesty International called the attack a suspected assassination attempt, as did Physicians for Human Rights and Dr. Mukwege’s neighbor Christine Schuler Deschryver, the Congo director of V-Day, a group that fights sexual violence. Government agencies, including the Congolese Army and the local police force, could not be reached for comment on Friday. Dr. Mukwege said police officers had been sent to protect his house.

The attack comes amid seething violence in eastern Congo, where months of fighting between government troops and rebel militias has displaced more than 100,000 people. In the last 15 years, Congo’s churning instability has been blamed for the unintended deaths of millions.

But the attack on Dr. Mukwege, a gynecological surgeon who directs a hospital treating victims of sexual violence, raised fears that Congo’s conflict was deepening to swallow even its most beloved citizens.

Since rebels backed by neighboring countries overthrew Congo’s dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, in 1997, wanton sexual violence has become a trademark of Congo’s conflict. Dr. Mukwege opened Panzi Hospital in Bukavu in 1999 to treat victims of sexual violence. The hospital has treated more than 30,000 women. While the identity of the attackers remained unknown, it was clear that they knew Dr. Mukwege, and his schedule, well, Ms. Deschryver said. The doctor was originally supposed to return from a trip to Europe on Friday but flew back Thursday instead.

“There are no secrets in Congo,” she said. “It was also to show that they can come and kill anybody, anywhere, anytime.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 26, 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated Christine Schuler Deschryver’s role at V-Day. She is the Congo director of the organization, not its founder.
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« Reply #2821 on: Oct 27, 2012, 06:32 AM »


The New York Times
October 26, 2012

European Union Gives Rights Award to Convicted Iranians

By THOMAS ERDBRINK

TEHRAN — The European Union gave its most prestigious human rights award on Friday to two convicted Iranian activists, the imprisoned lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh and the formerly imprisoned filmmaker Jafar Panahi.

The award, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, which has previously gone to international figures such as Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, comes at a time of deepening tensions between Iran and the West.

Last week, the European Union, which in July began a boycott of Iranian oil, terminated the European satellite access to nearly two dozen Iranian state television and radio channels, which had relied on that access for their broadcasts.

Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said in a statement that the prize was awarded as “recognition to a woman and a man who have not been bowed by fear and intimidation and who have decided to put the fate of their country before their own.” He said he hoped that Ms. Sotoudeh and Mr. Panahi would be able to travel to Europe to receive the prize next September.

Ms. Sotoudeh, 49, one of Iran’s most prominent rights activists, is serving a six-year sentence for acting against national security and spreading propaganda against the government. Last week, she started a hunger strike after the authorities denied her visits with her two children.

Her husband, Reza Khandan, said he and his family were very excited. “I will tell Nasrin the news as soon as I get the chance to visit her in prison,” he said.

Both he and his teenage daughter are barred from leaving Iran, so Mr. Khandan was not yet sure who would travel to Europe to pick up the prize of about $65,000 to be shared with Mr. Panahi.

Mr. Panahi, an award-winning filmmaker, was sentenced to a six-year term in 2010, for his involvement in the opposition movement after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed election victory in 2009. He was also banned from making movies for 20 years. He has been released on bail but is prohibited from leaving the country.

In 2003, Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and women’s rights activist now living in exile, won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Ms. Sotoudeh was nominated by Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of the European Parliament who focuses on Iran. “These winners are true symbols of the long struggle the Iranian people face every day,” she said in a statement. “The systematic repression, use of violence and censorship are felt by the entire population.”

There was no official reaction from the Iranian authorities, who have called such human rights awards political tools to exert pressure on governments disliked by the Western powers.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 26, 2012

An earlier version of this article described imprecisely the status of Jafar Panahi, a convicted Iranian filmmaker. He has been released on bail but is prohibited from leaving Iran; he is not currently in prison.


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« Reply #2822 on: Oct 27, 2012, 06:33 AM »

October 26, 2012

India’s Plague, Trash, Drowns Its Garden City During Strike

By GARDINER HARRIS
IHT

MANDUR, India — Outside Bangalore’s last official landfill, the garbage trucks regularly lined up here for hours, their burdens putrefying in the afternoon sun. A stinking mountain of trash, the landfill has been poisoning local waters and sickening nearby villagers. Another dump site was in even worse shape before it was closed recently after violent protests.

Bangalore, the capital of India’s modern economy and home to many of its high-tech workers, is drowning in its own waste. Last week, local villagers blocked the roads leading to the Mandur landfill on the city’s outskirts even as many of Bangalore’s trash haulers went on strike, saying they had not been paid in months. Some neighborhoods have not had trash pickups for nearly three weeks, and vast mounds of garbage are scattered through what is known in India as the Garden City.

Trash is India’s plague. It chokes rivers, scars meadows, contaminates streets and feeds a vast and dangerous ecosystem of rats, mosquitoes, stray dogs, monkeys and pigs. Perhaps even more than the fitful electricity and insane traffic, the ubiquitous garbage shows the incompetence of Indian governing and the dark side of the country’s rapid economic growth. Greater wealth has spawned more garbage, and the managers of the country’s pell-mell development have been unable to handle the load.

“Bangalore used to be India’s cleanest city,” said Amiya Kumar Sahu, president of the National Solid Waste Association of India. “Now, it is the filthiest.”

Bangalore’s garbage crisis grew directly out of its stunning success. Technology companies started settling in Bangalore in the 1980s. As they grew, many created pristine campuses hacked out of urban chaos, supplying their own electricity, water, transportation and a rare sense of tranquillity.

But the dirty secret of these campuses and the gated enclaves where their executives built their houses is that they had nowhere to put their trash. Many hired truckers to take the mess out of the city, careful not to ask where it went. The truckers found empty lots or willing farmers and simply dumped their loads.

The city soon followed the companies’ lead. Its door-to-door trash pickup program, started in 2000, was seen as a model in a country where comprehensive municipal trash systems are still rare. But few — including city officials — knew where the trash was taken or, after landfills opened, how it was disposed of.

“We never followed scientific landfill practices,” Rajneesh Goel, Bangalore’s chief civil servant, said in an interview.

As Bangalore’s population exploded with the success of its technology industry, the stresses in the waste system came close to a breaking point. Now, with Bangalore’s last landfill here in Mandur about to close permanently and the city running out of abandoned quarries to quietly divert a day’s load, the system may simply collapse.

“All that groundwater contamination is going to come to us; more than 300 of our lakes are already gone,” Dr. Goel said at a recent public meeting where he pleaded for help. “The problem is getting out of hand, and eventually it will swallow us up. We have to do something.”

The choice facing Dr. Goel is stark: find a new place to dump 4,000 tons of garbage a day, or make that garbage somehow disappear. Since the city’s atrocious oversight of past landfills has made new ones all but impossible to secure, he is now trying to create — almost from scratch — one of the most ambitious recycling programs in the world.

Dr. Goel conceded that success was far from certain.

“I’m trying to give you a very rosy picture, but don’t get taken in,” he said after outlining his plans. “It’s a 50-year-old story, and there are certain constraints in the system.”

In the past, private sector companies grew like gangbusters in part by shutting out the rest of India and avoiding interactions with a dysfunctional and corrupt government. But top executives here now say they can no longer turn their backs on the chaos that surrounds them. “Building these islands, or expanding them to become the whole of India, I don’t believe will work,” said S. Gopalakrishnan, executive co-chairman of Infosys, India’s leading technology giant. He gestured out the window at his company’s immaculate campus, which included a glass pyramid, food courts, basketball courts and gardens. “At some point, the resistance from the outside world will overwhelm them.”

Indeed, India’s dysfunction is now taking a toll on Infosys’ well-known productivity, Mr. Gopalakrishnan said. His employees’ commutes are longer, their fights with schools more intractable. “If you have just 100 employees, the impact is not so much,” he said. “But with 150,000 employees, more and more the environment affects us as individuals, and, yes, it slows things down. At some point, you can’t shut your mind to what is happening around you.”

Few expect Bangalore’s municipal government to solve the problem itself. Instead, a network of nonprofit groups has sprung up to carry out recycling schemes; these nongovernment organizations have embraced the thousands of rag pickers who daily paw through the city’s garbage to retrieve valuable refuse like paper, glass and certain plastics.

“We already have an informal system of 15,000 waste workers, and you have N.G.O.’s that can empower them,” said Kalpana Kar, who has served on the city’s waste management advisory council for more than a decade. “Let us make them all part of the formal system.”

For that system to work, however, households in Bangalore must separate their trash into wet food waste, dry recyclables like plastics and paper, and medical waste. Ms. Kar now spends much of her time trying to persuade Bangalorians to do just that. On a recent day, she stopped just outside her door and pointed to a servant leaving an expensive home nearby.

The servant carried two buckets of trash across the street and dumped them in an empty lot. Stray dogs and a feral pig soon came to feed but left behind the plastic and other garbage.

“What are you doing?” Ms. Kar yelled at the servant.

He shrugged and pointed at his employer’s house. Ms. Kar had tried many times to dissuade the servant from dumping the house’s garbage in the increasingly disgusting lot, she said, but his employer had dismissed her concerns. “People in India think that if their own house is clean, the problem just goes away,” she said. She is nonetheless optimistic that Bangalore will be able to recycle nearly all of its waste, which would be a remarkable accomplishment for a city of eight million. “The city is at its knees,” she said with a shrug. “We don’t have a choice.”

Just outside of Bangalore, a growing number of pig farms are picking up food waste from the city’s hotels and restaurants. At one farm, enormous pigs squealed in excitement when a truck arrived packed with barrels of discarded food. Workers dumped the cucumber skins, watermelon rinds, uncooked sausage, watery lentils and more into a concrete pen where a barefoot woman waited. Using one hand to hold her sari, she used the other to pick out plastic bags and ice cream cups. She was soon covered in slop. Eventually, another worker shoveled the food into pig pens, and the pigs snorted in happy gluttony.

For Vankatram, a pig farmer with just one name, the price of getting this discarded food was that he had to haul away the hotels’ dry waste, giant bags of mixed plastic and paper. Such waste could be recycled, but Mr. Vankatram instead burned it. Spot trash fires are common in India and contribute to choking air pollution.

“I hope in the next 10 years that India will become cleaner,” said Mr. Sahu of the national garbage association. “But right now, it’s really bad.”

Niharika Mandhana contributed reporting from Mandur and Bangalore, India.
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« Reply #2823 on: Oct 27, 2012, 06:53 AM »

In the USA

October 26, 2012

F.D.A. Details Contamination at Pharmacy

By SABRINA TAVERNISE and ANDREW POLLACK
NYT

WASHINGTON — A federal inspection of a company whose tainted pain medicine has caused one of the worst public health drug disasters since the 1930s found greenish-yellow residue on sterilization equipment, surfaces coated with levels of mold and bacteria that exceeded the company’s own environmental limits, and an air-conditioner that was shut off nightly despite the importance of controlling temperature and humidity.

The findings, made public on Friday by the Food and Drug Administration, followed a report from Massachusetts regulators on Tuesday and offered disturbing new details in an emerging portrait of what went wrong inside the New England Compounding Center, the pharmacy at the heart of a national meningitis outbreak in which 25 people have died, 313 more have fallen ill and as many as 14,000 people are believed to have been exposed.

Instead of producing tailor-made drugs for individual patients, as the law allowed, the company turned into a major drug maker that supplied some of the most prestigious hospitals in the country, including ones affiliated with Harvard, Yale and the Mayo Clinic, all with minimal oversight from federal regulators.

Federal officials also drew attention to the company’s proximity to a recycling plant where excavators and freight trucks heaped old mattresses, plastics and other materials, generating large amounts of dust. The plant, which is owned by one of the same people as the pharmacy, has not always complied with regulations and has drawn complaints, according to records in Framingham, Mass., where the company is located.

And as the death toll continues to rise, the F.D.A.’s commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, who was appointed by President Obama, has stayed mostly silent.

Some observers said that weighing in loudly and publicly on a contentious issue was simply not Dr. Hamburg’s style. Others said that it was because the agency was preparing a criminal case and would not want to endanger that with statements construed to be prejudicial. David Kessler, a former F.D.A. commissioner, pointed to the impending presidential election and efforts to keep the outbreak from becoming a political issue.

“Everyone is closed down right now,” he said. “People are being very careful. No one wants to make a mistake.”

The inspection report offered the clearest indication yet that the fungus that contaminated the company’s vials of methylprednisolone acetate, an injectable pain medicine, may have gotten there because of the company’s own practices.

Inspectors said that 83 out of 321 vials from one of the lots linked to the meningitis outbreak that they observed contained “greenish black foreign matter” and another 17 vials had “white filamentous material.”

The report said the company had tested only one sample from that lot, and it had proved sterile. When the F.D.A. tested 50 vials from that same lot, all of them contained some microbial growth.

Experts said that perhaps the most worrisome finding was that the company’s own testing between January and September found surfaces in the clean rooms contaminated with either bacteria or mold exceeding the levels at which the company’s own procedures called for remedial measures. In some cases, there were so many bacteria or fungi in a sample that the whole testing dish was overrun with a so-called overgrowth.

“Think of a plant just growing out of control,” said Steven Lynn, director of the Office of Manufacturing and Product Quality at the F.D.A. Yet, according to the agency, there was no evidence the company took remedial actions.

“This is pretty heinous stuff,” said Lou Diorio of LDT Health Solutions, a consultant to compounding pharmacies. “This just shows a general lack of basic clean-room principles.”

Russell E. Madsen, a consultant on sterility issues to the pharmaceutical industry, said of the inspection report: “In all my time in the pharmaceutical industry, which is 45 years, I’ve never seen one this bad.”

Another problem was the company’s air-conditioning system, which employees said was switched off between 8 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. in the room where sterile drugs were made. Maintaining proper temperature and humidity is important for retarding the growth of microbes. 

Mr. Lynn underscored that the findings were not a formal indictment of the company’s practices but a list of facts that would be used to inform the conclusions of its broader investigation, which began earlier this month.

The company said in a statement that it would “review this report and continue our cooperation with the F.D.A. We will follow the existing regulatory process and provide our comments to the F.D.A. after we have had adequate time for a complete review of the report.”

The recycling center, owned by Gregory Conigliaro, who also owns a stake in New England Compounding, was not initially a focus of the investigation, but has become a part of the inquiry as investigators learn more. The inspection report noted that rooftop units for the pharmacy’s air-conditioning system were located about 100 feet away from where large trucks and excavators were moving mattresses and plastics.

Over the years, neighbors have complained about dust, smells and debris that they said came from the property. In 2004, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection investigated an anonymous complaint about a “gray dust plume airborne and falling like a snowstorm.”

According to documents on file with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Conigliaro Industries recycled more than 16,000 tons of materials last year, including mattresses, furniture, batteries, asphalt roofing shingles, carpeting and plastic. To recycle a mattress, “We filet it like a fish, peel back the felt, the foam and the fabric, bale them and send them to end markets,” Mr. Conigliaro told a reporter for Waste News, an industry publication, in 2002.

New England Compounding had about 3,000 customers, and revelations about the company have shaken health care providers across the country. In Manhattan, Beth Israel Medical Center and St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital — former customers of New England Compounding — will “eliminate all purchased compounded drugs from our formulary as soon as possible,” according to a memo from the executive vice president of Continuum Health Partners, which runs both hospitals.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard affiliate in Boston, was a customer for seven or eight years, said a spokeswoman, Lori Schroth. She said Brigham and Women’s depended on New England Compounding for products that the hospital pharmacy could not easily make, or that were in short supply and not available from major manufacturers. The hospital had inspected the pharmacy “a handful” of times in the past, she said, and had never found a problem. The hospital’s own pharmacists are now working around the clock to make some of the medications formerly purchased from New England Compounding.

At Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, the hospital’s own pharmacy is compounding medications it used to buy from New England Compounding. The hospital trusted the company, said Dr. Gerard Martin, senior vice president, because it believed that federal and state regulators were making sure its products were safe.

“You believe that when a company is being regulated, they’re following good practices,” Dr. Martin said.

Sabrina Tavernise reported from Washington, and Andrew Pollack from Los Angeles. Abby Goodnough contributed reporting from Boston, and Denise Grady from New York. Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.

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

October 26, 2012

U.S. Satellite Plans Falter, Imperiling Data on Storms

By JOHN H. CUSHMAN Jr.

WASHINGTON — The United States is facing a year or more without crucial satellites that provide invaluable data for predicting storm tracks, a result of years of mismanagement, lack of financing and delays in launching replacements, according to several recent official reviews.

The looming gap in satellite coverage, which some experts view as almost certain within the next few years, could result in shaky forecasts about storms like Hurricane Sandy, which is expected to hit the East Coast early next week.

The endangered satellites fly pole-to-pole orbits and cross the Equator in the afternoon, scanning the entire planet one strip at a time. Along with orbiters on other timetables, they are among the most effective tools used to pin down the paths of major storms about five days ahead.

All this week, forecasters have been relying on such satellites for almost all the data needed to narrow down what were at first widely divergent computer models of what Hurricane Sandy would do next: hit the coast, or veer away into the open ocean?

Right on schedule, the five-day models began to agree on the likeliest answer. By Friday afternoon, the storm’s center was predicted to approach Delaware on Monday and Tuesday, with powerful winds, torrential rains and dangerous tides ranging over hundreds of miles.

New York and other states declared emergencies; the Navy ordered ships to sea to avoid damage. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City warned that no matter where or when the storm landed, the city would not escape its effects. And from the Carolinas to New England, public safety officials were urgently advising tens of millions of residents to prepare for the worst, including the possibility of historic flooding, power failures and snow.

Experiments show that without this kind of satellite data, forecasters would have underestimated by half the huge blizzard that hit Washington in 2010.

“We cannot afford to lose any enhancement that allows us to accurately forecast any weather event coming our way,” said Craig J. Craft, commissioner of emergency management for Nassau County on Long Island, where the great hurricane of 1938 killed hundreds. On Thursday, Mr. Craft was seeking more precise forecasts for Sandy and gearing up for possible evacuations of hospitals and nursing homes, as were ordered before Tropical Storm Irene last year. “Without accurate forecasts it is hard to know when to pull that trigger,” he said.

Experts have grown increasingly alarmed in the past two years because the existing polar satellites are nearing or beyond their life expectancies, and the launch of the next replacement, known as J.P.S.S.-1, has slipped to 2017, probably too late to avoid a coverage gap of at least a year.

Prodded by lawmakers and auditors, the satellite program’s managers are just beginning to think through alternatives when the gap occurs, but these are unlikely to avoid it.

This summer, three independent reviews of the $13 billion program — by the Commerce Department’s inspector general, the Government Accountability Office, and a team of outside experts — each questioned the cost estimates for the program, criticized managers for not pinning down the designs and called for urgent remedies. The project is run by the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, and NASA.

The outside review team, led by A. Thomas Young, an aerospace industry leader, called the management of the program “dysfunctional.”

In response, top Commerce and NOAA officials on Sept. 18 ordered what they called an urgent restructuring — just the latest overhaul of the troubled program. They streamlined the management, said they would fill major vacancies quickly and demanded immediate reports on how the agency planned to cope with the gap. They have moved quickly to nail down the specific designs of the J.P.S.S.-1’s components, many of them already partly built. And they promised to quickly complete a new independent cost estimate to verify the program’s budget.

Ciaran Clayton, NOAA’s communications director, said in a statement that the agency’s top priority was to provide timely, accurate forecasts to protect the public, and that it would continue to develop and update plans to cover any potential gap.

The under secretary of commerce responsible for NOAA, Jane Lubchenco, issued the memorandum ordering the changes. In it, she wrote that the administration had been trying all along to fix “this dysfunctional program that had become a national embarrassment due to chronic management problems.”

“It is a long, sad history,” said Dennis Hartmann, the chairman of a broad review of earth-observing satellite programs released in May by the National Research Council. The report projected a dismal decline in what has been a crown jewel of modern earth and atmospheric science.

The Joint Polar Satellite System also includes important sensors for studying the global climate, and these too are at risk.

But its main satellites are most notable because they put instruments to sense atmospheric moisture, temperature and the like into what is known as the “polar p.m.” orbit, a passage from lower altitude that provides sharp and frequent images of global weather patterns. (Other satellites stare continuously at one part of the globe from farther off, for short-term forecasting.)

Polar satellites provide 84 percent of the data used in the main American computer model tracking Hurricane Sandy.

For years, as the accuracy of this kind of forecasting has steadily improved, NOAA’s p.m. polar satellites have been a crucial factor, like the center on a basketball team.

But all the while, despite many warnings, the coverage gap has grown ever more likely.

The department told Congress this summer that it could not come up with any way to launch J.P.S.S.-1 any sooner. Kathryn D. Sullivan, assistant secretary of commerce, said it would “endeavor to maintain the launch date as much as practicable.”

The Government Accountability Office, which views a gap as “almost certain,” has been urging NOAA to come up with alternatives, like leaning on other commercial, military or government satellites for helpful data. But it said it would take a long time and more money to get any such jury-rigged system running.

For now, the agency is running on a stopgap bill that allows it to redirect money from other projects to the polar satellites. In approving it, Congress demanded a plan by next week showing how NOAA intended to stay on schedule and within a strict limit — about $900 million a year.

“NOAA does not have a policy to effect consistent and reliable cost estimates,” the Commerce inspector general said. The outside review team said it could not tell “if the current $12.9 billion is high, low, or exactly correct.”

The program’s problems began a decade ago with an effort to merge military and civilian weather satellites into a single project. After its cost doubled and its schedule slipped five years, that project was sundered by the Obama administration.

As its existing satellites aged and the delays mounted, NOAA finally put a new model named Suomi into orbit a year ago that now helps bridge the gap until the next launchings, in 2017 and in 2022 — two and four years late, respectively.

But there are lingering concerns that technical glitches have shortened Suomi’s useful lifetime, perhaps to just three years. Predicting a satellite’s lifetime is like trying to guess when a light bulb will go out. The most likely timing of a gap in coverage is between 2016 and 2018, according to the best official estimates.

That would “threaten life and property,” the independent review team warned.

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

So it's now 'legal' in the USA for corporate boss to tell you how to vote, and if you don't vote that way you could loose your job ..

October 26, 2012

Here’s a Memo From the Boss: Vote This Way

By STEVEN GREENHOUSE

Imagine getting a letter from the boss, telling you how to vote.

Until 2010, federal law barred companies from using corporate money to endorse and campaign for political candidates — and that included urging employees to support specific politicians.

But the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has freed companies from those restrictions, and now several major companies, including Georgia-Pacific and Cintas, have sent letters or information packets to their employees suggesting — and sometimes explicitly recommending — how they should vote this fall.

In these letters, the executives complain about the costs of overregulation, the health care overhaul and possible tax increases. Some letters warn that if President Obama is re-elected, the company could be harmed, potentially jeopardizing jobs.

David A. Siegel, 77, chief executive of Westgate Resorts, a major time-share company, wrote to his 7,000 employees, saying that if Mr. Obama won, the prospect of higher taxes could hurt the company’s future.

“The economy doesn’t currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job, however, is another four years of the same presidential administration,” Mr. Siegel wrote. “If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current president plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company.”

In an interview, Mr. Siegel said he was not ordering his employees to vote his way. “There’s no way I can pressure anybody,” he said. “I’m not in the voting booth with them.”

Mr. Siegel added: “I really wanted them to know how I felt four more years under President Obama was going to affect them. It would be no different from telling your children: ‘Eat your spinach. It’s good for you.’ ”

Dave Robertson, the president of Koch Industries, sent an information packet and letter this month to more than 30,000 employees of a subsidiary, Georgia-Pacific, a paper and pulp company. The letter attacked government subsidies for “a few favored cronies” as well as “unprecedented regulatory burdens on businesses.”

The letter added, “Many of our more than 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors may suffer the consequences, including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation and other ills.”

The Georgia-Pacific letter, first reported by In These Times, included a flier listing several candidates endorsed by the Koch brothers, the conservative billionaires, beginning with Mitt Romney, as well as opinion articles that the brothers had written.

Travis McKinney, a forklift driver for Georgia-Pacific in Portland, Ore., said the company’s political packet had spurred widespread discussion. “It leaves a bad taste,” Mr. McKinney said. “I won’t even wear my Obama pin to work because of the mailer.”

In a statement, Koch Industries said its mailing contained pieces of information “we believe are important for our employees to know about.” The company said the letter was in no way intimidation: “We make it clear that any decision about which candidates to support belongs solely to our employees.”

Other companies whose top executives have sent out anti-Obama letters include Rite-Hite, a manufacturer of industrial equipment based in Milwaukee, and ASG Software Solutions, based in Naples, Fla.

Many corporate executives say they have stepped up their political activities to counter organized labor’s efforts on behalf of Mr. Obama and other Democrats. Even before Citizens United, unions were allowed to promote candidates to their members. Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledged the effectiveness of labor’s political efforts.

Mr. Romney has himself urged business owners to appeal to their employees. In a conference call in June organized by the National Federation of Independent Business, he said, “I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections.”

Larry Gold, associate general counsel of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said some of the recent employer letters, by hinting at the possible loss of employees’ jobs, appeared to cross the line into improper coercion. Federal law and the laws of several states bar anyone from coercing or intimidating voters into voting a certain way.

But Bradley A. Smith, a Republican former member of the Federal Election Commission and a professor at Capital University Law School, disagreed, saying letters like those sent by the companies were not firm threats to fire anyone if Mr. Obama won.

According to the Citizens United ruling, companies may recommend candidates to employees, said Eugene Volokh, a law professor at University of California, Los Angeles.

“If the employer wants to say, ‘This candidate is good or bad for our business and therefore good or bad for you, the employee, that’s permissible — that’s protected by the First Amendment,” Professor Volokh said. “But if the employer threatens to fire you based on how you vote, that’s not protected.”

But many liberal legal experts fear that employees could be discouraged from exercising their rights to free speech.

“The concern here is there is an unavoidable power disparity between management and employees,” said Adam Skaggs, senior counsel at the liberal Brennan Center for Justice. “Put yourself in the shoes of an employee at any of those companies. Are you going to be comfortable putting an Obama bumper sticker on your car and driving into the company parking lot? If you’re in a small community with a big employer, will you feel uncomfortable about putting up a yard sign for a candidate your boss doesn’t favor?”

Richard Lacks, chief executive of Lacks Enterprises, an auto parts company based in Grand Rapids, Mich., wrote to his 2,300 employees this month warning that an Obama victory would mean higher health care costs and higher taxes that would eat into their paychecks. “It is important that in November you vote to improve your standard of living and that will be through smaller government and less government,” he wrote.

Scott D. Farmer, chief executive of Cintas, the uniform supply company, sent a letter to his company’s 30,000 employees on Oct. 19, denouncing the Affordable Care Act and saying it “amounts to the single largest tax on Americans and business in history.” He warned employees that “the overregulation that business is facing today from the various administrative agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency” and the National Labor Relations Board “is suffocating many companies.”

Mr. Farmer added, “This uncertainty felt by many of our customers about their ability to run and grow their businesses prevents them from adding jobs which hurts our ability to grow and add jobs.”

Asked about Mr. Farmer’s letter, Greg Hart, Cintas’s vice president for government affairs, responded, “The communication was not an attempt to suggest to employees how to vote, but rather it was sent to help partners make an informed decision.”

Election law experts did not point to any corporate efforts this year to urge employees to back Mr. Obama, although corporations have at times politicked for Democratic candidates. In 2010, Harrah’s, the casino company, urged its employees to go to the polls to re-elect Nevada’s senior senator, contending that “waking up to the defeat of Harry Reid Nov. 3 will be devastating.”


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

The Christian Science Monitor -
By Mark Clayton, Staff writer   
posted October 26, 2012 at 4:19 pm EDT

Could e-voting machines in Election 2012 be hacked? Yes.

Security experts say a specific kind of electronic-voting machine is vulnerable to being hacked. Influencing a national election would be difficult, but the advance of malware makes it possible.

Rapid advances in the development of cyberweapons and malicious software mean that electronic-voting machines used in the 2012 election could be hacked, potentially tipping the presidential election or a number of other races.

Since the machines are not connected to the Internet, any hack would not be a matter of someone sneaking through cyberspace to change ballots. Rather, the concern is that an individual hacker, a partisan group, or even a nation state could infect voting machines by gaining physical access to them or by targeting the companies that service them.

The 2010 discovery of the Stuxnet cyberweapon, which used a thumb drive to attack Iran's nuclear facilities and spread among its computers, illustrated how one type of attack could work. Most at risk are paperless e-voting machines, which don’t print out any record of votes, meaning the electronically stored results could be altered without anyone knowing they had been changed.

In a tight election, the result could be the difference between winning and losing. A Monitor analysis shows that four swing states – Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado, and Florida – rely to varying degrees on paperless machines.

"The risk of cyber manipulation of these machines is quite real," says Barbara Simons, a computer researcher and author of "Broken Ballots," a book documenting e-voting vulnerabilities. "Most people don't understand that these computer-based voting machines can have software bugs or even election-rigging malicious software in them."

There are plenty of software vulnerabilities to exploit, says Matt Blaze, a computer scientist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. In 2007, he was on a team investigating touch-screen and other voting systems for California and Ohio. The resulting study concluded  "virtually every important software security mechanism is vulnerable."

The paperless machines, however, stand out as particularly vulnerable.

"If there's no paper trail, you can have the corrupted software display on the voting-machine screen whatever you want to display – and then after the voter leaves, record something completely different inside," says Richard Kemmerer, a computer scientist who heads the University of California, Santa Barbara, Computer Security Group.

Voting for Pac-Man

For example, Alex Halderman, a researcher at the University of Michigan, and a colleague at Princeton University hacked into a paperless touch-screen voting machine in 2010 and installed the video game Pac-Man. That lab exercise took three afternoons but did not break any tamper-proof seals and left no traces.

Similarly, he and Princeton researchers in 2006 demonstrated that if someone could get a few minutes’ unattended access to a paperless machine, that person could install a software virus that could spread to other machines and switch those machines’ votes before deleting all traces of itself.

In fact, Dr. Halderman quips, he has a paperless e-voting machine in his office now. It plays the University of Michigan fight song “on command because I hacked it," he says.

Such exploits have not gone unnoticed. States rushed to adopt e-voting machines after the contentious 2000 presidential vote recount in Florida, but now they are backpedaling. All but 17 have already mandated a return to paper ballots or paper verification for e-voting, including electronic optical scan or other equipment. Other states, like Florida, have gotten rid of most, but not quite all, paperless voting machines. Yet other battleground states, like Pennsylvania and Virginia, continue to use the vulnerable machines widely.

Improving security

Some of the security improvements states are taking are obvious. In past years, poll workers were sometimes sent home with voting machines they were to set up the next day. But because access to a machine for even a minute can be enough to modify software, these "sleepover" practices have been largely abandoned, voting machine experts say.

Moreover, machines once sitting unmonitored in school gymnasium closets are today stored in locked rooms with surveillance equipment watching them, say officials in some states. Local officials also conduct pre- and postelection audits to check the accuracy of machines.

Colorado, which still uses paperless e-voting machines in Jefferson County, is among the states stepping up its protocols to make sure all its machines remain secure.

"Our machines are not connected to networks," says Andrew Cole, a spokesman for the Colorado Secretary of State's office. "They're sealed. The logs are sealed. There's a chain of custody requirement. We know when our office or county clerk installed the software, when it was sealed, and these machines are kept in places where they're monitored by video. Without those rules you could say they would be vulnerable. But we have safeguards in place to eliminate those vulnerabilities."

Manufacturers, too, see big security improvements.

"There's been a lot of improvement in the new equipment, and local jurisdictions and states are doing a lot more to ensure our machines are accurate," says Chris Riggall, a spokesman for Domnion Voting Systems in Denver. "We still provide maintenance and support for a lot of this equipment. We can't ever say that security is a thing of the past with election technology. It's an area where continuous improvement is essential."

At this point, e-voting machine errors appear to be simple mistakes instead of nefarious plots, says Michael Shamos, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

"So often e-voting machine vote flipping appears to be deliberate, but it's not," he says. "Someone thinks someone has tampered with this machine, but it’s just the screen calibration that's at fault and not anything malicious…. That's the major thing wrong with touch-screen voting machines today. They get out of calibration – or local officials don't go through calibration at the beginning of the day."

Some early voters in North Carolina’s Guilford County reported vote-flipping this week when electronic voting machines changed the votes they cast for Mitt Romney to Barack Obama instead. Local election official, George Gilbert reassured them, "it's not a conspiracy, it's just a machine that needs to be corrected."

Still prone to tampering?

Despite this, among the 23 states that use touch-screen Direct-Recording Electronic (DREs) machines as a primary voting system in at least some precincts, only California, Indiana, and Ohio were rated excellent in a national report this summer by Verified Voting, a Carlsbad, Calif., nonprofit that tracks voting machine use.

The updated physical security measures are not enough, security researchers add. For example, seals that cover sensitive areas of the equipment have been repeatedly shown to be ineffective. Some don't even seal the right things.

Physically securing machines with seals is a two-edged sword, too, security experts say. If a poll worker finds a seal broken, what can be done? Votes can be recounted if the machines use paper. But if they don't, counting the votes anyway means including results that may be invalid. Not counting the votes opens the door to an even simpler way to tamper with an election: just go to places where people vote against your candidate and tamper with those machines’ seals, Penn's Dr. Blaze says.

"I'm not at all sanguine about the physical security improvements," he says. "The basic findings are still valid: These machines are prone to tampering if people that can get unattended access. Certain software changes make the attacks needed more elaborate, but the bottom line is that these machines still are subject to tampering and don't keep paper records, only electronic records that can be changed."
How a hack might happen

Rigging a national election by cyber means would require a lot of money, hacker talent, and sophistication. But it could happen in a number of ways, experts say.

For a savvy hacker, the time and access needed to infect a machine is so small that it could be done while in a voting booth. Alternately, someone wanting to alter election results could get access through a corrupt poll worker. The Stuxnet attack, reportedly a joint US-Israeli project, provides yet another – albeit more ambitious – blueprint.

That attack is believed to have first infected the computer networks of Russian or Irnaian technicians through the Internet. Then, the Stuxnet worm gained access to the Iranian nuclear program when the technicians serviced those computers with their own infected equipment. From there, it spread throughout the Iranian network. Similarly, a hacker could in theory use the Internet to target an e-voting machine company, which would then unknowingly infect its own machines when it serviced them.

Such malicious software makes it appear to users that the system is working fine when it is not ­– a so-called "man in the middle" attack because the rogue software sits between the user and the machine response, working various software levers unbeknownst to the user. A Stuxnet-like attack could spread via voter memory card to many machines, no Internet or human help needed.

"If you're considering a malicious attack, then you're dealing with an adversary that's strategic about where they're going to act," says Edward Felten, a Princeton professor who also has analyzed cybersecurity and other e-voting machine weaknesses state by state. "An attacker might look at the odds of getting away with an attack in a particular place. Where he attacks might also depend on being able to get access to a machine through a corrupt election official or in a state where defenses are weaker."

It's impossible to know if newer machines and software are really secure because their source code is largely unavailable for analysis, Dr. Felten and others say. Voting-equipment makers frequently say their software is a trade secret. But some security experts say that needs to change.

"Our goal should be an election so open and transparent, including the software,” says author Ms. Simon. "It's not so much for the winners that we need it. It's for the rest of the electorate – convincing the losers and their supporters they really did lose. That's why it's important."

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Court lets Texas pull Planned Parenthood funds

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, October 26, 2012 11:20 EDT

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that Texas may proceed to pull funding for more than half of the women’s health clinics across the state due to their affiliation with privately funded clinics that perform abortions.

As a result of Thursday’s decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Gov. Rick Perry (R) said that state officials will “immediately” begin defunding clinics operated by Planned Parenthood, most of which do not actually perform any abortions in the state.

Perry announced earlier this year that he’d made defunding Planned Parenthood a priority for his administration, triggering months of legal wrangling with the clinics and the federal government. Federal law requires that states not discriminate against health providers in distributing federal funds, but a court ultimately ruled that Texas could forgo federal assistance entirely and set up its own health program.

That’s precisely what Perry is doing, passing on more than $40 million in federal assistance and directing the state to exclude Planned Parenthood, which provides health care services to more than 130,000 low-income women in Texas. Planned Parenthood has 49 health centers across Texas, many of which will be forced to close due to Perry’s decision.

As an experiment, pro-choice activist Andrea Grimes said in September that she spent six hours trying to locate a women’s health clinic in Austin that isn’t Planned Parenthood but does accept Medicaid. Despite a list of 181 clinics on the state’s website, Grimes said she found just 13 actual doctors in the whole state who perform the necessary procedures and accept Medicaid, explaining that the other listings were repeats, radiology centers, labs and doctors who didn’t take Medicaid at all.

To make matters worse for many low-income women, the Kaiser Family Foundation says that Texas has one of the most restrictive Medicaid programs in the country, requiring that a family of three earn less than $188 a month to qualify for assistance. Under the president’s Affordable Care Act, however, Medicaid was slated to expand dramatically to cover nearly all low-income Americans, but Perry also said he will turn down more than $164 billion in federal money that would have been used to provide health care to 1.2 million Texans through 2023.

In a prepared statement published to the governor’s website, Perry said the 5th Circuit Court’s ruling on Thursday “affirms yet against that in Texas the Women’s Health Program has no obligation to fund Planned Parenthood and other organizations that perform or promote abortion. In Texas we choose life, and we will immediately begin defunding all abortion affiliated to honor and uphold that choice.”

The clinics have the option of seeking an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court, but the 5th Circuit’s ruling effectively denied a rehearing.

“This case has never been about Planned Parenthood — it’s about the Texas women who turn to us every day,” Kenneth Lambrecht, president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, told Bloomberg News. “Politics should never come between a woman and her health care, but in this decision, which conflicts with Supreme Court precedent, it appears it has.”

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

Children’s Defense Fund: PA Republicans ‘starving children’ to punish new moms

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, October 25, 2012 14:31 EDT

Update (below): Pennsylvania Republican withdraws ‘starving children’ bill following Raw Story report

A bill introduced by a group of Republican state lawmakers in Pennsylvania this week set off alarms at the Children’s Defense Fund, which told Raw Story on Thursday that the proposal boils down to “starving children” in order to punish women for giving birth while on taxpayer-funded welfare.

“This is absolutely outrageous,” Patti Hassler, spokesperson for the Children’s Defense Fund, told Raw Story. “Children do not choose their parents and should not be punished for whatever their parents’ actions are. Starving a child, no matter the circumstances of birth or actions of the parents, is always wrong. It’s just outrageous.”

House Bill 2718 was proposed by State Reps. RoseMarie Swanger (R), Mark Gillen (R), Mike Tobash (R), Adam Harris (R) and Keith Gillespie (R). None of the bill’s co-sponsors responded to requests for comment.

An aide to Rep. Tom Caltagirone, the lone Democratic cosponsor, told Raw Story that they were “horrified” to see his name alongside the bill, promising the placement was due to “a clerical error in our office” which has since been corrected.

The bill specifically says that it would eliminate “the increment in benefits under the program for which that family would otherwise be eligible as a result of the birth of a child conceived during the period in which the family is eligible for benefits.” In other words, parents who would otherwise qualify for more food aid due to the birth of a child will no longer be eligible “as a result of” having a child while on welfare.

H.B. 2718 would carve out one exception to the penalty for women who were impregnated through rape or incest, but the bill says the request for that exception must be accompanied by “a non-notarized, signed statement from the pregnant woman stating that she was a victim of rape or incest, as the case may be, and that she reported the crime, including the identity of the offender, if known, to a law enforcement agency having the requisite jurisdiction.”

The bill adds that the written statement must declare “that the pregnant woman is aware that false reports to law enforcement authorities are punishable by law.”

Only 46 out of every 100 rapes get reported to police, and only about 5 will lead to felony convictions, according to the Justice Department’s National Crime Victimization Survey for 2006-2010 (PDF).

Pennsylvania has 1,486,013 families that live below the poverty threshold, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty. That figure includes 470,518 children, most of them born to parents African-American and Latino parents who dropped out of high school.

“We have to be careful what we cut,” Hassler added. “What we know is that that we’re going to pay for it more later. If we cut nutrition, then the chances are much more likely that the child is going to struggle in school because they won’t be able to concentrate. Then they get discouraged and drop out. We have statistics on all that. They need to be careful what they cut because everyone will end up paying more later.”

Update: Pennsylvania Republican withdraws ‘starving children’ bill following Raw Story report

About an hour after this story’s publication, Pennsylvania State Rep. RoseMarie Swanger (R) called to announce that she is withdrawing H.B. 2718 and will “work on a better bill for next year.”

“It’s not what I requested,” Swanger said of the bill. “I wanted it based on New Jersey law and I learned it was not. It was not like it was supposed to be written. I’m really not happy that my instructions weren’t followed.”

She added that the bill that ultimately got submitted “was taken from Pennsylvania law that was introduced in the past,” and explained that she didn’t actually mean to include an exception for rape or incest at all.

“New Jersey law does put a cap on the number of children paid, but that language makes no mention of rape and/or incest,” Swanger concluded. “This is a controversy that never should have happened and I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed.”
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« Reply #2824 on: Oct 28, 2012, 07:06 AM »

Originally published Saturday, October 27, 2012 at 5:53 AM
   
Amplats to reinstate 12,000 South Africa strikers

Anglo American Platinum agreed to reinstate 12,000 South African workers dismissed earlier this month for staging illegal strikes, a spokeswoman said Saturday, as police fired rubber bullets at some striking miners in Rustenburg.

By RODNEY MUHUMUZA
Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG —

Anglo American Platinum agreed to reinstate 12,000 South African workers dismissed earlier this month for staging illegal strikes, a spokeswoman said Saturday, as police fired rubber bullets at some striking miners in Rustenburg.

The police fired on hundreds of Anglo American Platinum, or Amplats, miners in the North West province who had gathered near the Olympia Stadium, apparently to block another rally by the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU). It was unclear if anyone had been injured.

The Amplats strikers, in the black T-shirts associated with the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and armed with sticks and stones, threatened to attack COSATU marchers in red T-shirts, according to the South African Press Association, which reported Saturday that some of the miners had vowed not to return to work until their wage demands were met.

AMCU is a start-up union that represents strikers who regard COSATU and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) as too close to mine bosses and their capital. The miners said that representatives from NUM have not been properly representing them during the strikes.

Some of the Amplats miners had been threatening since their dismissal to make the company's three operations in Rustenburg ungovernable if they were not reinstated and their salaries increased. They want 16,000 rand (about $1,800) in monthly pay. Amplats only offered them a one-off "hardship allowance" of 2,000 rand (about $230) if they accepted to return to work.

Mpumi Sithole of Anglo American Platinum said the workers had until Tuesday to return to their jobs "on the same terms and conditions of employment" as before they went on strike.

Sithole said that a meeting Friday of "all parties expressed commitment for a return to work in the interests of the employees, their livelihoods and the company." Amplats' decision to reinstate the fired workers came the day after the chief executive of its parent company, Anglo American, announced her resignation. Earlier this month the rating service S & P's had lowered its outlook on Anglo American from "stable" to "negative" because of the turmoil in South Africa. Amplats is the world's top producer of platinum.

If the Amplats miners return to work, it would bring an end to labor unrest that damaged South Africa's reputation as an investment destination. At the peak of the strikes, some 80,000 miners, representing about 16 percent of the mining workforce, were on strike across South Africa. The labor unrest originated in the platinum belts outside Johannesburg and later spread to gold and iron mines.
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« Reply #2825 on: Oct 28, 2012, 07:10 AM »


The Christian Science Monitor

In world first, biggest refugee camp gets university

The campus is being set up in Kenya near the Dadaab refugee camp, home to more than 500,000 people sheltering from Somali conflict.

(IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation/Reuters)

By Fredrick Nzwili, Correspondent   
posted October 27, 2012 at 12:00 pm EDT

Nairobi, Kenya

Refugees in the world's largest refugee camp will soon be able to go for higher education at the world's first university being set up near a camp for its inhabitants.

The campus is being set up by Kenya's Kenyatta University (KU) near the sprawling “city” of tents of Dadaab, where more than 500,000 people are sheltering from war and famine. It will serve both refugees and local Kenyans.

Humanitarian officials hail it as a first for refugees, while education experts say it's a creative solution for cases of long-term conflict in Africa.

“Providing education can help solve conflicts in troubled zones in the long-term. With education people get sobered up. They also feel actualized and have hope for the future,” says Dr, Josephine Gitome, the director of KU’s Center for Refugees and Empowerment which is implementing the project.

KU has partnered with Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER), a Canadian and Kenyan development partnership together with international organizations and institutions to establish the Kenyatta University Dadaab Campus.

BHER is a partnership which makes educational programs available to refugees where they need it. It is providing education through online distance courses in Dadaab and along the Thai-Burma border.

“Refugees who have completed secondary school almost universally voice the desire to attend university, but to date international scholarships in the Global North remain the only opportunity.These scholarships are few and benefit 1 percent,” Professor Wenona Giles of York University, the BHER lead partner, said in the Kenyan media.

Some Kenyans and officials have been pushing to relocate the camp to Somalia. However, the university hasn't generated much controversy because it also serves local residents and could remain even if the camp is closed.

“It’s on our soil and so we are the greatest beneficiaries,” said Farah Maalim, a member of Parliament from the region, in a newspaper announcement.

The campus is a big leap forward and a win-win situation for Kenya and the refugees, according to Dominik Bartsch, regional head of operations of the United Nations refugee agency.

“It will serve as an incentive for refugee children to complete school and proceed to obtain higher qualifications,” said Mr. Bartsch at the official launch of the campus on Oct. 9.

The first students start in January of 2013, and will study for certificates, bachelor diplomas in fields including Finance, Marketing, Project Management, Education, Public Administration, Community Mobilization, and Peace and Conflict studies. There will be regular courses with lectures beginning in the morning and ending in the evening, along with distance learning and weekend options.

Moses Mukhwana, an official of the Lutheran World Federation at the camp says many refugees who could not access university education were very enthusiastic.

“They will not need passes as often is the case when they have to join institutions out of the camp," he says, referring to identity cards that require registration with the Kenyan government. "We also hope for improved co-existence."

Mohammed Bashir, a 25-year-old refugee who serves as the camp's webmaster, said in a telephone interview; “This is the best thing that can happen to us refugees.”
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« Reply #2826 on: Oct 28, 2012, 07:12 AM »


Mali Islamists bulldoze independence monument in Timbuktu

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, October 27, 2012 19:52 EDT

Radical Islamists controlling northern Mali on Saturday took a bulldozer to an independence monument in Timbuktu, where they have destroyed several world heritage treasures in recent months, witnesses said.

“At the moment I can see eight Islamists with a bulldozer. They are busy destroying Timbuktu’s independence monument,” one witness told AFP.

“With the help of a tractor the Islamists are busy destroying the Timbuktu independence monument,” said another witness, speaking to AFP by telephone.

The extremists, who seized control of Mali’s vast north following a disastrous coup in March, began a campaign of destruction of Timbuktu’s cultural treasures in July that prompted an international outcry.

They had already removed the head of a horse alongside the monument, as well as destroying the tombs of ancient Muslim saints and the “sacred door” to a 15th-century mosque.

The radicals consider the tombs to be “idolatrous” and have also threatened to destroy the city’s three ancient mosques, one of which dates back to 1327.

Once considered one of Africa’s most stable democracies, Mali has slid into chaos since the March 22 coup overthrew the government of president Amadou Toumani Toure.

Tuareg rebels and a number of Islamist groups backed by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) capitalised on the power vacuum in the south to seize an an area larger than France.

But the Islamists then overran the Tuareg and have been imposing their strict version of sharia on areas under their control, arresting unveiled women, stoning an unmarried couple to death, publicly flogging smokers and amputating suspected thieves’ limbs, according to residents and rights groups.
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« Reply #2827 on: Oct 28, 2012, 07:13 AM »


Indonesia ‘foils plot to attack US missions’

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, October 27, 2012 18:37 EDT

 Indonesian police on Saturday arrested 11 members of an Islamic group allegedly planning attacks on American diplomatic missions, a spokesman said, in the latest terror alert to hit the country.

The group had planned to hit the US embassy and a US consulate, as well as a building near the Australian embassy in the capital Jakarta that houses the office of American mining giant Freeport-McMoran, police said.

Police said they were from a new outfit called HASMI, the Sunni Movement for Indonesian Society, and explosives and a bomb-making manual were found when members were arrested in locations across the main island of Java.

“The group’s objectives were to attack the US embassy in Jakarta and consulate-general in the eastern Javanese city of Surabaya,” national police spokesman Suhardi Alius told reporters.

Indonesia has waged a long battle against terrorism since the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists. The resort island held commemorations this month to mark 10 years since the attack.

Indonesia has not seen a major attack since 2009, when suicide bombers killed nine people in attacks on two five-star hotels in the capital.

Alius said that those arrested Saturday were “suspected terrorists” who were “part of a new network known as HASMI”. They are from the Sunni branch of Islam, which is the predominant one in Indonesia.

Previous deadly attacks, including the Bali bombings, have been blamed on the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), but authorities say the group has been severely weakened by the crackdown on terrorism.

However, smaller Islamist groups seeking to create an Islamist caliphate through violent means have emerged.

Anti-terror police made Saturday’s arrests in four cities across Java: four in Jakarta, two in Madiun, three in Solo and two in Bogor.

Explosive materials were found in Solo and in Bogor, which is on the outskirts of the capital.

“We also confiscated an explosive device from a home in the town of Madiun in eastern Java, as well as explosive materials and a bomb-making manual,” Alius said.

He said one device consisted of a cylinder packed with explosives. The bomb-making manual was in English and the Indonesian language and was likely downloaded from the Internet, he added.

Alius added that police were looking into the group but added that “if they can already build bombs, we can assume they’ve been around for some time”.

Saturday’s arrests came after two policemen were found murdered this month while investigating an alleged terrorist training camp in central Sulawesi’s Poso district.

Police said they had been investigating an alleged camp linked to Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT), declared a terrorist organisation by the United States in February.

And before this month’s ceremony to commemorate the Bali bombings, Indonesia declared its top security alert citing “credible information” of a threat to the event, which was attended by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Freeport-McMoran’s Indonesian subsidiary runs the world’s biggest gold and second-biggest copper mine in the restive Papua region, employing more than 20,000 people.
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« Reply #2828 on: Oct 28, 2012, 07:19 AM »

October 27, 2012

Al Qaeda-Inspired Groups, Minus Goal of Striking U.S.

By ROBERT F. WORTH
IHT

WASHINGTON — One of the currents running through the presidential campaign has been a tacit but fundamental question: After 11 years of the war on terror, what kind of threat does Al Qaeda pose to America?

The candidates offered profoundly different answers during their final debate last week, with President Obama repeating his triumphant narrative of drone attacks and dead terrorists, and Mitt Romney warning darkly about Islamists on the march in an increasingly hostile Middle East.

In a sense, both are true. The organization that planned the Sept. 11 attacks, based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is in shambles; dozens of its top leaders have been killed since Mr. Obama assumed office, and those who remain appear mostly inactive.

At the same time, jihadists of various kinds, some identifying themselves with Al Qaeda, are flourishing in Africa and the Middle East, where the chaos that followed the Arab uprisings has often given them greater freedom to organize and operate. The death of J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, in September during an assault by armed Libyan jihadists on the American mission in Benghazi has driven that home to the American public.

But there is an important distinction: most of the newer jihadist groups have local agendas, and very few aspire to strike directly at the United States as Osama bin Laden’s core network did. They may interfere with American interests around the world — as in Syria, where the presence of militant Islamists among the rebels fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad has inhibited American efforts to support the uprising. But that is a far cry from terrorist plots aimed at the United States itself.

“In a lot of ways we’ve gone back to the way the world was before Sept. 11,” said Brian Fishman, a research fellow in counterterrorism at the New America Foundation. “It’s local jihadi groups focused on projects within their own countries, even if they sometimes maintain the rhetorical framework of Al Qaeda and its global struggle.”

While these local groups may have benefited in the short term from the turbulence that followed the Arab Spring uprisings, they have also suffered an ideological blow that could make it far more difficult to recruit young followers. Peaceful protest movements brought down dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, and there, as in the more violent conflicts in Libya and Yemen, the United States was on the side of change.

The idea of attacking the United States, “the far enemy” in jihadist parlance, was always unpopular for many Islamic radicals, whose chief goal was replacing their own governments with theocracies. The concept became more unpopular after the Sept. 11 attacks when Osama bin Laden and his followers were driven out of their sanctuary in Afghanistan. In the following years, Al Qaeda’s affiliates in Iraq and Saudi Arabia did the brand considerable harm by killing large numbers of Muslims, although killing American soldiers in Iraq, where those troops were seen as Crusader-like occupiers, still met with wide approval.

What Al Qaeda retains is a mystique, the legend of a small band of warriors who took on an empire and struck a devastating blow. That mystique still has tremendous appeal, even for insurgents who differ with Al Qaeda’s methods or its focus on attacking America.

Recent years have seen the proliferation of jihadist movements that may take some inspiration from Al Qaeda, but have greatly divergent goals. In Nigeria, the radical Islamist group Boko Haram has killed thousands of people in the past few years in its struggle to overthrow the government and establish an Islamic state. There, the struggle is largely sectarian; Boko Haram has struck mostly at Christians and burned churches.

Jihadists now control Mali’s vast north, as Mr. Romney mentioned more than once in the last debate, and have links to an older group officially affiliated with Al Qaeda that grew out of Algeria’s civil conflict in the 1990s. Although these groups are well armed and dangerous, some appear to be more criminal than ideological, focused on kidnapping and drug smuggling. Jihadists have also gained strength in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, just across the border from Israel.

At one point during the debate, Mr. Romney appeared to link these varied threats with the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt. To some terrorism analysts, this kind of talk is counterproductive, because it blurs crucial distinctions between potential allies who profess to believe in democracy and civic rights, like the Brotherhood, and more militant Islamists who view those principles as heresy.

“There is still a tendency to talk about the enemy in grand terms, linking them all together, because it makes you sound tough,” Mr. Fishman of the New America Foundation said. “In fact, it does the opposite, because it obscures differences that should be at the heart of our counterterrorism efforts.”

The most dangerous Qaeda movement, from an American perspective, is the one in Yemen, which has tried repeatedly to plant bombs on airliners bound for the United States. There, as in Afghanistan and Pakistan, American drone strikes have had a devastating effect, killing the American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and many other top leaders. The group took over vast territories of southern Yemen last year while the Yemeni government was distracted with street protests in the capital; but the jihadists were driven back in June, with American military assistance.

At the same time, most of the political realities that inspired Bin Laden’s organization are still in place, including America’s apparently unqualified support for Israel and the rulers of the Persian Gulf states. The American military is still fighting in Afghanistan, and the Taliban, which hosted Al Qaeda during the 1990s, could gain greater power after an American withdrawal.

Al Qaeda “was never a mass movement; it was always meant to be a vanguard,” Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, said. “So even with the first generation of leaders largely gone, it’s very difficult to declare the movement dead.”
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« Reply #2829 on: Oct 28, 2012, 07:21 AM »

October 27, 2012

Iraqi Sects Join Battle in Syria on Both Sides

By YASIR GHAZI and TIM ARANGO
IHT

BAGHDAD — Militant Sunnis from Iraq have been going to Syria to fight against President Bashar al-Assad for months. Now Iraqi Shiites are joining the battle in increasing numbers, but on the government’s side, transplanting Iraq’s explosive sectarian conflict to a civil war that is increasingly fueled by religious rivalry.

Some Iraqi Shiites are traveling to Tehran first, where the Iranian government, Syria’s chief regional ally, is flying them to Damascus, Syria’s capital. Others take tour buses from the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraq, on the pretext of making a pilgrimage to an important Shiite shrine in Damascus that for months has been protected by armed Iraqis. While the buses do carry pilgrims, Iraqi Shiite leaders say, they are also ferrying weapons, supplies and fighters to aid the Syrian government.

“Dozens of Iraqis are joining us, and our brigade is growing day by day,” Ahmad al-Hassani, a 25-year-old Iraqi fighter, said by telephone from Damascus. He said that he arrived there two months ago, taking a flight from Tehran.

The Iraqi Shiites are joining forces with Shiite fighters from Lebanon and Iran, driving Syria ever closer to becoming a regional sectarian battlefield.

Lebanon, which has 100,000 Syrian refugees, was pushed to the brink this month when a Sunni intelligence chief was assassinated in a bombing. Many Lebanese blamed the Syrian government and its allies for the attack. Jordan, sheltering more than 180,000 refugees, has struggled to contain the violence on its border, which claimed the life of a Jordanian soldier in a firefight with extremists last week. Turkey, with more than 100,000 refugees, has traded artillery fire with Syria since Syrian shelling killed five civilians near the border early this month.

Now Iraq, still haunted by its own sectarian carnage, has become increasingly entangled in the Syrian war. And Iran, which, like Iraq, is majority-Shiite, appears to be playing a critical role in mobilizing Iraqis.

According to interviews with Shiite leaders here, the Iraqi volunteers are receiving weapons and supplies from the Syrian and Iranian governments, and Iran has organized travel for Iraqis willing to fight in Syria on the government’s side.

Iran has also pressed the Iraqis to organize committees to recruit young fighters. Such committees have recently been formed in Iraq’s Shiite heartland in the south and in Diyala Province, a mixed province north of Baghdad.

Many Iraqi Shiites increasingly see the Syrian war — which pits the Sunni majority against a government dominated by Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam — as a battle for the future of Shiite faith. This sectarian cast has been heightened by the influx of Sunni extremists aligned with Al Qaeda, who have joined the fight against the Syrian government much as they did in the last decade against the Shiite-led Iraqi government.

“Syria is now open to all fighters, and Al Qaeda is playing on the chords of sectarianism, which will spur reactions from the Shiites, as happened in Iraq,” said Ihsan al-Shammari, an analyst and professor at Baghdad University’s College of Political Science. “My biggest fear from the Syrian crisis is the repercussions for Iraq, where the ashes of sectarian violence still exist.”

One young Iraqi, Ali Hatem, who was planning to travel to Tehran, then to Damascus, said he saw the call to fight for Mr. Assad as part of a “divine duty.”

Abu Mohamed, an official in Babil Province with the Sadrist Trend, a political party aligned with the populist Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, said he recently received an invitation from the Sadrists’ leadership to a meeting in Najaf to discuss a pilgrimage to the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab, a holy Shiite site in Damascus.

“We knew that this is not the real purpose because the situation is not suitable for such a visit,” he said. “When we went to Najaf, they told us it’s a call for fighting in Syria against the Salafis,” ultraconservative Sunni Muslims.

A senior Sadrist official and former member of Parliament, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that convoys of buses from Najaf, ostensibly for pilgrims, were carrying weapons and fighters to Damascus.

Iran, which has been accused of sending weapons and fighters to Syria, may have employed the same ruse. After the Syrian rebels detained 48 Iranians in Damascus in August, the Iranian government said they were pilgrims, and expressed outrage that they had been kidnapped by the rebels. According to American intelligence officials, at least some of the pilgrims were members of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Religious warriors, however, do not always make such distinctions. In Diyala Province, still a hotbed of Iraq’s Sunni insurgency, Shiite leaders say they are seeking volunteers for a “combat regiment” to defend the Zeinab shrine against “the holders of extremist Salafi ideology backed by gulf states,” according to Abu Ali al-Moussawi, the head of a recruitment committee. He said that 70 men from Diyala had recently left to join the fight in Syria.

Abu Sajad, who moved to Damascus in 2008 and joined the fight after the rebellion began, said he and other Iraqi fighters were indeed fighting to protect the shrine. A former fighter in Mr. Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Iraq, he said he was given weapons and supplies by the Syrian government.

But as the fight evolved, and Iraqis began to be killed and kidnapped, it reminded him too much of the Iraq he left, and so he recently returned to his home in Basra.

“I can tell that things are going to be crazy in Syria,” he said. “It’s a sectarian war, and it’s even worse than the one we had here, which was between the militias and the political parties. In Syria, all of the people are involved. You can feel the hatred between the Sunnis and the Alawites. They will do anything to get rid of each other.”

Iraqi Shiites did not initially take sides in Syria. Many Shiites here despise Mr. Assad for his affiliation with the Baath Party, the party of Saddam Hussein, and the support he gave foreign Sunni fighters during the Iraq war.

But as the uprising became an armed rebellion that began to attract Sunni extremists, many Shiites came to see the war in existential terms. Devout Shiites in Iraq often describe the Syrian conflict as the beginning of the fulfillment of a Shiite prophecy that presages the end of time by predicting that an army, headed by a devil-like figure named Sufyani, will rise in Syria and then conquer Iraq’s Shiites.

It was the bombing of an important shrine in Samarra in 2006 that escalated Iraq’s sectarian civil war, and many Iraqis see the events in Syria as replicating their own recent bloody history, but with even greater potential consequences.

Hassan al-Rubaie, a Shiite cleric from Baquba, the capital of Diyala Province, said, “The destruction of the shrine of Sayyida Zeinab in Syria will mean the start of sectarian civil war in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.”

Yasir Ghazi reported from Baghdad and Tim Arango from Istanbul. Employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Babil and Diyala Provinces in Iraq.
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« Reply #2830 on: Oct 28, 2012, 07:22 AM »

Anti-austerity protesters urge Spain government to resign in Madrid rally

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, October 27, 2012 18:08 EDT

Thousands of anti-austerity demonstrators marched in the Spanish capital Saturday calling for the conservative government to resign because of its severe budget cuts.

“They don’t represent us”, “More education fewer police”, demonstrators shouted as dozens of police vehicles followed the march to near the parliament building which was cordoned off.

A large banner read “No to the debt budget”.

Demonstrators held a minute’s silence, sitting down and holding their arms up in the air before they shouted “resign” with their fists clenched.

“I came to demonstrate because they’re taking everything away, our health, our education, our houses,” said 50-year-old demonstrator Sabine Alberdi, referring to the budget cuts that hit large swathes of the population and the expulsion of endebted homeowners in a country where one in four people are without a job.

Spain’s so-called Indignant movement has protested for a month near the parliament building against the 2013 budget cuts of 39 billion euros which are currently being debated by lawmakers.

Overall, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government plans spending cuts of 150 billion euros between 2012 and 2014 to balance the country’s public finances.

“This budget means more cuts for employees, to pay the sovereign debt they work against people’s interests,” fumed 50-year-old Jose Ruiz Fernandez from the southern city of Almeria.

“We will continue to demonstrate to defend our rights, against the budget cuts,” said Rosa Romero, 21, who had travelled hundreds of kilometres (miles) from southern Granada to join the protest.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of police officers in plain clothes from across Spain demonstrated against the cuts of pay and benefits outside the interior ministry. A banner read: “The police can’t take it any more”.

“We came to express our anger at the way the government treats us, not only because they have removed Christmas bonuses, but also because they are eliminating our rights,” said Fran Estacio, a 33-year-old officer from Valencia, in eastern Spain.

Starting January 1, he said, they will lose three of the six days of supplementary holidays that police officers are allowed every year, in addition to their regular vacation.

They will also see cuts to their salary during sick leave.
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« Reply #2831 on: Oct 28, 2012, 07:24 AM »

October 27, 2012

List of Swiss Accounts Turns Up the Heat in Greece

By RACHEL DONADIO and LIZ ALDERMAN
IHT

ATHENS — The speaker of the Greek Parliament, several employees of the Finance Ministry and a number of business leaders are on a list of more than 2,000 Greeks said to have accounts in a Swiss bank, according to a respected investigative magazine. The Greek magazine, Hot Doc, published the list on Saturday, raising the stakes in a heated battle over which current and former government officials had seen the original list passed on by France two years ago — and whether they had used it to check for possible tax evasion.

Hot Doc said its version of the list matches the one that Christine Lagarde, then the French finance minister and now the head of the International Monetary Fund, had given her Greek counterpart in 2010 to help Greece crack down on rampant tax evasion as it was trying to steady its economy. The 2,059 people on the list are said to have had accounts in a Geneva branch of HSBC.

Questions about the handling of the original list reached a near frenzy in Athens last week as two former finance ministers were pressed to explain why the government appeared to have taken no action on the list. The subject has touched a nerve among average Greeks at a time when the Parliament is expected to vote on a new 13.5 billion euro austerity package that could further reduce their standards of living.

The publication of the list is likely to exacerbate Greeks’ anger that their political leaders might have been reluctant to investigate the business elite, with whom they often have close ties, even as middle- and lower-class Greeks have struggled with higher taxes and increasingly ardent tax collectors.

The magazine was careful to note that having an account at HSBC was not illegal or proof of evading Greek taxes, a point underscored by a spokesman for the Greek Finance Ministry. But the magazine suggested that Greek officials should check whether those on it had moved money into the accounts to escape paying taxes.

Hours after the magazine hit newsstands, Athens prosecutors issued a warrant for the arrest of Kostas Vaxevanis, the owner and editor of Hot Doc, “where names from the Lagarde list have been published,” the Athens police said in a statement on their Web site. They said he was sought on misdemeanor charges; the Greek media reported that the charges were related to violating the privacy of those on the list.

Mr. Vaxevanis, one of Greece’s most famous investigative journalists, said he was being wrongly targeted. “Instead of arresting the tax evaders and the ministers who had the list in their hands, they are trying to arrest the truth and free journalism,” he said in a telephone interview that was uploaded on the Internet and widely circulated.

The issue of the list has shaken the country for weeks, posing new challenges to the fragile three-way coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Above all, it put intense pressure on the Socialist party, a key member of the coalition, whose leader, Evangelos Venizelos, is one of two Socialist former finance ministers accused of not having acted on the information.

The finger pointing, likely to intensify with the list’s publication, is certain to distract Greek politicians during a week when European finance ministers are scheduled to discuss whether to release billions of euros in fresh financial aid. Greece’s lenders have long said that the country must crack down on tax evasion to be eligible for further infusions of cash.

According to Hot Doc, the list includes not only some in the government and businesspeople, but also actors, doctors, lawyers and architects. It also includes several women identified as housewives who the magazine said had moved large amounts of money to the HSBC accounts.

There was no immediate comment from Mr. Samaras, who was meeting with aides throughout the afternoon to discuss the new austerity measures demanded by Greece’s lenders.

Giorgos Voulgarakis, the speaker of the Parliament from Mr. Samaras’s center-right New Democracy party, denied having any overseas bank accounts and accused the magazine of mudslinging.

Hot Doc said it had been given the list by “one of the people who had received” it. Yannis Stournaras, the finance minister, sent a letter to his French counterpart several days ago asking for the original list, but so far the Greek official has not received a response, according to the ministry spokesman, who was not authorized to speak publicly. The aide said that the Greek Finance Ministry wants to be certain that it has the original list of names before investigating whether any tax evasion occurred. The magazine said it had called a sampling of account holders on its list to confirm that they had deposits in the Swiss bank. Citing privacy concerns for those on the list, Hot Doc said it had redacted how much money was said to be in each account, but added that some accounts were listed as containing as much as 500 million euros. The list dates to 2007.

The magazine also carried a long report on Mr. Voulgarakis. According to Hot Doc, the parliamentary speaker opened an account at HSBC in 2003 that was jointly managed by him, his wife and an offshore company based in Liberia.

The magazine said the deposits do not show up on Mr. Voulgarakis’s tax declarations.

Mr. Voulgarakis, a former government minister who was investigated but later exonerated in another high-profile corruption inquiry, issued a statement saying, “I declare categorically that neither my wife nor I have any offshore companies or foreign bank accounts.”

On Friday, the office of former Prime Minister George Papandreou denied claims that he had been aware of the list, after a member of the opposition Syriza party alleged that Mr. Papandreou had helped set up a meeting with the head of the Geneva HSBC branch in Geneva when he was in office.

Last week, former Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou told lawmakers that he had asked Greece’s financial crimes unit to investigate about 20 Greek citizens thought to hold large deposits at the HSBC Geneva branch after French authorities forwarded him the list of names in October 2010.

But he said the Finance Ministry’s legal adviser had warned that the list was a problem because a HSBC employee had illegally leaked it.
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« Reply #2832 on: Oct 28, 2012, 07:25 AM »

October 27, 2012

European Union Exit? Concerns Grow for Britain

By STEPHEN CASTLE
IHT

LONDON — Is Britain moving inexorably toward the European Union’s exit door?

When the European Union unexpectedly won the Nobel Peace Prize this month, the leaders of Germany, France and Italy spoke of their pride. But the British prime minister, David Cameron, maintained an awkward silence.

Before that, the British government said it wanted to exercise an opt out of an estimated 133 areas of European Union police and judicial cooperation to which it had once agreed.

And Mr. Cameron supported a plan for a new budget for countries that use the euro (which Britain does not), something that would place his nation firmly in Europe’s outer tier. The prime minister has been hinting that he could hold a referendum on Britain’s relations with the union, and one newspaper reported recently that a senior cabinet minister wants Britain to threaten openly to leave the 27-nation bloc. There was no official denial of the report.

All of which has fueled concerns that Britain is laying plans for what political and financial pundits have dubbed “Brixit,” a variant on “Grexit” — the shorthand for Greece’s much predicted if currently forestalled departure from the euro zone.

Mr. Cameron insists that he is trying to keep Britain in the European Union. He argues gamely that popular consent to membership can be regained only by refocusing the relationship on Europe’s single economic and free trade market — which accounts for half of Britain’s foreign trade and investment, according to the government — and loosening other ties.

Britain has always been ambivalent about the European project. Unlike the founding six nations, all of them defeated or occupied in World War II, Britain was a victor. In national mythology, the war was neither a moment of disgrace nor a humiliation. On the contrary, it was widely considered the country’s finest hour, when it stood alone against fascism.

So the idea of reconciliation through integration never had the appeal in Britain that it did on the Continent. Unlike many other member countries, Britain always paid more into the union in contributions than it received in subsidies.

Now, with the euro zone almost three years in crisis, British public opinion has hardened. The overwhelming majority of Conservative lawmakers are euro skeptics, and many privately favor withdrawal.

For some this is a question of conviction, while others feel a competitive threat from the United Kingdom Independence Party, which wants to take Britain out of the union altogether. Adept at winning over Conservative voters, the party threatens to deprive many Tories of their seats in Parliament in future elections.

So government strategy toward the union — always hampered by what Lord Christopher Patten, a former Conservative minister and ex-European commissioner, has called “the psychodrama of Britain’s relations with Europe” — has turned on its head.

When he was prime minister, Tony Blair sought to exploit strains between France and Germany, the twin engines of European integration. Mr. Blair, whose Labour Party was less Europe-averse than Mr. Cameron’s Conservatives, courted allies among smaller nations and tried to compensate for Britain’s self-exclusion from the euro by leading in areas like defense and police cooperation, a policy Mr. Cameron has reversed.

Previous British governments argued that if they did not like something, they had a chance of changing or stopping it only if they sat at all tables with their European partners.

Mr. Cameron seeks a new arrangement that abandons any pretense of being at the heart of the European Union. He does not, for instance, want to stop the euro zone integrating without Britain. Indeed, he recognizes that this is necessary to save the euro.

But can a more remote relationship work?

According to a recent study for the European Council on Foreign Relations by Peter Kellner, president of YouGov, a polling organization, there is a parallel with 1975, when Britain held its referendum on membership in Europe.

“Then, as now, the prime minister, then Labour’s Harold Wilson, had a problem managing party divisions,” Mr. Kellner wrote. “Then, as now, most voters wanted to leave the Common Market (as it then was). Then, as now, polling (specifically, a Gallup Poll in November 1974) suggested that if the prime minister renegotiated the terms of Britain’s membership and recommended acceptance of the new terms, opinion would swing in favor of British membership.”

Mr. Kellner went on to note that Mr. Wilson did talk to his European partners, claimed victory and voters subsequently voted 2 to 1 to stay in Europe.

In July this year, a YouGov poll suggested that, if Mr. Cameron renegotiated the relationship to his satisfaction and recommended a “yes,” 42 percent of voters would vote to stay in and 34 percent to leave.

The strategy may have domestic political logic but there are simultaneous risks: of reducing Britain’s influence on the world stage and making a “Brixit” a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Britain carries weight with some other member states who rely on British influence to bolster the bloc’s free-market wing and counterbalance France’s more statist approach.

But to anchor Britain in Europe, Mr. Cameron needs to emerge from a whole series of negotiations successfully — or at least persuade his own skeptical party that he has done so.

Most urgently, he faces tough discussions on the European Union’s next seven-year spending cycle. Many officials and other observers expect Mr. Cameron to veto a budget deal at a November summit.

That will satisfy euro skeptics only if Mr. Cameron can bring home an improved offer later. Yet, playing to his domestic gallery with an aggressive veto may alienate the very European allies Mr. Cameron would need in later talks in any effort to redefine ties.

Meanwhile, the emergence of an ever more clear-cut two-tier Europe, with much greater integration among the 17 euro zone nations on issues like banking and financial services, is putting a strain on Europe’s unified economic space, and could ultimately threaten London’s status as Europe’s financial capital.

“Deeper integration in the core would come with disintegration in the E.U.’s periphery and shrink the single market,” writes Sebastian Dullien in a separate paper, also for the European Council on Foreign Relations. In other words, it could undermine the one part of the European bargain that Britons actually seem to like.
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« Reply #2833 on: Oct 28, 2012, 07:28 AM »

October 27, 2012

A Village Rape Shatters a Family, and India’s Traditional Silence

By JIM YARDLEY
IHT

DABRA, India — One after the other, the men raped her. They had dragged the girl into a darkened stone shelter at the edge of the fields, eight men, maybe more, reeking of pesticide and cheap whiskey. They assaulted her for nearly three hours. She was 16 years old.

When it was over, the men threatened to kill her if she told anyone, and for days the girl said nothing. Speaking out would have been difficult, anyway, given the hierarchy of caste. She was poor and a Dalit, the low-caste group once known as untouchables, while most of the attackers were from a higher caste that dominated land and power in the village.

It might have ended there, if not for the videos: her assailants had taken cellphone videos as trophies, and the images began circulating among village men until one was shown to the victim’s father, his family said. Distraught, the father committed suicide on Sept. 18 by drinking pesticide. Infuriated, Dalits demanded justice in the rape case.

“We thought, We lost my husband, we lost our honor,” the mother of the rape victim said. “What is the point of remaining silent now?”

As in many countries, silence often follows rape in India, especially in villages, where a rape victim is usually regarded as a shamed woman, unfit for marriage. But an outcry over a string of recent rapes, including this one, in the northern state of Haryana, has shattered that silence, focusing national attention on India’s rising number of sexual assaults while also exposing the conservative, male-dominated power structure in Haryana, where rape victims are often treated with callous disregard.

In a rapidly changing country, rape cases have increased at an alarming rate, roughly 25 percent in six years. To some degree, this reflects a rise in reporting by victims. But India’s changing gender dynamic is also a significant factor, as more females are attending school, entering the work force or choosing their own spouses — trends that some men regard as a threat.

India’s news media regularly carry horrific accounts of gang rapes, attacks once rarely seen. Sometimes, gangs of young men stumble upon a young couple — in some cases the couple is meeting furtively in a conservative society — and then rape the woman. Analysts also point to demographic trends: India has a glut of young males, some unemployed, abusing alcohol or drugs and unnerved by the new visibility of women in society.

“This visibility is seen as a threat and a challenge,” said Ranjana Kumari, who runs the Center for Social Research in New Delhi.

In Haryana, the initial response to the rape after it was disclosed ranged from denial to denouncing the media to blaming the victim. A spokesman for the governing Congress Party was quoted as saying that 90 percent of rape cases begin as consensual sex. Women’s groups were outraged after a village leader pointed to teenage girls’ sexual desire as the reason for the rapes.

“I think that girls should be married at the age of 16, so that they have their husbands for their sexual needs, and they don’t need to go elsewhere,” the village leader, Sube Singh, told IBN Live, a news channel. “This way rapes will not occur.”

The most vulnerable women are poor Dalits, the lowest tier of the social structure. Of 19 recent rape cases in Haryana, at least six victims were Dalits. One Dalit teenager in Haryana committed suicide, setting herself afire, after being gang-raped. Another Dalit girl, 15, who was mentally handicapped, was raped in Rohtak, according to Indian news media accounts, the same district where a 13-year-old girl was allegedly raped by a neighbor.

“If you are a poor woman who is raped, you cannot even imagine a life where there will be justice,” Kalpana Sharma, a columnist, wrote recently in The Hindu, a national English-language newspaper. “If you are a poor woman and a Dalit, then the chances of justice are even slimmer.”

Haryana is one of India’s most entrenched bastions of feudal patriarchy. The social preference for sons has contributed to a problem of some couples aborting female fetuses, leaving Haryana with the most skewed gender ratio in India, 861 females for every 1,000 males. Politically, the upper Jat caste largely controls a statewide network of unelected, all-male councils known as khap panchayats, which dominate many rural regions of the state.

Elected leaders are reluctant to confront the khaps, given their ability to turn out voters, and often endorse their conservative social agenda, in which women are subservient to men. Khaps have sought to ban women from wearing bluejeans or using cellphones. One khap member, Jitender Chhatar, blamed fast food for the rise in rape cases, arguing that it caused hormonal imbalances and sexual urges in young women. Mr. Singh, who suggested lowering the legal marriage age, is also a khap leader.

“They are working the blame-the-victim theory,” said Jagmati Sangwan, president of the Haryana chapter of the All-India Democratic Women’s Association. “They are diverting attention from the crime and the criminals, and the root causes.”

Yet public anger is clearly bubbling up. Small protests have been staged across the state, including one this month in the town of Meham, where about 100 men and women picketed the district police headquarters over the rape of a 17-year-old girl. They waved signs demanding “Arrest Rapists!” and “Justice for Women” and chanted “Down with Haryana Police!”

Here in Dabra, about 100 miles from the Pakistan border, villagers say there is no khap panchayat but rather an elected village council where the leadership position, known as sarpanch, is reserved for a woman under nationwide affirmative action policies. Yet the male-dominated ethos prevails. The current sarpanch is the wife of a local Jat leader, who put her forward to circumvent the restriction. During an interview with the husband, the official sarpanch sat silently in the doorway, her face covered by a gauzy scarf.

“No, no,” she answered when asked to comment, as she pointed to her husband. “He’s the sarpanch. What’s the point in talking to me?”

The gang-rape of the 16-year-old girl occurred on Sept. 9 but remained a secret in the village until her father’s suicide. Dalits formed a committee to demand justice, and roughly 400 people demonstrated outside the district police headquarters, as well as at the hospital where the father’s body was being kept.

“We told them that unless you catch the suspects, we would not take the body,” said a woman named Maya Devi. “We do not have land. We do not have money. What we have is honor. If your honor is gone, you have nothing.”

Since then, the police have arrested eight men — seven of them Jats — who have confessed to the attack. There are discrepancies; the victim says she was abducted outside the village, while the suspects say they attacked her after catching her having a tryst with a married man.

“She was raped against her will,” said B. Satheesh Balan, the district superintendent of police. “There is no doubt.”

Officer Balan said villagers told the police that other local girls had also been gang-raped at the same stone shelter, though no evidence was available. Often, a girl’s family will hide a rape rather than be stigmatized in the village. Even sympathizers of the teenage victim doubt she can assimilate back into Dabra.

“It will be difficult on her,” Ms. Devi said. “Now she is branded.”

In an interview at her grandparents’ home outside the village, the victim said she believed other suspects remained at large, leaving her at risk. (Female police officers have been posted at the house round-the-clock.) Yet she has actively pushed the police and joined in the protests, despite the warnings by her attackers.

“They threatened me and said they would kill my family if I told anyone,” she said.

Many Dalit girls drop out of school, but the victim was finishing high school. Even in the aftermath of the rape, she took her first-term exams in economics, history and Sanskrit. But she no longer wants to return to the village school and is uncertain about her future.

“Earlier, I had lots of dreams,” she said. “Now I’m not sure I’ll be able to fulfill them. My father wanted me to become a doctor. Now I don’t think I’ll be able to do it.”

Hari Kumar contributed from Dabra.


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« Reply #2834 on: Oct 28, 2012, 07:44 AM »

In the USA...

New Afghan war phase, with no decisive end seen

A new chapter of the Afghanistan war is opening with a slimmed-down Western force doing more advising than fighting, a resilient Taliban showing little interest in peace talks, and Americans tempted to pull the plug on a conflict now in its 12th year.

By ROBERT BURNS
AP National Security Writer

KABUL, Afghanistan —

A new chapter of the Afghanistan war is opening with a slimmed-down Western force doing more advising than fighting, a resilient Taliban showing little interest in peace talks, and Americans tempted to pull the plug on a conflict now in its 12th year.

A decisive end seems nowhere in sight.

The allied offensive that just ended, spearheaded by an influx of 30,000 U.S. troops, hammered the Taliban in its southern strongholds. Yet the insurgency persists as the American-led international military coalition hands off security responsibilities to the Afghans before exiting in two years.

"We are probably headed for stalemate in 2014," says Stephen Biddle, a George Washington University political science professor who has advised U.S. commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq. If that is the case, the U.S. will have to pump billions of dollars a year into Afghanistan for decades to prevent its collapse, Biddle says.

What began in October 2001 under the Pentagon's hopeful banner of "Operation Enduring Freedom" has hardened into enduring resistance. The Taliban take heavy losses but regenerate as fast as they fall. They also maintain links to a range of other extremist groups, including al-Qaida and the Pakistan-based Haqqani network.

U.S. commanders say with confidence that their war campaign is on track, and President Barack Obama seemed to agree in his debate last Monday with challenger Mitt Romney.

"There's no reason why Americans should die when Afghans are perfectly capable of defending their own country," Obama said.

Yet the path forward is dotted with question marks:

-Will Afghanistan's security forces be capable of holding off the Taliban on their own? Afghan forces outnumber the Taliban by more than 10-to-1, but currently not a single Afghan army battalion is capable of operating in the field without American advisers.

-If the Afghan forces falter, will the U.S. extend its stay or send in reinforcements to avoid a Taliban takeover?

-Will the U.S.-led military coalition hold together even as France and others dash for the exits in coming months?

-Will enough Afghans come to embrace the corrupt government in Kabul as a preferred alternative to the militant Taliban?

-Will the Afghans manage a peaceful transfer of power after a presidential election scheduled for 2014, in which President Hamid Karzai cannot run again? The independent International Crisis Group warned this month of a "precipitous slide toward state collapse" unless steps are taken soon to prevent a repeat of the "chaos and chicanery" of the 2009 presidential election and the 2010 parliamentary vote.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who championed the additional American troops, remains optimistic.

"We've come too far, we've fought too many battles, we have spilled too much blood not to finish the job that we are all about," Panetta said in Brussels this month after meeting with his counterparts from NATO nations.

The "job" Panetta referenced is no longer to defeat the Taliban before 2015 or to eradicate al-Qaida in its Afghan redoubts, but to create an Afghan security force that can at least hold the substantial gains achieved by the U.S.-led international alliance.

It's not even clear whether the U.S. still expects to get peace negotiations with them started by 2015.

U.S. officials have said for years that the Taliban were unlikely to talk peace unless they felt their battlefield chances were slipping away. Those chances did take a heavy hit when the fresh American forces came on, yet the Taliban still show no appetite for negotiations.

Nevertheless, coalition military officers still speak of softening up the Taliban.

"Our task is to put our fist down the throat of the Taliban and squeeze his heart so that he will talk," said Australian Maj. Gen. Stephen Day, the coalition's chief of plans. He argues that the additional troops made the Taliban "a bit more quiescent," if not yet willing to negotiate.

Panetta and others assert that the troop increase also drove the Taliban farther from population centers and created an opportunity for the Afghan army and police to grow in numbers and experience.

The U.S. now has 66,000 troops in Afghanistan, joined by about 37,000 from allied countries. Decisions on how many more U.S. troops to withdraw next year won't come before the presidential election, but there are abundant signs that additional reductions will be ordered at some stage in 2013.

Army Brig. Gen. John Charlton, a deputy commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan's eastern provinces, says he is emphasizing to Afghan military leaders that the time has passed when they can expect the coalition to bear the lion's share of the fighting.

"Starting now, you've got to step it up," he said he's now telling them.

Charlton and other U.S. commanders interviewed recently in Kabul and at several remote outposts in eastern Afghanistan said they see marked improvement in the performance and confidence of Afghan forces this year.

Roger Noble, an Australian brigadier general who is a deputy operations chief for the international coalition, said he sees "pockets of excellence," but others see mediocrity and worse in the wider pool of Afghan forces. Noble acknowledged that Afghan soldiers are sometimes disillusioned with superiors whose corruption saps morale.

Some U.S. commanders express worry that no matter how much better the Afghan forces get before most Western forces go home in 2014, it could all be for naught if the Afghan government fails to strengthen its legitimacy in the eyes of ordinary Afghans.

Adding to a sense of unease is anger over a rising number of killings of U.S. and coalition troops by Afghan soldiers and police out of personal pique or in apparent sympathy with the Taliban. At least 57 coalition personnel, mostly Americans, have been killed so far this year in 40 "insider attacks." The latest was Thursday, when two U.S. servicemen were killed by a gunman in an Afghan police uniform.

After a spurt of insider attacks in August and September, one of Congress' most vocal advocates of pursuing the war, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was so fed up that he called for a re-evaluation of the Obama administration's troop withdrawal plan, saying it might need to be speeded up. He later said that was a bad option.

American public support for the war has dropped precipitously during Obama's term in the White House.

A Pew Research Center poll in early October found that 60 percent of respondents favored removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible, with 35 percent saying they should stay until the country is stable. That's a nearly complete reversal from a September 2008 Pew Research poll that showed 33 percent wanted troops out as soon as possible and 61 percent said they should stay until the country has stabilized.

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October 27, 2012 12:00 PM

Wall Street Accountability and the Election

By Mike Lux

There is finally, finally, finally some momentum starting to build toward accountability for the biggest banks. The results of the election will determine whether it continues to build or completely fades away.

I will be the first to admit that there is a certain irony in that last sentence. Tim Geithner and Eric Holder haven’t exactly been jumping up and down in excitement to prosecute the Too Big To Fail banks for their evident fraud in pumping up the housing bubble and making billions off it. The wheels of justice have turned pathetically slowly. Martin Luther King said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it curves toward justice”, but in the case of banks this big and powerful, that arc is even longer. Inch by inch, though, the wheels long stalled have begun to move, and now the pace is beginning to pick up.

In the last several weeks, JP Morgan (twice), Wells Fargo, and now this week Bank of America have all been taken to court by different parts of the government. And while we don’t know how things will turn out, none of these are small potato cases. Together, they represent the broadest cases against the TBTF banks that we have seen since the crisis hit. And the Residential Mortgage Backed Securities task force co-chair says that more are coming.

My colleagues in the Wall Street accountability movement, burned by the lack of action from the DOJ for 4 years, have been understandably skeptical of the RMBS task force, especially when it took what seemed like forever to bring its first case. But without that commission from the President, I don’t think any of these cases would have been brought, because it focused resources (definitely not enough, but some) on investigations, and it raised the political stakes on not doing anything.

Where this heads next will be fascinating. I suspect what Schneiderman and the other more aggressive prosecutors in the task force want to do is to build a web of tough, broad cases against these banks in order to given them maximum leverage. Such a legal strategy could well reap major benefits as investigations proceed.

But imagine a scenario where President Obama loses, and the Democrats lose the majority in the Senate.

The multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional task force shuts down, ending the center of gravity for all these legal cases, and ending the pooling of staff resources by all these agencies. The expectations and pressure points for activists to push on getting legal action goes away completely. The DOJ goes from being slow and reluctant on big bank financial fraud cases to being completely hostile to them. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the single most aggressive regulatory agency in government which has already filed numerous actions and new regulations against financial abuse, is completely dismantled. Senate chairman like Carl Levin who have been doing strong oversight against Wall Street are no longer committee chairs. And the Senate goes from their budget conference committees pushing for more money for regulators to joining the House in appropriating a lot less.

All momentum for filing new cases against fraudulent bankers goes away, as do most of the investigatory resources, and the big banks once again have their complete run of the store with quite literally no cop on the beat.

But here’s another scenario, a little dream of mine. In addition to the President being re-elected, and the RMBS task force and CFPB continuing, we get some new Senators as well: Elizabeth Warren sitting on the Finance committee, and being able to grill the big bankers in hearings on a regular basis; Sherrod Brown, co-author of the legislation to break up the biggest banks and re-institute Glass-Steagall, returns despite being the number one target of Karl Rove; Tammy Baldwin, who fought as a House member against Glass-Steagall’s repeal and brings it up in nearly every stump speech, comes into the Senate; former Byron Dorgan (who was the big banks’ number one opponent in the Senate before he retired) staffer Heidi Heitkamp comes to the Senate to continue Dorgan’s tough-on-Wall-St legacy; one of the strongest opponents of big money in politics, Chris Murphy, is the new Senator from CT. And the Wall Street big money boys, having bet heavily on Mitt Romney and the opponents of all these new Senators, forced to reckon with the fact that all their gold could not buy them this election.

I have just been reading Jeff Connaughton’s new book “Why Wall Street Always Wins”. With a title and subject like that, it is rather grim. But the story it tells of how worried and flustered the denizens of Wall Street got when just one Senator, Ted Kaufman, came at them hard is a reminder that if we could actually get a half dozen Senators with the courage and the fortitude to take on Wall Street, it could make a huge difference. And if we combined that political pressure with a legal strategy that kept weaving its web of cases against the big banks, kept subpoenaing and deposing them, kept building the legal pressure? Who knows, we might actually finally bring justice to some of these bank executives who blatantly violated the law thinking their political power would forever keep them safe.

My PAC is working to help all 5 of those tough-on-Wall Street Senate candidates, help me put them over the top. Elections do matter. Winning them doesn’t guarantee anything, but it does give an opportunity for good things to happen.


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October 27, 2012 09:30 AM

Why Florida is Sitting on $300 Million Meant to Help Homeowners

By Cora Currier -- ProPublica

Florida has the highest percentage of home loans in foreclosure in the country. So why is more than $300 million that could help homeowners sitting unused?

Florida was awarded those millions in February as part of the $25 billion national settlement between five of country's biggest banks and forty-nine states and the District of Columbia. The settlement resolved allegations of wrongful foreclosures and other mortgage servicing abuses, and required banks to offer some homeowners the opportunity to modify their loans or refinance, or, in some cases pay homeowners directly for wrongful foreclosure.

The banks also had to pay $2.5 billion directly to state governments. Florida's sum was the largest, after California, in part a measure of how deeply the mortgage crisis affected the sunshine state.

Yet Florida is one of just a few states where the Attorney General has not announced plans for a significant portion of the money. We've contacted every state to find out what they were doing with that money. Of the $2.5 billion going to states, just over a billion dollars has been pledged for housing-related programs, while a roughly equal amount has been diverted to plug budget holes or fund programs unrelated to the foreclosure crisis. $378 million is still to be determined, and almost all of that is Florida's.

Florida's funds are caught between the Attorney General, Republican Pam Bondi, and the Republican state legislature. Bondi has pledged to make the money available to homeowners; earlier this year, she called for suggestions from the public. Some state lawmakers, however, insist that it needs to go through the regular appropriations process u2014 where it could potentially be siphoned off into other programs. And that wouldn't happen until March, when the legislative session begins.

"We were very happy about the Attorney General's commitment early on that the money be used within the spirit of the settlement," said Jaimie Ross, president of the Florida Housing Coalition, an advocacy organization. "But is it just going to sit there until the legislature starts so that we can wait to see how they want to use it? The silence is deafening."

A spokesman for the Attorney General said, "it's a matter of having a dialogue between the two sides." He could not give a timeline for when a decision might be reached. The 2013 budget request Bondi submitted to the legislature last week made no mention of the settlement.

The mortgage settlement states that Florida's money can be spent "as directed" by the Florida Attorney General for "purposes consistent with" the settlement, such as programs aimed at homeowner protection or consumer fraud. But the legislature should still "play a role," according to Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for incoming State Senate President Don Gaetz, a Republican.

The Democratic minority leader of the state senate, Nan Rich, said, "It's unconscionable to be sitting on this money." 11 percent of Florida's mortgaged homes are currently in foreclosure, and the state saw 92,000 completed foreclosures in the year ending August 2012, second only to California.

Both Rich and Jaimie Ross of Florida Housing Coalition expressed concern that the legislature could divert the money away from housing. One Democratic representative has already suggested it be used to fund a pay raise for state employees.

It wouldn't be the first state to see that happen. In May, we showed how almost one billion dollars that states received for the settlement had gone to plug budget holes or fund programs unrelated to the housing crisis. California, for example, received $410 million, but it all went to the general fund. Ultimately, the Attorney General's office ended up with just $18.4 million earmarked for housing counseling and overseeing the settlement.

Arizona's state assembly diverted $50 million u2013 more than half the state's total u2013 to the general fund. Housing advocates challenged the transfer in court, but a judge ruled this month that it was legitimate. North Carolina legislators also ended up rerouting $7.8 million that had been intended for housing counseling to free up money in the state budget.

New Jersey put the $75 million it received towards various social programs, including affordable housing. But the money funded preexisting programs, rather than supplementing them or starting new initiatives, as part of an effort to balance the budget.

A spokesman for the state treasury told us earlier this year that the settlement did not require them to spend extra money. "If we put [the money] into the budget and don't have to cut something else, that's a net gain," he said. (The treasury didn't respond to our more recent requests for comment.) 

Advocates and some lawmakers protested the decision not to boost spending for housing. They say it may follow the letter of the settlement, but not the spirit. According to CoreLogic, New Jersey had the second-highest percentage of mortgages in foreclosure, after Florida.

What other states are doing with the money

When we first mapped out where the settlement millions were going, many states hadn't yet outlined plans. We've updated our comprehensive map to show developments since then. Here's a sampling of what's happened:

Attorneys general and lawmakers are still working out how the money will be used in a few other states besides Florida:

Some of the states that turned over their settlement money to their legislature haven't yet seen it spent. The biggest case is Texas, where the legislature won't meet until January to determine how to budget the $134 million it received.  There's no requirement that any of that money be spent on housing.

Additional reporting by Paul Kiel.

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Poll: Majority of Americans are racist against blacks

By Jonathan Terbush
Saturday, October 27, 2012 19:40 EDT
AP

So much for a post-racial America.

A slight majority of all Americans show some prejudice toward blacks, whether the realize it or not, according to an Associated Press poll released on Saturday.

In the survey, 56 percent of Americans showed some anti-black feelings, whether implicitly or explicitly. That percentage has actually risen in the four years since President Obama took office—up from 49 percent in 2008—indicating that, if anything, anti-black attitudes have become more prevalent since that landmark election.

That finding is based on poll questions that both directly asked respondents questions about their feelings toward particular races, as well as more subtle questions that gauged racial attitudes without mentioning the subject. Yet on the questions that explicitly gauged overt racism, a slim 51 percent majority of Americans still showed anti-black bias, versus 48 percent who did not.

Republicans were far more likely than Democrats to show some sign of anti-black bias. Seventy-nine percent of Republicans exhibited an explicit anti-black attitude on the more direct questions, versus thirty-two percent of Democrats who did the same.

That finding came one day after Colin Powell’s former chief of staff said his Republican party was “full of racists.”

The survey also found that not only had the nation inched deeper into anti-black sentiment, but that other races are now subject to more negative perceptions as well. In 2011, an AP survey detected anti-Hispanic responses from 51 percent of Americans; that figure rose to 57 percent in the latest poll.

The findings could pose some trouble for Obama’s reelection effort. Pollsters estimated that the president could lose two percentage points off the national vote as a result of the worsened racial attitudes.

The AP survey was conducted onnline between August 30 and September 1, and has a margin of error of four percentage points. Though online surveys are typically regarded as less accurate than live-call polls, the pollsters said such a format was preferable as people are less willing to divulge their true feelings on such controversial issues when speaking to a real person.

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October 27, 2012

U.S. Set to Sponsor Health Insurance

By ROBERT PEAR
IHT

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will soon take on a new role as the sponsor of at least two nationwide health insurance plans to be operated under contract with the federal government and offered to consumers in every state.

These multistate plans were included in President Obama’s health care law as a substitute for a pure government-run health insurance program — the public option sought by many liberal Democrats and reviled by Republicans. Supporters of the national plans say they will increase competition in state health insurance markets, many of which are dominated by a handful of companies.

The national plans will compete directly with other private insurers and may have some significant advantages, including a federal seal of approval. Premiums and benefits for the multistate insurance plans will be negotiated by the United States Office of Personnel Management, the agency that arranges health benefits for federal employees.

Walton J. Francis, the author of a consumer guide to health plans for federal employees, said the personnel agency had been “extraordinarily successful” in managing that program, which has more than 200 health plans, including about 20 offered nationwide. The personnel agency has earned high marks for its ability to secure good terms for federal workers through negotiation rather than heavy-handed regulation of insurers.

John J. O’Brien, the director of health care and insurance at the agency, said the new plans would be offered to individuals and small employers through the insurance exchanges being set up in every state under the 2010 health care law.

No one knows how many people will sign up for the government-sponsored plans. In preparing cost estimates, the Obama administration told insurers to assume that each national plan would have 750,000 people enrolled in the first year.

Under the Affordable Care Act, at least one of the nationwide plans must be offered by a nonprofit entity. Insurance experts see an obvious candidate for that role: the Government Employees Health Association, a nonprofit group that covers more than 900,000 federal employees, retirees and dependents, making it the second-largest plan for federal workers, after the Blue Cross and Blue Shield program.

The association, with headquarters near Kansas City, Mo., was founded in 1937 to help railway mail clerks with their medical expenses, and it generally receives high scores in surveys of consumer satisfaction.

Richard G. Miles, the association’s president, expressed interest in offering a multistate plan to the general public through insurance exchanges, but said no decision had been made.

“Our expertise in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program would be useful in the private marketplace,” Mr. Miles said in an interview. “But we are concerned about the underwriting risk in providing insurance to an unknown group of customers.”

To be eligible to participate in the multistate program, insurers must be licensed in every state. The Government Employees Health Association recently bought a company that has the licenses it would need.

The new health care law stipulates that at least one of the multistate plans must provide insurance without coverage of abortion services. If a plan does cover abortions, it must establish separate accounts, one with money for abortion and one for all other medical services.

National insurance plans will be subject to regulation by the federal government, state insurance commissioners and state insurance exchanges. That mix could cause confusion for some consumers who have questions or complaints about their coverage.

The federal standards will pre-empt state rules in at least one respect: the national health plans will automatically be eligible to compete against other private insurers in the new exchanges, regardless of whether they have been certified as meeting the standards of those exchanges.

The administration has promised to “work cooperatively with states.” But it is unclear whether the government-sponsored plans will have to comply with all state laws and consumer protection standards; whether they will have to comply with state benefit mandates; and whether they will have to pay state fees and taxes levied on other insurers to finance exchange operations.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners, which represents state regulators, expressed alarm at the prospect of a double standard.

“It is absolutely essential that multistate plans compete on a level playing field with other qualified health plans, which are subject to state insurance law,” the association said in a letter to the Office of Personnel Management.

Consumer groups expressed similar concerns. The national insurance plans and other carriers must be subject to identical standards, they say, or consumers cannot make valid comparisons.

“Multistate plans have real potential benefits for consumers,” said Ronald F. Pollack, the executive director of Families USA, a liberal-leaning consumer group. “But there is also potential trouble if the multistate plans are exempted from some consumer protection standards.”

Robert E. Moffit, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said he worried that “the nationwide health plans, operating under terms and conditions set by the federal government, will become the robust public option that liberals always wanted.”

Insurers are pleading with the Office of Personnel Management to provide more detailed guidance.

“We are concerned that O.P.M. has not yet released rules specifying the requirements for the multistate plan,” said Jay A. Warmuth, a lawyer at UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation’s largest insurers.

Rules for the new program have been under review by the White House for three months, and officials said they would be issued soon.

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October 27, 2012

Pentagon Reopens Program Allowing Immigrants With Special Skills to Enlist

By JULIA PRESTON
IHT

Thousands of immigrants were so eager to enlist in the American military during the last two years, despite the strong odds that they could be sent to combat zones, that they signed a petition on Facebook asking the Pentagon to let them join.

Now they will have the chance. Late last month, the Pentagon reopened a program to recruit legal immigrants with special language and medical skills, which was active for a year in 2009 but was suspended in January 2010.

The program is small; it will enlist a total of 1,500 recruits each year for two years, mainly in the Army. But military officials said the yearlong pilot program brought an unusually well-educated and skilled cohort of immigrants into the armed services.

“Their qualifications were really stellar,” said Naomi Verdugo, assistant deputy for recruiting for the Army. “And we have been very pleased about how these folks have been performing.”

The program is open to immigrants on temporary visas, who otherwise would not be eligible to enlist. Its powerful lure is that it allows them to naturalize as United States citizens quickly, in most cases at the end of basic training, which lasts about 10 weeks. Most immigrants on temporary visas, whether they are students or workers with particular skills, must wait years — for some nationalities, more than a decade — to become citizens.

Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the program was intended to fill “some of our most critical readiness needs.” This time around, the Army is looking for dentists and surgeons, and for psychology professionals to help with the severe emotional strains soldiers have undergone in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Officials are also looking for native speakers of 44 languages, including Azerbaijani, Cambodian-Khmer, Hausa and Igbo (both spoken in West Africa), Persian Dari (spoken in Afghanistan), Portuguese, and Tamil (spoken in South Asia). Spanish is not on the list of languages.

Recruiting officers were quietly frustrated that Pentagon officials took more than two years to restart the program. The renewal became tangled in a broad security review after the shooting rampage in 2009 at Fort Hood, Tex., according to accounts from military officials. The background checks for the immigrants were scrutinized with added caution, even though the man charged in the killings, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, is a native-born American.

In renewing the program, military officials added a new layer of security screenings, Ms. Lainez said.

To make their case to the Pentagon, recruiting officers compiled dossiers on the first class of immigrants, of whom 943 out of 1,000 were in the Army. On average, immigrants who enlisted in the Army language program scored 17 points higher (on a scale of 99) than other applicants on an entrance test, said Capt. Carol Stahl, who manages the program for the Army. One-third of the first class of recruits had master’s degrees or higher.

One-third of the class went into the Special Forces, a highly selective assignment that can often lead to combat missions, Captain Stahl said. Attrition was one-quarter the rate of other soldiers who entered at the same time.

A soldier from Nepal who entered with the first class, Sgt. Saral Shrestha, just won the Army’s Soldier of the Year award after a grueling four-day competition involving fighting skills at Fort Lee, Va.

“This was a boost of very high quality people,” said Margaret Stock, an immigration lawyer in Alaska who is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve and helped devise the program. Even before they enlist, she said, the immigrants have been screened because they have to pass background and occupational checks for their temporary visas.

To qualify, immigrants must have been living in the United States legally for at least two years. They must be high school graduates and pass the entrance test.

The program — known as Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, or Mavni — is not open to illegal immigrants, who are barred by law from enlisting. In general, immigrants who are not citizens must have a permanent resident visa, known as a green card, to enlist.

The first round filled up quickly, and the Army turned away thousands of people. Many of them signed the Facebook petition and were hoping the program would start again.

Health care professionals, who enlist as officers, must serve either three years of active duty or six years in the Reserves. Immigrants who enlist based on their language skills must serve for a minimum of four years of active duty. Participants who fail to serve their term can lose their citizenship.

One of the first temporary immigrants the Army accepted this year was Dr. Amen Dhyllon, 33, a dentist practicing in Philadelphia who was born in India and came to the United States in 2006. Dr. Dhyllon said he completed a postdoctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania in June combining two dental specialties.

Dr. Dhyllon said he was eager to become an American citizen.

“Even in the position where I am today,” he said, “no one would appreciate me as much as people appreciate me here. This country does not differentiate between color or accent. Here, if you are good, people will put you to the front.”

Dr. Dhyllon said he was not worried about the risks of service. He said he was attracted to the Army because of the wide range of patients he would see.

“I can be part of the culture,” he said. “I can learn everything about this country from the root.”


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October 27, 2012

A Part-Time Life, as Hours Shrink and Shift

By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
IHT

SPRING VALLEY, Calif. — Since the Fresh & Easy grocery chain was founded five years ago, it has opened 150 stores in California and positioned itself as a hip, socially responsible company.

A cross between Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, the company brags that its house brands have no artificial colors or trans fats, that two-thirds of its produce is grown locally and that its main distribution center is powered by a $13 million solar installation.

But in one crucial respect, Fresh & Easy is just like the vast majority of large American retailers: most employees work part-time, with its stores changing many of their workers’ schedules week to week.

At its store here, just east of San Diego, Shannon Hardin oversees seven self-checkout stations, usually by herself. Typically working shifts of five or six hours, she hops between stations — bagging groceries, approving alcohol purchases, explaining the checkout system to shoppers and urging customers to join the retailer’s loyalty program, all while watching for shoplifters.

“I like it. I’m a people person,” said Ms. Hardin, 50, who used to work as an office assistant at a construction company until times went bad.

But after nearly five years at Fresh & Easy, she remains a part-time worker despite her desire to work full-time. In fact, all 22 employees at her store are part-time except for the five managers.

She earns $10.90 an hour, and with workweeks averaging 28 hours, her yearly pay equals $16,500. “I can’t live on this,” said Ms. Hardin, who is single. “It’s almost impossible.”

While there have always been part-time workers, especially at restaurants and retailers, employers today rely on them far more than before as they seek to cut costs and align staffing to customer traffic. This trend has frustrated millions of Americans who want to work full-time, reducing their pay and benefits.

“Over the past two decades, many major retailers went from a quotient of 70 to 80 percent full-time to at least 70 percent part-time across the industry,” said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group, a retail consulting firm.

No one has collected detailed data on part-time workers at the nation’s major retailers. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that the retail and wholesale sector, with a total of 18.6 million jobs, has cut a million full-time jobs since 2006, while adding more than 500,000 part-time jobs.

Technology is speeding this transformation. In the past, part-timers might work the same schedule of four- or five-hour shifts every week. But workers’ schedules have become far less predictable and stable. Many retailers now use sophisticated software that tracks the flow of customers, allowing managers to assign just enough employees to handle the anticipated demand.

“Many employers now schedule shifts as short as two or three hours, while historically they may have scheduled eight-hour shifts,” said David Ossip, founder of Dayforce, a producer of scheduling software used by chains like Aéropostale and Pier One Imports.

Some employers even ask workers to come in at the last minute, and the workers risk losing their jobs or being assigned fewer hours in the future if they are unavailable.

The widening use of part-timers has been a bane to many workers, pushing many into poverty and forcing some onto food stamps and Medicaid. And with work schedules that change week to week, workers can find it hard to arrange child care, attend college or hold a second job, according to interviews with more than 40 part-time workers.

To be sure, many people prefer to work part time — for instance, college students eager for extra spending money and older people earning money for presents during the holiday season.

But in two leading industries — retailing and hospitality — the number of part-timers who would prefer to work full-time has jumped to 3.1 million, or two-and-a-half times the 2006 level, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In retailing alone, nearly 30 percent of part-timers want full-time jobs, up from 10.6 percent in 2006. The agency found that in the retail and wholesale sector, which includes hundreds of thousands of small stores that rely heavily on full-time workers, about 3 in 10 employees work part-time.

Retailers and restaurants use so many part-timers not only because it gives them more flexibility, but because it significantly cuts payroll costs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part-time workers in service jobs received average compensation of $10.92 an hour in June, which includes $8.90 in wages plus benefits of $2.02. Full-time workers in that sector averaged 57 percent more in total compensation — $17.18 an hour, made up of $12.25 in wages and $4.93 in benefits. Benefit costs are far lower for part-timers because, for example, just 21 percent of them are in employer-backed retirement plans, compared with 65 percent of full-timers.

At the Fresh & Easy store here, Ms. Hardin is forever urging her boss to give her more hours, she said, but instead, “they turn around and hire more people.” Some weeks, her boss gives her an extra shift when a co-worker is sick or on vacation.

Officials of Fresh & Easy, which is owned by Tesco, the largest supermarket company in Britain, declined to be interviewed. But the company noted that its entry-level pay was $10 an hour, substantially higher than at most retailers, with quarterly bonuses on top of that. Also, the company said it offered excellent benefits, including health insurance to anyone averaging more than 20 hours a week.

Ms. Hardin said her recent quarterly bonuses averaged less than $200, and while she appreciated the health insurance, she often could not afford the co-pays to see a doctor.

To supplement her income, she moonlights 15 or so weekends a year as a security guard at San Diego Chargers and San Diego State football games. But she still has such a hard time making ends meet, she said, that she has gone to the movies just three times in the last five years. Nor does she own a television.

“A couple of people offered me a used TV, but I can’t afford cable,” she said. “I have a tooth that’s falling apart, but I can’t afford the crown for it.”

Juggling Schedules

At the Jamba Juice shop at 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, along with the juice oranges and whirring blenders is another tool vital to the business: the Weather Channel.

The shop’s managers frequently look at the channel’s Web site and plug the temperature and rain forecast into the software they use to schedule employees.

“Weather has a big effect on our business,” said Nicole Rosser, Jamba’s New York district manager.

If the mercury is going to hit 95 the next day, for instance, the software will suggest scheduling more employees based on the historic increase in store traffic in hot weather. At the 53rd Street store, Ms. Rosser said, that can mean seven employees on the busy 11-to-2 shift, rather than the typical four or five.

Such powerful scheduling software, developed by companies like Dayforce and Kronos over the last decade, has been widely adopted by retail and restaurant chains. The Kronos program that Jamba bought in 2009 breaks down schedules into 15-minute increments. So if the lunchtime rush at a particular shop slows down at 1:45, the software may suggest cutting 15 minutes from the shift of an employee normally scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Karen Luey, Jamba’s chief financial officer, said the scheduling software “helped us take 400, 500 basis points out of our labor costs,” or 4 to 5 percentage points, a savings of millions of dollars a year.

At Jamba Juice, which has 770 outlets, managers used to piece together their stores’ weekly schedules on an Excel spreadsheet. It took managers about two hours to slot in 25 to 30 employees, all generally part-time except for the store manager and one or two shift managers. With the Kronos software, scheduling takes just 30 minutes.

The software keeps tabs on when workers are available, their skills and who makes the most sales per hour. While such software is a powerful tool, management’s judgment is still important, said Aron J. Ain, Kronos’s chief executive. “The budget is how many people you need at a certain time,” he said, “but the magic is deciding who is to work at what time.”

The rise of big-box retailers like Walmart, with their long operating hours and complex staffing needs, has contributed to the increase in part-timers.

Mr. Flickinger, the retail consultant, said when Walmart spread nationwide and opened hundreds of 24-hour stores in the 1990s, that created intense competitive pressures and prompted many retailers to copy the company’s cost-cutting practices, including its heavy reliance on part-timers.

Susan J. Lambert, an expert on part-time work and a professor of organizational theory at the University of Chicago, said the use of part-timers had also escalated because of the declining power of labor unions. “They set a standard for what a real job was — Monday through Friday with full-time hours,” she said. “We’ve moved away from that.”

Many corporations place store or restaurant managers under strict limits about what their payroll or employee hours can be each week, usually based on a formula tied to sales. These formulas usually give managers little flexibility to increase the hours assigned.

David Henson, a former assistant manager at a Walmart in Thief River Falls, Minn., said part-timers would sometimes come into his office on the brink of tears.

“A lot of them were single mothers. They said they weren’t earning enough to support their families,” he said. “They desperately wanted more hours, but we weren’t able to give them.”

Some, Mr. Henson said, were eager to take second jobs. But if they said they were unavailable during certain hours, then the managers and scheduling software would reduce their hours further, he said. Many workers concluded that it was simply not worth it.

David Tovar, a Walmart spokesman, said that less than half of Walmart’s hourly employees were part-time and that the company provided better wages and benefits than many competitors. But he acknowledged that part-time employees with less availability were typically assigned fewer hours.

Katherine Lugar, executive vice president of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said that the industry’s scheduling practices worked well, and that retailers did their best to accommodate employee needs. “Happy employees provide better service,” she said.

She noted that millions of Americans preferred part-time work. “Many individuals come to retail because it is flexible, like the working mom who wants to work when kids are in school, or the graduate student,” she said.

When the Hours Fade

The day after Desmond Anthony graduated from Western Carolina University, he moved to Manhattan with the dream of becoming a Broadway actor and singer.

He knew he had to support himself with something else, and by Week 2, he had applied for 20 retail jobs, including one at the sprawling Express store in Herald Square, an emporium of slim jeans, sequined T-shirts and booming music.

“When I first walked into Express, I said, ‘Oh my God, this place is awesome and there’s music and it looks like a happening place,’ ” Mr. Anthony said.

Express offered him a job the next day. Mr. Anthony, 6-foot-4 and with a booming voice and big smile, said that after receiving just four hours of training, he began alternating as a greeter, cashier and sales floor assistant.

At first, he usually worked five days a week, often racking up 30 hours. But after several months, he said, he and many co-workers had their weekly hours cut to 12 or 15 and occasionally none at all.

“I’d go to the managers and say, ‘What is the issue? Am I not pulling my weight?’ ” he said. “And they’d say, ‘We just don’t have enough money.’ ”

“ ‘So how am I supposed to support myself? ’ I asked, and they said that was not their problem.”

Mr. Anthony said it was hard to survive. At $8.25 an hour, 15 hours a week equaled about $500 a month. His share of the monthly rent was $800, with several hundred more for utilities, phone and subway fares. Some days he went hungry, he acknowledged, and he repeatedly turned to his parents for help.

He and his co-workers held out hope that, come the holiday season, their hours would pick up. “But then they hired 15 more workers,” he said.

The store’s schedule for each coming week, he said, was supposed to be posted on Wednesdays, but often didn’t go up until Friday or Saturday. With so little notice, he sometimes had to scrap plans for auditions.

At one point, he said, his weekly schedule dwindled to two assigned days and two or three days when he was supposed to call the store in the morning to see whether managers wanted him to come in that day.

Mr. Anthony quit last February, upset that Express had given him an annual raise of just 25 cents an hour. He now works at a Zara apparel store on Fifth Avenue, which, he said, gives him 30 hours a week and does more to accommodate his scheduling needs.

Express says that about 85 percent of its employees are part-time. “It’s really more for flexibility than for anything else,” said Michael Keane, the company’s executive vice president for human resources. “It helps our ability to match associate staffing to traffic levels.”

Mr. Keane said many young people were eager to work part-time there, attracted by a hip atmosphere and the clothing discounts for employees.

With regard to Mr. Anthony’s complaints, Barbara Coleman, an Express spokeswoman, said stores aimed to post worker schedules a week or two in advance. “An associate will be notified in advance if they are scheduled for a call-in shift,” she said.

As for the hiring surge that upset Mr. Anthony, Ms. Coleman said, as the holidays approach, Express typically increases its part-time work force by nearly 20 percent to accommodate extended hours and the rush of shoppers.

In New York’s fiercely competitive retail world, Mr. Anthony’s experience is not unusual. Workers at Abercrombie & Fitch, Nine West and Bed Bath & Beyond told similar stories.

A 2011 survey of 436 employees at retailers in New York City, as diverse as luxury establishments on Fifth Avenue and dollar stores in the Bronx, found that half of the city’s retail workers were part-time and only one in 10 part-time workers had a set schedule week to week. One-fifth said they always or often had to be available for call-in shifts, according to the survey, which was overseen by researchers at City University of New York.

“We’re seeing more and more that the burden of market fluctuations is being shifted onto the workers, as opposed to the companies absorbing it themselves,” said Carrie Gleason, executive director of the Retail Action Project, an advocate for retail workers that helped conduct the survey and is financed by foundations and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

That union wants more labor deals like the one it has at Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square in Manhattan. Although that store has many part-timers, the more senior workers can reserve days off and learn their schedule six months in advance.

Mr. Flickinger, the retail consultant, said companies benefited from using many part-timers. “It’s almost like sharecropping — if you have a lot of farmers with small plots of land, they work very hard to produce in that limited amount of land,” he said. “Many part-time workers feel a real competition to work hard during their limited hours because they want to impress managers to give them more hours.”

Ms. Rosser, the Jamba Juice district manager, amplified on the advantages.

“You don’t want to work your team members for eight-hour shifts,” she said. “By the time they get to the second half of their shift, they don’t have the same energy and enthusiasm. We like to schedule people around four- to five-hour shifts so you can get the best out of them during that time.”

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

October 27, 2012

In Dairy Industry Consolidation, Lush Paydays

By ANDREW MARTIN
NYT

THERE was a time not long ago when Gregg L. Engles was considered a genius in the dairy industry, a shrewd C.E.O. who had cobbled together a string of local businesses to create the nation’s largest milk bottler, Dean Foods.

Dean’s Web site described Mr. Engles as the primary architect of dairy consolidation, the often painful and perhaps inevitable shift to fewer, larger farms and bottling plants. His company’s soaring share price made him a Wall Street star.

In fawning profiles in the business press, dairy clichés flew: Mr. Engles was “cream of the crop,” “head of the herd” and “milkman to the nation.”

These days, however, as he prepares to step aside as chief executive of Dean Foods, Mr. Engles, 55, is perhaps better known for his paychecks, which continued to be hugely generous even as his company’s fortunes tumbled.

The Motley Fool noted in March that he had averaged $20.4 million in compensation over the previous six years, while Dean’s stock fell 11 percent a year, on average. Forbes ranked him among its Worst Bosses for the Buck in 2011.

Wall Street soured on the nation’s milkman.

A long-running antitrust lawsuit in a federal courthouse in Greeneville, Tenn., offered one possible explanation for his early success, by contending he engaged in a conspiracy more than a decade ago that helped expedite dairy industry consolidation and make himself a bundle.

Filed by a group of dairy farmers in 2007, the lawsuit said Mr. Engles cut a deal with the head of the nation’s largest dairy cooperative, the Dairy Farmers of America, to eliminate competition in the Southeast. Another lawsuit was filed in Vermont in 2009, involving allegations of a similar scheme in the Northeast. Dean Foods, whose brands include Garelick Farms, Land O Lakes and Horizon Organic, has settled both lawsuits, without admitting wrongdoing; the suits continue against the D.F.A.

By normal rhythms of the industry, Mr. Engles and Gary Hanman, 78, a former chief executive of the D.F.A., would be financial adversaries. That’s because bottlers try to buy raw milk as cheaply as possible. Many farmers joined cooperatives in the hope they could leverage their numbers for higher prices.

But according to the lawsuit, the deal that Mr. Engles made with Mr. Hanman went against normal economics. Mr. Engles promised that the D.F.A. would be the exclusive supplier to Dean’s milk plants. The D.F.A., in turn, promised a reliable supply of Dean’s main ingredient, raw milk, at the lowest prices, plus rebates and credits so Dean could acquire more milk plants, the suit says.

It all resulted in a small group of men making enormous sums of money, according to files in the Southeast lawsuit that recently became public. One business partner of Mr. Hanman was paid $100 million by Dean’s predecessor and the D.F.A. for his stake in milk plants; the partner had paid $6.9 million for it two years earlier. A business partner of Mr. Engles was paid more than $80 million for his investment in milk plants; that partner had paid little more than $5 million.

Mr. Hanman was paid $31.6 million during his seven-year tenure as chief executive, including bonuses for increasing the cooperative’s market share, according to court records.

As for Mr. Engles, his compensation over the last decade comes to $156 million, according to Equilar, a firm that tracks executive pay.

Dairy farmers say they didn’t share in the riches. Instead, they say that they were paid suppressed prices for raw milk, and that the fallout continues. They are seeking more than $1 billion, including penalties, in the Southeast; the damage estimate for Northeast farmers remains under seal.

Dr. Sam Galphin, a North Carolina dairy farmer and veterinarian, said the Dean-D.F.A. pact was devastating to dairy farmers in the Southeast, cutting into incomes and ultimately forcing some out of the business.  He said he continues to get suppressed prices for raw milk because there are few if any options for farmers, and he expects to lose $100,000 on his dairy farm this year.

“Even today there is no competition in this market,” he said. “Half of the people who were in business when the lawsuit was filed are now out of business.”

Through a Dean spokeswoman, Mr. Engles declined to comment for this article. Dean settled the suit with the Southeast farmers for $140 million in July, and settled with the Northeast farmers a year earlier, for $30 million, In both cases, it admitted no wrongdoing.

“We continue to be confident that we operated appropriately in our raw milk procurement,” a Dean Foods statement said. “We settled these cases to avoid the expense, uncertainty and distraction of litigation and the possibility of a lengthy appeals process.”

Mr. Engles is stepping down as C.E.O. in coming weeks, though he will remain chairman. On Friday, Dean had an initial public offering of its WhiteWave-Alpro unit, which includes the Silk and Horizon Organic brands; Mr. Engles will be C.E.O. of the new company.

Mr. Hanman referred questions to his lawyer, who declined to comment. A trial in the Southeast case against the D.F.A. is scheduled to begin in January; the Northeast case against the cooperative has not reached a trial stage.

Richard P. Smith, the D.F.A.’s current president and chief executive, disputed the notion that the pact between Dean and the D.F.A. was a conspiracy that suppressed prices for farmers. Instead, he characterized it as a business decision that didn’t always work out the way the cooperative had hoped.

He maintained that the D.F.A. was able to charge Dean and other processors higher prices in the Southeast, but that this was often offset by the costs of bringing in additional milk from elsewhere to meet bottlers’ demands.

But Mr. Smith, who succeeded Mr. Hanman in 2006, said the D.F.A. had been “hung up on big rather than best.”

As for the payments to its former business partners, he said: “The premise of a lot of these partnerships was D.F.A. would bring the milk and largely the investments and the partners would bring the expertise and know-how. And if all things worked out, it would be a win-win.

“Obviously when you look at some of the facts, some of it looks skewed, there is no doubt.”

The Justice Department conducted a 26-month antitrust investigation into the dairy industry during President George W. Bush’s second term and recommended that enforcement action be taken against Dean Foods and the D.F.A., but no charges were filed, according to state and federal officials.

GREGG ENGLES stumbled into the dairy business, though he seemed destined to consolidate something.

According to several published profiles, he was born in Durant, Okla., and raised primarily in Denver. His father was a doctor.

His early résumé is impressive: Dartmouth College, Yale Law School, law clerk for Anthony M. Kennedy, who was then a judge on the United States Court of Appeals. Mr. Engles was admitted to the bar in Colorado and Texas.

But working for a law firm didn’t interest him. Young lawyers he knew were making money but seemed bored with their jobs. By contrast, several entrepreneurs “impressed him as being fully engaged in their work,” according to a 2002 article in Chief Legal Officer, a publication that is now defunct.

“Many lawyers let knowledge of risk paralyze them,” Mr. Engles was quoted as saying. “They focus exclusively on risk, while entrepreneurs focus primarily on opportunity.”

After unsuccessful ventures, Mr. Engles and a partner paid $22 million, most of it borrowed, for Reddy Ice, a packaged-ice company. Mr. Engles then set about consolidating the packaged-ice business, tripling his company’s size in seven years through acquisitions, according to a Forbes article in 2000.

During a golf game, Cletes Beshears, who was known as Tex and had run the dairy business of the Southland Corporation, then the parent of 7-Eleven, suggested that Mr. Engles could do the same in the dairy business.

“By the time we had made the turn,” Mr. Engles told The Dallas Morning News in 1999, “Tex and I had become partners in the dairy business.”

Their first in a series of acquisitions was a $100 million leveraged buyout of Suiza Dairy in Puerto Rico. Suiza went public in 1996 and, four years later, after 40 acquisitions, was the nation’s biggest dairy processor. But Mr. Engles wasn’t finished. He set his sights on his biggest rival, Dean Foods.

If Mr. Engles stumbled into the milk business, his ally in the Dean acquisition, Mr. Hanman, seemed destined to run a dairy cooperative.

He grew up on a livestock farm in north central Missouri, married his high school sweetheart and earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from the University of Missouri, according to the Cooperative Hall of Fame. He also earned a master’s in dairy marketing.

After a lengthy stint in the milk marketing office of the Agriculture Department, he began working for dairy cooperatives in 1964. Described as whip-smart and politically savvy, with a folksy demeanor that made him popular with farmers — he wore bright red suspenders with “Dairy Farmers of America” down the front — he rose quickly through the ranks.

But the ascent wasn’t without controversy. He was questioned, but not charged, in an investigation into accusations that the Nixon administration bolstered milk price supports after the dairy industry pledged $2 million in campaign contributions. In 1988, he was suspended from trading for two months on the National Cheese Exchange in Wisconsin for bragging to members about boosting the price of cheese. And in 2008, the D.F.A., Mr. Hanman and a colleague paid a $12 million fine to settle charges that they had tried to manipulate milk futures.

Like Mr. Engles, Mr. Hanman was a proponent of consolidation. The D.F.A. was created in 1998 through the merger of four smaller cooperatives, one of which was overseen by Mr. Hanman.

And, like Mr. Engles, Mr. Hanman went against the time-honored practices of his trade. For instance, instead of squabbling with bottling companies over price, he sought joint ventures with them. Such arrangements gave members “greater market security and an opportunity to capture income from the retail market,” he was quoted as saying in a 2000 academic article published in the International Food and Agribusiness Management Review.

One joint venture was Suiza Foods. The D.F.A. owned a third of Suiza’s dairy division and provided Suiza’s plants with raw milk. “The Suiza relationship reflects a major strategy change compared to the traditional role of a full-service milk cooperative,” the academic paper said.

The lawsuits take another view, contending that it was the beginning of a relationship that ultimately increased the power — and paychecks — of a small group of executives at the expense of unwitting dairy farmers.

“I ENJOYED our meeting on Friday, and came away more convinced than ever that we share common interests in the evolution of the dairy industry, and that we can do an enormous amount of business together,” Mr. Engles wrote in a 1997 letter to Mr. Hanman that is part of the court file.

As part of Suiza’s deal with Mr. Hanman, Mr. Engles agreed to provide exclusive supply agreements to the D.F.A. The deal gave the cooperative an outlet for its farmers’ milk, but also forced farmers to sign up with the cooperative if they wanted to continue selling to Suiza plants. The cooperative, in turn, agreed to use credits and rebates to help Suiza expand, and it turned over its share of milk bottling plants to Suiza.

Such deals worked out very well for the cooperative’s partners in the milk plants. For instance, Pete Schenkel, a business associate of Mr. Hanman, was paid $100 million in 2000 for his share of Southern Foods, a dairy processor, by the cooperative and Suiza.

Allen Meyer, Mr. Schenkel’s partner at Southern Foods, turned a $70 million profit on one bottling venture with the cooperative, and Robert Allen, a veteran dairy executive, made $22 million on his two-year investment in bottling plants with the cooperative.

On their investments in bottling plants with the D.F.A., Mr. Beshears made more than $80 million and Tracy Noll, who had worked with him in the dairy side of the Southland Corporation, made more than $26 million, court records show.

As Mr. Engles claimed a greater and greater portion of the dairy processing industry, he told The Dallas Morning News in 1999 that he hoped to achieve a market share of 30 percent to 40 percent in three or four years.

In fact, it took him just two years. He worked out the deal to buy Dean Foods on a hunting trip in South Dakota with Mr. Hanman and Mr. Schenkel, among others, court records show.

The merged entity kept the Dean Foods name and worked out an arrangement with D.F.A. that expanded their relationship and their control over dairy farming and milk processing, particularly in the nation’s eastern third.<
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