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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1084710 times)
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« Reply #2850 on: Oct 30, 2012, 07:22 AM »

October 29, 2012

In Turkey, a Break From the Past Plays Out in the Streets


ISTANBUL — At a reception on Monday evening at the president’s mansion to celebrate Turkey’s founding 89 years ago, something previously unheard of occurred: the country’s top military commander stood alongside the wives of the president and prime minister, even while the women wore Islamic headscarves.

In years past the military elite would never have stood beside women wearing a symbol long at the center of Turkey’s struggle over the role of religion in public life. These men were heirs to the traditions of Turkey’s secularist founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who zealously banished religion from public life. They had for years refused to attend such gatherings — in protest of the headscarf.

For many Turks, the reception underscored an emphatic break from a past when civilian leaders were subservient to the military, and Islam was filtered from public life.

“The Turkish Army is now withdrawing from politics,” said Taha Akyol , a columnist for Hurriyet, a Turkish daily newspaper.

At a time when Turkey’s prosperity and its melding of democratic and Islamic values are being put forward as a model for an Arab world in turmoil, the country is facing its own internal power struggles — between Islamists and secularists, civilian leaders and military commanders. The outcome could not only determine the future of Turkey but, as it takes on a greater role in the affairs of the Middle East, also shape the region.

While many praise the diminished power of the military, critics say these struggles have also laid bare the deficiencies of Turkey’s democracy, pointing in particular to the Islamist-leaning government’s crackdown on dissent and the press — there are more journalists in jail here than anywhere else in the world. That has given rise to a chorus of frustration that was on vivid display in the streets Monday as Turkey celebrated its birthday.

In Ankara, the capital, thousands of secularist protesters clashed with the riot police after they went ahead with a rally to celebrate Republic Day, the holiday marking Turkey’s founding as a republic in 1923, that had been banned by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, vaguely citing intelligence reports that the gathering could become violent.

“It is telling for the state of democracy when the right to celebrate the national holiday in one’s own peaceful way is strained,” wrote Yavuz Baydar, a columnist, in Monday’s edition of the daily newspaper Today’s Zaman.

Among the many changes brought about by the government of Mr. Erdogan, a pious Muslim whose rule has transformed Turkey’s economy but alienated the secular old guard, has been to decisively establish civilian control over a military that four times in the past 89 years has acted above the law to remove elected governments. In late September more than 300 military officers received prison sentences for conspiring to overthrow the government, in a trial known as the Sledgehammer case. The proceedings deeply polarized Turkish society, raised questions about the independence of the judiciary and seemed at times to rely on fabricated evidence. But the case represented a turning point in Turkish history by diminishing the power of the military, for decades the enforcers of secularism.

“The era of coups in this country will never return,” Mr. Erdogan said in a recent speech.

One news report, in anticipation of Monday evening’s reception, declared, “This symbolic act will mark the beginning of a new era in civilian-military relations in Turkey.”

The symbolism of the reception, as well as the Republic Day rallies in Ankara and Istanbul to protest what many secularists view as the increasing authoritarianism of Mr. Erdogan, underscored Turkey’s deep divides and the threat they see to secularism. Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party has roots in political Islam and close connections with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

In 2007 Turkey’s military sought to halt Abdullah Gul’s rise to the presidency because his wife, like Mr. Erdogan’s, wears a headscarf. And initially Turkey’s first lady, Hayrunnisa Gul, avoided attending certain public events in deference to the military’s sensitivities. At the reception Monday night, Mr. Erdogan alluded to that past by saying, in remarks reported by the NTV television network, “Shame on the people who did not let me in here with Mrs. Emine Erdogan until today.”

Turkey seems increasingly caught between its secularist past and an unknown future. It is undergoing a wrenching process of writing a new constitution to replace the one that was imposed by the military after a coup in 1980, which could result in a new system that enlarges the powers of the presidency, now mostly a ceremonial post. Mr. Erdogan plans to run for president in two years.

On Monday, several hundred people waving flags bearing Ataturk’s picture gathered on Istiklal Street, a pedestrian thoroughfare lined with shops and cafes that is the center of Istanbul’s vibrant nightlife and where the few covered women are more likely to wear Burberry headscarves than the full face veils common in places like Saudi Arabia.

“Turkey is secular and will remain secular!” was one chant.

“We are the soldiers for Mustafa Kemal!” was another.

Nilgun Tekir, a nurse, joined the rally with her husband and 4-year-old son, whom she pushed in a stroller. “We don’t want a fundamentalist regime like in Iran,” she said.

Murat Kucuk, 30, a restaurant owner, wore a black T-shirt bearing Ataturk’s visage while walking in the procession. “This is a counterrevolutionm” Mr. Kucuk said. “Today is Turkey’s biggest day. It’s our heritage from Mustafa Kemal.”

These tensions are more often displayed among the urban elite in places like Istanbul than among the more conservative masses of the Anatolian heartland where Mr. Erdogan draws much of his support. Such public displays can appear in unlikely places, as they did Sunday night after Serena Williams defeated Maria Sharapova in a tennis match here. During the award ceremony, politician after politician was booed loudly, even during a speech by one of Mr. Erdogan’s ministers, Fatma Sahin, promising to bring the 2020 Summer Olympics to Istanbul.

Afterward, on her Twitter account, Ms. Sahin wrote, “I invite those who do not understand the effort shown here, do not see the beauty in this championship, to grasp the place Turkey has reached. It is their duty to their country to appreciate what has been done here.”

Yesim Erdem contributed reporting.

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« Reply #2851 on: Oct 30, 2012, 07:24 AM »

10/29/2012 06:13 PM

'We Wanted to Wake Up Croatia': Commission Says Zagreb Must Improve before Joining EU

Croatia must do its homework before it can join the European Union next summer as planned, says European Enlargement Minister Stefan Füle. He told SPIEGEL that the progress report released this month was an effort to "wake up" Zagreb, and emphasized that the accession process can be stopped any time.

Croatia has some powerful backers when it comes to its ambition to become the latest country to join the European Union next year. Following a meeting on Monday morning between Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican released a statement reading: "The Holy See reiterated its support for Croatia's legitimate aspirations to full European integration."

The papal support is not strictly necessary; few harbor serious doubts that Croatia will become the 28th member of the EU in the near future. Still, criticism of the country's progress towards fulfilling a number of accession requirements has been widespread this month after the European Commission released its monitoring report on Oct. 10. And the sharper tone, European Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle tells SPIEGEL in the magazine's latest issue, published on Monday, is largely what he had in mind.

"We wanted to wake up Croatia with our last report," he said. "Croatia has to do its homework in the areas of competition, the judiciary and fundamental rights."

Germany has led the charge in recent weeks when it comes to openly doubting whether Zagreb is indeed ready for membership. Most prominently, Norbert Lammert, president of German parliament and a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has voiced skepticism.

"The examples of Romania and Bulgaria show that the expectation that problems are easier to solve once accession to the EU has been completed does not work in practice," he told SPIEGEL last week. "We can't make the same mistake twice." Several other German politicians have voiced similar concerns.

No More Exceptions

Füle confirmed to SPIEGEL that the problems run into by the two Balkan countries have led to a new approach to enlargement. "Following the accession of (Romania and Bulgaria), we introduced a new surveillance mechanism to ensure that a country will be able to live up to its European responsibilities in all areas from the moment it joins."

Both Romania and Bulgaria have been having difficulty stamping out corruption and living up to other EU requirements. Romania in particular has made headlines in recent months due to an ongoing feud between its prime minister and president, a dispute that at times has led Bucharest to disregard basic democratic principles.

"There will no longer be rule exceptions as was the case for Bulgaria and Romania," Füle said. He emphasized that EU member states are directly involved in the accession process, adding that "if there are any requirements that a candidate doesn't fulfil, EU states can slow down the process or stop it altogether at any time."

The monitoring report released this month found shortcomings in several areas including food safety, agricultural and rural development and the environment. Accelerating privatization and making improvements to the judiciary were also among the trouble spots singled out in the report.

Füle says he believes that Zagreb remains on track for accession next summer, though. "I am confident that the country will (make the necessary improvements) on time," he told SPIEGEL.

With reporting by Christoph Schult
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« Reply #2852 on: Oct 30, 2012, 07:26 AM »

October 29, 2012

Greece Moves Quickly to Put Editor on Trial


ATHENS — Prosecutors on Monday set a fast-track trial date for the investigative journalist arrested last weekend after publishing a politically sensitive list of Greeks said to have Swiss bank accounts.

The snowballing case has raised questions about press freedom and Greece’s willingness to crack down on tax evasion.

Prosecutors said that Kostas Vaxevanis, the editor of Hot Doc magazine, would be tried Thursday in Athens on charges of interfering with sensitive personal data in a one-hearing procedure that is routine in Greece for misdemeanors. If found guilty, he could face a minimum prison term of one year and a fine of around €30,000, or about $39,000, one of his lawyers said.

Since his arrest on Sunday and release that same day, Mr. Vaxevanis has become a popular symbol as a crusader against a corrupt system, one in which the political class is seen as protecting the interests of the business elite at the expense of ordinary Greeks who are suffering from years of austerity.

The case has also prompted a debate about whether a journalist has the right to defend freedom of the press at the expense of personal privacy.

On Saturday, Hot Doc published a list of 2,059 Greeks said to have accounts in the Geneva branch of HSBC. The magazine said the list matched the one that Christine Lagarde, as French finance minister, gave her Greek counterpart in 2010 to help Greece track down tax evaders. Ms. Lagarde is now the managing director of the International Monetary Fund.

Many Greeks saw Mr. Vaxevanis’s swift arrest as a sharp contrast to the normally slow wheels of Greek justice — and particularly hasty, given the state’s reluctance to investigate the list for the past two years. In testimony before a parliamentary committee in recent weeks, two former Greek finance ministers and the financial crimes authorities have offered wildly contradictory accounts of when they received the list and whether they had acted on it.

One former finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, said that he had “lost” the list, and his successor, Evangelos Venizelos, the leader of the Socialists, also said the list had gone missing.

At a time when Greeks have faced tax increases and wage cuts, their statements raised popular anger at the Greek political establishment. In a country where few political figures have ever received jail terms after being convicted in high-level corruption scandals, analysts said that Mr. Vaxevanis’s arrest did not reflect well on the country.

The arrest was “a major political mistake,” said Aristides N. Hatzis, a professor of philosophy of law at Athens University. “It’s a mistake that’s going to have repercussions not only for the Greek government, but also for the Greek political system.”

Hot Doc published the names and occupations of more than 2,000 Greeks with accounts at HSBC, including a former culture minister and others including doctors, lawyers and individuals identified as “housewives.” But the list did not indicate how much money they had in the accounts. The magazine, as well as the Greek Finance Ministry, noted that having a Swiss bank account was not proof of tax evasion.

Legal experts differed over whether the district attorney had to press charges on Mr. Vaxevanis. Some said that he might have violated laws protecting sensitive personal data or the secrecy of judicial investigations. Some critics accused him of releasing people’s personal data simply to spur sales of his magazine.

A lawyer for Mr. Vaxevanis, Harris Ikonomopoulos, said his client was acting in the public interest and had not violated personal data protections in publishing a list that Greek government officials had obtained from the French Finance Ministry.

“The development that made the publication of the list necessary was a huge failure of the authorities to do anything in the past two years and the fact that every government and judiciary authority we know of was allegedly looking for it,” Mr. Ikonomopoulos said.

Mr. Vaxevanis wrote that he obtained a copy of the list from a person who had been given the original. Publishing it means it can be compared to the ones that the two former finance ministers, Mr. Papaconstantinou and Mr. Venizelos, gave to prosecutors in recent weeks, Mr. Ikonomopoulos said. “If it’s not the same,” he said, “one of them has been tampered with.”

Many Greeks saw the quick arrest of Mr. Vaxevanis in sharp contrast to the case of a member of Parliament from the extremist Golden Dawn party, who was not apprehended within 48 hours after an arrest warrant was issued in June on assault charges for punching a Communist member of Parliament and throwing water at another leftist member of Parliament on live television. After the 48-hour threshold, the man turned himself in, which allowed for a trial at a more measured pace, rather than the fast-track process that awaits Mr. Vaxevanis.

“It is not Hot Doc that is on trial but freedom of the press in Greece and the truth,” Mr. Vaxevanis said on Twitter.

Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting.
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« Reply #2853 on: Oct 30, 2012, 07:31 AM »

Bank of England official: Occupy movement right about global recession

By Phillip Inman, The Guardian
Monday, October 29, 2012 18:30 EDT

The Occupy Movement has found an unlikely ally in a senior Bank of England official, Andrew Haldane, who has praised protesters for their role in triggering an overhaul of the financial services sector.

Haldane, who oversees the City for the central bank, said Occupy acted as a lever on policymakers despite criticism that its aims were too vague. He said the protest movement was right to focus on inequality as the chief reason for the 2008 crash, following studies that showed the accumulation of huge wealth funded by debt was directly responsible for the domino-like collapse of the banking sector in 2008.

Speaking at a debate held by the Occupy Movement in central London, Haldane said regulations limiting credit use would undermine attempts by individuals to accumulate huge property and financial wealth at the expense of other members of society. Allowing banks to lend on a massive scale also drained funding from other industries, adding to the negative impact that unregulated banks had on the economy, he said.

The hard-hitting speech is unlikely to find a warm welcome in the Square Mile, which is keen for bank lending to recover to its heady pre-crisis levels and bring accompanying profits and commissions. Lending to individuals and corporations in the UK has fallen to a fraction of the levels seen in 2007 when few banks checked the income status of individual borrowers or the risks being taken by corporate customers before offering a loan. The Bank of England will impose stricter lending rules on banks next year when it takes over regulation of the industry from the Financial Services Authority.

Haldane said Occupy’s voice had been “loud and persuasive” and that “policymakers have listened and are acting in ways which will close those fault-lines” with a “reformation of finance that Occupy has helped stir”. He said inequality was fuelled by bank lending for speculation on property and other assets that enriched some in society at the expense of others.

“The asset-rich, in particular the owner-occupying rich, became a lot richer. Meanwhile, the asset-less and indebted fell further behind. In other words, the pre-crisis asset price bubble acted like a regressive tax,” he said. © Guardian News and Media 2012
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« Reply #2854 on: Oct 30, 2012, 07:33 AM »

October 29, 2012

Behind the Inscrutable Mien, Clues to Merkel’s Methods


CHISINAU, Moldova — On a blazing afternoon, as the euro crisis was surging back from summer vacation, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany descended on this impoverished sliver of a nation in her continuing quest to expand the European family. Folk costumes, children proffering roses and an honor guard figured in a welcome that evoked faded Communist pomp and still more distant Hapsburg glory. In a land that the chancellor acknowledged had once suffered “the dictatorship of Nazi Germany,” the scene unfurled before a mighty Airbus with “Luftwaffe” emblazoned on its tail.

But this afternoon it was 21st-century Germany, Ms. Merkel’s Germany, that was coming to call. The greeting was emblematic of how the 58-year-old chancellor, who entered politics in 1990, has become the most powerful German woman since Catherine the Great ruled Russia, and the European leader seen by aides as most dedicated to forging a future for her old Continent in a new, globally connected world.

If Ms. Merkel, who is routinely depicted as dour but in person often conveys a mischievous wit, found irony in Moldova, she kept it to herself.

But she no doubt recognized echoes of her own youth in Communist East Germany, where a culture of keeping silent and a long reign of mediocrity led inexorably to its decline.

Her critics dismiss Ms. Merkel as overly pragmatic rather than visionary, ever mindful of her need to keep German voters on her side as she enters an election year. But if she seems opaque even to her allies, hints of her approach to Europe’s economic crisis are sprinkled in a life that includes firsthand experience of how a failure of vision can undo a nation. They are also seen in her embrace of the values of thrift instilled in her small-town upbringing with her father, a Lutheran pastor, and her training as a physicist.

With a scientist’s mind, Ms. Merkel is keenly conscious that Europe is aging and will not stay competitive — and thus credible — unless it overcomes its financial and monetary disorder. In her evolving view, the solution is what she calls “more Europe” — a catchphrase that masks a deep lack of agreement among the Continent’s bickering nations on what their common future could be.

The Moldova trip in August fit neatly with an approach to governing that is easily misread as Ms. Merkel lavishes attention on even seemingly peripheral matters in pursuit of larger goals.

Ms. Merkel, who was accompanied by a business delegation, knows that Germany, an exporter, depends on developing new European strengths as the Continent’s traditional standing wanes. The European Union, she is fond of noting, comprises only 8 to 9 percent of the world’s population of seven billion; for now, Europe still accounts for 25 percent of gross domestic product globally, but a staggering 50 percent of social spending.

“If we don’t pay attention to what is going on,” she told bankers, lawyers and thinkers invited by Deutsche Bank last month to discuss Germany’s future, “then we will not be able to keep our standard of living.”

She does not shrink from conclusions that might spook other politicians. “Are you sure,” she asked in the same speech, “that in 20 years’ time we will have an auto industry? Or that BASF will remain the biggest chemical concern?” Noting that Germany does not control the narrative in financial markets, where influential media and ratings agencies are overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon, she urged listeners to imagine a future very soon in which German children are all fluent in English and familiar with Chinese culture.

In her political career, this willingness to challenge convention has helped Ms. Merkel, the head of the Christian Democrats, break ideological molds. As a scientist, she has “no barriers on her thinking,” said Wolfgang Nowak, a former senior adviser to her Social Democratic predecessor, Gerhard Schröder.

Evelyn Roll, a journalist who early on spotted Ms. Merkel’s political potential and has spent many hours with her, writing a 2001 biography, credits Ms. Merkel’s scientific mind for much of her unlikely success: in a conservative country, a childless Lutheran divorcee raised in the East became the first female chancellor in 2005 as leader of a party run largely by traditional family men from Roman Catholic strongholds of West Germany.

Most of those men are lawyers. For them, Ms. Roll said in an interview, there is right and there is wrong; if a lawyer loses an argument, he fails. Ms. Merkel, by contrast, views a loss like a scientist — a discovery that shows what will not work.

“She thinks backwards from the end result,” Ms. Roll said. Conflict is akin to a mathematical challenge — how to corral both extremes of opinion into the same tent? The chancellor’s caution, which her critics contend has hindered fast progress in easing or ending the euro crisis, stems from this approach, in which a course is set only once she considers it certain to succeed.

In conversation, or during a speech, Ms. Merkel is above all alert, looking around, taking in all present. When she lacks an immediate answer, or is weighing words especially carefully, her eyes rise, searching for the right formulation as a pupil might scan her memory for an exam answer. Often, too, a smile dances across an enigmatic face.

Ms. Roll has recounted how Ms. Merkel, when she was 14 just after the Prague Spring reforms had been crushed in 1968, began telling her class about her summer vacation in Czechoslovakia. The teacher grew agitated; the future chancellor quickly adopted a poker face.

Listening, Ms. Roll wrote, she understood the origins of Ms. Merkel’s famously unreadable expression. “Yes,” Ms. Merkel said, “it is a great advantage from the time in East Germany that one learned to keep quiet. That was one of the strategies for survival. As it is today.”

Ms. Merkel spent her formative years in Templin, a medieval town of about 17,000 about 50 miles north of Berlin in a lake-dotted region known as the Uckermark. Just off the central square, in a timbered building that houses the local Sparkasse savings bank, the beams bear carved mottos that Greeks and Spaniards now fear ring loud in Ms. Merkel’s ears. “The saver of today is the winner of tomorrow,” reads one. “It is not what you earn, but what you save, that makes you independent,” says another.

Only people who lived through the dissolution of the Soviet system and then labored to rebuild their lives can understand how shattering an experience it was.

Ms. Merkel has recalled East Germany as a place where no one was pushed to excel. As a star student who graduated from Leipzig University with a degree in physics, then earned a doctorate and knuckled down in a prestigious if obscure laboratory in East Berlin, she apparently never lost sight of the need to lift her head above that mediocrity, just as East Berliners used to climb high buildings to glimpse the West.

Since the Berlin Wall came down, she and her country have traveled far.

Her critics cite Ms. Merkel’s hesitation and a general European lack of nerve as obstacles. But given the nature of Germany’s federal system, which disperses power, the chancellor has more explaining to do to her party, her coalition and her Parliament than, say, any French president. And she has often succeeded while being underestimated.

While critics see a tendency to turn against mentors and allies, none of a dozen or so people interviewed had a clear answer to why Ms. Merkel entered politics, reached for the top or works so hard to stay there.

“I think she just grew into it,” Ms. Roll said. Career women of Ms. Merkel’s generation, she asserted, do not plan their ascent. — “they just pass the test at each step” along the way.

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« Reply #2855 on: Oct 30, 2012, 07:47 AM »

In the USA...

10/30/2012 10:31 AM

Hurricane Sandy Strikes: New York's Night of Fear and Chaos

By Marc Pitzke in New York

Hurricane Sandy has turned New York and surrounding cities into a disaster zone. Manhattan is without power and large parts of the island are flooded. Transformer stations have exploded, cars are floating down Wall Street, and at least 16 people have been killed.

The chaos comes in bursts. First the water. Then the wind and flying trees. Then more water, drifting cars, flooded subway tunnels. Collapsing building facades. And then, at 8:30 p.m. local time, there's a fiery explosion on the East Side -- and half of Manhattan is suddenly plunged into darkness.

The lights go out in almost all buildings south of 39th Street, in skyscrapers and apartment blocks. Only the Empire State Building, the headquarters of Goldman Sachs and a few buildings in Battery Park City continue to gleam weakly. Apart from that, the famous skyline is just a shadowy outline against the storm-ravaged sky.

Even the torch of the Statue of Liberty, the eternal light of the city and the entire nation, went out half an hour before, behind the dense fog.

It is a strange, dramatic image, well visible from the far shore in Brooklyn and symbolic of this storm night of the century. At around 8 p.m., hurricane Sandy had rammed the US coast some 125 miles (200 kilomters) away, flooding the gambling paradise of Atlantic City. Then it hit the 8-million metropolis of New York with full force.

"You need to stay where you are," Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who has long since ditched his jacket and tie, warns New Yorkers late on Monday night.

Large Parts of the Financial District Under Water

At first everything still looks relatively harmless. Manhattan holds its breath: stores, theaters, offices and stock markets are shut, the subway, local and long-distance public transport have been stopped, all tunnels and eventually all bridges closed. The island has cut itself off from the rest of the world, as if to say: "Come on Sandy, we can handle you."

On Monday afternoon, many people where still walking around the city, filming themselves being buffeted by the strong winds and watching the tide rise along the shores. Members of a tour group from the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo took photos of each other on deserted Lexington Avenue. A woman from California standing near them called out: "Oh please, take a picture of me too!"

But the fun soon stopped and Sandy turned deadly serious. A crane on the construction site of a luxury skyscraper on West 57th Street suddenly snapped in half and bent over like a straw. For hours, the arm weighing tons dangled close to a 1,000 feet (300 meters) above the street just across from Carnegie Hall.

Later, the flood walls in Lower Manhattan give way. Soon large parts of the financial district are under water, cars seem to swim across Wall Street. TV reports measure a water level of 14 feet in Battery Park and rising, eclipsing the previous record set by hurricane "Donna" in 1960 by three feet.

Emergency Services Swamped

Almost the entire façade of a house in Chelsea collapses. The front of the old, four-storey brick building on Eighth Avenue, which has a fast-food restaurant in its ground floor, simply vanishes in a wet cloud of dust, leaving behind open apartments. It looks like a giant doll's house.

The first deaths are reported. A 29-year-old man in Queens is killed when a tree crashes into his house. Another man, also in Queens, is killed by an electric shock. By Tuesday morning, at least 16 are reported dead as a result of the hurricane in the United States and Canada. New York's 911 emergency services are so overstretched that calls go unanswered. Some 10,000 calls go in every half hour -- that's 10 times the usual number received in a day.

Suddenly bad news comes flooding in from all over the city. East Village is under water. Floods in Peter Cooper Village. 22nd and 27th Street: "Completely flooded." It's the same in Hell's Kitchen, Tribeca, the Upper West Side, Upper East Side, the banks at Brooklyn, then the airports Kennedy and La Guardia. The lobby of the Daily News newspaper's editorial office is flooded with more than three feet of water. TV channels broadcast footage without commentary showing the flooded Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, a main traffic route between Manhattan and Brooklyn. At least seven subway tunnels are under water, especially the ones under the East River. Metropolitan Transport Authority Chairman Joseph Lhoto releases a statement saying MTA has "never faced a disaster as devastating" and says there is "no firm timeline" for when New York City's public transportation system will be up and running again.

Manhattan seems to be sinking.

The water comes -- the power goes out. First the ConEd power company switches off electricity supplies as a precaution. Then the transformer stations cut out. At the East River the big station at the end of 14th Street explodes in a tremendous white flash of fire.

A Disaster and its Heroes

A half-million people in Manhattan alone are without power. The last time that happened here was in August 2003 when a major blackout occurred that paralyzed most of the northeast United States. Flashes of light in the night sky appeared to be caused by explosions in transformer stations.

But the night also had its unexpected stars. They included fire fighters who rescued hundreds from flooding apartments and from rain-drenched rooftops. Then there were the volunteers who helped to evacuate the close to 200 people at the NYU Languone Medical Center, with patients having to get carried down the stairs in the dark. Then there was Mayor Bloomberg's sign-language interpreter, Lydia Calas, whose gestures helped countless people.

The havoc wreaked by Sandy has extended far beyond New York. The disaster has struck large swaths of the East Coast, from Virginia, stretching up through Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey to Connecticut. Power outages are being reported in 11 states and more than 5.2 million people have been hit. "This is the most catastrophic event that we have faced and been able to plan for in any of our lifetimes," Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy said.

In Atlantic City, New Jersey, "Sandy" swept part of the beach boardwalk, a protected national landmark, out to sea. All along the coast, idyllic sites have been transformed into disaster zones overnight, including Long Branch, Sea Bright and Ocean City.

Washington has so far escaped the hurricane unscathed, but faces dangerous flood waters on the Potomac River. The natural disaster has coincided with the final stages of the US presidential election, and both President Barack Obama and his challenger, Republican candidate Mitt Romney, cancelled all campaign events on Tuesday in order to address the disaster unfolding along the East Coast. Romney's team also called on supporters in the hurricane's path to remove yard signs backing the candidate. "In high winds they can be dangerous, and cause damage to homes and property," the official Romney campaign site wrote.

At Newark Airport in New Jersey, a major hub for trans-Atlantic travel, the canopy in front of the Hilton Hotel collapsed. "There was a giant lightning strike and a boom," a German guest of the hotel reported. Around 60 German passengers who had been aboard the German cruise ship Aida Luna and had just returned from a voyage to the Bahamas and Bermuda are staying in the hotel. Power had gone out in the hotel on Monday afternoon, and management distributed glow sticks to guests.


October 30, 2012

Northeast Awakes to Huge Damage in Storm’s Path; Millions Without Power


As Hurricane Sandy churned inland as a downgraded storm, residents up and down the battered mid-Atlantic region woke on Tuesday to lingering waters, darkened homes and the daunting task of cleaning up from once-in-a-generation storm surges and their devastating effects.

Power remained out for roughly six million people, including a large swath of Manhattan. Early risers stepped out into debris-littered streets that remained mostly deserted as dawn shed light on the extent of the damage. Bridges remained closed, and seven subway tunnels under the East River were flooded. Other mass transit service, including commuter rails, was also still suspended.

A wind-tossed construction crane atop one of the tallest buildings in New York City still dangled 80 stories over West 57th Street, across the street from Carnegie Hall, after coming loose during the storm.

The storm was the most destructive in the 108-year history of New York’s subway system, said Joseph J. Lhota, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, in an early morning statement.

“We are assessing the extent of the damage and beginning the process of recovery,” he said, but did not provide a timetable for restoring transit service to a paralyzed city.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey called the damage to his state “incalculable” and said the Jersey Shore had been “devastated.” As he spoke on a series of morning talk shows on Tuesday, rescue teams were rushing to the aid of those stranded in Atlantic City and in areas of Bergen County where he said tidal waters had overwhelmed a protective natural berm.

At least 11 deaths — including 7 in the New York region — were tied to the storm, which toppled trees and sparked fires in several areas, state authorities said. Falling limbs became deadly bludgeons in three of the New York deaths and two in Morris County, N.J., where The Associated Press reported a man and a woman were killed when a tree fell on their car Monday evening.

The storm made landfall at 8 p.m. on Monday. Reclassified as a post-tropical cyclone, it weakened as it passed west across southern Pennsylvania, though it still packed maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center said. It was expected to turn north and head for Canada late on Tuesday.

The storm had picked up speed as it roared over the Atlantic Ocean on Monday, grinding life to a halt for millions of people in more than a half-dozen states, with extensive evacuations that turned shorefront neighborhoods into ghost towns.

Hurricane-force winds extended up to 175 miles from the center of the storm; tropical-storm-force winds spread out 485 miles from the center. Forecasters said tropical-storm-force winds could stretch all the way north to Canada and all the way west to the Great Lakes. Heavy snow was expected in some states.

Businesses and schools were closed, roads were closed, and more than 13,000 airline flights were canceled. Even the Erie Canal was shut down.

Subways were shut down from Boston to Washington, as were Amtrak and the commuter rail lines. Flights were canceled at airports across the East Coast, including the three major airports in the New York City area.

In Breezy Point on the Rockaways in Queens, nearly 200 firefighters were still battling a blaze on Tuesday morning that destroyed at least 50 tightly-packed homes in the beach community. A Fire Department spokesman said the area was “probably the most flooded part of the city, so there are all sorts of complications.”

The surging water also caused extensive complications at NYU Langone Medical Center when a backup power system failed on Monday night, forcing the evacuation of patients to other facilities. Backup power also failed at Coney Island Hospital in southern Brooklyn, though critical patients had been evacuated in advance of the storm.

Fatalities in Several States

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office said late Monday night that at least five deaths in the state were caused by the storm. About 7 p.m., a tree fell on a house in Queens, killing a 30-year-old man, the city police said. About the same time, two boys, ages 11 and 13, were killed in North Salem, in Westchester County, when a tree fell on the house they were in, according to the State Police. The storm was tied to another three deaths in Maryland, two in Connecticut and one in West Virginia, state authorities said.

The wind-driven rain lashed sea walls and protective barriers in places like Atlantic City, where the Boardwalk was damaged as water forced its way inland. Foam was spitting, and the sand gave in to the waves along the beach at Sandy Hook, N.J., at the entrance to New York Harbor. Water was thigh-high on the streets in Sea Bright, N.J., a three-mile sand-sliver of a town where the ocean joined the Shrewsbury River.

“It’s the worst I’ve seen,” said David Arnold, watching the storm from his home in Long Branch, N.J. “The ocean is in the road, there are trees down everywhere. I’ve never seen it this bad.”

As the storm struck the city, waves topped the sea wall in the financial district in Manhattan, sending cars floating down streets. West Street, along the western edge of Lower Manhattan, looked like a river. The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel flooded “from end to end,” the transportation authority said, hours after Mr. Cuomo had ordered it closed to traffic. Officials said water also seeped into seven subway tunnels under the East River.

“In 108 years, our employees have never faced a challenge like the one that confronts us now,” Mr. Lhota, the transit authority chairman, said.

A replica of the H.M.S. Bounty, a tall ship built for the 1962 movie “Mutiny on the Bounty” starring Marlon Brando and used in the recent “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, sank off the North Carolina coast. The Coast Guard said the 180-foot three-masted ship went down near the Outer Banks after being battered by 18-foot-high seas and thrashed by 40 m.p.h. winds. The body of one crew member, Claudene Christian, 42, was recovered. Another crew member remained missing.

Delaware banned cars and trucks from state roadways other than “essential personnel.”

“The most important thing right now is for people to use common sense,” Gov. Jack A. Markell said. “We didn’t want people out on the road going to work and not being able to get home again.”

Extensive Power Failures

By early Monday evening, the storm had knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes, stores and office buildings. Consolidated Edison said that as of 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, 634,000 customers in New York City and Westchester were without power. Con Edison, fearing damage to its electrical equipment, shut down power pre-emptively in sections of Lower Manhattan on Monday evening, and then, at 8:30 p.m., an unplanned failure, probably caused by flooding in substations, knocked out power to most of Manhattan below Midtown, about 250,000 customers. Later, an explosion at a Con Ed substation on East 14th Street knocked out power to another 250,000 customers.

In New Jersey, more than two million customers were without power as of 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, and in Connecticut the total reached nearly 500,000 customers.

President Obama declared a federal disaster area on Tuesday in New York City, Long Island and eight counties in New Jersey.

Forecasters attributed the power of the storm to a convergence of weather systems. As the hurricane swirled north in the Atlantic and then pivoted toward land, a wintry storm was heading toward it from the west, and cold air was blowing south from the Arctic. The hurricane left more than 60 people dead in the Caribbean before it began crawling toward the Northeast.

“The days ahead are going to be very difficult,” Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland said.

Alex Sosnowski, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather, said potentially damaging winds would continue on Tuesday from Illinois to the Carolinas — and as far north as Maine — as the storm barreled toward the eastern Great Lakes.

The storm headed toward land with weather that was episodic: a strong gust of wind one minute, then mist. More wind. Thin sheets of rain dancing down the street. Then, for a moment, nothing. The sky lightened. Then another blast of rain. Then more wind.

In some places, caravans of power-company trucks traveled largely empty roads; Public Service Electric and Gas said that 600 line workers and 526 tree workers had arrived from across the country, but could not start the repairs and cleanup until the wind had subsided, perhaps not until Wednesday.

They will see a landscape that, in many places, was remade by the storm. In Montauk, at the end of Long Island, a 50-seat restaurant broke in half. Half of the building floated away and broke into pieces on the beach.

The 110-foot-tall lighthouse at Montauk Point — the oldest in the state, opened in 1796 — shuddered in the storm despite walls that are six feet thick at the base. The lighthouse keeper, Marge Winski, said she had never felt anything like that in 26 years on the job.

“I went up in the tower and it was vibrating, it was shaking,” Ms. Winski said. “I got out of it real quick. I’ve been here through hurricanes, and nor’easters, but nothing this bad.”


October 29, 2012

Early Voters, and a Hurricane, Change the Rhythm of the Campaign


With more than one in three votes likely to be cast before Election Day this year, Republicans are stepping up their efforts to chip away at what has been a Democratic advantage in early voting in vital battlegrounds like Ohio and North Carolina.

In Ohio, whose 18 electoral votes are at the center of the presidential race, more than a million votes have already been cast, highlighting a change in the political rhythm that has led Republicans to begin to embrace the belief long held by Democrats that early voting can be used to increase turnout, not just to shift votes from one day to another.

“We’re doing well right now, so early voting makes a difference,” Mitt Romney told supporters Monday in Avon Lake, Ohio, reminding the crowd that early votes count the same as those cast on Election Day. “It helps us. It’s, you know, a little extra boost when we need it, so thank you for doing it.”

When President Obama flew home to Chicago last week to cast his ballot, he became one of the millions of Americans who have already voted — a flood of early votes that is reshaping how both campaigns operate.

The early vote gave Mr. Obama his margin of victory in several important states four years ago, and Democrats are trying to maintain that advantage this year by banking as many early votes as they can. But Republicans are trying to dampen any early Democratic edge by making a bigger organizational push than they did in the last election. Hurricane Sandy has introduced more uncertainty into the mix: it forced some early voting sites in North Carolina and Virginia to close on Monday, and the storm could curtail early voting hours in other crucial states.

The every-day-is-Election-Day effects of early voting have transformed modern campaigning, from the Bruce Springsteen concerts the Obama campaign organized this month to mobilize supporters to the polls, to the less glamorous databases that the campaigns keep to track potential early voters as their get-out-the-vote operations have stretched into weeks instead of one frantic day.

Nearly 15 million people have voted so far, according to Michael P. McDonald, an associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University who keeps tabs on early voting. He said that the pace of early voting this year suggested that 35 percent or more of all votes could be cast before Election Day, surpassing the previous record in 2008, when 30 percent voted early. “Both registered Democrats and registered Republicans are voting at clips that are outpacing their 2008 levels,” he said.

Both parties have been spinning cherry-picked statistics to paint their early-vote operations as a success. While the true measure of their success will not be known until all the ballots are cast and counted, a look at who has voted early so far and where they live does give some meaningful indications of how the early vote is going in some of the swing states where the election will be decided.

Democrats appear to have an advantage with early voting in several of them. Iowa Democrats had cast nearly 59,000 more early votes than Iowa Republicans through the end of last week. A state law there allows campaigns to petition election officials to open temporary voting locations, which have popped up in Mexican restaurants, evangelical churches and libraries. When Mr. Obama visited Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, the day after his second debate, a voting site was set up just across campus, with giant chalk-drawn arrows on sidewalks to guide students to cast their ballots. That day 433 people voted, according to Tim Box, the deputy commissioner of elections in Linn County there.

More early votes have been recorded this year in Nevada than were four years ago, and more than 35,000 more early votes have been cast by Nevada Democrats than by Republicans, giving Democrats a 46 percent to 36 percent lead in ballots cast in person by early voters.

But in some states, there are indications that Republicans are narrowing their early vote deficits. In North Carolina, about half of the 1.5 million votes received so far were cast by Democrats, giving them an advantage of nearly 20 percentage points above Republicans. It is a wide margin, but the question is whether it will be wide enough: Mr. Obama won the early vote in North Carolina by an even wider margin four years ago, Professor McDonald noted.

And it was that wide margin that helped Mr. Obama win the state — the early vote propelled him to victory even though he received fewer votes than Senator John McCain on Election Day.

Republicans have an edge in early votes in Colorado, where they have cast nearly 20,000 more than Democrats. Since Republicans in many states are more likely to wait until Election Day, the party’s mission in many places is simply to whittle away at the Democratic advantage in early voting — so that Democrats will have a smaller cushion of votes going into Election Day.

Some Republicans argue that the Democrats are effectively cannibalizing their Election Day turnout, saying that many of their early voters appear to be frequent voters who would vote anyway. “Republicans have been focused on increasing turnout among those Romney supporters who are less likely to vote and banking those votes during the early vote period,” a blog post on the Republican National Committee’s Web site said.

Several states controlled by Republicans cut back early voting hours this year. After officials in Ohio announced plans to eliminate early voting in the days before the election, with an exception for members of the military, the Obama campaign sued. They prevailed in the case, which made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Republican officials in Florida scaled back their early voting hours this year, too, eliminating voting on the Sunday before Election Day, when many black churches conducted “souls to the polls” voting drives.

Some 1.9 million Floridians have already voted. More than half a million people there have gone to the polls since the state began in-person early voting over the weekend, and Democrats cast more than 78,000 more votes than Republicans, according to statistics provided by the state. The first weekend of in-person voting erased the 61,000 vote edge that Republicans had run up with absentee ballots, most of which were mailed in. But in Florida more than 300,000 early and absentee votes were cast by independent voters — whose votes could prove decisive.

In Ohio, party affiliation is difficult to gauge, because the state does not register voters by party; the only indication of party affiliation is which primary they last voted in. The state’s decision to send absentee ballot request forms to all voters this year for the first time led to an increase in requests from rural, traditionally Republican counties, said Professor McDonald, but also in urban counties. In Cuyahoga County, the Democratic stronghold around Cleveland, more early votes have been tallied so far this year than there were four years ago.

Bill Dorsey, 68, a retired teacher in Ohio, cast his ballot for Mr. Obama last week in Franklin County, on the north side of Columbus, in a former Kohl’s department store that closed last year. “If I drop dead before Election Day,” said Mr. Dorsey, “my vote still counts.”


G.O.P. Turns Fire on Obama Pillar, the Auto Bailout

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Published: October 29, 2012   

TOLEDO, Ohio — The ad from Mitt Romney showed up on televisions here early Saturday morning without the usual public announcement that both campaigns typically use to herald their latest commercials: Chrysler, a bailout recipient, is going to begin producing Jeeps in China, an announcer says, leaving the misleading impression that the move would come at the expense of jobs here.

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And so began the latest, and perhaps most important, attempt by Mitt Romney to wrest Ohio into his column. His effort to do so is now intently focused, at times including statements that stretch or ignore the facts, on knocking down what is perhaps the most important component of President Obama’s appeal to blue-collar voters in Ohio and across the industrial Midwest: the success of the president’s 2009 auto bailout. 

Mr. Obama’s relatively strong standing in most polls in Ohio so far has been attributed by members of both parties to the recovery of the auto industry, which has helped the economy here outperform the national economy. At the same time, the industry’s performance and the president’s claim to credit for it appear to have helped Mr. Obama among the white working-class voters Mr. Romney needs.

With the race under most expected circumstances coming down to Ohio, and Ohio potentially coming down to perceptions of how the candidates view the auto industry, Mr. Romney has spent the last few days aggressively trying to undercut Mr. Obama’s auto bailout narrative.

In the past few days his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, has accused Mr. Obama of allowing the bailout to bypass nonunion workers at Delphi, a big auto parts maker with operations in Ohio; Mr. Romney has characterized Mr. Obama’s bailout plan as based on his approach; and Mr. Romney incorrectly told a rally in Defiance, Ohio, late last week outright that Jeep was considering moving its production to China. (Jeep is discussing increasing production in China for sales within China; it is not moving jobs out of Ohio or the United States, or building cars in China for export to the United States.)

It is a high-risk strategy: Jeep’s corporate parent, Chrysler, had already released a scathing statement calling suggestions that Jeep was moving American jobs to China “fantasies” and “extravagant”; news media outlets here and nationally have called the Romney campaign’s statements — initially based on a poorly worded quotation from Chrysler in a news article that was misinterpreted by blogs — misleading.

Mr. Obama’s campaign, seeking to maintain what it sees as its advantage in Ohio, responded on Monday by releasing a commercial calling Mr. Romney’s ad false and reiterating that Mr. Romney had opposed the bailout on the terms supported by Mr. Obama. And on Sunday it dispatched the investment banker who helped develop the bailout, Steven Rattner, here to discuss Jeep’s plans and the auto rescue with local news organizations.

Democrats are hoping that Mr. Romney’s latest move will draw a backlash in a city so dependent on Jeep, which has announced plans to add 1,100 jobs to an assembly plant here that is currently being refitted for the next iteration of what is now called the Jeep Liberty.

Bruce Baumhower, the president of the United Auto Workers local that oversees the major Jeep plant here, said Mr. Romney’s initial comments on moving production to China drew a rash of calls from members concerned about their jobs. When he informed them Chrysler was, in fact, is expanding its Jeep operation here, he said in an interview, “The response has been, ‘That’s pretty pitiful.’ ”

The fight over the auto bailout shows the enduring power of the issue but also its complexities in a campaign that is about both the strength of the economy and the size and role of government.

The auto bailout was one of the first major moves of Mr. Obama’s presidency, and gave Mr. Romney an early chance in opposing it to prove his conservative credentials.

Mr. Romney has portrayed himself as an automobile maven. As he frequently says in his stump speeches, his father was credited with keeping American Motors in business during the 1950s and early 1960s. (The company, it happens, owned Jeep from 1970 to 1987.)

Just as the incoming Obama administration was beginning to contemplate a bailout, Mr. Romney wrote an Op-Ed article in the The New York Times — given the title by the newspaper “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.’’ In the piece Mr. Romney wrote that in the event of a bailout, “You can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye.”

The plan the administration settled on first helped Fiat buy Chrysler and then put both Chrysler and General Motors into managed bankruptcies as part of a program that brought total government assistance for Detroit to almost $80 billion between the Obama and Bush administrations. Coming as the Tea Party was beginning to form, it seemed like risky politics for Democrats being accused of taking big government to an extreme.

At the third and last debate last week in Boca Raton, Fla., Mr. Romney emphasized his position that “these companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy, and in that process they can get government help and government guarantees.”

Mr. Romney has stepped up his offense on the issue since.

So it was that he told those at the exuberant rally on Thursday in Defiance, “I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China.”

Mr. Romney was apparently referring to a Bloomberg News article that said Jeep would return to manufacturing in China that had been misinterpreted by several conservative blogs to mean Jeep was shifting its production to China; the company made clear in a statement that Chrysler was only resuming production in China for Chinese consumers, which it had done for years before halting in 2009 before its sale to Fiat.

Mr. Romney’s ad treads carefully, with an announcer saying Mr. Obama “sold Jeep to the Italians, who are going to build Jeeps in China” and the screen flashing, “Plans to return Jeep output to China.”

Calling it “blatant attempt to create a false impression,” former Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, a Democrat, demanded Mr. Romney take it down on Monday. Stuart Stevens, a senior Romney adviser, disputed that the ad is misleading.

“Right now every Jeep built is built in America by an American and sold to the world,” he said. “Now instead of adding jobs in Toledo, they will be making Jeeps in China by the Chinese and selling them in China.”

Jeep began a joint manufacturing venture in China in 1984 and today makes some vehicles in Egypt and Venezuela. While it does produce cars for Chinese export here now, it has discussed returning some production to China since last year.


October 29, 2012

Farmers Find Path Out of Hardship in Corn Mazes


MILTON, Tenn. — Over the course of a month, Stan Vaught’s two sons will make more money letting people walk through a maze carved from 10 acres of corn than he will raising cattle and soybeans on the other 190 acres of his family’s farmland.

All across the country, small farmers have figured out the same formula. The hundreds of corn mazes that rise up each autumn can be more lucrative than agriculture itself.

“For a lot of people who have these farms with a few hundred acres, it’s an opportunity to make a living and not have to get rid of the farm or not be able to keep it up,” said Mr. Vaught, whose land on a former Civil War battle site in central Tennessee has been in his family for seven generations.

Corn mazes have gotten so popular in the past decade that those who engage in the craft hold annual conventions. Mazes are tricked out with zip lines, live zombie scarecrows and corn cannons, which can shoot an ear of corn across a field. People buy tickets online or pay on hand-held devices, sometimes handing over $20 or more to enjoy a range of countrified entertainment.

It is a perfect pursuit for a culture enjoying a local food diet in a high-tech era.

“Corn mazes are similar to the cultural connections farmers markets and C.S.A.’s are creating between two worlds,” said Kendall Thu, an anthropology professor at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Ill., and editor of the journal Culture & Agriculture. C.S.A.’s are community-supported agriculture programs in which customers buy produce from farmers in advance.

Unlike farmers markets, which have a certain upscale appeal in urban markets, corn mazes are especially popular among the suburban masses longing for a country experience many have only heard about.

The Vaught boys, Jackson, 19, and Chandler, 16, who started building mazes in Milton eight years ago as a way to make some extra money, took in more than $8,000 on a recent Saturday, they said. They usually create a patriotic pattern. This year, the maze is laid out to depict busts of President Obama and Mitt Romney.

The presidential candidates are popular designs at other mazes, too.

“They just crack up when you say you can go through the maze and walk around in their heads and see what’s going on,” said Earl Robinson, who rented six acres next to his garden center in New Carlisle, Ohio, to make a Romney-Obama maze. The enterprise helps him keep his employees on the payroll during the slow season.

People like corn mazes because they like to work puzzles, certainly. And for many, it has become as much a Halloween tradition as carving a pumpkin.

But there is also an unspoken draw to the country that makes thousands of people hand over $8 to wander the Vaught maze, said Jackson Vaught, a freshman at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He is studying politics and economics on a merit scholarship and comes home for the weekends to work the maze.

His friends at college are enthralled that his family actually lives on a farm.

“I have not met another person at school who has grown up on a farm,” said Mr. Vaught, who got called “corn maze boy” in high school.

Chandler Vaught often runs the hayrides that are part of their maze experience. He laughs when he pulls the tractor past the family cows and people make him stop so they can take pictures.

“It’s like they are seeing animals at the zoo,” he said.

The king of the American corn maze industry is Brett Herbst, who runs an elaborate maze in Lehi, Utah. But he makes most of his money helping other people build corn mazes.

He designed and helped cut more than 266 corn mazes this year — a record for him. He’s put mazes on fields in Poland, Canada and England, but they seem to be a most American phenomenon, he said.

His first was on some rented land in Utah in 1996, when he was fresh out of agricultural business school and no idea how to make a living. He read about one in Pennsylvania while he was flipping through a farming magazine.

Mr. Herbst and his business partners grew the corn to its full size, then hacked out a path with a Weedwacker equipped with a saw blade. It was stupid, hot work.

They wised up. Now, computer-generated patterns are staked out when the corn is small enough to mow or till under. Or, as is the case in Milton, doused with a chemical that kills the corn, creating paths smooth enough for a baby stroller.

Farmers pay Mr. Herbst $3,000 to $6,000 for the service.

For large-scale farmers who grow crops on thousands of acres of agricultural land, corn mazes are not much more than something to joke about. What has come to be called agritainment remains a niche market.

But for the people whose families hold 400 or 500 acres of farmland, mazes are an important piece of an economic formula that might include pick-your-own berry patches in the summer, Christmas trees in the winter and home landscaping plants in the spring.

Kathleen Liang, an economics professor at the University of Vermont, recently asked 3,898 farms in six New England states whether they had some form of agritourism as part of their business model. From 2007 to 2011, there was a 65 percent increase.

But it is a trend not without drawbacks. Dealing with tourists can take time away from actual farming, while their cars can tear up the land.

And even just a simple maze is not enough anymore.

“The golden age of corn mazes as a stand-alone attraction peaked three or four years ago,” said Mr. Herbst, whose own corn maze complex includes an elaborate children’s playground, a live pumpkin princess and pig races. The maze itself also depicts the presidential candidates.

“Most of the guys who had stand-alones are out of business now,” he said. “You can only ride a single wave for so long. You’ve got to constantly mix it up.”

And you have got to gauge complexity, too. Something too simple bores people. Something too challenging scares people away.

“People don’t want to be in a corn maze for two hours,” Mr. Herbst said.

But attention spans vary. People in more rural areas who are comfortable spending time in the country prefer a maze that takes about an hour and 15 minutes to complete, he said.

“In a place close to New York City,” he said, “probably 20 minutes is plenty for most people.”

Robbie Brown contributed reporting from Atlanta.

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« Reply #2856 on: Oct 31, 2012, 05:43 AM »

10/30/2012 05:49 PM

Amendment Alarms Opposition: Orbán Cements His Power With New Voting Law

By Keno Verseck

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has used his party's two-thirds majority in parliament to pass a constitutional change that will force voters to register before elections. Opposition parties fear the move will boost his power and pave the way for election fraud, but they see no hope of appealing against it.

It rained blue paper in the Hungarian parliament in Budapest on Monday evening, when members of the green liberal party Politics Can Be Different (LMP) threw slips of paper at the government benches in a reference to the infamous "blue-ballot" rigged elections of August 1947. Back then, activists from the Hungarian Communist Party (MKP) exploited a system of blue chits to travel round casting votes in dozens of different places, allowing the MKP to gain a majority.

The Hungarian opposition fears a similar fraud might occur under Viktor Orbán's ultra-conservative nationalist government. His ruling Fidesz party (Alliance of Young Democrats) used its two-thirds majority in parliament to amend the constitution to allow citizens to vote in elections only if they register in advance either in person or electronically.

Paving the Way for Fraud

Opposition parties and activists see the move as an attempt to keep poorer voters who are unlikely to be Fidesz supporters away from the ballot boxes. They also accuse the government of paving the way for election fraud.

"By dispensing with the central register, the system of voter registration ushers in broad scope for fraud because it means multiple votes can scarcely be prevented," argues LMP politician Gergely Karácsony.

The lawmakers of Fidesz passed an amendment to the constitution that introduces voter registration. The actual law on voter registration is expected to be approved on November 12. Without this initial amendment, the Constitutional Court would most probably have rejected the new law.

The system foresees voters registering every four years either in person at their local authority or via the Internet, providing they have an electronic signature. Hungarians who live abroad, including the 3 million members of Hungarian minorities in Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine, who have been entitled to vote for a party list since 2010, can register by post. Registration has to be done at the latest two weeks ahead of the scheduled parliamentary elections and is then valid for four years in general and local elections, referendums and European parliamentary elections.

Heated Debate

The voter registration law has been the subject of heated debate for months. Along with opposition politicians, a number of lawyers and voting experts complain that it lacks any credible justification given that countries where the population must register to vote such as Britain and the US have no central register, whereas Hungary does.

Ahead of the vote, Antal Rogan, head of the Fidesz parliamentary group, said registration was necessary primarily because of Hungarians living abroad for whom there is no registration data in Hungary. Rogan rejected criticism of the constitutional amendment and pointed to longstanding democracies such as the US, where voters also have to register.

In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Péter Juhász, who heads the opposition Milla Movement which has been campaigning against recent curbs on press freedom and what it sees as an incremental chipping away at civil rights in Hungary, described the introduction of voter registration as "an attempt on the part of Orbán and his party to secure their election victory administratively." Not only does the elimination of the central register allow for multiple votes, he pointed out, it also means that many social groups who would not vote for Fidesz would end up not registering. These include primarily poor and uneducated Hungarians as well as people with no interest in politics and the 70,000-odd people who live in remote places far away from villages and communities.

According to Juhász, there are no legal options to appeal against the law on voter registration because the Constitutional Court cannot actually decide on the Constitution.

"If we want to avert potential election fraud, we need to build up a large, independent system of election monitoring," says Juhász. "But first and foremost, there needs to be political cooperation between the opposition parties if Orbán and his party are to be defeated in the 2014 elections."

That might be wishful thinking. When Hungary commemorated the failed revolution of 1956 on October 23, the country's national holiday, the democratic opposition parties were unable even to agree to hold a joint rally.

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« Reply #2857 on: Oct 31, 2012, 05:45 AM »

October 30, 2012

Taliban Hits Region Seen as ‘Safest’ for Afghans


BAMIAN, Afghanistan — The war has finally found Bamian, a remote corner of Afghanistan that for a decade had enjoyed near immunity to Taliban violence.

As the American troop surge peaked over the past two years, Taliban insurgents began contesting parts of this central province, flowing in from more embattled areas of the country. And now, a series of deadly strikes in recent months has intimidated residents and served notice that roads are unsafe and government officials are targets.

That it has happened in Bamian — known for its rugged beauty, nascent skiing industry and the ancient Buddha statues that once kept vigil here — has added to the sense that nowhere in Afghanistan can be considered safe. And that, Afghan and Western analysts say, is a crucial part of the Taliban’s strategy in coming here.

“Bamian was the safest province in the country,” said Mohammed Natiqi, a Kabul-based military analyst. “The insurgents are trying to find a toehold there by destabilizing it to show their presence all over the country.”

Despite years of international military efforts, the Taliban have continued to show that they can drift away from Western forces and carry out attacks elsewhere. And now that the surge is over, and the force of 68,000 American troops is scheduled to withdraw by the end of 2014, the Taliban’s resilience has raised stark fears about what will happen next.

By contesting the roads into Bamian, the insurgents have added to the sense of encirclement of the Afghan capital, Kabul. These barren valleys and high passes are just a few hours from Kabul by car, but now the roads are nearly impassable for foreigners and dangerous for most Afghans.

On the roads into Bamian, the Taliban now regularly descend from the hills at night in shows of strength, setting up their own checkpoints after local police officers have left. They take those opportunities to rob, or kill, travelers, local officials say. And they regularly carry out deadly incursions into Bamian itself, particularly in a section of its northeast. Such attacks, including the abduction and killing of the provincial council chief last year on the main road to Kabul and the deaths of 14 coalition and Afghan soldiers over a few weeks this summer, are collectively the worst spasm of violence in the region’s rocky valleys since the Taliban’s fall in 2001.

Few suffered as much at the Taliban’s hands as the Hazara, the moderate Shiite ethnic minority that makes up most of the population in Bamian Province. They were massacred by the thousands during the civil war and the ensuing reign of the Taliban, who are mostly ethnic Pashtuns.

Before their ouster, the Taliban also destroyed Bamian’s most famous landmarks, two giant Buddhas that had gazed across the rough plains from their honeycomb sandstone hills for 1,500 years. Their ruins stand as a reminder of the cycles of devastation that have swept this region.

In the years since, the Hazaras have established an island of relative stability behind Bamian’s high mountain borders. Fields of potatoes and wheat stretch across basins and adorn hillsides. And though the population as a whole is quite poor, education levels for girls are among the highest in the country.

The provincial capital, a bazaar town of stalls and marketplaces where farmers sell watermelons and plums, and its surrounding areas have remained mostly peaceful, officials say. But even here, the insurgents have sympathizers. And the people of Bamian worry that the violent tremors that have begun here point to more troubling times ahead.

According to Mohammad Aziz Shafaq, head of Bamian’s provincial council, fear has begun constricting both their livelihoods and lives.

Ordinary people “cannot feel safe to go to their farms and do their work,” he said. “Businessmen do not feel safe sending supplies in and out of the province because they fear they will be confiscated by illegal armed men and insurgents.”

In July, gunmen killed an American engineer traveling on the Kabul-Bamian road. In September, five Hazaras were killed on another connecting road through Wardak Province. The main Hazara political leader has been targeted in attacks. And this month, a girls’ school was set on fire, and the convoy of one of President Hamid Karzai’s deputies was attacked.

Residents in Bamian have held protests, gathering in front of the governor’s office to demand action. As the noose tightens, even the police have sought help in traversing this newly dangerous landscape.

“We have asked the central government to provide us with helicopters,” said Ahmad Alia, a spokesman for the Bamian police chief. “Local government officials are not traveling by ground anymore, and they want to have helicopters so they can go to Kabul or other provinces.”

Most of the insurgents seem to be moving in across Bamian’s eastern and northeastern borderlands from the neighboring provinces of Baghlan and Parwan, especially Baghlan’s Tala Wa Barfak district, officials say. These provinces have a longer history of unrest, pointing to a broader problem in this central region of Afghanistan.

While coalition and Afghan officials say the insurgency has brought much of the recent violence, as the central provinces have become arteries to transport fighters and weapons, it is not just the Taliban who are behind the attacks. In some cases, criminal groups are at work extorting local businessmen and kidnapping traveling traders. They, too, have been energized by the coming Western withdrawal.

Hajji Ashuqullah Wafa, a member of Parliament from Baghlan, said militant groups enjoy the patronage of local warlords who are intent on destabilizing the government and are preparing for a time after 2014 when coalition combat forces are gone and they can extend their sway more widely throughout the region.

“They are people who benefit from fighting and war,” he said.

For residents here, the most serious signs of encroachment came this summer when two roadside bombs hit Afghan police patrols, and then the longstanding New Zealand peacekeeping force lost five of its personnel in two attacks.

In one of the attacks, about 40 New Zealand soldiers were drawn into an unexpectedly fierce and prolonged gun battle when they responded to calls for help from Afghan intelligence forces raiding a compound outside the village of Baghak, in the northwest.

“Even the locals were surprised at how it spiraled,” said Maj. Gen. David Gawn, commander of the joint forces of New Zealand.

As they consider this violence, Afghan officials concede that they are facing resilient enemies with an ability to move from regions to the south and east of the country, eluding security forces concentrated there.

“While our other activities were going on in the south, problems increased in some parts of the north and our enemies concentrated on the north,” said Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a Defense Ministry spokesman, describing the Afghan security forces’ experience at a recent news conference.

“Then we concentrated on the north and west, and that helped the situation become more stable, but then our enemies focused on the east,” he continued. “At the beginning of the year, we also concentrated on the east, and the enemies were able to take advantage of some vacuums, especially in some central parts and the points which connect to Bamian.”

Coalition commanders contend that Bamian’s instability actually is an indication of success of a sort: they have said that coalition and Afghan forces are compressing the fighting space and pushing desperate insurgents to more remote areas, like Bamian.

In fact, the real effects of the surge and the continuing drawdown of the war in these final years may not be known for some months, other analysts say. They suggest that the new troubles and insurgent advances in Bamian may be a disturbing revelation that the Taliban fighters are not as weakened as some hope.

“It is another step forward in their general expansion in the north,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a research organization in Kabul, who said the surge had not changed conditions as much as the international coalition would have liked.

He added, “ISAF claiming security improvement is a narrative that is not always covered by reality.”

Habib Zahori contributed reporting from Bamian, and an employee of The New York Times from Kabul, Afghanistan.
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« Reply #2858 on: Oct 31, 2012, 05:48 AM »

October 30, 2012

Afghans Say Presidential Election Date Is Set for April 2014


KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai took a step toward fulfilling his pledge to hold Afghanistan’s presidential election on time, as officials said Tuesday that the vote had been officially set for April 5, 2014.

If the date holds, it will avoid a repeat of one of the first in a series of controversies to mar the last presidential election, originally set for May 2009. That election, however, was delayed until August, which pushed Mr. Karzai a few months past the official end of his constitutionally mandated five-year term.

The vote itself was then plagued by substantial fraud, much of it in Mr. Karzai’s favor. Widespread violence also kept many voters away from the polls, especially in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the country’s largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, dominates and the Taliban are strongest.

The president, opposition leaders and the Afghan government’s foreign backers have in recent months repeatedly said that they hope to avoid the same problems in 2014, though Western officials have expressed doubts about whether a truly clean and free election can be held given the level of violence in Afghanistan and the deep-rooted corruption within the government.

Noor Ahmad Noor, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission, confirmed the April election date after reports about it surfaced in the Afghan news media on Tuesday. The formal announcement of the April 5 election date had been set to come on Wednesday.

The political opposition, in welcoming an announcement, pressed the government to ensure a fraud-free vote. Specifying the date “is not enough,” said Sardar Muhammad Rahimi, a spokesman for the National Front of Afghanistan, an alliance of three major opposition political figures, each associated with one of Afghanistan’s smaller ethnic groups.

Among the opposition’s top concerns is the passage of a new election law that would mandate that two foreigners appointed by the United Nations sit on the country’s five-person Electoral Complaints Commission, which handles accusations of electoral fraud. Mr. Karzai has said foreigners are not needed and threatened to veto the law, which has passed Parliament’s lower house and is being considered by the upper house.

“We are worried that the government might interfere in the elections somehow and turn it to its favor,” Mr. Rahimi said, explaining why his political alliance wants the foreigners on the complaints commission.

There was no immediate reaction among Western officials or the international groups expected to help run and finance the election, including the United Nations. Some officials said they were caught off guard by the leaked announcement.

Another major concern among Afghans and the international community is that the election is to take place just as NATO’s combat mission here is drawing to a close. Given the concerns over a sharp rise this year in killings by Afghan soldiers and police officers of their coalition counterparts, there is speculation among Western officials here that the pace of the coalition military withdrawal could be quickened over the next year.

The latest insider attack apparently came on Tuesday when a man wearing an Afghan police uniform gunned down two British soldiers in the southern province of Helmand, Afghan and coalition officials said.

Muhammad Naim Baloch, the governor of Helmand, said the attack took place around noon in the Grishek district of the province, an area that remains thick with Taliban despite years of coalition offensives in the province aimed at rooting out insurgents.

He said in a telephone interview from Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, that it was not yet clear whether the attacker had fled or had been apprehended, though coalition officials said the assailant had indeed escaped.

Jamie Graybeal, a coalition spokesman, said the attack was under investigation. But he emphasized that the coalition could not yet confirm whether the attack was the work of an actual policeman or an infiltrator disguised as a policeman.

If the attacker is confirmed to have been a member of the police force, it would bring the official death toll in such insider attacks, also called green-on-blue attacks, this year to 53. Four additional Western deaths appear to have been the work of insiders but remain under investigation.

Sangar Rahimi, Jawad Sukhanyar and Sharifullah Sahak contributed reporting.
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« Reply #2859 on: Oct 31, 2012, 05:51 AM »

October 30, 2012

Immigrants Have Helped Set Catalonia Apart in Spain


BADALONA, Spain — Catalonia’s gathering drive to separate from Spain has been a mixed blessing for Enrique Shen.

It has been good for business. Last month, before a giant rally in neighboring Barcelona to support independence, Mr. Shen ran out of the Catalan flags he sells as a wholesaler because customers had snapped up about 10,000 of them in just a week.

But as an immigrant who moved here from Shanghai 20 years ago, he is worried by the way separatists advance their case for nationhood with claims to a distinct Catalan national culture, language and identity that set it apart from Spain. “It’s always best to be part of a larger country, just like having a bigger family to help you,” Mr. Shen said.

Immigrants like Mr. Shen illustrate the complexities of identity in Catalonia, where they have helped make the economy both the largest among Spain’s regions and the most diverse, alongside Madrid, with sizable populations of Muslims, Sikhs, Chinese and others.

As Catalonia prepares for a regional election on Nov. 25 that could become an unofficial referendum on independence, as many as 1.5 million residents of the region, out of a total population of 7.5 million, will not be eligible to vote because they are not Spanish citizens.

While these newcomers have played little part in the separatist debate so far, their sheer numbers and their contributions to Catalonia’s economy have indirectly reinforced the claims by some politicians that the region should occupy a place in the European Union separate from Spain. With annual output of about $260 billion in goods and services, an independent Catalonia’s economy would be larger than a dozen of the union’s 27 members.

Cities like Badalona, just northeast of Barcelona on the Mediterranean coast, illustrate the social and economic challenges that Catalonia faces, whatever the outcome of the separatist drive.

Last year, Badalona, with a population of 220,000, elected a hard-line conservative mayor, Xavier García Albiol, “in part due to his polemical views linking immigrants from Romania and other countries to crime and promising a tougher stance on illegal immigration,” the United States Department of State said in its most recent human rights report on Spain.

Mr. García Albiol is one of only a few politicians from the governing Popular Party of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to win office in Catalonia. In step with his conservative colleagues, Mr. García Albiol opposes separation, and he has cast a large shadow over Badalona’s immigrants, to the point that he has been sued based on accusations of inciting hatred against the local Roma population.

“One reason I got elected is because people could see that I was ready to identify a problem and take action to resolve it,” Mr. García Albiol said in an interview.

Asked to explain the problem, Mr. García Albiol said, “A large part of the migrants came here to work, but a small part also arrived with the sole intention of becoming delinquents, stealing and making life generally impossible for all their neighbors.” For this minority, he concluded, “the only solution is police pressure, efficient judicial action, and if possible, send them back to their countries.”

This year, Mr. García Albiol tried unsuccessfully to block the opening of a new mosque in Badalona. The mayor’s immigration policies are “a bad joke,” said Abdelkrim Latifi I Boussalem, who helps run Amics, an association that offers Islamic teaching and Arabic language classes in Badalona.

Still, Mr. Latifi I Boussalem, who left his native Casablanca, Morocco, 22 years ago, said the municipality struggled to accept the Moroccans and Pakistanis who form the bulk of the city’s Muslim population even before the city elected Mr. García Albiol.

“All the major political parties display some fear of Islam,” he said. “It’s never been easy, but at least other politicians used to talk to us and didn’t just call us a problem.”

Mr. Latifi I Boussalem contended that recent immigrants should have a say in any independence referendum. “We’re not here to dilute Catalan identity, and are ready to work hard to understand the place in which we live, especially since Catalonia has always been a land of welcome and refuge.”

Before World War II, Catalonia’s population was about 2.9 million, but it doubled in the decades afterward as Spaniards flocked to the region’s industries from poorer, more rural parts of Spain. Mr. García Albiol’s father, for instance, came from Andalusia in the 1960s, at the peak of that migration movement.

More recently, Catalonia has been at the forefront of a wave of immigration that started in the late 1990s, when Spain opened its doors to millions of overseas workers to fuel a construction-led boom. That boom ended in 2008 with the world financial crisis and the collapse of the real estate bubble here, and many of the immigrants have either started to leave or been forced into the ranks of Spain’s unemployed, who now make up 25 percent of the labor force.

“For most of the immigrants we help, their only preoccupations now are finding a job, making sure their papers are in order and meeting their basic needs,” said Fátima Ahmed, the spokeswoman for Ibn Batuta, an association based in Barcelona that offers legal and social services to immigrants. These issues, she said, “are very far from a political debate that they don’t even have the right to vote in.”

In fact, Artur Mas, the president of Catalonia, said in a recent interview that it was unclear whether a formal referendum on separation would be open to legal immigrants.

Sikhs are among the immigrants here who express some empathy for the separatist movement, drawing a parallel with their own struggles at home. An estimated 13,000 of the 21,000 Sikhs who have moved to Spain since 2000, mostly from India’s Punjab region, have settled in Catalonia.

Gagandeep Singh Khalsa, who is fluent in Spanish but prefers to speak Catalan, acts as a local spokesman and interpreter for his fellow Sikhs. “I feel in harmony with the people here,” he said, “because we have been facing the same problems with India over the Punjab as they have with Spain.”

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« Reply #2860 on: Oct 31, 2012, 05:53 AM »

October 30, 2012

Citing Violence, Bahrain Bans All Protests in New Crackdown


CAIRO — Citing recent episodes of violence, the government of Bahrain on Tuesday banned all public rallies and demonstrations, a move that drew swift condemnation from human rights groups and opposition activists who said it was intended solely to stifle criticism of the ruling monarchy in the tiny Persian Gulf nation.

In a statement, Bahrain’s interior minister said protests were banned after “repeated violations” by rally organizers, including riots, attacks on property and calls for the overthrow of “leading national figures.” Legal action would be taken against anyone attempting to organize a rally, the statement said.

A government spokesman, Fahad al-Binali, said in an interview that the ban would be temporary and was intended to “calm things down” after the recent deaths of protesters and police officers.

Instead, though, the move seemed likely to inflame the already dangerous standoff involving a protest movement that has been unable to wrest freedoms from a government that opposition activists say is methodically blocking all avenues for dissent. In recent weeks, activists have been prosecuted for postings on social media, and doctors, charged with illegal gathering and other crimes after treating protesters, have been sent to jail.

“They don’t want people to express their opinions, their anger,” said Sayed Hadi al-Mosawi, a member of Al-Wefaq, the largest opposition group. “This will not take the country to stability.”

Since the beginning of the Arab uprisings almost two years ago, Bahrain’s government has struggled to contain the protests, which are focused on the ruling Sunni monarchy’s chokehold on political power and fed by persistent complaints by the island nation’s majority Shiite population of systematic, apartheidlike discrimination.

Backed by powerful allies, including Saudi Arabia and the United States, Bahrain’s government, its critics charge, has faced little pressure to change. The Fifth Fleet of the United States Navy is anchored in Bahrain.

As the crisis has stalled, the standoff has deteriorated into ever more violent, sometimes deadly confrontations. In the last two months, two teenagers have been killed by the security services, and a 19-year-old police officer was killed in what the authorities said was an attack on one of their patrols. Last week, another police officer died of injuries he sustained in April in what the government called a “domestic terrorist attack,” a term frequently used for protests.

In the statement, the interior minister, Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa, said that rallies would be stopped until the authorities could ensure that “security is maintained.” It was unclear how the ban would change the response by the authorities, since many of the protests are considered illegal by the government and are already met with force.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International said in a statement that the ban violated the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and “must be lifted immediately.”

“Even in the event of sporadic or isolated violence once an assembly is under way, the authorities cannot simply declare a blanket prohibition on all protests,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, the group’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director.
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« Reply #2861 on: Oct 31, 2012, 05:59 AM »

October 30, 2012

Clinton Urges Bosnia’s Leaders to Work Together


SARAJEVO, Bosnia — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Bosnian leaders on Tuesday to work together and warned that their country would fall behind the rest of Europe if they did not make overdue reforms.

“We worry that if you do not make progress you will be left behind in the rest of the region,” Mrs. Clinton said. “You’ve got other neighbors who are making progress.”

Sarajevo was Mrs. Clinton’s first stop on a tour through the Balkan region with Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative for foreign policy. The unusual joint trip was calculated to reinforce the point that there are steps Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo need to take to resolve lingering disputes and advance their political and economic integration with Europe.

Sarajevo is a changed city since the bitter internecine conflict in Bosnia was brought to an end 17 years ago when Bill Clinton was president. But mistrust among Bosnian’s ethnically divided leadership runs deep and has stymied reforms that the United States and European nations have stated are necessary if Bosnia is to apply for NATO membership or to seek admission in the European Union — a message that was delivered to Bosnia’s Serbian, Croatian and Muslim presidents Tuesday.

“Is there a political crisis?” Mrs. Clinton asked. “There is, and that political crisis can only be resolved by leadership.”

A major barrier to Bosnia’s entry to NATO is the failure of its three presidents to confirm a decision on which military bases and installations will belong to the central government. Although the issue appeared to have been settled in March, observers say Bosnia’s Serbian leadership has been dragging its feet. Mrs. Clinton said that if the issue were settled, she would “personally go to the NATO ministerial in Brussels in December” to support Bosnia’s application to join NATO, a process that can take years.

An obstacle for Bosnia’s admission to the European Union, which would provide important benefits for the country’s economy, is a provision of its Constitution that stipulates that posts in the three-member presidency and Parliament be equally divided among Muslims, Croats and Serbs. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the measure violates the rights of smaller minorities since it precludes them from serving in senior government positions.

Ms. Ashton said that if Bosnia wanted to pursue membership in the European Union, its “first priority” must be to act on that ruling.

Riven by ethnic disputes, Bosnia has lagged behind other Balkan states in joining Europe’s political and security institutions. Croatia, for example, is a NATO member and is on course to join the European Union next year. Serbia and Macedonia are also candidates for membership in the European Union, a point Mrs. Clinton emphasized Tuesday.

“We leave here and go to Belgrade,” she said. “Belgrade is on the path for Serbia to become a member of the E.U. We will then go to Pristina. Kosovo is on the path for a lot of positive changes.”

In a news conference after the meeting with Bosnia’s leaders, Ms. Ashton also noted that one of her aides had been in contact with Iranians on “how to move forward” the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. The talks are between Iran and the five members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. Ms. Ashton said she would be in contact with the chief Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, shortly.

Addressing Iran directly at the news conference, Mrs. Clinton said: “The window remains open to resolve the international community’s concerns about your nuclear program diplomatically and to relieve your isolation, but that window cannot remain open indefinitely. Therefore, we hope that there can be serious, good-faith negotiations commenced soon.”
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« Reply #2862 on: Oct 31, 2012, 06:00 AM »

October 30, 2012

Israeli Defense Chief Says Iran Postponed Nuclear Ambitions


Israel’s defense minister said Tuesday that the country had interpreted Iran’s conversion of some enriched uranium to fuel rods for civilian use as evidence that Iran had delayed ambitions to build a nuclear weapon.

The assertion, by Defense Minister Ehud Barak in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, amounted to the first explanation from him as to why he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu softened their position in September over the possibility of a military strike to thwart what they called Iran’s drive toward imminent nuclear weapons capability.

Their tough position on Iran, which they consider Israel’s most dangerous enemy, had generated tensions with the Obama administration, which has contended that Iran is many months away from the ability to make a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Barak, who was visiting London, was quoted by the newspaper as saying an immediate crisis had been averted this summer because Iran had chosen to use a third of its enriched uranium for use as fuel rods in a medical research reactor. The conversion of that uranium, which was reported by the International Atomic Energy Agency in August, makes it much more difficult to use militarily.

The Iranian decision, Mr. Barak said, “allows contemplating delaying the moment of truth by 8 to 10 months.”

Asked why Iran would have decided on such a conversion, Mr. Barak said it might have taken Israeli and American warnings seriously, might have wished to delay a confrontation with Israel until after the American presidential elections, or might have been seeking to convince the agency of the sincerity of its peaceful intent.

Iran has consistently denied it intends to build a nuclear weapon and has denounced Israel’s assertions as warmongering.

The Iranians have also pointed out that Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and that Israel, which is not, possesses an unacknowledged stockpile of nuclear weapons.
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« Reply #2863 on: Oct 31, 2012, 06:03 AM »

October 30, 2012

Rwanda Opposition Leader Sentenced to 8 Years


KIGALI, Rwanda (Reuters) — Rwanda’s high court on Tuesday sentenced a leading opposition politician to eight years in prison, in a case widely viewed as a test of the nation’s democratic limits and the independence of the judiciary.

The opposition leader, Victoire Ingabire, had faced six charges and was found guilty of two: conspiring to harm the country through war and terror, and minimizing the 1994 genocide that tore apart the nation.

She was accused of transferring money to Hutu rebels and of questioning why no Hutu victims were mentioned alongside Tutsi victims in a genocide memorial. More than 800,000 people were killed in the country when a Hutu-led government and ethnic militias went on a 100-day killing rampage in April 1994, indiscriminately killing Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Ms. Ingabire, a Hutu, returned to Rwanda in January 2010 from exile in the Netherlands to take part in presidential elections but was barred after being accused of crimes linked to genocide denial. The vote was won overwhelmingly by President Paul Kagame.

Iain Edwards, Ms. Ingabire’s British lawyer, argued that the evidence against her was fabricated and that some of the charges were against Rwanda’s Constitution.

Mr. Kagame’s final presidential term expires in 2017. He has led his country’s recovery from the 1994 genocide, receiving praise for his efforts to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country by 2020.

But critics accuse him of being authoritarian and trampling on news media and political freedoms. He rejects the accusations.

“Political space in Rwanda barely exists, I would say, for opposition parties in the real sense of the word,” said Carina Tertsakian, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch.

Phil Clark, a lecturer at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, said the prosecution of Ms. Ingabire sent a message to other Rwandan political groups.

“I think this verdict will certainly cause concerns that if they contest they may find very serious charges brought against them as well,” he said. “It sends a warning to other parties who may want to run in future elections.”

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« Reply #2864 on: Oct 31, 2012, 06:05 AM »

October 30, 2012

Wrangling Over Europe’s Budget Gets Under Way


BRUSSELS — The hotly anticipated battle over the next long-term European Union budget began Tuesday when the European Commission snubbed a suggested cut of at least €50 billion.

The commission’s terse rejection of the proposal made by Cyprus, which currently holds the rotating E.U. presidency, was yet another sign that the hostilities are likely to be protracted as countries including Britain and Sweden call for even deeper cuts.

David Cameron, the British prime minister, has requested a freeze in payments to the Union to keep them at 2011 levels, and he is under pressure from members of his Conservative Party to push for cuts compared with 2011 levels. He has also threatened to veto any budget deal at a summit meeting in November if Britain does not get its way.

“The politics of the E.U. budget are always nasty, but they may be nastier this time partly because of Mr. Cameron trying to be Mrs. Thatcher,” said Stephen Tindale, an associate fellow at the Center for European Reform, a research organization in London.

Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister, earned lasting admiration from Mr. Cameron’s party by taking a firm stance in E.U. budget negotiations during the early 1980s and by winning a rebate that still makes up much of the gap between Britain’s share of contributions and receipts.

The E.U. budget is negotiated every seven years and has long been a polarizing issue as each country seeks to get the most from the process. The spending plan amounts to about 1 percent of economic output in the 27-member Union and is used to finance a huge range of policies, including decommissioning power stations, building roads and subsidizing farmers.

But striking a middle ground is expected to be particularly hard this year amid the climate of austerity brought on by the financial crisis.

“It’s like an exercise aimed at squaring the circle,” said an E.U. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was directly involved in negotiations. “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

The commission, the E.U.’s executive body, proposed in June 2011 an upper limit of €1.03 trillion, or $1.33 trillion, in spending for 2014 and 2020, an increase of about 5 percent over the previous seven-year period.

Olivier Bailly, a spokesman for the commission, said at a news conference Tuesday that its proposal “strikes the right responsible balance in times of crisis” and would be “a tool for investment in growth and jobs.”

Under the commission’s proposals, farm spending would still account for about 36 percent of the budget. Funds for projects like roads, railways and supporting small businesses that mainly go to countries more recently admitted to the Union would account for slightly less. Around 6 percent would be for E.U. administration.

Germany is part of a group called the Friends of Better Spending, which includes the Netherlands and Finland, that is focused on improving the effectiveness of spending while capping its growth. But Britain and Sweden have been the most outspoken on the need to rein in spending.

“No deal will be possible on the basis of cuts of only €50 billion,” Birgitta Ohlsson, the Swedish minister for E.U. affairs, said in a statement Tuesday, after the Cypriot proposal. “It is unacceptable that the common agriculture policy is protected from cuts.”

She said Sweden was seeking €150 billion in cuts.

Ms. Ohlsson also criticized the Cypriots for making the largest cuts where the “E.U. needs to invest — in research, foreign policy and cross-border infrastructure.”

The Cypriot proposal is still €54 billion above the baseline set by Mr. Cameron, and would represent 6.1 percent growth compared with the levels of payments in 2011, according to Open Europe, a research group based in London.

The jousting that got under way this week will set the scene for a meeting on Nov. 22, when the Union’s leaders are supposed to finalize a deal setting out spending until the end of the decade.

Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, a body representing E.U. leaders, has warned that the talks could last three days, but officials fear the haggling could go on longer.

Even then, the European Parliament would still need to agree on the final amount.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 30, 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated the upper limit of spending proposed by the European Commission for 2014 and 2020. It is $1.33 trillion, not $133 trillion.

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