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« Reply #2895 on: Nov 03, 2012, 06:52 AM »


The Commons has spoken for the nation on the EU

By Telegraph View
8:46PM GMT 31 Oct 2012

Last night’s Commons vote demanding a cut in the EU budget could mark a pivotal moment in this country’s 40-year membership of the institution. While the Government might contend that the decision is non-binding, it is surely politically inconceivable that David Cameron can now agree even to a real-terms freeze in spending when negotiations are held in Brussels this month.

Mr Cameron believes that, with the support of other member states, he can secure a seven-year deal pegging annual cash increases in the EU’s funding to the level of inflation. But that would still mean giving the EU more money; and MPs are clearly weary of being fobbed off with promises of reform tomorrow. At a time when Whitehall departments, councils, hospitals, police forces and the like are all having to make deep cuts, it is unacceptable for the EU not to do the same. Indeed, this should not be a matter for negotiation. The Commons has spoken for a nation that is being required to make sacrifices that the bloated bureaucracy in Brussels refuses to contemplate.

It is, of course, true that the Opposition’s support for the amendment tabled by the Tory MP Mark Reckless calling for a spending cut was utterly cynical. In each of Labour’s 13 years in office, EU spending rose by more than inflation, and a substantial tranche of the country’s hard-won rebate was given away in exchange for reforms to farm subsidies that never materialised. By the time the party left office, Britain’s net contribution had risen by 47 per cent. For Labour now to argue that the EU should reduce its spending in real terms is grotesque opportunism.

None the less, the die is cast. Mr Cameron may rue last night’s defeat, but the time has come for Britain to take a stand against the profligacy and fiscal incontinence of the European Commission. Greg Clark, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, told MPs that the Commission had ignored a British request to examine a range of possible cuts in its administrative spending, claiming its overpaid staff were too busy. At a time when national governments are slashing their own costs, and some member states are effectively insolvent, such effrontery should no longer be tolerated.

Last night’s defeat is not just about money. It needs to be seen in the wider context of Britain’s future within – and increasing estrangement from – the EU. With ministers such as Michael Gove openly questioning the merits of our continued membership, there is a palpable sense that, after four decades in the European Union, we stand at a crossroads. The Government now needs to take the right path.
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« Reply #2896 on: Nov 03, 2012, 07:04 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/01/2012 01:30 PM

Death-Defying Skydiver Felix Baumgartner: 'It's Never Been about the Thrills'

In mid-October, Austrian skydiver 'Fearless Felix' Baumgartner broke the world records for balloon and free-fall height and became the first person to break the sound barrier without propulsion. In a SPIEGEL interview, he discusses the feat -- and how the real challenges were mental.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Baumgartner, your supersonic skydive from an altitude of 39,045 meters (24.3 miles) above New Mexico has been described as the latter-day equivalent of the moon landing. People are calling you the Neil Armstrong of the 21st century. How do you view the feat?

Baumgartner: I don't like to rate myself; others can do that. Over the last few days, I've spoken with a number of young people who weren't even born in 1969, when the first moon landing was made. These kids are happy to have had such a momentous event in their lifetime. In this case, they've witnessed the first person to fly at faster than speed of the sound without propulsion.

SPIEGEL: Was there any purpose behind your jump from the stratosphere, or was it merely a stunt?

Baumgartner: It's hard to classify my jump because the impressions are still so fresh in my mind. I still don't really understand exactly what I've accomplished, although I always suspected it would be a truly spectacular moment. Even so, I would've never dreamt that my skydive would trigger such gushing enthusiasm.

SPIEGEL: Your skydive drew the biggest live audience ever on YouTube. Eight million people watched you over the Internet. That's more than watched the inauguration of US President Barack Obama. How do you explain that?

Baumgartner: Aviation -- and space travel, in particular -- have always been especially captivating. To this day, only 12 people have ever set foot on the moon. People are fascinated about the world above them because it seems so out-of-reach. My jump gave them an opportunity to come along for the ride. They could watch live on their screens how someone rises all the way up into the stratosphere -- though the next bit was probably even more fascinating for them.

SPIEGEL: You mean your freefall, during which you broke the sound barrier and reached a speed of 1,342.8 kilometers an hour (834.4 mph)?

Baumgartner: I was so fast I could have overtaken certain bullets! That's completely unimaginable for most people. Even some scientists thought it would be impossible. While we were preparing the skydive, I asked experts at NASA and the European Space Agency what they thought. They all just shook their heads.

SPIEGEL: That clearly didn't deter you from your plan.

Baumgartner: As a skydiver, I've always looked up to Joe Kittinger. In 1960, he jumped from an altitude of 31,332 meters (19.5 miles) and reached a freefall speed of 988 kilometers an hour (614 mph). For me, he is what Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to scale Everest, is to mountain climbers. He is my idol and my role model. But it was many years before I had a chance to try to beat Kittinger's records myself.

SPIEGEL: Why?

Baumgartner: The idea came up several times. Various people had proposed it to me, but their ideas were always fairly crude. The first one was balloonist Ivan Trifonov, who came up to me and thrust a piece of paper with things on both sides into my hand.

SPIEGEL: So you didn't come up with the idea of free-falling from the stratosphere yourself?

Baumgartner: Not at first, even though Joe Kittinger had always fascinated me and flying is my big dream. Trifonov's piece of paper held two pictures: The first was a photo of a huge balloon; the second showed an astronaut in a spacesuit. Trifonov had the idea that I would jump from 50 kilometers (31 miles) up, and that I would plummet back to Earth at twice the speed of sound while standing in the bottom part of a rocket. Trifonov told me that he wanted to do all that in Gosau, a sleepy little village in the Austrian mountains. He said he'd already cleared it with the mayor. That was pretty absurd, so I thanked him and never contacted him again.

SPIEGEL: Trifonov now claims you stole his idea.

Baumgartner: That's complete nonsense because Joe Kittinger had set the records more than 50 years earlier. These ideas are his brainchild.

SPIEGEL: When did you decide to attempt to break the record yourself?

Baumgartner: Seven years ago. Shortly after Trifonov came to me, an American businessman presented me with a similar project. This was also fairly unrealistic, but I thought this had to be a sign. So I started thinking seriously about this jump, doing research and speaking with experts. Then I said to myself: "Why don't I try it myself with my sponsor, Red Bull? Why don't we plan our own project from scratch?" It was really important to us to develop the "Stratos" project ourselves, to do all the calculations very precisely and to assemble our own team.

SPIEGEL: What hurdles did you face along the way?

Baumgartner: The David Clark Company, which has been developing spacesuits for NASA for decades, initially refused to sell us a suit.

SPIEGEL: Why?

Baumgartner: We weren't interesting enough as a customer. The US Air Force would buy as many as a hundred suits at a time, but we only wanted three. The company was worried about losing its reputation if something went wrong with my jump. So, it took years to convince Clark that we were a serious operation.

SPIEGEL: Did your sponsor, the energy drink maker Red Bull, ever hint that things were getting too expensive?

Baumgartner: Red Bull isn't just a sponsor; it also helped drive the project forward. Of course the costs were an issue. But Dietrich Mateschitz, Red Bull's founder, isn't the kind of guy who's deterred by setbacks. If he says A, he can also say B. And if that doesn't work, he simply says C. Incidentally, "Stratos" cost far less than the €50 million ($65 million) that are being reported everywhere right now.

SPIEGEL: How much did it cost, then?

Baumgartner: I won't say, but this figure is way off.

SPIEGEL: Half as much?

Baumgartner: Not even. Let me put it this way: We obviously invested money. We wanted maximum security. What's more, we wanted "Stratos" to produce the most stunning pictures possible and offer people a breathtaking view of the globe from the comfort of their living room.

Biggest Challenges
SPIEGEL: You've said that the biggest challenge wasn't the ascent in the hot air balloon, the skydive or the dangerous flat spin that sees you turn on your own axis repeatedly during freefall. Instead, you say it was the tightness of your spacesuit that caused you the biggest problems.

Baumgartner: Yes, I'd tested the flat spin extensively, so that was routine. But the suit continued to be tight and uncomfortable. It's completely airtight. If it wasn't, I wouldn't have survived the low air pressure at high altitude. The suit restricted my movement, and every move required a lot of energy. I felt like I was locked in a prison. What's more, it was unimaginably hot in there. My skin couldn't breathe, and I had to put up with a lot. I was completely shut off from the rest of the world, and all I ever heard was my own breathing.

SPIEGEL: Did you get claustrophobic?

Baumgartner: Yes. At first, I couldn't stand wearing the suit for more than about an hour. No more. But I knew that when I went for my record, I would have to be able to bear the discomfort for at least seven hours. That seemed impossible to me. That's when I thought the project was doomed. I was devastated.

SPIEGEL: Did Red Bull push you to see the project through? After all, the company did put you in touch with a psychologist.

Baumgartner: That doesn't mean that Red Bull pushed me. I had got so far into it that I was ambitious enough to be able to bring the project to its conclusion.

SPIEGEL: How exactly did the psychologist help you?

Baumgartner: I got help from Michael Gervais, a psychologist who works with lots of American athletes. He told me it wasn't my body that was struggling with the suit, but my mind. He explained that the stress would eventually go away. I just had to imagine that no one would ever help me out of the suit again. It was a kind of shock therapy, but it worked. I forced myself to stay in the suit, and I tried to focus on external things so as to not let myself be sealed off.

SPIEGEL: At what point were you most afraid on the day of your jump?

Baumgartner: I actually never felt real fear. We were well-prepared. We had worked on this project for more than five years and conducted hundreds of tests. That meant we had ruled out nearly all the unknowns. I had previously had no idea what minus 75 degrees Celsius (minus 103 degrees Fahrenheit) felt like. Nobody can imagine that. Nor did we have any idea what it would feel like 40 kilometers (25 miles) up in the atmosphere, or how the body would react.

SPIEGEL: How did you figure that out?

Baumgartner: We were able to test everything out on the ground. We drove to the former Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where we found a cold chamber that we could cool down to minus 75 degrees Celsius and simulate the pressure typically experienced at an altitude of 40 kilometers. I spent five hours in there, basically in a vacuum. That way you feel exactly what effect cold has on you -- namely, a negative effect caused by stress. But once you know that the body can hold out there for five hours, you also know that two-and-a-half hours during the ascent won't be a problem.

SPIEGEL: But it was still just a simulation.

Baumgartner: Sure, but tests give you the self-assurance you need for the day itself. That was hard enough already because I knew I would soon be on a very, very large stage doing things no one had ever done before. And the whole world was watching me. It was hard to prepare myself for all this publicity. That's very hard to come to terms with.

SPIEGEL: The project was nearly called off several times. Why did your record-breaking leap have to be postponed twice?

Baumgartner: First, you need good weather to be able to fill the balloon. If that's going well, you can sit in the capsule while everyone waits for the balloon to be inflated. Then you hope the wind doesn't pick up. We're talking about a difference of only 2 kilometers an hour (1.2 mph). A wind speed of 4 kilometers an hour means "go," while 6 kilometers per hour means "abort." In this case, the balloon may have been inflated, but you can toss it away now because you can't reuse it.

SPIEGEL: Before your jump, you had said you didn't want to take any unforeseeable risks. But there were some: The heater on your visor broke. Were you more willing to take a risk because you wanted to avoid another delay?

Baumgartner: Perhaps. Your priorities change in moments like that. After all, we only had this one balloon. If that had not worked, we would've had to postpone the project until June 2013. But I didn't notice there was a problem with the heating until I had lifted off. Your options are extremely limited in the capsule, and you can't solve bigger problems. So when my visor started fogging up, the guys at mission control around Joe Kittinger said we'd have to abort unless we could get the visor issue sorted out because if I had opened the door, the inside of the capsule would have become as bitterly cold as it was outside. And if the visor had fogged up even more once I had gotten onto the jump-off ramp, I wouldn't have been able to get back into the capsule because the pressure difference causes the suit to swell. At that point, movement is very awkward. I wouldn't have been able to bend down and couldn't have squeezed back through the small hatch. So we couldn't test what would happen. We simply had to make a decision.

SPIEGEL: So you ignored Kittinger's advice and decided to jump?

Baumgartner: No. We went through all the possible scenarios together and decided to take the risk. But of course I had my doubts, and my pulse started racing.

SPIEGEL: What was your Plan B in case your visor got so steamed up that you couldn't see anything anymore?

Baumgartner: I would've opened my chute after 30 seconds. I wouldn't have been able to read the altimeter, but I would've known when I reached 10,000 meters (32,800 feet) because that's when the suit depressurizes. I wouldn't have been able to see, but the chute would've stabilized me. Sixty seconds later, I would've known that I was at an altitude at which there was enough oxygen to breathe. That meant I could've opened the visor. The attempt at supersonic flight would have failed, as would the bid to break the other records. But the important thing would've been to survive.

SPIEGEL: Especially since one of your predecessors, Nick Piantanida, passed out during a similar feat. Did that go through your mind?

Baumgartner: Obviously. Very often, in fact. The problem with a jump like this is that you can't see the danger. The images are beautiful, and I was fascinated by the Earth, by the way it lay there like a ball in front of me. The sky was black. Everything was very beautiful. With a fire, one sees the danger and, once near it, notes: "Look out! Danger!" Up there, you don't have these reflexes. I can't survive without the technology. The only good news was that death would've come swiftly if my equipment had failed. Everything would've been over within 15 seconds. The fluids in the human body begin to boil and bubble up, and you die in agony.

Plans Then and Now
SPIEGEL: But nightmare scenarios like that didn't deter you from the project?

Baumgartner: My medical director, Jonathan Clark, lost his wife in one of the space shuttle missions. He told me all about it in great detail. I was sitting there thinking I didn't really want that much information. Nick Piantanida, the jumper you mentioned earlier, suffered severe brain damage during his jump and spent four months in a coma before dying. Of course, that's the worst possible scenario. I can't bear the thought of my mother having to push me around in a wheelchair. I'd rather die quickly. I've thought about all these things during those endlessly long waits these projects entail.

SPIEGEL: Did your team have an emergency plan in place in case you died?

Baumgartner: If something like that happens live, you have to have some crisis management in place. We had already prepared appropriate statements for the press.

SPIEGEL: Does that mean you signed off on announcements of your own death?

Baumgartner: Yes. You have to act quickly if something happens. Granted, it's pretty bizarre having to read and approve a text like that. Not many people could do it. In extreme cases, the cameras would have been switched off. We had a private frequency. In these kinds of situations, there comes a time when you can see that things are going wrong. When that happens, you don't leave the cameras on. That wouldn't be ethical. No one wants to speak about this part of the story because people generally don't like talking about death.

SPIEGEL: That almost sounds like your own death was part of the planning process; as if it would have been an industrial accident.

Baumgartner: As a professional, you have to at least consider it. It comes up time and again with extreme sports. If you organize something like this and the whole world is part of it, you have to prepare for all eventualities so that you're not left standing there saying: "Er, what do we do now?" NASA has emergency procedures, and so did I. It's like taking headache tablets when you go on vacation. If you have them with you, you don't need them. If you forget them, you're guaranteed to have a headache all week. The better your preparation, the less likely it is that it will occur.

SPIEGEL: After your landing, someone was reportedly supposed to give you a can of Red Bull from your sponsor, but you asked for some water instead. At that point, were you annoyed by all the marketing nonsense?

Baumgartner: No, it didn't get that far. Nobody passed me a can, even though it would've made sense. If marketing had been our primary objective, we would've had to have a drinking scene. But there wasn't one. I drank water because that's was the first thing available. It's crazy if everyone is now saying it was all just a publicity stunt.

SPIEGEL: What was it then?

Baumgartner: It was also a scientific experiment. We were interested in it, and scientists were interested in it. But, of course, we needed funding. NASA is no different in this respect. The space shuttle launches were always great spectacles.

SPIEGEL: Except there wasn't the logo of a soda company on every drinking straw.

Baumgartner: We were able to pay for our project -- thank God! -- with our own money rather than with tax money. Of course, there are those who say we could've spent the money on something more sensible, such as saving the planet. Believe me, Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz already donates plenty of money, and his biggest donations haven't been for sports, but for medical purposes. So no one's going to complain about him spending his money on things that fascinate him. We also see it as an investment in research and development.

SPIEGEL: Many experts doubt the usefulness of your endeavor.

Baumgartner: This will have lasting benefits for future space missions. In many ways, we're role models for young people, undoubtedly more so than many of our politicians in the last decade.

SPIEGEL: You've announced your intention to give up extreme sports. Can an adrenalin junkie like you really ever do that?

Baumgartner: First off, I'm not an adrenaline junkie. It's never been about thrills for me. I'm just someone who loves a challenge, and I feel at home up in the air, just like sailors do at sea and climbers do in the mountains. Of course adrenaline plays a part, but it's never in the foreground. It's only ever been about goals and the ways to achieve these goals. That's also why I'm still alive after 25 years in the sport. But now that I've literally reached my highest point, that's enough.

SPIEGEL: You now plan to fly helicopters for Hollywood film production companies and work as a fireman. And yet the movie industry is desperate for characters like you, thanks in part to your fellow countryman, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Have you had any offers of that nature?

Baumgartner: No, not so far. For some reason, that hasn't come up yet.

SPIEGEL: Would you like to stand in front of a movie camera?

Baumgartner: I don't think so. I once wanted to be a stuntman. I was constantly on the front pages when I was a base jumper. But if I were a stuntman, my name would only appear right at the end of the closing credits, even though I'd risked my life for others. After a while, being a stuntman didn't interest me anymore. And acting? Everything I've done up to now has been real. "You only get one try," as they say. The actor's life is one of constant repetition. That doesn't really interest me.

SPIEGEL: How long do you think your record will hold?

Baumgartner: Very long. British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has already announced a follow-up project. All the copycats are coming out of the woodwork. They're all now saying: "That's what we've always been planning." Branson's project involves a jump from 120 kilometers (75 miles) up. I think I can now call myself an expert on this matter and, as such, I'm qualified to state that our 40-kilometer jump was hard enough to pull off as it is. Attempting to triple the distance is simply insane.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Baumgartner, thank you for speaking with us.

Interview conducted by Lukas Eberle and Janko Tietz. Translated from the German by Jan Leibelt.


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« Reply #2897 on: Nov 03, 2012, 07:16 AM »

In the USA..

Early voting in Florida not extended despite long lines

By Samantha Kimmey
Saturday, November 3, 2012 0:31 EDT
Raw Story

Florida Gov. Rick. Scott denied a request from the League of Women Voters and Florida Democrats on Friday to extend early voting, according to the News-Press. Long lines and record turnout prompted the call, but Scott reiterated that “Early voting will end Saturday night,” although he said he wants “everyone to get out to vote.”

Reported lines up to five hours long have not swayed the governor, and a Florida Republican party leader said it’s wrong “for one side to demand that we break the law because they feel like they are losing.”

Florida shortened its early voting period from 14 days in 2008 to eight days this year, and liberals accused the Republican-controlled legislature of trying to depress Democratic turnout.

Florida Democratic Party’s Executive Director Scott Arceneaux told WFSU, “You’ve got lines so long in Miami that people are waiting four and five hours every day. The elderly are getting tired, they need places to sit.”

About 1,300,000 Democrats have voted so far in both early and absentee voting, compared to about 1,240,000 Republicans and 518,000 affiliated with other parties.

A spokesperson for the Florida Department of State said that while there are 300 sites for early voting, there will be 6,000 sites to vote in the state on election day, “So, voters have several ways to vote on their schedule.”

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

November 2, 2012

Disruption From Storm May Be Felt at the Polls

By MICHAEL COOPER
NYT

Some New Jersey voters may find their hurricane-damaged polling sites replaced by military trucks, with — in the words of the state’s lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno — “a well-situated national guardsman and a big sign saying, ‘Vote Here.’ ” Half of the polling sites in Nassau County on Long Island still lacked power on Friday. And New York City was planning to build temporary polling sites in tents in some of its worst-hit neighborhoods.

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is threatening to create Election Day chaos in some storm-racked sections of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — and some effects may also be felt in other states, including Pennsylvania, where some polling sites still lacked power on Friday morning.

Disrupted postal delivery will probably slow the return of absentee ballots. And with some polling sites likely to be moved, elections officials were bracing for a big influx of provisional paper ballots — which could delay the vote count in places.

Weary local elections officials vowed that the vote would go on. “Come hell or high water — we had both — we’re voting on Tuesday,” William T. Biamonte, the Democratic commissioner at the Nassau County Board of Elections, said in an interview.

Storm-related voting disruptions seem unlikely to change the outcome of the presidential election, since the biggest problem areas are in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, which are all expected to go for President Obama. But even when elections officials get the polling sites up and running, many voters may stay away as they grapple with lingering damage to their homes, power failures and gas shortages. With turnout projected to be down in all these states, Mr. Obama could see his share of the national popular vote reduced.

The storm may have already affected the early vote, which could be important, given that analysts estimate that more than a third of the votes this year will be cast before Election Day. Early voting was temporarily halted in some states. In Ohio, the crucial Democratic stronghold of Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, had more people vote early every day this year than in 2008 — until Monday, the day of the storm, when the daily tally began to lag from its levels of four years ago.

But the lingering aftermath of the storm could have a bigger — if not always easy to predict — effect on state and local races. In the Senate race in Connecticut, where Christopher S. Murphy, a Democratic congressman, is running against Linda E. McMahon, a Republican former professional wrestling executive, some Democrats worry that storm damage in Democratic strongholds like Bridgeport could depress the vote.

Several close House races are being waged in areas that saw significant storm damage. In Suffolk County, on the eastern end of Long Island, Representative Tim Bishop, a five-term Democrat, is facing a rematch with Randy Altschuler, a Republican businessman who nearly won the seat two years ago. And on Staten Island, which saw some of the worst storm damage in New York City, Representative Michael G. Grimm, a first-term Republican facing questions about his fund-raising practices, is trying to stave off a challenge from Mark Murphy, a Democrat.

Then there are all the other local races, from school board elections across New Jersey to the hard fought-race for control of the New York State Senate.

With thousands of lawyers from both campaigns fanning out across the country, storm-related issues could provide new fodder for court challenges. As Wendy Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, a public interest organization, put it, “There will be an incentive for whichever candidate is losing in the affected states to look for litigating opportunities as a result of the disrupted election.”

State and county elections officials are working around the clock to make sure the voting goes as smoothly as possible next week, said Dennis Scott Kobitz, the president of the New Jersey Association of Election Officials. “I actually slept here last night,” Mr. Kobitz, the administrator of the board of elections in Union County, N.J., said in a phone interview from his office.

He said that around half of the county’s polling sites still lacked power on Friday afternoon, and that he was making preparations to get generators for all of them by Tuesday.

But the problems throughout the region were considerable. Some polling sites were flooded or damaged, or cut off by roads needing repair. Others were in schools that had been transformed to shelters for people displaced by the storm.

And some election boards were struggling to find power or get assurances from the utilities that power would be restored in time. With their servers down, they also found themselves unable to update their Web sites for the public.

A telephone hot line set up by the New York City Board of Elections to help people find their voting sites was out of service. “Our central phone bank ( 866 VOTE NYC ) is not functioning properly and our Manhattan and Staten Island offices have been closed since Monday due to loss of power,” the board’s Web site said on Friday.

New York State extended the deadline for absentee ballots to be received and counted to 13 days after Election Day, from seven days, to allow for postal delays caused by the storm. But they must be postmarked no later than Monday, said John Conklin, a spokesman for the state’s Board of Elections, which has been trying to help local boards get power restored or, failing that, get generators, fuel and extension cords.

A little-noticed New York State law allows counties to seek permission for a second day of voting if they determine that voter turnout was less than 25 percent “as the direct consequence” of a disaster, but several election lawyers said that they did not believe it had ever been invoked and that it was unlikely to be used next week.

Suffolk County plans to relocate five of its 342 polling places, said Jesse Garcia, a board of elections employee, who said that cards would be sent to voters and that workers would be sent to the closed sites to direct voters to the new ones.

In Bridgeport, Mayor Bill Finch took Connecticut’s secretary of the state, Denise Merrill, through his storm-ravaged city on Friday, stopping at the Longfellow School, the only one of the city’s 24 polling places still closed, which he said had been under two feet of water. Residents who normally vote there will be redirected to a nearby school to vote. Ms. Merrill promised to help municipalities without power to find generators.

Ms. Weiser, the lawyer at the Brennan Center, noted that the center had worked all year to try to block or mitigate strict election laws passed in a number of Republican-led states that it believed would put up hurdles for voters, often with success. “The storm created new, non-manmade hurdles,” she lamented.

Elizabeth Maker contributed reporting from Bridgeport, Conn.

**********

November 2, 2012

Latinos Urged to Oust Sheriff Over Deportations

By FERNANDA SANTOS
NYT

PHOENIX — This election year, community groups working to get more Latinos to turn out and vote have enlisted the help of an unwitting ally: Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the brash-talking embodiment of the battles over illegal immigration in Arizona and beyond.

When they knock on doors — trying, at first, to persuade Latinos to join voter rolls, and later returning to make sure they cast their ballots — the activists resort to the same question to drive the conversation: Don’t you want Sheriff Arpaio out of office?

Then they deliver their pitch: Have you heard of his opponent, Paul Penzone?

The groups, organized under catchy names like Adiós Arpaio and Joe’s Got to Go, are a motley mixture: members of religious groups, labor unions and advocacy organizations, as well as high school students who are mostly too young to vote. They were brought together by timing, circumstance and a common goal that to many rings awfully close to home.

Felix Trejo’s father was deported to Mexico three years ago, after he was caught driving without a license by Sheriff Arpaio’s deputies. In 2010, Yaraneth Marin’s father was also deported, after deputies acting on a court order rounded up several of her relatives at home. Jacqueline Garcia’s grandfather, who had been raising her and her brother, was deported in May, after deputies arrested him for some type of traffic violation that she could not describe.

“I know how it feels,” Jacqueline, 15, often tells the prospective voters she meets on the hours she spends canvassing. She knocks on doors every evening after classes at Carl Hayden Community High School, where she is a sophomore.

By their count, the community groups registered 34,327 Latino voters over the past six months. Bruce Merrill, a senior research fellow at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University, said the sheriff’s race and a Senate contest featuring Richard H. Carmona, a Hispanic Democrat, are expected to drive up turnout among Latino voters.

Other signs already pointed to a hard-fought election for Sheriff Arpaio, 80, whose jurisdiction is Maricopa County. Just this year, he has been on trial over allegations of civil rights violations against Latinos, who accused him of targeting them in raids and traffic stops. The Justice Department sued him on the same grounds, and other lawsuits have been filed, by inmates and inmates’ families, claiming mistreatment in the county jails.

Throughout his tenure — he was first elected in 1992 — Sheriff Arpaio has welcomed the criticism brought by his directives, like outfitting inmates in pink underwear, creating a female chain gang and unabashedly using the powers vested in him by the laws of the state to pursue illegal immigrants.

“He has been in office long enough to have alienated an awful lot of people,” Mr. Merrill said. “But the key thing to understand is that nobody here in Arizona knows who Paul Penzone is. This is a race of Joe Arpaio against Joe Arpaio.”

Mr. Penzone, 45, a Democrat, retired from the Phoenix Police Department three years ago after 21 years on the force, much of it working as an undercover narcotics officer and as a manager of its Silent Witness program, which offers rewards to people who help the authorities solve crimes. He is, however, very much a stranger among many voters.

When Yaraneth, 16, asked a woman on whose door she had knocked about Mr. Penzone, the woman replied, “I don’t know much about him.”

He has been working to introduce himself to voters bit by bit. He has hosted events in Fountain Hills, where Sheriff Arpaio lives, and in El Mirage, where the sheriff’s office failed to properly investigate a number of sex crimes.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Penzone spoke to 50 voters in Sun City, a retirement community just outside Phoenix and one of Sheriff Arpaio’s staunchest strongholds. Last week, he spoke to a group of voters who had helped start the effort to recall Russell K. Pearce, a former state senator who was the primary sponsor of the state’s controversial immigration bill. Mr. Penzone’s Web site prominently features a “Republicans for Penzone” link.

“The plan is to stay strong in our message, to define who I am and to ensure there’s honesty in the sheriff’s message,” Mr. Penzone said in an interview.

Sheriff Arpaio does not engage in traditional campaigning. He speaks or makes an appearance wherever he is invited, his campaign manager, Chad Willems, said. The invitations come often: the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation Ride for Kids in Phoenix on Oct. 21, the Real Estate Securities Symposium in neighboring Scottsdale on Oct. 22, the Fall Festival apple pie contest in Anthem on Oct. 27, and the dedication of a new Elks Lodge building in Mesa on Oct. 28. And those are just the ones he mentioned on his Twitter feed.

“He’s in high demand,” Mr. Willems said.

He also has a lot of money — $8.5 million at last count, way more than any other candidate vying for local elected office in the history of the state. His ads are all over television, portraying him as a devoted husband, highlighting his experience before his election to sheriff (he worked for years for the Drug Enforcement Administration) and telling voters about a piece of Mr. Penzone’s past that they may not have known — a domestic violence incident involving his former wife that resulted in orders of protection issued against both.

Mr. Penzone said she struck him with hockey sticks. She told the police that he pushed her against the door. A judge found Mr. Penzone to represent “a credible threat to the safety” of his ex-wife and ordered him to surrender his weapons, according to court documents.

In the interview, Mr. Penzone played down the episode, saying that it happened “more than 10 years ago” and that “there were no charges” or reprimands against him from that time, when he was still a police officer.

He and his supporters have labored to counter the barrage of Arpaio campaign ads over the past month with boots on the ground. Teams of volunteers fan across Latino enclaves every day; sometimes they get doors slammed in their faces, though other times they get to come in and help someone fill out a ballot received by mail. (Early voting is expected to account for roughly 60 percent of all votes cast in Arizona.)

Small victories charge them up. One afternoon, on the courtyard of a public housing development in South Phoenix, Yaraneth high-fived Mr. Trejo as they got one man to commit to casting a vote against Sheriff Arpaio.

“Jan Brewer, she’s next,” said Ms. Marin, referring to the state’s Republican governor, who has been tough on illegal immigration.


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

November 2, 2012

Second Illness Is Infecting Those Struck by Meningitis

By DENISE GRADY

Just when they might have thought they were in the clear, people recovering from meningitis in an outbreak caused by a contaminated steroid drug have been struck by a second illness.

The new problem, called an epidural abscess, is an infection near the spine at the site where the drug — contaminated by a fungus — was injected to treat back or neck pain. The abscesses are a localized infection, different from meningitis, which affects the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. But in some cases, an untreated abscess can cause meningitis. The abscesses have formed even while patients were taking powerful antifungal medicines, putting them back in the hospital for more treatment, often with surgery.

The problem has just begun to emerge, so far mostly in Michigan, which has had more people sickened by the drug — 112 out of 404 nationwide — than any other state.

“We’re hearing about it in Michigan and other locations as well,” said Dr. Tom M. Chiller, the deputy chief of the mycotic diseases branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We don’t have a good handle on how many people are coming back.”

He added, “We are just learning about this and trying to assess how best to manage these patients. They’re very complicated.”

In the last few days, about a third of the 53 patients treated for meningitis at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich., have returned with abscesses, said Dr. Lakshmi K. Halasyamani, the chief medical officer.

“This is a significant shift in the presentation of this fungal infection, and quite concerning,” she said. “An epidural abscess is very serious. It’s not something we expected.”

She and other experts said they were especially puzzled that the infections could occur even though patients were taking drugs that, at least in tests, appeared to work against the fungus causing the infection, a type of black mold called Exserohilum.

The main symptom is severe pain near the injection site. But the abscesses are internal, with no visible signs on the skin, so it takes an M.R.I. scan to make the diagnosis. Some patients have more than one abscess. In some cases, the infection can be drained or cleaned out by a neurosurgeon.

But sometimes fungal strands and abnormal tissue are wrapped around nerves and cannot be surgically removed, said Dr. Carol A. Kauffman, an expert on fungal diseases at the University of Michigan. In such cases, all doctors can do is give a combination of antifungal drugs and hope for the best. They have very little experience with this type of infection.

Some patients have had epidural abscesses without meningitis; St. Joseph Mercy Hospital has had 34 such cases.

A spokesman for the health department in Tennessee, which has had 78 meningitis cases, said that a few cases of epidural abscess had also occurred there, and that the state was trying to assess the extent of the problem.

Dr. Chiller said doctors were also reporting that some patients exposed to the tainted drug had arachnoiditis, a nerve inflammation near the spine that can cause intense pain, bladder problems and numbness.

“Unfortunately, we know from the rare cases of fungal meningitis that occur, that you can have complicated courses for this disease, and it requires prolonged therapy and can have some devastating consequences,” he said.

The meningitis outbreak, first recognized in late September, is one of the worst public health disasters ever caused by a contaminated drug. So far, 29 people have died, often from strokes caused by the infection. The case count is continuing to rise. The drug was a steroid, methylprednisolone acetate, made by the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass. Three contaminated lots of the drug, more than 17,000 vials, were shipped around the country, and about 14,000 people were injected with the drug, mostly for neck and back pain. But some received injections for arthritic joints and have developed joint infections.

Inspections of the compounding center have revealed extensive contamination. It has been shut down, as has another Massachusetts company, Ameridose, with some of the same owners. Both companies have had their products recalled.

Compounding pharmacies, which mix their own drugs, have had little regulation from either states or the federal government, and several others have been shut down recently after inspections found sanitation problems.

**********

November 2, 2012

Pennsylvania Report Left Out Data on Poisons in Water Near Gas Site

By JON HURDLE
NYT

PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvania officials reported incomplete test results that omitted data on some toxic metals that were found in drinking water taken from a private well near a natural gas drilling site, according to legal documents released this week.

The documents were part of a lawsuit claiming that natural gas extraction through a method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and storage of the resulting wastewater at a site in southwestern Pennsylvania has contaminated drinking water and sickened seven plaintiffs who live nearby.

In a deposition, a scientist for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection testified that her laboratory tested for a range of metals but reported results for only some of them because the department’s oil and gas division had not requested results from the full range of tests.

The scientist, Taru Upadhyay, the technical director of the department’s Bureau of Laboratories, said the metals found in the water sample but not reported to either the oil and gas division or to the homeowner who requested the tests, included copper, nickel, zinc and titanium, all of which may damage the health of people exposed to them, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Ms. Upadhyay said that the bureau did not arbitrarily decide to withhold those results. “It was not requested by our client for that particular test, so we did — it is not on our final report,” she said in a deposition on Sept. 26.

Another state environmental official, John Carson, a water quality specialist, testified in a separate deposition that he had received no training in what metals are found in the fluid used in fracking. Critics say that fracking contaminates public water supplies.

The defendants include Range Resources, a leading developer of natural gas in Pennsylvania, and 16 other companies serving the gas industry.

Kendra Smith, a lawyer for Loren Kiskadden, whose water was tested by the Environmental Protection Department, contended that the department purposely avoided reporting the full results of its tests of Mr. Kiskadden’s water in June 2011 and January 2012, after using a method established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency known as 200.7. The method tests for 24 metals, only eight of which were reported, Ms. Smith said.

“Testimony of Ms. Taru Upadhyay was quite alarming,” Ms. Smith wrote Thursday in a letter to Michael Krancer, the state environmental secretary. “She revealed what can only be characterized as a deliberate procedure” by the oil and gas division and the Bureau of Laboratories “to withhold critical water testing results.”

Kevin Sunday, a spokesman for the department, said Ms. Smith had failed to substantiate her “outrageous contention” that the department omitted key markers in tests for substances that typically occur in water samples from drilling in the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation rich in natural gas.

“The battery of analyses we order during investigations are thorough and give us the results we need to make sound determinations, which we fully stand behind,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Sunday said oil and gas division officials wanted to see only the results they deemed relevant to determining whether drinking water was being contaminated by Marcellus Shale gas drilling and production. The remaining metals were present in concentrations that were below federal standards for safe drinking water or had no such standards attached to them, and so were seen as not being useful to the analysis of whether gas drilling was affecting ground water, he said.

Ms. Smith noted that the metals not reported in Mr. Kiskadden’s tests have been identified by industry studies as being found as contaminants in water produced from oil and gas operations.

In the suit, filed in the Washington County Court of Common Pleas in May, Mr. Kiskadden lists health complaints — including nausea, bone pain, breathing difficulties and severe headaches — that he says are consistent with exposure to “hazardous chemicals and gases through air and water.”

Toxicology tests on Mr. Kiskadden and the other six plaintiffs who live within a mile of a Range Resources drill site and wastewater pond in Amwell Township have found the presence of toluene, benzene and arsenic in their bodies, according to the complaint.

The Amwell site is among those the E.P.A. is using in its national investigation into whether fracking affects groundwater and drinking water.

Companies like Range Resources insist that chemicals used in fracking cannot enter public water sources because they are insulated from aquifers by multilayered steel and concrete casings and are deployed a mile or more underground beneath thousands of feet of impervious rock.

State Representative Jesse J. White, a Democrat who represents part of Washington County, accused the Environmental Protection Department of manipulating water tests to hide what he called “adverse results” from gas-drilling operations.

Range Resources did not return calls seeking comment, but the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, said that the state lab had been endorsed as “well-managed, efficient and highly functional” by the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

John Schwartz contributed reporting from New York.


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« Reply #2898 on: Nov 04, 2012, 06:41 AM »

November 3, 2012

Close Army Ties of China’s New Leader Could Test the U.S.

By JANE PERLEZ
IHT

BEIJING — On one of his many visits abroad in recent years, Xi Jinping, the presumptive new leader of China, met in 2009 with local Chinese residents in Mexico City, where in a relaxed atmosphere he indirectly criticized the United States.

“There are a few foreigners, with full bellies, who have nothing better to do than try to point fingers at our country,” Mr. Xi said, according to a tape broadcast on Hong Kong television.  “China does not export revolution, hunger, poverty nor does China cause you any headaches. Just what else do you want?”

Mr. Xi is set to be elevated to the top post of the Chinese Communist Party at the 18th Party Congress scheduled to begin here on Nov. 8 — only two days after the American election. He will take the helm of a more confident China than the United States has ever known. He will be assuming supreme power in China at a time when relations between the two countries are adrift, sullied by suspicions over a clash of interests in Asia and by frequent attacks on China in the American presidential campaign.

In the last four months, China has forged an aggressive, more nationalistic posture in Asia that may set the tone for Mr. Xi’s expected decade-long tenure, analysts and diplomats say, pushing against American allies, particularly Japan, for what China considers its territorial imperatives. The son of a revolutionary general, Mr. Xi, 59, boasts far closer ties to China’s fast-growing military than the departing leader, Hu Jintao, had when he took office. As Mr. Xi rose through the ranks of the Communist Party, he made the most of parallel posts in the People’s Liberation Army, deeply familiarizing himself with the inner workings of the armed forces. 

 Even if Mr. Xi does not immediately become head of the crucial Central Military Commission as well as party leader, he will almost certainly do so within two years, giving him at least eight years as the direct overseer of the military.

This combination of political power as head of the Communist Party and good relations with a more robust military could make Mr. Xi a formidable leader for Washington to contend with, analysts and diplomats in China and the United States say. 

“The basic question is whether Xi will suspend the drift in the U.S.-China relationship and take concrete steps to put it on a more positive footing — or will he put it on a different, more confrontational track?” said Christopher K. Johnson, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and until recently a China analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency.

The answer appears to lie somewhere in between.

In a speech in Washington in February, Mr. Xi said that China and the United States should forge a “new type of relationship between major countries in the 21st century.”

Mr. Xi offered little specificity beyond respect for each side’s “core interests and major concerns,” “increasing mutual understanding and strategic trust” and “enhancing cooperation and coordination in international affairs.”

But essentially, said Jin Canrong, a professor at the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, Mr. Xi was challenging the global leadership of the United States by suggesting that Washington needs to make room for China’s rising power.

“China should shoulder some responsibility for the United States and the United States should share power with China,” Dr. Jin said. “The United States elites won’t like it,” he added, “but they will have to” accept it.

Dr. Jin predicted that the Chinese economy would continue to grow at a much faster pace than America’s. “That fact will change their minds,” Dr. Jin said of American attitudes toward sharing power with China.

Before becoming heir apparent — ascending at the last party congress in 2007 to the position of first secretary of the Communist Party and then a few months later to the vice presidency of the Chinese government — Mr. Xi had little exposure to the world beyond  China.

Significantly, though, he spent much of his career before moving to Beijing in the coastal area of Fujian and Zhejiang Provinces across from Taiwan, which China regards as a breakaway province. In that capacity, he nurtured economic ties with Taiwan, and met frequently with Taiwan business leaders who made huge investments transforming the two provinces into one of China’s most powerful economic engines.

In 2003, when he was elevated from provincial governor to party chief in Zhejiang, the top position there, Mr. Xi kept the portfolio of relations with Taiwan, even though Taiwan affairs were usually relegated to the governor, said Joseph Wu, a former representative of Taiwan in Washington and a member of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party. In the medium term, Mr. Wu said, he expects Mr. Xi to be “tougher” in calling for greater integration between Taiwan and the mainland, a policy that Taiwan has resisted so far.

Since becoming vice president, Mr. Xi has visited more than 50 countries, a concerted effort to get to know the world before taking power, said Bo Zhiyue, senior research fellow at the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, who tracks elite politics in China.

In contrast, Mr. Hu made 17 foreign visits during his tenure as vice president, Dr. Bo said.

One of the big changes from the past decade, when China’s foreign policy was focused on securing raw materials from abroad for its soaring domestic economy, will be a stronger emphasis on building up the military to protect China’s interests in Asia and expand its reach abroad. Mr. Xi is perfectly positioned to take on that role.

“The P.L.A. considers he is their man,” said Dr. Jin, the professor at Renmin University.

Mr. Xi will be in charge of a military whose budget almost certainly will grow at a pace with the economy, or even faster. The People’s Liberation Army is awaiting an array of sophisticated weaponry now under development, including space and long-range missiles capable of use against American aircraft carriers in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The question is how it plans to exploit them.

“There are voices in China saying that now that the military has the capacity, they should use them,” said Phillip C. Saunders, director of the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs at the National Defense University in Washington.

As vice president, Mr. Xi has served as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission since 2010 under President Hu. As part of the brutal factional politics at the top of the Communist Party, Mr. Hu delayed Mr. Xi’s rise to the deputy post by one year, but that did little to undermine his longstanding ties to army leaders, Chinese officials say.

The Chinese military’s new buoyancy comes as America’s allies across Asia — Japan, South Korea, Australia and other friends, particularly Singapore and India — worry whether the United States has the money, and the will, to enhance its military presence in Asia, as President Obama has promised. 

In this situation, China will try to make inroads across the region, Asian diplomats say.

But Mr. Xi, with his strong standing with military leaders, may also find himself called on at times to restrain the ambitions of the army. “Xi will have to guide strategy,” Dr. Saunders said. “Then he has to go back to the P.L.A. and say, ‘This is how it will be.’ That is potentially contentious.”

Even before his watch begins, many see the stiffer hand of Mr. Xi in disputes in the South China Sea with the Philippines and Vietnam and in the East China Sea with Japan.

Chinese officials and commentators have alluded recently to what they see as the need for Japan to distance itself from the United States, even forgo the mutual defense treaty with Washington.

When Mr. Xi met with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta in Beijing in September, he delivered “an earful,” and left the unmistakable message that the United States should stay out of the way in the standoff between Japan and China over claims to the disputed islands.

Many see that as a harbinger of an effort by Mr. Xi over the next decade to increase the power and presence of China in Asia, a region where the United States has held the upper hand since the end of World War II.

Bree Feng contributed reporting.

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

Watch: China’s future leaders learn founding ideology at ‘Communism camp’

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 3, 2012 9:00 EST

In the remote Jinggang mountains, China’s future communist elite are being trained in Mao Zedong’s former guerrilla base, an effort to buttress the revolutionary roots of a regime striving to maintain its legitimacy.

The Communist Party’s embrace of state-directed capitalism has utterly transformed China since Mao died in 1976. But heading into a once-a-decade power shift next week, it still plays a balancing act with its founding ideology.

At the Jinggangshan leadership academy, high-ranking officials of the party gather round on stools for lessons intended to deepen their understanding of the revolutionary communism espoused by Mao, who founded Red China in 1949.

“Many cadres, after hearing stories about the martyrs of the revolution, they ask themselves questions. They want to work more in order to better serve the people,” said Yao Yuzhen, a teacher at the institute and grandson of a Mao-era army veteran.

Since 2005, trainees have been attending courses for days or weeks at the institute in the central Chinese town of Ciping, a hotspot for “red tourism” honouring Mao, the architect of collectivism and state control.

In the 1930s some of Mao’s revolutionary fighting force set off from the remote, mountainous area on the Long March that kept alive their struggle to take over China, and the teachings aim to inspire future leaders with their ideology.

“It is here that the system of Maoist thought took form. For every Chinese, for party members and leaders, it is a sacred place,” said Liu Fusheng, a trainee and manager of the major port in the northern city of Tianjin.

“Mao left the Chinese people, including me, a very precious heritage,” he added.

Mao remains both venerated and feared — his successor Deng Xiaoping appraised his performance as “70 percent good, 30 percent bad”. His giant portrait continues to hang over Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, and his embalmed body rests in perpetuity in a mausoleum at the opposite end of the square.

“The Cultural Revolution is a very sad page in history. Many people, including my parents, were attacked. It was a tragedy,” said Liu, referring to the chaotic and bloody era spanning 1966-76 when Mao encouraged fanatical followers to purge China of “impure” elements.

Seared by that experience, and by the folk memory of Mao-era famines linked to disastrous economic policies, today’s leaders crave stability above all else.

Helping cadres keep the faith is seen as vital for the long-run future of the Communist Party. Despite having 82 million members and drawing popular support from decades of economic growth, the party has disenchanted many Chinese.

Widespread corruption and a year of scandal surrounding disgraced regional boss Bo Xilai leaves China’s new crop of leaders — who are set to be named at the party’s 18th congress starting Thursday — facing an identity crisis.

Bo, who will go on trial for corruption and other crimes, had led a Mao revival in the megacity of Chongqing with the singing of “red songs” and building of statues of the “Great Helmsman”, striking a chord with many Chinese.

Mao’s image resonates with some in part due to nostalgia for the extreme egalitarianism he imposed, especially as today’s “red capitalism” is associated by many with the pampered “princeling” offspring of high officials.

In September, the party demoted senior figure Ling Jihua after his son reportedly crashed a Ferrari in Beijing in a high-speed fatal accident that caused another embarrassing scandal.

The backlash against the perceived excesses and cronyism that have accompanied economic reform has given rise to a “conservative” left-wing including intellectuals and neo-Maoists.

So the party has to balance its espousal of market reforms with a purer strain of Maoist teaching taken from a simpler age, long before China became the world’s second-largest economy.

Heading the communism school in Jinggangshan is Li Yuanchao, the powerful chief of the party’s Organisation Department, which appoints key posts in the party and state-owned enterprises.

Under his leadership, there is official acknowledgement at the school that the country is thriving thanks to open markets and globalisation.

Along with tomes on the revolution, the library includes “many books” on the economy and modern finance as well as biographies of Western leaders such as Charles De Gaulle and Franklin D. Roosevelt, said Kuang Sheng, the school’s head of learning.

At the same time, he said: “To elevate party members’ level of theory, we have books on Marxist-Leninist thought.”

Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDZND2kJ2Uo&feature=player_embedded


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« Reply #2899 on: Nov 04, 2012, 06:49 AM »

November 3, 2012

Algeria Gains Crucial Help in Fight Against Al Qaeda

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

ALGIERS (AP) — Weary from years of kidnappings, the inhabitants of Algeria’s rugged Kabylie mountains are finally turning against the fighters of Al Qaeda’s North Africa affiliate in their midst and helping security forces hunt them down. And that turnaround is giving Algeria its best chance yet to drive the terror network from its last Algerian stronghold.

While defeated in much of the rest of the country, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb remains active in the Kabylie, partly because the Berbers there, the region’s original inhabitants before the arrival of Arabs, have long been deeply hostile to the central government and refused to provide information on militant whereabouts or activity.

The situation began changing after a string of militant attacks over the summer, culminating in a daylight assault against a police station, prompted Algeria to hold an emergency security meeting to devise a new strategy to take on the militants, said a high-ranking official with knowledge of the meeting.

A pillar of the counterterror blueprint in this case has been exploiting frustrations over kidnappings to win over the Berbers, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.

The strategy appears to be working.

It first bore fruit with the capture early last month of a military commander. The biggest coup came on Oct. 14, with the killing of Bekkai Boualem, also known as Khaled El Mig, the head of external relations for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Since then, four other suspected militants were ambushed and killed by security forces after tipoffs from the local population.

The successes have some Algerians hoping that the country may finally quash a decades-old Islamist insurgency.

The steady campaign of kidnappings in the region, believed to be carried out to finance militant operations, was painful for many reasons. The kidnappings not only spread terror, but they also had an economic impact. More than 70 of those targeted in the past year were prominent businessmen, which led businesses to begin to flee the region.

“The kidnappings were interpreted by the people of the Kabylie as an effort by the terrorists to bring the local economy, already suffering from unemployment, to its knees,” the security official said.

Mahmoud Bellabes, the president of the regional council for the Kabylie, said that while most inhabitants still viewed the army and gendarmes with suspicion, there was a growing trust for the police.

“In recent weeks, the terrorists were caught thanks to information given by the citizens to police when they saw unknown people in the area,” he said, “so there has been small coordination between the police and locals.”

Militants took up arms against the Algerian government after the generals in 1992 canceled a parliamentary election that an Islamist party was poised to win. In the ensuing fighting, an estimated 200,000 died.

Aided by a combination of ruthless repression and amnesty offers, the army gradually pushed the militants, who declared allegiance to Al Qaeda in 2006, into the mountains of the Kabylie region.

Riccardo Fabiani, the North Africa analyst for the London-based Eurasia Group, cautioned against pronouncing the end of the Qaeda affiliate in the Kabylie region too quickly, since the government keeps a tight lid on all information regarding the battle against the militants.

“There are no reliable statistics on terrorists in Algeria: no one knows anything about how many new recruits there are every year, how many people abandon terrorism within the framework of the national reconciliation program, how many people are actually killed,” he said.

Echoing the opinion of many people in the Kabylie, Mr. Fabiani also noted that, to some extent, it serves the government’s interests to have a constant low-level threat in an area remote from the capital to remind people of the darker days of the civil war.

“This is not to say that the government manipulates terrorism — we don’t know that,” he said, “but for sure, a certain level of fear is instrumental to the current political equilibrium.”
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« Reply #2900 on: Nov 04, 2012, 06:50 AM »

November 3, 2012

Resilient Romania Finds a Currency Advantage in a Crisis

By DAN BILEFSKY
IHT

BUCHAREST, Romania — When German de Marco’s work dried up in beleaguered Spain earlier this year, the high-powered civil engineer never imagined that Romania, the European Union’s second-poorest country, would provide his economic lifeline.

But after the Spanish government ran out of money and halted construction of the high-speed railway he was working on, Mr. De Marco, a 34-year-old Spaniard, found a job here supervising the building of a $90 million tramline. The rent on his apartment in an elegant neighborhood in the Romanian capital is half what it was in Barcelona, helping him save an extra $1,300 a month.

“When my boss suggested transferring me to Romania, I initially thought, ‘You must be kidding,’ ” Mr. de Marco said. Yet, after eight months here, he does not want to leave.

Mr. de Marco’s unlikely pilgrimage eastward underscores how many of the European Union’s former Communist states are proving remarkably resilient in weathering the crisis. Those newcomers to the union have been conditioned by decades of hardship under the Kremlin’s rule. But as the euro crisis has deepened, it has also helped that Romania and the others have kept their own currencies.

That has given these still-developing countries a host of advantages, while many economists believe the euro zone’s one-size-fits-all monetary policy has hampered Ireland, Greece and Spain in restarting their moribund economies. Indeed, many of the post-Communist states are having strong second thoughts about their long-running goal of joining the euro.

Mugur Isarescu, the governor of the National Bank of Romania, said in an interview that maintaining its own currency had given Romania the flexibility to set interest rates, control liquidity and allow the currency to depreciate to help rein in the deficit. In the absence of control over monetary policy, he noted, euro zone countries like Greece are forced to rely primarily on fiscal policy: taxing and spending.

“Of course there is a backlash and disappointment because E.U. accession was seen as a panacea,” he said. “The dreams were too high.”

In Romania’s case, maintaining its cheaper currency, the lei, has made its exports — two-thirds of which go to the euro zone — more competitive and given it a lower cost of living that has made the country a sudden draw for highly qualified workers from struggling euro zone countries.

Though millions of Romanians were streaming into Spain and Italy in search of economic opportunity only a few years ago, today Spanish unemployment hovers near 25 percent, while in Romania it is about 7 percent.

Seven of the 10 former Communist countries in the European Union have yet to adopt the euro. The Czech Republic, which uses the koruna, wants a referendum before joining and has cited 2020 as the earliest target date. Hungary has stuck with its currency, the forint, and said it would not adopt the euro before 2018. In Poland, Prime Minister Donald Tusk recently deemed the euro “completely unattractive.”

Romania’s previous target for joining the euro zone, in 2015, is now “out of the question,” Mr. Isarescu said. Nevertheless, he argued that trying to meet the criteria to join — including keeping budget deficits below 3 percent of gross domestic product — was good discipline.

Though buffeted by the crisis, some countries in Eastern and Central Europe are holding up better than their neighbors to the west that have been joined at the hip by the euro. Poland’s economy was the only one in the European Union to grow in 2009, the year the financial crisis exploded. The Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania, which underwent painful austerity, are booming again. Even in growth-starved countries like the Czech Republic, the social upheaval has been tame compared with the likes of Greece, with Czechs far more likely to vent their frustrations in the pub than on the street.

“We in this region are used to living through difficult times,” said Tomas Sedlacek, a leading Czech economist who was an adviser to former President Vaclav Havel. “We still remember Communism when we were poor and miserable and far worse off than Greece.”

Of course, Romania has hardly been immune from crisis. Successive governments have grappled with a backlash against austerity. And the political turmoil that ensued when the government of Prime Minister Victor Ponta pressed, and failed, to impeach President Traian Basescu this summer shook investor confidence. It also called into question the future of a $26 billion rescue package from the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the World Bank that Romania obtained in 2009 in exchange for drastic spending cuts.

The I.M.F. has since made available the latest tranche of about $650 million. Economists said Romania had avoided the profligacy that has unhinged the Greek economy, thanks in part to tough austerity measures beginning three years ago. Romania slashed public sector wages by 25 percent and raised its value-added tax to 24 percent from 19 percent, helping stave off budgetary shortfalls.

Romania’s budget deficit amounted to about $2 billion, or 1.2 percent of gross domestic product, in the first nine months of the year, compared with $17 billion, or 5 percent of gross domestic product, in Greece. (Growth this year in Romania is expected to be about 1 percent, according to the government, compared with an expected contraction of more than 6.5 percent in Greece.)

Beyond the advantages of being outside the euro zone, Romania also benefited from the exodus of nearly three million Romanians after it joined the European Union in 2007, said Daniel Daianu, professor of economics at the National School of Political and Administrative Studies in Bucharest and a former finance minister. The manpower drain kept unemployment relatively low and lessened the financial strain on the state. Even with the crisis engulfing southern Europe, few Romanians have returned home.

Though dilapidated tenement houses and poor people hawking scrap metal remain a feature of daily life here in the capital, designer shops, hip sushi restaurants and disco clubs now compete with the stray dogs and street children that have long blighted Romania’s image abroad.

In Timisoara, a Transylvanian Silicon Valley about 100 miles from Bucharest, about 5,000 foreign companies, including Alcatel-Lucent, Microsoft and Oracle, have invested, drawn by the country’s talented pool of engineers, relatively low wages and a strategic location between east and west.

While the recent political instability has caused major jitters, foreign investors said they were here for the longer term.

Dacia, owned by the French carmaker Renault, is one of the largest investors in the country. Currently employing 8,000 people, it has invested more than $2.6 billion since 2000.

Jerome Olive, Dacia’s general manager, noted that the competitive cost of doing business in Romania was helping somewhat to offset the punishing downturn. The cost of an entry-level engineer in Romania is about $1,925 a month — about half that of a similarly qualified engineer in France. “In Romania our factories never stop,” he said.

Mr. de Marco, the Spanish engineer, also praised the Romanian work ethic, though he conceded that it was awkward that he earned 10 times as much as Romanian managers.

“It is easier here to manage a team,” he said. “In Spain, people talk back.”
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« Reply #2901 on: Nov 04, 2012, 06:54 AM »

India Ink

Outsourcing Giant Finds It Must Be Client, Too

By VIKAS BAJAJ
India Times

NEW DELHI — Every three months, India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, meets with a special panel assigned the ambitious task of figuring out how to produce 500 million skilled workers over the next two decades.

The panel is a cross section of India’s power elite, including many of the usual figures like the education minister, the finance minister and the former chief executive of the country’s biggest software outsourcing company. Then there is a more curious choice: Manish Sabharwal.

Mr. Sabharwal runs TeamLease, a Bangalore-based agency that has created thousands of jobs by fielding temporary workers for companies in India that want to expand their work force while skirting India’s stringent labor laws, which businesses say discourage the hiring of permanent employees. Many labor leaders and left-leaning politicians accuse him of running the nation’s largest illegal business.

He does not completely disagree.

“We should not exist,” Mr. Sabharwal, a 40-year-old graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said about his company, which has 60,000 employees. “The genius of India is to allow us to exist.”

What Mr. Sabharwal calls “genius” others would call dysfunction, or at the very least, an elaborate workaround, or temporary fix.

India is known the world over as a prime innovator of outsourcing for foreign companies, which take advantage of its cheap, English-speaking labor force. Less well known is the extent to which Indian companies outsource their own jobs within their own country.

Walk into any of India’s shining new shopping malls that sell expensive brands, like Gucci and Satya Paul, and many of the store clerks, janitors and security guards will be on the payrolls of outsourcing companies, not those of the owners of the mall or stores in it, executives say.

The practice highlights a fundamental tension between India’s socialist past and a new freewheeling, private sector that is increasingly powering the economy while chafing at what many companies say are laws so protective of workers that they blunt hiring and stifle growth.

Mr. Sabharwal provides a backdoor way around the old system in a manner that is not without controversy. He fills thousands of jobs at a cost that allows many companies to continue to function, and even helps retrain India’s large population of young job seekers — half of Indians are 25 or younger — who are undereducated and ill prepared to enter the labor force.

In that highly competitive environment for jobs, Mr. Sabharwal supplies workers who are paid as little as half of what permanent employees earn and who usually receive few benefits. Though technically temporary, many of them keep their status at the same companies for years. In India’s nascent industrial hubs near New Delhi, autoworkers are increasingly protesting the use and treatment of the kind of contract workers Mr. Sabharwal supplies, who lack job security.

But the reason Mr. Sabharwal has thrived, he and others say, is because India needs him. The nation’s complex web of federal and state labor laws intended to protect permanent workers are so onerous that few employers want to hire them, they say.

Those laws cover virtually every aspect of employment — how workers are hired, what they are paid, how many hours they can work and whether they can be fired. Factories employing 100 or more workers are not allowed to lay off employees without the government’s permission.

The laws are unevenly enforced, but many businesses still consider them so cumbersome that they find it worthwhile to have somebody else manage the “compliance issues,” which is why TeamLease also employs about 60 people in its regulatory division who do so.

“India, compared to even European countries, has more restrictive labor laws,” said Sean Dougherty, a senior adviser at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development who has studied India’s labor market.

Mr. Sabharwal has provided a way around what many see as those daunting obstacles to growth, at least for now. But even he argues that his workaround business model is not sufficient for India to bolster manufacturing — still just 16 percent of the economy — and to create new jobs for the 12 million people who enter the labor force every year.

He is among the first to acknowledge that many workers suffer because the workaround model does not itself create enough good jobs. But it is offering an opportunity for growth where the old model does not.

“For business, labor laws are a thorn in the side, not a dagger in the heart,” Mr. Sabharwal said. “People who are hurt the most are people who need to get off farms, labor market outsiders, people from small towns, the less educated, the less skilled.”

An Unlikely Entrepreneur

TeamLease is not the business Mr. Sabharwal set out to open.

During the 1970s, when he and his family spent four years in Washington, a question kept nagging him: “Americans weren’t really smarter than us, but why were they richer than us?”

It was a timely question because India’s economy then was turning increasingly socialist and state-directed. Policy makers nationalized large banks, raised the highest tax rate to 97.5 percent and required factories with 300 or more workers to get government permission before layoffs, a threshold later reduced.

Mr. Sabharwal’s family of civil servants and teachers believed in India’s socialist policies. His father, who worked for a time at the Indian Embassy in Washington, was a solid member of the establishment.

“We had arguments about government versus private sector, growth versus facilities in the government,” his father, Mahendra, said.

The younger Mr. Sabharwal defended the private sector, which he argued was more effective than the government and the reason for America’s greater riches. He became convinced that he could have a bigger impact on India as an entrepreneur than by joining the civil service as his father had done.

He wanted to start a business. But first, he said, he had to learn how a free-market economy worked. So, with his grandparents paying the tuition bill, he went to the Wharton School. “I wanted to go out and understand how business was done without regulatory connections,” he said.

At Wharton, professors and friends say, he worked with single-minded focus on a business plan — not for TeamLease, but for a private insurance company, India Life, which he hoped would take on the state monopoly. But back in India, policy makers were not yet willing to introduce competition in the insurance industry. He hit a brick wall.

Then one day an Indian manager at Siemens, the German company, complained to him about the tedium of processing payroll and benefits paperwork. Mr. Sabharwal decided to turn India Life into an outsourcing company to do that work.

In 2001, Hewitt, an American company, acquired India Life. A year later, Mr. Sabharwal and his partner, Ashok Reddy, started TeamLease to solve another frequent problem clients complained about: hiring and managing employees in the thicket of India’s complex labor laws.

Work in the New Economy

Today, one of TeamLease’s biggest clients is Whirlpool, the American appliance maker. In 1997, a few years after Whirlpool arrived in India, it hired hundreds of salesmen and sent them to independent retail stores to sell washing machines, refrigerators and air-conditioners to middle-class Indians who had never bought such appliances before. But soon executives were overwhelmed trying to keep abreast of changes in labor laws and various minimum-wage rules in India’s 28 states.

So Whirlpool began outsourcing its sales staff, which has since grown to 1,850 people — first to a staffing agency called Adecco and later to TeamLease. Excluding 250 people who work at the company’s own stores, most of its sales workers are employed by TeamLease, which handles their wages, commissions, health care and retirement savings.

Indian executives at Whirlpool, which sells appliances in 130 countries, said India was perhaps one of only a few places where an outside company managed its sales staff.

“Having a guy on your payroll comes with a lot of responsibility,” said Hardesh Chojher, general manager of marketing at Whirlpool in India. “For example, each state has its minimum wage, which is revised every three months.”

Many employers in India rely on contract hiring agencies like TeamLease, though many are reluctant to say so publicly. Indeed, foreign companies that come to India often hire law firms and staffing agencies before hiring anyone else.

Nearly one-quarter of India’s industrial laborers worked on contracts in 2007, up from just 16 percent in 2000, according to government data. The share of temporary workers in India’s large services sector is believed to be even higher, though the government does not collect that data. Even government agencies increasingly rely on temporary employees.

Unlike in the United States, where temporary workers are rotated between job sites, in India contract workers often stay in some jobs for years. Arun Gour, 25, joined Whirlpool’s sales team as a contract worker about four years ago in Yamunanagar, a town 120 miles north of New Delhi. After smashing sales records, he was promoted this year to a job at Whirlpool’s Indian headquarters in Gurgaon, a booming city just south of New Delhi, where he collects and processes sales data from around the country.

Mr. Gour makes about 18,000 rupees, or $345, a month, a good salary by Indian standards, and he has access to a government-run retirement-savings plan and health insurance. He said he hoped one day to be promoted onto Whirlpool’s payroll so he could earn more money and receive better benefits.

“I am very proud that I am providing for my family,” Mr. Gour said, speaking of his wife and mother, who still live in Yamunanagar. “I have friends from college who are looking for work. Some of them have master’s degrees and they are earning 6,000 or 7,000 a month,” or about $115 to $134.

A Flawed System

Not everyone is as happy. About 30 miles south of New Delhi along the dusty highway to Jaipur lies Manesar, one of India’s new industrial boomtowns. There, more than 100,000 workers — about 30 percent of them on contracts — toil in the factories of Indian and multinational companies like Maruti Suzuki, Videocon, Mitsubishi and Honda.

While the factories have been profitable and have provided new jobs, both labor and management are frustrated. Workers complain about the expanding ranks of contract workers who are paid a fraction of what regular employees earn and receive few benefits, and they say that there are not enough jobs to begin with.

Corporate executives say that India’s restrictive labor laws force them to hire and train contract workers who feel no loyalty to them, and that finding skilled workers is difficult.

In early October, these frustrations boiled over when 2,000 workers at Maruti Suzuki, India’s largest car company, went on strike and shut down a plant that produced as many as 1,200 cars a day. The spark for the strike was that the company had not immediately taken back 1,200 contract workers who supported 1,000 regular employees during a previous dispute, underscoring the vulnerability of the temporary hires.

“Everyone aspires to become a permanent employee,” Rajbir, a 23-year-old contract worker who only uses one name, said while he camped with other striking workers outside the factory gates. He said he worked on a contract basis because he needed the money and had few other options. “Wherever we go, there will be similar problems,” he said.

The chairman of Maruti Suzuki, R. C. Bhargava, disputed the workers’ allegations, but he acknowledged that Indian companies hired too many contract workers. He said policy makers should give companies more flexibility in laying off workers and, in exchange, force them to offer workers generous unemployment insurance. “This conflict situation doesn’t help anybody,” Mr. Bhargava said.

In October, the Indian government proposed letting ailing factories lay off workers if they offered unemployment insurance. But the provision would apply only to companies in a few new manufacturing zones. Analysts say policy makers are unlikely to consider broader reforms in the next few years because there is a deadlock between advocates for change like Prime Minister Singh and lawmakers who believe that any weakening of laws would hurt workers.

In the meantime, many economists assert that India’s labor laws will continue to restrict the country’s job growth, at least in the formal sector. While that is bad news for India, it is a circumstance that continues to allow Mr. Sabharwal’s business to thrive. Last year it grew by 10,000 employees.

His company had $160 million in revenue last year and is growing about 20 percent a year, executives said. Last year, it acquired the Indian Institute of Job Training, which runs 120 centers that provide courses in English, bookkeeping, computer applications and other subjects. TeamLease also plans to build 22 community colleges in the western state of Gujarat.

Mr. Sabharwal said his business could grow even faster if the government changed the labor laws because that would create more jobs and increase demand for job training. But he is not letting government inaction hold him back.

“If you wait for all the lights to be green in India,” he said, “you will never leave home.”

Sruthi Gottipati contributed reporting from Manesar, India, and Neha Thirani from Mumbai, India.
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« Reply #2902 on: Nov 04, 2012, 06:55 AM »

November 3, 2012

Gay Pakistanis, Still in Shadows, Seek Acceptance

By MEGHAN DAVIDSON LADLY
IHT

LAHORE, Pakistan — The group meets irregularly in a simple building among a row of shops here that close in the evening. Drapes cover the windows. Sometimes members watch movies or read poetry. Occasionally, they give a party, dance and drink and let off steam.

The group is invitation only, by word of mouth. Members communicate through an e-mail list and are careful not to jeopardize the location of their meetings. One room is reserved for “crisis situations,” when someone may need a place to hide, most often from her own family. This is their safe space — a support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pakistanis.

“The gay scene here is very hush-hush,” said Ali, a member who did not want his full name used. “I wish it was a bit more open, but you make do with what you have.”

That is slowly changing as a relative handful of younger gays and lesbians, many educated in the West, seek to foster more acceptance of their sexuality and to carve out an identity, even in a climate of religious conservatism.

Homosexual acts remain illegal in Pakistan, based on laws constructed by the British during colonial rule. No civil rights legislation exists to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.

But the reality is far more complex, more akin to “don’t ask, don’t tell” than a state-sponsored witch hunt. For a long time, the state’s willful blindness has provided space enough for gays and lesbians. They socialize, organize, date and even live together as couples, though discreetly.

One journalist, in his early 40s, has been living as a gay man in Pakistan for almost two decades. “It’s very easy being gay here, to be honest,” he said, though he and several others interviewed did not want their names used for fear of the social and legal repercussions. “You can live without being hassled about it,” he said, “as long as you are not wearing a pink tutu and running down the street carrying a rainbow flag.”

The reason is that while the notion of homosexuality may be taboo, homosocial, and even homosexual, behavior is common enough. Pakistani society is sharply segregated on gender lines, with taboos about extramarital sex that make it almost harder to conduct a secret heterosexual romance than a homosexual one. Displays of affection between men in public, like hugging and holding hands, are common. “A guy can be with a guy anytime, anywhere, and no one will raise an eyebrow,” the journalist said.

For many in his and previous generations, he said, same-sex attraction was not necessarily an issue because it did not involve questions of identity. Many Pakistani men who have sex with men do not think of themselves as gay. Some do it regularly, when they need a break from their wives, they say, and some for money.

But all the examples of homosexual relations — in Sufi poetry, Urdu literature or discreet sexual conduct — occur within the private sphere, said Hina Jilani, a human rights lawyer and activist for women’s and minority rights. Homoeroticism can be expressed but not named.

“The biggest hurdle,” Ms. Jilani said, “is finding the proper context in which to bring this issue out into the open.”

That is what the gay and lesbian support group in Lahore is slowly seeking to do, even if it still meets in what amounts to near secrecy.

The driving force behind the group comes from two women, ages 30 and 33. They are keenly aware of the oddity that two women, partners no less, have become architects of the modern gay scene in Lahore; if gay and bisexual men barely register in the collective societal consciousness of Pakistan, their female counterparts are even less visible.

“The organizing came from my personal experience of extreme isolation, the sense of being alone and different,” the 30-year-old said.

She decided that she needed to find others like her in Pakistan. Eight people, mostly the couple’s friends, attended the first meeting in January 2009.

Two months later, the two women formed an activist group they call O. They asked for its full name not to be published because it is registered as a nongovernmental organization with the government, with its true purpose concealed because of the laws against homosexual acts.

O conducts research into lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, provides legal advice and has helped remove people from difficult family situations, and in one case a foreign-operated prostitution ring. The group has made a conscious decision to focus its efforts on the dynamic of family and building social acceptance and awareness rather than directly tackling legal discrimination.

Their current fight is not to overturn Article 377 of the Pakistan Penal Code, on “Unnatural Offenses,” but to influence parents’ deciding whether or not to shun their gay child. They see this approach as ultimately more productive.

“If you talk about space in Pakistan in terms of milestones that happen in the other parts of the world like pride parades or legal reform or whatever, that’s not going to happen for a long time,” the 33-year-old organizer, who identifies as bisexual, said. “Families making space — that’s what’s important to us right now.” Both women say their families have accepted them, though it was a process.

There are distinct class differences at work here, particularly when it comes to self-definition. Most of those actively involved in fostering the gay and lesbian community in Pakistan, even if they have not been educated abroad, are usually college graduates and are familiar with the evolution of Western thought concerning sexuality. Mostly city-dwellers, they come from families whose parents can afford to send their children to school.

Those who identify themselves as gay here are usually middle and upper middle class, the 33-year-old woman said. “You will get lower middle class or working-class women refusing to call themselves lesbian because that to them is an insult, so they’ll say ‘woman loving woman.’ ”

While the journalist lives relatively openly as a gay man, and says his immediate family accepts it, he understands that older gays have separated sexuality from identity, and he also recognizes that this approach is changing.

Still, he sees the potential for serious conflict for younger Pakistanis who are growing up with a more westernized sense of sexual identity.

“They’ve got all the access to content coming from a Western space, but they don’t have the outlets for expression that exist over there,” he said. “Inevitably they will feel a much greater sense of frustration and express it in ways that my generation wouldn’t have.”

That clash of ideologies was evident last year on June 26, when the American Embassy in Islamabad held its first lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride celebration. The display of support for gay rights prompted a backlash, setting off demonstrations in Karachi and Lahore, and protesters clashing with the police outside the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad. This year, the embassy said, it held a similar event but did not issue a news release about it.

“It is the policy of the United States government to support and promote equal rights for all human beings,” an embassy spokeswoman, Rian Harris, said by e-mail when asked about the backlash. “We are committed to standing up for these values around the world, including here in Pakistan.”

Well intended as it may have been, the event was seen by many in Pakistan’s gay community as detrimental to their cause. The 33-year-old activist strongly believes it was a mistake.

“The damage that the U.S. pride event has done is colossal,” she said, “just in terms of creating an atmosphere of fear that was not there before. The public eye is not what we need right now.”

Despite the hostile climate, both the support group and O continue their work. O is currently researching violence against lesbian, bisexual and transgender Pakistanis.

“In a way, we are just role models for each other,” the 30-year-old said. When she was growing up, she said, she did not know anyone who was gay and she could not imagine such a life.

“For me the whole activism is to create that space in which we can imagine a future for ourselves, and not even imagine but live that future,” she said. “And we are living it. I’m living my own impossibility.”
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« Reply #2903 on: Nov 04, 2012, 06:57 AM »

Greek Orthodox patriarch threatens to close Holy Sepulchre over water dispute

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 3, 2012 0:43 EST

A dispute with an Israeli water company over unpaid bills has led to a Greek Orthodox threat to close Christianity’s holiest site, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Maariv newspaper reported on Friday that the Hagihon water company said it is was owed 9 million shekels ($2.1 million) in unpaid bills dating back decades.

In protest, the Greek Orthodox patriarchate, a joint custodian of the church, has threatened to close the Holy Sepulchre, said to be the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.

Any such measure, however, would need the agreement of the Catholic and Armenian churches, which are co-custodians.

The Greek Orthodox Church contends that the Holy Sepulchre was always treated as a special case and exempted from water fees, unlike other churches in the Holy Land.

Its bank accounts have been blocked because of the dispute, according to Maariv, leaving the church unable to pay its priests or expenses, including electricity and telephone bills.

“Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III has spoken (to church officials) about taking measures… in protest at Israeli actions against the church,” said Dimitri Diliani, president of the National Christian Coalition in the Holy Land.

“He is consulting with the heads of churches to take the drastic measure of shutting down the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” Diliani, a Greek Orthodox Palestinian, told AFP.

“It’s not a matter of money, it’s a change in the status quo that has protected the church for hundreds of years, it’s a way to pressure the churches and to introduce new Israeli-designed measures,” said Diliani.

Maariv said the Greek Orthodox Church has written to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres in protest.
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« Reply #2904 on: Nov 04, 2012, 06:58 AM »

Blindfolded boy will choose Coptic Christians next pope in Egypt

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, November 3, 2012 12:45 EST

A blindfolded boy will on Sunday select the new pope for millions of Coptic Christians in Egypt, becoming his mother’s pride and joy in the process.

Nearly 2,500 eligible voters made up of Coptic public officials, MPs, journalists and local councillors have already pre-selected three candidates to succeed pope Shenuda III, who died in March at the age of 88.

They are Bishop Rafael, 54, a medical doctor and current assistant bishop for central Cairo; Bishop Tawadros of the Nile Delta province of Beheira, 60; and Father Rafael Ava Mina, the oldest of the five original candidates at 70.

Their names will now be written on separate pieces of paper and placed in a box on the altar of St Mark’s Cathedral, for God to guide the boy’s hand towards the winner — in the beliefs of the Church and the faithful.

The final choice will be left to a boy, aged between five and eight, explained Bishop Pola from Tanta in the Nile Delta, in the first such contest since Shenuda was selected by the same method more than four decades ago, in 1971.

“A lot of families propose the names of children, that’s why we lay down precise criteria and ensure the faithfulness of the family and the child to the Church,” said the bishop.

Dozens of families have come forward. “I pray my son George is selected to carry out the will of God,” said one mother, Merihan Moros.

On Saturday, the interim head of the Church, Father Pachomius, will choose 12 boys to be invited to the ceremony. On Sunday, he will instruct that one of them be blindfolded.

That boy will choose a piece of paper bearing the name of the 118th Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa in the Holy See of St Mark the Apostle.

Pola told reporters that strict measures are taken to ensure there is no foul play: the three pieces of paper are all the same size, tied up the same way and placed in a transparent box.

The entire process is also televised before a large, live congregation.

Some Copts say the procedure should be updated. “The faithful should vote after having prayed and fasted,” according to Gamal Asaad, an intellectual in the community.

The Coptic pope serves as the spiritual leader of the country’s Christians, who make up between six and 10 percent of Egypt’s 83-million-strong population.
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« Reply #2905 on: Nov 04, 2012, 06:59 AM »

Marijuana industry in Israel grows with government support

By Samantha Kimmey
Saturday, November 3, 2012 0:35 EST

The medical marijuana industry in Israel is growing rapidly — with no organized government or religious opposition to be found, reported Fox News.

Today, there are more than 10,000 Israelis who have the government’s go-ahead to use medical marijuana, a major jump from just a few hundred in 2005. Next year, marijuana may be available in pharmacies, a step just a few other countries have made.

While the U.S. still has magnitudes more people using medical marijuana — Colorado’s 82,000 users in a population of 5 million dwarfs the 10,000 users in Israel, which has 10 million people — the lack of opposition means Israel is poised to keep moving forward on research.

In contrast, a medical marijuana dispensary sued the Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency this week after those agencies raided the dispensary in October and threatened to shut it down, reported the Courthouse News Service.

Israel’s Itay Goor Aryeh, who directs the Pain Management Center at a medical center near Tel Aviv, said that legalization allows scientists to delve into marijuana’s potential as medicine. “If you don’t allow it, you will never know,” he said.
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« Reply #2906 on: Nov 04, 2012, 07:11 AM »

In the USA...

November 3, 2012

Libya Attack Shows Pentagon’s Limits in Region

By MICHAEL R. GORDON and ERIC SCHMITT
NYT

WASHINGTON — About three hours after the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, came under attack, the Pentagon issued an urgent call for an array of quick-reaction forces, including an elite Special Forces team that was on a training mission in Croatia.

The team dropped what it was doing and prepared to move to the Sigonella naval air station in Sicily, a short flight from Benghazi and other hot spots in the region. By the time the unit arrived at the base, however, the surviving Americans at the Benghazi mission had been evacuated to Tripoli, and Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were dead.

The assault, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, has already exposed shortcomings in the Obama administration’s ability to secure diplomatic missions and act on intelligence warnings. But this previously undisclosed episode, described by several American officials, points to a limitation in the capabilities of the American military command responsible for a large swath of countries swept up in the Arab Spring.

At the heart of the issue is the Africa Command, established in 2007, well before the Arab Spring uprisings and before an affiliate of Al Qaeda became a major regional threat. It did not have on hand what every other regional combatant command has: its own force able to respond rapidly to emergencies — a Commanders’ In-Extremis Force, or C.I.F.

To respond to the Benghazi attack, the Africa Command had to borrow the C.I.F. that belongs to the European Command, because its own force is still in training. It also had no AC-130 gunships or armed drones readily available.

As officials in the White House and Pentagon scrambled to respond to the torrent of reports pouring out from Libya — with Mr. Stevens missing and officials worried that he might have been taken hostage — they took the extraordinary step of sending elite Delta Force commandos, with their own helicopters and ground vehicles, from their base at Fort Bragg, N.C., to Sicily. Those troops also arrived too late.

“The fact of the matter is these forces were not in place until after the attacks were over,” a Pentagon spokesman, George Little, said on Friday, referring to a range of special operations soldiers and other personnel. “We did respond. The secretary ordered forces to move. They simply were not able to arrive in time.”

An examination of these tumultuous events undercuts the criticism leveled by some Republicans that the Obama administration did not try to respond militarily to the crisis. The attack was not a running eight-hour firefight as some critics have contended, questioning how an adequate response could not be mustered in that time, but rather two relatively short, intense assaults separated by a lull of four hours. But the administration’s response also shows that the forces in the region had not been adequately reconfigured.

The Africa Command was spun off from the European Command. At the time it was set up, the Pentagon thought it would be devoted mostly to training African troops and building military ties with African nations. Because of African sensitivities about an overt American military presence in the region, the command’s headquarters was established in Stuttgart, Germany.

While the other regional commands, including the Pacific Command and the Central Command, responsible for the Middle East and South Asia, have their own specialized quick-reaction forces, the Africa Command has had an arrangement to borrow the European Command’s force when needed. The Africa Command has been building its own team from scratch, and its nascent strike force was in the process of being formed in the United States on Sept. 11, a senior military official said.

“The conversation about getting them closer to Africa has new energy,” the military official said.

Some Pentagon officials said that it was unrealistic to think a quick-reaction force could have been sent in time even if the African Command had one ready to act on the base in Sicily when the attack unfolded, and asserted that such a small force might not have even been effective or the best means to protect an embassy. But critics say there has been a gap in the command’s quick-reaction capability, which the force would have helped fill.

A spokesman for the command declined to comment on how its capabilities might be improved.

The Africa Command is led by Gen. Carter F. Ham, an infantryman who commanded a brigade in Mosul during the Iraq war and took charge of the headquarters last year, just before American, British and French air power helped topple Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya.

On the day of the attacks on the mission and a nearby annex in Benghazi, General Ham and other commanders were in Washington for a series of long-planned meetings. The Pentagon’s national military command center distributed a report around 4:30 p.m., 50 minutes after the assault started, that there had been violence in Benghazi and that the ambassador could not be located.

President Obama was informed about the attack at 5 p.m. by his national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, at the start of a meeting at the White House with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Libya was not the only worry. There were also protests at the United States’ embassies in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen.

In the meeting, Mr. Obama ordered the Pentagon to begin “mobilizing all available military assets to respond to a range of contingencies in Libya and other countries in the region,” said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

But the administration was not well positioned to respond quickly. On the night of the attack, the Pentagon was able to divert an unarmed Predator drone operating 90 miles away to Benghazi, and the C.I.A. later used it to help plan an escape route for the surviving Americans.

Two military officers working at the embassy in Tripoli volunteered to join C.I.A. reinforcements who arrived in Benghazi early the next morning, just before a series of deadly mortar rounds struck the agency’s annex in Benghazi and killed two C.I.A. security contractors.

But other military forces were too far away or could not be mobilized in time. The closest AC-130 gunship, a devastating and accurate weapon against insurgents in urban areas, was in Afghanistan, a senior official said.

There are no armed drones within range of Libya. The closest fly out of Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, and were not in range of Benghazi. There was no Marine expeditionary unit — a large seaborne force with its own helicopters — in the Mediterranean Sea. American F-16 fighters in Europe were not on alert, and General Ham concluded they would not have been useful in a confused fight in a major Arab city.

Acting on Mr. Obama’s order, the staff of the Joint Chiefs presented the options. Around 6:30 p.m., oral instructions were given for the units to get ready to deploy and formal deployment orders were issued after 8:30 p.m. The early reports in Washington noted that Ambassador Stevens was missing, and a major worry was that a hostage-rescue mission might be needed.

The Pentagon sent the Delta Force commandos to the Sigonella base in Sicily, to put them in position to deploy to Libya. Two 50-strong platoons of specially trained Marines, from Rota, Spain, were ordered to get ready to deploy, too.

Another option approved was to send the European Command’s quick-reaction force, which consists of about four dozen Special Forces soldiers and other specialists. But it was in the middle of a mission in Croatia. Elements of the team began leaving for Sigonella by 9 p.m., and the unit completed its deployment to Sicily shortly after noon the next day, a Pentagon official said. By then the 30 or so surviving Americans, and the bodies of their four colleagues, were in Tripoli.

With the region still in turmoil, the European Command’s quick-reaction team was sent on to Tunis. One of the Marine platoons was sent to Tripoli to protect the United States Embassy there. The Delta Force commandos, having arrived too late to help, flew back home, Pentagon officials said.

Now, the administration has quietly begun a major interdepartmental review of security requirements in North Africa and the Middle East, said officials, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because of continuing investigations.

Independent military experts say that the fledgling Africa Command’s capabilities need to be strengthened, particularly in light of the array of new threats, from a Qaeda franchise that has seized control of northern Mali to Islamist groups gaining strength in nations like Libya and Tunisia.

“There will have to be a reassessment of the priorities and resources for Africom, given the responsibilities it has in one of the most volatile regions of the world,” said Jack Keane, the retired general who served as the Army vice chief of staff. “And certainly a quick response force, with air and ground capabilities, has to be an important part of those resources.”


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November 3, 2012

Man Behind FEMA’s Makeover Built Philosophy on Preparation

By JENNIFER STEINHAUER and MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT

WASHINGTON — America may know W. Craig Fugate as the slightly weary-looking guy on CNN explaining the ins and outs of flood insurance. But in the world of emergency management, he is known for his Waffle House matrix.

Mr. Fugate, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, learned in his many years of battling natural disasters that fully operational Waffle Houses mean that a community is doing O.K. But if those same restaurants are serving half menus, it means that power has been lost. And if their doors are closed, it signifies that things are really bad.

“It’s a shorthand for us to get in there and quickly get a snapshot,” Mr. Fugate said Friday in an interview at FEMA headquarters in Washington. “Is the Waffle House open? Everything normal there?”

Mr. Fugate acknowledges that the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy poses a challenge to the Waffle House matrix because the chain, popular in the South, has so few restaurants in the Northeast. In place of Waffle Houses, he said, he has looked to Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts as bellwethers, but he said he did not believe that they had the same philosophies about reopening quickly.

“Waffle House has a very simple operational philosophy: get open. They never close. They run 24 hours a day,” he said. “They have a corporate philosophy that if there is a hurricane or a storm, they try and get their stores open. It don’t matter if they don’t have power, it don’t matter if you don’t have gas. They have procedures that if they can get a generator in there, they’ll get going. They’ll make coffee with bottled water.”

After the agency’s poor handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, FEMA was the Homer Simpson of federal agencies, a symbol of pitiful incompetence. The storm even created a national punch line after President George W. Bush said at a news conference that his FEMA director, Michael D. Brown, was doing a “heck of a job” even as the agency was bungling its response.

While FEMA is still viewed with caution — and in some places in New York City in the last week, with continued scorn — Mr. Fugate has done much to shore up its image. That is in part simply through self-flagellation, as he races around storm-savaged regions, ticks off statistics about water levels and procures baby formula for a mother in need.

Mr. Fugate — or Mr. Emergency Management, as President Obama referred to him last week — is a straightforward, honey-toned former director of Florida emergency operations who judges the post-storm condition of communities by the viability of their local economic activity. His hyper-focus on local preparation long before disasters hit has been the key to his success, according to several people who have worked with him.

“He speaks the language of first responders because he was one of them,” said Alan Rubin, who oversaw Florida’s economic recovery after Hurricane Andrew. “He doesn’t have to be brought up to speed on what FEMA can do and when they can do it.”

In an administration long on Ivy League degrees and Washington pedigrees, Mr. Fugate, who wears cowboy boots, stands out. Both of his parents died before he graduated from high school. He never finished college, started out as a paramedic and spent most of his career in Florida.

“He is very down to earth, and that always helped him out a lot,” said Dwayne Phillips, an information technology expert who worked at FEMA when Mr. Fugate was the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, a job he held until 2009, when Mr. Obama appointed him to run FEMA. Citing Mr. Fugate’s Waffle House theory, Mr. Phillips said: “He would talk about stuff like that, and had this ‘O.K., that’s a problem, let’s address it and move on forward’ way about him. He doesn’t get caught up in the weeds.”

Mr. Fugate is known for his “lightning bolt” drills, in which he surprises employees midday with a fake disaster and forces them to respond. He peppers each day with a short phrase to keep responders focused. On Friday, he was pushing “People, Power and Pumps.” He is known in the field for positioning equipment ahead of time so that states know immediately how many cots and water bottles are needed when a disaster hits, which proved a huge problem during Hurricane Katrina.

As people in New York and New Jersey on Thursday and Friday remained without power and struggled to find fuel to fill their cars and generators, reports emerged that some were angrily denouncing FEMA as responding too slowly in the aftermath of the hurricane.

“It’s part of how people cope,” Mr. Fugate said of the anger toward FEMA. “I don’t care that they don’t understand FEMA, and I’m not going to defend it and say you shouldn’t be mad at us. It’s a natural part of it. They get frustrated, and they are going to get angry. I need to acknowledge that, but I need to focus on what are their needs and are we taking care of their needs longer term.”

FEMA’s programs, Mr. Fugate said, were really designed to deal with a disaster several days after it occurred and to provide the local authorities and first responders with capabilities and equipment that they did not have. The agency may provide financial aid, water removal specialists and advanced search and rescue teams.

“Because we always talk about FEMA so much,” he said, “I think the general public assumes we are part of the response team that will be there the first couple of days.”

While a vast majority of Obama appointees have drawn sharp criticism from Republicans in Congress, Mr. Fugate has managed to impress members of the committees that oversee FEMA, who say he testifies without notes and worked his way from the ground up in Florida, a state well versed in disasters.

“I would call him apolitical,” said one aide to the House Appropriations Committee who is not permitted to speak to the news media, pointing to an absence of criticism of the agency in Alabama, a deeply conservative state, after tornadoes hit there last year. “He can be very direct, but our members respect him, bottom line.”

Mr. Fugate, 52, got his start in emergency response as a volunteer firefighter and paramedic in Alachua County, Fla., and then made his way through the administrative ranks, becoming the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management in 2001. He has won several awards in the field and was named to the National Guard Association of Florida Hall of Fame in 2006.

At the end of the Bush administration, he was interviewed to be the head of FEMA — the acting director, R. David Paulison, ended up getting the job — and he said later in an interview that it was a post he would ponder with trepidation. He told a reporter, “A lot of people are looking at what Mike Brown went through” and believed it was “not a good encouragement for people to put their professional careers on the line.”

Mr. Fugate has said several times that he is not satisfied with FEMA’s response in New York and New Jersey and would not be until all residents had power, water and a means of transportation.

But he did allow himself a tad of self-defense last week when Mr. Brown, his predecessor, criticized the administration for predetermining states as disaster areas. “Better to be fast than to be late,” Mr. Fugate told an NPR reporter in an interview.

At a conference for emergency workers, Mr. Fugate said, “If you know me, I don’t sound like many people from Washington,” and emphasized the importance of strong building codes and risk management before disasters strike. “Mitigation of natural disasters took a back seat to the threat of another terrorist attack” in recent years, he said.

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Government waives Jones Act in race to ease fuel shortages in Hurricane Sandy battered Northeast

By The Guardian
Saturday, November 3, 2012 9:44 EST

Foreign tankers to be allowed into ports from Gulf of Mexico and military to bring in reserve supplies for emergency services

The US government is scrambling to ease fuel shortages paralysing the north-east in the wake of superstorm Sandy, saying the military will buy motor fuel and truck it there and allow foreign tankers from the Gulf of Mexico to deliver petroleum products.The homeland security department has waived the Jones Act, a law that normally prohibits foreign-flagged vessels from shipping gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products from the Gulf of Mexico to north-eastern ports. The waiver, effective immediately, requires shipments to leave the Gulf region by 13 November and arrive in the north-east within a week.With power still out at many ports and gasoline stations hit by Sandy, and as petroleum supplies were robust before the storm, it was unclear how much fuel was needed immediately and how quickly it could get to customers.

The US death toll hit 102 on Friday; Sandy had earlier killed 69 people as a hurricane the Caribbean, leaving poorer countries like Haiti struggling to cope. It struck the New Jersey coast on Monday as a rare hybrid superstorm after the hurricane merged with a powerful storm system in the north Atlantic. While power returned to much of Manhattan on Friday, residents of some of the hardest-hit areas still faced a long wait for electricity

There were long lines outside gas stations around New York and New Jersey on Friday as supplies ran low. In the New York City borough of Queens, a man was accused of pulling a gun during a confrontation with a motorist who accused him of cutting in line.

At noon on Friday the line for gas at the Shell station in the Brooklyn Heights area of Brooklyn weaved around three blocks and stretched back for almost half a mile. “I’ve been here two and a half hours,” said Brian Temporosa. “I’ve been empty for probably two days now. Luckily I haven’t run out yet but if I’m here for another 15 minutes then yeah, I might run out of gas.”

Krystyne Todaro, 45, had travelled a quarter of a mile to the Shell station in two and a half hours. “This is the worst of what I’ve had to deal with so far, so I’m OK. It is what it is,” she said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg responded to widespread criticism by reversing a decision to go ahead with the New York Marathon. Bloomberg insisted the race could have gone ahead safely but said the controversy was distracting from the rescue effort.

The energy department announced that it was tapping the Northeast Heating Reserve for the first time, releasing about 48,000 barrels of ultra-low sulphur diesel for the defence department to distribute to local and federal emergency services in New York and New Jersey.The fuel will be used to supply emergency equipment, generators, buildings, trucks and other vehicles.

The defence department will begin drawing down as soon as Saturday from the reserve, created 12 years ago, which holds about a million barrels of diesel. It expects to give back the fuel within 30 days.

In another move to ease the shortages the Obama administration directed the Defence Logistics Agency to purchase up to 380,000 barrels of unleaded gasoline and 317,000 barrels of diesel for distribution to storm-stricken areas. This purchase would be delivered by tanker trucks, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a statement.

Earlier in the week the administration waived clean gasoline rules throughout most of the eastern seaboard as it struggled to take action after the deadly storm.

Homeland security said it had received only one request from a company, which it did not identify, to waive the Jones Act. The law was created to support domestic jobs in the shipping industry and requires goods moved between US ports to be carried by ships built domestically and staffed by US crews.

The American Maritime Partnership (AMP), a domestic maritime industry group, said it was not aware of any cases where US vessels had not been available to transport fuel but it supported waivers in the aftermath of the massive storm. “We will not oppose waivers that are necessary to facilitate delivery of petroleum products into the regions affected by hurricane Sandy,” AMP said in a letter to Obama and heads of several government departments.

Shipping sources said the slow return of power to ports in the New York Harbour had them considering delivering fuel to nearby cities such as Boston.

Energy experts said the waiver might not bring immediate relief to fuel-strapped New York and New Jersey, where two refineries were shut by Sandy. But in the longer term shipping alternatives could help ensure steady supply throughout the north-east.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012

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November 3, 2012

Crime Increases in Sacramento After Deep Cuts to Police Force

By ERICA GOODE

SACRAMENTO — At first, it seemed just an unwelcome nod to frugality. Overtime for police officers was reduced. Vacant positions went unfilled.

But each year brought more bad news for this city’s Police Department. In 2011, faced with the biggest budget cuts yet — $12.2 million — Chief Rick Braziel was forced to take drastic action: he laid off sworn officers and civilian employees; eliminated the vice, narcotics, financial crimes and undercover gang squads, sending many detectives back to patrol; and thinned the auto theft, forensics and canine units. Police officers no longer responded to burglaries, misdemeanors or minor traffic accidents.

Earlier this year, the traffic enforcement unit was disbanded. The department now conducts follow-up investigations for only the most serious crimes, like homicide and sexual assault.

“You reach the point where there is nothing left to cut,” Chief Braziel said.

The shrinking of Sacramento’s police force has been extreme; the department has lost more than 300 sworn officers and civilian staff members and more than 30 percent of its budget since 2008. But at a time when many cities are curtailing essential services like policing — the Los Angeles Police Department said last week that it could lay off 160 civilian employees by Jan. 1 — the cutbacks in this sprawling city of 472,000 offer a window on the potential consequences of such economizing measures, criminal justice experts say.

“Sacramento may be a good city to watch in terms of what we can predict for the future,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum.

Noting that crime rates have plummeted across the country in the last two decades, Mr. Wexler said, “You could argue that the police have been doing something right.” But with budgets being cut, he continued, “police chiefs are caught between saying, ‘Look what we have done,’ and having to rethink the strategies that have been successful.”

Chief Braziel said he had tried to make the cuts strategically, making sure that the public’s highest priority — having a police officer respond in a timely fashion when a 911 call comes in — is met and preserving a focus on violent crimes. (“There’s no law that says you have to investigate homicides, but you don’t just stop investigating homicides,” he said.) Detectives serve on regional task forces led by the F.B.I. that focus on gangs and trafficking. To help morale, Chief Braziel has also offered short-term rotations to patrol officers, providing some variety now that their chances for promotion are severely limited.

“I could cry all day long about the budget cuts and the 30 percent and the loss of people and everything else,” Chief Braziel said. “But it doesn’t do any good because you get dealt a hand of cards with a budget crisis and you’re playing stud poker — you can’t give back the cards and say deal me two or three more.”

“You’ve got to figure out within the new rules of the game how to do it better,” he said.

But he is not blind to the effects of paring down a police force to its core.

In 2011, Chief Braziel said, the cuts, in his opinion, went past the tipping point. While homicides have remained steady, shootings — a more reliable indicator of gun violence — are up 48 percent this year. Rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries and vehicle thefts have also increased, though in smaller increments.

Complicating matters, the cutbacks have coincided with a flow of convicted offenders back into the city as California, heeding a Supreme Court ruling, has reduced its prison population. Once released, former inmates have less supervision — the county’s probation department also suffered cuts.

Chief Braziel, an optimist by nature, said the reductions have in fact had some benefits — more experienced officers on street patrols, for example. But the gaps are increasingly evident.

When a patrol officer stopped a car a few weeks ago and found the driver in possession of half a pound of recently cooked methamphetamine, worth $20,000 on the street, there was no one to spend the 10 hours it would take to write up and execute a search warrant for the man’s residence, despite the suspicion that a meth laboratory would be found there.

“It’s frustrating,” said the officer, Darrald Bryan, who had worked his way up to an investigative job in the robbery unit but was sent back to patrol last year along with 24 other detectives, a demotion that involved a 5 percent pay cut, a switch to the graveyard shift in order to keep his weekends off and the loss of his take-home car.

“You just don’t have the manpower,” said Officer Bryan, adding that the best he could do was arrest the man for possession and sale of narcotics. Now that the gang squad is gone, patrol officers take turns in 90-day assignments that focus on gang activity. But undercover work is a thing of the past, and a highly successful program called Ceasefire, intended to reduce gang violence, was halted for lack of money, staffing and community resources.

Sacramento has consistently ranked at the top for traffic accidents among cities of similar size in California. But with the demise of the traffic enforcement unit, citations are down, volunteers have to be called in for large-scale events like races and parades, and efforts to analyze the city’s most collision-prone intersections and address their hazards have been abandoned.

Teams of police officers — known as problem-oriented policing teams — once worked the city’s troubled neighborhoods, following up with residents, landlords and government offices to solve problems identified on patrol. But those teams, too, were a casualty of the 2011 cuts.

“Would I rather be a drug dealer, a speeder or, if I was involved in the prostitution trade, would I rather be involved in that today as opposed to four years ago? Absolutely,” said Lt. Justin Eklund of the major crimes section. “The issue comes down to, ‘If we have X amount of bodies, what are we going to do?’ ”

Not every attempt to prioritize has worked out as planned. Burglaries had been dropped from the list of crimes that officers responded to. But that policy has now been reversed, after patrol officers heard complaints and residents resisted filing the online reports that were intended as a substitute.

For many residents, said Deputy Chief Dana Matthes, “the one time in their life they have to call the police is because their house is burglarized, and we tell them: ‘Oh, report that online. We can’t come out.’ It doesn’t send that customer service message that we’re there for them.”

A local sales tax measure on the ballot in Tuesday’s election could restore some financing for the Police Department and other essential services in Sacramento. But Chief Braziel said the budget crisis had forced the department to re-examine how it is organized and what its priorities should be. Even when the economy relents, he said, some things may be done differently. “You’ve got to have a business model,” he said. “The world’s changing, and you’ve got to change. You’ve got to get out in front of it.”

Bernard K. Melekian, the director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said a similar rethinking was taking place across the country as departments coped with dwindling budgets. Many are consolidating services or merging with other agencies to form regional law enforcement authorities — in November, Camden, N.J., will close its department, terminating 273 officers and ceding control to a county police force.

The result, Mr. Melekian said, will be significant shifts in how policing is practiced. Whether the outcome will be simply an increase in efficiency or an increase in crime is anyone’s guess.

“That’s the big question that everybody is looking at,” he said.


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Spokesperson claims IRS has ‘halted’ audits of churches engaging in political activity

By Kay Steiger
Saturday, November 3, 2012 15:23 EST

Russell Renwicks, a manager in the IRS Mid-Atlantic region, recently said that the IRS has halted any audits of churches engaging in political activity, a violation of nonprofit tax law, according to the Associated Press.

IRS spokesperson who works on large tax-exempt groups, Dean Patterson, said his colleague “misspoke,” but declined to clarify what, if any, work the IRS was doing on evaluating the political activity of churches, saying only, “The IRS continues to run a balanced program that follows up on potential noncompliance.”

A 2009 court ruling said that the IRS must clarify which high-ranking officials are authorized to conduct investigations on the political violations of churches, the AP reported, but so far, the IRS has yet to do so.

Melissa Rogers, a legal scholar and director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School in North Carolina told the AP, ”The impression created is that no one is minding the store. … When there’s an impression the IRS is not enforcing the restriction — that seems to embolden some to cross the line.”

That certainly seems to be the case, as more and more churches are openly addressing politics in this election.

More than 1,000 pastors have decided to challenge IRS law this year by endorsing political candidates in an October event called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”

Televangalist Rev. Billy Graham spearheaded a group of African American pastors that purchased ads in newspapers questioning Obama’s spirituality, which the “cherry picking” Christianity.

A church in Texas displayed a sign that read, “Vote for the Mormon, not the Muslim. The capitalist, not the communist!”

Dean Zerbe, a former senior counsel to the Senate Finance Committee who specializes in tax fraud and abuse, told the AP that church audits are “an extremely hellish area for the IRS to deal with,” since the IRS must balance First Amendment rights with tax law.

Since the IRS adopted such rules on churches in 1945, the agency has revoked tax status from religious institutions just a handful of times.

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Steroid company’s political ties surface as meningitis outbreak worsens

By Arturo Garcia
Saturday, November 3, 2012 17:12 EST

Victims of the meningitis outbreak blamed for 29 deaths across 19 states are now reporting spinal infections, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Most of the reports of the infection, known as an epidural abscess, have originated in Michigan, site of 112 meningitis cases during the outbreak.

“This is a significant shift in the presentation of this fungal infection, and quite concerning,” said Dr. Lakshmi K. Halasyamani, chief medical officer at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “An epidural abscess is very serious. It’s not something we expected.”

Nationally, 404 people have been diagnosed with meningitis since late September, after using a contaminated steroid issued by the New England Compounding Center (NECC). The Food and Drug Administration confirmed the company’s link to the outbreak last month when it matched the contaminant involved in the outbreak, Exserohilum rostratum, to a steroid batch the company made in August.

Salon reported on Tuesday that while NECC has been reprimanded several times over the past decade, the company was spared from more serious sanctions by entering into a consent agreement with a state agency, the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Pharmacy.

The company’s president and co-owner, Greg Coniglario, was also revealed to have hosted a fundraiser for Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), one of 10 senators to sign a letter asking the FDA to loosen regulations on the drug compounding industry.

Coniglario has allegedly contributed thousands of dollars to both Brown’s campaign and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

About 14,000 people were injected with the steroid, methylprednisolone acetate, after it was initially shipped to hospitals. The drug is mostly used to treat neck and back pain, but some patients reported infections after being injected for arthritic joint pain.

Both NECC and a sister company, Ameridose — also owned by NECC’s owners, Coniglario and Barry Cadden — have been shuttered during the investigation, and their products have been recalled.


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School district calls 12-year-old rape victim ‘negligent’ and ‘careless’ in her own abuse

By Kay Steiger
Saturday, November 3, 2012 12:18 EST

The Moraga School District in Moraga, California alleged that a 12-year-old girl, who suffered prolonged sexual abuse at the hands of two different middle school teachers in the 1990s, was “negligent,” “careless” and “was herself responsible for the acts and damages of which she claims.”

Kristen Cunnane, now 30, told the Contra Costa Times on Friday, “It felt like I got punched in the stomach, and I stood up and thought about how young I was when I was 12 to 13 years old at the school.”

The school district issued a statement, saying, “We certainly empathize with Ms. Cunnane and did not intend to cause her further distress in filing our formal Answer to her Complaint. However, this is a significant case that could have serious consequences for our school district. She is demanding several million dollars in damages. As a result, at this point in the proceedings we have an obligation not to waive any potential legal lines of defense. … Ms. Cunnane and the media have seized on only one of the nine potential areas and over-exaggerated its importance.”

“It’s hard to see that I’m ‘seizing on’ something,” she told KTUV, “because this is my life.” She told the KTUV reporter that she felt the school district response tells rape victims everywhere that they are the ones to blame.

Cunnane filed a lawsuit against the school district, retired Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School principal Bill Walters, retired assistant principal Paul Simonin and retired superintendent John Cooley in Contra Costa Superior Court over allegations that they repeatedly ignored reports of sexual abuse.

Former Joaquin Moraga physical education teacher Julie Correa pleaded guilty to rape and sexual battery of Cunnane over a four-year period beginning in 1996, when Cunnane was an eighth grader. The suit also alleges that Cunnane turned to her science teacher, Daniel Witters, to report the abuse, who in turn molested her. Witters later committed suicide after the allegations against him surfaced.

The school district is facing a $15 million lawsuit from two more women who alleged abuse from Witters.

The school district’s attorney, Louis Leone, defended the Oc. 24 filing, saying the school must employ “every potential defense” in such a lawsuit.

William Grimm, senior attorney with Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law, disagreed. “I think it is reprehensible to place the blame on the young girl who was victimized,” he told the Times. “The district’s defense has to be plausible … and this doesn’t even pass the smell test, in my opinion.”


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November 4, 2012

Coptic Church Chooses Pope Who Rejects Political Role

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
IHT

CAIRO — A blindfolded 6-year-old reached into a glass bowl on Sunday to pick the first new Coptic pope in more than 40 years, a patriarch who promises a new era of integration for Egypt’s Christian minority as it grapples with a wave of sectarian violence, new Islamist domination of politics, and internal pressures for reform.

Speaking to the television cameras that surrounded him at his monastery in a desert town, the pope-designate, Bishop Tawadros, indicated that he planned to reverse the explicitly political role of his predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, who died in March. For four decades, Shenouda acted as the Copts’ chief representative in public life, won special favors for his flock by publicly endorsing President Hosni Mubarak, and last year urged in vain that Copts stay away from the protests that ultimately toppled the strongman.

“The most important thing is for the church to go back and live consistently within the spiritual boundaries because this is its main work, spiritual work,” the bishop said, and he promised to begin a process of “rearranging the house from the inside” and “pushing new blood” after his installation later this month as Pope Tawadros II. Interviewed on Coptic television recently, he struck a new tone by including as his priorities “living with our brothers, the Muslims” and “the responsibility of preserving our shared life.”

“Integrating in the society is a fundamental scriptural Christian trait,” Bishop Tawadros said then. “This integration is a must — moderate constructive integration,” he added. “All of us, as Egyptians, have to participate.”

Coptic activists and intellectuals said the turn away from politics signaled a sweeping transformation in the Christian minority’s relationship to the Egyptian state but also addressed a firm demand by the Christian laity to claim a voice in a more democratic Egypt.

“It can’t continue the way it used to be,” said Youssef Sidhom, editor of the Coptic newspaper Watani. “It is not in the interests of the Copts, if they are trying to speak for themselves as full and equal citizens, to have an intermediary speaking for them, and especially if he is a religious authority. I think the church has gotten this message loud and clear.”

In Egypt’s first free elections for Parliament and president, Christians voted overwhelmingly along sectarian lines, seeking to pool their votes around the most secular candidates — only to see their favorites fall under the Islamist tide. After the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party won parliamentary leadership and then the presidency, many Egyptians joked that the group put a candidate up for Coptic pope, too.

In recent interviews, intellectuals and activists, and churchgoers leaving Mass after the selection of the pope, all said they had concluded that Christians would have to build alliances with Muslims who shared their goal of nonsectarian citizenship.

“We are not the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Tarek Samir, a sales manager leaving the cathedral after the selection of Bishop Tawadros. “Politics is a dirty word to us, and we do not think it should be mixed with religion. But there are moderate Muslims who live the same life we do, who go to work with us, who live together with us, and if I am in trouble they will help me.”

Copts, often estimated to make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people, trace their roots here to centuries before the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. They consider St. Mark their first pope; Tawadros II will be the 118th. In some ways, they are now at the spearhead of a challenge confronting Christian minorities across the region amid the tumult of the Arab Spring. In Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere, Christian minorities had made peace with authoritarian rulers in the hope of protection from the Muslim majorities. But now the old bargains have broken, leaving Christians to fend for themselves.

In Egypt, the revolution last year coincided with by far the deadliest 12 months of sectarian violence in decades, including the bombing of an Alexandria church weeks before the revolt, the destruction of at least three churches in sectarian feuds, and the killing of about two dozen Coptic demonstrators by Egyptian soldiers squashing a protest — the single bloodiest episode of sectarian violence in at least half a century.

Known as the Maspero massacre after a nearby television building, the slaughter elicited attempts by top generals to blame the Copts and scant sympathy from the main Islamist groups, crystallizing Coptic anxieties.

It also galvanized one of the most active lay Coptic groups, the Maspero Youth Union. When Pope Shenouda overlooked the massacre and thanked the Egyptian military at a Christmas service, members of the youth union jeered — a breathtaking gesture of defiance in the annals of church history.

“Before we had no reaction to sectarian violence,” said Beshoy Tamry, 24, a member of the group. “Now we have more resistance.”

Much less sectarian violence and no deaths have occurred this year, but that has not diminished the Coptic worries, and neither have the pledges of Islamist politicians to protect the Christian minority. “Copts are drowning in fear,” said Wael Eskandar, a Coptic journalist and blogger.

Many Copts say they hope the new pope will ease the strict limitations on divorce adopted about 30 years ago. Egyptian law provides that Christians be governed by the teachings of their church in personal matters like marriage and divorce, so those rules have the weight of law. Coptic women in unhappy or abusive marriages sometimes convert to Islam in order to obtain a divorce more easily, a practice that has added to sectarian friction.

“It is definitely the No. 1 issue on the agenda of any new pope,” said Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

Many reformers have also questioned the theatrical process used to select the new pope, who was born Wageh Sobhi Baqi Soliman and marked his 60th birthday on the day he was chosen.

A council of top church leaders selected a group of about 2,400 bishops and elite lay leaders to winnow the candidates down to three possible nominees, excluding any contender with a trace of controversy about him.

Then bishops picked a dozen boys and three understudies. Standing by the altar on Sunday before a cheering crowd of thousands, the first in line drew the lots to determine that 6-year-old Bishoy Girgis Mosad would make the final pick. Visibly anxious, he stood stiffly, glancing sideways and facing straight ahead, until an aging bishop blindfolded him and guided his hand into the elaborate glass bowl to fish out one of three names.

The process, an ancient practice revived in the last century, is supposed to bring the hand of God into the selection process. But some question how much divine will the child can introduce into the process after the elite electors have already eliminated candidates with unconventional views.

“If we are looking for God’s will, why are we electing three nominees?” asked Mr. Tamry of the youth group. “Why don’t we just elect the pope?”

Mayy El Sheikh and Mai Ayyad contributed reporting.
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« Reply #2908 on: Nov 05, 2012, 07:37 AM »

China’s former party boss Bo Xilai expelled from Communist Party

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, November 5, 2012 7:41 EST

Disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai has been formally expelled from the ruling Communist Party, state media said Sunday, in a decision made at a meeting of top party officials that ended just days ahead of a broader once-a-decade power handover.

The ouster, which clears the way for Bo to face criminal trial, came at a gathering of 500 top party officials that wrapped up in Beijing. The ten-yearly leadership transition, scheduled for a party congress that opens Thursday, had been dogged by the Bo scandal.

The party’s Central Committee “endorsed a decision by the Political Bureau … to expel Bo Xilai”, Xinhua news agency said — referring to the party’s top 25-member policy-making body — adding it had taken the decision last month.

The months-long controversy surrounding Bo had exposed deep divisions in the top leadership, as he had influential patrons and a following among left-leaning members, ahead of the sensitive power transition.

The former party boss in the central mega-city of Chongqing was once seen as a candidate for promotion to the party’s top echelons but was brought down earlier this year by murder allegations against his wife that came to light after his police chief sought refuge in a US consulate.

Gu Kailai, Bo’s wife, was later given a suspended death sentence — a judgment commonly commuted to a life sentence — for fatally poisoning British businessman Neil Heywood.

Xinhua said previously that Bo had “borne major responsibility” in connection with the murder of Heywood and would “face justice” for alleged abuse of power, taking “massive” bribes and having inappropriate sexual relations.

Late last month he was expelled from the country’s parliament and stripped of his legal immunity.

The committee during its four-day meeting also agreed to expel former railways minister Liu Zhijun, who was sacked last year for allegedly taking more than 800 million yuan ($128 million) in bribes and awaits trial.

Appointed in 2003, Liu was accused of taking the payouts while doling out contracts for the rapid expansion of China’s high-speed railway system, which has been plagued by graft and safety scandals.

Separately, the committee named generals Fan Changlong and Xu Qiliang as vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission, following recent leadership reshuffles including a new air force chief and army deputy chief of staff.

The committee also approved a draft amendment to the party constitution, Xinhua reported without giving details.

China analyst Joseph Cheng said more critical but non-publicised decisions at the gathering likely had to do with finalising leadership positions, whose appointments the congress of about 2,000 party members will approve.

Vice President Xi Jinping is set to succeed outgoing President Hu Jintao, while Vice Premier Li Keqiang is expected to replace outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao.

But little else is known about who will fill the supporting cast, including in the Politburo and its Standing Committee, the nation’s top decision-making body, which is expected to have five to seven members besides Xi and Li.

Observers have said that Bo’s fate served as a bargaining chip for rival factions seeking their preferred candidates for top spots.

“The situation has certainly not been very satisfactory in that the bargaining goes on till the very end,” said Cheng, a professor at Hong Kong City University. “It should be finalised by now.”

Authorities had hoped for a smooth build-up to a congress that is tightly scripted to underline the party’s claim to be the only legitimate force capable of ruling the world’s most populous nation.

But the party has instead been rocked by the Bo case and the details of murder, bribery and the affluent lifestyles of the party power elite that it laid bare.

In the days leading up to the gathering, which typically lasts one week, already strict censorship of the media and Internet has been further tightened while security personnel have flooded cities.

More than 1.4 million people in Beijing have volunteered to help police “maintain stability”, Xinhua reported.
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« Reply #2909 on: Nov 05, 2012, 07:40 AM »

November 4, 2012

In Fractious Political Times, a Scion of India’s Dynasty Stays Quiet

By JIM YARDLEY
IHT

NEW DELHI — India’s governing party has no shortage of problems: a sinking economy, corruption scandals and a rising anti-incumbency mood among voters. But perhaps the greatest uncertainty facing the party, and to some degree all of India, is Rahul Gandhi, the anointed next-generation leader.

For decades, the Indian National Congress Party has billed itself as the party most capable of holding the fractious country together, while the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty has held the Congress Party together. The family has produced three prime ministers and one very powerful daughter-in-law, Sonia Gandhi, the party president, who has carefully sought to advance her son, Rahul.

But if this is supposed to be Mr. Gandhi’s moment, it is unclear that he wants to seize it or what he will do with it — or if a chaotically changing, fitfully modernizing India is still enthralled with the Gandhi mystique. The Gandhis remain the country’s only national political brand, proving resilient over decades, but their appeal now seems tarnished, just as India’s global luster has also suffered.

To understand Mr. Gandhi’s unique position in India’s political landscape, consider the events of just the past few days: Eager for a jolt of energy, the Congress Party-led government announced a major cabinet reshuffle on Oct. 28. Many analysts thought Mr. Gandhi might take a cabinet post to burnish his credentials as a future candidate for prime minister. But he declined.

Then, Mr. Gandhi seemed poised to assume a bigger role in the Congress Party, in a newly created job second only to his mother’s. That still may happen, but by week’s end, even as Indian media reported that Mr. Gandhi was quietly exerting more political influence, it was unclear if there would be any new job at all. Party spokesmen said Mr. Gandhi was already second in command, anyway.

Mr. Gandhi, 42, has said nothing on the subject. On Sunday, he appeared at a big Congress Party rally, taking a few shots at the opposition. But often he is conspicuously absent in the noisy swirl of Indian politics, a silence that has allowed critics to question whether there is much to him besides his name.

“We did not get the chance to have Rahul’s analysis on any critical issue facing the nation in Parliament,” said Mohan Singh, a leader in the regional Samajwadi Party, at a news conference in Kolkata in September. “When one does not hear him speak, how can one say the country will be secure in his hands?”

Just being a member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty usually has been enough to win votes and public confidence. Mr. Gandhi’s appearances are regularly carried on India’s news channels, most of them photo opportunities or tightly scripted speeches. Handsome, regarded as modest and serious-minded, he is popular and has long been offered by party strategists as a symbol of generational change — even though he is now almost a generation older than the young voters he is supposed to attract.

Mr. Gandhi remains an enigma. His vision for the country is unclear, his political talents are in doubt, and his ability to win votes is no longer assured. He avoids the media except at staged events — he did not respond to interview requests for this article — and his extreme privacy about what he will do, and when he will do it, creates uncertainty even in his own party.

“People are waiting for Rahul,” said Sam Pitroda, a special adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with longstanding ties to the Gandhi family. “Everybody is waiting for him to set the tone of the party, to set the tone of the government.”

For the past three months, the government has scrambled to save the sinking economy and position itself for national elections, which are scheduled for 2014 but could come sooner. Faced with a possible downgrade to the country’s credit rating, the government pushed through a handful of key economic measures in September and has sought since then to project a reformist image. The sense of crisis has eased, but India’s global image — along with that of the Congress Party — has been dented.

The Congress Party spearheaded India’s freedom movement and has held power for much of the nation’s history. Jawaharlal Nehru, Mr. Gandhi’s great-grandfather, was the country’s first prime minister. Mr. Gandhi’s grandmother Indira Gandhi and his father, Rajiv Gandhi, were also prime minister, and both were assassinated — tragedies that have made the family synonymous with national sacrifice.

Mr. Gandhi’s inaccessibility is partly attributable to concerns about his safety. But it also shields him from having to take stands on the tough issues of Indian politics. Neither his mother nor the prime minister is especially comfortable rallying public opinion behind government policies, leaving the party without a charismatic communicator in India’s rapidly changing media culture.

“Rahul Gandhi is an iconic leader,” Salman Khurshid said in an interview before he became the country’s foreign minister during last month’s cabinet changes. “Mrs. Sonia Gandhi is an iconic leader. But because the circumstances of the country have changed so much, you don’t have a storyteller.”

Meanwhile, the Gandhi family has found itself under attack on another front. The anticorruption campaigner Arvind Kejriwal recently released documents claiming that Mr. Gandhi’s brother-in-law, Robert Vadra, profited handsomely in improper real estate deals — allegations that Mr. Vadra has denied. And on Thursday, another activist, Subramaniam Swamy, accused Mr. Gandhi and his mother of profiting from a different land deal. In a statement released by his office, Mr. Gandhi called the accusation “utterly false” and threatened legal action.

Mr. Gandhi’s political standing was highest after the 2009 national elections, when his campaigning helped the Congress Party win a second term, as party strategists gleefully talked about how the “Rahul brand” would attract votes across the country.

But he has struggled since then. His most public defeat came this year in elections in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, where voting is often conducted along caste lines. Mr. Gandhi tried to play this game, selecting many candidates to attract certain caste constituencies, yet many of his choices did not win.

He has also been criticized for his relentless courtship of Muslim voters, including by the writer Salman Rushdie, who canceled an appearance at an Indian literary conference in January after protests against Mr. Rushdie by Muslim groups in Uttar Pradesh.

“It didn’t even work, Rahul,” Mr. Rushdie said during a March speech in New Delhi, according to Indian news reports. “It didn’t even work. Years and years of kneeling down before every mullah you could find, and it did not even work. Must feel sick.”

As a campaigner for the Congress Party, Mr. Gandhi often pops up, sometimes unannounced, at local disputes across the country. During such forays, he has worn the traditional clothing of the rural common man and sported a beard or a rough three-day stubble. In other appearances, however, Mr. Gandhi has sometimes sent another signal by going clean-shaven and dressing in modern, stylish clothing. His trips have received national headlines, but critics say they are little more than stunts.

Last year, when Mrs. Gandhi flew to New York for an undisclosed medical procedure, Mr. Gandhi was expected to exert his leadership. But the party and the government struggled and responded clumsily to the huge anticorruption protests led by Anna Hazare. Mr. Gandhi’s attempt to defuse the situation with a rare speech to Parliament fell flat.

“As far as politicians go, he doesn’t seem to get the pulse of politics,” said Aarthi Ramachandran, author of the book “Decoding Rahul Gandhi.”

Despite his problems, Mr. Gandhi remains the party’s unquestioned future leader. He has won praise for modest changes like promoting internal elections for party posts. One of his mentors, Digvijay Singh, a party stalwart, dismissed the criticism of Mr. Gandhi’s silence on many national issues, saying he is careful to defer to the prime minister and other senior leaders.

“If you expect him to react to every political situation, he’s not cut out like that,” Mr. Singh said. “He prefers to work within a system, within a team. He reacts only to those issues which he has been assigned.”

One powerful minister, Vayalar Ravi, said the Indian public still deeply admired and trusted Mr. Gandhi. “We all look at him now as a leader,” Mr. Ravi said. “He’s the hope.”

 

Hari Kumar contributed to this report.


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