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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1079418 times)
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« Reply #3285 on: Dec 02, 2012, 08:49 AM »

 02 December 2012 - 07H37 

Stateless in Burundi: Omanis search for a nationality

AFP - It was around a century ago when Sultan Salum's ancestors left Oman for the east African spice island of Zanzibar, before setting off westwards into the interior for Burundi.

But while the exact date of his forebears' arrival in the small central African nation will never be known, he still does not have proper documents to make him Burundian, and now he wants to go to his ancestral home in Arabia.

"What is said in the family, is that our ancestors came from Oman via Zanzibar to Kigoma," Salum said, referring to a town on the eastern Tanzanian shores of Lake Tanganyika. "Finally they landed in Burundi."

Generations have passed, and Sultan Salum, 50, now runs a cafe in the town of Rumonge, some 60 kilometres (40 miles) south of the capital Bujumbura.

But, like some other 1,200 people of Omani origin living in Burundi, he lives in limbo.

Bujumbura says they are foreigners, while Oman is hesitant to issue passports for the forgotten children of those once part of a powerful Omani trading empire that criss-crossed the Indian Ocean in the 19th century.

"We have neither papers from Oman or Burundi," said Salum. "I want a passport from my home in Oman, to live on the land of our ancestors."

In Bujumbura, the association of Stateless Omanis in Burundi defends the rights of the community, and has battled for decades with the authorities in Muscat for passports.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has also been looking at their case, although like the Burundian authorities, it says the ethnic Omanis are technically not yet stateless.

"We are trying to solve the problem," said Jean-Bosco Nduwimana, from Burundi's national refugee authority.

UNHCR is creating a profile of the population, which will be presented to both Burundi and Oman to help "resolve the issue amicably," said UNCHR representative Catherine Huck.

If, after that, no country "issues their papers, they are stateless," she said.

For now, the ethnic Omanis have temporary Burundian papers valid for a year. Before, they often lived with forged documents paid for by gold.

According to historians, their ancestors from Oman arrived in Burundi in the second half of the 19th century, travelling from the Omani-controlled Zanzibar archipelago, searching for slaves and ivory in the interior of Africa.

But slave traders, the historians say, would have been blocked from actually moving into Burundi by the spears and arrows of the warriors of King Mwezi Gisabo, and instead operated from the nearby shores of Lake Tanganyika.

It was only later, after German and then Belgian colonisation, that they would permanently establish themselves as traders in the country.

"A break between the Omanis from Oman and these Omanis, combined with the end of slavery, forced them to become traders and allies of the colonial powers," said historian Emile Mworoha.

"They sold cotton, salt, and became intermediaries or agents of the Germans and then the Belgian king," he added.

Those today in Burundi tend to hide any slave trader ancestors, with many saying that their family roots lie in poorer traders who arrived in a second wave in the 1920s.

"At that time, Oman had not yet found oil," said Nassor Mohamed, an ethnic Omani in Bujumbura, speaking in the library of one of the community's mosques, where a plaque commemorates the visit in 2007 by Oman's Grand Mufti.

In Bujumbura's Asian quarter, those of Omani origin mingle alongside those with ancestors from Yemen or Pakistan. They too have problems with their papers, but do not find not so difficult to obtain passports from their country of origin, says Mohamed.

The Omani community does not understand the resistance of Muscat: in some families, some siblings may have a passport but not others, or parents with documents but not their children. All say they have family in Oman.

In frustration, the community just wants an answer to their origin either way, so that they can move ahead with a decision by Muscat, said computer technician Hamed Salim.

As they wait, Bujumbura is working on ratification of international conventions protecting stateless people -- even if such a move still hangs on a decision from Oman as to whether it will welcome back its wandering sons and daughters.
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« Reply #3286 on: Dec 02, 2012, 08:54 AM »

02 December 2012 - 04H20 

Big plans make comeback in post-crisis Dubai

AFP - Dubai is back in the business of unveiling mega projects, three years after a severe financial crisis crippled its booming property sector, but doubts still linger over finance and feasibility.

Just as the economy in the glitzy city-state begins to look promising, despite a large debt burden dating back to the years when growth appeared endless, Dubai has once again set its sights on building superlatives.

"We do not anticipate the future. We build it," Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, architect of its meteoric rise into a regional tourism and services hub, boasted last week as he unveiled plans to build a "city" carrying his name.

Among the attractions of the new mega plan is a mall touted to be the largest in the world, not far from what is already the world's largest shopping and entertainment destination, the Dubai Mall.

Mohammed bin Rashid City will sprawl over a large swathe of the emirate's desert and have gardens 30 percent larger than London's Hyde Park, in addition to 100 hotels, and a Universal Studios theme park.

No price tag was attached to the project which is to be developed by the ruler's Dubai Holding conglomerate and Emaar, which built Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower.

This week, Dubai also announced a 10 billion dirham ($2.7 billion) leisure centre and theme parks.

Dubai appears keen to capitalise on its growing tourism sector which it said is expanding 13 percent a year, with hotel occupancy rate hitting 82 percent last year.

Sheikh Mohammed said the emirate must stay ahead of expanding demand and match its ambitions.

"The current facilities available in Dubai need to be scaled up in line with the future ambitions for the city," he said, highlighting a constant rise in tourism and the business of hosting forums and exhibitions.

"A large part of these projects are linked to expanding Dubai's capacity in core sectors with comparative advantage, such as tourism, which is positive," said Monica Malik, chief economist at EFG-Hermes investment bank in Dubai.

But the source of funding for such grandiose projects remains vague.

"We do have our own resources and way to finance... We are sure that these projects will be achieved," the Arabian Business online magazine quoted Hani al-Hamli, Dubai Economic Council secretary general, as saying.

Beyond general assurances, Dubai continues to deal with the burden of maturing debt, after it racked $113 billion in borrowings during years of extensive investments, with $9.8 billion reportedly coming due next year and $3 billion in 2014.

"Banks remain wary about lending to real estate developments at a time when they still have to make major provisions against non-performing real estate loans from the last development boom," said real estate consultancy firm Jones Lang LaSalle in a statement Thursday.

However, "the fact that these projects have long-term time lines is positive as they can be developed alongside demand, both domestically and internationally, so as not to build overcapacity," Malik told AFP.

"The funding of these plans is important and should be matched with revenue growth potential," she added.

Dubai's economy contracted 2.4 percent in 2009 when it rattled global markets over its debt crisis before receiving a $10-billion bailout from Abu Dhabi, its oil-rich partner in the Emirates, and reaching restructuring deals with lenders.

The economy has since made a comeback, growing 2.8 percent in 2010, 3.4 percent in 2011, and 4.1 percent on an annual basis in the first half of this year, as tourism, trade and transport keep expanding.

But real estate -- a main engine of rapid growth before the crisis -- lags behind other sectors, with growth of just 1.5 percent in the first six months of 2012.

The sector crashed in 2009 as the global crisis dried up finance and investors walked away from planned projects, many of which were eventually put on hold or cancelled.

"Encouragingly, there are indications that some of the lessons of the last real estate crisis have been learned," said Jones Lang LaSalle.

"The most important of these is the need to adopt a long-term and coordinated approach, rather than developing too much real estate too quickly."
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« Reply #3287 on: Dec 02, 2012, 08:56 AM »

02 December 2012 - 09H44 

Sri Lanka to buy Iraqi oil after US sanctions on Iran

AFP - Sri Lanka will purchase oil from Iraq after the United States imposed new sanctions on Iran, the island's main supplier of crude oil, a report said on Sunday citing a senior official.

The US Senate unanimously approved new economic sanctions Friday aimed at further crippling Iran's energy, shipping and port sectors, a year after Congress passed tough restrictions against Tehran.

Sanctions have made it difficult to procure oil from Iran, prompting Colombo to turn to Baghdad for oil purchases, the local Sunday Times reported.

"Oil in northern Iraq is similar to Iranian crude and could be refined (domestically), thereby reducing costs on the import of refined products," foreign ministry secretary Karunatillaka Amunugama told the paper.

He said the authorities were working out the details. Sri Lanka's petroleum authorities were not immediately available for comment.

Sri Lanka has relied on Iran for 92 percent of its crude oil requirements.

Last week, Sri Lanka announced that it will set aside two billion rupees ($15.38 million) owed to Iran for oil imports and will use the money to finance an irrigation scheme on the island which is funded by Tehran.

Iran had pledged some $450 million for the project in 2008 but implementation has been slack due to a delay in transferring funds from Tehran due to the sanctions.

The US said it introduced the latest sanctions out of concern that Iran was pressing ahead with its nuclear weapons drive despite earlier sanctions that had been hailed as the toughest-ever against the Islamic republic.

Tehran insists its nuclear programme is only for civilian use and refuses to abandon its uranium enrichment activities.
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« Reply #3288 on: Dec 02, 2012, 08:59 AM »

December 1, 2012

Economic Frustration Simmers Again in Tunisia


TUNIS — Tahar Bayahi, who runs Tunisia’s largest grocery store chain, spent the days right after the revolution toting up his losses: one-quarter of his 60 stores nationwide incinerated and another quarter pillaged.

Yet his company, Magasin Général, turned right around to rebuild, pouring $40 million and nine months into the effort. “It’s true that we were badly affected, but it opened up a far larger horizon,” Mr. Bayahi said over lunch on a sunny lakeside terrace. “What was important was that the change would bring us to a new epoch much faster.”

Nearly two years after riots that began over economic frustration and unemployment toppled the Tunisian government and started the Arab Spring, the frustration that people here are not better off is starting to overflow again. The gross domestic product is down, unemployment is up, debt and inflation are growing and social unrest is simmering.

Last week, the government sent troops into Siliana, south of the capital, after four days of violent protests, mainly over demands for jobs and more government investment, turned violent. Thousands participated and hundreds were injured in clashes with the police.

President Moncef Marzouki, acknowledging Friday on television that the government had not “met the expectations of the people,” expressed concern that unrest could spread to other towns in the underdeveloped interior.

“Tunisia today is at a crossroads,” he said. “Tunisia today has an opportunity that it must not miss to be a model because the world is watching us, and we mustn’t disappoint.”

Unemployment remains the biggest economic problem and catalyst for unrest. A vicious circle imperils all the Arab nations with unfinished revolutions: political unrest scares off the investors needed to create jobs.

Since President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in January 2011, the unemployment rate has risen to 18 percent from 13 percent, meaning about 750,000 people are out of work.

More troubling, a third of the unemployed are college graduates, said Said Aidi, minister of the economy for much of 2011. By 2015, an estimated 100,000 new graduates will seek jobs annually, while even before the revolution at most 20,000 graduates a year found work matching their degrees.

“Ben Ali ignored the blinking red lights on the economy, and that is what got him thrown out,” said Karim Ben Smail, the owner of a modest publishing company. “The unemployed are an army in a country the size of Tunisia.”

The numbers are not all bad, however. The economy contracted by 1.8 percent in 2011, troubled by problems like a 30 percent drop in the number of tourists, according to the World Bank. It predicts 2.2 percent growth this year, and a close-to-normal 4.6 percent by 2014 should conditions stabilize.

But a new constitution has yet to be written, and elections have been postponed until at least next June. Periodic riots — especially the sacking of the United States Embassy in September in response to a video made in the United States mocking the Prophet Muhammad — have left investors sitting on their wallets and kept tourists at home. A State Department travel advisory warned Americans against visiting Tunisia.

Bracing for further unrest, Magasin Général rebuilt its stores with shatterproof glass, heavy metal shutters and 20-foot walls topped by barbed wire.

Before the revolution, the company felt disadvantaged because its closest competitors, franchises of the giant French retailers Carrefour and Monoprix, enjoyed closer ties to the ruling family, Mr. Bayahi said. Both opened superstores while his applications languished.

After the revolution, he expected permits to sail through, particularly since his two proposed superstores meant more than 1,400 jobs. Instead, officials tell him “it is being studied,” just like before the revolution, he said.

While Mr. Bayahi blamed a combination of government incompetence and foot dragging for the delay, economic experts cited an additional reason. Small neighborhood shops potentially hurt by big chains extend credit to poor customers, helping to maintain social peace.

Blame for the economic doldrums is focused on the Renaissance Party, a centrist Islamist party that dominates the transitional governing coalition. Critics say the party lacks financial expertise and is so focused on putting an Islamic stamp on the new constitution that it has neglected developing even a rudimentary economic vision.

Its promise to create 20,000 new public-sector jobs was criticized as compounding the problem. “They are learning how to run the machine while operating it,” said Cyril G. Karray, the author of a book on Tunisia’s woes called “The Next War in Tunisia — Victory in 5 Battles.”

Senior officials say the public is expecting too much too fast. “It’s like you get married and you want a baby boy with blue eyes one month later,” said Abdelfattah Mouru, a Renaissance Party founder. “It is not up to the government alone to make the rain and the sunshine.”

Realistically, Tunisia needs three to five years to see a change in employment prospects, both politicians and economists said. The question is whether social unrest can be tamed for that long.

There have been discussions about dusting off an economic development plan commissioned from the consulting company McKinsey several years ago, Mr. Aidi, the former minister, said. It recommended that Tunisia foster new economic sectors and concentrate some in the interior. They included renewable energy, biotechnology and logistics, taking advantage of Tunisia’s proximity to Europe to become a shipment point for much of North and West Africa.

Tunisian companies have established a successful auto parts sector and call centers, for example. Mail order and help lines for the French-speaking world have generated 25,000 jobs and could create many more, Mr. Aidi said.

The problem has always been raising money.

The G-8 major economies, meeting in Deauville, France, in the first flush of the Arab Spring, generated huge expectations by pledging, along with richer oil states like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, some $40 billion to the nascent democracies. Nothing close materialized.

The World Bank approved a $500 million loan on Tuesday to help carry out economic reform and spur job creation.

The United States has given about $300 million since the revolution, and the European Union has provided $400 million over two years. Qatar bought an entire $500 million bond issue this year.

“You can have the most beautifully designed program, but if the investors are not there to invest in green energy and so on, you will not see any results,” said Mustapha K. Nabli, Tunisia’s former Central Bank governor.

This is especially true in the interior, the wellspring of the revolution not least because economic development lagged. The anger remains palpable. “We will burn Sidi Bouzeid once again!” a young man shouted to a visiting foreigner in the central town where the protests began.

Against hope, young entrepreneur workshops have become ubiquitous. In Sidi Bouzeid one recent weekend, teams competed to propose a viable business plan for a new company.

Asked about work before the revolution, Naily Amine, 30, said, “My job was leaning against the wall, waiting for work.”

Five years ago, armed with a college degree in industrial maintenance, he tried to start a company to recycle plastic waste into pipes for agricultural irrigation. Mr. Amine, a slight man with black hair, worked harvesting tomatoes, fixing cars and in construction while chasing the $6,000 he needed so the bank would lend him $60,000. He was sure the revolution would transform his lot. “I expected investment to grow, for the unemployment problem to be solved,” he said.

Instead, hurdles multiplied. Before, only ruling family cronies seemed to get the industrial park land for factories. When Mr. Amine tried to meet the new governor to ask about land now, he could not even make an appointment. The staff was always on strike.

The unemployment office promised to match investors with projects, and for the first year after the revolution Mr. Amine went faithfully each week to sign in. Now he often skips it.

“Nothing has changed since the revolution,” he said gloomily. “If anything there are more problems — there is just a lot of confusion.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 2, 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of Tunisia’s largest grocery store chain. It is Magasin Général, not Magasins Général.

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« Reply #3289 on: Dec 02, 2012, 09:01 AM »

Give back our money, savers yell at Spain banks

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, December 1, 2012 11:39 EST

Furious Spaniards who say banks cheated them of their savings took to the streets Saturday demanding that the bailed-out lenders give them their money back.

“Thieves! Where is our money?” bellowed a crowd of some 1,000 protesters, many of them elderly, outside the central bank in Madrid before marching on the offices of Bankia, the ruined finance giant.

The protesters say Bankia told them it was putting their money in secure savings products but actually sold them “preferential shares” as it scrambled to raise funds after the financial crisis started in 2008.

Now that Bankia and other lenders have collapsed and had to be rescued with funds from Spain’s European partners, customers stand to lose a big chunk of their savings.

The banking consumers’ group ADICAE, which has brought legal action against Bankia, planned similar demonstrations in more than 20 towns on Saturday.

Its president Manuel Pardos said in a statement the customers were “victims of a massive fraud” and were now being subjected to “illegal imposed losses”.

The European Union on Wednesday gave a green light for the payment of the first slice of the rescue aid, some 37 billion euros ($48 billion), for Bankia and three other Spanish banks.

To meet the conditions demanded by Brussels, Bankia said holders of the so-called “preferentials” would be repaid in shares worth only 61 percent of the value of the money they put in the bank.

“They want to take away 40 percent from us,” said one protester, Paloma, 59, who put 25,000 euros into preferential shares, being told she would get the money back after five years.

“I spent 25 years saving a little each day and now when I need it they won’t give it to me,” said Paloma, who asked not to be identified by her surname.

Spanish banks were brought low by the collapse of a construction boom in 2008 that threw millions into unemployment and poverty. Spain is deep in recession, with one in four workers unemployed.
“They should give back all the money because now in the crisis we don’t have any,” Paloma said.
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« Reply #3290 on: Dec 02, 2012, 09:05 AM »

Australia unveils telescope to warn of solar flares

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, December 1, 2012 19:00 EST

Australia has unveiled a new radio telescope in the remote outback that will give the world a vastly improved view of the sun and much faster warnings on massive solar storms.

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope will detect flares on the sun’s surface that could damage communication satellites, electricity power grids and GPS navigation systems, director Steven Tingay said Saturday.

Tingay said large solar flares produced an eruption of particles that could wreck havoc on satellites, and also created strong magnetic fields.

“The telescope will be able to detect when those flares take place,” he told AFP.

Tingay said the goal was to predict the trajectory of potentially damaging debris and use this information to allow the reorientation of satellites or the shut down of communications systems that could be in its path.

He said while previously scientists could have about three or four hours’ warning of potentially damaging solar disturbances, the new telescope could give them up to 20 hours.

“It’s a very new type of telescope,” he said, adding that its remote, sparsely populated location almost 800 kilometres (500 miles) north of the western city of Perth meant it was ideal for low-frequency radio reception.

Experts have warned that the sun is due to re-enter peak activity in 2013, with a marked increase in the number and severity of solar storms expected.

“The MWA will keep watch on the sun during the upcoming period of maximum solar activity,” Tingay, who is professor of Radio Astronomy at Curtin University, said in a statement.

“It has the potential to deliver very real and immediate benefits to the entire global population.”

Tingay said the Aus$51 million (US$53 million) MWA telescope, involved the work of 13 institutions in Australia, the United States, India and New Zealand, led by Western Australia’s Curtin University.

The MWA will also offer scientists a better understanding of how the early universe formed by picking up radio waves that have travelled for a long as 13 billion years — or soon after the Big Bang — to reach Earth.

“Understanding how the dramatic transformation took place soon after the Big Bang, over 13 billion years ago, is the final frontier for astrophysicists like me,” Tingay said.

The MWA, launched on Friday, is expected to be fully operational in February.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #3291 on: Dec 02, 2012, 09:08 AM »

02 December 2012 - 08H24 

Adventurer to recreate Shackleton's Antarctic exploits

AFP - A polar explorer who famously retraced Douglas Mawson's Antarctic trek has launched an ambitious new challenge -- recreating Ernest Shackleton's perilous crossing of the Southern Ocean.

Tim Jarvis, a renowned British/Australian adventurer who in 2007 re-enacted Mawson's 1912 odyssey across the frozen continent, is planning a similar trip in 2013 to follow Shackleton's dramatic 1916 voyage.

Jarvis described the perilous 800 nautical mile (1,300 kilometre) Southern Ocean crossing in a spartan lifeboat and punishing traverse of South Georgia Island with very basic gear and rations as "the biggest survival journey of them all."

Shackleton had hoped to complete the first land crossing of the Antarctic when his ship, the Endurance, was crushed by ice, triggering a desperate mission on a lifeboat from nearby Elephant Island to South Georgia for help.

The adventurer and five other men made it across the hostile ocean with little more than the clothes on their backs and the most basic of rations and battled across the rugged island to a whaling station to raise the alarm.

It was a two-year ordeal that "well and truly bookmarked the end of the heroic era of exploration that started in 1895 when the first person set foot on the Antarctic and finished with the First World War", Jarvis said.

Inspired by the story and hoping to map the dramatic changes that global warming has brought to the region, Jarvis and a crew of five sailors will repeat the ocean crossing in a replica ship with all the same privations.

They will be without navigational aids or any modern equipment, live off the same rations as Shackleton's men and wear the same clothes as they battle high seas and icy, bleak conditions to reach Stromness on South Georgia.

"I'm expecting constant hardship and vigilance; there are periods of darkness down there, we're on a boat with absolutely no modern navigational aids whatsoever, we'll just be going into darkness," Jarvis told AFP at the crew's official farewell from Sydney on Sunday.

"Icebergs can loom up on the horizon, we wouldn't even see them until they're on us, there are whales, it's big, big sea," he added.

The men set off in their replica lifeboat, named the Alexandra Shackleton after the explorer's grand-daughter, in early January 2013 from South America and expect the journey to take two months.

They will be accompanied by a support vessel, the Australis, a modern and fully equipped steel-hulled motor boat that will only go to the lifeboat's aid in the event of a serious emergency.

* southgeorgiaisland.jpg (18.75 KB, 245x182 - viewed 98 times.)
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« Reply #3292 on: Dec 02, 2012, 09:33 AM »

In the USA..........

The Christian Science Monitor

GOP-backed bill is most serious attack on America's Wilderness Act in history

By Stewart Brandborg   
posted November 30, 2012 at 9:21 am EST
Hamilton, Mont.

The Wilderness Act has protected America’s wild lands for 50 years. It is now under threat by a House bill deceptively called The Sportsmen's Heritage Act. Citizens must demand the US Senate do nothing to advance its devastating provisions.

Conservationists and wilderness enthusiasts across America are mobilizing to defeat a bill passed by the House of Representatives in April that would eviscerate the 1964 Wilderness Act.

Deceptively entitled the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, the bill (H.R. 4089) purports to protect hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting. The bill is being pushed by powerful groups like the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International and supported by some of the most anti-wilderness Republicans in Congress. And it would effectively gut the Wilderness Act and protections for every wilderness in America's 110-million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System – everywhere from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness along the Montana-Idaho border that I can see from my home.

The House bill's provisions could still become law during the current lame-duck session of Congress. Though the Senate is considering a different sportsmen’s bill that does not include the harmful elements, the Senate bill could eventually be merged with the devastating House bill in order to pass both chambers.

The Wilderness Act eloquently defines wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." The statute further designates wilderness as an area that retains “its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation” and is “protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”

I know the Wilderness Act. I worked alongside my mentor, Howard Zahniser of the Wilderness Society (the bill’s chief author and proponent), from 1956-1964 to gain its passage by Congress. After Zahniser’s untimely passing in 1964, I directed the Wilderness Society for the next 12 years in implementing the new law and in adding new areas to the National Wilderness Preservation System. Congress responded to requests from the American people by adding tens of millions of acres to the wilderness system. Today, that system has grown from the original 9 million acres in 1964 to nearly 110 million acres. The Wilderness Act provides the best and most protective standards of all types of federal public land protection.

But this great legacy of American Wilderness is essentially destroyed by H.R. 4089 in several key ways.

First, H.R. 4089 elevates hunting, fishing, shooting, and wildlife management above wilderness protection within designated wilderness areas. Visitors or wildlife managers could drive motor vehicles and build roads, cabins, dams, hunting blinds, aircraft landing strips, and much more in wildernesses if any of these activities could be rationalized as facilitating opportunities for hunting, fishing, shooting, or managing fish and wildlife.

The only limitation in H.R. 4089 on motor vehicles or development is that the activity must be related to hunting, fishing, shooting, or wildlife management, though that need not be its only or even primary use. In reality, almost any recreational or management activity could be shoehorned into one of these exceptions and thereby exempted from Wilderness Act safeguards.

Perhaps even more troubling, H.R. 4089 would waive protections imposed by the Wilderness Act for anything undertaken in the name of wildlife management or for providing recreational opportunities related to wildlife. This would allow endless manipulations of wildlife and habitat.

This could include logging, if done to stimulate new forest growth on which deer might graze. Similarly, bulldozing new dams and reservoirs could be validated as a way to enhance fishing habitats. Poisoning lakes and streams to kill native fish and then planting exotic fish might be allowed under the guise of increasing fishing opportunities. And predator control (including aerial gunning and poisoning) could be defended for boosting the numbers of popular hunted species like elk or bighorn sheep that predators also eat.

There is no limit to what managers could do in designated wilderness areas all in the name of wildlife management or providing opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting. These provisions strike at the heart of the Wilderness Act and its foundational underpinnings to preserve wilderness untrammeled and native wildlife in its natural environment.

Sportsmen and sportswomen – those who hunt and fish – were, and continue to be among the strongest supporters of the original wilderness law, of designating wilderness lands, and of the special quality of fishing and hunting experiences that wild and undeveloped lands provide. Many of these folks are fighting to prevent eviscerating the law and its wilderness preservation safeguards.

For nearly a half-century, the Wilderness Act has protected the finest of America’s wild lands and created a National Wilderness Preservation System that is the envy of much of the world. H.R. 4089 would negate all that we have preserved. In my 60 years of work for wilderness preservation and management, our nation has never been threatened by a more serious attack on this irreplaceable publicly owned resource. Citizens must demand that the US Senate do nothing to advance the House provisions of the so-called Sportsmen’s Heritage Act and instead protect our grand wilderness legacy for future generations.

Stewart Brandborg is a wildlife biologist, former executive director of the Wilderness Society, and a long-time board member of and now senior adviser to Wilderness Watch.


Government announces opening of Atlantic coast for offshore wind farms

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Saturday, December 1, 2012 12:01 EST

Department of the interior will offer lease sales on areas off coasts of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Virginia

The Obama administration has for the first time opened up large areas off the Atlantic Coast for offshore wind farms.

The department of the interior said it was proposing to offer competitive lease sales on some 278,000 acres, or about 432 square miles, off the coasts of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Virginia. The sale is expected to go ahead in the first half of 2013.

“Wind energy along the Atlantic holds enormous potential, and today we are moving closer to tapping into this massive domestic energy resource to create jobs, increase our energy security and strengthen our nation’s competitiveness in this new energy frontier,” the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, said in a statement.

If any turbines do actually go up, they would constitute the first offshore wind projects in the US. Over the last few years vast wind farms, with hundreds of turbines, have been built across the country – although wind power still makes up only 3% of energy use. However, the wind industry is expected to slow down or even come to a halt at the end of the year, with the expiry of tax credits.

There is a lot of wind off America’s Atlantic Coast – enough to power some 1.4 million homes, according to the US government. But building turbines offshore costs far more than building them on land. It has also proven controversial.

The first offshore project, Cape Wind, a 130-turbine farm in Nantucket Sound, ran into fierce opposition from the late Senator Ted Kennedy and Indian tribes. It is due to start producing power at the end of 2015, after nearly 15 years of legal battles.

Officials said the areas chosen for the new lease sales were the “best suited” to wind development, and had been sited to avoid environmental concerns or conflicts with locals.

The first wind zone, off Rhode Island and Massachusetts, is just 10 miles off the coast. It will be leased in two parts. The proposed lease area in Virginia is about 23 nautical miles off southern Virginia.

Officials said the lease sale announced on Friday represented a first step in opening up offshore areas. Other blocks identified include areas of North Carolina and New Jersey. There are also plans to eventually site wind farms on the Pacific Coast, in Oregon and Hawaii. © Guardian News and Media 2012


Originally published Saturday, December 1, 2012 at 8:35 PM  

Corporations get tax deals; states, cities pay the price

Giveaways in the form of tax incentives granted to companies nationwide are adding up to a gigantic bill for taxpayers.

The New York Times

Ypsilanti Township attorney Doug Winters said GM extracted incentives with "a very thinly disguised threat that if you don't give us these ... we'll have to go somewhere else."
Enlarge this photo

Washington state incentives

ACCORDING to The New York Times database, Washington state spends at least $2.35 billion a year on incentive programs, based on the most recent data available. That amounts to about $349 per person and 15 cents per dollar of the state's budget.

Top incentives by type

• $1.46 billion in sales-tax refund, exemptions or other sales-tax discounts.

• $883 million in corporate income-tax credit, rebate or reduction.

• $7.65 million in property-tax abatement.

Top incentives by industry

• $649 million in manufacturing.

• $632 million in agriculture.

• $197 million in aircraft.

In the end, the money that cities and towns across America gave General Motors did not matter.

When the automaker released a list of factories it was closing during bankruptcy three years ago, communities that had considered themselves GM's business partners were among the targets.

For years, mayors and governors anxious about jobs had agreed to GM's demands for cash rewards, free buildings, worker training and lucrative tax breaks.

As late as 2007, the company was telling local officials these sorts of incentives would "further GM's strong relationship" with them and be a "win/win situation," according to town-council notes from one Michigan community.

Yet at least 50 properties on the 2009 liquidation list were in towns and states that had awarded incentives adding up to billions in taxpayer dollars, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

Some officials, desperate to keep GM, offered more. Ohio was proposing a $56 million deal to save its Moraine plant, and Wisconsin, fighting for its Janesville factory, offered $153 million.

But GM walked away and, thanks to a federal bailout, is once again profitable. The towns have not been so fortunate, having spent scarce funds in exchange for thousands of jobs that no longer exist.

One township, Ypsilanti Township, in Michigan, is suing over the automaker's departure. "You can't just make these promises and throw them around like they're spare change in the drawer," said Doug Winters, the township's attorney.

Yet across the country, companies have been doing just that. And the giveaways are adding up to a gigantic bill for taxpayers.

Tally: More than $80B

An investigation examined and tallied thousands of local incentives granted nationwide and found that states, counties and cities are giving up more than $80 billion each year to companies. The beneficiaries come from virtually every part of the corporate world, encompassing oil and coal conglomerates, technology and entertainment companies, banks and big-box retail chains.

The cost of the awards is far higher. A full accounting is not possible because the incentives are granted by thousands of government agencies and officials, and many do not know the value of all their awards.

"How can you even talk about rationalizing what you're doing when you don't even know what you're doing?" said Timothy Bartik, a senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich.

The New York Times analyzed more than 150,000 awards and created a database of incentive spending, searchable on the newspaper's website. The survey was supplemented by interviews with more than 100 officials in government and business organizations and executives and consultants.

A portrait arises of mayors and governors desperate to create jobs, outmatched by multinational corporations and short on tools to fact-check what companies tell them. Many officials said they feared companies would move jobs overseas if they did not get subsidies in the United States.

Over the years, corporations have increasingly exploited that fear.

Despite their scale, state and local incentives have barely been part of the national debate on the economic crisis. The federal budget negotiations have not addressed whether the incentives are worth the cost, even though 20 percent of state and local budgets come from federal spending. Federal lawmakers are battling over possible increases in personal taxes, while both parties have said lower federal taxes on corporations are needed for the country to compete globally.

Texas tops at incentives

The analysis shows that Texas awards more incentives, more than $19 billion a year, than any other state. Alaska, West Virginia and Nebraska give up the most per resident.

For many communities, the payouts add up to a substantial chunk of overall spending, the analysis found. Oklahoma and West Virginia give up amounts equal to about one-third of their budgets, and Maine allocates nearly a fifth.

The most incentive money is spent on manufacturing, about $25.5 billion a year, followed by agriculture. The oil, gas and mining industries come in third, and the film business fourth. Technology is not far behind, as companies such as Twitter and Facebook increasingly seek tax breaks and many localities bet on the industry's long-term viability.

Those hopes were once more focused on automakers, which for decades pushed cities and states to set up incentive programs, blazing a trail that companies of all sorts followed. Even today, GM is the top beneficiary, public records indicate. It received at least $1.7 billion in local incentives in the past five years, followed closely by Ford and Chrysler.

A GM spokesman said almost every major employer applied for incentives because they help keep companies competitive and retain or create jobs. "There are many reasons why so many Ford, Chrysler and GM plants closed over the last few decades," said the spokesman, James Cain. "But these factors don't mean that the companies and communities didn't benefit while the plants were open, which was often for generations."

Cain cited research showing that the company received less money per job than foreign automakers operating in the United States.

For government officials such as Bobby Hitt of South Carolina, the incentives are a good investment that will raise tax revenues in the long run. "I don't see it as giving up anything," said Hitt, who worked at BMW in the 1990s and helped it win $130 million from South Carolina.

Today, Hitt is the state's secretary of commerce. South Carolina recently took on a $218 million debt to assist Boeing's expansion there and offered the company tax breaks for 10 years.

Hitt, like most political officials, has a short-term mandate. It will take years to see whether the state's bet on Boeing bears fruit.

In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican in his first term, has been working to eliminate most business tax credits but is bound by past awards. The state gave GM $779 million in credits in 2009, just a month after the company received a $50 billion federal bailout and decided to close seven plants in Michigan.

GM can use the credits to offset its state tax bill for up to 20 years.

"You don't know who will take a credit or when," said Doug Smith, a senior official at the state's economic-development agency. "We may give a credit to GM, and they might not take it for three years or 10 years or more."

One executive, Donald Hall Jr. of Hallmark, thinks business subsidies are hurting his hometown, Kansas City, Mo., by diverting money from public education."It's really not creating new jobs," Hall said. "It's motivated by politicians who want to claim they have brought new jobs into their state."

Varied incentives

For local governments, incentives have become the cost of doing business with almost every business.

When Oliver Stone made the 2010 sequel to "Wall Street," in his mind there was only one place to shoot it: New York City. Nonetheless, the film, a scathing look at bankers' greed, received $10 million in tax credits, according to 20th Century Fox.

In an interview, Stone criticized subsidies for industries such as banking and agriculture but defended them for Hollywood.

"It's good," Stone said of the film subsidies. "Or like basically the way business is done. I don't understand what the moral qualm is."

The practical consequences can be easily seen. The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative group, found that the amount New York spends on film credits every year equals the cost of hiring 5,000 public-school teachers.

Incentives come in many forms: cash grants and loans; sales-tax breaks; income-tax credits and exemptions; free services; and property-tax abatements. The income-tax breaks add up to $18 billion and sales-tax relief about $52 billion of the overall $80 billion in incentives.

California is one of the few states that have been cutting back on incentives. But that doesn't mean its cities are following suit. When Twitter threatened to leave San Francisco last year, officials scrambled.

Twitter was not short on money; it soon received a $300 million investment from a Saudi prince and $800 million from a private consortium. The two received Twitter equity.

The city exempted Twitter from what could total $22 million in payroll taxes, and the company agreed to stay put. The city estimates Twitter's workforce could grow to 2,600 employees, although the company made no such promise.

San Francisco, meanwhile, has been cutting its budget. Public parks have lost about $12 million in recent years.

The tab for auto incentives has grown to $13.9 billion since 1985, according to the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit group in Ann Arbor, Mich. GM, the top recipient, was awarded $3.3 billion. Since 1979, automakers also closed more than 267 U.S. plants, about half of which still sit empty, according to the center.

The auto industry and some local officials have long argued that auto companies create so many jobs and draw in so many supporting suppliers that all taxpayers benefit. Even if companies close years later, the trade-off is worth it, they said.

Ypsilanti's battle

For much of the past 20 years, Doug Winters has been agitating for GM to be held accountable.

Winters, the attorney for Ypsilanti Township and several other places around Ann Arbor, has lived in Ypsilanti all his life. His grandmother labored at the local plant, Willow Run, during World War II, when it made bombers. People in town point out that Rosie the Riveter worked there. After the war, GM moved in.

Over the years, Ypsilanti granted GM more than $200 million in incentives for two factories at Willow Run, Winters said. "They were doing it with a very thinly disguised threat that if you don't give us these tax abatements, then we'll have to go somewhere else."

Ypsilanti first sued GM in the 1990s to prevent the company from closing the factory at Willow Run that made the Chevrolet Caprice.

The town had granted the company tax incentives after the factory manager argued that GM's ability to compete with other carmakers was at stake, documents in the lawsuit show. The tax break and "favorable market demand," said the plant manager, Harvey Williams, would allow the automaker to "maintain continuous employment."

Nevertheless, GM shut the factory. A lower court found in favor of Ypsilanti, but the ruling was reversed. The judge said a company's job assurances "cannot be evidence of a promise."

In 2010, when the company closed the remaining factory at Willow Run, Winters sued again. This time, Ypsilanti said the automaker should have been forced to close overseas factories instead, especially since U.S. taxpayers had bailed out GM. In addition, Ypsilanti sought to recover money from GM, saying the company had agreed to reimburse the town for some incentives if it left.

Ypsilanti's claims have not been addressed. They were complicated by GM's bankruptcy, which allowed it to emerge as a new company and leave some liabilities and contractual obligations behind.

When asked whether the new GM has civic responsibilities to its former factory towns, Cain, the company spokesman, said: "Our obligation to the communities where we do business is to run a successful business."

He also said that since the bailout, "GM has invested more than $7.3 billion in its U.S. facilities, and we've created or retained almost 19,000 jobs in communities all over the country."

In Ypsilanti, an entity set up to sell off GM property is marketing the plant as valuable. At the same time, it has been arguing for lower property taxes on the grounds that the plant is not worth much.

Ypsilanti's supervisor, Brenda Stumbo, said the township would be stung hard by further revenue cuts. There are seven to 10 home foreclosures a week, giving the township the highest foreclosure rate in the county, Stumbo said.

"Can all of it be traced back to General Motors?" she said, listing auto suppliers that closed after GM did. "No, but a great deal of it can."


Obama urges immediate tax cut extension for middle class

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, December 1, 2012 11:40 EST

US President Barack Obama urged Congress on Saturday to immediately extend a tax cut for middle class Americans, arguing the move will give 98 percent of families and 97 percent of small businesses certainty that will lead to faster economic growth.

“Congress can do that right now. They can give families like yours a sense of security going into the New Year,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

The president made the comments one day after he traveled to a toy factory in Pennsylvania to press his case for a plan to stop the US economy tipping off the so-called fiscal cliff, when automatic tax hikes and across-the-board spending cuts come into force on January 1.

Republicans have rejected Obama’s first offer to end the stalemate surrounding the matter as “ridiculous” and negotiations between the two sides have hit a roadblock with just a month to go, punctuated by the holiday season, until the deadline.

Top Republican John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, has warned that talks on averting a year-end tax and spending crunch, which could tip the economy back into recession, are going nowhere.

The showdown is a crucial test for newly re-elected Obama in gridlocked Washington, with implications for his capacity to enact an ambitious second term agenda.

Obama campaigned on raising taxes on households earning $250,000 a year or more to pay for deficit reductions and to fund education spending and other plans to boost the economy and improve life for the nation’s middle class.

But congressional Republicans have opposed tax increases of any kind.

In his address, the president said it was “unacceptable” for Republicans to “hold middle class tax cuts hostage” because they refuse to let tax rates go up on the wealthiest Americans.

But he suggested that Congress, as a first step, do what both parties agree on and pass a bill that would keep middle class taxes low.

Obama said the Senate had already passed such a measure, and that Democrats in the House were ready to do the same.

“And if we can just get a few House Republicans on board, I’ll sign this bill as soon as Congress sends it my way,” the president promised.

However, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah said in a weekly Republican address that comprehensive tax reform and reducing the unsustainable debt were crucial to fixing the “fiscal cliff” problem.

“The President has said he wants a so-called balanced approach to solve this crisis,” he said. “But what he proposed this week was a classic bait and switch on the American people — a tax increase double the size of what he campaigned on, billions of dollars in new stimulus spending and an unlimited, unchecked authority to borrow from the Chinese.”


The Christian Science Monitor
By Linda Feldmann
posted November 30, 2012 at 5:20 pm EST

'Fiscal cliff' road trip: Obama talks Scrooge as GOP stews

President Obama went back into campaign mode Friday at a toy factory near Philadelphia, while Republicans back in Washington declared fiscal cliff negotiations are in a stalemate.

President Obama’s speech Friday at a toy factory in suburban Philadelphia – an electoral battleground area – had all the hallmarks of a campaign event. An American flag was prominently displayed. About 350 people packed the room, eager to see the president. An audience member yelled out, “We love you.” Mr. Obama replied, as always, “I love you back.”

But on this last day of November, 3-1/2 weeks after Election Day, the focus was not on whether the president would keep his job. It was, to paraphrase Obama, “now that I have been reelected, let’s do what I campaigned on”: allow the middle class to keep its Bush-era tax cuts – $2,200 a year for a typical family of four – while tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent should be allowed to expire at the end of the year.

“It’s not acceptable to me, and I don’t think it’s acceptable to you, for just a handful of Republicans in Congress to hold middle-class tax cuts hostage simply because they don’t want tax rates on upper-income folks to go up,” Obama said at the Rodon factory in Hatfield, Pa., where toys such as K’NEX and Tinkertoys are produced.

The toy factory was selected for obvious reasons: It’s the holidays, and if middle-class taxpayers know their taxes won’t go up at the end of the year, they can feel more comfortable spending money on gifts. But if Congress does nothing, and everyone’s taxes go up, “That’s a Scrooge Christmas,” Obama said.

The president came out with other holiday quips.  “Now, of course, Santa delivers everywhere,” Obama said. “I’ve been keeping my own naughty-and-nice list for Washington. So you should keep your eye on who gets some K’NEX this year. There are going to be some members of Congress who get them, and some who don't."

Back in Washington, though, congressional Republicans were in no mood to laugh, as the prospects for a deal with the White House looked bleak. At a press conference, Republican House Speaker John Boehner said the negotiations were at a “stalemate.”

Representative Boehner added that for the past three weeks, he had been “very guarded” in his comments, because he didn’t want to make it harder to find common ground.

“When I came out the day after the election and made it clear that Republicans will put revenue on the table, I took a great risk,” Boehner said.

But when the White House put out a plan Thursday calling for $1.6 trillion in new taxes over 10 years – double what Boehner was willing to consider in July 2011 – in addition to less than $400 billion in cuts, Boehner called it “not a serious proposal.”

“So right now we're almost nowhere,” the speaker said.

Separately, the House majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia, made clear that the Republicans have leverage, since they still control the House.

“The speaker put new revenues on the table just after the election and said: ‘We get it. The president won his reelection; we won our reelection. We have to now come together,’ ” Representative Cantor said.

Obama has been saying all along he’s willing to compromise on fiscal matters, but his opening bid didn’t reflect that. And that, analysts say, is a demonstration of how Obama has evolved as president. Early in his presidency, he had a tendency to start a major negotiation with what he considered a compromise position – for example, putting Republican-pleasing tax cuts in the stimulus package of early 2009 and not pushing for a “public option” in health-care reform.

“He’s stopped negotiating with himself,” says James Thurber, an expert on presidential-congressional relations at American University in Washington. “It helps to have an election under your belt and somewhat of a mandate to do what he wants to do with fiscal-cliff issues – for example, raising [tax] rates for those making more than $250,000 a year.”

Now, Obama is holding tight to cards he might play later as the clock ticks down to Dec. 31, when a package of spending cuts and tax increases automatically kicks in – the “fiscal cliff” – if Congress doesn’t act.

At his daily briefing Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney made clear that some areas are nonnegotiable for the president.

“He will not sign under any circumstances legislation that would keep rates where they are for the wealthiest Americans,” Mr. Carney said.

But he indicated some wiggle room on exactly where the new rate will land. “You can speak hypothetically about 39.5 versus 39.6 [percent],” he said.

Under President Clinton, the highest marginal tax rate was 39.6 percent – the rate that top earners would return to if the Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of the year. Under the Bush tax cuts, the top marginal rate went down to 35 percent.

For Obama, it was clear that Friday’s campaign-style trip was a respite from the tension back in Washington.

“Obviously, I couldn’t be more honored to be back in the White House,” he said. “But I’m already missing the time that I spent on the campaign visiting towns like this and talking to folks like you.”


December 1, 2012

Aide to Obama Faces a Big Test in Fiscal Talks


WASHINGTON — When President Obama was locked in painful spending negotiations with House Republicans last spring, his exceedingly meticulous budget director, Jacob J. Lew, went to the Oval Office to propose some complex budget changes. As Mr. Lew delved deeper and deeper into the numbers, Mr. Obama put up his hand, signaling him to stop.

“Jack, it’s fine,” the president said, according to Gene Sperling, Mr. Obama’s economics adviser, who witnessed the exchange. “I trust your values. I trust your judgment on this.”

Today Mr. Lew is the White House chief of staff (and on the shortlist to become the next Treasury secretary), and Mr. Obama has entrusted him with an even bigger task: guiding the White House through potentially treacherous negotiations with Congressional Republicans to avert automatic tax increases and spending cuts on Jan. 1, which economists warn could throw the country back into recession.

An agreement by year’s end could lead to a long-term deficit reduction plan, helping Mr. Obama live up to his promise to bring both parties together and sealing Mr. Lew’s reputation as the master of the Washington budget deal. But if the talks fail, Mr. Obama might be remembered as the president who could not break partisan gridlock in Washington, and Mr. Lew could wind up with a blot on his nearly impeccable record.

“This is a reset moment for the administration and for Jack,” said Tom Daschle, a former Senate Democratic leader. “It’s a window that will close in a few weeks, but it really is an opportunity to start over. Part of the message of the election was ‘You guys have got to work together.’ ”

But Mr. Lew’s last go-round with Republicans, the debt ceiling talks in the summer of 2011, ended uncharacteristically badly. Mr. Lew, still the budget director at the time, irked Speaker John A. Boehner and his staff, who viewed him as an uncompromising know-it-all. Mr. Lew’s defenders call it an aberration.

“I think it’s because Jack knows the numbers, and they couldn’t pull a fast one,” said David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s chief political adviser.

This time, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner is the lead negotiator; as the chief of staff, administration officials say, Mr. Lew can no longer spend long hours away from the White House. Instead, he is overseeing the talks and plotting strategy from his West Wing office, where a painting of Abraham Lincoln hangs over the fireplace and a tiny ceramic replica of Ellis Island — a nod to his father, who immigrated from Poland — sits on his orderly wooden desk.

So far, there has been little progress. On Friday, Mr. Boehner declared the talks “at a stalemate,” while Mr. Obama hit the road to sell his plan to raise taxes on income over $250,000. Earlier in the week, Mr. Obama met with business leaders, as did Mr. Lew, who declined to comment for this article.

At 57, Mr. Lew may be the most unassuming power broker in Washington. He is deeply religious (an Orthodox Jew, he leaves work each Friday before sundown) and is so strait-laced that his colleagues feel compelled to apologize when they curse in front of him. He brings his own lunch (a cheese sandwich and an apple) and eats at his desk.

With his owlish glasses and low-key manner, Mr. Lew may come off as just a policy nerd. But he is a fierce negotiator. When defending social safety net programs, particularly those like Medicaid that help the poor, he morphs into a warrior, Republicans say, though he has proved willing to make concessions.

“Jack is tough,” said Jim Dyer, a Republican and a former Capitol Hill aide who negotiated budget issues with Mr. Lew in the 1990s. “He can be argumentative, he’s smart as hell, he’s very political, he is a true liberal, he is loyal to his superiors, and he has a good grasp of budgetary and policy issues.”

“Fighting with him is exhausting,” Mr. Dyer added. “We yelled at each other a lot. We never came to blows. We walked away from the table perhaps happy to be away from each other for a while, but perhaps equally happy that we preserved a modicum of what each side wanted.”

Mr. Lew arrived in Washington in 1973, a skinny, bookish 18-year-old from Queens who got his first taste of Democratic politics at 12 while handing out fliers for Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign. Today, as a two-time former budget director (he also held the job under President Bill Clinton), he has an intricate understanding of budget policy.

In 1983, as an aide to Speaker Tip O’Neill when Ronald Reagan was president, Mr. Lew helped put Social Security on a path to solvency with a plan that, to many Democrats’ chagrin, will eventually raise the retirement age to 67. He keeps a gavel from the day the legislation passed, signed by Mr. O’Neill, on a bookshelf in his office.

In 1997, under Mr. Clinton, Mr. Lew worked with Republicans to balance the federal budget, enabling the president to leave office with a surplus.

Mr. Lew also has foreign policy experience; he spent the first two years of the Obama administration as a deputy to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

He has little use for Washington’s social scene; a check of newspaper archives going back to 1977 shows that Mr. Lew has never turned up in The Washington Post’s gossip column. His wife, Ruth, lives in their home in the affluent Riverdale section of the Bronx; they commute back and forth and have a daughter in Washington and a son in New York. He likes to cook; he makes a pretty good chicken soup (Ruth is in charge of the matzo balls) and a mean potato kugel.

Mr. Lew’s worldview was forged in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Forest Hills, Queens, where he grew up in the middle class in a squat brick apartment building in a neighborhood of bagel shops and corner luncheonettes. His father practiced law solo and dealt in rare books; his mother managed his father’s office. In high school, Mr. Lew found himself in music (he played the 12-string guitar), edited the newspaper and fought for causes like building low-income housing in Queens.

“Jack was a folkie,” said an old friend, Stephen Norman. As a teenager, Mr. Lew liked to hang around the now-defunct Folklore Center in Greenwich Village, where he ran into Don McLean, who had not yet written “American Pie.” When the young Mr. Lew organized a fund-raiser to fight world hunger, he persuaded Mr. McLean to play.

If he had a teenage rebellion, it was moving to Minnesota to attend Carleton College (his parents preferred Columbia University) and then quitting after a year to work for Bella Abzug, the flamboyant Manhattan congresswoman. His mother worried that he would never get his degree, but he did, at Harvard. Later, while working on Capitol Hill, he picked up a law degree, attending Georgetown at night.

By the time he was 23, Mr. Lew was a top policy aide to Mr. O’Neill, an experience that friends say sharpened his sense of how federal spending affects people’s lives.

“When he said ‘Pell grants,’ it wasn’t something distant or numerical,” said Chris Matthews of MSNBC, who also worked for Mr. O’Neill and shared an office with Mr. Lew. “He knew this meant kids could go to college who didn’t have rich parents.”

The challenge now for Mr. Lew — and for Mr. Obama — is to forge an agreement that does not cut too deeply into the entitlement programs that Democrats cherish. Like Mr. Obama, Mr. Lew is a pragmatist; one person familiar with his thinking said he had previously expressed willingness to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, a move that many liberals oppose.

If Mr. Lew gets the Treasury job, the business world will not be unhappy. He is not a creature of Wall Street, but before joining the Obama administration, he spent three years in high-level (and high-paying) jobs at Citigroup, where he oversaw a unit that lost money but also profited from betting against the subprime mortgage market. Mr. Lew was chief operating officer; in testimony before Congress, he has said he did not make investment decisions.

For Mr. Obama, the choice is whether he needs Mr. Lew more in overseeing the Treasury Department or in running the White House. Though Mr. Lew, who has been the chief of staff for less than a year, is not a member of Mr. Obama’s longtime Chicago inner circle, aides say he is a good fit — “the no-drama chief of staff for the no-drama president,” one said — and Mr. Obama relies on him for more than just budget advice.

“I have been in countless meetings with the president and Jack,” said Valerie Jarrett, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, “and also been in meetings with senior staff where Jack hasn’t been present, where the president will say, ‘What does Jack think?’ ”


December 1, 2012

Utah Hunters Criticize Market Approach to Licenses and Conservation


SALT LAKE CITY — Todd Huntington, a dentist from a small town in central Utah, considered himself lucky. After two years of failing to secure a hunting permit in the state’s random drawing, he won a $35 state permit to shoot a male deer.

Once he was out among the fir and aspen forests of the Wasatch plateau this fall, he came upon a buck, aimed a muzzleloader and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. As the buck fled, Dr. Huntington glared at his gun and wondered when this chance might come again. “When I was a teenager, anybody could buy a tag down to the hardware store and away you went,” he said. “Now you have to have a degree in wildlife-speak to work your way through all the regulations to be able even to apply.”

It especially bothers him — and other hunters — that those with means can buy public licenses through private outlets, paying thousands of dollars to move to the head of the line. More than any state in the West, Utah has expanded hunting opportunities for the well-to-do and has begun to diminish them for those seeking permits directly from the state.

State wildlife managers recognize this, but they say their motives are grounded in animal — if not social — welfare. Utah has embraced an increasingly free-market model as a way to raise more money for conservation.

Here is how it works: the state has enticed ranchers with an allotment of vouchers for lucrative hunting licenses that they can sell for thousands of dollars as part of a private hunt on their land. Many used to complain bitterly to state officials about elk and other game eating forage meant for their cattle.

The vouchers for hunting licenses, handed out for more than 10 years now, give them ample economic incentive to nurture big game on their land and not get frustrated with ranching and sell their land to developers.

Another program, smaller in scope but much more controversial, allows private nonprofit groups to auction off a few hundred licenses to the highest bidder or run their own drawing in exchange for supporting conservation projects. State wildlife managers say that with species like elk, the system is working to produce more game for all.

“We want the most wildlife we can have,” said Greg Sheehan, the director of the State Division of Wildlife Resources. “The question is how we do that.”

This new approach, some say, violates a century-old American ethic, articulated by Theodore Roosevelt, himself an avid hunter, that wildlife belongs to all, and not just to those with land or wealth.

“Money has definitely infiltrated our American hunting system,” said David Allen, the president of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, based in Montana. “Some of it’s totally ethical and legal and aboveboard. But is it all good? Maybe, maybe not.”

However deeply the new system has taken root in Utah, efforts to franchise it around the West have faltered. States like Alaska, Arizona and Idaho have rejected large auctions.

Randy Newberg of Bozeman, Mont., whose cable hunting show “On Your Own Adventures” runs on the Sportsman Channel, disparaged Utah’s approach as unfair. “A person gets to buy their way to the front of the line when you have people who wait 10, even 20 years for a permit and thousands waiting in line,” he said. “It’s turning the corner away from what’s been the most successful wildlife model in the world.”

The Utah group Sportsmen for Wildlife has benefited most from the auction of what are called “conservation permits,” which sell for tens of thousands of dollars. The nonprofit Mule Deer Foundation works with this group in running the annual drawing of “convention permits.”

Miles Moretti, the president of the foundation, said an auction “doesn’t violate the North American model. It’s just they use the tags in a different way to conserve game. Can a guy buy a tag every year for $200,000? Yes. So it’s not fair? Well, life’s not fair. This is a way to raise money for wildlife.”

For Utah residents like Dr. Huntington, who get permits in a blind draw directly from the state, the cost of a permit for a buck is modest, $35; the same permit for nonresidents in the draw is $263. Resident bull elk permits go for $280, or for $795 for out-of-state hunters. Hunters who do business with private ranchers can pay $10,000 and more for a permit to take one bull elk on prime private land.

The drawing held at the annual hunting expo by the two nonprofit groups gives the convention a high profile; attendees contribute $5 million or more to the economy of Salt Lake City. This convention drawing is popular; the $5 entry fees have raised about $1 million.

Critics of the auction and the convention drawing, like Tye Boulter, the president of the United Wildlife Cooperative, said that too much of the money made by the Mule Deer Foundation and Sportsmen for Wildlife went to promoting the groups and lobbying for their political causes.

But Mr. Moretti said, “We believe we’ve fulfilled our obligation” to bring in convention dollars and support wildlife projects.

An audit of the $1 million from the convention drawing was made public in August, prompted by Mr. Boulter’s complaints. It showed that about $250,000 went toward lobbying for increased hunting of wolves, which at the time were still listed as endangered in the Northern Rockies. “They are catering to the industry — guides, outfitters, landowners, things like that,” Mr. Boulter argued, saying groups that support wolf hunts are not necessarily conservationists.

Mr. Boulter also objects to the increasing privatization of state-controlled hunting opportunities. “These wildlife aren’t commodities,” he said. “These are a public trust.”

About 113 tracts of private ranchland have access to big-game permits for hunts on their land. As part of the arrangement, Utah requires them to open their land to public hunters who enter a general drawing.

The most important element of the system is getting ranchers to think differently about wildlife, said Kevin Bunnell of the State Division of Wildlife Resources. “It turned people who used to be critical of wildlife into advocates for wildlife,” he said.

This year, 3,209 licenses for deer, elk, moose or pronghorn were disbursed by ranchers — about 2 percent of the 142,000 licenses available for all game.

The math works differently with trophy hunts. Most of the permits to take the more coveted antlered game on ranchland are reserved for the big-spending private hunters — 60 percent of the pronghorn bucks, more than 85 percent of the bull elk and nearly 90 percent of buck deer.

Mr. Boulter does see benefit in the conservation aspects of the ranch program and believes strongly in hunting rights on private property. But he remains troubled. “Monetizing wildlife is a big deal,” he said, adding that it was taking North American wildlife management backward, not forward. “Aristocrats, slowly, are getting more opportunity.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 1, 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated the name of a wildlife organization. It is the United Wildlife Cooperative, not the Utah Wildlife Cooperative.


Thanks to ALEC, Arizona High School Students Treated Like Convicts In Prison Style Lockdown

By: Rmuse December 2nd, 2012

The act of falsely portraying oneself as a member of legitimate law enforcement for the purpose of deception is illegal in most countries and usually carries a custodial sentence. Most cases of impersonating law enforcement is for the purpose of some kind of gain, intimidation, or to commit a crime. So-called private security services do not have the authority regular law enforcement enjoys any more than a regular prison correctional officer, and yet in Arizona, a local police department, in conjunction with high school officials, assigned “law enforcement” status to corrections officers employed by a private corporation. The incident is problematic on several fronts, especially considering the victims were public school students who were treated like convicts in a lock down maneuver during regular instructional hours.

The incident in Arizona is part of a disconcerting trend involving the for-profit prison industry nationwide, and a plague on the state that garnered media attention during the SB 1070 “papers please” controversy that highlighted the use of prison employees in law enforcement operations. It is disturbing enough that private corporations are making major inroads into the penal system and profiting from taxpayer dollars, but using them in law enforcement capacity involving public school students borders on misappropriating public funds and conflict of interest.

In an Arizona city, Casa Grande, a private corrections corporation extended their reach into classrooms when they assisted local law enforcement agencies during a drug raid at Vista Grande High School. The principal, Tim Hamilton ordered a “lock down” of all 1,776 students for the first drug sweep in the school’s history. Hamilton described the lock down as a case where “everybody is locked in the room they are in, and nobody leaves — nobody leaves the school, nobody comes into the school.” Hamilton continued that once everyone is locked in the classrooms, an administrator is teamed with a “law enforcement officer,” and “they bring the dogs in and have the kids come out and line up against a wall. The dog goes in and they close the door behind, and then the dog does its thing.” Although situations arise that make locking schools down appropriate, it seems a bit much during routine checks for drugs on a campus, and in Vista Grande’s case, this drug raid was highly unusual.

The public information officer for the Casa Grande Police Department (CGPD) said the raid’s operation comprised four “law enforcement agencies” including CGPD, Arizona Department of Public Safety, Gila River Indian Community Police Department, and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Three of the participants were legitimate law enforcement agencies, the corporate prison guards however, were not members of law enforcement or a public agency; they were private prison guards.  CCA is the nation’s largest for-profit (private) prison corporation and their presence at a high school “drug sweep” is strange, and an outrage, and despite CGPD’s opinion, they are not part of any law enforcement agency.

The program director of the Tucson office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Caroline Isaacs, said that “To invite for-profit prison guards to conduct law enforcement actions in a high school is perhaps the most direct expression of the ‘schools-to-prison pipeline’ I’ve ever seen.” Isaacs’ organization advocates for criminal justice reform and she remarked that “All the research shows that CCA doesn’t properly train its staff to do the jobs they actually have. They most certainly do not have anywhere near the training and experience, to say nothing of the legal authority, to conduct a drug raid on a high school. It is chilling to think that any school official would be willing to put vulnerable students at risk this way.” There may be legality issues with allowing private prison guards to conduct a drug sweep at a public school because the Arizona Administrative Code (AAC) says that for an individual to engage in duties of a peace officer, they require certification from the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) that qualifies police officers, constables, marshals, Dept. of Public Safety personnel, and community college and university police to serve as “law enforcement” officers.  In fact the AAC says, “a person who is not certified by the Board or whose certified status is inactive shall not function as a peace officer or be assigned the duties of a peace officer by an agency.” Apparently in Arizona, corporate profits supersede requirements to serve as a “peace officer,” especially when dealing with public school students.

There is no provision in the AAC for a corporation’s employee to serve as a peace officer, but as benefactors of taxpayer-funded criminal justice system, it was important for Arizona to assist conflict of interest and ensure that CCA make a profit. CCA’s interest in the criminal justice system is the polar opposite of real law enforcement whose primary interest is public safety unlike CCA’s profit-oriented motivation, and it takes on another level of outrage when considering that CCA was co-chair and member in the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) now-ended Public Safety and Elections Task Force. The ALEC task force was behind the voter ID laws and Stand Your Ground (Castle Doctrine) model legislation rampant in Republican-controlled states.

During CCA’s tenure as member and leader of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force, they were instrumental in pushing three strikes laws, truth in sentencing, and mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines based on ALEC model legislation devised in conjunction with a division of the NRA (CrimeStrike). It is no coincidence that America witnessed an explosion in the number of incarcerated Americans after the ALEC-NRA CrimeStrike legislative activities, and interestingly, ALEC also pushed model legislation for greater law enforcement presence  on public school campuses, and mandated tougher sentences for offenses in so-called “drug free zones” like public schools. It is extremely difficult to NOT see a direct correlation between CCA’s prison guard presence at a public high school “drug sweep” and their advancement of ALEC’s agenda to create a bigger prison population for their member, Corrections Corporation of America. Although the ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force is discontinued, the Arizona high school drug raid illustrates the damage of allowing the corporate prison industry to influence the legislative process that is affecting the nation’s population; especially students.

There is a reason it is a bad idea to privatize any part of the government or its agencies, and particularly when corporations write laws to benefit their industry. A naïve person might believe Republicans passed ALEC’s model legislation expanding the prison population out of concern for public safety, but members of ALEC (Republicans) also voted to award contracts to Corrections Corporation of America, so they knew they were passing corporate authored legislation that provided the corporation with a steady supply of income in the form of prisoners. If any American thinks Republicans, champions of privatization, would not privatize every part of the government and then pass legislation to benefit corporations is a buffoon and a fool. For over three decades the GOP has worked solely for corporate interests in every industry from agriculture to the military, so the idea that Arizona legislators passed legislation to provide prisoners and increase profits for Corrections Corporation of America is nearly as certain as their prison guards were impersonating law enforcement officers and terrorizing public school students. If Arizona’s leaders, and the students’ parents, had a modicum of sense they would call for an investigation into the Casa Grande police department, Corrections Corporation of America, and the principal who subjected the students to a lockdown worthy of a high-security prison, but not a public high school.


The Christian Science Monitor
By Mark Guarino, Staff writer   
posted November 30, 2012 at 3:54 pm EST

For Amish, fastest-growing faith group in US, life is changing

As the Amish population in the US grows – forecast to hit 1 million by 2050 – the decline of farmland is forcing the community to spread to new areas and to evolve its agrarian culture.

Millersburg, Ohio

For Jacob Beachy, life moves along much as it always has. Every day, there are the 35 cows that need tending, as well as 90 acres of farmland. His is the life of an Amish farmer, in which family, work, and faith intertwine on one plot of Ohio land.

Yet across the street, on 60 acres that were once a farm, stands a sprawling new mansion, complete with a multidoor garage. A few years back, that land sold for $1.4 million.

“When we moved here in 1968, we thought we were in the sticks,” Mr. Beachy says, rocking in his living-room recliner. “All of this was working farms. It’s changed a lot.”

Indeed, for America’s Amish, much is changing. The Amish are, by one measure, the fastest-growing faith community in the US. Yet as their numbers grow, the land available to support the agrarian lifestyle that underpins their faith is shrinking, gobbled up by the encroachment of exurban mansions and their multidoor garages.

The result is, in some ways, a gradual redefinition of what it means to be Amish. Some in the younger generation are looking for new ways to make a living on smaller and smaller slices of land. Others are looking beyond the Amish heartland of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, seeking more space in states such as Texas, Maine, and Montana.

In Ohio’s Amish country, centered in Holmes County about 80 miles south of Cleveland, these forces are reshaping a region where 42 percent of residents are Amish – the highest percentage of any part of the US. Amid these changes, Amish here are struggling to maintain the traditions they hold dear: establishing core values within the family through manual labor close to home.

The American Amish population has boomed during the past few decades. A study released this summer by Ohio State University in Columbus found that the Amish are growing faster than any other faith-based group in the US, with 60 percent of all Amish settlements in the US founded since 1990.

According to the study, there are 456 settlements in the US and Canada – a number forecast to reach 1,000 by 2050. Likewise, the US Amish population – now at 251,000 –is estimated to grow to more than a million by 2050, the researchers add.

The most apparent reason for such rapid growth, experts say, is that Amish birthrates are high and the community emphasizes keeping children in the faith. About 90 percent of Amish children keep their family traditions intact, though many may temporarily stray as teens and young adults, says David Weaver-Zercher, a religion professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa.

In the Amish heartland, these demographics are clashing with geography, as Beachy can attest. “Amish will have to spread out,” Beachy says. “That’s why you see settlements all over – they are looking for farmland. You can’t buy a farm anymore to farm.”

With his own farm, Beachy is in an enviable position. “I’ll never find out what this farm is worth, because I’ll never sell it,” he says.

But the nascent Amish diaspora is not always about economics. Some families are moving to other areas of the country because they think parenting becomes more difficult in a larger, more populated area – even if it’s Amish, says Professor Weaver-Zercher.

For example, nearly 30,000 Amish live in the greater Holmes County settlement, which is the nation’s largest and spreads over five counties. (Amish “settlements” refer not to places with defined boundaries, but to regional communities where the majority of the population is Amish.)

“Some Amish parents are looking for more secluded places, not just from the English” – non-Amish – “but sometimes from other Amish teens, because they want more supervision over their young people,” says Weaver-Zercher, noting that larger settlements can make it easier for young people to engage in risky behavior – such as drug use or alcohol consumption – more anonymously.

“Instead of a community of 5,000 kids, you suddenly have one with 25 kids,” he adds. “At that level, the roughhousing activities will be more akin to what parents approve.”

These issues are particularly poignant for the Amish, given that most formally end their education after the eighth grade. The population boom – combined with the land crunch – is forcing more young people to search for work outside the family home, which means they will experience a world much different from the one their parents knew, says Weaver-Zercher.

On the good side, they will have more disposable income, which will translate to more savings. But working with non-Amish supervisors and co-workers means there will be challenges in maintaining the work ethic and values that have been traditionally taught on the family farm.

Ernie Hirschberger, a father of seven, says his oldest son asked for a car when he was 16 because he “wanted more freedom.” Four years later, that car now sits with a “for sale” sign outside Homestead Furniture, the custom furniture operation Mr. Hirschberger runs with his family and 35 employees in Mount Hope, Ohio.

Hirschberger is a symbol of the future of Amish entrepreneurs: He grew up on a farm, but he started making furniture 22 years ago and today his pieces can be found in all 50 states. His son, who has now embraced the Amish lifestyle, is a manager in the company’s finishing room.

“He’s still a work in progress. He needs to learn,” Hirschberger says.

Besides furniture, which is now a growth area for Amish business, Hirschberger says he is looking to bring new ideas to Holmes County, such as shrimp and fish farms or using hydroponics to grow herbs. He knows he can’t raise cows on his family plot of 10 acres, but he can help innovate new business models for Amish people.

“You can’t just pick up your horse and buggy and go to Cleveland and be a computer tech,” he says. “We just have to think of other things for the smaller plots of land.”

There are tangible benefits of staying in the settlements. The self-sufficiency of the Amish lifestyle, and its emphasis on community strength, meant the recession did not hit most Amish settlements as hard as it did the outside world. That economic security, Hirschberger says, is one reason more young people are deciding to follow in Amish traditions today than they did when he was coming of age.

“They say, ‘This is a good option for our kids,’ ” he says. “To grow up as Christians should and in this lifestyle is not a hindrance.”

* Amish-man-plows-field-via-AFP.jpg (69.03 KB, 615x345 - viewed 100 times.)
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Al Jazeera Correspondent

The Greek Resistance: Tied together by a painful history, Greece and Germany are locked into a new conflict that has reawakened old ghosts.

Greece - it is where Europe's civilisation and the very idea of democracy began. But today the country is in crisis; a crisis that may well destroy the dream of a unified Europe.

A dream born out of the nightmare of World War II, a dream to unite different nations under one currency, has become a tragedy.

Ten years after joining the eurozone, the Greek economy has collapsed, living standards have plummeted, hundreds of thousands are out of work and thousands more have left the country to find a new future.

Many Greeks blame the European Union, and Germany in particular, for the crisis they are in. Today, almost 70 years after its military defeat in World War II, Germany is the strongest economic power in Europe and its political leadership holds the future of Greece in its hands.

Al Jazeera correspondent Barnaby Phillips travels to Greece to discover why these two countries, tied by history and culture, are now locked into a conflict. Why has the European vision, designed to heal the wounds of the past, instead brought them back to the surface? And who is to blame - the Greeks themselves, the EU or the old enemy, Germany?

Correspondent's view: Ghosts of the past
By Barnaby Phillips

Barnaby Phillips examines the historical context of Greek-German relations [Al Jazeera]

When I first moved to Greece in 2006, I read a fascinating book about the Nazi occupation of 1941 to 1944. It is called Inside Hitler's Greece and is by the historian Mark Mazower. It helped me understand the historical context to the country I was now covering.

The 1940s were bitter years in Greece. There were massacres and starvation, and the Nazi invaders were brutal. The Greek resistance was heroic, although fatally divided.

The Nazi occupation was followed by a civil war that lasted from 1946 to 1949.

The Greece of 2006 felt like a very different place, apparently prosperous and confident, basking in the glory of the recent successful Athens Olympics and able to look at the past with a degree of detachment.

Things began to change in 2010, when the Greek debt crisis erupted. As the situation worsened, I noticed that people in Athens began to talk about the past with more passion. They felt its relevance more and more. It was as if old ghosts had been reawakened. Some Greeks began to see parallels between the present and the 1940s. Once again, they felt oppression from Germany, and, once again, they saw bitter divisions emerging between right and left within their own society.

I was fascinated, but saddened, by this process, and decided to make a film about it.

I knew that this was a sensitive area, and that it would be easy to slip into exaggeration and caricature. So let me say a couple of things straight away. I do not believe that Greece is sliding towards dictatorship. I believe its robust, outspoken democracy is too strong for that. And I also believe that any attempt to draw a moral equivalence between the Nazi occupation of Europe in the 1940s and Germany's current economic dominance is absurd.

 Christian: 'A crisis is always a chance'

Nonetheless, there is a great irony to the current tensions in the European Union. This Union was born out of the catastrophe of the Second World War, an attempt to ensure that what had just occurred could never happen again. But today, the euro currency, the supposed jewel in the crown of the European project, seems to be having the opposite affect to what was intended. Tensions are growing between the eurozone countries in the poorer southern parts of the continent and the wealthier north. And in the case of Greece, the rigid conditions imposed by Germany are leading to a direct revival of resentments that have not been felt for decades.

In the film, I examine Greek attitudes towards Germany, and German attitudes towards Greece. I travel to both countries, and meet some remarkable characters caught up in the Greek tragedy. In the end, my conclusions are both optimistic and pessimistic.

Optimistic, in the sense that in both countries attitudes towards the crisis are more nuanced and reflective than we journalists have often shown in our daily news coverage. Greeks, ultimately, blame themselves for the mess they are in, even as they resent outsiders who impose misguided or counterproductive measures on their country. Meanwhile in Berlin I discovered that most Germans are far more sympathetic to the plight of ordinary Greeks than I had imagined.

But I am also pessimistic in the sense that the Greek crisis has not yet run its course. Even under the best circumstances, there are years of hardship ahead. By the end of 2014, Greek GDP will have shrunk by one quarter from its pre-crisis level. For Greeks, this is a depression, not a recession. And in this sense, my film does not have a neat conclusion.

There is a character in our film called Evangelos. He has left Greece because there are no jobs, and has just arrived in Germany with his young family, almost penniless, and with little idea of how to rebuild his life. When I ask him whether he thinks he will ever live in Greece again, he weeps, and says he does not think so. Just like Evangelos, I do not know what will happen in Greece next. I only know that the happy and optimistic country I moved to back in 2006 now seems like a distant mirage.

Click to watch:


A Greek tragedy: The sense of powerlessness, of being bossed around by bigger and richer neighbours has emboldened Greece's far right.

There has been an astonishing 40 per cent increase in the number of Greeks taking their own lives since the start of the crisis, taking the country from having one of the lowest suicide rates in Europe to one of the highest [GALLO/GETTY]

"Insanity," Albert Einstein is said to have once remarked, "is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

In debt-ridden Greece, government after government has tried to cut its way out of a brutal recession and balance its budget in the process. But the austerity experiment has been an unmitigated disaster; the country is now a symbol of economic insanity.

Consider just three numbers: 53, 20 and 40.

The first number refers to the youth unemployment rate: 53 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds in Greece are out of work.

The second refers to the loss of growth: the Greek economy has contracted by 20 per cent since 2008 - and continues to contract in 2012.

The third figure refers to the suicide rate: there has been an astonishing 40 per cent increase in the number of Greeks taking their own lives since the start of the crisis.

Crisis of austerity

The country has gone from having one of the lowest suicide rates in Europe to one of the highest. Austerity is not just killing growth, it is killing people.

Nonetheless, upon arriving in sunny Athens you cannot help but notice the busy streets and bustling cafes. At first sight, it does not look like a nation in the midst of its own Great Depression.

But appearances can be deceptive, says Nikitas Kanakis, Greece director of the charity Doctors of the World.

Greece, he argues, is suffering from an African-style "humanitarian crisis".

Kanakis's charity used to be focused on the plight of refugees and asylum-seekers from the developing world; it now spends much of its time and resources trying to help ordinary Greeks, both middle-class and working-class, who have lost everything in the crisis – their jobs, their homes and, above all else, their hope.

These are the members of what is being called Greece's "new poor".

Locked into a common currency and economically uncompetitive, the Greek government is unable to devalue its currency or print its own money (as, for example, recession-hit Britain has done since the start of the financial crisis in 2008).

Economist Costas Lapavitsas, author of the new book Crisis in the Eurozone, tells me it is a matter of when, not if, Greece defaults on its debts and exits from the eurozone. Why not, he asks, start preparing for the inevitable?

Few seem to be listening to him.

Problems with neighbours

The 'troika' – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission – has insisted that the Greek government continue to make savage cuts to public spending, regardless of the consequences; the birthplace of Western democracy seems to have become an obedient ward of the international community.

The sense of powerlessness, of being bossed around by bigger, stronger, richer neighbours – including Germany, which occupied Greece during the Second World War - has helped embolden the country's far right: the neo-Nazi thugs of Golden Dawn won 7 per cent of the vote and an impressive 21 seats in parliament in last month's re-run of May's inconclusive general election.

Can Greece escape the austerity death spiral, or is it forever cursed with being the economic basket case of Europe? Does it have a future inside the eurozone, or is it on its way out of the currency union?

And how worried should the rest of us be by the rise of the Greek fascists?


Inside Story: A Greek tragedy and a European crisis?

As Greece struggles to form a stable government, we ask if quitting the eurozone is now only a question of time.

As Greece entered a second week without a government, central bankers joined politicians and economists in openly warning about the possible breakup of the eurozone.

"The scenario now is Greece going to new elections again probably as early as mid-June and it is by no means certain that these new elections will provide for a stable majority so the option of leaving the eurozone is on the table … it's a concrete possibility."

- Vincenzo Scarpetta, a researcher at Open Europe

Karolos Papoulias, the Greek president, has been talking to politicians across the political spectrum, trying to get them to agree to join a new coalition government. He met party leaders but they failed to reach an agreement.

A caretaker government will now take Greece into new elections.

And so the Greek political tragedy plays on with potentially harsh consequences for Europe's economies. In Brussels, there are already talks about Greece leaving the eurozone.

Greece has been bailed out twice so far.

Last May, as fears over a default grew, eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed on a $145bn bailout loan for Greece. It was conditional on the implementation of harsh austerity measures but many of those have not been implemented, and the financial situation has not changed very much.

"The mistake is to see this as a crisis of individual countries … one solution which would be for a coordinated [European] action in a fiscal sense and also for the European Central Bank to be much more aggressive in stopping the spread of contagion and the pressure on the sovereigns."

- David Lizoain, an economist

Then in October, eurozone leaders agreed to a second bailout amounting to $167bn. It was again conditional, not only on another harsh austerity package but also on getting all private creditors to restructure their Greek debt.

Inside Story asks: If Greece refuses to pay back its debts, will the IMF withdraw its financial support? And is it now a question of when not if Greece will leave the eurozone? Will it be forced to quit or will there be a managed departure?

Joining presenter Stephen Cole to discuss these issues are guests: Vincenzo Scarpetta, a researcher at Open Europe, an independent think tank calling for EU reform; George Kratsas, a teaching assistant at University College London; and David Lizoain, an economist and a former adviser to the former president of Cataluna in Spain.

"There are large segments of society that call for a more lenient rescue package .... It was the failed policies of the first package that led us to the current situation ... it did not lower the borrowing cost, it deepened the recession, it furthered instability both in Greece and at the European level."

George Kratsas, a teaching assistant at University College London

Click to watch:
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« Reply #3294 on: Dec 03, 2012, 07:36 AM »

December 2, 2012

Syria Moves Its Chemical Weapons, and U.S. and Allies Cautiously Take Note


WASHINGTON — The Syrian military’s movement of chemical weapons in recent days has prompted the United States and several allies to repeat their warning to President Bashar al-Assad that he would be “held accountable” if his forces used the weapons against the rebels fighting his government.

The warnings, which one European official said were “deliberately vague to keep Assad guessing,” were conveyed through Russia and other intermediaries.

What exactly the Syrian forces intend to do with the weapons remains murky, according to officials who have seen the intelligence from Syria. One American official provided the most specific description yet of what has been detected, saying that “the activity we are seeing suggests some potential chemical weapon preparation,” which goes beyond the mere movement of stockpiles among Syria’s several dozen known sites. But the official declined to offer more specifics of what those preparations entailed.

Over the weekend, the activity in Syria prompted a series of emergency communications among the Western allies, who have long been developing contingency plans in case they decided to intervene in an effort to neutralize the chemical weapons, a task that the Pentagon estimates would require upward of 75,000 troops. But there were no signs that preparations for any such effort were about to begin.

So far, President Obama has been very cautious about intervening in Syria, declining to arm the opposition groups directly, or even to formally recognize a newly formed coalition of opposition forces that the United States helped create.

But at a news conference in August, Mr. Obama told reporters that any evidence that Mr. Assad was moving the weapons in a threatening way or making use of them is “a red line for us” that could prompt direct American intervention. “That would change my calculus,” he added. “That would change my equation.”

American officials would not say over the weekend whether the activity they were now seeing edged toward the limit set by Mr. Obama. “These are desperate times for Assad, and this may simply be another sign of desperation,” one senior American diplomat, who has been deeply involved in the effort to try to dissuade Mr. Assad’s forces from using the chemical weapons, said Sunday.

A senior Israeli official said the movement of the chemical weapons, and the apparent preparations to use them, could be a bluff, intended as a warning to the West at a moment when NATO and the United States were debating greater support to opposition groups.

“It’s very hard to read Assad,” one senior Israeli official said. “But we are seeing a kind of action that we’ve never seen before,” he said, declining to elaborate.

The White House refused to comment on the intelligence reports, which have been shared with senior members of Congress. But a senior administration official, asked about the concerns, issued a new warning to the Syrians.

“The president has made it clear that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a red line for the United States,” the official said. “We consistently monitor developments related to Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons, and are in regular contact with international partners who share our concern.

“The Assad regime must know that the world is watching, and that they will be held accountable by the United States and the international community if they use chemical weapons or fail to meet their obligations to secure them.”

Representative Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican who heads the House Intelligence Committee, declined to comment on the new intelligence reports but said in a statement late Sunday: “We are not doing enough to prepare for the collapse of the Assad regime, and the dangerous vacuum it will create. Use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would be an extremely serious escalation that would demand decisive action from the rest of the world."

Several months ago, the United States military quietly sent a task force of more than 150 planners and other specialists to Jordan to help the armed forces there to, among other things, prepare for the possibility that Syria would lose control of its chemical weapons. Turkey has asked NATO for two batteries of the Patriot antimissile system, in part as protection against Syrian missiles that might come into Turkish territory. In making their case, the Turks have raised the possibilities that chemical weapons could be used in the warheads.

This is not the first time activity at stockpile sites has been detected. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said on Sept. 28 that there had been “some movement” of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles to put them in more secure locations. “While there’s been some limited movement, again, the major sites still remain in place, still remain secure,” he said at the time.

But the new activity appears to be of a different nature, and officials are no longer willing to say that all the sites remain secure. “We’re worried about what the military is doing,” one official said, “but we’re also worried about some of the opposition groups,” including some linked to Hezbollah, which has set up camps near some of the chemical weapons depots.

Since the crisis began in Syria and concern has been focused on the country’s vast stockpile, the United States and its allies have increased electronic eavesdropping and other surveillance activities of the sites. A senior defense official said that no United States troops had been put on heightened alert in response to the activity, although the Pentagon was prepared to do so, if necessary.


03 December 2012 - 11H22  

Clinton's 'strong warning' to Assad on chemical arms

AFP - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday issued a "strong warning" to the regime of Bashar al-Assad over the potential use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people.

"This is a red line for the United States," Clinton said after meeting Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg. "Once again we issue a very strong warning to the Assad regime that their behaviour is reprehensible. Their actions against their own people have been tragic," she added.

"I'm not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people, but sufficing to say that we're certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur," the top US diplomat stressed.


Originally published Sunday, December 2, 2012 at 5:15 AM  

Syrian violence touches Turkey, Lebanon

Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey —

Syria on Monday bombed a security building that had been taken over by rebels on the Turkish border, wounding at least 11 people and sending dozens of civilians fleeing across the frontier, a Turkish official said.

A day earlier, Lebanese soldiers exchanged fire with Syrian rebels across their border, media reports said, fueling concerns that the Arab Spring's longest and deadliest revolt could spark a regional war.

The violence came as Russian President Vladimir Putin headed to Turkey for talks likely to be overshadowed by the two countries' differences over Syria.

Since the uprising against the authoritarian regime of President Bashar Assad began in March 2011, the fighting between Syrian rebels and regime troops has spilled into neighboring countries on several occasions, including Turkey, Israel and Lebanon, Syria's particularly vulnerable neighbor.

An official from the mayor's office in the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar said a Syrian jet targeted a security building that has been taken over by the rebels, dropping two bombs on an area some 300 meters (yards) from the Turkish border.

Turkish ambulances rushed to the border and least 11 wounded Syrians were brought to Ceylanpinar's hospital for treatment, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with Turkish government rules that bar civil servants from speaking to journalists without prior authorization.

Television footage from Turkey's Anadolu agency showed a large plume of smoke rising over the town, and dozens of Syrian civilians were also seen fleeing into Turkey after crossing through a barbed wire fence at the border. ÂÂ

Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said late Sunday that Lebanese soldiers stationed near the village of Qaa in the Bekaa Valley returned fire into Syria after "armed men" shot at them from across the frontier.

The agency quoted a statement from the Lebanese army that said the exchange of fire took place Sunday and that there were no casualties.

During talks with Putin in Istanbul, Turkey is expected to press the Russian leader to stop backing Assad's regime. The Kremlin, however, has shown no inclination to relinquish its support for its last Middle East ally, whom it has shielded from international sanctions and continued to provide with weapons amid the escalating civil war.


 03 December 2012 - 10H37 

Army bombs Damascus suburbs, Putin in Ankara talks

AFP - Syrian troops battered rebel positions in and around Damascus in an assault aimed at securing the capital, as Russia and Turkey prepared for talks in Istanbul on Monday on their differences over the conflict.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said artillery gunners targeted the districts of Hajar al-Aswad and Tadamun as well as the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmuk in southern Damascus.

The army also bombarded Yabrud to the north, Yalda to the south and the Eastern Ghouta towns of Douma, Harasta, Irbin and Haran al-Hawamid, in the area of the road linking Damascus to its international airport, it said.

Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have been trying to establish a secure perimeter around Damascus at all costs, turning the province into one of the main battlegrounds in the country's 20-month conflict.

Analysts say the objective of the military campaign is to put the regime in a position to negotiate a way out of the conflict that the Observatory says has cost more than 41,000 lives since March 2011.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, was to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a landmark visit to Istanbul to discuss their differences on Syria.

The talks are to cover "reconciliation in the Middle East, the situation in the Gaza Strip, the crisis in Syria, as well as cooperation," Putin's foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov said in a statement.

Turkey and Russia are at loggerheads over how to tackle the bloody crackdown in Syria, despite growing trade and energy links.

Those tensions came to a head in October when Turkey intercepted a Syrian plane en route from Moscow to Damascus on suspicion that it had military cargo, drawing an angry response from Russia.

Ankara said the cargo contained military equipment destined for the Syrian defence ministry. Moscow insisted it was dual-purpose radar equipment which was not banned by international conventions.

Turkey, once an ally of the Damascus regime, has become one of its fiercest critics.

But Moscow remains one of Assad's few allies, routinely blocking resolutions against his regime in the UN Security Council.

Russia also objects to Turkey's request to NATO for the deployment of Patriot missiles near its volatile border with Syria. It has warned such a move could spark a broader conflict that would draw in the western military alliance.

But Turkey insists the US-made Patriots would be used for purely defensive purposes, and NATO's response is expected this week.

On the ground, the Britain-based Observatory also reported clashes with rebels since Sunday in the central city of Hama, prompting authorities to send in reinforcements.

"This fighting... shows that despite the total control of the army and security forces over the town, the rebels have still managed to infiltrate," the Observatory's Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

The watchdog, which relies on a network of activists and medics in civilian and military hospitals, said a total of 134 people -- 58 civilians, 41 soldiers and 35 rebels -- were killed in countrywide violence on Sunday.

« Last Edit: Dec 03, 2012, 07:59 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #3295 on: Dec 03, 2012, 07:42 AM »

12/03/2012 02:10 PM

The World from Berlin: Egypt's Democracy at Stake

The fight for power in Egypt is heating up as President Muhammed Morsi struggles to counter the influence of the remnants of the pre-revolutionary regime. Now, as Mubarak-era judges go on strike, German comentators say the path to democracy appears even rockier.

The past few weeks have seen Egypt's Arab Spring revolution in crisis: demonstrations supporting and opposing President Muhammed Morsi, threats of invalidating the assembly that drafted the new constitution, a declaration by the president of being above judicial review and now an open-ended strike by the country's judiciary. The success of the country struggling to establish a new democracy has long been in doubt.

Courts led by judges appointed during the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak had previously dissolved the bodies of lawmakers elected by the people. The leaders of the new guard were thus understandably concerned that the Supreme Constitutional Court would invalidate the Islamist-controlled assembly that drafted a new constitution for the country. Such an action would have set the revolution back significantly.

President Muhammed Morsi sought to counteract the Mubarak-era judges by declaring his actions above judicial review. His opponents saw that as a step toward dictatorship. To his supporters, it was a justified move against an anti-democratic judiciary.

Morsi pledged to relinquish his above-the-courts status if Egyptian voters approve the draft constitution in a referendum on Dec. 15. However his opponents, who include more reform-minded secularists and members of the Coptic minority, are not entirely comfortable with that constitution, which maintains Islam as the main source for all legislation. Tens of thousands protested against President Morsi and the constitution over the weekend in Cairo, and are vowing to continue their actions.

Amidst all this turmoil, pro-Morsi protesters gathered outside the Constitutional Court and blocked the judges from entering. The judges responded by going on strike and refusing to supervise the Dec. 15 referendum.

The German media on Monday emphasized the high stakes in Egypt, and said that while the Muslim Brotherhood's undermining of the pre-revolutionary judiciary is understandable, so are the protests against the Brotherhood's own actions.

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"Egypt lies on the fault line of two continents, not just geologically, and the European coast is not far away either. What moves Egypt today moves the region tomorrow, and the shockwaves could very well spark fear and terror among the Europeans. The future of Egypt will indicate for the whole of the Islamic world whether democracy and a Koran-based life can be reconciled.

"The German foreign minister, who has to dedicate more and more of his time to the Middle East, expressed his concerns in strong words. There is a threat, he says, of 'a division of society,' code for continuing revolution and probable violence. The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, threatened an end of economic and political cooperation -- as if Brussels had another Egypt on reserve.

"Indeed, Europeans must be extremely cautious with unsolicited advice. The material hardships that fuelled the uprising against Mubarak are still there. Lack of work, frustration and the bluntness of the regime are all strong forces for lasting unrest."

The left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:

"The mass protests against the most recent actions of President Mohammed Morsi are fuelled by frustration and fear among non-Islamists. … The fronts appear to be unalterable: Islamist political circles here, secular reformers and members of religious minorities there.

"Morsi, who wants to be the president of all Egyptians, feels unjustly attacked. The old regime was trying, with the aid of Mubarak-era judges, to stop the revolution, whose free elections pitted disadvantaged groups against the ultimate winners. And Morsi has retreated to the old conspiracy theory that foreign powers are behind the protests.

"This doesn't amount to a counter-revolution. Rather Egyptians are expressing their deep mistrust of the authorities, who never treated them as responsible citizens. In return, the president has neglected to put the people at ease, to tell them that the new constitution protects new freedoms that did not exist before, and that his absolute power would only last until the ratification of the constitution, which will be voted on on December 15. A bit more skillfulness on his part and Egyptians would surely have let these two weeks go by without protest."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Judges are obliged to be independent. Risking one's life is not part of the job description. Thus it is understandable that Egypt's constitutional court judges withheld a decision on the sharply criticized course of action taken by President Mohammed Morsi while an angry mob roared. Morsi's thugs, who had gathered in front of the Cairo court, had threatened to set the building on fire. The president's Muslim Brotherhood could hardly show less respect for the judiciary.

"After the democratic victory of Egypt's Islamist president, the international community greeted him with openness. Now the Muslim Brotherhood is arrogating the right to greet the judges, disliked by Morsi, with the methods of the street, all the while praising it as democratic volition.

"It's true: A likely majority stands behind the 'constitutional decree' of the president; and the Mubarak-era judges have no doubt pursued a policy of obstruction. But all of that cannot justify tearing down the institutional pillars of the state and legitimizing it with a referendum as 'democratic.'"

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Of the three scenarios how Egypt could develop after Mubarak, one is losing meaning: The rebellion through the institutions of the old regime, whose lives the new power holders are making difficult, is weakening. Most Egyptians have accepted that the once-hated police are hardly to be found on the streets, and that crime is on the rise. And many Egyptians are viewing the strike by the Mubarak-era constitutional judges, who have placed hurdles in the path of the new power holders, more as a point scored for Morsi than as a moral statement by the court.

"The old institutions will not give up their resistance any time soon. In the foreground now lie the two other scenarios: The Muslim Brotherhood not touching the old regime, but rather occupying it with its own followers, or allowing a controlled opening to take place. Morsi claims to be following the latter. But the evidence suggests the first scenario is more likely."


 03 December 2012 - 13H13 

Egypt top court begins strike as anger mounts

AFP - Egypt's top judges began an open-ended strike on Monday as anger mounted over a power grab by President Mohamed Morsi and a new constitution drafted by an Islamist-leaning council.

The Supreme Constitutional Court suspended its work indefinitely due to "psychological and material pressure" following a protest Sunday by Morsi supporters which judges said prevented them from delivering a key ruling.

The judges, many of whom remain from the era of toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak, had been due to examine the legality of the panel that drafted the charter following a boycott by liberals, leftists and Christians.

It was also to look into the legality of the Islamist-dominated senate, the only remaining elected legislative body after the court dissolved parliament on a technicality.

The press threw its weight behind the mounting protests against Morsi.

A cartoon of a newspaper in human form chained in a cell was pasted on the front of independent papers including Al-Watan and Al-Masry Al-Youm with the line "A constitution that cancels rights and shackles freedoms. No to dictatorship".

Eleven independent and opposition party newspapers also declared they would not go to print on Tuesday.

On Sunday, the Judges Club which represents judges nationwide, said it would not oversee the December 15 referendum on the new constitution, as judges had done in past elections to ensure their legitimacy.

The move is the latest in a string of protests against Morsi who last week issued a decree expanding his powers and rushed through the adoption of the draft constitution at the heart of a political and ideological battle in the country.

The Islamist president's decree also stripped any judicial body of the right to annul the constituent assembly and senate.

The draft constitution has been criticised for failing to protect key rights and allowing a stricter interpretation of Islamic law.

Morsi's supporters accuse the judges of being elitist holdouts from the Mubarak-era and of standing in the way of public support for the Islamists expressed in repeated votes since the strongman's ouster early last year.

Morsi's deputy, Judge Mahmud Mekki, insisted in an interview with state television that the president did not plan to "abuse" the constitutional decree and wanted the transitional phase to end as quickly as possible.

A senior Islamist who helped draft Egypt's new constitution, Amr Darrag, attacked the constitutional court as "highly politicised" and told AFP in an interview liberal opponents had been unwilling to compromise on the charter.

The standoff has polarised Egyptian opinion and sparked the biggest political crisis since Morsi assumed power in June as the country's first ever civilian president and its first elected leader since Mubarak's ouster in a popular uprising early last year.

Opposition protesters have called for fresh protests on Tuesday to against the referendum in a day dubbed "the final warning".
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« Reply #3296 on: Dec 03, 2012, 07:49 AM »

 03 December 2012 - 10H49 

Britain warning over Israeli settlement expansion

AFP - The British Foreign Office said on Monday it was considering a "strong reaction" to Israel's plans to build new settler homes, amid speculation it could recall its ambassador to Israel.

A diplomatic source said media reports about its ambassador were speculation and no decision has been taken, but it is thought to be an option.

"The Foreign Secretary (William Hague) has consistently made it very clear that settlement building, such as the recent Israeli government decision to build 3,000 new housing units, threatens the two-state solution and makes progress through negotiations harder to achieve," a Foreign Office spokesman said.

"We have called on the Israeli government to reconsider. We have told the Israeli government that if they go ahead with their decision, then there will be a strong reaction."

Reports of a decision by Israel to build the homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank emerged Friday, with an official source confirming it was in retaliation for the Palestinians winning the rank of a UN non-member state a day earlier.


U.K. and France summon Israeli envoys over settler plan

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, December 3, 2012 7:35 EST

Israel’s envoys in Paris and London were called in for consultations on Monday as the Jewish state came under huge diplomatic pressure over its settlement activities which the UN chief warned could wipe out peace hopes.

It was the latest in a series of top-level diplomatic protests over Israeli plans to build 3,000 settler homes in east Jerusalem and the West Bank that emerged on Friday with an official source confirming it was payback for the Palestinians winning the rank of a UN non-member observer state a day earlier.

Some of the construction is to take place in a controversial corridor of land east of Jerusalem, called E1, sparking a storm of protests from Washington and Brussels as well as from UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who on Sunday warned it would deal an “almost fatal blow” to the prospects of resolving the conflict.

Experts warn that Israeli construction in E1 would completely block the narrow corridor of land running east of Jerusalem, cutting off the northern West Bank from the south.

On Monday morning, Britain’s Foreign Office confirmed it had summoned Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub for talks over new settlement plans, shortly after warning it was weighing a “strong reaction” to the proposals.

And in Paris, Ambassador Yossi Gal was also summoned for consultations at the French foreign ministry, an embassy source told AFP.

Earlier, Israel’s left-leaning Haaretz newspaper said the two governments were considering recalling their ambassadors for consultations over the plans to build in E1, which the newspaper said they considered a “red line.”

“This time it won’t just be a condemnation, there will be real action taken against Israel,” a senior European diplomat told the paper, which also quoted another diplomat as saying: “London is furious about the E1 decision.”

Quoting diplomatic sources, the paper said Britain and France were coordinating their moves and had “discussed the extraordinary step of recalling their ambassadors from Tel Aviv for consultations” and with a final decision to be taken later on Monday.

E1 is a highly contentious area of the West Bank that runs between the easternmost edge of annexed east Jerusalem and the Maaleh Adumim settlement.

Palestinians bitterly oppose the E1 project, as it would effectively cut the occupied West Bank in two, north to south, and sever it from Jerusalem, making the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state almost impossible.

The summoning of the two ambassadors came a day after a strongly-worded warning from Ban, saying he viewed the plans “with grave concern and disappointment.”

“This would include reported planning in the so-called E1 envelope, which risks completely cutting off east Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank,” his spokesman said in a statement.

“Settlements are illegal under international law and, should the E1 settlement be constructed, it would represent an almost fatal blow to remaining chances of securing a two-state solution.”

It followed a protest on Friday by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a strongly-worded statement from EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Sunday, in which she urged the Israeli government to cancel its plans.

Plans to link Jerusalem with the Maaleh Adumim settlement, which lies some five kilometres (three miles) from the city’s eastern flank, has long been espoused by Israeli hardliners, but were put on hold in 2005 following strongly opposition from Washington.

But they were resurrected last week following the Palestinians’ ultimately successful attempt to win the rank of a non-member state at the UN, dealing a harsh political blow to Israel, which vowed to “act accordingly.”

Israel has also said it would not transfer this month’s tranche of millions of dollars worth of tax and tariff funds it collects for the Palestinians.


Watchdog: Israel must explain ‘targeting’ journalists

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, December 2, 2012 15:43 EST

JERUSALEM — Israel must provide an “immediate and detailed explanation” for its targeting of journalists and media buildings during last month’s Gaza conflict, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Sunday.

In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the watchdog said it was “gravely concerned that Israeli airstrikes targeted individual journalists and media facilities in the Gaza Strip between November 18 and 20.”

The New-York based CPJ noted that two cameramen for Hamas’s Al-Aqsa television station and the director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio were killed by Israel during its eight-day military campaign to halt rocket fire from Gaza.

At least three media buildings, including one housing AFP’s Gaza office, were hit during the conflict.

“Israeli officials have broadly asserted that the individuals and facilities had connections to terrorist activity but have disclosed no substantiation for these very serious allegations,” the letter reads.

The group says it has made repeated requests to Israel’s military and defence ministry seeking explanations.

“We request your government provide an immediate and detailed explanation for its actions,” CPJ executive director Joel Simon wrote.

Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev said Israel would reply to the CPJ’s letter via Israel’s US ambassador.

He stressed to AFP that “Israel made every effort possible to avoid killing journalists caught up in the crossfire.”

“There were a number of situations where terrorist operatives used journalists as human shields, in those cases we acted as surgically as humanly possible,” he said.

He blamed Gaza rulers Hamas, as well as militant group Islamic Jihad for adopting “a deliberate policy of using journalists as human shields.”

“People concerned about the wellbeing of journalists should possibly raise these concerns with both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but I suppose one doesn’t have high expectations of terrorist groups,” he said.

CPJ said all journalists “regardless of the perspective from which they report” were entitled to protection under international law.

“The Israeli government does not have the right to selectively define who is and who is not a journalist based on national identity or media affiliation,” the group wrote.

Regev said “nobody is targeted because of their opinions,” but his office and the Israeli military could not provide details on the alleged non-media activities of the journalists targeted.

“Many times we cannot share sensitive information with the broad public,” army spokesman Aryeh Shalicar said, insisting those targeted were militants.

“Not only were they terrorists, they were using the cover of the press to continue their actions,” he told AFP. “Based on our sources, we know exactly who we hit, and stand behind our actions.”

December 2, 2012

Collaboration in Gaza Leads to Grisly Fate


RAFAH, Gaza Strip — When Fadel Shalouf’s family went to pick up his body at the morgue the day after he was executed on a busy Gaza street corner, they found his hands still cuffed behind his back. Hamas, the militant faction that rules Gaza, did not provide a van to carry the body to burial, so they laid him on two men’s laps in the back of a sedan.

It was an undignified end to a short, shrouded life. Mr. Shalouf, his family insisted, was an illiterate fisherman with a knack for designing kites when he was arrested at 19 by Gaza’s internal security service. Yet he was convicted in a Hamas court in January 2011 of providing Israel with information that led to the 2006 assassination of Abu Attaya, commander of the Popular Resistance Committees.

During last month’s intense eight-day battle with Israel, the military wing of the Hamas government brutally and publicly put an end to Mr. Shalouf, 24, and six other suspected collaborators. The vigilante-style killings by masked gunmen — with one body dragged through a Gaza City neighborhood by motorcycle and another left for crowds to gawk over in a traffic circle — highlighted the pathetic plight of collaborators, pawns preyed on by both sides in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Fadel lived poor and died poor,” said his cousin Ahmed Shalouf, 28. “They left the bodies for a few hours in the streets, people spitting on them, throwing stones. They did not execute only Fadel. They executed all of us.”

For Israel, despite its advanced technology for tracking terrorists, human sources remain an essential intelligence tool that allows for pinpoint strikes like the one that felled Ahmed al-Jabari, operations commander of Hamas’s Al Qassam Brigades, at the start of the recent escalation. To Hamas, they are the enemy within, and vigorous prosecution as well as the occasional high-profile lynching are powerful psychological tools to enforce loyalty and squelch dissent.

Former intelligence officials and experts on the phenomenon said many collaborators are struggling souls who are blackmailed into service by an Israeli government with great leverage over their lives. Some are enlisted when they apply for permits to seek medical treatment in Israel, for example, or in exchange for better conditions or early release from Israeli jails. Others are threatened with having behavior shunned in their religious Islamic communities — alcohol use, perhaps, or adultery — exposed.

“There is no substitute to a human source, because a human source goes into their house, sometimes even into their minds,” said Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency. “With all the technology — drones, you name it — you need a background, and you need the assistance from a human source.”

Mr. Peri said Palestinian collaborators might be given money for expenses or a small salary, but “you’ll never be a rich guy.”

Hillel Cohen, a research fellow at the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who has written two books on the subject, said some Gaza collaborators “do it just for some money” and “some to be part of a big story”; few are actually supportive of Israel, he said, but many have problems with Hamas.

“I interviewed a lot of collaborators, and they have a kind of inferiority complex,” Mr. Cohen explained. “They see the West, Israel, as much better than the Arab. I hear expressions like, ‘We’re worth nothing.’ Sometimes it comes from there, and sometimes it’s part of what the Israeli officers put in their minds.”

Collaboration has underpinned Israeli-Palestinian relations since before there was a modern state of Israel, dating back at least to the Jewish underground that operated during the British Mandate era in the 1930s. The Oslo Accords signed by Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in 1994 even made two villages — one in Gaza, one in the West Bank — safe refuges for about 1,500 Bedouins suspected of spying.

The very definition of collaboration has expanded in recent years. Some in Hamas and more militant groups consider the Palestinian Authority to be aiding the enemy when it coordinates security services in the West Bank with Israel. Since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 after winning elections, members of the rival Fatah faction who live here have almost universally been under suspicion. Selling land to Jews can be punishable by death.

But while experts on both sides estimated that 1,000 suspected collaborators were killed — mostly in summary justice — between 1987, the start of the first Palestinian intifada, and 1994, human rights groups have documented a relative handful of cases since. Of 106 death sentences imposed by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas-run courts since 1995, according to B’tselem, a leading Israeli human rights organization, 40 were for collaboration; through September, six of those collaborators had been executed.

Last month’s extrajudicial killings — all seven men had been tried and convicted, but several, including Mr. Shalouf, had appeals pending — were an echo of the public execution of at least a dozen collaborators who escaped from Hamas jails bombed during Israel’s last offensive in Gaza, the 2008-9 Operation Cast Lead. But they were a stark departure from Hamas’s efforts since then to pursue collaborators in court and not the street, spotlighting its dilemma as a movement rooted in militant resistance now trying to run a government.

The Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military arm, claimed responsibility for the killings, but some party leaders condemned them. Issam Younis, director of Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, said he met on Thursday with the Hamas justice minister and was convinced that the executions were being investigated and that their perpetrators would be punished.

“This is the challenge for Hamas: to what extent Hamas is closer to the mentality of a state rather than the mentality of the movement,” Mr. Younis said. “We’re talking about the law of the jungle. No one has the right to do such killing. The government has all the powers and legal institutions; they can do it properly on the basis of the law.”

The judicial process itself is fraught. According to B’tselem, 14 of the 40 collaborator cases since 1995 were tried in military courts, which human rights organizations consider inappropriate. All but three of the others were in state security court, including Mr. Shalouf’s, whose January 2011 conviction was based mainly on a confession that his lawyer said was coerced through torture.

In an interview four days after his death, Mr. Shalouf’s relatives said he had been abducted on Jan. 10, 2008, on his way to the sea in pursuit of sardines, sea bass and crabs. His father, Mussalam Shalouf, said he was summoned by the internal security service nine days later, and found Fadel, one of his 10 children, with broken fingers and burns from melted hoses having been dripped onto his skin, complaining that he had been hung from the ceiling by his ankles during interrogations.

Ahmed Shalouf, the cousin, said that far from aiding the enemy, Fadel had once helped the resistance by shuttling four fighters into Egyptian waters, violating Israel’s naval blockade on Gaza’s coast. He offered a photograph of Fadel on crutches around the time of the Abu Attaya killing as proof he was not involved.

“How can there be a collaborator who doesn’t have more than a SIM card? He can’t even write his name on the mobile,” Ahmed Shalouf said.

“If he was a collaborator, he would have built at least a room,” the cousin added, showing the former greenhouse strewed with debris where, he said, Fadel slept on a crude platform. “He would have bought a car. He would have bought clothes.”

Since Fadel’s imprisonment, family members said, neighbors have refused to meet their eyes. His younger brother, Bader, was arrested a year later on similar charges, but has not yet been tried. Mussalam Shalouf, 57, said that after Bader is released or executed, the family will leave Gaza, perhaps seeking asylum in Sweden.

“It’s like we are in a shed of cows, waiting their turn for slaughtering,” the elder Mr. Shalouf said. “After what happened with my sons, I hate all the people; I even hate myself.”

There was no mourning tent for Mr. Shalouf, no banners with his portrait, no music accompanying his passage to paradise. Instead, the men huddled in a hovel of corrugated tin and dark cloths, encircling a caldron filled with hot stones and ash they used to warm a kettle and light cigarettes.

Mr. Shalouf’s mother stayed in the house, five simple rooms off a concrete courtyard adorned with a poster of Yasir Arafat. She was the last to visit him in prison, four days before the airstrikes began raining down; next time, he had asked, bring peanut stew.

The men could not bear to tell her of the handcuffed execution in the streets, so they said the prison had been hit by an Israeli bomb. “Like he’s a martyr,” her husband explained.

Fares Akram contributed reporting from Gaza, and Irit Pazner Garshowitz from Jerusalem.


December 2, 2012

Amid Euphoria Over U.N. Vote, Palestinians Still Face Familiar Challenges


RAMALLAH, West Bank — “Now we have become a state!” Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, announced Sunday to a crowd of thousands in the courtyard of his headquarters in this Palestinian city.

Flags and balloons, a marching band, and a huge poster on the outside wall of the compound proclaiming “You are now in the State of Palestine” added a festive touch as Mr. Abbas returned home triumphant days after the United Nations General Assembly voted to enhance the standing of the Palestinians in the face of heavy Israeli and American opposition.

But an airplane flying high above the compound served as a reminder that the Palestinians have no airport, and they depend on Israeli ports for access to the high seas for shipping. The traffic was as clogged as usual around the Israeli-controlled Qalandia checkpoint, which largely seals off Ramallah from Jerusalem, the eastern part of which has now been widely endorsed as the future Palestinian capital.

At least in the short term, with Israeli elections scheduled for January, things are likely to get tougher for the Palestinians before they get better.

In Jerusalem on Sunday, the Israeli government unanimously rejected the General Assembly’s decision to upgrade the status of Palestine to a nonmember observer state of the United Nations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Palestinian move as “a gross violation of the agreements that have been signed with the State of Israel.”

In its latest response, Israel said it would not transfer tax revenues it collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority last month, instead using the money, about $100 million, to pay off about half the debt run up by the authority to the Israel Electric Corporation.

The Palestinian Authority has already been suffering through a financial crisis, often unable to pay the salaries of its employees on time. Palestinian officials said that Arab countries had promised to donate funds and make up for any losses caused by punitive Israeli actions, though it was a shortfall in donor money, largely from Arab nations, that caused the financial crisis in the first place.

Israel’s financial sanctions followed a government decision to build 3,000 previously planned housing units in contested areas of Jerusalem and in parts of the West Bank that Israel intends to keep under any future arrangement with the Palestinians. The Palestinians have long refused to return to the negotiating table unless Israel halts the construction of settlements.

The government has also decided to continue planning and zoning work for the development of a particularly contentious area of East Jerusalem known as E1, a project long condemned by Washington because it would harm the prospects for a contiguous Palestinian state, though privately, Israeli and Palestinian officials said that this last decision could be easily reversed.

Mr. Abbas, for his part, was expected to hold meetings with the members of his leadership to discuss how to begin to translate the Palestinians’ new status into practical steps.

“We are celebrating our dignity,” said Xavier Abu Eid, a Palestinian spokesman. “Our small nation withstood a lot of pressure for something that is our right.”

But the way forward may be fraught with legal obstacles as the Palestinians try to balance their diplomatic victory with the demands of their previous, more concrete achievements.

Israel signed its agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organization, which resulted in the creation of an interim self-rule body, the Palestinian Authority. Asked whether the Palestinian Authority would remain the Palestinian Authority in name, Mr. Abu Eid said: “That requires a decision of the leadership. I think it will not be changed in a day.”

Palestinian officials have insisted that they will not give up the option of seeking to join the International Criminal Court and pursuing claims against Israel, and some Palestinians now expect their leaders to take legal action against the Israelis’ settlement building.

Letters of application for membership in various United Nations bodies and international agencies have been signed “The State of Palestine.”

But the Palestinians may not rush to change the name on the front of their passports to Palestine. Even Mr. Abbas is dependent on Israel’s good graces to be allowed to travel through checkpoints and across borders.

Many Palestinians were hoping that Mr. Abbas would now seek genuine reconciliation with his rivals in Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza.

“Unity is the most important step,” said Malik Barghouti, an employee of the authority’s Finance Ministry in Ramallah. “We are one people.”

But if there is no tangible change on the ground, some Palestinians warned, the celebrations could eventually be eclipsed by frustration.

“Most people here think we now have lots of rights,” said Mahmoud Mansour, 22, a student of electrical engineering from Jenin in the northern West Bank, who attended the welcome rally. “When they realize that nothing has changed, they will be angry.”

Khaled Abu Aker contributed reporting.

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« Reply #3297 on: Dec 03, 2012, 08:01 AM »

Anti-Nazi protest in Hungary after politician calls for screening Jews

By Samantha Kimmey
Sunday, December 2, 2012 21:05 EST

Thousands of anti-Nazi protestors attended a rally in Budapest after a Hungarian politician suggested that Jews should be screened because they pose a security threat, reported the Associated Press.

Martin Gyongyosi, vice-chair of the foreign affairs committee in Hungary’s legislature, said the government needed “to assess … how many people of Jewish origin there are here, and especially in the Hungarian parliament and the Hungarian government, who represent a certain national security risk.” He apologized eventually but said that Hungary should beware “Zionist Israel.”

Over half a million Jews died in Hungary during the Holocaust.
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« Reply #3298 on: Dec 03, 2012, 08:05 AM »

12/03/2012 01:16 PM

Key Meeting on Wednesday: Germany Moves Closer to Banning Far-Right Party

German regional authorities are expected to decide this week to attempt to ban the far-right National Democratic Party, following an extensive review of the case against the extremists. But Chancellor Angela Merkel remains skeptical. If the legal bid were to fail, the NPD would get a major boost.

Germany is expected to move closer this week to launching a legal bid to ban the far-right National Democratic Party after a government-commissioned report labeled it as having an "anti-Semitic, racist and xenophobic position" and being "related" to National Socialism.

Politicians and legal experts have been debating for almost a year about the prospects of an attempt to outlaw the party, which is represented in two eastern state assemblies, Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. As a legitimate party, it is partly funded by taxpayers' money.

Calls for a ban intensified last year following the revelation that a neo-Nazi terror group calling itself the National Socialist Underground (NSU) was behind the murders of nine immigrant shopkeepers and a policewoman in a killing spree that police had failed to detect for more than a decade. The news triggered demands for a general crackdown on right-wing extremism, as part of which the government began reviewing the possibility of a new attempt to outlaw the NPD after a first bid failed in 2003.

Pressure for a ban also grew after it emerged that the former spokesman for the NPD in Thuringia, Ralf Wohlleben, allegedly helped the terrorists. State prosecutors have charged him with aiding in the murders.

Last week, a working group of central and regional authorities submitted a 141-page report on the strength of the case against the NPD. It listed incendiary speeches and articles by more than 400 members of the party. But it also cautioned that the outcome of a legal bid to outlaw the party was unclear.

Regional States to Blaze Trail For Ban

A previous attempt to abolish the NPD failed in 2003 because of the presence of government informants in the party's ranks. Federal Constitutional Court, the body which has to rule on a ban, threw out the case on the grounds that NPD policies were being shaped in part by government agents.

To prevent another failed attempt, authorities this year severed ties with informants in the party. But some politicians, including Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, remain skeptical about the prospects for a new case and warn that another failure would strengthen the NPD, just as it did in 2003.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the interior ministers of Germany's 16 regional states are widely expected to recommend that a second attempt be made to ban the party. The state governors meeting on Thursday in Berlin are likely to follow that recommendation, which would pave the way for the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament that represents the regional states, to vote on December 14 in favor of an NPD ban.

In this case, the federal government and the Bundestag lower house of parliament, despite lingering doubts, would be expected to join the case. A failure to show the common front would be seen as a victory for the NPD and as weakness on the part of Germany's political establishment.

Abandoning Case Now Would Boost NPD

"The NPD must be banned," the governor of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, told Die Welt newspaper in an interview published on Monday. "Abandoning the case to ban it would give the right-wing extremists an enormous boost."

The central government remains unconvinced. Chancellor Angela Merkel and Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger both have doubts about the chances of success.

The case for a ban was reinforced last week by senior judge Franz-Wilhelm Dollinger, an expert on the NPD, who wrote in a legal assessment: "An overall review shows the goals of the NPD to be incompatible with the liberal democratic order of the constitution."

Dollinger's arguments, written at the request of the Lower Saxony state government, concluded that a ban attempt would have a better-than-50 percent chance of getting approved by the Federal Constitutional Court.

'Intense Rhetoric of Overthrow and Violence'

Dollinger pointed out that the NPD's ideology based on "racial purity" ran counter to the constitution's central tenet of human dignity for all. He wrote that radical neo-Nazi groups, with which the NPD had established closer links in recent years, were violent, although the NPD couldn't be linked to the crimes committed by the NSU.

But he added that the NPD pursued an "intense rhetoric of overthrow and violence" and pointed to its "concept of the battle or the fight for the streets" and to its call for the system to be overcome by force if necessary and with the help of "political soldiers."

But Dollinger added that there were risks that a legal ban may fail. Even though authorities had pledged to stop using informants in senior NPD positions, it was impossible to assess whether they really had, he wrote.

"It's important that we learn from the failed case in 2002/2003," Interior Minister Friedrich told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Sunday. He said even though authorities had been painstakingly collecting evidence against the party and had severed ties with NPD officials, one had to "point out the remaining judicial and political risks."

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« Reply #3299 on: Dec 03, 2012, 08:07 AM »

03 December 2012 - 12H30 

Ukraine's government, PM resign: presidency

AFP - Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Monday accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and the entire government, the presidency said.

The ministers will remain in their posts until a new government is formed, a statement said.

"President Viktor Yanukovych accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, satisfying the demand of the latter," the statement added.

It noted that according to Ukrainian law, whenever the prime minister resigns the entire government must do so alongside the government chief.

The move comes as a new parliament prepares to meet after parliamentary elections on October 28 which raised new concerns about democratic standards under Yanukovych.

The ruling Regions Party appears to have retained control of the Verkhovna Rada with the help of independents despite a strong challenge from the opposition parties of boxer Vitali Klitschko and imprisoned ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko.

A Russian-speaking bureaucrat mocked by many in Ukraine for his dry and humourless image, Azarov took office in 2010 shortly after Yanukovych defeated Tymoshenko in fiercely contested presidential elections.
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