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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1082314 times)
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« Reply #3330 on: Dec 05, 2012, 08:03 AM »

December 4, 2012

NATO Backs Defense Plan for Turkey


BRUSSELS — NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday endorsed a decision to send Patriot missile batteries to Turkey, and expressed “grave” concerns about reports of heightened activity at Syria’s chemical weapons sites.

Turkey, which has supported the Syrian opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s government, requested the batteries last month, fearing that it might be vulnerable to a Syrian missile attack, possibly with chemical weapons.

“Turkey asked for NATO’s support, and we stand with Turkey in a spirit of strong solidarity,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary general of the alliance, said in Brussels. “To anyone who would want to attack Turkey, we say, ‘Don’t even think about it.’ ”

In approving the decision, NATO said it would “augment” Turkey’s air defenses even as it sought to underscore the defensive nature of the mission, which it said was not intended to establish a buffer zone in northern Syria or a no-fly zone over the country.

The missile batteries, drawn from American, German and Dutch forces, will not be operational in Turkey for several weeks, diplomats said. NATO’s military arm will work with the nations as they decide how many batteries to deploy in Turkey and for how long.

NATO couched the decision as a statement of its resolve, but Mr. Rasmussen expressed a cautious, even minimalist, vision of the alliance’s role in dealing with humanitarian crises beyond its members’ borders. Mr. Rasmussen described the fighting in Syria, which has killed more than 40,000 people, as “absolutely outrageous” and said nations had a responsibility to find a political solution. But in contrast, he said, “NATO’s responsibility is to protect populations and territories of NATO allied nations,” and he emphasized that the alliance would not intervene in Syria to stop the violence.

“We have no intention to intervene militarily,” he said.

On Tuesday, NATO foreign ministers discussed reports by the United States that the Assad government might be taking steps to use chemical weapons and agreed that Mr. Rasmussen should read a statement expressing NATO’s concern. But the effect of that statement was somewhat undercut when France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, asserted during a news conference that such reports were unconfirmed.

The Patriot batteries in Turkey will be linked to NATO’s air defense system and will be under the alliance’s command and control. If a Syrian missile were to be fired at Turkey, longer-range radar systems would identify the missile’s trajectory and cue the Patriot batteries to take countermeasures.

The response by the missile batteries would be nearly automatic, firing interceptor missiles to destroy the target by ramming into it, a tactic the military calls “hit to kill.” At least some of the Patriot batteries will be PAC-3 versions, the system’s most modern.

When used for antimissile defense, the Patriot interceptors fired by the batteries have a range of 16 miles, which means they would not be able to cross into Syrian airspace, according to a NATO diplomat. In the event of a Syrian missile attack and a successful Patriot intercept, the debris would fall on Turkish territory. But NATO officials said that would be far better than allowing it to proceed to its target.

Surveys are being conducted of 10 potential sites, mostly in southeastern Turkey, each of which could be defended by one or more Patriot batteries. But the alliance lacks enough batteries to cover all of the sites, so fewer will be protected, a NATO official said.

Russia, which has frustrated efforts to pressure the Assad government, has complained about the Turkish request for the missiles, apparently fearing that it might be a prelude to direct NATO involvement in the conflict. But as it became clear that the alliance planned to proceed anyway, Russian officials tempered their criticism.

“We are not trying to interfere,” Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said at a news conference at NATO headquarters. “We are just attracting attention to the fact that threats should not be overstated.”

Mr. Lavrov, in Brussels for a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, also played down reports of increased activity at Syria’s chemical weapons sites, saying that his government had previously asked the Assad government about the “rumors” and had been told they were baseless.


Originally published Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 5:27 AM
Clinton: Missile decision is a message to Syria

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says NATO's decision to send Patriot missiles to Turkey is a clear message to Syria: Turkey is backed by its allies.

Associated Press


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says NATO's decision to send Patriot missiles to Turkey is a clear message to Syria: Turkey is backed by its allies.

Clinton says the Patriots are solely for defensive purposes. But she says Damascus should take it as further evidence of the U.S. and its allies' resolve.

Speaking at NATO Wednesday, she also reiterated concerns that "an increasingly desperate Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons" or lose control of them to militant groups.

She said both scenarios cross a red line and those responsible would be held accountable.

Clinton said the U.S. and its partners would seek to apply additional pressure on Syria's government at a conference next week in Morocco.

She said the Assad regime must end its violence.


December 4, 2012

Amid Syrian Violence, School Is Hit and U.N. Says Food Shortages Worsen


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian forces continued to press an intense counteroffensive against rebels in the Damascus suburbs on Tuesday, as the government blamed rebels for a mortar attack that hit a school, and the United Nations warned that the increasingly dangerous situation in the country was making it hard to provide enough food to displaced Syrians.

The state news agency, SANA, reported that 10 people at the school, 9 students and a teacher, were killed by a mortar shell fired by “terrorists,” its term for its opponents, in Bteeha, a small town north of Damascus on the road to the central city of Homs. Antigovernment activist groups confirmed the attack, but put the death toll at nine. The road to Homs and on to the commercial hub of Aleppo has been strongly contested in recent fighting.

The Local Coordination Committees, a network of rebel groups, reported the mortar attack without comment, implying that it was carried out by the government. But an activist reached in Damascus said it was unclear who had fired the shell. Recent bombs and mortar attacks by rebels that have killed civilians have angered both supporters and opponents of the government, as even some who support the rebels express concern that the violence has spiraled out of control.

An activist in the Damascus suburbs who gave only her first name, Leena, said that activists were surprised there was an attack in Bteeha, which is usually very calm, and that information had been hard to come by because very few activist reporters were in Bteeha. She said that many residents were refugees who fled the Golan Heights in 1967 when Israel occupied the territory, and that displaced people, mostly from the Sunni Muslim sect that makes up the bulk of the Syrian uprising, have recently moved there.

“Many Golani people are actually with the revolution, and they even have their own brigades in the Free Syrian Army,” she added, referring to the loose-knit rebel umbrella group.

There were more signs of concern on the diplomatic front as well on Tuesday.

At a meeting in Brussels, NATO ministers expressed “grave” concern about reports that the Syrian government might be getting ready to use its chemical weapons. The remarks followed a warning on Monday by President Obama telling Syria not to use chemical weapons against its own people and vowing to hold accountable anyone who did, even as American intelligence officials picked up signs that such arms might be deployed in the fighting there.

“Any such action would be completely unacceptable and a clear breach of international law,” the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said at a news conference.

In another reflection of how the conflict in Syria is spilling over its borders, NATO agreed to deploy Patriot surface-to-air missiles in Turkey, which had requested the installations as a defense against cross-border violence.

More evidence emerged on Tuesday that the situation in Syria was deteriorating, a day after the United Nations and the European Union announced they were curtailing activities and pulling staff members out of Damascus, the capital. The United Nations World Food Program, which is feeding 1.5 million people in Syria, 85 percent of them displaced by the fighting, issued a report warning that food shortages were intensifying because of rising bread prices and indiscriminate attacks on United Nations vehicles that made food distribution difficult.

The roads are so dangerous, the agency said, that it is trying to obtain more armored vehicles to allow its provincial offices to continue to monitor food distribution.

The agency, along with other United Nations organizations, has suspended its operations outside Damascus and sent home nonessential foreign staff members, further hampering its work, it said. Most food distribution is done by local partners, mainly the Syrian Arab Red Cross. Still, the World Food Program maintains 20 foreign and 100 local employees in Syria.

“I can absolutely confirm to you that we will continue our work,” Muhannad Hadi, the country director, said in an interview from Jordan, where he had traveled on business with plans to return to Syria.

Food shortages are increasing, especially in Aleppo, where bread prices are 50 percent higher than in the rest of the country, the agency statement said, adding, “Food consumption is particularly low among displaced families taking refuge in schools and public buildings, due to the lack of access to cooking facilities.”

Rebels and government forces continued to clash around a strategic air base at Wadi al-Deif, near Maarat al-Noaman, a crossroads town on the road between Damascus and Aleppo, as government airstrikes around Damascus continued for a fourth day with no sign of abating and neither side apparently able to win.

Even as the government was bringing extreme force to bear, it was still unable to quell the rebels, who have managed to disrupt the airport and force a counteroffensive to seal off the city center from the restive suburbs. Yet although rebels have managed to put pressure on the government around Damascus in recent weeks, several fighters interviewed said that the battle had become exhausting and that there was no coordinated strategy.

Hania Mourtada contributed reporting from Beirut, and Christine Hauser from New York.

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« Reply #3331 on: Dec 05, 2012, 08:10 AM »

Senate approves $631 billion defense budget

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 5, 2012 8:17 EST

The US Senate unanimously passed the Pentagon’s 2013 budget, despite a political impasse over debt reduction that could see huge cuts to military spending next year.

After months of negotiations, lawmakers voted 98-0 to approve the $631 billion National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, which began on October 1.

The sweeping measure, passed after five days of debate and hundreds of amendments, would tighten sanctions on Iran, restrict the president’s authorization in handling terrorism suspects, and prohibit the military detention of US nationals.

The bill must be reconciled with a version passed earlier this year in the House of Representatives before going to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature, though the White House has threatened a veto.

The two versions have major differences, but both Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin and ranking Republican John McCain expressed confidence in reaching consensus in conference.

The administration “strongly objects” to sections of the bill that would, among other things, impose restrictions on the use of funds to transfer detainees held at the US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to foreign countries; and to the proposed trimming of civilian and contract workers.

“If the bill is presented to the president for approval in its current form, the president’s senior advisers would recommend that the president veto the bill,” the Office of Management and Budget said last week.

Obama had sought $614 billion, of which $89 billion would go to the war in Afghanistan.

But the Senate hiked the total figure by $17 billion, even as lawmakers and the president grapple with how to avoid hundreds of billions of dollars in automatic spending cuts that kick in next month if no deficit reduction deal is reached.

Tuesday’s legislation saw more than 140 amendments added to the bill, including a ban on the US government detaining American citizens or US permanent residents without charge, and tough new economic sanctions on Iran aimed at stalling the Islamic republic’s nuclear program.

It also includes an amendment requiring the administration to report to Congress on the US military options available for degrading Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of air power against his own people, although it does not expressly authorize the use of US military force and is not to be construed as a declaration of war against Syria.

The bill also provides a 1.7-percent pay raise for military personnel, strengthens the Pentagon’s anti-sexual assault programs, and improves the care and management of wounded warriors, McCain said.

The bill also approves funding for the deployment of additional US forces to protect American embassies and diplomatic missions abroad — a reaction to the September 11 attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Four Americans including ambassador Christopher Stevens were killed in the attack by Islamist militants, and several investigations are under way to determine possible security lapses that contributed to the incident.

Tuesday’s vote marked a rare moment of cooperation between the two parties. Democrats and Republicans are engaged in fierce negotiations on deficit reduction for the next 10 years; they have until the end of the month to forge a compromise, but as of Tuesday, the discussions seemed stalled.

“Our efforts demonstrate that when it comes to addressing the issues important to the men and women in uniform, the Senate can work together in a bipartisan manner,” McCain said.
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« Reply #3332 on: Dec 05, 2012, 08:13 AM »

December 4, 2012

Dispute Flares Over Energy in South China Sea


BEIJING — China and two of its neighbors, Vietnam and India, were locked in a new dispute on Tuesday over energy exploration in the South China Sea, a signal that Beijing plans to continue its hard line in the increasingly contentious waterway.

Vietnam accused a Chinese fishing boat of cutting a seismic cable attached to one of its vessels exploring for oil and gas near the Gulf of Tonkin, an act apparently intended to inhibit Vietnam from pursuing energy deposits.

Vietnam said Tuesday that in retaliation, it would send out new patrols, which would include the marine police, to guard against increasing encroachment by Chinese fishing boats in the South China Sea. India, which operates several joint ventures with Vietnam’s national energy company, Petro Vietnam, said it would consider sending navy vessels to protect its interests in the South China Sea.

The latest episode followed an announcement by Hainan Province in southern China last week that Chinese vessels would board and search ships in contested areas of the waterway, which includes vital shipping lanes through which more than a third of global trade moves.

The new tensions among China, Vietnam and India illustrate in stark terms the competition in the South China Sea for what are believed to be sizable deposits of oil and gas.

Some energy experts in China see the sea as an important new energy frontier close to home that could make China less dependent on its huge oil imports from the Middle East.

On Monday, China’s National Energy Administration named the South China Sea as the main offshore site for natural gas production. Within two years, China aims to produce 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas from fields in the sea, a significant increase from the 20 billion cubic meters produced so far, the agency said.

Earlier this year, China’s third-largest energy company, the state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation, began drilling with a rig in deep water in nondisputed waters off the southern coast of China.

The escalation in the South China Sea comes less than a month after Xi Jinping took office as China’s leader. Mr. Xi appears to have taken a particular interest in the South China Sea and the serious dispute between China and Japan over the islands known as Diaoyu in China and as Senkaku in Japan. Whether any of China’s most recent actions in the South China Sea were associated with Mr. Xi was not clear.

But Mr. Xi does lead a small group of policy makers clustered in the Maritime Rights Office, which serves to coordinate agencies within China, according to Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Peking University, and other Chinese experts. The unit is part of the office of the Foreign Affairs Leading Small Group, Mr. Zhu said. The leading small group, now headed by Mr. Xi, is widely believed to be China’s central policy-making group.

China’s Foreign Ministry reiterated on Tuesday that China opposed oil and gas development by other countries in disputed waters of the sea. China maintains that it has “undisputed” sovereignty over the South China Sea, and that only China is allowed to develop the energy resources.

“We hope that concerned countries respect China’s position and rights,” said the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei.

Vietnam, which has long been wary of China but enjoys a relationship through its governing Communist Party, summoned the Chinese ambassador on Monday to protest the cutting of the seismic cable, the Vietnamese news media reported.

A Web site run by Petro Vietnam, the oil company, reported that the company’s exploration vessel Binh Minh 02 had its seismic cable severed by a Chinese fishing vessel on Friday. In May 2011, the Vietnamese authorities said a similar cable of the Binh Minh 02 was cut by three Chinese surveillance ships, resulting in weeks of anti-China protests in Hanoi.

In its decree on the new patrols, Vietnam said that civilian ships, supported by the marine police and a border force, would be deployed starting next month to stop foreign vessels that violate fishing laws in waters claimed by Vietnam.

A senior official of Petro Vietnam, Pham Viet Dung, was quoted in the Vietnamese news media as saying that large numbers of Chinese fishing boats, many of them substantial vessels, had recently entered waters claimed by Vietnam. The fishing vessels interfered with the operations of the oil company, he said.

India, whose state-run oil company, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, has a 45 percent interest in exploration with Petro Vietnam, also reacted strongly.

The head of the Indian Navy, Adm. D. K. Joshi, said that India was prepared to send navy vessels to protect its interests in the sea. “Now, are we preparing for it? Are we having exercises of that nature? The short answer is ‘yes,’ ” Admiral Joshi told reporters in India.

The most recent moves by China in the South China Sea have not won total support at home. Mr. Zhu, the professor, said he did not believe that China had become more assertive in the South China Sea.

But, he said, “the cable cutting is really unfriendly.”

Bree Feng contributed reporting.
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« Reply #3333 on: Dec 05, 2012, 08:15 AM »

EU crisis: Outlook mixed for Europe’s party politics

4 December 2012
Financial Times London
By picking Pierluigi Bersani as the centre-left Democratic Party’s candidate for premier, Italian voters have challenged the notion that the eurozone crisis is uprooting the established party political systems of southern Europe.
Tony Barber

Pierluigi Bersani, 61, is a former communist of working-class origins who in Sunday’s primary election relied on his loyal trade union base to defeat Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence and upstart 37-year-old challenger.

With opinion polls estimating the Democratic party’s national support at 30 per cent, far ahead of its rivals, it seems that Mr Bersani is well-placed to become prime minister of a left-leaning coalition government after parliamentary elections expected in March.

Both in Italy and across the Mediterranean, however, the outlook for the traditional parties is more mixed than Mr Bersani’s success implies. The most suggestive development in Italian politics remains the decomposition of the centre-right forces that have dominated the national stage since 1994. Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party, once known as Forza Italia, is in headlong retreat. Much of its support is leaking to the idiosyncratic, “a plague on both your houses” Five-Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo.

But the appeal of political iconoclasm has its limits, even in a country whose party elites are as discredited as in Italy for bringing their country to the edge of financial disaster. Immediately after the second world war, an anti-establishment party known as Uomo Qualunque (Common Man) stormed on to the scene, winning well over 1m votes in the 1946 and 1948 elections and gaining a couple of dozen seats in parliament.

Staying power?

Yet qualunquismo vanished almost as fast as it appeared, swamped by Christian Democrats on the right and communists on the left. The question is whether Mr Grillo’s movement will outlast the inevitable revival of Italy’s centre-right after Mr Berlusconi finally bows out.

Greece offers the clearest example of the collapse of the established order. Until the 2009 debt crisis, politics had been controlled since the end of military rule in 1974 by two parties: conservative New Democracy and socialist Pasok. But in a general election six months ago, the combined vote of these two parties was barely 42 per cent.

Pasok, in particular, with a mere 12.3 per cent, looked like a spent force. Voters flocked instead to Syriza, a more explicitly leftwing alternative. But apart from the obvious fact that the electorate was voicing its rage at Greece’s descent into the abyss, one reason why the mainstream parties haemorrhaged support was that they had much less patronage to offer in exchange for votes.

The party systems constructed in Spain and Portugal after the democratic transitions of the 1970s are, for the moment, holding up better than in Greece. At national level – though not at regional level in Spain – the contest is largely between one big party on the right and one on the left. Change is blocked by the highly centralised nature of these parties and by the power of party leaderships to hand-pick candidates at election time, with no input from ordinary party members or voters.

Rajoy support in free fall

Yet there are shades of difference between Spain and Portugal. Whilst the popularity ratings of Mariano Rajoy, the centre-right prime minister, are in free fall, Spanish citizens evince no more liking for Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, leader of the Socialist opposition. Even among his own party’s voters, there is a striking absence of faith that Mr Rubalcaba would govern Spain more effectively than Mr Rajoy.

If Spain displays some conditions essential for a reshaping of the party system, this appears less true for Portugal.

There, the ruling centre-right Social Democrats and opposition Socialists retain their ability to frame the attitudes of a people who often seem more politically passive than their Spanish cousins. In 1975, when Portugal held its first free election in five decades, turnout was 92 per cent. But in last year’s national election it was 58 per cent.

It is a sobering thought that, even in an age of crisis, young people born into a democratic society vote less than their parents, who experienced authoritarianism first-hand.   

France: Chaos in Sarkozy’s party

Le Figaro, France's largest conservative daily, has described the situation as a “live suicide broadcast.” Since November 18, the UMP (Union for a Popular Movement) has been tearing itself apart in public. On that day, party militants voted for a new president for the party of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The result was very tight, and the two candidates are now disputing the count and accusing each other of fraud.

Jean-François Copé, secretary general of the party, has been named winner by two internal committees. François Fillon, former Prime Minister under Sarkozy, is contesting that outcome and has formed a splinter group in the National Assembly. Neither former Prime Minister Alain Juppé nor Sarkozy himself, who were both called in to try to help find a solution, have succeeding in breaking the deadlock, which Fillon has now pushed into the hands of the courts.

“We must tell this exemplary tale that is emerging everywhere: in 'postdemocratic' regimes, where elections are only a front and most of the power has gone elsewhere,” writes journalist Philippe Thureau-Dangin in Le Monde –

    British political scientist Colin Crouch analysed this phenomenon in the early 2000s to explain why, little by little, private interests and the power of lobbies, financiers, the media and other players have sapped democracy of its meaning and its substance – even in Europe, where Chancellor Angela Merkel herself has been called a post-democrat by philosopher Jürgen Habermas. In this post-democratic world, the politicians have a hard time respecting the separation of powers. As the era of coups d'Etat has ended, we have entered into the era of permanent coups de force.
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« Reply #3334 on: Dec 05, 2012, 08:18 AM »

Slovenia: Citizens take to the streets against corruption
Večer, 4 December 2012

The demonstrations are “coming in waves,” reports daily Večer. The protests against corruption and the austerity measures brought in by the conservative government of Janez Janša, which dominated the recent presidential election campaign, started after Social Democrat Borut Pahor won that election. Janša himself, as well as the leader of the opposition and mayor of Ljubljana, Zoran Janković, are under investigation for corruption. On December 3 in Maribor, 10,000 people took to the streets to demand the resignation of the city's mayor, Franc Kangler. The daily Delo notes –

    The anger and social discontent came to the boil after Kangler, who is suspected of corruption and cronyism, was elected to the Senate. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. The citizens are rebelling against the accumulated problems of transition, doubtful privatisations, corruption, breaches of the rule of law and the arbitrariness of the political class. The government has been unable to take intelligent decisions to stop the demonstrations and restore hope, and to persuade people that it is at the polling booths and not in the street where problems are to be confronted.

The Dnevnik newspaper writes that –

    It is not the street that makes the laws, as those who want to discredit the protesters claim, but the people who have decided to take politics into their own hands, not only in Maribor, but throughout the whole country – Ljubljana, Celje, Koper, Kranj, Novo Mesto or Trbovlje – to show solidarity with Maribor.

“Slovenia, cited for 20 years as a successful example of a country in transition, is being shaken by a deep crisis,” writes Jutarnji Lisit. For the Croatian daily –

    The country, whose GDP was one of the highest among the transition countries and which joined the EU in 2004 and introduced the euro only three years later, is now following in the footsteps of Greece and Portugal. This is a consequence of reforms left undone, and of credits that the banks, whose majority shareholder is the state, dispense according to agreed political criteria, not economic criteria. Today banks are piling up debts, and getting a loan has become about as easy as winning the lottery.

* vecer-04122012.jpg (157.43 KB, 438x668 - viewed 97 times.)
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« Reply #3335 on: Dec 05, 2012, 08:19 AM »

United Kingdom: David Cameron set to offer in-out EU vote

5 December 2012
The Times

UK Prime Minister “David Cameron is ready to give voters the chance of rejecting Britain’s membership of the European Union in a landmark referendum,” reports The Times. The Tory leader had aimed to hold a referendum on the UK’s relationship with the EU asking whether the nation wanted to maintain the country’s existing ties to Europe or make them looser, without offering an option to leave the bloc. Quoting “well placed sources”, the daily adds –

    Mr Cameron is coming round to the view that a referendum must include an “out” option if it is to have credibility.

The paper continues –

    Mr Cameron has been persuaded that the promise of such an “in-in” vote would be torn apart by Tory eurosceptics and UKIP as a phoney referendum that denied voters a real choice.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, the Conservative Mayor of London who many tip as a future Tory party leader, branded the euro as a "calamitous" project, calling for Britain's relationship with the EU to be pared back to the single market and put to a referendum. In his speech, quoted by The Guardian, Johnson said –

    There's a perfectly viable relationship to be had which is happy, contented with the single market, trading freely but not with the whole shebang.

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« Reply #3336 on: Dec 05, 2012, 08:21 AM »

12/05/2012 02:22 PM

The World from Berlin: 'Merkel's CDU Has Become Intellectually Comatose'

Angela Merkel was overwhelmingly re-elected as her party's leader on Tuesday, providing her strong support as next year's general elections approach. German commentators on Wednesday say the chancellor seems to have transcended party politics -- and that this might not be a good thing.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has one less thing to worry about this fall. While her schedule remains chock full of summits, meetings and background talks related to ongoing efforts to solve the euro crisis, at least she knows that she enjoys the support of her own party. Despite recent signs that some within her Christian Democrats are getting restless about her handling of the euro crisis, Merkel was re-elected as party head on Tuesday with fully 97.94 percent of the vote -- her best result ever.

The backing means that the chancellor is in a strong position on the center-right of Germany's political spectrum heading into an election year. Voters are set to head to the polls next fall, and even as the latest EU deal augmenting efforts to bailout Greece promise to buy European leaders some time, the euro crisis will be a central issue in the campaign.

Indeed, as the opposition center-left Social Democrats have botched their own start to the campaign year -- with SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück having raised eyebrows with the significant fees he collected on the speaking circuit over the last year -- Merkel appears to be at the peak of her powers. Her public opinion ratings are up, her opponents' are down and her path to a third term seems unimpeded.

Short on Detail

Still, there is room for criticism. For one, her current coalition with the Free Democrats (FDP) has done more bickering than governing. Though she praised herself during her speech at the CDU party convention on Tuesday for leading the most effective German government since reunification, few actually believe it. Indeed, the convention itself seemed to mirror Merkel's own preference for avoiding the details of domestic policy, with observers complaining it was short on substance.

Furthermore, it remains unclear how Merkel might be able to assemble a governing coalition next year. The FDP has been in a freefall since the 2009 vote and may not even make it over the 5 percent hurdle necessary for representation in the Bundestag, the German parliament. Even if it does, it almost certainly won't get enough votes to allow for a continuation of the current ruling coalition. Plus, doubts remain as to the possibility that the CDU could form a coalition with the environmental Green Party.

Indeed, as things now stand, all signs point to a repeat of Merkel's first government, a so-called "grand coalition" with the center-left SPD, despite Merkel's undisputed hold on the reins of power in Germany. Commentators at the country's leading dailies take a closer look on Wednesday.

Conservative daily Die Welt writes:

"Angela Merkel dominates the CDU -- that's the message after the party convention, in which the chancellor's speech and her re-election as party leader were the only moments of substance. But this doesn't quite capture the situation. Merkel doesn't just lead Germany's largest party; she has become the party itself."

"But the really interesting thing extends beyond just the CDU, because the dominance that turned the party into a one-woman show has long been about more than just the party. Knowing that this woman is in the Chancellery calms both the populace and even opposition members of the SPD and Greens. The reason is practical: She has mastered the art of power, which is no small thing in times like these."

"Merkels' policy of relying on the lack of an alternative works only because the alternatives have consistently disqualified themselves. This is not good. The CDU may allow itself to dismiss even qualified contradictions as phenomena of marginal significance, but our democracy cannot. Angela Merkel is a special politician. But while she may remain unchallenged in the CDU, she had better not outside the party."

The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Angela Merkel is a marvel of the post-ideological. Since Fukushima, she's green. But she's also kind of conservative. Look, for example, at her backing of subsidies for stay-at-home parents. And the chancellor is liberal, too. But the CDU, run as it is by women, also seems to be post-feminist."

"Yes, the CDU, if you believe Merkel's sentimental speech on Tuesday, is a staunch advocate of the financial transaction tax -- and of a minimum wage. Merkel … has something for everyone."

"The CDU has never attracted attention through vigorous debate. In the Merkel era, however, the party has become intellectually comatose. Such is the price for allowing Merkel's centrist course to moor them in tepid and somewhat boring waters. It's true: The conservative base is complaining, the big cities are lost and the party is devolving into an applause machine. But the CDU is compatible with other milieus and capable of a coalition with the SPD, Greens and FDP. The opposition is like the hare, while Merkel is the tortoise waiting at the finish line. Does the opposition have a way to fix that?"

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The CDU owes its survival to Angela Merkel. This chancellor is at the height of her glory. She doesn't need to put herself out for the party convention; the party convention must make an effort for her. The CDU delegates are thankful for everything that comes from their party leader, including the intellectual underachievement and high concentration of platitudes. There was a time when they were proud to represent a clever party. Today, they are thankful that they can be represented with a successful chancellor."

"The CDU believes that, with Merkel, they will govern forever. But federal governments don't originate with the applause of delegates after a dull Merkel speech at a party convention. Governments originate with coalitions. And the CDU's coalition partner has melted away…. Still, while there is no great desire for change (in policy), there is a desire for a change in coalition …. Merkel only has limited common ground with the FDP, and she'd be just as happy to govern with the Social Democrats or Greens."

The center-right daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Merkel does her job in a manner that frustrates both communications consultants and spin doctors alike. She delivers no fiery speeches, makes no paradigm shifts and offers no European narrative…. Given such spare intellectual sustenance with which Germany must make due under Chancellor Merkel, one has to count her speech on Tuesday in Hanover as relatively lively."

"Though the chancellor is often accused of being risk-averse, she has -- after carefully weighing the costs, benefits and potential pitfalls -- embarked on a course of completely rebuilding the European Union. No matter how it ends, it will always remain a part of her legacy. Angry citizens are already accusing her of deception and treason. But the majority of Germans seem to believe her when she says that there is no miracle cure that will bring about a painless and quick end to the euro crisis. Even the opposition, which would prefer to accuse Merkel of having embarked on the wrong euro-crisis path, begrudgingly backs her in every parliamentary vote."

"As such, it is no wonder that the CDU has no alternative but to pay homage to its chancellor. Angela Merkel has become indispensable for her party. And, with her at the top, the CDU looks stronger than it has in a long time."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Merkel is a modern manager of power. She is putting her party on a strict diet. She sees her job as governing with order (which is hard enough with the FDP) and saving the euro and the EU (which is difficult because of more than just Greece). And the voters are clearly following her, as evidenced by her steady approval ratings."

"Unlike as it was with (former CDU Chancellor Helmut Kohl), party conferences are compulsory exercises for Merkel. Being the CDU's chairwoman is her side job. She wants to and is able to simply disguise that fact. That's why her speeches at party conferences are scarcely different from her government statements. Polemics and point-scoring are not her thing."

"Election year is finally coming. Merkel wants to win. With the CDU. Which partner will she govern with? She'd rather talk about that later."

-- SPIEGEL Online Staff
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« Reply #3337 on: Dec 05, 2012, 08:24 AM »

December 4, 2012

How Crash Cover-Up Altered China’s Succession


BEIJING — “Thank you. I’m well. Don’t worry,” read the post on a Chinese social networking site. The brief comment, published in June, appeared to come from Ling Gu, the 23-year-old son of a high-powered aide to China’s president, and it helped quash reports that he had been killed in a Ferrari crash after a night of partying.

It only later emerged that the message was a sham, posted by someone under Mr. Ling’s alias — almost three months after his death.

The ploy was one of many in a tangled effort to suppress news of the crash that killed Mr. Ling and critically injured two young female passengers, one of whom later died. The outlines of the affair surfaced months ago, but it is now becoming clearer that the crash and the botched cover-up had more momentous consequences, altering the course of the Chinese Communist Party’s once-in-a-decade leadership succession last month.

China’s departing president, Hu Jintao, entered the summer in an apparently strong position after the disgrace of Bo Xilai, previously a rising member of a rival political network who was brought down when his wife was accused of murdering a British businessman. But Mr. Hu suffered a debilitating reversal of his own when party elders — led by his predecessor, Jiang Zemin — confronted him with allegations that Ling Jihua, his closest protégé and political fixer, had engineered the cover-up of his son’s death.

According to current and former officials, party elites, and others, the exposure helped tip the balance of difficult negotiations, hastening Mr. Hu’s decline; spurring the ascent of China’s new leader, Xi Jinping; and playing into the hands of Mr. Jiang, whose associates dominate the new seven-man leadership at the expense of candidates from Mr. Hu’s clique.

The case also shows how the profligate lifestyles of leaders’ relatives and friends can weigh heavily in backstage power tussles, especially as party skulduggery plays out under the intensifying glare of media.

Numerous party insiders provided information regarding the episode, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the authorities. Officials have investigated the aftermath of the car wreck, they say, including looking into accusations that a state oil company paid hush money to the families of the two women.

Under Mr. Hu, Mr. Ling had directed the leadership’s administrative center, the General Office, but was relegated to a less influential post in September, ahead of schedule. Last month, he failed to advance to the 25-person Politburo and lost his seat on the influential party secretariat.

Mr. Hu, who stepped down as party chief, immediately yielded his post as chairman of the military, meaning he will not retain power as Mr. Jiang did. “Hu was weakened even before leaving office,” said a midranking official in the Organization Department, the party’s personnel office.

Mr. Ling’s future remains unsettled, with party insiders saying that his case presents an early test of whether Mr. Xi intends to follow through on public promises to fight high-level corruption.

“He can decide whether to go after Ling Jihua or not,” said Wu Guoguang, a former top-level party speechwriter, now a political scientist at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. “Either way, this is a big card in Xi Jinping’s hand.”

Mr. Ling, 56, built his career in the Communist Youth League. At an early age, he secured the patronage of Mr. Hu, who led the Youth League in the early 1980s and brought Mr. Ling to the General Office in 1995. “Hu didn’t come with a lot of friends, but Ling was someone he knew he could trust,” said the Organization Department official. “Officials said that if Ling called, it was like Hu calling.”

Mr. Ling played a central role in moving Youth League veterans into high offices and undermining Mr. Hu’s adversaries. Mr. Ling also wielded leverage over Internet censorship of leaders’ affairs, and sought to use it to benefit his patron.

“Negative publicity, including untruths, about Xi Jinping were not suppressed the way publicity about Hu Jintao was,” said one associate of party leaders.

As his influence grew, Mr. Ling tried to keep a low profile. About a decade ago, his wife closed a software company she owned and formed a nonprofit foundation that incubates young entrepreneurs. The couple sent their son, Ling Gu, to an elite Beijing high school under an alias, Wang Ziyun. “Ling Jihua told his family not to damage his career,” a former Youth League colleague said. “But it seems it can’t be stopped.”

Still living under an alias, Ling Gu graduated from Peking University last year with an international relations degree and began graduate studies in education. One of his instructors said his performance plunged later in his undergraduate years. “I think there were too many lures, too much seduction,” he said.

Before dawn on March 18, a black Ferrari Spider speeding along Fourth Ring Road in Beijing ricocheted off a wall, struck a railing and cracked in two. Mr. Ling was killed instantly, and the two young Tibetan women with him were hospitalized with severe injuries. One died months later, and the other is recovering, party insiders said.

Under normal circumstances, party insiders said, suppressing such news to protect the image of the party would be a routine matter. But Ling Jihua went further, they said, maneuvering to hide his son’s death even from the leadership.

The Beijing Evening News published an article and a photograph, but the topic was immediately scoured from the Internet. Later, the families of the two women in the car received payments from China’s largest state oil company, according to a top executive with a major foreign multinational. He said large sums had been paid “to make sure they shut up.” A publicity executive for the company, China National Petroleum Corporation, declined to answer questions about the matter.

When overseas Chinese-language media reported in June that the Ferrari driver had been Mr. Ling’s son, the Hong Kong-based magazine Yazhou Zhoukan published a story debunking the reports, citing the message on the social networking site. “The source for this was Ling Jihua’s office in the General Office,” said a journalist close to the situation.

But the attempted cover-up spun out of Mr. Ling’s control.

Party insiders said that the police recorded the surname of the victim as Jia, which sounds like the word for “fake,” a notation police officers sometimes use when the truth is being obscured. The move set off rumors connecting the dead driver to a recently retired party leader, Jia Qinglin, who was infuriated and took his grievance to Mr. Jiang, the former president.

The Central Guard Bureau, which manages leaders’ security, also was mobilized to assist in the cover-up, the insiders said. That riled the bureau’s former chief, an ally of Mr. Jiang, and the current chief, Cao Qing, who already had qualms about Mr. Ling.

“They say that Ling was always calling up Cao Qing and telling him to do this and do that,” said one woman from an official family. “Ling was excessive and disrespectful.”

The issue came to a head in July as the leadership debated Mr. Bo’s fate and hashed out plans for the leadership transition. “Just as they were discussing the arrangements, the old comrades raised this,” said an official from a central government media organization. “They said that leaders have to obey party discipline, so this person was not qualified to be promoted to the Politburo.”

In one exchange with Mr. Hu, Mr. Jiang also questioned Mr. Ling’s “humanity” over accusations that he maintained his busy schedule and did not properly observe his son’s death, several people said.

Mr. Hu felt compelled to sacrifice his ally, partly because the party was also pursuing the case against Mr. Bo on disciplinary grounds. “Hu didn’t want to give the others something they could use,” said a relative of a former leader.

In a pivotal shake-up, Mr. Ling’s designated replacement, an old colleague of Mr. Xi’s, arrived in July, six weeks before the reshuffle was publicized.

By September, party insiders said, Mr. Hu was so strained by the Ling affair and the leadership negotiations that he seemed resigned to yielding power. As Mr. Hu’s influence faded, Mr. Xi began taking charge of military affairs,  including a group coordinating China’s response to the escalating row with Japan over disputed islands.

Ian Johnson and Edward Wong contributed reporting.

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« Reply #3338 on: Dec 05, 2012, 08:25 AM »

December 4, 2012

Indian Official Starts Pulling Up Corruption’s Roots in Mumbai


MUMBAI, India — The units in an apartment building being built in the upscale Mumbai neighborhood of Juhu promised to be both dazzling and odd: Each of the 33 homes in the 11-story building would come with a private lily pond, a car elevator and parking spaces for three cars next to the living room.

City officials and neighborhood residents say the parking spaces were a clever sham dreamed up by a developer and corrupt bureaucrats to skirt building rules and avoid paying millions of dollars in fees. The rooms for “parking,” which the developer did not have to account for because they were not considered living spaces, were sold to buyers as a way to add dining areas, extra rooms or whatever else they wanted.

The building, which remains empty awaiting the resolution of a legal case now at the Indian Supreme Court, is just one of scores of tainted real estate projects that analysts say have exposed a deep-rooted culture of corruption here in India’s financial capital. In recent years, when construction was booming along with the Indian economy, Mumbai, the nation’s most densely populated city, may have lost potential revenue of as much as 200 billion rupees, or $3.6 billion, a year because of such violations, said Subodh Kumar, Mumbai’s former city commissioner, the Indian equivalent of an American city manager.

“One thousand square feet became 2,000 or 3,000 depending on how well you could work the system,” said Mr. Kumar, who retired this year. “There was a huge industry of corruption.”

The payoffs and kickbacks would probably have continued for years to come, Mr. Kumar and others say, had it not been for a new chief minister of the state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is the capital. This year the minister, Prithviraj Chavan, an appointed official, approved an overhaul of the city’s building permit system to make it more transparent. He stripped officials of the power to grant exemptions to favored builders and forced developers to pay fees for additions like balconies and parking spaces next to apartments.

Partly as a result, even as several big-ticket corruption scandals have deeply shaken public confidence in public officials elsewhere in India, many Mumbai residents and corporate executives say they have regained some hope for their city of 14 million, which many of them had despaired was becoming more dysfunctional by the day.

He “is one of the finest chief ministers we have had,” said Ashoke Pandit, a filmmaker whose neighborhood association flagged problems in numerous real estate projects, including the Juhu building. “He is a very honest, straightforward person. He has put a stop to all the nonsense and wrongs that have happened.”

Supporters say that Mr. Chavan, 66, and a handful of other reform-minded chief ministers in states like Bihar and Orissa offer one of the few hopeful signs during a particularly dark moment for India. In the last two years, the economy has slowed sharply, corruption scandals have mushroomed and many government agencies have proved incapable of carrying out basic functions.

These regional leaders, the Indian equivalent of the governor of an American state, face plenty of critics, and their success is far from guaranteed. Political rivals and real estate developers, for example, say that Mr. Chavan’s focus on eliminating corruption has come at the expense of greasing the wheels that allow for long-needed improvements.

Still, Mr. Chavan and the other chief ministers have been far more productive than the Parliament in New Delhi, which has been repeatedly paralyzed by recent scandals and political squabbles.

In Mumbai, the change in building rules is bringing in millions of dollar in extra revenue, officials say. That has helped put resources behind Mr. Chavan’s push for big public works projects like a 13-mile bridge that would offer another connection to this island city, across a wide bay to the mainland, opening up vast new tracts of land for housing and commercial development.

That project had been delayed numerous times since it was first conceived in the 1960s. But now a contract is expected to be awarded early next year and construction could start by the end of 2013.

“For obvious reasons, Mumbai is really challenged; it’s really bursting at the seams,” Mr. Chavan said during an interview at his home office one recent Saturday evening. “I think it’s possible to reinvent Mumbai — and we will do that.”

Deepak Parekh, chairman of HDFC, India’s biggest mortgage lender, and one of Mumbai’s most respected business leaders, said that Mr. Chavan has reset expectations in the city by sending a strong signal that pervasive corruption would no longer be tolerated.

Two years ago when he took over, he invited the city’s biggest developers to a meeting and gave them a blunt warning.

“I don’t want to meet any builders alone,” Mr. Parekh recalled him saying. “Don’t try to meet me or my chief secretary or my municipal commissioner.”

Mr. Chavan was able to take a hard line, analysts say, because of the backlash against his predecessor, Ashok Chavan, who is not related and was forced out after a real estate scandal. That case involved the sale of a prime plot of government land at a low rate to a group of former army officers who built a luxurious condominium tower for themselves and the families of select government officials. Ashok Chavan has denied any wrongdoing.

At the time, Prithviraj Chavan, an aerospace engineer who studied at the University of California, Berkeley, was a national minister in charge of science policy. The Indian National Congress Party, which governs both the federal and the Maharashtra governments, chose him principally because he had a reputation for honesty, even though he had no experience running a large state.

But what made him an appealing candidate, his technocratic credentials and honesty, are also a source of concern. Even his supporters worry that Mr. Chavan will not survive the hurly-burly of Maharashtra and Mumbai politics, where the Congress Party has an uneasy relationship with its main political ally, the Nationalist Congress Party.

Though he was born in Maharashtra, now home to more than 112 million people, and is the son of two leading politicians — important qualities in the dynastic politics of India — Mr. Chavan has spent most of his career in New Delhi. Because he was appointed to run the state, it makes him vulnerable to the criticism that he is a carpetbagger.

His political weakness has already forced Mr. Chavan to defer decisions on some big projects like a coastal freeway to ease congestion, according to a confidant who asked not to be identified because he did not want to lose his access to the minister.

Opposition lawmakers and even some of his allies have attacked him for being a puppet of the Gandhi family, which controls the Congress Party. Many complain that while he may be cleaning up corruption, he is too cautious and makes decisions very slowly. The new building rules, for instance, took a year and a half to enact.

“Corruption-free work doesn’t mean no work at all,” Uddhav Thackeray, the leader of the Shiv Sena, an opposition political party that holds the most seats on Mumbai’s City Council, said in an e-mail interview this year. “We have seen no bold decision on the government’s part after he took over, and no one is happy, neither the hardworking entrepreneurs nor the common man.”

Mr. Chavan readily acknowledged that he does not have a strong political following in the state, and he described his first early days in office as “a baptism by fire.”

But he said his efforts to improve Mumbai and fight corruption would prove his critics wrong and win him a mandate when the state holds an election in 2014.

“Clearances got slowed down a little because we had to change the rules,” he said. “But I think things are happening at a very, very fast pace now.”

His admirers say they would like him to stay, but know that he could be yanked back to New Delhi at any time. In the meantime they are hoping he leaves his imprint on the city by helping usher in a new long-term plan for its development.

“We need to take full advantage of his tenure,” said P. K. Das, a prominent architect in the city, “as long as he is chief minister.”

Neha Thirani contributed reporting.
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« Reply #3339 on: Dec 05, 2012, 08:27 AM »

December 4, 2012

Trying to Close Orphanages Where Many Aren’t Orphans at All


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Orphanages packed with little ones dot the landscape here, some with brightly colored signs outside their gates, others unmarked on back roads. But many of the children are not actually orphans, and a campaign is under way to close as many of the institutions as possible for good.

In the courtyard of one, Chris Savini, a missionary from Illinois, rocked a 10-month-old boy to sleep. The infant’s mother had died, and his father, Luxe Étienne, overwhelmed with eight children, turned over six of them to orphanages.

“He knew it was his son’s best shot,” said Mr. Savini, who arranged with the father for an American couple to adopt the baby from Mission Une Seule Famille en Jésus Christ, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.

Such arrangements have long been commonplace here. After the earthquake in 2010, it became clear that most children in the hundreds of orphanages in Haiti have living parents, as 10 Americans were jailed for taking custody of 33 children they said they believed to be orphans and trying to cross into the Dominican Republic with them. All the children were subsequently found to have parents living in Haiti.

Since then, a consensus has developed among government officials, children’s advocates, religious leaders and others that a new approach is required, starting with a reduction in the number of orphanages. But the transition is not easy, and some question whether the country is ready for it.

Of the roughly 30,000 children in Haitian institutions and the hundreds adopted by foreigners each year, the Haitian government estimates that 80 percent have at least one living parent.

The decision by Haitian parents to turn their children over to orphanages is motivated by dire poverty. Also, large families are common, and many parents unable to afford school fees believe that orphanages at least offer basic schooling and food.

On a recent visit to the orphanage caring for three of his children, Mr. Étienne said he struggled to make a living as a contractor and could barely support his two children who remained at home. Their private school fees, the equivalent of $237 per year, add to his burden.

“If I had enough income, I would have taken them back home,” he said, holding his cooing son.

Under rules put in place last month to comply with the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions, the Haitian government intends to play a larger role in regulating adoptions. In cases involving children who are not orphans, the government intends to meet with the birth parents at the beginning of the process to obtain their consent and offer assistance like job training if they want their children to stay with them.

“We don’t want poverty to be the only motivation,” said Arielle Jeanty Villedrouin, who took charge of Haiti’s child welfare services last year. “For many cases in the past, that was the only motivation.”

To reduce the number of orphanages, the government has also begun inspecting institutions here in the capital and in the far-flung provinces and trying to close those in the worst shape and reunite as many children as possible with their families. A vast majority of the orphanages are unauthorized, and only 112 are accredited. Before this year, the government did not even have a count of the institutions.

Mission Une Seule Famille en Jésus Christ, where Mr. Étienne’s son awaits adoption, opened in 2005, but its director, Joseph Kesnel, said he picked up an application for accreditation only in October. Inspectors had not yet visited the orphanage, but there were troubling signs, including children complaining of not having enough to eat, a smell of urine and a baby without a diaper in the dirt courtyard.

With a team of 160 inspectors, financed in part by Unicef, the government has reviewed 725 orphanages and has found 72 to be of such poor quality that they should close. But actually shuttering them is another matter. Since September 2011, only 26 have been closed.

When one orphanage, Soeurs Rédemptrices de Nazareth, in the hills outside Port-au-Prince, was closed in June, 3 of the 64 children had to be hospitalized because of malnourishment, officials said, and others showed signs of rat bites and scabies. The director, Sister Dona Bélizaire, has been jailed on suspicion of child trafficking. Her backers have started an Internet campaign asserting that she is being held without cause.

The closings, though, have halted, because there are so few authorized orphanages that can take in children while the government tracks down their families, said Mrs. Villedrouin, the child welfare official.

“I should maybe close 60 or 100, but the other orphanages are already full, and I don’t have the space to relocate the children,” she said. To ease the transition, the government plans to give reunited families several hundred dollars, as well as pay for at least a year of schooling. But the more challenging issue is persuading families not to turn their children over to orphanages at all.

Ulsonyte Pierre Louis Dauphin placed her two nieces in an orphanage, Croix Glorieuse, after their out-of-work parents could no longer care for them. Last year, she received a call from officials saying that they were closing the orphanage and that the girls had to return to relatives.

Officials did not share the main reason for the closing: they suspected that workers had abused some of the children. Because the Justice Department did not have enough evidence to bring criminal charges, officials said, they confided their suspicions only with the parents whose children they believed had been victims.

Officials did tell Mrs. Dauphin that the orphanage had insufficient food and poor sleeping conditions, she said. “Some people open an orphanage, and they’re helping people who need help,” she said. “But others open orphanages and don’t take care of kids, and they’re making millions.”

Brad Johnson, the director of the orphanage and school at Mission of Hope Haiti, applauded the government’s goal of keeping children in families, but he said it was not likely to become a reality until Haiti’s economy improved. Many Haitians remain in such a precarious financial position, he said, that any time a family experiences a death or a job loss, parents consider placing their children in orphanages.

“When there are not kids sitting on the street dying, we’ll stop having an orphanage,” he said. “Right now, the reality is that there has to be orphanages in Haiti.”

Emily Brennan reported with the help of a grant from the International Reporting Project.

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« Reply #3340 on: Dec 05, 2012, 08:29 AM »

12/04/2012 05:38 PM

Cleaning Up Amsterdam: A Punitive Village for Dutch Ne'er-Do-Wells

Amsterdam is planning to introduce a program that will send abusive neighbors and vandals to punitive housing outside of the city center. The hope is that it will deter perennial bullies, but it is being criticized for its similarity to the "scum villages" proposed by right-wing populist politician Geert Wilders.

First there was an effort to clean up the red-light district in Amsterdam. Then came new laws regulating who could frequent "coffee shops" in the city and elsewhere in Holland for a joint. Now, the Dutch capital is introducing a plan to punish bad behavior by sending chronic neighborhood bullies and vandals out of the city center for a punitive stay in uncomfortable housing containers.

The proposal, which calls for identifying those who engage in repeated acts of harassment and other extreme forms of intimidation, is to go into effect early next year, according to Dutch media reports last week. Currently, the city is searching for a permanent location on the outskirts for multiple units to house the worst offenders. They are to have "minimal services."

"The aim of this scheme is not to reward people who behave badly with a brand-new, five-room home with a south-facing garden," Bartho Boer, a spokesman for Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan, told the Irish Times on Monday. "We have learned from the past and so we're well aware that while a neighborhood can usually deal with one problem family, if there are any more living together in close proximity the situation has a tendency to escalate."

'Scum Villages'

Some €1 million has been set aside for the plan, which seeks to target only the worst of the worst among repeat, small-time offenders. Once relocated to the housing units, they would be supervised by social workers or even police, should it become necessary. The plan calls for them to stay in the units for at least six months, according to Boer. The project will also include a new hotline that residents can call should they feel threatened or intimidated by their neighbors.

Van der Laan, a member of the center-left Labor Party, has been mayor of Amsterdam for the past two years, a period which has seen accelerated efforts in the city to shed its image as being a hotbed of prostitution and drugs. But his new plan is not uncontroversial. Many have pointed out its similarity to the proposal by right-wing populist politician Geert Wilders to set up what he called "tuigdorpen," or "scum villages," for repeat troublemakers. "Put all the trash together and leave normal people alone," Wilders, who is virulently anti-immigrant and anti-Islam, said at the time. Indeed, "tuigdorpen" has been nominated as the worst neologism of the year in Holland as a result.

But Boer rejected the comparison. "This is supposed to be a deterrent," he said. "It has to work."

Already, Holland has seen several similar experimental programs where persistent anti-social behavior was punished by a stay in a shipping container shelter. Amsterdam has also tested the model previously.
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« Reply #3341 on: Dec 05, 2012, 08:35 AM »

Republicans cite abortion, home schooling to defeat UN disability treaty

By David Edwards
Tuesday, December 4, 2012 16:02 EST

Republican Senators on Tuesday voted to block a United Nations treaty that would have helped to protect disabled Americans — including veterans — while they are in foreign countries.

Thirty-eight Republicans voted no, giving them five votes more than necessary to defeat the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities treaty, 61 to 38.

At an event with former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) late last month, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) announced that 36 Republicans had signed a letter pledging to vote against the treaty.

Lee told Senators on Tuesday that the treaty “threatens the right of parents to raise their children with the constant looming threat of state interference.”

“We all want to support the best interest of the the child, every child,” Lee said in a speech on the Senate floor. “But I and many of my constituents, including those who home school their children or send their children to private or religious schools, have justifiable doubts that a foreign U.N. body, a committee operating out of Geneva, Switzerland should decide what is in the best interest of the child at home with his or her parents in Utah or in any other state in our great union.”

Writing for World Net Daily on Monday, Santorum said the treaty had “darker and more troubling implications” and suggested that it would have meant the forced abortion his daughter because she has a rare genetic disorder.

“In the case of our 4-year-old daughter, Bella, who has Trisomy 18, a condition that the medical literature says is ‘incompatible with life,’ would her ‘best interest’ be that she be allowed to die?” he asked. “Some would undoubtedly say so.”

Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly also warned in November that proponents were “using this treaty as an opportunity to promote their abortion agenda.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who suffered disabilities while fighting in Vietnam, insisted that that the treaty would have no effect on abortion laws in the United States.

“With respect to abortion, this is a disabilities treaty and has nothing to do with abortion,” McCain told his Republican colleagues in a Monday speech on the Senate floor. “Trying to turn this into an abortion debate is bad politics and just wrong.”

President George W. Bush’s administration completed negotiations of the treaty in 2006 and it was signed by President Barack Obama in 2009. It had been supported by veterans groups, the disabilities community and the business community.

A Yale University Study released earlier this year found that the majority of homeless veterans suffered from PTSD or other mood disorders.


Originally published Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 8:42 PM
Senate rebuffs Dole's appeal for passage of U.N. disability treaty

Despite a dramatic appearance on the Senate floor by former Sen. Bob Dole in a wheelchair, the Senate on Tuesday rejected a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled.

By Lindsay Wise and Dave Helling
The Kansas City Star

WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, his 89-year-old body now weakened by age, illness and war injuries, sat quietly in a wheelchair on the Senate floor Tuesday, watching the debate over a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled.

More than 43 years ago, Dole delivered his first speech on the very same floor — on disability rights. Later, as one of the most powerful members of the Senate, he pushed through the Americans with Disabilities Act, a measure designed to protect citizens grappling with accidents and disease.

Now he had come the Senate floor, perhaps for the last time, to persuade lawmakers to adopt a treaty that supporters said would extend disability protections around the world.

Dole was accompanied to the floor by his wife, Elizabeth, herself a former senator. Senate rules allow former members access to the floor, although it is rarely used. He has spent a great deal of time in and out of the hospital over the past three years, battling various infections and other maladies.

"Don't let Sen. Bob Dole down," Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said, raising his voice, pointing at his former colleague. "Most importantly, don't let the Senate and the country down. Approve this treaty."

It wasn't enough.

Only 61 senators voted for the treaty, officially known as the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Sixty-six votes were needed for passage.

Among the 38 members voting against the measure: the two senators from Kansas, Republicans Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts. Both have known Dole for years.

Some Republicans had mounted an intense campaign against the treaty, arguing it surrendered American sovereignty to the U.N.

"I do not support the cumbersome regulations and potentially overzealous international organizations with anti-American biases that infringe upon American society," said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.

But other Republicans — including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who like Dole suffers from a war-related disability — pushed for approval, reading a statement from Dole into the record.

Advocates for the disabled were furious at the outcome. They were particularly angry at Roberts and Moran.

"I think it's appalling," said Marca Bristo, president of the United States International Council on Disabilities. "Mr. Dole was so proud of what we did. He was fighting right up until it went out onto the floor."

In May, Moran endorsed the treaty — saying, in a news release, that it advanced "fundamental values by standing up for the rights of those with disabilities, including our nation's veterans and service members."

But by Tuesday he had changed his mind. "Genuine concerns raised by the language of this treaty ... have made it clear that foreign officials should not be put in a position to interfere with U.S. policymaking," his statement said.

The treaty was negotiated by President George W. Bush and signed by President Obama in 2009.

More than 150 nations have also signed the treaty, designed to "promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity," according to the document.
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« Reply #3342 on: Dec 05, 2012, 08:37 AM »

S. Korea formally dumps ‘scientific’ whaling plan

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 5, 2012 8:25 EST

SEOUL — South Korea confirmed Wednesday that it had formally dropped its fiercely criticised plan to resume “scientific” whaling and adopted non-lethal means to study the mammals in its waters.

Under International Whaling Commission (IWC) rules, a formal proposal for the hunt was required by 3 December, but none was filed.

“We’ve decided to carry out ‘no-kill’ scientific research and, therefore, it became unnecessary to submit such a request,” an official at the fisheries ministry told AFP.

South Korea had unveiled its plan to resume whaling at an IWC meeting in Panama in July, saying it would use a loophole in a global moratorium that permits killing of whales for “scientific” research.

At the time, Seoul cited what it called a significant increase in whale stocks in its waters.

But the move was condemned by many countries and environmental groups and reports emerged just weeks later that the government was reconsidering.

Greenpeace on Wednesday welcomed South Korea’s decision as a victory for tens of thousands of people who had sent individual letters to Prime Minister Kim Hwang-Sik, urging his government to drop the plan.

“The world does not support commercial whaling, even when it is disguised as scientific research,” said Greenpeace International oceans campaigner John Frizell.

“The decision by South Korea to listen to its own people and the global community and abandon a whaling programme modelled on that of Japan is a huge win for the world’s whales,” Frizell said.

Japan uses the same loophole considered by South Korea, killing whales for “scientific research” even though the meat is later sold openly in shops and restaurants.
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« Reply #3343 on: Dec 05, 2012, 08:39 AM »

Arab world ‘to bear brunt of climate change’

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 5, 2012 8:05 EST

Global warming will have dire consequences for the Middle East and North Africa, with even hotter and drier conditions devastating everything from agriculture to tourism, a World Bank report said on Wednesday.

On current trends, average temperatures in Arab countries are likely to rise by as much as three degrees Celsius (5.4 Fahrenheit) by 2050 — and double that for night-time temperatures, said the report released at UN climate talks in Doha.

Rainfall in the region with the world?s lowest endowment of fresh water is projected to become even more unreliable, and flash floods more frequent.

“The climate of Arab countries will experience unprecedented extremes,” warned the report.

“Temperatures will continue to reach record highs, and in many places there will be less rainfall. Water availability will be reduced, and with a growing population the already water-scarce region may not have sufficient supplies to irrigate crops, support industry, and provide drinking water.

“Climate change will not only challenge the status quo: it will threaten the basic pillars of development.”

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries are gathered in the Qatari capital to thrash out a deal on reducing Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions and provide funding to help developing nations, many in this region, deal with a changing climate.

The United Nations is targeting a global warming limit of two degrees Celsius from industrial age levels, but several reports have recently warned that Earth is heading for double this on current emissions trends.

The World Bank said climate change has, or soon will, affect most of the 340 million people in the Arab region — but the 100 million poorest, with fewer resources to adapt, will feel it most.

It will affect livelihoods — causing a cumulative drop in household incomes of about seven percent in Syria and Tunisia and 24 percent in Yemen, said the report.

All but six Arab countries already suffer from water scarcity, which is defined as less than 1,000 cubic metres (264,200 gallons) of water per person per year.

Climate change is expected to reduce water runoff by another 10 percent by 2050, while demand will grow by 60 percent.

On top of water scarcity and even more scorching temperatures, farmers will also have to contend with saline intrusion from the sea, new pests and a drop in soil fertility, said the report.

The current rate of increase in agricultural production is likely to slow over the next few decades, and may start to decline after about 2050.

“This is alarming because almost half of the Arab region?s population lives in rural areas, and 40 percent of employment is derived from agriculture.”

Tourism will also suffer.

Contributing about $50 billion dollars (38 billion euros) to the Arab region’s purse today, about three percent of its gross domestic product and six percent of employment, the sector is likely to be hard hit once tourists start opting for milder climes.

“Snowfall in Lebanon (for skiing), Red Sea coral reefs, and many ancient monuments across the region are threatened by climate change and severe weather,” said the World Bank.

Higher temperatures also pose serious health risks as vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue are introduced to new areas, and malnutrition rises as food becomes scarcer.

The report urged urgent political intervention to ensure climate adaptation plans were integrated into all national policies.

Governments must collect climate data, promote more effective farmland management, fund research into drought resistant crops and invest in waste water treatment plants, it said.

“As the climate becomes ever more extreme, so will its impacts on people?s livelihoods and well-being,” said Inger Andersen, World Bank vice president for the Middle East and North Africa region.

“The time to take actions at both the national and regional level in order to increase climate resilience is now.”


12/04/2012 06:04 PM

The Summit in Doha: Four Reasons for Hope on Climate Change

Can the world's climate still be saved? Many have already given up hope due to steadily climbing emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. But the battle has not yet been lost -- and there are reasons for optimism. A guest commentary by the British Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey

As things stand, the world is plainly not on track to keep the global temperature increase from climate change below two degrees centigrade, which is generally regarded as global warming's danger threshold.

The UN Environment Program (UNEP) said last week that at best, current commitments would take us somewhat short of half way towards a climate safe trajectory; and a World Bank report published the same week showed some of the dangers of a world warmed by 4°C. Anyone who engages seriously with the science is right to be concerned.

But I would identify four reasons to be hopeful. First, if we act we can still avert climate change's worst impacts. Both the UNEP report and an International Energy Agency report published the week before said that time was running out, but that 2 degrees is still within reach if we can muster the political will.

Second, the international process may be slow, but it is delivering. Since the Copenhagen summit in 2009, countries representing 80 per cent of global emissions have made economy-wide pledges of action. We agreed at Durban last year to work to a 2015 deadline for negotiating a new legally binding global deal, and I believe that it is reasonable to aim for step-by-step progress towards that deal, beginning in Doha.

In addition to agreeing to a high-level work plan towards the 2015 global deal, I want to see some concrete actions to reduce emissions before that, adoption of a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol with robust accounting and transparency arrangements for those not in Kyoto, and to give developing countries comfort on the continuing provision of finance.

Improvements From the Biggest Emitters

Third, we have seen serious action by many countries, including some of the big emitters. Globe International has reported that legislation is moving forward in all major economies. Brazil has reduced deforestation by around two thirds since a peak in 2004. Korea is spending 2 percent of its GDP on the low-carbon economy. China has embedded energy efficiency and renewables targets in its latest five-year plan and is testing carbon markets in seven of its provinces.

In the UK, our Carbon Budgets provide a clear pathway to our 2050 target of an 80 percent emissions cut. We are acting on energy efficiency and smarter infrastructure. And I have recently introduced an energy bill which will give investors and industry the attractive framework and the certainty they need to deliver the huge infrastructure investment that the UK's energy sector needs.

As a result, we are on track to meet the milestones set by the EU Renewables Directive and to deliver enough renewable generation capacity to source 30 percent of the UK's electricity from renewables by 2020.

In the EU, I will continue to argue next year that going from a 20 percent emissions cut in 2020 to 30 percent, adopting longer-term targets in 2030, and renewing focus on the benefits of the Green Economy will provide the clarity and confidence so many of our businesses are demanding of us.

A Shift in Global Investments

Fourth, this action is underpinned by important changes in the real economy. According to Bloomberg, global investment in renewables outstripped fossil fuels for the first time last year. We are seeing new renewable energy technologies break into and compete successfully in the market place. Solar PV has averaged 42 percent annual growth globally over the last decade; onshore wind has averaged 27 percent.

In some markets, some solar technologies have come down in price by as much as 75 percent in only three years and are now cheaper than fossil fuels in many parts of Africa and South Asia. Companies such as Unilever, Vodafone, Walmart and Kingfisher are setting ambitious targets to make their supply chains more sustainable. This isn't just a marketing ploy: Rising resource scarcity and climate stress means that sustainable, resilient production makes good business sense. As we saw in Rio earlier this year, businesses are now setting the agenda for governments.

I am looking to build on the leadership of such companies with a major new program to address the drivers of deforestation. On Thursday, at an event hosted by HRH the Prince of Wales, I set out plans for working with the private sector and rainforest countries so that the timber and foodstuffs we buy do not cause deforestation. And alongside the US, Norway, Germany and Australia I committed jointly to accelerating our efforts to tackle deforestation, to have a chance of staying within 2 degrees.

The UK played a significant role in securing commitment in Durban last year to negotiate a new legally binding deal by 2015, and we are not letting up in our efforts. Tackling dangerous climate change is a complex task, but in the UK we are determined to rise to the challenge, working together with all Parties at the UN towards our shared goal of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees and preventing the worst effects of climate change.
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« Reply #3344 on: Dec 05, 2012, 08:46 AM »

December 4, 2012

Young, Educated and Jobless in France


LILLE, France — Justine Forriez wakes up early to go onto the computer to look for a job. She calls university friends and contacts; she goes to the unemployment office every week, though mostly for the companionship, and has taken a course in job hunting. She has met with 10 different recruiters since May and sent out 200 résumés.

Ms. Forriez is not poor or disadvantaged, and she holds a master’s degree in health administration. But after a two-year apprenticeship, she is living on state aid and working at off-the-books jobs like baby-sitting and tending bar. She cares for a dog for $6.50 a day. She paints watercolors in her spare time to keep herself from going crazy.

“I don’t feel at ease when I’m home,” she said. “You find yourself with no work, no project.” With the extra $45 for dog sitting, she said, “I can go to the grocery store.”

Ms. Forriez, 23, is part of a growing problem in France and other low-growth countries of Europe — the young and educated unemployed, who go from one internship to another, one short-term contract to another, but who cannot find a permanent job that gets them on the path to the taxpaying, property-owning French ideal that seemed the norm for decades.

This is a “floating generation,” made worse by the euro crisis, and its plight is widely seen as a failure of the system: an elitist educational tradition that does not integrate graduates into the work force, a rigid labor market that is hard to enter, and a tax system that makes it expensive for companies to hire full-time employees and both difficult and expensive to lay them off.

The result, analysts and officials agree, is a new and growing sector of educated unemployed, whose lives are delayed and whose inability to find good jobs damages tax receipts, pension programs and the property market. There are no separate figures kept for them, but when added to the large number of unemployed young people who have little education or training, there is a growing sense that France and other countries in Western Europe risk losing a generation, further damaging prospects for sustainable economic growth.

Louise Charlet, 25, has a master’s degree in management. She worked as an apprentice at the Kiabi clothing company for more than two years, but was not given a permanent job; she’s also worked for three months at a hotel here. She prowls the Internet for job offers, goes to the unemployment office and lives with her unemployed boyfriend in a neat, tiny apartment. “You see,” she said, pointing to the computer, “there’s only one job offer today, and it’s a temporary contract.”

The crisis makes companies doubly reluctant to hire, she said. “In our parents’ generation, you had a job for life; now we constantly have to change jobs, change companies, change regions.”

Yasmine Askri, 26, majored in human resources, and after a year of unemployment, she got a business school degree. She was promised a fixed contract after an internship, but it never came. She left the Lille area for Paris to find a job, and spent another year on unemployment, finally finding an interim job for 18 months at GDF Suez. But that contract ended in June. Again unemployed, she has sent out nearly 400 résumés, she said, but has had only three interviews.

“It’s a disaster for everyone,” said Jean Pisani-Ferry, who runs the economic research center Bruegel in Brussels. “They can’t get credit, and they’re treated awfully by employers. And then there are all those young people in jobs that don’t match their skills.” The labor market, he said, is “deeply dysfunctional.”

Throughout the European Union, unemployment among those aged 15 to 24 is soaring — 22 percent in France, 51 percent in Spain, 36 percent in Italy. But those are only percentages among those looking for work. There is another category: those who are “not in employment, education or training,” or NEETs, as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development calls them. And according to a study by the European Union’s research agency, Eurofound, there are as many as 14 million out-of-work and disengaged young Europeans, costing member states an estimated 153 billion euros, or about $200 billion, a year in welfare benefits and lost production — 1.2 percent of the bloc’s gross domestic product.

In Spain, in addition to the 51 percent of young people who are looking for work, 23.7 percent of those 15 to 29 have simply given up looking, said Anne Sonnet, a senior economist studying joblessness at the O.E.C.D. here. In France, it’s 16.7 percent — nearly two million young people who have given up; in Italy, 20.5 percent.

As dispiriting, especially for the floating generation, is that 42 percent of those young people who are working are in temporary employment, up from just over one-third a decade ago, the Eurofound study said. Some 30 percent, or 5.8 million young adults, were employed part time — an increase of nearly 9 percentage points since 2001.

That trend is especially evident in France, where 82 percent of people hired today are on temporary contracts, said Michel Sapin, the labor minister.

Ms. Forriez said: “Yes, it’s true, you can find internships or apprenticeships, no problem. The companies take you with open arms. But when you speak of employment, of a permanent contract, it seems they no longer need anyone.”

Ms. Sonnet, the O.E.C.D. economist, said that high youth unemployment is a regular problem in France. Companies are afraid to commit to permanent hiring when economic growth is stagnant and charges for social benefits are so high, and the educational system tends to value liberal arts over technical or industrial expertise.

They “often don’t learn the skills that employers need,” she said. “They’re simply not ready to work.” Ms. Sonnet promotes more use of apprenticeships, as in Germany, where students work part time while they go to school.

François Béharel, the president of Randstad France, a branch of the multinational employment agency, said that the problem of youth unemployment among the educated is worsening at a time when employers are crying out for engineers, computer technicians, electricians and welders.

“We have to begin with parents — ‘Stop dreaming of white collars!’ ” Mr. Béharel said. “Blue collars, there really is a true path for them,” he said. But small and medium-size companies, which are France’s primary employers, do not have the resources or the profit margins to train the untrained.

“We’ve piled up battalions of students in general education, and everyone knows that there aren’t 10,000 among them who are going to find the job that they imagined when they entered university,” he said. Only 40 percent of students entering university get their degree; the rest drop out, trained for nothing.

Still, he said, a college degree is the best path to a job — only 10 percent of those with diplomas are unemployed after four years, while 40 percent of those without diplomas are jobless. But the passage to finding that job is now longer, costly for the person and for the state. It also delays marriage, house ownership and retirement.

Ms. Forriez is friendly and resourceful, with a small gap in her teeth that the French call “les dents du bonheur” — the teeth of happiness. But staying happy is also a job. “You tell yourself that you went through a lot of trouble to pay for your studies,” she said. “It’s hard, and in the end you think: ‘Here I am. I did five years and made a lot of sacrifices, and for what? To make new ones, because I need money to live.’ ”

Psychologically, she said, it is difficult. “I don’t say that there aren’t days when I crack, when I cry,” she said. “I don’t become hysterical, but I’m angry with the whole world.”

Mr. Sapin, the labor minister, noted that President François Hollande campaigned on promises to reduce unemployment among the young. The challenge, he said, is to “adapt education to the needs of the economy.” The Socialist government is engaged in a difficult “social dialogue” with companies and unions to reshape work rules, ease entry into the labor market and make French companies more competitive by gradually shifting the cost of social benefits.

The heart of the negotiation, Mr. Sapin said, is to build more trust between unions and companies, to reduce “the culture of conflict” and create a more cooperative and flexible system, as in Germany, one that will allow for more “partial unemployment” in difficult times.

But he noted that France’s budget to subsidize partial unemployment is 30 million euros, while Germany’s is 15 billion euros.

But such “structural” change, if it happens at all, takes time, providing little consolation for those caught in the trap of prolonged adolescence, with cycles of temporary work and unemployment.

Olivia Blondel had to go to London to find a job in her chosen field, textile design, after getting a master’s degree and paying for night classes in computer graphics, textile design, management and dressmaking. To get work experience, she did an internship on the black market. “I tried to do 1,001 things with the pôle emploi,” the unemployment office, “but it wasn’t working.” From 2006 to 2009, she could find nothing. “I feel like there are so few jobs, or that there is a huge gap between what is offered and our skills,” she said.

Now, at 32, she is back in Paris after several months in Vietnam, aided by the unemployment office, but she has been without work since June, and she is still getting financial help from her retired parents — both of whom spent their entire careers at the same company. She gets around $1,100 a month in unemployment benefits, but they will run out in a few months, and she lives in a tiny room in social housing.

“I’m convinced I’ll have money one day, and I’ll pay everyone back,” she said. “I’ll buy a house, even if it’s in the middle of nowhere.”

Maïa de la Baume and Stefania Rousselle contributed reporting from Paris and Lille.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 4, 2012

An earlier version of this article misstated the French expression for a small gap in the teeth. It is “les dents du bonheur” – the teeth of happiness, not “la dent du bonheur” — the tooth of happiness.  

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