Archeologists discover last port of ancient Rome
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, December 7, 2012 14:55 EST
French and Italian archaeologists have found the remains of a grain port that played a critical role in the rise of ancient Rome, France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) said on Thursday.
Cores drilled at a location at the mouth of the River Tiber have revealed the site of a port whose existence has been sought for centuries, it said in a press release.
The port lies northwest of Ostia, which was established by Rome as a fortress gateway to enable trade to pass upriver towards the city and prevent pirates and marauders.
The evidence points to a port established between the fourth and second century BC and had a depth of six metres (20 feet), making it accessible to sea-going vessels, the CNRS said.
Rome emerged as the prime power of the Mediterranean thanks in part to trade. It imported huge amounts of wheat, especially from Egypt.
In the first century AD, the grain port at Ostia was superseded by a giant installation covering 200 hectares (500 acres) at Portus.
Swedish police launch investigation into artist claiming to use Holocaust ashes in work
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, December 7, 2012 10:46 EST
Swedish police on Friday said they had launched an investigation into an artist who says he used paint mixed from the ashes of Holocaust victims in a watercolour.
Carl Michael von Hausswolff claims he used ashes he took from a crematorium at the Majdanek concentration camp in 1989, mixing them with water to create the painting entitled “Memory Works”.
The black-and-white work, featuring vertical brush-strokes in a rectangle representing the suffering of the victims, is on display at the Martin Bryder Gallery in the southern Swedish town of Lund.
A member of the public filed a police complaint against Von Hausswolff on December 5 for “disturbing the peace of the dead”, calling the artwork a “desecration of human remains”, police inspector Annika Johansson told AFP.
She said the police complaint was “very unusual”, noting that Von Hausswolff took the ashes in Poland, not in Sweden. It was unclear if using the ashes was considered a crime in the Scandinavian country.
Police said the prosecutor’s office would investigate the case and decide whether to press charges.
Gallery owner Martin Bryder refused to comment on the work when contacted by AFP, and said the artist was also unavailable.
On the gallery’s website, Von Hausswolff explained that he travelled to Poland in 1989 for an exhibit and while there visited the Majdanek concentration camp.
“I collected some ashes from one of the crematoriums but didn’t use it for the exhibit — the material was too emotionally charged with the cruelties that had taken place there,” he said.
“In 2010 I pulled out the jar of ashes and decided to ‘do something’ with it. I took out a few sheets of watercolour paper and decided to cover just a rectangular space with ashes mixed with water.
“When I stepped back and looked at the pictures, they ‘spoke’ to me: figures appeared… as if the ashes contained energy or memories or ‘souls’ from people… people tortured, tormented and murdered by other people in one of the most ruthless wars of the 20th century.”
Swedish author and doctor Salomon Schulman condemned the exhibit as “offensive”.
“I’m never going to step foot inside this gallery to view this desecration of Jewish bodies. Who knows — maybe some of the ashes come from some of my relatives,” he wrote in a debate article in regional daily Sydsvenskan.
The gallery’s website said the exhibit could only be visited by appointment.
12/05/2012 06:10 PM
Before the Wall: The Soviet Fight for Postwar Berlin
Although Berlin was split into four sectors in 1945, the Soviets were determined to see a unified city under their control. Their tactics for undermining the other occupying powers ranged from seductive to brutal, and a desperate blockade backfired into a 40-year divide.
Editor's Note: Berlin is currently celebrating its 775th anniversary. In the coming days, SPIEGEL ONLINE International will be publishing a series of stories on the history of Germany 's capital. This is the fifth part of the series. The first , second , third and fourth parts can be read here.
The first edition of the Deutsche Volkszeitung, which appeared on newsstands in the devastated city of Berlin on June 13, 1945, brought some intriguing news. The newspaper contained the first postwar appeal by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany. It read: "The path of forcing the Soviet system on Germany would be wrong." The Communist Party of Germany (KPD), which had advocated a "Soviet Germany" until 1933, was now calling for the establishment of "a parliamentary democratic republic with all democratic freedoms and rights for the people."
Of course, most Berliners gave little thought to the future structure of the nation as they wandered hungrily through the ruins. KPD Chairman Wilhelm Pieck's son Arthur, a captain in the Red Army, described the mood among residents of the German capital in a confidential letter to his father on May 7, 1945: "The food situation is catastrophic. There is no electricity and no water. The few pumps or wells are insufficient, and people stand in line all day at the pumps and in front of the few shops. Although everyone is happy that the bombing has stopped and the war is now over for Berliners, the mood is gloomy and depressed. Men and women alike cry very easily. Most people have lost everything, their homes, possessions and money, and have nothing left."
Very few Berliners paid any attention to a poster describing "Order No. 2" of the Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAD), dated June 10, 1945, which provided for the formation of "anti-fascist" parties. Four parties were established in Berlin within a few weeks. In addition to the Communists, they included the Social Democratic Party (SPD), a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Stalin wanted to set the course before the Western allies, as agreed in July 1945, took over the western half of Berlin as occupying powers.
On May 19, the Soviets appointed a Berlin municipal administration, headed by nonpartisan civilian Arthur Werner. The engineer, in office until October 1946, was a figurehead, while KPD officials like Arthur Pieck and Karl Maron, who would later become the East German interior minister, held key positions in the city administration.
The new city administration restored the power supply, and it opened theaters, schools and, in August, the German State Opera. It also tried to fight dysentery and typhus epidemics that began in July, killing thousands of emaciated Berliners.
KPD spokesman Walter Ulbricht urged his comrades to "create a new, trusting relationship" with the Social Democrats, with the aim of quickly merging the two parties. The SPD, and initially its leader in the eastern zone, Otto Grotewohl, opposed a merger under pressure. But Grotewohl, an amateur painter who was determined to bring about harmony, soon began to blur the contours of Soviet policy.
Making Communists Out of Democrats
A secret directive from the SMAD information administration, issued in the spring of 1946, showed how important a single, unified party headquartered in Berlin was to Moscow. It stated that all regional divisions were to submit a report on preparations for a unity party by 10 p.m. every evening.
The information administration included several hundred experienced Red Army veterans who had worked in units "operating within the armed forces and population of the enemy" during the war. The head of the information administration was Colonel Sergei Tyulpanov, an economist and social scientist who had studied in Heidelberg for a while and lived on Ehrenfels Street in Berlin's eastern Karlshorst neighborhood.
Tyulpanov was Stalin's most effective ideological warrior in Germany because he made the impression that he was not a rigid Stalinist. This is how Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov, the conqueror of Berlin, described Tyulpanov's mission in a May 1945 speech to party officials at the Soviet garrison in the German capital: "We have taken Berlin by storm, but now we must win the souls of the Germans. It will be a difficult struggle, and now this is precisely where our front line lies."
Tyulpanov's weapon was amiability. When he met with Berlin's leading Social Democrats, he was gregarious and full of smiles, asking them whether they had any special requests. Sometimes those requests could include a BMW, such as the one that was given to Max Fechner, an SPD politician who would later become East Germany's justice minister.
Many SPD officials in the eastern section of Berlin acquiesced, sometimes because they were coerced and sometimes in the hope that they could dominate the new party. Still, Berlin's Social Democrats wanted the general membership to vote on a possible merger with the KPD.
However, the Soviets barred the SPD's East Berlin members from participating. The outcome of the vote in the western sectors shows why: On March 31, 1946, only 2,937 of the 32,547 Social Democrats in West Berlin voted for an immediate merger, 14,763 voted for an alliance between the SPD and the KPD, and 5,559 voted against either an alliance or merger.
Nevertheless, the SPD and KPD Unity Party convention, held on April 21-22, 1946, at the Admiralspalast theater, became an emotional event for the more than 1,000 delegates and hundreds of guests. In front of portraits of August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht, as well as a banner that read "Onward Socialists, Let Us Close the Ranks," the audience heard Beethoven's "Fidelio" overture and Grotewohl's promise that the decades-long "battle between brothers" had now come to an end.
Democracy Fails for the Socialists
The Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), which counted some 1.3 million members when it was founded, insisted that it didn't want´a "single-party system." Instead, it advocated the "expansion of self-administration on the basis of democratic elections."
Half a year later, citizens of the German capital, including those in its eastern half, were indeed allowed to vote freely on the composition of a city council. The politicians on the ballot in October 1946 were Christian Democrats, Liberals, Social Democrats and members of the SED. The result was a disaster for the latter, with only 20 percent voting for the SED and 48.7 percent for the SPD. Even in the Soviet sector, the SED received only 30 percent of the vote. It was to be the last free election in the eastern sector for more than 43 years, until the March 1990 election of the East German Volkskammer, or People's Parliament.
Life became increasingly difficult in the eastern sector for those Social Democrats who had joined the SED. At the second SED convention, held in September 1947, Pieck announced: "The Soviet peoples have shown us the way to make socialism a reality." In June 1948, when the SED called for the "eradication of harmful and hostile elements" in its "new type of party," panic erupted among the Berlin members. Many Social Democrats fled to the West, including, in October 1948, Erich Gniffke, a member of the SED Central Secretariat.
Gniffke criticized the SED for pursuing "a policy of deceiving itself and others." Christian Democrats and liberals who had come to terms with the Soviet occupying power in the east also came under growing pressure.
At first, the Soviets tried their hand at what Tyulpanov called "positive methods." Moscow's governors hosted lavish banquets for poorly nourished officials of the CDU and the Liberal Democratic Party. Ernst Lemmer, a CDU politician in Berlin, later recalled the scenes of hollow-cheeked guests feasting on saddles of mutton and roast suckling pig. With the vodka flowing profusely, Soviet officers kept their guests in good spirits with toasts to the "great German people." Under these circumstances, many a middle-class politician soon found his defenses weakening.
The majority of Berliners were starving and freezing, especially during the harsh winter of 1946 to 1947. Coal was in short supply, the so-called "fat rations" issued through ration books were deplorably small, and tuberculosis was spreading throughout the city. Berlin had mutated into a slum.
The Carrot-and-Stick Approach
In this situation, the Soviets used a system of rewards and punishments. A secret Tyulpanov dossier from April of 1948 reveals how the Soviets tried to entice reluctant politicians with food. "The most progressive leaders of the LDP," the document reads, were to frequently receive "food packages, food stamps, gifts and sometimes money, as an expression of 'concern for their health.'" On the other hand, "compromising material" was to be used against "leaders and party officials with reactionary views," as well as against the press, for the purpose of "cleansing the party leadership."
Anyone who fell into disfavor with the Soviets had to flee. In December 1947, the Soviets deposed Berlin CDU leaders Lemmer and Jakob Kaiser, who just three months prior had portrayed their party as a "breakwater against Marxism" at a CDU convention in eastern Berlin. In early 1948, Berlin's CDUn was split into two parts, one in the west and one controlled by the Soviets. The branch in East Berlin issued the slogan: "Ex oriente pax," or "peace from the East." The LDP was also split in two at the beginning of 1948.
In early 1947, Berliners already had an idea of what was in store for them. In a March 1947 cable to Moscow classified as "secret," Tyulpanov reported: "There is a vigorous discussion within the population of Berlin over whether Germany will remain a single country or be broken into pieces. At the same time, there is a growing fear that Germany could be divided up due to the opposing political views and ambitions of the Allies."
Berliners faced the dilemma of having to align themselves with either the United States or the Soviet Union. In September 1948, Tyulpanov, writing in the SMAD newspaper Tägliche Rundschau under the German pseudonym "R. Schmidt," demanded that Berliners show loyalty to Moscow: "It is very clear that, in a zone occupied by the troops of a socialist country, only truly democratic parties stand a chance of further development."
Behind this statement stood the threat of violence. In Berlin's eastern sector, the Soviets also had personnel who knew how to treat political adversaries with ruthlessness.
In January 1946, the Soviet State Security office in Germany, headquartered in Berlin, managed 2,230 employees and 2,304 German informants. Ivan Serov headed the German branch. The short general, son of a czarist prison supervisor, specialized in the deportation and subjugation of resistant peoples, from the Baltic Sea to the Caucasus.
Eastern German Prisons Swell
In Germany, he remained true to his reputation. In July 1947, there were more than 60,000 prisoners in camps in the Soviet occupation zone awaiting a court sentence. These prison camps included "Special Camp No. 3" on Genslerstrasse in Berlin's Hohenschönhausen district.
Until late 1945, the camp was primarily used to incarcerate low-ranking Nazi officials as well as prominent sympathizers, such as actor Heinrich George, who had played leading roles in films meant to boost morale during the war, such as "Kolberg." But starting in 1946 and 1947, more and more Social Democrats, Christian Democrats and Liberals ended up in the cells without heat, running water or windows.
Many inmates didn't make it. According to official statistics, 886 prisoners died in Hohenschönhausen between July 1945 and October 1946 alone, most as a result of malnutrition and disease.
In the Soviet-controlled sector of Berlin, the phrase "they picked him up" was synonymous with the despotic rule under which Soviet citizens had already suffered in the past. By March 1948, 6,455 Berliners had "disappeared." Neither attorneys nor courts could do these people any good, and the families often never learned what had happened to their loved ones.
As documents from Moscow that were long kept secret reveal, Soviet generals were fully aware of the devastating consequences of these methods. Major General Ivan Kolesnitchenko, the head of the SMAD in the eastern state of Thuringia, wrote in a November 1948 report: "The 'disappearance' of people as a result of the activities of our operative sectors is already the cause of great dissatisfaction within the German population. I would venture to say that this approach by our security officials elicits severe anti-Soviet propaganda and hatred of us among the Germans."
The Soviet occupying power faced a dilemma: Its option of a neutral Germany, with Berlin as its undivided capital, was obsolete by December 1947, in the wake of failed negotiations among the foreign ministers of the United States, the Soviet Union, France and Great Britain over the future of Germany.
Soviets Misjudge the Berlin Airlift
The Americans and the British prepared for the creation of a West German nation, one that would be part of an alliance they dominated. A key step in this direction was the monetary reform enacted in the western zones on June 20, 1948. The Soviets responded by cutting off the road and rail connections between West Germany and West Berlin.
Meanwhile, emissaries from Moscow were explaining the purpose of the measures to SMAD staff. As Alexander Galkin, who is now 90 and was a major in the SMAD at the time, recalls: "We were told that the Soviet zone was being destabilized by the presence of Western troops in this zone, West Berlin, and that the troops were an interfering factor and had to disappear."
But Galkin sensed early on that the blockade would fail. "It could only have been devised by people who knew nothing about the mood in the western part of Berlin, or the transport potential of the British and American air forces," he said.
At the end of June, the Western Allies began bringing supplies into West Berlin through three air corridors. The "raisin bombers," as West Berliners soon called them, brought grain, powdered milk, flour, coal, gasoline and medical supplies to the western part of the city. Authorities in East Berlin used their weekly newsreel, "Der Augenzeuge" ("The Eyewitness") to remind Germans of the Allied bombardments ("Back then, these philanthropists showed up with bombs and phosphorus"), but the propaganda was ineffective in West Berlin.
While American Douglas DC-3s roared over the skies of Berlin, the city was breaking into two parts. When the Berlin city council refused to defer to the SED, the party began organizing riots against the assembly, starting in late August 1948. On September 6, the delegates moved the city's parliament to West Berlin, despite the protests of the SED parliamentary group.
Three days later, Mayor Ernst Reuter, speaking at a rally of more than 300,000 people in front of the Reichstag building, made an appeal to the West for solidarity: "You people of the world, you people of America, England, France and Italy! Look upon this city and recognize that you may not surrender this city and this people -- that you cannot surrender them!" The partition had begun. In November 1948, the SED formed a separate "Democratic Municipal Administration," by acclamation of coerced "workers."
Blockade Over, Division Just Beginning
It's an irony of history that the Communists in East Berlin chose as their mayor Friedrich Ebert, the son of the first president of the Weimar Republic and a former Social Democrat, while a former top Communist official, Ernst Reuter, led the resistance against the Soviets in the West. In Lenin's day, Reuter was a people's commissar in the USSR's Volga German Republic, and in 1921 he was briefly the general secretary of the KPD.
The political air war over Berlin ended in defeat for the Soviets. On May 12, 1949, after about 280,000 airlift flights, sometimes at the rate of one flight a minute, the Soviets ended the blockade. It had cost 39 Britons, 31 Americans and 13 Germans their lives.
West Berliners, relieved that they had escaped Stalin's grasp, tried to ignore the other side. The city was divided for the long term. West Berlin remained a dependent entity and a protectorate of the occupying powers for decades. The occupiers' intelligence agencies could spy on Germans as they pleased, and they had veto power over the appointment of department heads, including those at the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency.
The SED, which now controlled East Berlin, initially emphasized patriotic fervor. "As the mayor of Greater Berlin," Ebert said at an SED party conference in January 1949, "I repeat the pledge of the people of the capital not to end the fight for German unity and the creation of a unified, democratic republic with Berlin as its capital a single hour before this goal is achieved and the banner of German unity and German freedom flies over the entire country."
But Ebert could hardly have imagined the circumstances under which German unity would be achieved 40 years later.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
In the USA....
Unemployment rate falls to 7.7 percent in November
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, December 7, 2012 9:29 EST
The US unemployment rate fell in November to a nearly four-year low as the labor force shrank from October, the US Labor Department said Friday.
The jobless rate dropped to 7.7 percent, its lowest level since December 2008, from 7.9 percent in October, the department said.
The US economy added 146,000 jobs, compared with a downwardly revised October reading of 138,000.
The November numbers surprised analysts, who on average had forecast the jobless rate would rise to 8.0 percent and that 90,000 net jobs were created.
Superstorm Sandy, which pummelled the northeastern coast in late October and early November, shutting down New York and other major cities, “did not substantively impact” the data, the department said.
Florida officials may release genetically modified mosquitos in Dengue fight
By David Ferguson
Friday, December 7, 2012 14:33 EST
Health officials in Florida are considering a plan to release thousands of genetically modified mosquitos into the wild to combat a rare disease. According to the Associated Press, mosquito control workers are waiting for word from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would put the plan into action as a means of fighting a resurgence of the tropical disease Dengue fever.
The prospective project would target the Aedes aegypti mosquito, a hardy, commonplace mosquito that carries Dengue, also known as “breakbone fever,” a viral disease that causes high fevers, flu-like symptoms and intense joint pain, hence its nickname.
The disease was long believed to have been eradicated in the continental U.S., with no recorded cases in Florida for more than half a century. Scientists believe that climate change may explain why cases suddenly reappeared in the state in 2009 and 2010, with 93 cases appearing in the Florida Keys alone.
Even though no new cases have been reported since November of 2010 in the Keys, health officials are eager to collaborate with the British company Oxitec in a plan to release genetically modified non-biting male Aedes aegypti mosquitos into an area of several blocks of the Keys. The modified mosquitos carry a birth defect that will cause their offspring to die before reaching adulthood.
If the project is successful, the Aedes aegypti will die off without the use of poisons and at a relatively low cost. In theory, the genes will die out, never having entered the native mosquito population.
There is no vaccine for Dengue fever.
Michael Doyle, the director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District since mid-2011 told the AP that his research on Oxitec by way of peer-reviewed journals indicated that the program is safe. ”The science of it, I think, looks fine. It’s straight from setting up experiments and collecting data,” he said.
Oxitec has similar projects started in other locations in the world, including Brazil, the Cayman Islands and Malaysia. Residents of the Keys who are concerned about the possibility of danger from the modified mosquitos say that Florida should wait for the outcome of those studies before attempting to release the modified mosquitos in the U.S..
“Why the rush here?” asked Joel Biddle, a resident who contracted Dengue fever, which is rarely fatal, in 2009. ”We already have test cases in the world where we can watch what is happening and make the best studies, because wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find out how it can be fail-safe — which it is not right now. It’s an open Pandora’s box.”
Military faces though questions about targeting ‘hostile’ children in Afghanistan
By Karen McVeigh, The Guardian
Friday, December 7, 2012 14:22 EST
Outrage grows after official suggested US troops in Afghanistan were on the lookout for ‘children with potential hostile intent’
The US military is facing fresh questions over its targeting policy in Afghanistan after a senior army officer suggested that troops were on the lookout for “children with potential hostile intent”.
In comments which legal experts and campaigners described as “deeply troubling”, army Lt Col Marion Carrington told the Marine Corp Times that children, as well as “military-age males”, had been identified as a potential threat because some were being used by the Taliban to assist in attacks against Afghan and coalition forces.
“It kind of opens our aperture,” said Carrington, whose unit, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was assisting the Afghan police. “In addition to looking for military-age males, it’s looking for children with potential hostile intent.”
In the article, headlined “Some Afghan kids aren’t bystanders”, Carrington referred to a case this year in which the Afghan national police in Kandahar province said they found children helping insurgents by carrying soda bottles full of potassium chlorate.
The piece also quoted an unnamed marine corps official who questioned the “innocence” of Afghan children, particularly three who were killed in a US rocket strike in October. Last month, the New York Times quoted local officials who said Borjan, 12, Sardar Wali, 10, and Khan Bibi, eight, from Helmand’s Nawa district had been killed while gathering dung for fuel.
However, the US official claimed that, before they called for the strike on suspected insurgents planting improvised explosive devices, marines had seen the children digging a hole in a dirt road and that “the Taliban may have recruited the children to carry out the mission”.
Last year, Human Rights Watch reported a sharp increase in the Taliban’s deployment of children in suicide bombings, some as young as seven.
But the apparent widening of the US military’s already controversial targeting policy has alarmed human rights lawyers and campaigners.
Amos Guiora, a law professor at the University of Utah specialising in counter-terrorism, said Carrington’s remarks reflected the shifting definitions of legitimate military targets within the Obama administration.
Guiora, who spent years in the Israel Defence Forces, including time as a legal adviser in the Gaza Strip, said: “I have great respect for people who put themselves in harm’s way. Carrington is probably a great guy, but he is articulating a deeply troubling policy adopted by the Obama administration.
“The decision about who you consider a legitimate target is less defined by your conduct than the conduct of the people or category of people which you are assigned to belong to … That is beyond troubling. It is also illegal and immoral.”
Guiora added: “If you are looking to create a paradigm where you increase the ‘aperture’ – that scares me. It doesn’t work, operationally, morally or practically.”
Guiora cited comments made by John Brennan, the White House counter-terrorism chief, in April, in which he “talked about flexible definitions of imminent threat.”
Pardiss Kebriaei, senior attorney of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a specialist in targeted killings, said she was concerned over what seemed to be an attempt to justify the killing of children.
Kebriaei said: “This is one official quoted. I don’t know if that standard is what they are using but the standard itself is troubling.”
The US is already facing criticism for using the term term “military-aged male” to justify targeted killings where the identities of individuals are not known. Under the US definition, all fighting-age males killed in drone strikes are regarded as combatants and not civilians, unless there is explicit evidence to the contrary. This has the effect of significantly reducing the official tally of civilian deaths.
Kebriael said the definition was reportedly being used in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. “Under the rules of law you can only target civilians if they are directly participating in hostilities. So, here, this standard of presuming any military aged males in the vicinity of a war zone are militants, already goes beyond what the law allows.
“When you get to the suggestion that children with potentially hostile intent may be perceived to be legitimate targets is deeply troubling and unlawful.”
Children in conflict zones have additional protections under the law.
Kebriael, who is counsel for CCR in a lawsuit which seeks accountability for the killing of three American citizens – including a 16 year old boy – in US drone strikes in Yemen last year, said that the piece also raised questions over how those killed in that incident were counted. “Were they counted as military-aged males or were they counted as children with potentially hostile intent or were they counted as the innocent bystanders they were?”
In a speech in April setting out the context for the US programme of targeted killings, White House counter-terrorism chief John Brennan spoke about a threshold of “significant threat’, which was widely seen as introducing a lower criteria than “imminent threat”.
Brennan said: “Even if it is lawful to pursue a specific member of al-Qaida, we ask ourselves whether that individual’s activities rise to a certain threshold for action, and whether taking action will, in fact, enhance our security. For example, when considering lethal force we ask ourselves whether the individual poses a significant threat to US interests. This is absolutely critical, and it goes to the very essence of why we take this kind of exceptional action.”
An Isaf spokesman, Lt Col Jimmie Cummings, told the Marine Corp Times that insurgents continue to use children as suicide bombers and IED emplacers, even though Taliban leader Mullah Omar has ordered them to stop harming civilians.
There have been more than 200 children killed in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen by the CIA and Joint Special Operating Command, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
© Guardian News and Media 2012
December 7, 2012
Justices to Take Up Generic Drug Case
By EDWARD WYATT
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said on Friday that it would decide whether a pharmaceutical company should be allowed to pay a competitor millions of dollars to keep a generic copy of a best-selling drug off the market.
The case could settle a decade-long battle between federal regulators, who say the deals violate antitrust law, and the pharmaceutical industry, which contends that they are really just settlements of disputes over patents that protect the billions of dollars they pour into research and development.
Three separate federal circuit courts of appeal have ruled over the last decade that the deals were allowable. But in July a federal appeals court in Philadelphia — which covers the territory where many big drug makers are based — said the arrangements were anticompetitive.
Both sides in the case supported the petition for the Supreme Court to decide the case, each arguing that the conflicting appeals court decisions would inject uncertainty into their operations.
By keeping lower-priced generic drugs off the market, drug companies are able to charge higher prices than they otherwise could. Last year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that a Senate bill to outlaw those payments would lower drug costs in the United States by $11 billion and would save the federal government $4.8 billion over 10 years.
Senator Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican who co-sponsored the Senate bill, which never came to the floor for a vote, praised the decision.
The Federal Trade Commission first filed the suit in question in 2009. Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the F.T.C., said, “These pay-for-delay deals are win-win for the drug companies, but big losers for U.S. consumers and taxpayers.”
Generic drug makers say that the payments preserve a system that has saved American consumers hundreds of billions of dollars.
“This case could determine how an entire industry does business because it would dramatically affect the economics of each decision to introduce a new generic drug,” Ralph G. Neas, president of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association, said in a statement. “The current industry paradigm of challenging patents on branded drugs in order to bring new generics to market as soon as possible has produced $1.06 trillion in savings over the past 10 years.”
The case will review a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, which in the spring ruled in favor of the drug makers, Watson Pharmaceuticals and Solvay Pharmaceuticals. Watson had applied for federal approval to sell a generic version of AndroGel, a testosterone replacement drug made by Solvay.
While courts have long held that paying a competitor to stay off the market creates unfair competition, the pharmaceuticals case is different because it involves patents, whose essential purpose is to prevent competition.
When a generic manufacturer seeks approval to market a copy of a brand-name drug, it also often files a lawsuit challenging a patent that the drug’s originator says prevents competition.
Last year, for the third time since 2003, the 11th Circuit upheld the agreements as long as the allegedly anticompetitive behavior that results — in this case, keeping the generic drug off the market — is the same thing that would take place if the brand-name company’s patent were upheld.
Two other federal circuit courts, the Second Circuit and the Federal Circuit, have ruled similarly. But in July, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals said that those arrangements were anticompetitive on their face and violated antitrust law.
The agreements are also affected by a peculiar condition in the law that legalized generic competition for prescription drugs. That law, known as the Hatch-Waxman Act, gives a 180-day period of exclusivity to the first generic drug maker to file for approval of a generic copy and to file a lawsuit challenging the brand-name drug’s patent.
Brand-name drug companies have taken advantage of that law, finding that they can settle the patent suit by getting the generic company to agree to stay out of the market for a period of time. Because that generic company also has exclusivity rights, no other generic companies can enter the market.
Michael A. Carrier, a professor at Rutgers School of Law-Camden, said that while there were provisions in the law under which a generic company could forfeit that exclusivity, “they really are toothless in practice.”
One wild card could still prevent the Supreme Court from definitively settling the question. In granting the petition to hear the case, the Supreme Court said that Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. recused himself, taking no part in the consideration or decision.
That opens the possibility that a 4-4 decision could result, upholding the lower court case that went against the F.T.C. and in favor of the drug makers. But it would leave the broader question for another day.
The case is Federal Trade Commission v. Watson Pharmaceuticals et al, No. 12-416.
December 7, 2012
Supreme Court to Hear Two Challenges to Gay Marriage
By ADAM LIPTAK
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would enter the national debate over same-sex marriage, agreeing to hear a pair of cases challenging state and federal laws that define marriage to include only unions of a man and a woman.
One of the cases, from California, could establish or reject a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The justices could also rule on narrower grounds that would apply only to marriages in California.
The second case, from New York, challenges a federal law that requires the federal government to deny benefits to gay and lesbian couples married in states that allow such unions.
The court’s move comes against the backdrop of a rapid shift in public attitudes about same-sex marriage, with recent polls indicating that a majority of Americans support allowing such unions. After the elections last month, the number of states authorizing same-sex marriage increased by half, to nine.
The court’s docket is now crowded with cases about the meaning of equality, with the new cases joining ones on affirmative action in higher education and on the future of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Decisions in all of the cases are expected by June.
The new California case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, No. 12-144, was filed in 2009 by Theodore B. Olson and David Boies, two lawyers who were on opposite sides in the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, which settled the 2000 presidential election. The suit argued that California voters had violated the federal Constitution the previous year when they overrode a decision of the state’s Supreme Court allowing same-sex marriages.
A federal judge in San Francisco agreed, issuing a broad decision that said the Constitution required the state to allow same-sex couples to marry. The decision has been stayed.
A divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, also in San Francisco, affirmed the decision. But the majority relied on narrower grounds that seemed calculated to avoid Supreme Court review or, at least, attract the vote of the presumed swing member of that court, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt, writing for the majority, relied heavily on a 1996 majority opinion from Justice Kennedy in Romer v. Evans, which struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment that had banned the passage of laws protecting gay men and lesbians. The voter initiative in California, known as Proposition 8, had done something similar, Judge Reinhardt wrote.
That reasoning, he added, meant that the ruling was confined to California.
“We do not doubt the importance of the more general questions presented to us concerning the rights of same-sex couples to marry, nor do we doubt that these questions will likely be resolved in other states, and for the nation as a whole, by other courts,” he wrote.
“For now,” he said, “it suffices to conclude that the people of California may not, consistent with the federal Constitution, add to their state Constitution a provision that has no more practical effect than to strip gays and lesbians of their right to use the official designation that the state and society give to committed relationships, thereby adversely affecting the status and dignity of the members of a disfavored class.”
The Supreme Court has several options in reviewing the decision. It could reverse it, leaving California’s ban on same-sex marriage in place. It could affirm it on the narrower theory, which would allow same-sex marriage in California but not require it elsewhere. Or it could address the broader question of whether the Constitution requires states to allow such marriages.
A plaintiff in the case, Kristin M. Perry, said she hoped that the justices would answer yes to that last question. “There is nothing more important,” she said, “than a state ridding itself of discriminatory laws that hurt its citizens every day.”
Brian S. Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, said the court should address the broader question but say no. “What’s at stake,” he said, “is whether the Constitution demands a redefinition of marriage and whether states can even vote on this issue.”
The second case the court agreed to hear, United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307, challenges a part of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. Section 3 of the law defines marriage as between only a man and a woman for the purposes of more than 1,000 federal laws and programs. (Another part of the law, not before the court, says that states need not recognize same-sex marriages from other states.)
The case concerns two New York City women, Edith Windsor and Thea Clara Spyer, who married in 2007 in Canada. Ms. Spyer died in 2009, and Ms. Windsor inherited her property. The 1996 law did not allow the Internal Revenue Service to treat Ms. Windsor as a surviving spouse, and she faced a tax bill of about $360,000 that a spouse in an opposite-sex marriage would not have had to pay.
Ms. Windsor sued, and in October the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, struck down the 1996 law. The decision was the second from a federal appeals court to do so, joining one in May from a court in Boston. The Windsor case made its way to the Supreme Court unusually quickly because the parties had filed an appeal from the trial court’s decision in the case, which also struck down the law, even before the appeals court had ruled.
Ms. Windsor, 83, said she was “absolutely thrilled” that the court had agreed to hear her case, adding, “I wish Thea was here to see what is going on.”
There was reason to think that Justice Elena Kagan was not free to hear an appeal from the Boston case because she had worked on it or a related case as United States solicitor general. The current solicitor general, Donald B. Verrilli Jr., gave the court a number of other options, including Windsor, probably partly to make sure that a case of such importance could be heard by a full nine-member court.
The Obama administration’s attitude toward same-sex marriage and the 1996 law has shifted over time. Until last year, the Justice Department defended the law in court, as it typically does for all acts of Congress. In February 2011, though, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that he and President Obama had concluded that the law was unconstitutional and unworthy of defense in court, though he added that the administration would continue to enforce the law.
In May of this year, Mr. Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage.
After the Justice Department stepped aside, House Republicans intervened to defend the law. They are represented by Paul D. Clement, a solicitor general in the Bush administration.
The Windsor case is thus likely to feature a rematch between Mr. Clement and Mr. Verrilli, who were antagonists this year in the arguments over Mr. Obama’s health care law. The two cases are likely to be argued in late March, about a year after the health care case was heard.
Biden and Cantor in talks to un-stall Violence Against Women Act
By David Ferguson
Friday, December 7, 2012 11:09 EST
Jurisdiction over sexual assaults committed on Native American lands may be the final sticking point in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which has been stalled on Capitol Hill since it expired in September of 2011. According to Huffington Post, Vice President Joe Biden and House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) are meeting in an attempt to re-start negotiations on the provisions that were rejected by House Republicans.
Neither Biden’s nor Cantor’s offices would go on the record saying that talks are underway until Wednesday, when Cantor said in remarks on the House floor that he and the vice president are hopeful of reaching a deal.
“I am speaking with the vice president and his office and trying to resolve the issue of the differences surrounding the VAWA bill,” Cantor said. ”This week I’ve actually been encouraged to see that we could very well see agreement on VAWA, and I’m very hopeful that that comes about. But I am encouraged about the discussions that my office is having with the vice president’s office right now, that bill being a high priority of Vice President Biden.”
The VAWA has historically been an uncontroversial policy that both parties have renewed without incident every 5 years since it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994. In 2011, however, the Act was modified to include protections for undocumented immigrants, LGBT people and women on Native American reservations who are assaulted by non-Native American men.
Republicans balked at the changes and the Act was left to expire. Now, in the wake of stinging defeats in the November elections, particularly at the hands of women and minorities, the GOP may see renewing the VAWA as a way of making inroads with women voters.
The Senate passed a bipartisan bill in April including the new provisions in the VAWA, but the Republican-led House voted down the additional protections, passing their own version of the bill in May with protections of LBGT people, immigrants and Native American women omitted. Reportedly, the GOP is willing to negotiate on the provisions pertaining to LGBTs and immigrants, but they refuse to budge on the question of tribal justice.
The fact that Cantor is working with Biden, who was one of the Act’s original 1994 co-sponsors, apparently demonstrates his seriousness on the matter. The lame duck Congress will reportedly continue to try and hammer out a deal up until the holiday break.
Currently, Native American women who are attacked by non-Native American man on tribal lands have no recourse. Tribal law has no jurisdiction over outsiders, something the men who attack Native American women know and take full advantage of.
According to Huffington’s Jennifer Bendery, “One in three Native American women have been raped or experienced attempted rape, the New York Times reported in March, and the rate of sexual assault on Native American women is more than twice the national average. President Barack Obama has called violence on tribal lands ‘an affront to our shared humanity.’”
Bendery continued, “Of the Native American women who are raped, 86 percent of them are raped by non-Native men, according to an Amnesty International report. That statistic is precisely what the Senate’s tribal provision targets.”
Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, finds Cantor and the Republicans’ stance on tribal rights to be indefensible.
“Who is Eric Cantor to say that it’s okay for some women to get beaten and raped?” she said. “If they happen to be Native women who are attacked by a non-Native man, as far as Eric Cantor is concerned, those women are tossed.”
December 6, 2012
The Forgotten Millions
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Let’s get one thing straight: America is not facing a fiscal crisis. It is, however, still very much experiencing a job crisis.
It’s easy to get confused about the fiscal thing, since everyone’s talking about the “fiscal cliff.” Indeed, one recent poll suggests that a large plurality of the public believes that the budget deficit will go up if we go off that cliff.
In fact, of course, it’s just the opposite: The danger is that the deficit will come down too much, too fast. And the reasons that might happen are purely political; we may be about to slash spending and raise taxes not because markets demand it, but because Republicans have been using blackmail as a bargaining strategy, and the president seems ready to call their bluff.
Moreover, despite years of warnings from the usual suspects about the dangers of deficits and debt, our government can borrow at incredibly low interest rates — interest rates on inflation-protected U.S. bonds are actually negative, so investors are paying our government to make use of their money. And don’t tell me that markets may suddenly turn on us. Remember, the U.S. government can’t run out of cash (it prints the stuff), so the worst that could happen would be a fall in the dollar, which wouldn’t be a terrible thing and might actually help the economy.
Yet there is a whole industry built around the promotion of deficit panic. Lavishly funded corporate groups keep hyping the danger of government debt and the urgency of deficit reduction now now now — except that these same groups are suddenly warning against too much deficit reduction. No wonder the public is confused.
Meanwhile, there is almost no organized pressure to deal with the terrible thing that is actually happening right now — namely, mass unemployment. Yes, we’ve made progress over the past year. But long-term unemployment remains at levels not seen since the Great Depression: as of October, 4.9 million Americans had been unemployed for more than six months, and 3.6 million had been out of work for more than a year.
When you see numbers like those, bear in mind that we’re looking at millions of human tragedies: at individuals and families whose lives are falling apart because they can’t find work, at savings consumed, homes lost and dreams destroyed. And the longer this goes on, the bigger the tragedy.
There are also huge dollars-and-cents costs to our unmet jobs crisis. When willing workers endure forced idleness society as a whole suffers from the waste of their efforts and talents. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that what we are actually producing falls short of what we could and should be producing by around 6 percent of G.D.P., or $900 billion a year.
Worse yet, there are good reasons to believe that high unemployment is undermining our future growth as well, as the long-term unemployed come to be considered unemployable, as investment falters in the face of inadequate sales.
So what can be done? The panic over the fiscal cliff has been revelatory. It shows that even the deficit scolds are closet Keynesians. That is, they believe that right now spending cuts and tax hikes would destroy jobs; it’s impossible to make that claim while denying that temporary spending increases and tax cuts would create jobs. Yes, our still-depressed economy needs more fiscal stimulus.
And, to his credit, President Obama did include a modest amount of stimulus in his initial budget offer; the White House, at least, hasn’t completely forgotten about the unemployed. Unfortunately, almost nobody expects those stimulus plans to be included in whatever deal is eventually reached.
So why aren’t we helping the unemployed? It’s not because we can’t afford it. Given those ultralow borrowing costs, plus the damage unemployment is doing to our economy and hence to the tax base, you can make a pretty good case that spending more to create jobs now would actually improve our long-run fiscal position.
Nor, I think, is it really ideology. Even Republicans, when opposing cuts in defense spending, immediately start talking about how such cuts would destroy jobs — and I’m sorry, but weaponized Keynesianism, the assertion that government spending creates jobs, but only if it goes to the military, doesn’t make sense.
No, in the end it’s hard to avoid concluding that it’s about class. Influential people in Washington aren’t worried about losing their jobs; by and large they don’t even know anyone who’s unemployed. The plight of the unemployed simply doesn’t loom large in their minds — and, of course, the unemployed don’t hire lobbyists or make big campaign contributions.
So the unemployment crisis goes on and on, even though we have both the knowledge and the means to solve it. It’s a vast tragedy — and it’s also an outrage.
Republicans Are More Willing to Cause Another Recession than Abandon the Rich
December 7th, 2012
Every creature on this planet has a purpose in life whether it is an animal that exists to procreate, or a human who studies to learn how to build bridges, and regardless the end to be attained, it takes ardent dedication to that purpose to find a measure of success. Unlike animals, humans are able to devote themselves to a cause, or an ideology, and history is replete with catastrophic results of ideological devotion. Any strict ideology is dangerous because it is usually entails some form of oppression, and it is nearly always the case that regardless their numbers, an ideological group with power and influence will abuse the masses mercilessly. The conservative movement is devoted to the ideology that government exists to benefit the rich and corporations, and that their primary job is robbing the people of their assets; it has been their purpose for seventy-five years.
Conservatives’ are hardly concealing their intent to protect the wealthy any longer, and voters plainly rejected them in the election last month. Regardless, Republicans have held firm to their stated goal of never raising tax rates on the richest 2% of income earners in what has been a two-year crusade they will stick to even if it means taking the economy over the fiscal cliff. The Republican counter offer to President Obama’s balanced proposal to avoid sequestration cuts maintained Bush-era tax rates for the rich and proposed $1.4 trillion in various cuts that affect the poor, middle class, and the elderly. Nonetheless, hardline conservatives assailed Boehner’s proposal for closing tax loopholes and not being made up of spending cuts exclusively.
Republican’s persistence of eternal tax breaks and preferential treatment to a tiny percentage of the population is absolute, but what really drives them to excitement is robbing the people of their assets; a goal from which they have never wavered. In their never-ending quest to eliminate the government, a conservative tactic is attacking successful and popular programs with a view toward bankrupting, and eventually eliminating them. Republicans’ greatest enemy is not Democrats or liberals, but any successful government program that eviscerates their argument that government is bad and worth shrinking, if not entirely eliminating. Two of the most successful programs in America’s history is Social Security and Medicare because they are funded by every American who works which is why Republicans are hell-bent on robbing and bankrupting them.
Every American who has ever held a job funds Medicare and Social Security with their payroll taxes, and yet the GOP refrain is they are entitlements that must be reined in to save the economy and reduce the deficit. Republicans have spent no small amount of time attempting to convince Americans that if the people do not allow Republicans to steal their retirement and healthcare accounts they paid into throughout their working lives, then all is lost and the nation will collapse under the crushing debt brought on by Social Security and Medicare. What has been the bane to Republicans is that the people will not comport politicians stealing their assets, and both Social Security and Medicare are assets that belong to the people.
Republicans cannot understand that the American people are compassionate toward their fellow citizens and approve, by a large margin, of using money from their retirement and healthcare pool to care for the least fortunate among us. In fact, during the campaign, 87% of Americans believed helping the poor should be a top or important priority of government, and President Obama’s re-election bears out that statistic. They also believe by a 72% to 28% margin that millionaires paying a lower tax rate than their employees is a much bigger problem than 47% of Americans who do not pay federal income taxes. Republicans however, oppose helping the poor and in fact, spent all of 2011 and 2012 attempting to steal their assets despite just having secured a two year extension on Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. In a deal at the end of 2010, President Obama extended the Bush cuts in order to extend unemployment benefits and a payroll tax holiday for working Americans. Republicans responded during the 112th Congress with a budget, the Path to Prosperity, which cut taxes on the wealthy, privatized Medicare, and contained Draconian spending cuts that affect 98% of the American people. Although for the next year-and-a-half and up to the election the people rejected more gifts to the rich and cuts to their assets, but the GOP is holding firm to tax cuts for the rich, eliminating middle class tax exemptions, and Draconian cuts to social programs.
One wonders why Republicans are adhering to an agenda they know is a recipe for economic failure and why their solution to every economic problem entails tax cuts for the rich and robbing Americans of their assets, and the only reasonable conclusion is their decades-old ideology of handing the people’s assets to the rich coupled with their not-so-subtle shift toward libertarianism. The Republicans’ agenda is the Koch brothers, Heritage Foundation agenda of transforming America, and the government, into a corporatist ruled nation allowing Wall Street, corporate banking interests, and the insurance industry free reign to take every last bit of wealth from the 98% and hand it over to wealthy bankers and industrialists. If Republicans can cut Social Security and Medicare into insolvency, Americans will scramble to make up their losses as Wall Street and insurance industry customers. The GOP’s intent has been privatizing the government for years, and underfunding successful and popular programs is the logical step towards handing control of those programs over to Republican campaign donors while the people struggle to survive.
Conservatives and their legislative arm, the Republican Party, have no intention of backing down from their ideology of greed and hate, and it will lead to either an economic collapse which plays into the hands of the wealthiest Americans, or a nation of struggling peasants who lost everything to a sick and evil ideology. The tragedy is that Republicans are more than willing to see America suffer a deep recession, fall into total disrepair, and experience massive unemployment as long as they achieve their ultimate goal of stealing everything from 98% of the population and giving it to the rich.
Instead of Changing Their Platform Republicans Plot to Steal 2016
By: Jason Easley
December 7th, 2012
Just like the lazy student who refuses to study but still expects to ace the test, Republicans are choosing to try to rig the 2016 election instead of rebuilding their party.
According to Mother Jones, Republicans in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan are reviving their scheme to turn those blue states red by changing how electoral voters are awarded, “But now that Romney has been defeated, prominent GOPers are once again mulling rule changes that could make it harder for Democrats to win the White House—and easier for Republicans to claim Electoral College votes in states where they lose the popular vote…. The states where Republicans have proposed changing Electoral College rules—Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where legislation has been introduced, and Michigan and Ohio, where activists have pushed the idea—went for Barack Obama in both 2008 and 2012. There are no such GOP proposals, for example, in deep-red Texas.”
How does a party is disarray deal with prospect of potentially having to face a more popular than ever Hillary Clinton in 2016? Do they remake the party, dump the extremists, and move to the center? Do they reach out to women and minorities, and try to take advantage of the nation’s changing demographics? Nope. That would all be too much work for Republicans.
Instead, they have concocted a scheme to award electoral votes based on the results in the congressional districts that they have gerrymandered. In this scenario, it wouldn’t matter that Barack Obama won Pennsylvania’s popular vote, Mitt Romney would have earned 13 of the state’s 18 congressional district electoral votes. Repeat this process in a handful of blue states, and Republicans have an easy path to the presidency for years to come.
Why are Republicans plotting to steal 2016 already? Two words. Hillary Clinton.
Political insiders on both sides of the aisle believe that Sec. of State Clinton is going to run in 2016. If Clinton does run, she will bring to her candidacy a high approval rating (currently 66%), a close association with a popular two term president, the ability to raise huge sums of money, foreign policy experience, and the Clinton brand name that recalls 1990s economic prosperity.
Republicans don’t have a candidate at Sec. Clinton’s level. So if she runs, they are going to have to try to rig the game. The most striking element of the GOP plan is its laziness. Republicans are still looking for ways to get back into the White House without changing their unpopular policies. If Republicans choose this path, it will mean that they aren’t even going to try to compete with Democrats for the votes of women, African-Americans, young people, and Hispanics. The GOP isn’t going to court their votes. They are going to water them down.
Obama may have won reelection, but your vote is still in peril. Republicans are getting ready for 2016, and they are fully prepared to cheat to win.
You live in Michigan? Your rights are optional
By: Black Liberal Boomer
December 7th, 2012
If you want to get an idea of what Republican revenge for President Obama’s victory in 2012 looks like, look no further than Michigan.
By now I’m sure you’ve heard that our beloved Gov. Rick Snyder, after swearing up and down for months that he had no plans whatsoever to introduce anti-union Right to Work legislation and saying everything but cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die I ain’t gonna do it, decided on Thursday to change his mind and gave his fellow Republican legislators the green light to move ahead. But not only did Snyder get behind the Right to Work legislation, he gave his blessing as the bill was shoved through without allowing for any committee hearings or public comment. The hell with public input, and the hell with democracy. Call in the Koch brothers and let’s get busy screwing the people.
From The Nation:
After Republican leaders announced Thursday morning that they intended to enact so-called “right to work” legislation—which is always better described as “no rights at work” legislation—the Michigan state House voted Thursday afternoon to eliminate basic union organizing and workplace protections that generations of American workers fought to establish. Several hours later, the Michigan state Senate did the same thing, as part of a bold anti-labor initiative launched in coordination with a Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity project to “pave the way for right to work in states across our nation.”
And in that spirit, Snyder is also moving ahead with legislation to replace Public Act 4, otherwise known as the Emergency Manager law, which was overturned by the voters on Nov. 6. Normally, the will of the voters would be respected and the Emergency Managers would be seeking a more honorable line of work, but King Snyder is not one to let a petty annoyance such as the will of the voters get in his way. If the people are so stupid that they cannot see his way is best, then Snyder believes his only option is to grind the voters beneath his heel as he sticks his middle finger in the eye of democracy and shoves his plan into place. Snyder wanted the Emergency Manager law which he got passed with the help of his solidly Republican legislature in 2011 because it gave him the power to enforce his will over the people without having to be bothered with what the people actually wanted. When that law was overturned (thanks largely to Detroit voters) Snyder decided right then and there that he was not going to sit still for such insubordination. No indeedy. Time to make a new law, and what better time than during the lame duck session when he can just ram it through?
Gov. Snyder has no interest in negotiating – or cooperating in any way – with anyone who does not share his views. He has a vision of how Michigan should be, and he is determined to create that Michigan whether the people of Michigan embrace his vision or not. This is what can happen when you have a former business executive elected to be leader of a government where, in theory at least, you are occasionally required to negotiate and consult with those who may have different views from your own. The government of Michigan is not a corporation, after all. It is not a business. It cannot be run like a business. Businesses do not give their employees the opportunity to elect their CEOs (although in some cases perhaps that might not be such a bad thing) and democracies do not give their leaders unfettered power to rule over the electorate however they wish.
I believe Gov. Snyder may finally be realizing that he is no longer a corporate CEO, and the limitations of being a publicly elected governor are causing him to climb the walls in frustration. So what does a frustrated ex-CEO do when he can’t just commandeer the power he believes he deserves to implement his will over and above all others?
Welcome to the Kingdom of Michigan.
09 December 2012 - 11H43 Fractious Doha talks bode ill for 2020 deal
AFP - The fractious debate at UN climate talks in Doha points to a rocky road ahead to a new, global 2020 deal on saving the Earth from calamitous global warming, observers say.
A consensus interim agreement that many say is low on substance, was passed after two weeks of intense haggling that deadlocked almost from day one and highlighted deep fault lines between rich and poor nations.
"If we make a judgment based on what we've seen in these negotiations so far, there is no reason to be optimistic" about a fair, new global deal, Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo told AFP.
The key dispute has remained unaltered for more than two decades -- sharing out responsibility for tackling what UN chief Ban Ki-moon called the climate change "crisis".
The developing world places the onus for financing and deep emissions cuts on rich countries which they say got where they are today by pumping the bulk of Earth-warming greenhouse gases into the atmosphere during the industrial era.
But rich countries led by the United States, which has refused to ratify the emissions-curbing Kyoto Protocol, insist on imposing a duty on poorer nations polluting heavily today as they burn coal to bolster their developing economies.
"It is going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of compromise," climate observer Alden Meyer of the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists told AFP.
The new deal covering all the world's nations must be negotiated by 2015.
A slew of recent reports has warned that the Earth is on the road to dangerous warming levels with ever more extreme weather events like superstorm Sandy that struck the US east coast and Caribbean in October and the deadly typhoon that swept through the Philippines.
"We are headed on current plans for likely increases of 3 centigrade degrees or more -- temperatures far outside those that Homo sapiens has ever experienced," British economist Nick Stern, author of a landmark climate change report, said of the Doha deal.
The UN is targeting a limited warming of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
Battered and bruised, negotiators applauded as conference chairman Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah of Qatar rushed through a package of deals he called the Doha Climate Gateway on Saturday evening.
The package gave a second life to the Kyoto Protocol, albeit in a watered-down form -- placing binding emissions cut targets on the European Union and 10 other developed countries jointly responsible for about 15 percent of the world's emissions.
While there is relief that Doha delivered some kind of a deal, many worry it has not laid down a firm enough foundation.
The package includes wording on scaling up funding from now until 2020 to help poor countries deal with global warming and convert to planet-friendlier energy sources -- but does not list any figures.
It is also short on detail on stepping up urgently needed pre-2020 emissions cuts by non-Kyoto partners, which include the world's first and fourth biggest polluters, developing nations China and India, as well as the second-placed United States.
"Very intense negotiations lie ahead of us. What we need now is more ambition and more speed," European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said.
Philippine climate envoy Naderev Sano made an emotional appeal to delegates to take heed of the typhoon that killed more than 500 people in his country as the talks bogged down in Doha, and recognise "the stark reality that we face".
Yet greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.
"There has been, yet again, a very big mismatch between the scale and urgency of action required to effectively manage the huge risks of climate change, and the political will and ambition that has been displayed," said Stern.
But narrow, domestic interests will likely continue to hamstring negotiations.
The United States is vehemently opposed to a global deal that imposes goals from the top down, insisting it wants a "flexible" system that allows nations themselves to determine what they can contribute.
"It is going to be hard because you need both the United States and China in alignment, and the politics lining up in those two countries to feel they can go much farther for 2020 and make the kind of commitments we need," said Meyer.
Observers have welcomed Ban's announcement that he will host a climate summit in 2014, allowing crucial political decisions to be taken right at the top relatively early in the negotiations.
But others say there is no time to wait on the UN process.
Danish politician Lars Rasmussen, who chaired the 2009 Copenhagen summit widely dubbed disappointing, told AFP this week he has "lost patience" with the multilateral process.
He now chairs the Global Green Growth Institute that helps developing countries convert to greener energy.
"We need a legal, multilateral framework, targets, we need to make progress. But we cannot wait for that to happen," he said.
December 9, 2012, 6:00 amIgnoring Planetary Peril, Profound ‘Disconnect’ Between Science and Doha
By CHRISTOPHER F. SCHUETZE
Watch on Youtube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=3OjAv4aBiqY
In one of the most poignant moments of the Doha climate talks, the Philippine Climate Change Commissioner, Naderev M. Sano, appealed to his fellow negotiators at a session deciding the contours of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.
"Please let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around," he said as he choked back tears.
Just days before, Typhoon Bopha had hit the Philippines, killing hundreds of people. The typhoon, having been both unusually forceful and out of season, was deemed - like Hurricane Sandy - to be an extreme weather event, exacerbated by climate change.
You can see Commissioner Sano addressing the plenary of the working group dedicated to the increasingly ineffective Kyoto agreement above and here.
Despite the pleas of the Philippine commissioner and those of many others, the Doha Summit, was almost politics as usual. It did take 24 hours of overtime, but the Doha Climate Gateway was finally approved on Saturday. The agreement extends the Kyoto Protocol until 2020 when a more global emissions reduction agreement is to take effect.
"The Doha package represents a modest but important step forward," said Connie Hedegaard, the European Commissioner for Climate Action, according to news reports.
Though the new, tougher and more inclusive treaty will be under negotiation until 2015, environmentalists warn that any deal that goes into effect in 2020 comes too late.
"We can't wait until the 2020s to start cutting emissions, we are going to have to do it this decade," said Samantha Smith, who heads the Global Climate and Energy Initiative at the World Wildlife Fund in a telephone interview from Doha.
The American media reported little on the climate talks, compared to European media. That may be in part, as my colleague John Broder reports: "It has long been evident that the United Nations talks were at best a partial solution to the planetary climate change problem, and at worst an expensive sideshow. The most effective actions to date have been taken at the national, state and local levels, with a number of countries adopting aggressive emissions reductions programs and using cap-and-trade programs or other means to help finance them."
But, as John writes, climate change is "a problem that scientists say is growing worse faster than any of them predicted even a few years ago."
"What this meeting reinforced is that while this is an important forum, it is not the only one in which progress can and must be made," said Jennifer Haverkamp, director of the international climate programs at the Environmental Defense Fund. "The disconnect between the level of ambition the parties are showing here and what needs to happen to avoid dangerous climate change is profound."
"The biggest problem is the disconnect from the science," said Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace international, who also spoke to Rendezvous from Doha.
"We should peak in 2015 and then come down," he said, referring to global emissions, "and we are just so far from that."
Environmentalists charge that national economic interests took priority over the fight against global warming at Doha, even as an increasing number of people worldwide are becoming aware of the urgency of the problem.
A popular tweet that went around on the final days of the two-week summit:
"Scientists must be the most frustrated people on the planet right now." #climatechange #cop18 upworthy.com/the-most-devas
- Occupy Sandy (@OccupySandy) December 7, 2012
Environmentalists also call on developed nations to be more transparent, both in their plans for emission reduction and their green financing pledges for the developing countries.
In a best-case scenario, the United States would have "come in explaining how they would cut 17 percent from 2005 levels," said Ms. Smith.
The head of the United Nations also called for transparency in Green Climate funding. Ban Ki-moon arrived in Doha earlier this week to demand that rich countries show how they will achieve the pledged $100 billion a year by 2020 in funding to help poor countries deal with the negative effects of climate change.
"It is important that developing countries, especially those that are poor and vulnerable, are presented with a roadmap on how this commitment on long term financing will be met," said Mr. Ban.
An agreement on pledges between now and 2020 will be put off for another year, though individual countries and bodies - including the United States and the European Union - have already made firm pledges for the coming years.
The European Union, long seen as the dominant force in these negotiations, was criticized for weak leadership at this summit. Strife within the European family on whether unused emission credits - dubbed "hot air" - should be carried over into the second commitment period of the Kyoto protocol weakened the European position.
Experts say that certain countries - like Russia and Poland - were allotted too many credits in the first Kyoto commitment period and that the unused and tradable credits would weaken future emission goals under the protocol, if carried over to the second commitment period.
More importantly, the Union backed down from previous suggestions that it would cut its emissions by 30 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, remaining committed to the 20 percent cut target it had initially promised.
Poland, one of the 27 European member states, is still heavily reliant on the most polluting fossil fuels. The country, which just recently was declared site of the COP19 meeting in 2013, is seen as opposing both "hot air" compromises and more severe emission reduction targets within the larger European Union. (Each annual meeting is formally known as the Conference of the Parties.)
Despite such failures, the European Union is still seen as the most plausible leader among rich nations.
"Europe still offers us the best opportunity to be the global environmental champion," said Mr. Naidoo of Greenpeace, while insisting that Europe needs to do a lot more.
Despite the discord within the Union on "hot air" credits, Ms. Hedegaard, the European climate commissioner, still worked at getting assurances that the credits, or assigned amount units (AAUs), would not be bought by others.
Just had a bilateral with #Japan. They promised NOT to buy #AAUs.#COP18 #kyotoprotocol #hotair
- Connie Hedegaard (@CHedegaardEU) December 6, 2012
In the final session several other countries - Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Monaco, Norway and Australia, to name a few - declared they would not buy unused credits.
Actions by United States negotiators were under special scrutiny this year both because of the extreme weather events the country has suffered and President Obama's post-election vow to make climate change part of the national agenda.
"It was a year when the U.S. could have come by putting more money and more cuts on the table," said Ms. Smith.
"Obama's team exhibit no improvement from previous COPs," Mr. Naidoo of Greenpeace said in a press statement issued on Saturday. "Obama's legacy could turn out to be no better than his predecessor's."
In one session, The Alliance of Small Island States were seen to be fighting the United States on the issue of loss and damage, a proposal that was ultimately adopted and would pave the way for heavy emitters to be held financially liable for the effects of climate change in developing countries affected by climate change (For those interested, here's a short primer).
"The disaster of Copenhagen happened on Obama's watch and a failure in 2015 would be really bad for his legacy," said Ms. Smith.
Despite Canada's first place finish at the Climate Action Network's Fossil of the Year award and the clever trick of activists who claimed to have registered the Canadian environment minister in some undergraduate atmospheric climate science classes, environmentalists said not enough official reprimand had been made of Canada's decision last year to leave the Kyoto Protocol.
"Another good outcome would have been for other countries to publicly chastise Canada," said Ms. Smith of WWF.
Despite a commitment to grow its own renewable energy share to 2 percent by 2020 (read John's report here), Qatar, the oil-rich host country, was criticized for not showing enough leadership at the summit.
Activists who dared unfurl an unregistered banner that read "Qatar, why host not lead," were immediately thrown out of the convention center by U.N. security guards and had their access privileges revoked. Several news sources reported that the activists were then deported from the country.
***************UN’s Ban says Kyoto Protocol extension only first step
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, December 8, 2012 14:28 EST
UN leader Ban Ki-moon believes a new deal on fighting global warming is only a first step and that governments must do “far more” to stop rising temperatures, his spokesman said Saturday.
Ban welcomes the package of agreements made in Qatar’s capital Doha to combat climate change and extend the life of the Kyoto Protocol, which should lead the way to “a comprehensive, legally binding agreement by 2015,” said spokesman Martin Nesirky.
But the secretary general “believes that far more needs to be done and he calls on governments, along with businesses, civil society and citizens, to accelerate action on the ground so that the global temperature rise can be limited to two degrees Celsius.”
Ban “will increase his personal involvement in efforts to raise ambition, scale-up climate financing, and engage world leaders as we now move towards the global agreement in 2015,” Nesirky added.
The Kyoto Protocol — the only binding pact on curbing Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions — expires on December 31 and the Doha deal was concluded Saturday after 12 days of tough talks with Russia opposed to extending the pact, diplomats said.
The Kyoto extension was approved with the 27-member European Union, Australia, Switzerland and eight other industrialized nations signing up for binding emissions cuts by 2020.
The talks, scheduled to have closed on Friday, ran a whole day into extra time, paralyzed as rich and poor nations faced off on issues including finance and compensation for climate damage.
09 December 2012 - 05H35 World's second most polluted city turns to buses
AFP - On the streets of Ulan Bator a people renowned for their horse riding skills have to contend every day with ever more Hummers, Land Cruisers and Range Rovers.
Mongolia's vast open steppes and deserts stretch for hundreds upon hundreds of kilometres (miles), and it has the lowest population density of any country in the world.
But with its economy rocketing on the back of a mining boom the capital is the planet's second most polluted city after Ahvaz in Iran, according to the World Health Organisation, and suffers from dire congestion.
Now the authorities hope to alleviate the gridlock by spending more than $200 million on a bus rapid transit system (BRT), in the hope that commuters can be tempted out of their vehicles.
The hulking cars filling the streets are a symptom of the country's economic rise as it cashes in on its vast reserves of coal, copper and gold.
GDP growth hit a record 17 percent last year and is still steaming ahead at 11 percent now, despite the effects of a slowdown in China, its main trading partner.
Now Ulan Bator has more than 210,000 registered vehicles, almost quadruple the number in 2006.
Each morning Batsukh Gerelmaa bundles up against sub-zero temperatures for a rattletrap trolley bus ride from the city's southern fringe to its northwest districts that is only six kilometres long but takes up to an hour to complete in frustratingly start-stop traffic.
There is no way around the cold and uncomfortable journey, says Gerelmaa, an accountant for a local shoe distributor. Taxis costs too much and are just as slow.
"Sitting on that bus is so cold, I am practically frozen by the time I get to work. It shouldn't take so long because it's not that far, but the morning traffic is always bad," she said.
Many Ulan Bator denizens prefer to walk in the city centre, as taxis and buses get snarled in traffic. But for businessmen and women in freshly pressed suits or high heels, pedestrian progress is not always the best option.
"Walking is sometimes better than dealing with the traffic, but by the time I get to where I am going I am covered in dust," said Gerelmaa.
Road crews, construction sites and traffic on unpaved back roads all kick up fine Central Asian silt in the warm months from April to October.
But coal combustion is by far the biggest contributor to the smog as yurt-dwelling residents on the outskirts vigorously burn it to keep warm in winter temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit).
Nonetheless according to one study by the National University of Mongolia, motor vehicles contribute eight to 10 percent of particulate matter.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is supporting the BRT project with a $217 million loan and Shane Rosenthal, its deputy country director, said: "As the economy grows and traffic congestion increases, there is great potential for an investment like this to have a substantial and positive impact on respiratory disease -- considered a leading cause of death in Mongolia."
Only BRT buses will be allowed to use the 14 kilometres of dedicated lanes running down the centre of the city's main north-south corridor, so they will not get jammed in the usual stream of cars, trucks and local buses.
Work on the first section is due to start in spring and later phases will see the system expand to 64.5 kilometres, says the ADB.
The state-of-the art vehicles will be a significant leap forward over current public transport options, a motley collection of battered Soviet-era buses and some newer South Korean models.
They will be heated in winter and should cut suburban residents' commuting times by as much as two thirds.
Rosenthal said the system would "easily" meet demand.
"In terms of operating costs, BRT is cheaper than rail systems and can be built in a small number of years. Constructing a rail system would take a decade or more" and cost at least 20 times as much, he added.
In the meantime Ulan Bator's mayor Bat-Uul Erdene has tried to control the traffic problem by restricting vehicles based on their licence plate number.
Since September, cars with plates ending in one and five have been banned on Mondays, two and six on Tuesdays, and so on.
Damdin Amgalanbaatar, a 62-year-old retired soldier who drives an informal taxi to make ends meet, says the mayor's scheme has helped, even if it forces him off the road one day per week.
"My plate ends in four so I cannot drive on Thursdays but for me it's OK. It forces me to take a day off so I have more time to spend with friends and relatives."
The payoff has been an easier workday, as lighter traffic means quicker transport times and more fares, he added.
"Before I could only get a few passengers because I spent most of the time sitting in traffic, not going anywhere."
09 December 2012 - 04H33
Mining, logging 'contributed' to Philippine disaster
AFP - Unchecked illegal gold mining and decades of indiscriminate logging contributed to the high death toll in the Philippines' worst natural disaster this year, officials and experts say.
Whole towns were washed away or buried by landslides when Typhoon Botha smashed into a mountainous region on the southern island of Mindanao last week, leaving 548 people confirmed dead and 827 missing.
Poverty, greed and the lure of the precious metal have long drawn thousands of prospectors to the region.
"Mining and logging may have had an effect," said civil defence chief Benito Ramos.
"The mountains have been denuded for decades, and filled with holes by our countrymen who are small-time miners. It pains me to say this, but these are the facts," he said.
The worst-hit southern town of New Bataan is both a centre of the devastated banana industry and host to some of the thousands of illegal gold-mining operations in the Mindanao province of Compostela Valley.
Geologists say the mountainous area is mostly unsafe for habitation. But numerous small, illegal or poorly regulated gold mines dot its slopes and the local government says they provide 40 percent of the province's economic output.
Much of the forest cover was also cut down long ago to make way for row upon row of bananas to supply the major markets of China, Iran and Japan.
The plantations and hopes of striking it rich have drawn hundreds of thousands of poor migrants in search of work. They settle in mountain hamlets around which poisonous mercury, used to extract gold from rock, is routinely dumped into rivers.
The deluge wrought by the strongest cyclone to hit the country this year came despite days of preparations and advance warnings including an early evacuation of vulnerable areas.
Governor Arthur Uy said 75,000 people, or one in five in the province, rely on the mines and regulation is a sore point.
The environment ministry insists it is the local officials like Uy who are required by law to issue small-scale mining permits and who must ensure people do not settle areas considered prone to landslides and flash floods.
But Uy protested that the ministry's "geohazard maps" show that 80 percent of the entire province is a danger zone.
"What shall we do? Should we all move from Compostela Valley?" he said.
Uy also said miners had resisted efforts to relocate them, preferring the danger to poverty.
"It is the risk they are willing to take, just to strike it rich. They don't want to move," he said.
Larry Heradez, a technical officer for the Philippine government's mining regulator, said people in New Bataan and nearby gold-rush areas may have known about the danger but sought refuge in the wrong areas.
"There is a problem of information dissemination. The local officials also thought they are evacuating to an area which was safe," he told AFP.
Rescuers said government shelters were among buildings swept by the floods.
In any case, all the elements of a disaster in the making were already there long before geohazard maps came into fashion, said University of the Philippines geology professor Sandra Catana.
"They (have been) living in these areas before technology came about including the awareness of geohazards in this country which started only in 1990s," she told AFP.
With Mindanao usually spared by the 20 or so storms that lash the Philippines every year, people may have become complacent and were caught unprepared by the typhoon which struck further south than usual, officials said.
But the head of a government flood control programme, Mahar Lagmay, warned that weather patterns were changing.
"Previously we have had tracks in the last several decades where (storms) were moving more to the north. Now, they say, it is moving towards the south," he said.
Some 1,200 people were killed when tropical storm Washi struck Mindanao's north coast in December last year, but Uy conceded that residents of his southern region never expected a killer storm like Bopha.
"This was the first time this happened to us, we did prepare... but we never felt anything this strong. We were taken by surprise. That is one of the reasons there were so many casualties," he said.
9 December 2012 - 07H49
Japan tunnel disaster sounds global investment warning
AFP - A deadly tunnel collapse in Japan should serve as a wake-up call to developed nations whose ageing infrastructure is in dire need of updating, experts say.
Trillions of dollars need to be spent across the globe just to stand still they warn, adding current fiscal belt tightening is pushing vital repairs dangerously far down the list.
"Maintenance work is often neglected because you cannot easily see the urgent need for it," said Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute.
Nine people were killed when concrete ceiling panels crashed onto three vehicles, setting at least one ablaze inside the Sasago tunnel, 80 kilometres (50 miles) west of Tokyo on December 2.
The exact cause of the cave-in is not yet known, but an initial probe has pointed to decay in the fixtures that held the more than one-tonne panels to the roof of the 35-year-old tunnel.
The government ordered immediate inspections of all structures with the same design and Japanese police began a criminal investigation, with an eye to bringing negligence charges.
The incident sent jitters through Japan, one of the most engineered countries in the world, which saw a huge infrastructure boom in the decades after World War II.
At least eight percent of the 155,000 major bridges in Japan are already older than 50 years, the infrastructure ministry said. By 2030, more than half of them will be.
The ministry estimates it needs to spend 190 trillion yen ($2.3 trillion) over the next five decades just to maintain the infrastructure it already has.
But with debts more than double its GDP, which Japan's shrinking workforce cannot easily repay, finding new cash is a tough ask.
The tunnel collapse was not the first time a lack of investment has caused problems.
In the US city of Minneapolis, an eight-lane, 33-metre (108-foot)-high bridge collapsed in 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 145.
Dilapidated power lines were among the major causes of Australia's 2009 Black Saturday wildfires that killed 173 people.
In 2006, a huge summertime blackout in New York was blamed on a badly maintained grid.
The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that $2.2 trillion is needed over the next decade simply to prevent resources such as bridges, roads, waterways and power cables from deteriorating.
But under current plans, the US government will spend less than half that amount and, with Washington lawmakers seeking to avoid the looming "fiscal cliff," the federal investment budget could be cut further.
Engineers Australia, an infrastructure lobby group, estimates that years of neglect have left the vast and sparsely populated country with a Aus$700 billion ($732 billion) investment shortfall.
Rod Eddington, chairman of Infrastructure Australia, has warned that even though upgrades are expensive, the status quo is not an option.
"The results of not doing enough are traffic congestion, poor access to our export gateways, missed economic opportunities and lower quality of life," Eddington said in a report in June.
London's transport plans for this year's Olympic Games were thrown into disarray when one of the main arteries linking Heathrow Airport and the capital had to be closed in December 2011 for emergency repairs.
Cables holding together the concrete Hammersmith Flyover, built in the 1960s, had been weakened by a steady seepage of salt water, a problem that needed five months of traffic-disrupting work to fix.
Civil structural engineer Aleksandar Pavic said with only periodic inspections, Britain gets taken by surprise when its infrastructure -- some of which dates to the 19th century -- suddenly fails.
"We don't know what our structures are doing," said Pavic, professor of vibration engineering at the University of Sheffield.
"We don't understand what is actually happening on them, that's why things are falling apart, quite unexpectedly," he said, adding modern monitoring systems could give a much better picture.
Dai-ichi Life economist Nagahama said strong political will is necessary if sufficient money is ever going to be put aside for much needed updates and maintenance.
"The recent tunnel accident may be the trigger that improves public awareness about the issue and presses authorities" to do something, he said.
09 December 2012 - 08H50
Chicago skyscrapers go green, slash energy costs
AFP - Chicago's skyline is going green, as property managers install energy efficient tools like motion-detectors on office lights, in a project officials hope will inspire changes across the United States.
At the riverside Sheraton hotel, chief engineer Ryan Egan cannot get over what his new thermostats can do -- or the $136,000 a year in savings they are producing.
First off, they're tied into the booking management system, which means he can let the room temperature drift beyond standard comfort levels until the moment a guest checks in.
An infrared sensor means the savings don't stop there. Once the guest leaves the room, the temperature starts to drift again, giving the heating or cooling system a break until it's needed again.
It's not a random drift -- the thermostat is programmed to only allow the room to warm up or cool down to the point where it can get back to the pre-set temperature within 12 minutes of the guest's return.
"The brains behind how much it can drift is really interesting," Egan said. "If you're on the shady side (in the summer) it'll drift more because it knows it can recover faster."
The Sheraton is one of 14 major commercial buildings that signed onto the Retrofit Chicago challenge to cut energy use by 20 percent over the next five years, for savings estimated at more than $5 million a year.
If they succeed, it will be like taking 8,000 cars off the road.
"The fact that this is the city that built the first skyscraper, we love that we're trying to green the skyline," Karen Weigert, chief sustainability officer for the city of Chicago, told AFP.
Some 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the Windy City come from the electricity and gas used to heat, cool and power homes, businesses, schools and other government buildings.
In addition to the greening in commercial buildings, the city plans to cut energy use by 20 percent in hundreds of municipal buildings, for an estimated monetary saving of $20 million a year and emissions savings equivalent to taking about 30,000 vehicles off the road.
It has also launched a program to help retrofit residential properties and expects more big commercial buildings to join the challenge.
"Fighting climate change can take all sorts of forms. This one happens to also save building owners a lot of money," said Rebecca Stanfield, a senior energy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"We're excited about the potential for big property owners who are in the Chicago initiative to use what they learn here in buildings across the country."
A similar program is being promoted by the Department of Energy, which has racked up commitments from schools, cities and businesses to reduce energy use by 20 percent in 2 billion square feet.
AT&T -- the first company to sign up for Chicago's challenge -- is testing out a host of new energy efficiency technologies at its downtown office tower.
It's just one test kitchen for the telecom giant, as it searches for best practices in its quest to cut emissions company-wide by 20 percent by 2020.
The results so far have been impressive.
They've swapped out ceiling lights with more efficient bulbs and set up motion detectors so the lights aren't burning when technicians and sales staff are away from their desks.
They've put insulated shutters on the air intake system to keep the chill out in winter and the heat out in summer.
They've installed regulators on the big fans that push heated or cooled air through the 1960's era building so they only operate when needed instead of running all day and most of the night.
They've even swapped out the belts on the fan's motors to cut down on energy-sucking slippage.
"There's no question we've identified enough opportunities to save 20 percent," said John Schinter, AT&T's executive director for energy.
All the improvements tested in Chicago will pay for themselves in three years or less, and most will be rolled out to the 1,000 corporate and 500 retail buildings that AT&T is targeting in its sustainability plan, Schinter said.
"If a project doesn't have scalability for an enterprise as large as ours, we don't spend much corporate time on it," he said in an interview.
Jim Javillet is amazed at how attitudes have changed in the 43 years he's been managing buildings like the AT&T tower.
"In the 60s and 70s they used to run (both) heating and cooling all year -- why not," he recalled.
Another big advance came when buildings installed systems to turn most overhead lights off at a set time so they didn't burn all night.
Now, even in the middle of the day, he can see who's away from their desks by the dark spots in the room. And when he walks down an empty hall, he creates a tunnel of light.
These types of innovations are common in countries like Spain and Japan, where energy is more costly and governments have been more aggressive in pushing energy efficient building codes.
But Americans are ready to accept change, said Dan Tishman, whose realty company owns the Sheraton Chicago and nine other major US hotels.
"Consumers in this country are comfortable with motion detectors on lights and other technologies that save energy, like low flush toilets or green roofs, and they appreciate it," said Tishman, who is also chairman of the National Resource Defense Council and heads a leading construction firm.
"I do think that when we implement the changes we are planning, we will be successful and other large hotel properties will follow suit."
09 December 2012 - 10H41
Egypt opposition mulls Morsi's climbdown
AFP - Egypt's main opposition considered Sunday whether to maintain mass protests against President Mohamed Morsi after the Islamist leader announced a key concession in the political crisis dividing the country.
A Morsi aide said the president had agreed "from this moment" to give up expanded powers he had assumed last month that gave him immunity from judicial oversight.
However, in a meeting with other political figures on Saturday, Morsi said he would press ahead with a December 15 referendum on a controversial new constitution drafted by a panel dominated by his Islamist allies.
The opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, was to meet "to discuss its position after the announcement," Emad Abu Ghazi, secretary general of one of its principal parties, told AFP.
Another member group, the April 6 Youth Movement, dismissed the announcements as "a political manoeuvre aimed at duping the people".
It called for protests to continue to stop "the referendum on the constitution of the Muslim Brotherhood," a reference to the party backing Morsi.
Another prominent opposition leader, former UN atomic agency chief and Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, tweeted after Morsi's announcement that "a constitution that curtails our rights and freedoms is a constitution we will topple."
Demonstrators furious at what they saw as a power grab by Morsi and the railroading of the draft constitution have held weeks of street rallies whose demands have escalated into calls for his resignation.
On Wednesday, vicious clashes erupted between pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators outside the presidential palace that left seven people dead and more than 600 injured.
Egypt's powerful army stepped in by deploying tanks and troops around the palace.
On Saturday the military issued its first statement since the start of the crisis, warning the rival political camps to get together for talks to stop Egypt descending "into a dark tunnel with disastrous results".
"That is something we will not allow," it said.
Hours after that ultimatum, Morsi announced through his adviser, Selim al-Awa, that he was annulling the November 22 decree expanding his powers.
But the referendum scheduled for next Saturday would still go ahead, Awa said in a news conference at the presidential palace.
He said that Morsi was constitutionally bound to keep to that date as the law requires a vote to be held within two weeks of the president receiving the text.
The opposition has consistently demanded both the decree and the referendum be scrapped before it would entertain starting dialogue with Morsi.
It rebuffed an offer by the president last Thursday for talks because he had defiantly defended the decree and said the referendum would take place and the country would have to accept the result.
Opposition figures have denounced the draft charter as weakening protection of human rights and the rights of women and religious minorities.
Those criticisms were echoed last week by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay. "I believe people are right to be very concerned," she said.
Analysts have said the referendum will likely see the draft constitution adopted, given still strong public support for Morsi and the organisation skills of the Muslim Brotherhood.
But they warned the effects of that would be damaging.
"The Muslim Brotherhood believes that it has majority support so it can win the constitutional referendum," said Eric Trager, analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
If that occurred, it would "set up the country for prolonged instability," he warned.
In Cairo's Tahrir Square, a focal point for hardcore protesters, news of the cancellation of the decree sparked no celebrations. "This will change nothing," said one anti-Morsi activist, Mohamed Shakir, 50.
"Even if they offered us honey, it would not be enough," said another, Hisham Ezzat.
Egyptian man arrested in connection with Benghazi attack
By Arturo Garcia
Saturday, December 8, 2012 17:46 EST
An Egyptian man and alleged terrorist cell leader was arrested in connection with the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, NBC News reported Saturday.
Mohammed Abu Jamal Ahmed was arrested in Cairo and accused of not only being involved with the attack that killed American ambassador Chris Stevens and three other U.S. nationals, but transporting weapons from Libya to Egypt, where he lives. He has not been charged in the Egyptian State Security Court.
ABC News reported that Ahmed admitted to working with Ansar al Sharia, an extremist group that organized the attack. He was arrested by Egyptian intelligence officials two weeks ago in Sharqiyah, a province in the eastern part of the country, and will remain in custody for another 15 days while being questioned.
December 8, 2012
Syrian Rebels Tied to Al Qaeda Play Key Role in War
By TIM ARANGO, ANNE BARNARD and HWAIDA SAAD
BAGHDAD — The lone Syrian rebel group with an explicit stamp of approval from Al Qaeda has become one of the uprising’s most effective fighting forces, posing a stark challenge to the United States and other countries that want to support the rebels but not Islamic extremists.
Money flows to the group, the Nusra Front, from like-minded donors abroad. Its fighters, a small minority of the rebels, have the boldness and skill to storm fortified positions and lead other battalions to capture military bases and oil fields. As their successes mount, they gather more weapons and attract more fighters.
The group is a direct offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Iraqi officials and former Iraqi insurgents say, which has contributed veteran fighters and weapons.
“This is just a simple way of returning the favor to our Syrian brothers that fought with us on the lands of Iraq,” said a veteran of Al Qaeda in Iraq, who said he helped lead the Nusra Front’s efforts in Syria.
The United States, sensing that time may be running out for Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, hopes to isolate the group to prevent it from inheriting Syria or fighting on after Mr. Assad’s fall to pursue its goal of an Islamic state.
As the United States pushes the Syrian opposition to organize a viable alternative government, it plans to blacklist the Nusra Front as a terrorist organization, making it illegal for Americans to have financial dealings with the group and most likely prompting similar sanctions from Europe. The hope is to remove one of the biggest obstacles to increasing Western support for the rebellion: the fear that money and arms could flow to a jihadi group that could further destabilize Syria and harm Western interests.
When rebel commanders met Friday in Turkey to form a unified command structure at the behest of the United States and its allies, jihadi groups were not invited.
The Nusra Front’s ally, Al Qaeda in Iraq, is the Sunni insurgent group that killed numerous American troops in Iraq and sowed widespread sectarian strife with suicide bombings against Shiites and other religious and ideological opponents. The Iraqi group played an active role in founding the Nusra Front and provides it with money, expertise and fighters, said Maj. Faisal al-Issawi, an Iraqi security official who tracks jihadi activities in Iraq’s Anbar Province.
But blacklisting the Nusra Front could backfire. It would pit the United States against some of the best fighters in the insurgency that it aims to support. While some Syrian rebels fear the group’s growing power, others work closely with it and admire it — or, at least, its military achievements — and are loath to end their cooperation.
Leaders of the Free Syrian Army, the loose-knit rebel umbrella group that the United States seeks to bolster, expressed exasperation that the United States, which has refused to provide weapons throughout the conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people, is now opposing a group they see as a vital ally.
The Nusra Front “defends civilians in Syria, whereas America didn’t do anything,” said Mosaab Abu Qatada, a rebel spokesman. “They stand by and watch; they look at the blood and the crimes and brag. Then they say that Nusra Front are terrorists."
He added, “America just wants a pretext to intervene in Syrian affairs after the revolution.”
The United States has been reluctant to supply weapons to rebels that could end up in the hands of anti-Western jihadis, as did weapons that Qatar supplied to Libyan rebels with American approval. Critics of the Obama administration’s Syria policy counter that its failure to support the rebels helped create the opening that Islamic militants have seized in Syria.
The Nusra Front’s appeals to Syrian fighters seem to be working.
At a recent meeting in Damascus, Abu Hussein al-Afghani, a veteran of insurgencies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, addressed frustrated young rebels. They lacked money, weapons and training, so they listened attentively.
He told them he was a leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, now working with a Qaeda branch in Syria, and by joining him, they could make their mark. One fighter recalled his resonant question: “Who is hearing your voice today?”
On Friday, demonstrators in several Syrian cities raised banners with slogans like, “No to American intervention, for we are all Jebhat al-Nusra,” referring to the group’s full name, Ansar al-Jebhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham, or Supporters of the Front for Victory of the People of Syria. One rebel battalion, the Ahrar, or Free Men, asked on its Facebook page why the United States did not blacklist Mr. Assad’s “terrorist” militias.
Another jihadist faction, the Sahaba Army in the Levant, even congratulated the group on the “great honor” of being deemed terrorists by the United States.
Even antigovernment activists who are wary of the group — some deride it as “the Taliban” — said the blacklisting would be ineffective and worsen strife within the uprising. To isolate the group, they say, the United States should support mainstream rebel military councils and Syrian civil society, like the committees that have sprung up to run rebel-held villages.
The Nusra Front is far from the only fighting group that embraces a strict interpretation of Islam. Many battalions have adopted religious slogans, dress and practices, in what some rebels and activists call a pragmatic shift to curry favor with Islamist donors in Persian Gulf countries. One activist said he had a fighter friend with a fondness for Johnnie Walker Black who is now sporting a beard to fit in.
Not all religiously driven rebel groups embrace the Qaeda vision of global jihad, the International Crisis Group said in a recent report. Some have criticized the Nusra Front as serving the interests of the Assad government, which seeks to paint its opposition as terrorists and foreigners.
The Nusra Front is the only Syrian rebel group explicitly endorsed by Al Qaeda in online forums, the report said.
The group gained prominence with suicide bombings in Damascus and Aleppo in early 2012 that targeted government buildings but caused heavy civilian casualties. It was the first Syrian insurgent organization to claim responsibility for suicide and car bomb attacks that killed civilians.
Many of its members — Syrians, Iraqis and a few from other countries —fought in Iraq, where the Syrian government helped funnel jihadis to battle the American occupation.
In Iraq’s Diyala Province, a former member of Al Qaeda in Iraq said that a leader and many members of the group were fighting in Syria under the Nusra Front’s banner. An Iraqi security official there said they travel through Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey to Syria.
“They are well trained mentally and militarily,” Major Issawi, the official in Anbar, said. “They are so excited about the fighting in Syria. They see Syria as a dream coming true.”
Syrian fighters also have Iraq experience. Abu Hussein, a commander of the Tawhid and Jihad brigade, which is not slated for American blacklisting and has taken a leading role in many battles, said he fought with Al Qaeda in Iraq for six years.
“I decided to return to Syria because our people need me,” he said, adding that his group was attracting secular young men because it could provide ammunition, training and medical care that non-jihadist groups could not.
A 35-year-old Syrian musician who gave his name as Hakam said he decided to join an Islamist fighting group because he saw how well it planned and fought and “how determined and professional they are.”
He said that he had rarely prayed and had been a drummer in a casino — he apologized for mentioning the word, which had become distasteful to him — but that now he was pious and newly disciplined. He said that the group’s goal was an Islamic state in Syria ruled by strict Sunni Muslims, and that it would fight any secular government.
“Our mission won’t end after the fall of the regime,” he said.
Some Syrians have complained of Nusra fighters trying to impose religious strictures on others. But Brian Fishman, a fellow at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, said that the Nusra Front appeared to have learned from the mistakes of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which alienated Iraqis with its sectarian attacks and grisly beheading videos.
The Nusra Front appears to be refraining from attacking other Syrian groups, with the exception of clashes with Kurds in the north, where some rebels believe a major Kurdish militia sides with the government.
Thamir al-Sadi, an Iraqi from Diyala who joined the regular Free Syrian Army, said that would change, predicting infighting after Mr. Assad’s fall.
“After the fall of Bashar there will be so many battles between these groups,” he said. “All the groups will unite against al-Nusra. They are like a snake that is spreading its poison.”
Tim Arango reported from Baghdad, and Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon. Reporting was contributed by Hania Mourtada from Beirut; Duraid Adnan and Yasir Ghazi from Baghdad; employees of The New York Times from Mosul, Iraq, and the provinces of Anbar and Diyala; and Michael R. Gordon from Dublin.
09 December 2012 - 11H35
Syria troops battle rebels around Damascus
AFP - The Syrian army clashed with rebels on the Damascus outskirts and in the southern Qadam neighbourhood of the capital on Sunday as it pressed its bombardment of rebel-held towns, a watchdog said.
At least one rebel fighter was killed, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Troops shelled rebel-held Daraya southwest of Damascus and Irbin to its northeast, the Britain-based watchdog said. The latter town was hit by air raids on Saturday.
For several days, the military has bombarded rebel strongholds in the suburbs from ground and air, raising fears of a looming ground assault by the army to try to establish a secure cordon around the capital.
Fifty of the 101 people killed nationwide on Saturday were killed in the Damascus region, mostly in the northeastern and southern outskirts of the city, the Observatory said.
In Syria's second city Aleppo, where fighting has reached stalemate after nearly five months of deadly urban combat, the rebel-held Sakhur district in the east came under shelling overnight.
Elsewhere in the largely rebel-held northern province, the towns of Qabtan al-Jabal and Anadan were also bombarded by the army, the Observatory said.
Civilians accounted for 58 of Saturday's dead, among them nine children, it added.
In all, more than 42,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule erupted in March last year, according to the Observatory's figures.
One dead and wounded in Syria-related skirmishes in Lebanon
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, December 8, 2012 19:30 EST
One person was killed and six wounded in the north Lebanese city of Tripoli on Saturday in sectarian clashes linked to the conflict in neighbouring Syria, a security official said.
Fighting with machine guns and rockets erupted between the impoverished districts of Bab al-Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, pitting Sunnis against Alawites belonging to the same religious community as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The fatal shooting of a Jabal Mohsen man broke a tense calm that had held since Friday morning, when the army deployed troops in restive areas of the port city as snipers held their positions.
The victim was among 14 people, including two children, killed since Tuesday in rival districts of Lebanon’s second city.
The army would probably receive reinforcements on Sunday morning, the source told AFP.
The majority of Tripoli’s residents are Sunni Muslim and support the anti-Assad revolt in Syria. A minority of Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, back the Syrian regime and fear potential sectarian violence should Assad fall.
Lebanon is deeply divided over Syria. The Shiite movement Hezbollah, its allies and supporters bitterly oppose the revolt, while the Sunni-led March 14 movement backs it.
Near daily clashes in border areas inside Syria pit Shiite residents who support Hezbollah against anti-Assad rebels, residents and activists say.
December 8, 2012
Leader Celebrates Founding of Hamas With Defiant Speech
By STEVEN ERLANGER
GAZA CITY — Khaled Meshal, the political leader of Hamas, gave a defiant speech on Saturday, vowing to build an Islamic Palestinian state on all the land of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Speaking before tens of thousands of supporters to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of Hamas, Mr. Meshal said the Jewish state would be wiped away through “resistance,” or military action. “The state will come from resistance, not negotiation,” he said. “Liberation first, then statehood.”
His voice rising to a shout, Mr. Meshal said: “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on any inch of the land.” He vowed that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants would one day return to their original homes in what is now Israel.
“We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation, and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take,” he said. “We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone. Israel has no right to be in Jerusalem.” He also promised Palestinian prisoners held in Israel that they would be freed using the same methods that had worked in the past — the kidnapping of Israelis and Israeli soldiers, like Gilad Shalit, who was released last year in a prisoner exchange after five years as a hostage.
Mr. Meshal’s harsh words reflected longstanding Hamas principles rather than new, specific threats toward Israel. But they will only reinforce Israel’s belief that Hamas is its enemy and intends to continue to use military force to reach its goals.
The anniversary of Hamas’s founding is Dec. 14, but the organization moved the celebration forward to honor the first uprising against Israel.
Mr. Meshal, on his first visit to Gaza after 45 years of exile, having fled a West Bank village at 11 with his family during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, was in a joyous but not conciliatory mood. He promised Palestinian unity, but only on the basis of Hamas’s principles, which would mean a subordinate role for Fatah, the main Palestinian faction in the West Bank. He called the United Nations General Assembly’s vote granting Palestinians enhanced status as a nonmember observer state — engineered by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank — “a small step but a good one.”
He insisted that Hamas had won a great military victory by achieving a cease-fire with Israel last month after eight days of rocket launchings and airstrikes, and said it could form the basis, with the General Assembly vote, of a new Palestine Liberation Organization that would contain all Palestinian factions. An inclusive Palestinian Authority and a P.L.O. based on Hamas principles, however, would almost surely find itself shunned by Israel and much of the world. It would also be a humiliating defeat for Mr. Abbas, who supports a two-state solution and has negotiated with Israel.
The P.L.O., run by Mr. Abbas of Fatah, is the sole legal representative of the Palestinian people and does not now include Hamas.
The celebration took place under cloudy skies, with periods of rain. But few of the supporters, many waving green Hamas flags, left the crowded square.
Mr. Meshal and Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, emerged together from a giant replica of a Hamas rocket called the M-75, which is supposed to be able to travel about 45 miles from Gaza City, putting it close to Tel Aviv. Many experts have said they think the M-75 is a repainted Iranian Fajr rocket, but the one on display bore the words “Made in Gaza,” in English. The crowd cheered and a band played a song praising Hamas leaders for being fearless in the face of death.
The stage featured the rocket, a banner showing the walls of Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock, and large photographs of Mr. Meshal and of Ahmed al-Jabari, Hamas’s military commander who was killed by an Israeli strike on the first day of November’s fighting.
While nearly everyone in the crowd carried Hamas flags, Mr. Haniya and Mr. Meshal brandished large red, white, green and black Palestinian flags from the stage, pressing the day’s theme of reconciliation and Hamas’s claim to leadership of the larger Palestinian movement, encouraged by the latest fighting and by the victory in Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian branch.
“We are imposing a new reality on the Israeli occupation,” said Salah Bardawil, a Hamas spokesman. “All the factions are here, and the Hamas flags embrace the Palestinian flags and the Fatah flags. We need to extend the Arab revolution to all Palestine from the sea to the river, and every refugee returns to his home.”
But Hamas is also anxious, some members say, about the current challenges to President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, who ran as the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate. To ride the wave of a Muslim Brotherhood ascendancy is fine, they say, unless it fails.
Those who came said they were thrilled to be here, proud of Hamas and its claims of victory over Israel in November. The conflict ended without an Israeli ground invasion and in a cease-fire brokered by Egypt, leaving Hamas with the sense that it had stood up to Israel despite the deaths here and the loss of many of its largest rockets.
The rally was also an entertainment for those with young children, providing a sense of excitement in what can be a difficult life here.
Many expressed the hope that Hamas and Fatah could finally reconcile in the interests of a Palestinian nation. Some Fatah representatives were invited to the rally, but few yellow Fatah flags, let alone Palestine flags, were seen in the waves of Hamas green. But Fatah flags were often attached to poles also bearing Hamas and Palestine flags.
People recalled that at an earlier rally here marking the cease-fire, a senior Fatah leader, Nabil Shaath, praised “the resistance” for its victory over “the enemy” and added, “The war has turned Hamas into a legitimate partner for Fatah.”
Abu Muhammed, 43, said he thought that the day showed Hamas’s new sense of self-confidence and demonstrated that “the mood is going toward reconciliation.” Nearly everyone in Gaza wants the two factions to reconcile, he said. The split “only favors Israel,” he said.
Mr. Meshal is thought to be more favorable to reconciliation with Fatah than is Mr. Haniya. But Mr. Haniya also basked in Mr. Meshal’s presence.
A man named Wissam, who refused to give his surname, said Hamas was trying to show its dominance, but for him, “It’s one day for one movement in Gaza, but there are other movements.” Every faction, he said, “wants to show that they are the biggest and most important in the field.”
After pushing Fatah out of Gaza in 2007, Hamas banned Fatah anniversary celebrations.
Wissam wanted all the factions to celebrate together on one day, he said. When reminded that there was already a Palestinian national day, he shrugged and said, “That day is considered to be Fatah’s.”
Fares Akram contributed reporting.
December 8, 2012
Rumblings for Change in Sudan’s Governing Party
By ISMA’IL KUSHKUSH
KHARTOUM, Sudan — When the Sudanese government announced late last month that it had disrupted a “plot of sabotage” and had arrested 13 people, including senior members of the armed forces and the security services, it shed light on what was already an open secret: the growing discontent within its ranks.
Since South Sudan seceded last year, Sudan has faced a seemingly never-ending series of problems: a struggling economy and a 50 percent drop in the value of the Sudanese pound, dangerously unsettled issues with South Sudan, conflicts within its borders, concerns over the health of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, and a bombing of a military factory that many believe was carried out by Israeli fighters.
The grumbling voices are many. But in addition to the expected challenges from marginalized groups and longstanding enemies of the government, there has been loud criticism from younger members of the Sudanese Islamic Movement, an organization that represents the Islamist core of the governing National Congress Party.
When the Islamic movement held its much-anticipated convention in mid-November, with thousands of attendees jamming the Chinese-built Friendship Hall here, reformers were eager to push their agenda of fighting corruption and expanding dialogue with the opposition. But when the movement elected a conservative, conciliatory figure as a new leader, frustration soared among the camp supporting change.
“We want total reform of the country!” said Mouiz Abdalla, 29, a lawyer who once belonged to a volunteer corps of college students who fought for Sudan in its civil war.
With other problems to juggle, a challenge from within its own base is not what the Sudanese government needs. Mr. Abdalla, like other mujahedeen, once fought for a revolutionary Islamist Sudan, at a time when the civil war in the south was rendered a jihad, Osama bin Laden was a guest resident and support for groups like Hamas was fervent.
His thin body may not give the impression that he was a fighter, but his hawkish eyes and determined voice beg to differ. Mr. Abdalla said he was critical of “widespread corruption, incompetence, the concentration of power in the hands of a few and the rise in tribalism” in the government.
He and other disheartened mujahedeen met last year to follow up on one another, check on the families of fallen soldiers and reminisce. Reminiscence, however, turned into a desire to put things straight. Out of those meetings came an informal group whose members remain connected mostly by Facebook. They chose a name, Al Sa’ihun, or the wanderers, from a special operations unit active in the civil war, Mr. Abdalla said.
The group began to gain momentum with the former mujahedeen, holding meetings in houses, on soccer fields and under bridges. They took their concerns to Sudan’s top leadership late last year through a memorandum, “The Memorandum of One Thousand,” a call for reform signed by members of the group.
“It was initially received well, but then was sidelined through continuous postponement,” Mr. Abdalla said.
One of the memorandum’s architects was Abdel-Ghani Idris, 36, a journalist and the author of a book, banned in Sudan, with a telling title, “Islamists: The Crisis of Vision and Leadership.”
The book, which explores Sudan’s political history since the Islamist takeover in 1989 and calls for democracy, “is an attempt to raise a loud voice for political reform,” he said. “We want to help rebuild the national platform, not just for Islamists, but all political forces, to save what is left of Sudan.”
Abdelwahab El-Affendi, a political scientist at the University of Westminster in London, said he believed that young Sudanese “have been influenced by the general atmosphere of the Arab Spring, and were also dismayed at the high level of corruption and incompetence” in the government.
The Sudanese opposition said it welcomed the move by the young Islamists but remained skeptical.
“It is a positive phenomenon,” said Faruq Abu Issa, 75, a spokesman for the opposition National Consensus Forces, “but they should not simply patch the regime.”
Abdel-Rahim Ali, 67, a senior member of the Sudanese Islamic Movement and the governing party, acknowledged the frustration of some of the movement’s young members.
“Yes, you can feel it,” he said. “Some in the middle ranks of the movement feel it’s time for the top leaders to be changed.”
Mr. Abdalla, however, emphasized that it was not about positions in the party.
“Some of us were offered better party positions and refused,” he said. “Others lost their good jobs because of calling for reform.”
The “plot of sabotage” that the government said it had foiled was followed by the arrests of a former head of intelligence, Salah Gosh, and, more surprisingly, of Brig. Gen. Muhammad Ibrahim, who is revered as a war hero among many of the mujahedeen.
In an interview with Reuters last week, Al-Haj Adam Youssef, Sudan’s second vice president, said that the plot was in fact a coup attempt, and that those arrested would receive a fair trial.
“They had prepared their weapons but not shouldered them yet,” Mr. Youssef said.
But Mr. Idris, the journalist, doubted the government’s claims about the plot.
“The official agencies, unfortunately, have deliberately lied to create an atmosphere of abhorrence and reluctance among citizens,” he said. “It is no secret that these brothers used to offer constant and continuous advice to the people in power.”
He warned that “a disastrous formula” now existed in Sudan, saying: “The political climate is congested, there are choking economic conditions, conflicts on the country’s peripheries and rumblings in the ruling party’s ranks. This is a dangerous situation.”
But will the leaders in Khartoum respond to the calls for reform by members of their own political base?
Dr. Affendi is not optimistic.
“I think it is as usual,” he said. “Such regimes will not realize the need to change until it is too late.”
09 December 2012 - 12H51
Ghana's Mahama holds slim lead in presidential poll
AFP - Ghana President John Dramani Mahama held a slight edge over his main rival as vote counting wrapped up Sunday after high-stakes presidential polls in the emerging west African country, local media said.
At stake was the top job in a nation with a booming economy fuelled by a new and expanding oil industry. Ghana is also seeking to further burnish its credentials as a stable democracy in turbulent West Africa.
Privately owned Joy News television, based on provisional results from 267 of 275 districts, said Mahama had 50.60 percent and main rival Nana Akufo-Addo 47.82 percent.
The station added that "Mahama is the likely president-elect of Ghana" but the electoral commission had not made any declaration.
It based its finding on trends of already tallied votes in addition to an analysis of outstanding districts, it said. It also reported that turnout was at 81 percent.
Mahama, only in power since the death of his predecessor in July, told journalists Sunday his team had "a fair idea" of the results based on its own tallies, but would wait for the electoral commission to make an announcement.
"We all will await peacefully the (commission's) verdict and we will abide by whatever verdict the electoral commission gives," he said during a courtesy visit by Nigerian ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, the head of a regional observer team.
Akufo-Addo had not spoken publicly, but the general secretary of his NPP party claimed late Saturday he was headed for victory. A party spokesman offered a slightly different prediction on Sunday, adding he did not accept Joy's tally.
"It is looking like a run-off," Perry Okudzeto, deputy director of communications for the party, told AFP. "What is happening is that media are putting out figures which suggest that one side is headed for a win."
There were a total of eight presidential candidates. A run-off vote will be held on December 28 if no candidate receives more than 50 percent.
Mahama, 54, of the National Democratic Congress, who took over after John Atta Mills died earlier this year. The writer and Afrobeat music fan from the country's north is seen as a fresh face in Ghanaian politics.
The 68-year-old Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party, a UK-trained human rights lawyer and son of a former president, lost by less than one percentage point in 2008.
He is well-known to Ghanaian voters and has gained fame for his battles against past dictatorships, including political organising and fighting human rights cases in court.
Some analysts say the parties do not have major ideological differences, but the ruling NDC is seen as slightly centre-left while the NPP is viewed as more free market-oriented.
Ghana's presidential and parliamentary polls were held on Friday, but polling stations in some areas re-opened on Saturday after problems with a new biometric system and late delivery of materials led to delays.
Elections since the return to civilian rule in 1992 have seen both parties voted out of office, establishing Ghana's democratic credentials in a region that has seen its share of rigged polls and coups.
Ghana is also a top exporter of cocoa and gold, with economic growth of 14 percent in 2011. Eight percent growth is expected for 2012 and 2013.
How to spend Ghana's newfound oil money has been a key issue. Mahama has advocated a large investment in infrastructure, while Akufo-Addo has promoted his signature policy of free secondary education.
Observers from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a 15-nation regional body, said Saturday that "in the main, the electoral process was peaceful and transparent."
On the first day of the election on Friday, voting went smoothly in many areas, but a new biometric system requiring electronic fingerprints broke down in certain districts, resulting in long lines and frustration.
Materials arriving late also caused some polling stations to open far behind schedule.
In areas affected by the two issues, election officials ordered polling stations to extend voting into a second day in the country of some 24 million people.
Saturday was largely calm, but in the afternoon authorities fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of more than 100 people who burnt rubbish in the streets of a neighbourhood in the capital Accra.
The protesters were angry over rumours of vote-rigging. No evidence of rigging has emerged.
Ghana has had five elections since military rule ended in 1992, but the stakes are seen as higher this time, as commercial oil production that began in 2010 is set to expand.
December 8, 2012
A Fringe Politician Moves to Japan’s National Stage
By MARTIN FACKLER
TOKYO — Shintaro Ishihara has been a rare, flamboyant presence in Japan’s otherwise drab political world for four decades. A novelist turned right-wing firebrand, he has long held celebrity status on the political margins, where he was known for dramatic flourish. He once signed a pact in blood to oppose diplomatic ties with China because of its communist government, and he published a book at the height of Japan’s economic power that lectured his countrymen on the need to end what he considered its postwar servility to the United States.
Now, at 80, Mr. Ishihara is leading a newly formed populist party and has emerged as a contender for prime minister, vowing to turn Japan into a more independent, possibly nuclear-armed nation. While political analysts deem him a long shot, they say the fact that he has gotten this far after decades of pushing what was seen as a fringe agenda is a worrying sign of how desperate this nation is for strong leadership after years of cascading troubles.
With his promises to restore Japan’s battered national pride, Mr. Ishihara has staked out an even more stridently nationalistic position than the current front-runner, Shinzo Abe, the leader of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, who has called for revising Japan’s pacifist constitution. Analysts worry that if Mr. Ishihara succeeds in his bid to become prime minister, he could weaken relations with the United States, yank Japan to the right and damage ties with China, which is already angered by his almost single-handedly rekindling a territorial dispute over an island chain.
But even if in the likely event that Mr. Ishihara loses, they say, his campaign could still have a lasting effect, bringing patriotic populism into the political mainstream of a nation that has shunned such open jingoism since its devastating defeat in World War II.
“This election will be a test of whether Japan is really losing its dovishness,” said Takeshi Sasaki, a politics professor at Gakushuin University in Tokyo. “There is so much irritation at how everything seems to be going wrong, and Japan is losing its pride. Politicians on the right like Ishihara and Abe are trying to fan these flames.”
The rise of the two hard-liners has already contributed to hand-wringing among liberals who are anxious that the foreboding sense that Japan is fast becoming an international has-been has left the Japanese vulnerable to long-suppressed nationalism. Even those who call those fears overblown acknowledge that anti-China feelings, which could be easily exploited, are rising as that country eclipses Japan, builds a formidable military and makes its territorial ambitions clear.
From Mr. Ishihara’s vantage point, those geopolitical realities make now the perfect time for Japan to put him in charge.
“Here I am, the old man who has run amok!” he bellowed to a wave of applause at a recent campaign appearance in front of Shinjuku train station in Tokyo. “I am 80 years old, and I am standing here because I want to break through the indecisive and barren politics that is stifling Japan!”
A tall, bespectacled figure, Mr. Ishihara spent most of his short speech emphasizing what has become the central campaign message of his Japan Restoration Party: offering forceful leadership to end Japan’s long political drift by breaking the grip of bureaucrats and vested interests.
Much of the party’s message, however, has become vintage Ishihara. He goes further than Mr. Abe, calling for an outright scrapping of Japan’s antiwar constitution, written by its postwar American occupiers. He still speaks about ending what he sees as political and cultural subservience to the United States and pledges to resist Chinese territorial appetites, promising to build permanent structures on the disputed islands in a move likely to further antagonize China.
“I cannot allow myself to die until my Japan, which has been made a fool of by China, and seduced as a mistress by the United States, is able to stand up again as a stronger, more beautiful nation,” Mr. Ishihara said last month to reporters, explaining why he resigned after 13 years as Tokyo’s governor to return to national politics. He did so after being asked to lead the fledgling Restoration Party’s slate in this month’s parliamentary election by its founder, the popular mayor of Osaka who did not yet want to run for national office.
So far, polls show that Mr. Ishihara has only limited appeal. His party’s approval ratings are in the low teens, about the same as the unpopular incumbent Democratic Party, but below Mr. Abe’s Liberal Democrats, who poll only slightly better, at around 20 percent. Polls also show that more than half of voters disapprove of Mr. Ishihara and of scrapping the antiwar clause of Japan’s constitution.
Still, there is a slight chance the Liberal Democrats will not garner enough support to win a majority in the lower house. If that happens, Mr. Ishihara stands a chance of becoming a kingmaker who can name his price for joining a coalition government: the prime ministership.
Mr. Ishihara seems to be betting that his undeniable star power will give him an edge in an election crowded by unknown new parties and established parties that many people view as too indecisive or inept to move Japan past its financial paralysis.
Part of that celebrity was inherited from his younger brother, Yujiro, a movie star whose bad-boy persona won him comparisons to James Dean until he died in 1987. The elder Mr. Ishihara also developed his own name recognition, first as an author and screenwriter (for some of his brother’s movies) and later as a lawmaker. His fame gave him a special status in Japanese politics as a radical who was tolerated by the mainstream, though not taken seriously — until now.
As governor of Tokyo since 1999, he proved popular by projecting an image of a decisive, hands-on leader, making the point by wearing the gray jumpsuit of a city employee to the office. Although vested interests often get their way in Japan, he brushed aside objections by businesses to make Tokyo one of the first places in the world to adopt a cap-and-trade system for limiting diesel truck emissions.
But he also offended non-Japanese residents by blaming violent crime on foreigners, adding to fears that his nationalism is grounded in the same type of xenophobia that some suspect underlies his continual references to China by the name that imperial Japan used during its brutal occupation of that country in the 1930s.
And while Mr. Ishihara’s message seems to appeal to male voters anxious about their country’s future and angry over China’s claims to the disputed islands, he can also seem out of touch. Last year, he was forced to issue a rare public apology after calling the deadly tsunami in northeast Japan “punishment from heaven” for what he perceived as Japan’s moral decline.
Reservations about Mr. Ishihara’s strong views were shared even by some who attended his recent Tokyo rally and were considering supporting him.
“Ishihara is running as fast he can to the right,” said Jiro Ogata, a 22-year-old university student, “but I don’t think the country is going to follow him.”
During the current campaign, Mr. Ishihara has appeared to temper some of his past stands, notably on his country’s relationship with the United States. He has not repeated his calls to close American bases in Japan, and has said that he would maintain Japan’s security alliance. But he can still appear resentful of a country he feels has belittled his own nation and himself. In one of his dozens of books, he recounted how some American soldiers who occupied Japan after its wartime defeat hit him in the face with an ice cream stick when he refused to step out of their way.
He was a junior high school student at the time, but politicians who know him say the years since have not diminished his sense that Japan needs to reclaim its honor.
“Ishihara sees this as his last chance to win a place in the history books,” said Masakuni Murakami, a former Liberal Democratic Party heavyweight who has known Mr. Ishihara for more than three decades. “He wants to go down as the man who gave Japan its pride and self-confidence back.”
December 8, 2012
Italy’s Prime Minister to Quit After Losing Party Support
By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
ROME — Prime Minister Mario Monti said he intended to resign after losing the backing of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s party, according to a statement issued late Saturday by the president’s office.
Mr. Monti said that he would first try to muster the votes needed to pass a budget for 2013 but that the withdrawal of support last week by Mr. Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party represented a “categorical motion of no confidence in the government,” according to the statement.
Only hours earlier, Mr. Berlusconi said that he was ready to run for office again, promising to bring the change Italy needed.
During a two-hour meeting on Saturday evening, Mr. Monti told President Giorgio Napolitano that he would make an effort in Parliament to pass the budget and a financial stability law to try to defer “the consequences of a government crisis” before handing in his “irrevocable resignation,” the statement said.
A year ago, Mr. Monti was asked to form a government after the resignation of Mr. Berlusconi, who left office amid personal and political turmoil. With Italy on the brink of financial dissolution, Mr. Monti’s government of technocrats proposed a series of structural changes to put the country on a more fiscally responsible path.
Though some measures have fallen short of that aim, and have largely failed to stimulate economic growth, Mr. Monti has been widely credited with bolstering Italy’s standing with global financial markets.
As the European Union pressed Italy to enact changes to lower its public debt and streamline its pension system and costly labor market, Mr. Monti counted on multiparty support for his policies. Last week, however, Mr. Berlusconi’s party distanced itself from the government’s economic policies.
Mr. Berlusconi, 76, who dominated Italian politics for nearly two decades, said that his party had been unable to find a credible successor, and so the task of commanding the party had once again fallen to him.
“To win you need an acknowledged leader,” he told reporters outside the training facilities of his soccer team, A. C. Milan. “It’s not as though we didn’t look for this leader, we did, and how, but there isn’t one, and so ...” he said, his voice trailing off before he laughed.
Though he is unlikely to win an election, Mr. Berlusconi could still get enough votes to hold some sway in Parliament. He said Saturday that the country was worse off today than when he left office.
Italian newspapers on Saturday hypothesized that elections would be held in March.
Italy’s Berlusconi announces fresh run for PM
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, December 8, 2012 10:38 EST
Silvio Berlusconi on Saturday ended weeks of speculation by announcing he would run again for the job of prime minister, which he was forced out of last year.
“I am running to win,” the leader of the right-wing populist People of Freedom (PDL) party told journalists in Milanello, near the northern city of Milan.
“When I did sport, when I worked and studied, I never entered into a competition to be well-placed but always to win,” he said.
“I hope to be in a position to be able to explain to Italians that there is a need for a force that enjoys a majority to change the rules of the constitution,” he added.
He had called a meeting of the PDL for Sunday and had opened talks with his former coalition allies the Northern League to try to agree on a joint campaign, he said.
A general election is expected to be held in March or April of next year but the precise date has not been set, nor is there any agreement on a reform of an election law widely seen as unsatisfactory.
Berlusconi’s announcement confirmed comments by leading members of his party over the past few days and strong hints that he had himself made.
In October, he had said that he would not run again for the premiership. On Wednesday evening however, the 76-year-old media tycoon said he had been assailed by requests to return to the field as soon as possible.”
This will be his sixth bid to become prime minister, a post he has already held three times over a political career spanning two decades.
A parliamentary revolt forced him from office in November last year as he was fighting a series of scandals that had damaged his reputation and, said critics, the country’s standing. The financial markets had reacted so badly that Italy was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.
Mario Monti took over as prime minister at the head of an unelected government of technocrats. He set about introducing a policy of tax rises and austerity measures to get the economy under control.