Slovinia: The Government is clinically dead
Desus required to resign Janša, otherwise they withdrew from the coalition. SLS also required to take, but they have been waiting for.
Zoran cake, Mario BELOVIČ, domestic policy
Mon, 14.01.2013, 22:35
15 January 2013
Three coalition parties have backed a call issued by Parliamentary President Gregor Virant and his Civic List party for the resignation of Prime Minister Janez Janša, who has been accused of corruption. DeSUS, the Slovenian People’s Party and New Slovenia have made Janša’s withdrawal a condition for their continued support for the country’s ruling centre-right coalition. Early general elections this spring are increasingly viewed as the only way to resolve the country’s social and political crisis.
Ljubljana - Prime Minister Janez Janša yesterday did not get the answer, or part of the coalition partners in the government. Instead, after Saturday's ultimatum Civil List (DL) has now received a request from Desus to the findings of CSF immediately resign.
On Saturday the world are now on the DL Janša requirement discussed in the remaining three coalition partners: Desusu, SLS and SNS. Desus after discussion in the Executive Board decided to join the DL requirements. So now both require the resignation of Prime Minister for reports burdensome anti-corruption commission.
"We demand the resignation of Prime Minister. If this is not done, the client Desus no longer take part in the coalition, "said the customer Karl Erjavec. Due to significant dissatisfaction of people would be best for tender early parliamentary elections, which in his opinion may be as early as May. Erjavec attaches little opportunity for the composition of other coalitions, but if you already emerged a proposal for a new trustee, would it change your mind. Desus PM with no set deadline for a decision on the resignation as DL on Saturday, but they seem to party a ten-day period for withdrawal reasonable enough.
Slightly more reserved were in ORD. "From Janša SDS and demand that as soon as possible to propose a new trustee," he told the meeting of the Executive of the President Radovan Crane. SLS will be the government insisted to the February session of the National Assembly, which has to adopt labor market reform. If after this Janša will not be withdrawn, the SLS left coalition. In the meantime, the customer is more inclined to seek technical Seller. Do not fear, neither of early elections, which would, in their opinion "in this situation, even the most fair to the people." In the world of NSi are convinced that Slovenia is best that the current coalition government to continue its work and to carry out and give effect to the reforms. But as the President said Lyudmila customers Novak, the decision on whether or not to resign, leave Prime Minister Janez Janša.
SDS is a party to all that stop by just to tvitom, suggesting that the SDS deputies over the Desusu, DL, SLS and SLS together. "Still can go to anyone Jankovic and Luksic, we can not wait a dream team."
Prime Minister Janša, met yesterday with some ministers, the public, contrary to expectations, did not explain anything. Last Thursday was the announcement that a final decision will be announced on Monday, and that if you do not get answers, stopped all international activities and began to prepare for elections. Today the Prime Minister on the official visit to Azerbaijan. Karl Erjavec is to that remark that message of withdrawal may also be sent from there.
So what can we expect? Minister Janez Sustersic is the metaphor said that the government "lunch cook until the divorce." Andrej Vizjak denied the possibility that he or anyone else in SDS and replace Janša announced the imminent fall of the government.
January 14, 2013
Myanmar’s Fight With Armed Rebels Edges Toward China
By THOMAS FULLER
BANGKOK — Fighting in Myanmar between an armed ethnic rebel group and the country’s military threatened to spill into Chinese territory on Monday, the insurgents said, with reports that shelling had killed three people in the border town of Laiza.
Myanmar’s military in recent weeks has been pushing toward Laiza, the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army, a rebel group seeking a degree of autonomy from the central government.
Awng Jet, an officer with the Kachin Independence Army, said by telephone the shelling happened early Monday and killed three civilians, including a Christian missionary and a student. Other rebel sources circulated pictures of three bloodied bodies.
Ye Htut, a deputy information minister for the government, expressed skepticism about the attack on his Facebook page and said it needed to be “confirmed independently.”
Fighting between the Kachin rebels and government troops has sharply escalated since Myanmar recently admitted using aircraft to fight the rebels. Government troops have appeared to take at least one hilltop position previously held by the rebels, putting them one step closer to Laiza, which appeared to be the goal of their intensified campaign.
The breakdown of a longstanding cease-fire between the rebels and the military has been a major setback for the government of President Thein Sein, who is trying to guide Myanmar toward democracy after decades of military rule. The cease-fire, which had lasted 17 years, collapsed in June 2011, three months after Mr. Thein Sein came to power.
The army’s decision to pursue the Kachin rebels is risky in part because of the fighting’s proximity to China, which is acutely sensitive to any border problems. The decision also contradicts repeated statements by Mr. Thein Sein that the government is seeking peace with the rebels, as it has with other ethnic groups.
China sent an unspecified number of troops to the border last week to survey what the Chinese state news media called an “unstable area.” A photographer in the area on Monday said that about 200 members of the Chinese security forces had arrived at the border.
The fighting is taking place in the low-lying, jungle-clad mountains, the ancestral homeland of the Kachin and a terrain that they navigate comfortably. Myanmar’s army, although it fought battles in that part of the country in the decades after independence, does not know the area as well. Some analysts believe this is why the military has resorted to using aircraft. A helicopter used in the campaign crashed on Friday, killing the two pilots and an officer onboard. Kachin rebels said they had shot down the helicopter, but the government blamed engine failure.
The Chinese military and officials in Yunnan, the southern Chinese province that borders Myanmar, have been closely observing the deteriorating situation along the border, according to the Chinese state news media.
Global Times, a state-run newspaper, reported on Friday that Shang Haifeng, the deputy Communist Party chief of Nabang, a township by the border, said the Yunnan military command had established an office in Nabang.
Changjiang Daily, a newspaper in the Chinese city of Wuhan, reported on Friday that the conflict was intensifying and that projectiles had exploded on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons in Nabang, which sits across from Laiza. The report said that Chinese civilians had been evacuated to a nearby location.
China’s handling of the situation is made more complex because ethnic Kachin live on both sides of the border. In recent days, thousands of Kachin (who are called Jingpo in Mandarin) living in Nabang gathered at a border checkpoint to protest the attacks by Myanmar’s army, said Ryan Roco, a photographer who was working in the Laiza area. About 2,000 Kachin also gathered on the Myanmar side of the border to show solidarity with the Chinese protesters, he said.
Mr. Roco said Monday in an e-mail that about 200 Chinese security personnel had arrived at the border between Laiza and Nabang.
Reports from Kachin areas suggest that the fighting is hardening the attitudes of Kachin civilians against the central government, which is overwhelmingly made up of the majority ethnic Burmese. The anger and hatred expressed by many Kachin is deflating hopes for a reconciliation.
Moon Nay Li, a coordinator of the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand, an advocacy group, said she sensed “much less trust toward the government” since the army began pursuing the Kachin rebels. “How can we believe in the peace process and democracy in Burma?” she said.
The Kachin are also directing their anger toward Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the former dissident who is now the opposition leader in Parliament.
Ms. Moon Nay Li was among the signers of an open letter sent last year by 23 Kachin expatriate organizations to Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who is ethnically Burmese and who has said little about the conflict.
In a follow-up to the letter sent last week, the Kachin groups lamented the “confusion and distrust that is being created by your failure to comment in depth on these matters.”
Edward Wong contributed reporting from Beijing, and Wai Moe from Yangon, Myanmar.
Hamid Karzai: Afghans will decide on scale of US post-2014 presence
President holds out prospect small force could stay on, and urges Washington to keep up current spending levels
Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul
guardian.co.uk, Monday 14 January 2013 17.38 GMT
The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has asked Washington to give his country drones and universities to replace the soldiers it has stationed there now, and said he will let the Afghan people decide whether a small contingent of US troops could stay on after most leave in 2014.
Karzai seemed upbeat and relaxed on his return from a trip to Washington to meet Barack Obama, smiling, laughing, and even describing the pleasant sound of a flag fluttering on his official car in a news conference broadcast live on national TV.
The Afghan leader has been as vocal in demanding continued US spending in his impoverished country as he has been with concerns about the presence of US troops on the ground. But he apparently returned pleased with agreements over long-term supplies and funding, and with hints of a speeded-up withdrawal of US forces.
He said: "We shouldn't think that when foreigners leave our country that we are not capable of protecting it ... We don't want the US soldiers present in Afghanistan but we want their economic support."
Afghanistan will need help with soldiers' salaries and military hardware for many years to come, if its army is to have any hope of holding off the Taliban. Karzai said he was confident Washington would share even advanced technology with his country.
"We asked them to give us drones, and they agreed and promised them to us," he said, detailing the outcome of the trip and adding that he wanted more foreign cash for education as well. "We asked the Americans to make universities in eight zones."
He dismissed fears that violence would spread as foreign troops headed home, leaving behind Afghan forces heavily dependent on recent recruits and short on key capacities ranging from air power and heavy artillery to intelligence gathering and bomb disposal.
"When foreigners leave, Afghanistan will never become unsafe; it will become safer," he said, underlining his oft-repeated view that Nato forces on the ground are a lightning rod for violence.
Karzai had gone to meet Obama with a long list of demands and an aggressive delegation; his chief of staff told the Washington Post just before the trip: "The world needs us more than we need them."
After hours of negotiations, the two presidents came close to sealing a deal that would keep a small US force in the country to train Afghan soldiers and pursue al-Qaida and similar groups after the pullout of Nato combat troops at the end of 2014.
Karzai said he would call a traditional loya jirga gathering of influential Afghans from around the country to decide whether US forces could be granted immunity from prosecution in the country, which is a red line for Washington. Iraq's refusal to agree to this term precipitated the US military departure from the country in 2011, and without it no US soldiers will stay in Afghanistan.
"The Afghan government cannot make that decision. It is the decision of the people of Afghanistan," Karzai said. "So a loya jirga of the people of Afghanistan should decide."
The US embassy did not respond to a request for comment on his remarks.
January 14, 2013
In First Day of New Rules, Cubans Make Travel Plans
By VICTORIA BURNETT
HAVANA — Cubans flocked to immigration offices and travel agencies on Monday, eager to take advantage of a lifting of government travel restrictions that have been in place since Fidel Castro was a dark-bearded firebrand in his 30s.
The new rules reduce the expensive bureaucratic hurdles long faced by Cubans wishing to go overseas, many of whom know loved ones who lost everything when they emigrated or who left the island in the dead of night on rafts and powerboats.
As of Monday, most Cubans can head for the airport with only a passport, a plane ticket and a visa, if required, from the country they intend to visit.
“We have lived for decades in captivity,” said Marta Rodríguez, 65, a retired office manager who was waiting to pick up a tourist visa from the United States Interests Section in Havana. “It’s a positive move — one they should have taken 50 years ago.”
The change is not expected to prompt a major exodus, because most countries use entrance visas to control the number of visiting Cubans, and international travel remains way beyond the means of most islanders, who earn state salaries of about $20 per month. There are, of course, Cubans who want to travel from the island and return.
The government says it will continue to limit travel for tens of thousands of Cubans who work in strategic sectors, like military personnel and scientific workers, as well as those they deem a threat to national security.
How tightly, and for how long, the government will continue to control those sectors’ movements will become apparent only over time, Cubans and outside analysts said. In a development that could signal new government flexibility, Yoani Sánchez, a prominent blogger and activist who says she has been denied an exit visa by the Cuban government at least 19 times in the past, said on Monday that she was one of the first in line at the immigration office and submitted paperwork for a new passport without any problems.
Arturo López-Levy, a Cuban-born academic who left the island 10 years ago and lectures at the University of Denver, said the migration reform was not simply a maneuver to defuse political pressure but a structural shift in the relationship between the island and the diaspora — a community that the government once rejected as traitorous “worms.”
“This is a real change in the way in which the government perceives the relationship between the Cuban population and the outside world,” he said.
At immigration offices, Cubans scrutinized posters clarifying the new rules, stood in line to get new passports and pressed around immigration officials in spearmint-color uniforms seeking details of what paperwork was now required.
More police officers were on hand than usual outside immigration offices and near consular offices, particularly the small park near the United States Interests Section — known locally as “the place between life and death” — where Cubans wait each day for appointments with American consular officers.
The Obama administration was watching the developments with interest. “We will see if this is implemented in a very open way and if it means that all Cubans can travel,” said Roberta S. Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, according to The Associated Press.
Despite multiple reports in recent weeks by official Cuban news media, many Cubans seemed unclear about how the new law would work: whether it applied to them, whether they needed a new passport or a special stamp (they do not), how it would work for minors.
Under the old system, most Cubans who applied for an exit permit to travel received it — if they could provide the authorities with an invitation letter from someone in the country they intended to visit — all at a cost of nearly $400.
Caridad Reyes Risse, 69, a retiree who was in line at a downtown travel agency to buy a ticket to visit her daughter in the United States, said she had waited until Monday to avoid that $400 expense.
“The question now is, ‘Will I get a ticket?’ ” she said, gesturing to the gaggles of Cubans that spilled out of the tiny agency.
Ramona María Moreno, 61, a restaurant worker, said that even though most Cubans who sought permission in the past received it, the change had psychological importance.
“It’s the idea you can go,” said Ms. Moreno, who was at an immigration office looking for a list of countries that admit Cubans without a visa. “It’s a freedom that we have never had.”
She acknowledged there were still barriers to travel. “I have no money,” she said with a chuckle.
The news last week that the government would allow members of its jealously guarded medical corps to travel has prompted excitement among doctors who for decades have had to go through a lengthy process to get permission, if they got it at all.
“Everyone is waiting to see what happens,” said Niurka, 45, a doctor who would like to join her family in Miami. Requesting that her last name not be published to avoid riling the authorities, she said she did not believe the tight restrictions on medical professionals would be lifted overnight.
“Still, it gives me hope,” she said.
However the government chose to carry out the new regulations, they signified a new era in Cuba’s relationship with its diaspora and the wider world, said Ms. Rodríguez, the retiree.
“They have realized the island needs to open up to the world,” she said “They can’t go back on this now.”
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
January 15, 2013, 5:22 am
In Delhi, Women Marry Up and Men are Left Behind
By ANJANI TRIVEDI
There's an unexpected problem in Delhi's high-end marriage market, according to Gopal Suri, who has been a marriage broker for two decades.
There are too few "quality" men, he said in a recent interview, as a growing pool of young women with unprecedented levels of education are seeking and making matches with educated men from higher socioeconomic groups.
The repercussions from India's skewed sex ratios are being felt at all economic levels, including Delhi's wealthiest families. For every 1,000 men in urban India, there are only 926 women, according to India's census. In Delhi's urban area, that figure for women drops even lower, to 867. Poor migrant laborers, who travel to the city for work, account for some of the gender disparity, but there is still a large pool of single middle-class men in Delhi.
The well-educated women's upward mobility has a cascading effect, he said. The less-educated men from wealthy, but not incredibly rich, families get left behind. (Mr. Suri's business in south Delhi, A to Z Matchmaking, caters to households with an annual income of 5 million rupees ($90,000) to more than 50 million rupees ($900,000).
There are plenty of young men in Delhi with money, he said, but their education levels fall short compared to other women in their class bracket. Educated women in general can afford to be choosy because they are the minority in the marriage market.
"Literacy-wise, there aren't many boys," said Mr. Suri.
These empowered women are increasingly discerning when it comes to marriage. In this age of tell-all social networks and social media, it's not too difficult to research prospective mates, Mr. Suri said. "Some men are into gay activities, some are into drugs or drink too much," he said. "Then the market finds out and so his reputation goes down. This is the age of Facebook."
For men who are in the lowest tiers of society, "there is frustration," he said, as they have limited prospects for marriage or jobs. "He's not going to get anything or anyone," he said.
The male frustration, as Mr. Suri dubbed it, arises because the men can't accept that women in their socioeconomic class are moving swiftly ahead of them. Sometimes these men lash out, and women bear the brunt of it, Mr. Suri said, alluding to the recent attention to violence against women in India's capital.
These men wind up "on the roads and frustrated, and try to do something, somehow," he said. "When he drinks, it is like icing on the cake."
Mr. Suri brokers about 200 marriages a year. In 2008 and 2009, Mr. Suri said, he saw a huge spike in weddings when young, educated men who had left India for opportunities abroad returned to the motherland, further diminishing the prospects for the men in Delhi.
Demographics aside, the primary factors for determining compatibility in India's marriage market are economics and education, he said.
Other factors do come into play, he said: "Are they cultured? Intellectually compatible? Personally compatible?" But, he said, "ultimately, people pay most attention to finances, in this day and age especially. Money is the floating god."
Still, highly educated women don't necessarily get the perfect mates, Mr. Suri said, and most women have to compromise "on one thing or the other."
"If she does get married, it's usually out of compulsion," he said. "This is why divorce has gone up."
And when women are more educated then their partners, "it just doesn't match," Mr. Suri said. "The boy gets an inferiority complex, and the girl starts thinking, 'Where can I take him?' "
The "marrying up" trend isn't seen among very wealthy women, he said, since the pool of very rich eligible men has shrunk.
"The girls have become 35 or 40 and can't get married," Mr. Suri said. "First they were choosy," he said, and now they are too old.
January 14, 2013
Doctor Returns to Congo and Is Hailed as a Hero
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
BUKAVU, Democratic Republic of Congo — It was as if someone extraordinarily famous had come to town. Thousands of people craned their necks as the motorcade roared by, cellphones out to grab a snap, an air of expectation and excitement eclipsing all the street noise of clanging Coke bottles and beeping motorcycles.
“There he is!” someone yelled. “Le docteur!”
In the back of a white truck — zooming past so fast it spewed clouds of dust — sat a kind-faced man staring out at the crowds: Denis Mukwege, a gynecological surgeon renowned for repairing the insides of thousands of brutally raped women. He returned home triumphantly on Monday after more than two months in exile after nearly being assassinated, possibly for speaking out on behalf of the countless women who have been gang-raped by armed groups that stalk the hills of eastern Congo.
Congo, torn by war for years and traumatized by dictators for decades, is desperate for heroes. So perhaps it is no surprise that Dr. Mukwege carries such an enormous amount of pride — and hope — on his rounded shoulders, which are most often covered by a white lab coat. For around 15 years now, he has kept a major hospital running in one of the most turbulent parts of the country, sometimes performing as many as 10 operations a day, on women who have been raped so viciously that they stumble in with death trudging just a few steps behind.
Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, which provides help to Dr. Mukwege’s Panzi Hospital, said it “stands out as a center of excellence for others to emulate and replicate across his country and beyond.”
For his work, Dr. Mukwege has won many human rights awards and is often mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Peace Prize. The American playwright Eve Ensler, who works closely with Dr. Mukwege, called him a “spiritual force.”
Banners with messages like “We are behind you” flew all across Bukavu on Monday. One man wore a shirt that said, “Welcome our Superman.”
The obvious love and support for Dr. Mukwege among the people here make it all the more difficult to discern who was behind the assassination attempt on a night last October, when four armed men slipped into his house in Bukavu and waylaid him as he drove in. When his trusted guard jumped out to confront the attackers, the gunmen shot him in the head. With bullets flying, Dr. Mukwege, 57, threw himself to the ground, and the attackers fled. Less than a week later, he escaped to Belgium with his wife and two daughters.
The local authorities say they do not know who tried to kill him. But many of his supporters have their suspicions. A month earlier, Dr. Mukwege had delivered a powerful speech at the United Nations in which he denounced mass rape in Congo and railed against his own government — which has a record of silencing critics — for allowing it to occur with impunity, to the point that the United Nations has called Congo “the rape capital of the world.”
He has also criticized Rwanda for fomenting chaos in Congo. Bukavu, though, is relatively safe. A sprawling, disheveled city hunched over Lake Kivu, one of the most beautiful bodies of water in Africa, it has a thin blue haze from thousands of cooking fires. But around the city, in just about every direction, lurk men with guns.
As Dr. Mukwege’s truck pulled into Panzi Hospital on Monday, a crowd of women — many of them rape victims — burst into song. People yelled “Hallelujah!” One delegation of women from an island in Lake Kivu presented Dr. Mukwege with all he needed to survive for a few days — a bucket of charcoal, several cabbages, pineapples, onions and a gigantic pumpkin.
“We don’t need the military or Monusco,” said one woman, referring to the United Nations mission in Congo. “We women will protect you.”
Some people who had stood for hours under the sun were now huddled in the rain, waiting to hear him speak.
Overwhelmed by the outpouring of emotion, Dr. Mukwege mopped his face with his sleeve and stepped to the podium.
“The power of darkness will be defeated,” he called out to wild cheers. But he also asked people to forgive, saying, “We must respond to violence with love.”
The doctor’s friends say United Nations officials and the Congolese authorities have reassured Dr. Mukwege that he is now safe in Bukavu, which is why he returned to continue his work.
The authorities in Bukavu said there is nothing to worry about. “Our methods are invisible, but we will protect him,” said Etienne Babunga, a local security official. “Anyway, who would want to kill him? He’s just a doctor.”
01/14/2013 02:47 PM
Mass Rally in Paris: France Agonizes Over Plan to Allow Gay Marriage
By Stefan Simons in Paris
French President François Hollande wants to legalize gay marriage and adoption. Critics say it will threaten the country's traditions. More than 350,000 turned out to protest against the proposed new law on Sunday. Their main concern is it would cause problems for the children.
Jean-François and Amelie brought their children with them for the day, and could be seen holding up placards next to their baby buggy reading, "Papa and Mama -- nothing is better for a child" and "Children can only be made with a man and a women" as they stood at the foot of the Eiffel Tower.
"We are demanding the withdrawal of the gay marriage law," said the 39-year-old businessman as his wife handed out chocolate bars.
"Gays shouldn't be allowed to adopt children," added Yvonne Raguet, 60, a proud mother, three-time grandmother and practicing Catholic who posed in front of the Paris landmark together with her husband. "It breaks with all traditions."
The couples, both from the Paris area, are among the hundreds of thousands who made their way on Sunday to the "Protest For All," the main demonstration against French President François Hollande's plan to approve full-fledged gay marriage in the country. Today, same-sex couples can have legally registered partnerships, but they are not granted full marriage rights.
The protest attracted Catholic bishops as well as prominent French politicians from both houses of parliament, and tens of thousands of people from all across the country traveled to the capital to attend the rally. They chanted slogans and played music, creating a party-like atmosphere under the gray skies. Because of the expected influx of people, a match planned for Sunday by football club Paris Saint-Germain had to be held two days earlier.
'The Government Can't Ignore Us'
The protest's organizers, a coalition of religious groups, conservative citizen's initiatives and political opposition parties, hoped to exceed the number of participants in the last similar demonstration in November. "Any figure over 300,000 would be a success," said one of the young organizers of the rally. "Then the government can't simply ignore us." Later in the day, Paris police estimated the size of the crowd at 340,000.
One of the main backers of the protests has been Virginie Tellenne, a comedian and born again Catholic. The eloquent blonde protest organizer has in recent weeks gone by the nomme de guerre "Frigide Barjot," a play on Brigitte Bardot that means "Frigid Loony". The comedian, who likes to call herself "Jesus' press officer," is well-known for her 2009 campaign "hands off my pope" defending Pope Benedict XVI, who was under fire at the time after lifting the excommunication of rebel bishop and Holocaust denier Richard Williamson. Tellenne is also fond of describing herself as a "Catholic mouthpiece that isn't being heard."
'We Love All Homosexuals'
Barjot, famous for outrageous lines like, "Balls don't have ovaries," has drawn together more than 30 groups into a common front that includes the "Catholic Family Alliances," the "Collective for Children" and the association "Love and Family." There are even some gay groups on board, including one that calls itself "Even Gayer without Marriage" and "Homovox." Other religious groups have also come on board, including conservative Protestants, Buddhists and the patriotic Muslim group Sons of France. The only group that marched on its own was the arch-conservative Christian group "Civitas," for whom Barjot's message comes across as being too "gay friendly".
Using Facebook and Twitter, the coalition of groups succeeded within four months in establishing a country-wide infrastructure without drawing allegations that it was guilty of anti-gay or lesbian sentiment. "We love all homosexuals," Barjot said at the start of the rally. She added that her "Demo for All" had the sole goal of rejecting a draft law that would "open marriage to persons of the same sex" that is to be debated by the French parliament at the end of January.
The law, which supporters are referring to as "Marriage for All," has long been a sensitive issue for religious groups in the country. It's one that has turned ugly in recent months, too, as the institutions have discussed adjusting marriage to fit a reality in the country that has changed over the years. Touching as it does on beliefs and values, the debate has also descended at times almost to the level of trench warfare in France's newspapers and television talk shows.
The front lines cute right through all societal, political and religious camps -- and the polemics have come from both the left- and right-leaning media. The front page of a recent issue of the French Catholic daily La Croix had the headline, "For the church, the union between a man and a woman is a symbol of the connection to Christ." Meanwhile, the left-leaning newsweekly Le Nouvel Observateur ran the headline splashed its cover this week with "A Manifesto: Yes to Marriage for All." Finally, the conservative Le Figaro described the protest as a "change in consciousness that could change the path of history."
Hollande Follows Up Election Pledge
During his campaign, Hollande said in 2011 that, if elected, he would move to grant the full status of marriage to gay couples, following the example of a dozen other countries. It was intended as an upgrading of the country's 1999 PACs civil union law, which granted a number of rights to registered partnerships -- particularly in regard to housing, taxes and inheritance. The law has proven at least as popular for heterosexual pairs as it has been for same-sex ones.
But "Marriage for All," which public opinion polls show is supported by the majority of French citizens, would elevate the partnerships to the full status of marriage, including the right to adopt children. It is precisely the adoption provision that has attracted such large protests.
Supporters see the legislation as an overdue equal treatment of gays and lesbians and the estimated tens of thousands of children same-sex couples are raising together. Opponents, however, believe it will demean terms like husband and wife or turn father and mother into asexual designations, like "parents". "This project," protest organizers wrote, "wants to eliminate sexual distinction and with it the foundations of human identity."
They claim it represents a threat to families: If two men or two women were to adopt boys and girls, they would be robbing those children of their traditional role models. Critics fear a "deep discrimination and unfairness" for children raised in non-traditional families. In addition, they warn of an end to "natural parenting," which they say could pose a threat to social cohesion. They argue "Marriage for All" could pave the way for gays and lesbians to demand the right to artificial insemination or to seek surrogate mothers to bear their children.
Opposition Sees Chance to Win Points
It is that scenario that upsets those socially conservative French taking to the streets the most. And the opposition quickly sensed the opportunity to promote the rally as a vote against the policies of Hollande's Socialist government. For the conservative UMP, which fought for weeks over a potential successor after former French President Nicolas Sarkozy got voted out of office last spring, it represented a unique opportunity to position itself as the true representative of the middle class and of conservative values.
But the legal reforms also have some supporters within the UMP, including former Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot. And even the right-wing extremist Front National is divided over the issue. Indeed, some within Hollande's own Socialist Party oppose "Marriage for All". Nevertheless, the French president intends to push through the reform, which he has described as a "great societal measure" and has said he will not bow to "resistance from the streets".
So is the failure of the "Demo for All" pre-programmed? Theodora Boone, deputy mayor of the Parisian suburb Levallois 68 doesn't think so. "Hollande can't just ignore the resistance," the centrist politician said. "It's a question of the future of our society. To ignore that would cause him enormous political damage."
Nick Clegg: uncertainty over EU will have chilling effect on jobs
Deputy prime minister says 'arcane debate' over UK membership could go on for years
Patrick Wintour, political editor
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 15 January 2013 09.04 GMT
Nick Clegg has warned his coalition partner that a prolonged period of uncertainty over British membership of the EU will have a chilling effect on jobs and growth, saying that "an arcane debate" about UK's relationship with the EU could go on for years and years.
He also insisted that leaflets produced by the Liberal Democrats offering an in-or-out referendum produced before the election were superseded by his party's manifesto promise to offer a referendum only if there was a transfer of power to Brussels.
The deputy prime minister said the Lib Dems and the Conservatives had been the parties that had put that commitment into law.
Referring to David Cameron's strategy for renegotiating Britain's relationship with the EU, he said: "I do not agree with the premise that on our own we can unilaterally rewrite the terms of our membership of this European club. We do not know how the rules are going to be rewritten in the eurozone yet – when those rules will be rewritten, or in what way."
Clegg pointed out that some major countries in the EU did not want there to be any treaty change at all.
He said: "If the new treaty becomes reality, asks new things of UK – in other words a transfer of powers from Westminster to Brussels – then a referendum would be held."
But he set himself apart from Cameron's tactics before his speech expected on Friday in the Netherlands. He said: "We should be very careful at a time when the British economy was going through a halting recovery from the worst economic shock in a generation to create a very high degree period of prolonged uncertainty. In my view, uncertainty is the enemy of jobs and growth. Our priority in this government and as a national duty has got to be to foster jobs and growth – if you are an investor investing in the UK it is unnecessary to create a high degree of uncertainty that might chase away that investment and diminish the number of jobs in the UK."
He said that, given there was a certainty a referendum would be held if there was a transfer of powers: "I don't think it is wise to add to that a degree of a uncertainty that would have a chilling effect on jobs and growth, and for me growth and jobs in the priority, and not an arcane debate that will go on for years and years."
Clegg was repeatedly challenged on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme over a leaflet with a picture of him asking the public to sign his petition calling for an in-out referendum, but he said he had been consistent in implementing in law his specific manifesto commitment to a referendum if there was a transfer of powers.
The earlier leaflet covered a period when the party had promised an in-out referendum at the time of the Lisbon treaty.
He also defended his party's decision to vote against the constituency boundary review being implemented in this parliament, saying it was not the first time there had been a disagreement between the two parties over constitutional reform.
He said: "I have been very open that the coalition is by definition a package deal and if one side to that deal does not honour that agreement it is perfectly reasonable to say there are some principles and there is a going to be a delay."
01/14/2013 02:13 PM
Anti-European Sentiment Grows: German Warnings to Britain Fall on Deaf Ears
By Ralf Neukirch
Growing ranks of euroskeptics in the UK have Prime Minister Cameron scrambling to adjust his country's relationship with the EU. And diplomatic warnings from Germany and the US against such measures have only further encouraged anti-EU voices there.
Gunther Krichbaum is a quiet man who rarely makes front-page news in Germany. But the member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) did just that in the United Kingdom last week.
"One of Angela Merkel's closest allies has warned David Cameron not to try to blackmail the rest of Europe," wrote the Guardian. The tabloid Daily Mail called Krichbaum's remarks "effrontery." And Douglas Carswell, a parliamentarian with Prime Minister Cameron's Conservative Party, said that Britons "don't want to live a life directed by Germany."
The comments were sparked by statements Krichbaum made in London after traveling there with a delegation of German parliamentarians for political talks. Krichbaum, who chairs the European affairs committee of the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, had warned against the UK's possible isolation within the European Union, saying that it "cannot be in Britain's interest."
The statements were prompted by Cameron's announcement that the UK intends to loosen its ties with the EU in some shared policy areas. His statements also couched a threat. If the UK's European partners refused to consent to its plans, he suggested, it might block efforts by Germany and other member countries to further integrate the euro zone. When asked how Germany might respond to this threat, Krichbaum said: "You cannot create a political future if you are blackmailing other states."
Fears of a Referendum
It might have surprised Chancellor Merkel to learn that people abroad view Krichbaum as a member of her innermost circle. But it wouldn't have bothered her, because she probably tends to agree with what he said. For weeks, in both official meetings and through unofficial channels, Merkel's conservative government has been sending Cameron the same message: We want to keep you in the EU -- but we won't create a new EU just for you.
It's no coincidence that this message is growing louder, either. Cameron plans to deliver a long-awaited keynote speech on EU policy in the coming days. Both Merkel's Chancellery and the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs fear that he will use the speech to announce a referendum on the UK's membership in the EU, in addition to making further concessions to the euroskeptics within his party. Before that happens, Berlin wants to clarify what will be tolerated -- and what won't.
The German government has already said multiple times that Cameron shouldn't expect much accommodation in the matter. Granting the British additional special rights, it argues, would prompt other countries to make similar demands -- something Berlin certainly intends to prevent. "Europe isn't some event at which everyone can do whatever they feel like," says one senior government advisor. "In the end, the British have to decide whether they want to remain in the European Union or not."
High-ranking diplomats from both countries had a chance to discuss their differences shortly before Christmas at a closed-door meeting in Berlin at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). The Germans in attendance got the impression that the British were unwilling to budge. "In London, they think they have the upper hand," says one top German diplomat. "They already made the same mistake two Decembers ago, when they blocked the fiscal compact." The agreement championed by Merkel obliges signatories to implement balanced-budget legislation and accept automatic sanctions for violating the new deficit rules. In the end, it was signed and implemented without British or Czech support as an international treaty outside the EU legal framework.
Euroskeptics Gain Ground
There is growing concern in Germany that Cameron won't be able to keep Britain in the EU despite his own desire to prevent an exit. His plan to renegotiate the country's position within the 27-member bloc is an attempt to mollify an increasing number of euroskeptics who are becoming more radical.
"There is a great danger that Great Britain's exit from the EU will become a self-fulfilling prophecy," says Barbara Lippert, the SWP's director or research. "The pressure on Cameron from the right wing of his party is enormous." However, Lippert also concedes that, if a referendum were to be held, "the pro-European forces will also make themselves better heard."
Last Wednesday, Germany received clear and unexpected support for its position. Philip Gordon, the United States' assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, used a visit to London to make it clear what Washington thinks about Britain's plans. "We want to see a strong British voice in (the) European Union," Gordon said, adding that this would also be the best thing for the "special relationship" between the British and the Americans.
Still, it's doubtful whether Germany's refusal to compromise or US interventions will succeed in influencing sentiments in the UK. Warnings by the country's partners seem to have had little influence on the anti-European press. "How Dare the US Lecture Us about Staying in the EU" read the headline for one outraged commentary in the tabloid Express. Janice Atkinson, its author, went on to surmise that, even though she is "not a conspiracy theorist," the fact that Cameron is about to give his speech and Gordon and Krichbaum issued "parallel" warnings on the same day "suggests that somebody is manipulating us."
It seems that rational arguments don't get very far in today's debate over whether Britain should remain in the EU.
Translated from the German by Josh Ward
01/14/2013 04:20 PM
Interview with Cypriot Finance Minister: 'Cyprus Is No Tax Haven'
In a SPIEGEL interview, Cypriot Finance Minister Vassos Shiarly, 64, defends his country's request for billions of euros in European bailout funds. He denies accusations that Cyprus encourages worldwide money laundering and is attracting investment by means of tax dumping.
SPIEGEL: Minister Shiarly, considerable opposition is taking shape against Cyprus's request for billions in aid from the European bailout fund. Do you think that your European counterparts will approve the funds?
Shiarly: I have a very good relationship with God. I spoke with him for a long time, but he didn't give me an answer. But seriously, we have done everything in our power to bring about this decision.
SPIEGEL: How exactly did you do that?
Shiarly: We spent months in difficult negotiations with the troika, consisting of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Our parliament has already approved all the conditions for the aid program that were agreed upon in those negotiations. And it did so with substantial, cross-party unity, which is especially important to me, in light of the upcoming presidential elections in February.
SPIEGEL: The aid would catapult Cyprus's national debt to well over 120 percent of the gross domestic product. This is seen as the critical limit, above which countries can no longer finance themselves. Don't you need a debt haircut, like Greece?
Shiarly: There is no magic threshold at which a country can no longer repay its debts on its own. It differs from country to country. We assume that our growth will pick up again and our budget deficit will shrink in the coming years.
SPIEGEL: After a debt haircut, your country would have to pay much less in interest. Wouldn't that make your life as finance minister much easier?
Shiarly: No, because the Cypriot government bonds are mainly held by Cypriot banks. If there were a debt haircut our banks would be in serious trouble, and we would have to support them with government funds. This wouldn't help us, because we would have to borrow the money.
SPIEGEL: Cyprus has a bloated banking sector, whose total assets are more than eight times the size of the country's economic output. How do you intend to shrink them back to health?
Shiarly: The financial industry is the core of our service sector, and it remains important to us. The banks don't have to shrink domestically. Instead, they should divest large portions of their foreign business. They've invested a lot of money in places like Greece, Russia, Ukraine and even Australia. We are already reducing these investments, and we expect to make a lot of progress this year.
SPIEGEL: In a report, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, the German foreign intelligence agency, alleges that Cyprus is a money-laundering hub, mostly for the benefit of Russian oligarchs. Will you also divest yourself of this business?
Shiarly: We encounter these rumors again and again, but repetition doesn't make them any truer. When we joined the European Union in 2004, we implemented all required rules and regulations to fight money laundering. Cyprus has received good marks in all assessments by various international organizations in recent years.
SPIEGEL: So why did the BND make the accusations?
Shiarly: So far no one has been able to prove that we are violating the rules or even encouraging money laundering. This also applies to the exchange of information with foreign tax authorities and law enforcement agencies. We have responded to all inquiries so far. I have personally asked my European counterparts several times to cite specific cases in which we didn't help. No one could present me with a single case. Money laundering exists everywhere, in Cyprus and in Germany alike. The point is to fight it resolutely.
SPIEGEL: But that's exactly the reproach: that you are in fact not resolutely fighting money laundering.
Shiarly: We have to demonstrate that we are really serious about this. We are familiar with the critical perception abroad, and we want to make it go away by implementing the international agreements more effectively and quickly than other countries. We envision our future as a credible financial center, which is why we want to be a step ahead of our European partners in the future when it comes to regulating financial markets.
SPIEGEL: If money laundering is supposedly not a problem in your country, please explain to us why a small country like Cyprus is by far the largest direct investor in Russia.
Shiarly: It's very simple. We have traditionally had very good and close relations with Russia. A double-taxation treaty has existed for a long time, offering investors legal certainty. We also have a simple and attractive tax system. As a result, Russians like to invest money with us, which they later invest at home again.
SPIEGEL: Almost every well-known oligarch in Russia has companies in Cyprus. And you're saying there isn't any illegal money there?
Shiarly: The Russians aren't the only ones who have discovered Cyprus as a financial center. But we shouldn't immediately associate this with illegal activities. Russians also engage in business activities and have invested large fortunes in other countries, but no one is indicting those countries. There is no doubt that the charges against us are exaggerated. The important thing is that the problem is taken seriously, and we're doing that.
SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, others describe what you call an attractive tax system as tax dumping. German politicians from almost all political parties are making their approval of aid dependent on you increasing your corporate income tax significantly over the current rate of 10 percent.
Shiarly: Our tax system is one of our few competitive advantages. That was already the case when we joined the EU. It was a topic of intense discussion at the time, but no one accused us of tax dumping. If it wasn't tax dumping then, it can't be that today.
SPIEGEL: Where does one draw the line between tax competition and dumping?
Shiarly: No one can tell you that for sure. But I can assure you of one thing: Cyprus is no tax haven. Tax havens have two characteristics: a tax rate close to zero, and no one asks you where your money comes from. Both are not the case in Cyprus.
SPIEGEL: But the equivalent tax rates in many EU countries are at 30 percent or more. Ten percent is relatively low by comparison.
Shiarly: We have no industry to speak of, so services are all we can count on, and we have to attract capital for that. The entire EU benefits when the Russians or the Chinese set up companies in Cyprus. Besides, it isn't the nominal tax rate that counts but the actual tax burden. Many countries with seemingly high rates offer their taxpayers many loopholes and exceptions, so that 30 percent quickly turns into 10 percent or less. That's not the case in our country. In Cyprus, 10 percent is 10 percent.
SPIEGEL: The EU finance ministers plan to wait until March to decide on your request. How will you get by financially until then?
Shiarly: All short-term obligations for the coming three months are funded. The deficits will be small in the first quarter of 2013. They're also covered by domestic banks and government-owned companies. In light of the uncertain situation, a quick decision by the Euro Group is necessary to stabilize confidence in the markets.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
01/11/2013 05:17 PM
Better than Buying: Barter Economy Matures from Niche to Trend
By Susanne Amann and Janko Tietz
Once derided as an eccentricity of the environmental movement, the recent economic crisis has helped transform the sharing economy from a niche trend to a full-scale phenomenon. In the coming years, sharing cars, bikes and even clothing may become as viable as buying.
From the perspective of the fashion industry, Johanna Lassonczyk is an ideal customer. She is young, places value on her appearance and, for years, has regularly bought new brand-name clothing and accessories.
From Lassonczyk's own perspective, the fashion industry is in pretty bad shape. That's because the industry has lost her, at least as a loyal buyer. The 31-year-old has recently started swapping instead of always buying new things. "At some point I had so much in my closet that I didn't know where to put it all," she says. The self-employed entrepreneur has recently started attending so-called swap parties. The last one was the "Xmas Event" hosted by the website "Swap in the City" at Cologne's E-Werk concert hall. The motto of the event was "Bye-Bye Shopping! - Hello Swapping!"
It's a straightforward principle. You clean out your closet, gather the things that no longer fit or you don't like anymore, and take them with you to a swap party, where you pay an entrance fee. In return, you receive a credit in the form of fake coins. The clothes are prepared by professionals and, two hours later, displayed as if they were new items in a store.
To make sure the events don't end up looking like flea markets, a jury of organizers only accepts brand-name items. While they wait, visitors listen to lounge music, drink cocktails and receive makeup tips, before they eventually have the chance to swap their credits for other used clothing, bags or shoes.
A Reaction to the Financial Crisis
"Swap in the City" was established in reaction to the financial crisis, offering consumers a platform with which they could curb their shopping urges without having to do without new things. "Germans' consumption behavior has changed considerably," says Harel Shalev, the managing director of "Swap in the city." "This is exactly why platforms like ours can be so successful."
Even though Germans are decidedly in a buying mood, given the strong economy and economic successes, a sort of parallel trend is developing at the moment -- still small, yet interesting. US trend expert and author Rachel Botsman calls it "collaborative consumption," and in her book, "What's Mine is Yours," she invokes a renaissance of sharing and swapping.
The trend is especially exciting to younger generations in Germany, people who have little disposable income to buy things and enhance their social status, and yet don't want to do without anything the consumer world has to offer. They share living space, clothing and cars, and they run community gardens and tool swapping clubs.
Some already see a sharing economy taking shape. Time has declared this new form of consumption to be one of the 10 great ideas that will change the world. But does the movement truly have the power to offer a response to the Western hyper-consumption of the past, one that is both environmentally conscious and hedonistic?
Web Professionalizes Sharing
Apartment sharing centers, reading groups, ride sharing and flea markets have been around for a long time. The new thing about collaborative consumption is that it can achieve a broader impact with the Internet as both a stage and a platform. The web professionalizes swapping and allows it to develop into an independent branch of the economy.
People can swap services through the Berlin company "exchange-me." For example, a person can use the site to offer Spanish lessons and find someone else to dig up his garden. Payment is made in an imaginary currency, which is credited to a virtual account. On another site, Snapgoods, which uses the motto: "Want it. Get it. Give it back," users can borrow vehicles and other items in the neighborhood for short periods of time and then return them.
On Nachbarschaftsauto ("Neighborhood Car"), car owners can turn themselves into minor entrepreneurs and earn a little extra money on the side by renting out their vehicles. Why should cars stand around, unused, for an average of 23 hours a day? "We believe that the traditional model -- owning your own car -- has become fragile, and that modern technology, coupled with social networks, will further support this change," says Nachbarschaftsauto founder Christian Kapteyn.
The site 9flats brings together people who want to rent out their private residential property for short vacations and others who are tired of the anonymous atmosphere of run-of-the-mill hotel chains. What brings them all together is the experience that the Internet is a place where they matter-of-factly exchange information, text or music. "It offers people a very practical way to recognize that you don't have to exclusively own things to be able to enjoy their benefits," concludes a study by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, which is aligned with Germany's Green Party. So why not share ownership? All of the many "social" Web offers would bring together people into a new, rapidly growing relationship economy, which is driven by the principle of reciprocity: Help me and I'll help you.
Changing Consumption Habits
Sociologist Harald Heinrichs has studied, for the first time, the extent to which the concept of the "sharing economy" is already being applied in Germany. "These alternative forms of ownership and consumption stopped being a niche phenomenon a while ago," says Heinrichs, an expert on sustainability at the University of Lüneburg in northern Germany. He assumes that the sharing economy will continue to develop, "because particularly younger people, who use social media intensively, seem to have changed their consumption habits."
In his latest study Heinrichs concludes: "Shared consumption, in the sense of common organizing and consumption via the Internet, is practiced by 12 percent of the population." This share could grow, partly because enthusiasm increases as the age of target groups declines.
'A Real Chance To Make Economy More Sustainable'
Nowadays it seems there's hardly anything that isn't shared or swapped. Even furniture is up for grabs, and Gabriele Lehmann, a resident of the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, is a perfect example. She started her own business 12 years ago, designing high-quality couches, wardrobes and cabinets. They can easily cost upwards of €12,000 ($15,920), too much for someone with an average income -- and someone who doesn't want cheap furniture from a home improvement superstore.
Lehmann's company, Winhal, recently began offering a sort of furniture subscription. Customers lease an armoire, for example, and keep it for three or four years. Then it's picked up and replaced with a new model. The returned armoire is reconditioned and passed on to the next customer. The project is already underway and is "showing that consumers indeed value high-quality things," says Lehmann.
The most impressive example of the commercialization of the swap movement is the American website Airbnb, the model for the German company 9flats. The site already offers more than 200,000 private listings. Since it was founded in 2008, San Francisco-based Airbnb, which collects a small service fee for each reservation, has brokered more than 10 million bookings. Airbnb has had a German office since May 2011.
The numbers are still relatively modest, but the industry is growing rapidly, prompting the classic hotel sector to view the private competition with alarm. Airbnb is now valued at more than $1 billion.
Socially Innovative Co-Consumers
Sociologist Heinrichs has dubbed this group "socially innovative co-consumers," and he already includes more than a quarter of all consumers in this category. He describes them as people who, as consumers, tend to value innovation and modernity over ownership and individual consumption. Nevertheless, says Heinrichs, "there doesn't appear to be a revolutionary transformation to a collaborative consumption culture." Still, he says, the changes offer a "real chance to make the economy more sustainable in the long term."
In addition to the tourist sector, the fashion industry is also feeling the shift. Cast-off clothes quickly find new owners on sites like Kleiderkreisel ("Clothes Top"). Lithuanian native Justas Janauskas came up with the idea, and two female students have adapted the concept for Germany. Some 2.4 million articles of clothing were collected within three years, and every day another 3,500 are placed on the site, which now has 415,000 members.
The Internet companies generally make their swapping and cooperation platforms available for free, and yet they make plenty of money, mostly through advertising and commissions. This, says Jeff Jarvis, the author of a number of books about media and technology, is the best proof that the enormous demand, which was not being served by the old supply economy, is now being professionally and convincingly satisfied.
This is especially evident in the declining focus on cars among young people, at least in highly industrialized countries. In the past, the automobile was a symbol of personality, signifying a person's status and worldview. "Nowadays owning the car isn't important, but being able to use it is -- and doing so everywhere in the world, if possible," says Stephan Grünewald, a cultural psychologist at the Rheinbold Institute in Cologne.
This type of consumption is more sustainable, says Grünewald, but that's not the key attraction. "It's mostly about having practical solutions in daily life. Every deficient state can now be offset very quickly, and that constitutes a tremendous challenge for classic companies."
The Giants Adjust
Who is going to buy a car these days when cars can be rented as needed? Who stays in a hotel when it's more fun to spend the night in private apartments? And who goes shopping in downtown areas when it's easier and faster to order products online?
Companies will now have to tailor their products and services to this segment of consumers without harming their own business models. This is precisely what some businesses are already doing today. For instance, it seemed logical that the rental car company Avis acquired America's largest car-sharing company, Zipcar, for $550 million last week. Another example is Obi, a German chain of home improvement markets. Under the name MietProfi, or rent pro, it operates a franchise rental service for machines and tools in more than 160 stores. Although the people who use the service no longer buy machines and tools, it does bring in business, and customers are at least buying the nails, screws and sanding paper at Obi instead of the competition.
Even a giant like Daimler is adjusting to the change. car2go is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the southern German carmaker and part of its "mobility concept." The rental Smart models are available 24/7 in 18 cities worldwide. Seattle was added to the list in mid-December 2012. Users pay for use by the minute, using smartphone apps or the Internet to find and reserve vehicles, either spontaneously or with advance reservations. The rental fee of 29 cents a minute is processed electronically.
"Up to 60 percent of car traffic in downtown areas consists of people looking for parking. New approaches to the problem are needed," says car2go CEO Robert Henrich. The company now has a fleet of more than 6,500 vehicles, which have been rented more than 5 million times to a quarter-million customers.
Does this make Henrich Daimler's grim reaper? Henrich laughs, saying that he clearly sees car2go as a supplementary business for Daimler. "By the time a young family moves out to the country, it won't be able to get by without its own car."
But what happens when that family opts for local public transportation instead, or for bike sharing in the city? Deutsche Bahn (DB), Germany's national railroad, has also had a presence in the segment for some time, and its Call a Bike service is gaining in popularity. The number of registered customers has increased to more than half a million.
Throughout Germany, more than 2.2 million trips were taken in 2011 with Call a Bike and the company's Hamburg operation, StadtRAD, an increase of more than 40 percent over the previous year. The project is already profitable today. "Naturally, our customers are in the minority compared with people who ride the train or drive," says Rolf Lübke, managing director of DB Rent GmbH, which owns Call a Bike. "But the number of those who use alternative consumption is a real factor."
But not even the pioneers believe that this new form of economic collaboration makes us better people. It's clear to Swap in the City Managing Director Shalev, for example, that his swap parties are no Good Samaritan events, but exist mainly for the purpose of making money. That still doesn't stop more than 5,000 articles of clothing from getting collected at each of his events. He donates the leftovers to organizations like the German Red Cross or the Catholic charity Caritas -- "to make me feel good," he says.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
01/15/2013 11:21 AM
2012 GDP Figures Released: German Budget Back in Surplus Despite Slowdown
The euro crisis took its toll on the German economy in 2012, but the budget swung to a surplus for the first time since 2007. Still, data released on Tuesday showed a paltry growth of just 0.7 percent.
The German economy shrank by 0.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 as a result of the euro crisis which hit exports and investment, preliminary figures released by the Federal Statistical Office on Tuesday showed.
Growth for the full year slowed sharply to 0.7 percent from 3.0 percent in 2011, but that still compares favorably with much of the rest of the euro zone, which remains mired in recession as a result of austerity measures and burgeoning debt.
Germany, Europe's largest economy, was able to offset part of the export declines in its core European market with strong growth in exports to the US and big emerging markets like China, hungry for German automobiles and industrial goods.
"The German economy might not be an island of happiness any longer but it remains at least an island of growth in a still recessionary euro-zone area," Carsten Brzeski, an economist at ING, told Reuters.
Swing to Budget Surplus
The Statistical Office also said that the public budget was in surplus for the first time since before the financial and debt crisis in 2007. The surplus amounted to 0.1 percent of GDP after a deficit of 0.8 percent in 2011. In 2010, the deficit had been 4.1 percent, above the 3 percent limit set by European Union rules.
The swing to a surplus has been caused by record employment levels and rising wages, which many countries in Europe, especially in the austerity-hit south of the continent, can only dream of.
The 2012 GDP growth figure was slightly below forecasts. The sharp slowdown was partly explained by above-average growth rates seen in 2010 and 2011. "In the previous two years, GDP growth had been much larger but that was due to a catching-up process following the worldwide economic crisis of 2009," the Statistical Office said in a statement. The German economy shrank by 5.1 percent in 2009, at the height of the global economic crisis.
Predictions for 2013 are mixed. Some economists expect German growth to accelerate slightly. Business confidence, as measured by the Ifo Business Climate Index, rose in December to its highest level in five months.
But according to a report in business daily Handelsblatt on Tuesday, the German government expects 2013 growth of around 0.5 percent. Economy Minister Philipp Rösler will release the latest forecast on Wednesday when he presents the government's annual economic report. The OECD also expects 0.5 percent for Germany.
The economists at the Ifo Institute is a little more optimistic, expecting unchanged growth of 0.7 percent. The German Intsitute for Economic Research in Berlin predicts 0.9 percent.
January 14, 2013
Illuminating Jewish Life in a Muslim Empire
By ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — A batch of 1,000-year-old manuscripts from the mountainous northern reaches of war-torn Afghanistan, reportedly found in a cave inhabited by foxes, has revealed previously unknown details about the cultural, economic and religious life of a thriving but little understood Jewish society in a Persian part of the Muslim empire of the 11th century.
The 29 paper pages, now encased in clear plastic and unveiled here this month at the National Library of Israel, are part of a trove of hundreds of documents discovered in the cave whose existence had been known for several years, with photographs circulating among experts. Remarkably well preserved, apparently because of the dry conditions there, the majority of the documents are now said to be in the hands of private dealers in Britain, Switzerland, and possibly the United States and the Middle East.
“This is the first time that we have actual physical evidence of the Jewish life and culture within the Iranian culture of the 11th century,” said Prof. Haggai Ben-Shammai, the library’s academic director. While other historical sources have pointed to the existence of Jewish communities in that area in the early Middle Ages, he said, the documents offer “proof that they were there.”
The texts are known collectively as the Afghan Geniza, a Hebrew term for a repository of sacred texts and objects. They were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Arabic and Arabic, and some used the Babylonian system for vowels, a linguistic assortment that scholars said would have been nearly impossible to forge.
One text includes a discussion of Hebrew words that are spelled the same but have different meanings. Another is a letter between two brothers in which one denied rumors that he was no longer an observant Jew. There are legal and economic documents, some signed by witnesses, recording commercial transactions and debts between Jews and their Muslim neighbors, and other mundane yet illuminating details of daily life like travel plans.
One missive between two Jews, Sheik Abu Nasser Ahmed ibn Daniel and Musa ibn Ishak, dealing with family matters, was written in the Hebrew letters of Judeo-Persian, but had an address in Arabic script on the back, presumably for the benefit of the Muslim messenger. One document has a date from the Islamic calendar corresponding to the year 1006.
The most important religious text among those acquired by the National Library is a fragment of a Judeo-Persian version of a commentary on the Book of Isaiah originally written by the renowned Babylonian rabbinic scholar Saadia Gaon, a previously unknown text. A sliver of it has been sent to the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot for carbon dating.
The exact source of the documents is murky. The manuscripts are said to have come from a remote area near the borders of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, wild terrain largely controlled by warlords. Jews probably migrated there in the early Middle Ages to engage in commerce along the Silk Road, the important trade route linking China and Europe.
Scholars say the texts were probably found several years ago and have been sold and scattered around the globe. An Israeli antiquities dealer obtained 29 of the texts and, after a year of negotiation, sold them several weeks ago to the library for an undisclosed sum.
People involved in the purchase refused to give exact details, but they said the library ended up paying an affordable price of several thousand dollars per text. Professor Ben-Shammai said that despite the “very exaggerated prices” demanded by dealers abroad, the Jerusalem dealer did not want the documents to end up in private hands.
The National Library would like to gather the entire collection under one roof, but the current asking prices for the remaining texts add up to many millions of dollars.
Prof. Shaul Shaked, an expert in Iranian culture at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that dealers abroad had asked his opinion of the documents, and that he was one of the first who recognized their importance. “So in a way I am guilty of having driven up the prices,” he said.
Aviad Stollman, the curator of the library’s Judaica collection, said that the library was looking for a donor to buy the rest of the collection.
The acquisition comes as the National Library is in the midst of transformation, separating from a merger with Hebrew University, moving off campus and digitizing its vast collection. Founded in 1892 with the goal of gathering the intellectual heirlooms of a widely dispersed Jewish people, the library counts among its prized possessions two volumes of Maimonides’s Commentary on the Mishna, Isaac Newton’s manuscripts, a 15th-century Persian Koran illuminated in gold and lapis lazuli, and a notebook in which Franz Kafka practiced Hebrew vocabulary.
The 29 Afghan pages will join those texts and, once scanned, complete their journey from a dark cave to the glow of the world’s computer screens. The goal is to build a digital platform that would make the manuscripts widely accessible, with translations and explanations available online.
“This tells the story of the Jewish people,” Mr. Stollman said. “The technology is here. You can make it come alive.”
In the USA...
Troubling number of women denied constitutional rights based on pregnancy
By Karen McVeigh, The Guardian
Monday, January 14, 2013 22:48
Hundreds of women have been arrested, convicted, jailed, detained in mental institutions or forced to endure medical procedures as a result of the “criminalisation of pregnancy” over the last four decades, a new report has found.
In the first study of its kind, to be published on Tuesday, researchers from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) identified 413 criminal and civil cases across 44 states involving the arrests, detentions and equivalent deprivations of pregnant women’s liberty between 1973 and 2005. NAWP said that it is aware of a further 250 cases since 2005. Both figures are likely to be underestimates, it said.
The report, which will appear in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, found that women were denied a wide range of basic human rights, including the right to life, liberty, equal protection and due process of law “based solely on their pregnancy status”.
It found a wide range of cases in which pregnant women were arrested and detained not only if they ended a pregnancy or expressed an intention to end a pregnancy, but also after suffering unintentional pregnancy loss.
The cases of detention and forced medical intervention varied widely and included one in which a judge in Ohio kept a woman imprisoned to prevent her having an abortion.
Another involved a woman in Oregon who refused a doctor’s recommendation for additional testing for gestational diabetes. She was held in a locked psychiatric ward. Another case involved a court in Washington DC, which ordered a critically ill woman to undergo caesarian section over her objections. Neither she nor the baby survived.
Lynn Paltrow, executive director of NAPW and lead author of the study said: “Our analysis of the legal claims used to justify the arrests found they relied on post-Roe measures such a feticide laws and the same arguments made in support of so-called ‘personhood measures’ – namely that state actors would be empowered to treat fertilised eggs, embryos and foetuses as completely legally separate from the pregnant women.”
She said: “It is not just the criminalisation of pregnant woman, that almost minimises the scope of what we are talking about. They are using civil statues to keep women committed. Right we’re ordering the foetus to be committed and you have to come too.”
The study found that police, prosecutors and judges relied directly and indirectly on feticide statues that create separate rights for the unborn, claiming to protecting pregnant women and the eggs, embryos and foetuses they carry from third-party violence, on state abortion laws that include language similar to personhood measures and to “misinterpretation of Roe v Wade as holding what personhood measures propose – that foetuses may be treated as separate legal persons”.
Paltrow warned that if personhood measures pass, it would create a “Jane Crow system of law in which pregnant women have a second class status.”
The study spanned a four decade period beginning in 1973, the year the US supreme court recognised a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion in the landmark Roe v Wade case. However, NAPW said the 413 cases represented a “substantial undercount” and that the denial of fundamental rights of pregnant women was ongoing.
Earlier this month, Maria Guerra, of Memphis, Tenessee, was charged with child endangerment and driving under the influence after she was found to be four months pregnant, even though her blood alcohol level was under the legal limit. In Oklahoma, this month, Jamie Lynn Russell, 33, died in agony from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy in jail. Police, who were called to a hospital where Russell sought help for severe abdominal pain, charged her with drug possession after finding two prescription pills that did not belong to her.
Last year, prosecutors in Indiana classified the failed suicide attempt of Chinese-born Bei Bei Shai, as the murder of her foetus. The case is ongoing.
Jeanne Flavin, Fordham University professor of sociology and co-author of the report, said: “The public debate about personhood and other anti-abortion measures tends to focus narrowly on abortion. Our study makes clear that all pregnant woman are threatened by such measures.”
The study, believed to be the most systematic account of its kind, relied mostly on public records such as police and court documents, although a small number of cases were taken newspaper accounts. The women were aged between 12 and 43, and two were minors.
It found that low-income women and African American women were more likely to be deprived of their liberty. The largest percentage of cases of the 413 – 56% – came from the southern states, followed by 22% in the midwest.
South Carolina had 93 cases, the highest number in any state, followed by Florida, which had 56 cases.
The study concludes: “As personhood measures continue to be promoted in state legislatures and in Congress, and as we observe the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade, this study broadens the conversation form just one abortion to one about health policy and the legal status of pregnant women.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
January 14, 2013
Obama and G.O.P. Issue Challenges on the Debt Limit
By JACKIE CALMES and JONATHAN WEISMAN
WASHINGTON — With each side claiming popular support, President Obama and Congress’s Republican leaders on Monday dug in on their conflicting positions about raising the nation’s debt limit, indicating that the president’s second term will open with a potentially perilous budget showdown.
Mr. Obama called the final news conference of his first term to reinforce before national television cameras his demand that Congress unconditionally increase the legal limit on the government’s authority to borrow money to pay its bills. But Republicans continued to insist that he agree to equal spending cuts.
“They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy,” Mr. Obama vowed in the East Room, a week before his second inauguration. “The financial well-being of the American people is not leverage to be used. The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip.”
House Speaker John A. Boehner, immediately after Mr. Obama’s news conference, said in a statement: “The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time. The consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling are real, but so, too, are the consequences of allowing our spending problem to go unresolved.”
With the president refusing to negotiate over the essential increase and Republicans saying he must, reporters pressed Mr. Obama about whether he is considering some executive action to sidestep Congress and raise the debt ceiling — as Democratic leaders have urged. But Mr. Obama declined to answer directly, and his administration has ruled out proposals to either invoke authority under the 14th Amendment or mint a platinum coin as a sort of collateral for more debt.
The debt issue dominated the news conference, and later the Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, added to the pressure by writing to Congressional leaders that the department still expects to hit the limit between mid-February and early March.
“Treasury would be left to fund the government solely with the cash we have on hand on any given day,” he said, forcing it to choose among creditors, federal contractors, veterans, Social Security and Medicare beneficiaries and the many other claimants to federal dollars. Some Republicans support temporarily making choices among claimants, but the administration and some financial analysts say that approach would be unworkable and amount to the nation’s first default on its obligations.
Separately, Mr. Geithner and Gene Sperling, director of the White House National Economic Council, held a conference call with corporate executives, many of whom have expressed concern the threat of default could damage the economy. The administration is hoping that business leaders can persuade Republicans to avoid confrontation over the debt limit, but party leaders were undeterred.
The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, also called on Congress to increase the debt ceiling to cover bills that it has already incurred. “The right way to deal with this problem is for Congress to do what it is supposed to do and what it needs to do,” Mr. Bernanke, a Republican appointed by President George W. Bush and later reappointed by Mr. Obama, said in a speech at the University of Michigan.
On a separate topic at the news conference, Mr. Obama defended his record on appointing women and minorities to administration jobs, responding to criticism of the largely white male composition of his inner circle and recent cabinet nominations.
“I would just suggest that everybody kind of wait until they’ve seen all my appointments, who’s in the White House staff and who’s in my cabinet before they rush to judgment,” he said. “It’s premature to assume that somehow we’re going backwards. We’re not going backwards, we’re going forward.”
On the budget, Mr. Obama tried several times to emphasize that the debate over the debt ceiling was not one over how much the government should spend.
“I want to be clear about this: The debt ceiling is not a question of authorizing more spending,” he said. “Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize more spending. It simply allows the country to pay for spending that Congress has already committed to.”
He said that he agreed with Republicans that spending must be reduced to stabilize the debt. Unlike Republicans, though, he argued that such cuts should not be a condition for increasing the debt limit and should instead be part of other budget talks.
Mr. Boehner said the Republican-controlled House would pass legislation cutting spending and increasing the debt limit, and would defy Mr. Obama and the Democratic-controlled Senate to reject the package. : The Senate Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell, in his own statement, also demanded spending cuts for a debt-limit increase.
House Republicans will meet for a retreat on Thursday and Friday in Williamsburg, Va., largely to develop plans to get through the three approaching fiscal deadlines. In addition to the debt ceiling, the automatic across-the-board military and domestic cuts will begin March 1 unless Mr. Obama and Congress agree to alternative deficit reductions, and the law providing financing for federal operations expires March 27.
“Yes, the House is going to act,” said Rory Cooper, a spokesman for Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader. But, he added, “We’ve got nothing yet until we can sit down as a conference and hammer out what we all want to do.”
Senate Democratic leaders are likely to act early next month on legislation that would allow the president to raise the debt ceiling on his own, both now and in the future. But just as the Senate would most likely reject the bill that House Republicans are considering, House Republicans would probably oppose the Senate Democrats’ proposal.
Under the contemplated Senate bill, Congress could move to block an increase in the debt limit, but lawmakers would have to muster a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and House. Still, Senate Democratic leadership aides say they are unsure of their party’s next move; Democrats might decide to wait until the House sends the Senate its debt-limit bill, with cuts Democrats consider unacceptable, and then seek to pass an amended version.
House Republicans have already listed cuts to programs including food stamps, children’s health insurance, Medicaid, state and local grants to pay for antipoverty initiatives like Meals on Wheels and other programs. But their package underscores the challenge for even Republicans to meet their condition that spending cuts equal the amount of the debt increase.
Their tentative measure, combined with $550 billion in across-the-board reductions from other domestic programs, would save nearly $900 billion over 10 years — enough to raise the debt ceiling for about one year, forcing Congress to look for more cuts in 2014, an election year.
January 14, 2013
Obama Willing to Use Executive Orders on Guns
By MICHAEL D. SHEAR and JENNIFER STEINHAUER
WASHINGTON — President Obama this week will embrace a comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence that will call for major legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases and lay out 19 separate actions the president could take by invoking the power of his office, lawmakers who were briefed on the plan said Monday.
Lawmakers and other officials said that the president could use a public event as soon as Wednesday to signal his intention to engage in the biggest Congressional fight over guns in nearly two decades, focusing on the heightened background checks and including efforts to ban assault weapons and their high-capacity clips. But given the difficulty of pushing new rules through a bitterly divided Congress, Mr. Obama will also promise to act on his own to reduce gun violence wherever possible.
Actions the president could take on his own are likely to include imposing new limits on guns imported from overseas, compelling federal agencies to improve sharing of mental health records and directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research on gun violence, according to those briefed on the effort.
White House aides believe Mr. Obama can also ratchet up enforcement of existing laws, including tougher prosecution of people who lie on their background checks.
At a news conference on Monday, exactly one month after the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Obama said a task force led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. had “presented me now with a list of sensible, common-sense steps that can be taken to make sure that the kinds of violence we saw at Newtown doesn’t happen again. He added: “My starting point is not to worry about the politics. My starting point is to focus on what makes sense, what works.”
The administration’s strategy reflects the uncertainty of gun politics in America and the desire by White House officials to address the Connecticut shooting while also confronting the broader deficiencies in the country’s criminal justice and mental health systems.
By proposing to use the independent power of his office, Mr. Obama is inviting political attacks by gun owners who have already expressed fear that he will abuse that authority to restrict their rights. Representative Steve Stockman, Republican of Texas, threatened Monday to file articles of impeachment if the president seeks to regulate guns with executive orders. “I will seek to thwart this action by any means necessary,” Mr. Stockman said in a statement.
White House officials and Democratic lawmakers said that there are clear limits to what the president can and cannot do, and that Mr. Obama has no plans to push beyond what he would need Congressional authority to accomplish.
On Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama’s legislative effort will face intense opposition from gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, and the lawmakers they support with millions of dollars at election time and who see gun rights as a defining issue in their districts. But Mr. Obama’s allies see a rare opening for tighter gun rules after Congress has shied away from the politically charged issue for years.
“He’s putting together a pretty comprehensive list of what could be done to make a difference in this area,” said Representative Mike Thompson of California, who is heading a Democratic task force in the House. “There’s some huge, huge holes in the process that are set up to keep communities safe. We need to close those holes.”
Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California, said Vice President Biden had informed lawmakers during a two-hour briefing on Monday that there are “19 independent steps that the president can take by executive order.” Ms. Speier said the executive action is part of the “most comprehensive gun safety effort in a generation.”
Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and Mr. Obama’s former chief of staff, joined the debate on Monday and said that the president should “clear the table” by doing whatever he can administratively so small issues do not get in the way of the bigger legislative fights over access to guns.
“Don’t allow a side issue to derail these things,” Mr. Emanuel said during a discussion about gun policy. While many gun control advocates are eager to harness what they believe is a ripe moment in American life for new and robust restrictions on the kinds of guns that were used in Newtown, there is an emerging consensus on Capitol Hill and among gun education groups that improving the system of background check legislation that currently exempts private gun sales and gun shows is the most viable legislative route to pursue.
“The assault-weapons ban is a low priority relative to the other measures the Biden task force is considering,” Matt Bennett, a spokesman for Third Way, a left-leaning research group, said after hearing from Mr. Biden last week. “Political capital in the gun debate only goes so far. We think it should be spent on things that would have the greatest impact on gun violence, like universal background checks and cracking down on gun trafficking.”
Any efforts to get gun legislation through Congress will require an enormous and ceaseless pressure campaign by the administration. Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden are likely to keep up the pressure on lawmakers with public events in the weeks and months ahead, according to those familiar with the White House strategy.
Scores of senators, including many Democrats, will be wary of voting on any effort to curb access to guns or ammunition. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, is a longtime supporter of gun rights. Still, gun legislation is likely to begin in the Senate because the House is controlled by Republicans, many of whom oppose new restrictions on guns.
With fiscal issues continuing to dominate the political calendar for the next several weeks, White House officials and lawmakers say the gun safety effort is likely to be debated in separate pieces of legislation that could be introduced over time. In coming weeks, Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, will reintroduce a measure that would require every gun buyer, with limited exceptions, to undergo a background check and would force states to feed all relevant data into the background check system so those with criminal convictions and the mentally ill could be flagged.
January 14, 2013
Families of Newtown Victims Organize Violence Prevention Effort
By RAY RIVERA
NEWTOWN, Conn. — Nelba Marquez-Greene put her two children on the school bus on the morning of Dec. 14. Only one came home.
Nicole Hockley still finds herself reaching for her son’s hand in parking lots, or expects “him to crawl into my bed for early-morning cuddles before school.”
“It’s so hard to believe he’s gone,” she said.
The grieving mothers and other parents and relatives of victims killed in the Dec. 14 elementary school massacre gathered here at a news conference on Monday to help begin a campaign intended to prevent the kind of bloodshed that has turned this quiet New England community into a national symbol of grief.
In some of their first public statements since the shooting, which killed 20 children and 6 staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the families of 11 of the victims called for a national dialogue on issues of mental health, school safety and what their nonprofit group, called Sandy Hook Promise, described as “gun responsibility.”
The gathering came as President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. prepared to unveil gun-control proposals as soon as Tuesday that are expected to call for a ban on the kind of assault weapon and high-capacity ammunition magazines used by Adam Lanza in the Newtown shooting.
But perhaps foreshadowing the difficult and contentious debates to come in Washington, group members declined to offer support for any specific measures, saying they needed time to educate themselves on the issues, and emphasizing that the debate must be broader than gun control.
“It’s only been 30 days, and for the past 30 days we’ve really been looking inward and supporting our community,” said Tim Makris, a founder of the group who had a fourth-grade son at the school, who was not hurt.
“We love the focus of the president,” he added, “and we love that the vice president reached out recently to talk directly to the families that chose to meet with him. But we don’t have an immediate response right now.”
Tom Bittman, another founder, who has children who previously attended the school, said that many of the group members were gun owners.
“We hunt, we target shoot,” he said. “We protect our homes. We’re collectors. We teach our sons and daughters how to use guns safely. We’re not afraid of a national conversation in our community and in Congress about responsibility and accountability. We know there are millions of people in this nation who agree with us.”
The news conference, which included other members of the Newtown community, was the first time a group of Sandy Hook families spoke publicly about the tragedy.
The families filed onstage, inside the Edmond Town Hall, holding hands and wearing green and white ribbons, the school’s colors. Some held photographs of their children. As they sat onstage, some wiped away tears.
“I hope that no parent, grandparent or caregiver of children ever has to go through that pain,” said Ms. Marquez-Greene, whose 6-year-old daughter, Ana, died that day. Ana’s father, Jimmy Greene, sat clutching a large photograph of his smiling, curly-haired daughter as his wife spoke.
Jeremy Richman and Jennifer Hensel, the parents of Avielle Richman, 6, who was killed, said they had started a foundation in her name to focus on research to identify “risk factors and measure success of mental health interventions.”
“Like everyone here, we want to bring about changes that will stop a tragedy such as this from happening to any community again,” Mr. Richman said, as he choked back tears.
David and Francine Wheeler, whose son Benjamin, 6, was killed, explained why they joined the campaign.
“I am not done being the best parent I can be for Ben,” Mr. Wheeler said. “Not by a very long measure. If there is something in our society that clearly needs to be fixed or healed or resolved, that resolution needs a point of origin. It needs parents.”
While it was clear the parents and family members were still grasping for answers themselves, they have now joined a sad fraternity of people who have lost loved ones in such tragedies.
Ms. Hockley’s son Dylan, 6, was found dead cradled in the arms of his favorite school aide, Anne Marie Murphy, who died apparently trying to shield him. Ms. Hockley said that she had felt “honored” to meet with the families of victims of past mass shootings like those at Columbine and Virginia Tech.
But, she added, she did not want to be someone “sharing her experience and consoling parents” the next time such a shooting occurred.
“I do not want there to be a next time,” she said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 14, 2013
An earlier version of this article misspelled the surname of one of the founders of Sandy Hook Promise. He is Tim Makris, not Markis.
January 14, 2013
States Will Be Given Extra Time to Set Up Health Insurance Exchanges
By ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON — The White House says it will give states more time to comply with the new health care law after finding that many states lag in setting up markets where millions of Americans are expected to buy subsidized private health insurance.
Under the law, the secretary of health and human services was supposed to determine “on or before Jan. 1, 2013,” whether states were prepared to operate the online markets, known as insurance exchanges.
But the secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, working with the White House, said she would waive or extend the deadline for any states that expressed interest in creating their own exchanges or regulating insurance sold through a federal exchange.
A political benefit of this strategy is that it allows the administration to keep working with even the most recalcitrant states. Administration officials said they were trying to persuade such states to share the work of running an exchange, supervising health plans and assisting consumers.
The exchanges are a crucial element of President Obama’s health care law. Every state is supposed to have one by October, and most Americans will be required to have coverage, starting in January 2014. The federal government will run the exchange in any state that is unwilling or unable to do so. It now appears that federal officials will have the primary responsibility for running exchanges in at least half the states — far more than expected when the law was passed in 2010.
Ms. Sebelius has given “conditional approval” to 17 states that want to run their own insurance exchanges. The 17 include Utah, where officials have said they are reluctant to perform some functions of an exchange.
In its application, Utah said it did not want to enforce the federal requirement for people to carry insurance and was reluctant to determine whether consumers might be eligible for federal income tax credits to help defray the cost of insurance.
“Those are clearly federal responsibilities,” said Norman K. Thurston, the health reform coordinator for Gov. Gary R. Herbert of Utah, a Republican. “We are not enthusiastic about enforcing federal tax policy.”
Federal officials granted conditional approval to some states even though state legislators had not provided clear legal authority or money to run an exchange.
Gov. C. L. Otter of Idaho, a Republican, received conditional approval from the Obama administration this month. But getting approval from the Idaho Legislature, where Republicans control both houses with large majorities, will be more of a challenge, state officials said.
Rather than judging their readiness at this time, Obama administration officials said they would work with the 17 states, setting timelines and milestones for progress toward creation of an exchange.
“There is no deadline,” said Gary M. Cohen, director of the federal Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight. “We are going to give final approval once states demonstrate that they are able to satisfy all the requirements and meet all the conditions of operating an exchange.”
Federal officials are also allowing extra time to other states that might cooperate with the White House to some degree. Ms. Sebelius told states they had until Feb. 15 to file applications to operate exchanges “in partnership with the federal government.”
At a meeting here last week, Ms. Sebelius encouraged Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, an outspoken Republican critic of the federal law, to work in partnership with the federal government in running an exchange for his state, where 3.8 million people are uninsured.
Cindy Gillespie, leader of the health policy team at the law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge, said the Obama administration was trying to accommodate states within the limits of the law.
“It’s smart,” said Ms. Gillespie, who worked for Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts. “This is a respectful strategy. It shows deference to the states.”
Jay Angoff, a former administration official who served as a senior adviser to Ms. Sebelius, said: “There is no such thing as ‘conditional approval’ in the statute, nor is there a ‘partnership exchange’ in the statute. The federal government has the ultimate responsibility for making sure that an exchange is established in every state. So if a state that receives conditional approval is unable to do all the things it needs to do to establish an exchange by Oct. 1 — which is likely — then the federal government will run the exchange in that state.”
In all the states that received conditional approval, Mr. Cohen said, “there is more work to be done to be ready for open enrollment in October.”
Utah has had an exchange for small businesses for several years. To comply with federal law, Mr. Cohen said, the Utah exchange needs to offer coverage to individuals and help them enroll in health plans with advice from counselors, known as navigators.
It is unclear whether the State Legislature will approve the next steps. “I am opposed to using one dime of Utah state taxpayers’ dollars to comply with federal requirements for the exchange,” said Rebecca D. Lockhart, a Republican who is speaker of the Utah House of Representatives.
Federal officials said they were laying the groundwork for exchanges in Oklahoma and other states that refused to set up their own. But Oklahoma officials said they had not observed much activity. “We have not seen evidence of any steps to set up a federal exchange in Oklahoma,” said Kelly Collins, a spokeswoman for the State Insurance Department.
Julie J. Cox-Kain, the chief operating officer of the Oklahoma Health Department, said: “I assume the federal government is working quickly to build an exchange here and in other states. But the only evidence we’ve seen is a couple of telephone calls seeking information about state insurance regulations.”
January 14, 2013
Wal-Mart Plans to Hire Any Veteran Who Wants a Job
By JAMES DAO
Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, will announce Tuesday a plan to hire every veteran who wants a job, provided that the veterans have left the military in the previous year and did not receive a dishonorable discharge.
The announcement, to be made in a speech in New York by William S. Simon, the president and chief executive of Wal-Mart U.S., represents among the largest hiring commitments for veterans in history.
Company officials said they believe the program, which will officially begin on Memorial Day — May 27 this year — will lead to the hiring of more than 100,000 people in the next five years, the length of the commitment.
“Let’s be clear: Hiring a veteran can be one of the best decisions any of us can make,” Mr. Simon will say in his keynote speech to the National Retail Federation, according to prepared text. “These are leaders with discipline, training and a passion for service.”
In a statement, the first lady, Michelle Obama, who has led a campaign by the White House to encourage businesses to hire veterans, called the Wal-Mart plan “historic,” adding that she planned to urge other corporations to follow suit.
“We all believe that no one who serves our country should have to fight for a job once they return home,” Mrs. Obama said in the statement. “Wal-Mart is setting a groundbreaking example for the private sector to follow.”
The unemployment rate for veterans of the recent wars has remained stubbornly above that for nonveterans, though it has been falling steadily, dropping to just below 10 percent for all of 2012. That was down from 12.1 percent the year before. The year-end unemployment rate for nonveterans was 7.9 percent in 2012.
Reducing the veteran unemployment rate was among the few veterans’ issues discussed by the presidential candidates last year. It has also been central to the work of Mrs. Obama’s campaign to assist veterans and military families, Joining Forces. Last August, her office said that private companies working with Joining Forces had hired or trained 125,000 veterans or their spouses in a single year, surpassing the group’s goal of 100,000 a full year early.
Wal-Mart’s foundation has consistently been among the most generous contributors to veterans’ charities, committing to donate $20 million to veterans’ causes by 2015. “I take this one personally,” Mr. Simon, a Navy veteran, says in his prepared text.
But the company has also been aggressive about hiring veterans because it views them as good employees, said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the author of the book “The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business.”
About 100,000 of the company’s 1.4 million employees in the United States are veterans, company officials said.
“They like military people because they have a sense of hierarchy and a commitment to the organization they are in,” said Professor Lichtenstein, who has been a critic of Wal-Mart’s management practices. “And that’s important to Wal-Mart.” In recent years, Wal-Mart has been the target of lawsuits by women, accusing the company of discrimination in salaries and promotions.
Gary Profit, a retired Army brigadier general who is senior director of military programs at Wal-Mart, said the company might not be able to guarantee that every veteran who wants a full-time job will be able to get one. But he said that because of the size of Wal-Mart’s retail operation and supply chain, it is almost certain that the company could find a job — even a part-time one — close to any veteran who wanted one.
“If you’re a veteran and you want a job in the retail industry, you have a place at Wal-Mart,” he said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 14, 2013
An earlier version of this article misstated the position of William S. Simon. He is the president and chief executive of Wal-Mart U.S. He does not fill that role for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
January 14, 2013
On Louisiana Range, the Giraffe and Antelope Will Play
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON
NEW ORLEANS — The Audubon Nature Institute and San Diego Zoo Global were expected on Tuesday to announce the development of a breeding program for rare and endangered species on 1,000 acres south of this city, bringing herds of antelope, okapi and Masai giraffe to graze on the banks of the Mississippi River.
The breeding site, which will be among the largest in the United States, represents the latest version of a wildlife conservation model based on the finding that certain species mate more successfully when allowed to roam in herds rather than when paired off in captivity, something to which many visitors to Bourbon Street could probably attest. It also brings two of America’s most prominent zoological organizations together from opposite sides of the country.
Public access is likely to be somewhat limited, as the facility is intended primarily for breeding and research, and for this reason the species do not have to be, as one scientist put it, the most charismatic kind. But among the more than two dozen species expected in the program, which is slated to begin in 2014, are lions, flamingos, storks and several kinds of antelopes.
Breeding programs intended to maintain endangered species in American zoos have been around for decades. But the movement toward large-acreage breeding sites has begun taking hold only in recent years, after previous, more intimate efforts at breeding fell short.
In the past, biologists would play matchmaker, looking through the general population of American zoos to find a male and a female of a species that seemed to make a good genetic match and bringing them together to mate. While this works for certain species, not all of the pairs have that spark.
“It never has been rocket science that group species breed better in groups,” said Pat Condy, the executive director of the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, a 1,700-acre nonprofit conservation site in Texas.
Females in many species, including lions and hyenas, breed according to a hierarchical structure, Dr. Condy said, while the males in some species tend to be rather uninterested in breeding unless there are other males to compete against.
Moreover, he said, breeding in groups helps enormously for animals that are going to be reintroduced into the wild, which is the plan for some of the animals bred here in south Louisiana. A herd of antelope would adjust more quickly than one or several, and the offspring reared in groups are less likely to grow up to be adults that Dr. Condy referred to as “odd or not representative.”
In addition to Fossil Rim, there are a handful of other institutions that have opened large-acreage breeding sites, including the Smithsonian and, in Ohio, the Columbus Zoo. But, said Jim Maddy, the president of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, more sites are needed to prevent the rising tide of extinctions.
“We wish some of these things had been done yesterday as opposed to tomorrow,” Mr. Maddy said.
One major challenge has been the cost of large, suitable plots of land.
The San Diego Zoo, despite its considerable resources, could not expand on its current site. The Audubon Nature Institute, on the other hand, acquired 1,200 acres from the Coast Guard in 1990, most of it in Orleans Parish. There is already a high-tech research facility on site that holds the frozen genetic material of scores of endangered species, as well as a crane-breeding center.
“It’s Jurassic Park-like,” said L. Ronald Forman, the president of the Audubon Nature Institute. Knowing that San Diego was looking for a site, Mr. Forman raised the possibility of a partnership several years ago.
The location in Plaquemines Parish, which has an ideal climate for some subtropical species, does raise an obvious question. To wit: What happens to a herd of giraffes during a hurricane?
However, nearly all of the land is on high ground, and, said Robert J. Wiese, the chief life science officer of San Diego Zoo Global, ample measures would be in place to ensure the safety of the animals in all kinds of weather. Anyway, Dr. Wiese pointed out, no place is perfectly safe. “In California,” he said, “we have earthquakes.”
Attempted suicide of raped Moroccan highlights plight of victims
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 15, 2013 17:51 EST
A young Moroccan house maid, whose dramatic suicide attempt has revived concerns about violence towards women and child workers in Morocco, said on Tuesday that her family rejected her after she was raped.
The 19-year-old women, who leapt from the fourth floor of an apartment building in Casablanca where she worked, had been employed as a domestic worker since the age of 14, said Omar Kindi, president of the NGO Insaf.
She was saved by a young man, who caught her as she fell and was killed in doing so, with the incident filmed by a neighbour and posted on the Internet.
“In 2010, she was raped in Marrakesh, prompting a dramatic change in her already sad life,” said Kindi, who visited her in hospital and whose NGO supports women and children in distress.
“Her parents refused to receive her, and then sent her from one employer to another. Wounded and in despair, she tried to kill herself by slashing her wrists,” Kindi added.
“This dramatic affair highlights the problem of child domestic workers and its inhumane consequences,” he added.
Human Rights Watch said in November that Moroccan children as young as eight were being recruited as house maids, and that they were frequently beaten, verbally abused and sometimes refused adequate food by their employers.
In another case that sparked outrage in Morocco last March and prompted calls for legal reforms to protect rape victims in the conservative Muslim kingdom, Amina Filali, 16, killed herself after she was forced to marry her rapist.
An article in Morocco’s penal code allows a rapist to wed his victim and escape prosecution, and Filali’s father said his wife had insisted on the union as a way of saving the family’s honour.
“The cases of Amina Filali and of this poor young girl who threw herself from the balcony have got a lot of media attention. But there are many female victims of violence that remain unknown,” said Amina Tafinout, a women’s rights activist.
“The government has still not managed to put in place a law that forbids the employment of domestic child workers, despite promises to do so for the last five years. They are victims of all types of violence.”
Somali journalist arrested after interviewing rape victim
Wednesday 16 January 2013 11.44 GMT
A Somali journalist has been under arrest for almost a week because he interviewed a woman who claimed she had been raped by members of the Somali army. The woman was also detained briefly and her husband is also reported to have been held.
Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, a freelance who often works for radio stations, was arrested by police last Thursday after interviewing the woman.
The arrests appear to be linked to an Al-Jazeera article, published on 6 January, which alleged that rapes were occurring in camps for internally displaced people in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu.
According to local journalists, the interrogation of Abdiaziz Abdinur by Somalia's Central Investigation Department (CID) focused on his alleged involvement in writing the article. But he doesn't work for Al-Jazeera and interviewed the woman two days after the article was published.
The CID has also questioned several other Somali journalists, including Al-Jazeera's Arabic correspondent, Omar Faruk, and radio journalist Abdiaziz Mohamed Dirie.
In November 2012, the new Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, pledged to hold state security forces to account for abuses.
"The Somali police are detaining a journalist and harassing a woman who says she was raped, while letting those accused of rape run free," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
And the United Nations special representative who deals with conflict-related sexual violence, Zainab Hawa Bangura, said: "The approach taken by the Somali police does not serve the interest of justice; it only serves to criminalise victims and undermine freedom of expression for the press."
She added: "Victims should not have to live in fear and shame while perpetrators enjoy the very protections that should be afforded to survivors."
Sources: Human Rights Watch/Indian Express/UN News Service via Africa.com