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« Reply #4260 on: Jan 28, 2013, 07:43 AM »

January 27, 2013

Britain Warns Its Citizens in Somaliland to Leave

By JOHN F. BURNS
IHT

LONDON — Citing a “specific threat to Westerners,” the British government issued a warning on Sunday for any of its citizens living in Somaliland to flee the breakaway territory that lies between Ethiopia and the Gulf of Aden, on the northern tip of the Horn of Africa.

The notice came only days after Britain and other European nations issued urgent warnings to their citizens to leave the Libyan city of Benghazi, 2,500 miles northwest of Somaliland, because of what Britain described as “a specific, imminent threat to Westerners.”

A person who has been briefed on the new British warning said that a terrorist organization, most likely the Shabab, had threatened to kidnap foreigners in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. As the Shabab fighters have been routed from parts of Somalia by African Union forces, many have moved north, to Somaliland and the semiautonomous Puntland region of northeastern Somalia, Western intelligence officials have said.

The Foreign Office in London linked its Benghazi warning on Thursday to the French military intervention against Islamic militant rebels in Mali. Its advisory then said there was a risk of retaliatory attacks against Western interests in the region in the wake of the French campaign in Mali and the attack on a remote gas plant in Algeria, described by some of those claiming to be its masterminds as a response to events in Mali.

There was no repeat of the link to the Mali conflict in the new British warning on Somaliland, only a brusque note appended on the Foreign Office Web site saying, “We cannot comment further on the nature of the threats at this time.”

But Africa experts in London said there was little doubt that a common thread in the two warnings was the high-profile role the British government had taken in its response to the surging tempo of Islamic militancy in North Africa.

Britain was the first European country to pledge support for the French effort in Mali, deploying two C-17 military transport aircraft to carry French troops, vehicles and equipment to Mali. On Friday, while renewing its vow not to join in ground combat in Mali, Britain said it had deployed a military spy plane to the region to bolster French intelligence gathering.

But it has been Prime Minister David Cameron’s strident warnings about the events in Mali and Algeria and their significance as milestones in the metastasizing threat of Islamic militancy that has attracted the greatest attention to Britain.

Describing it as a “global threat,” he has said that it will require a “global response” that will last “years, even decades, rather than months,” and he has warned other countries, including the United States, not to underestimate the gravity of the challenge.

At the height of the gas plant siege, in which six Britons are believed to have died, Mr. Cameron said that Al Qaeda’s ambition was to establish “Islamic rule” across the Sahel, the vast region stretching more than 3,000 miles from the Atlantic in the west to the Horn of Africa in the east, and that the militants’ ambitions were a threat not only to the nations involved, but “to us,” meaning Britain, the rest of Europe and the United States.

It was in that context that the Benghazi warning, and now the Somaliland one, were issued, Africa experts in London said.

Somaliland has been in international limbo since a secessionist rebellion seeking independence from Somalia erupted 20 years ago, and its history throughout that period has been marked by assassinations, abductions and bombings.

Jeffrey Gettleman contributed reporting from Nairobi, Kenya.


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« Reply #4261 on: Jan 28, 2013, 07:45 AM »

January 27, 2013

Israel Girds for Attacks as Syria Falls Apart

By JODI RUDOREN and ANNE BARNARD
IHT

JERUSALEM — At least one Iron Dome missile defense battery was deployed Sunday in northern Israel amid reports of intense security consultations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding Syria and the possibility of chemical weapons falling into the hands of Islamist rebels or being transferred to the militant group Hezbollah.

Silvan Shalom, a vice prime minister, described the movement of such weapons as a “red line” that could lead to Israeli military action.

“If there will be a need, we will take action to prevent chemical weapons from being transferred to Islamic terror organizations,” Mr. Shalom said on Army Radio. “We are obligated to keep our eye on it at all times, in the event chemical weapons fall into Hezbollah’s hands.”

A spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces said that the deployment of the Iron Dome in the north — where Israel borders Syria and Lebanon — was part of a routine rotation around the country and “not related to any current situation assessments.” But Israeli journalists suspected otherwise, noting that Mr. Netanyahu had been in marathon meetings for several days with military and intelligence chiefs and senior ministers, with unusual strictures on secrecy.

“Something is happening for sure,” said Ehud Yaari, a senior security analyst with Israel’s Channel 2 News. “Even in Israel, which is usually tense, and the normal nervousness that you have in this country, this is exceptional now.”

The intensifying focus on Syria here in Israel came as violence flared across the border. Syrian government warplanes and artillery increased attacks on rebels in the suburbs east and south of Damascus, fighting closed the highway to the Dara’a in the south, and clashes continued in Homs Province, in central Syria, and in the city of Deir al-Zour in the east, according to state news media and antigovernment activists.

The fierce fighting and desperate living conditions have sent 30,000 Syrians fleeing to Jordan in the past month, with thousands more entering Lebanon and massing on the border with Turkey — accelerating a flow that now totals 650,000 people who have fled and another two million displaced inside the country. The relief effort is underfinanced and overwhelmed, and the United Nations is seeking increased international aid.

The chaos worsened ahead of meetings on the crisis scheduled for Monday, when the main exile opposition group and its international backers are to convene in Paris, and civilian opposition leaders, including some who oppose the use of force, plan a conference in Geneva on building Syrian civil society.

President Obama, in an interview with The New Republic, signaled his continuing doubts about getting involved in the Syrian crisis, suggesting no dramatic change would be coming out of the meeting on Monday.

“In a situation like Syria, I have to ask, can we make a difference in that situation?” Mr. Obama said. “Would a military intervention have an impact? How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan? What would be the aftermath of our involvement on the ground? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons? What offers the best prospect of a stable post-Assad regime?

“And how do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo? Those are not simple questions.”

More than 60,000 people have died in Syria’s nearly two-year-old conflict, but international efforts to end the crisis appear stalled. The opposition is divided, and Russia, the main backer of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, is at loggerheads with the Syrian opposition’s Western and Arab supporters.

Russia’s prime minister, Dmitri A. Medvedev, told CNN that Mr. Assad’s chances of remaining in office seemed to be getting “smaller and smaller” with each passing day, according to a transcript released by Mr. Medvedev’s office on Sunday. But he reiterated Russia’s insistence that Mr. Assad’s ouster could not be a precondition for talks, as the American-backed Syrian opposition leaders have demanded.

Mr. Medvedev said the United States, Europe and regional powers must “sit the parties down for negotiations, and not just demand that Assad go and then be executed” like Libya’s ousted leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, “or be carried to court sessions on a stretcher like Hosni Mubarak,” the deposed Egyptian president.

If Mr. Assad is to step down, “this must be decided by the Syrian people,” he said, “not Russia, not the United States, not any other country.”

Fighting edged into a new area of Damascus, the capital, according to activists, who said rebels attacked a railway station in the district of Qadam, in the city’s southwest. Video posted on the Internet showed gunmen walking near buildings by a railroad track and black smoke that activists said was from an airstrike. The claims were impossible to verify because of the government’s restrictions on journalists inside Syria.

In Israel, Mr. Yaari, the television news analyst, said he had seen video and other reports of activity by Jaba el Nusra, an Islamist rebel group, near the “fences” of Sfira, which he described as a chemical weapons installation southeast of Aleppo, Syria. He also said there was a “raging battle” between Mr. Assad’s forces and the Free Syrian Army near another installation on the southwestern outskirts of Damascus.

Israel is technically at war with Syria, though it has been a largely quiet conflict since a cease-fire line was established after the 1973 war. The current chaos in Syria has spilled across the border several times, with errant shells landing in the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that Israel seized from Syria in 1967 and later annexed in a move that has not been internationally recognized. Israel has filed several complaints with the United Nations, and in November its tanks made a direct hit on Syrian artillery units after two consecutive days of incoming mortar fire.

This month, Mr. Netanyahu announced plans to build a security fence along the armistice line with Syria, similar to the one protecting its southern border with Egypt.

But the chemical weapons have been the chief concern for Israeli officials. On Sunday, the prime minister spoke of Syria in grave terms, linking it to Iran as potential existential threats to Israel in the context of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“We must look around us, at what is happening in Iran and its proxies and at what is happening in other areas, with the deadly weapons in Syria, which is increasingly coming apart,” Mr. Netanyahu said at the start of his weekly cabinet meeting. “In the east, north and south, everything is in ferment, and we must be prepared — strong and determined in the face of all possible developments.”

Jodi Rudoren reported from Jerusalem, and Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon.


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« Reply #4262 on: Jan 28, 2013, 07:50 AM »

January 27, 2013

Pentagon Expanding Cybersecurity Force to Protect Networks Against Attacks

By ELISABETH BUMILLER
IHT

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is moving toward a major expansion of its cybersecurity force to counter increasing attacks on the nation’s computer networks, as well as to expand offensive computer operations on foreign adversaries, defense officials said Sunday.

The expansion would increase the Defense Department’s Cyber Command by more than 4,000 people, up from the current 900, an American official said. Defense officials acknowledged that a formidable challenge in the growth of the command would be finding, training and holding onto such a large number of qualified people.

The Pentagon “is constantly looking to recruit, train and retain world class cyberpersonnel,” a defense official said Sunday.

“The threat is real and we need to react to it,” said William J. Lynn III, a former deputy defense secretary who worked on the Pentagon’s cybersecurity strategy.

As part of the expansion, officials said the Pentagon was planning three different forces under Cyber Command: “national mission forces” to protect computer systems that support the nation’s power grid and critical infrastructure; “combat mission forces” to plan and execute attacks on adversaries; and “cyber protection forces” to secure the Pentagon’s computer systems.

The move, part of a push by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta to bolster the Pentagon’s cyberoperations, was first reported on The Washington Post’s Web site.

In October, Mr. Panetta warned in dire terms that the United States was facing the possibility of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” and was increasingly vulnerable to foreign computer hackers who could dismantle the nation’s power grid, transportation system, financial network and government. He said that “an aggressor nation” or extremist group could cause a national catastrophe, and that he was reacting to increasing assertiveness and technological advances by the nation’s adversaries, which officials identified as China, Russia, Iran and militant groups.

Defense officials said that Mr. Panetta was particularly concerned about a computer attack last August on the state oil company Saudi Aramco, which infected and made useless more than 30,000 computers. In October, American intelligence officials said they were increasingly convinced that the Saudi attacks originated in Iran. They described an emerging shadow war of attacks and counterattacks already under way between the United States and Iran in cyberspace.

Among American officials, suspicion has focused on the “cybercorps” created in 2011 by Iran’s military, partly in response to American and Israeli cyberattacks on the Iranian nuclear enrichment plan at Natanz. There is no hard evidence, however, that the attacks were sanctioned by the Iranian government.

The attacks emanating from Iran have inflicted only modest damage. Iran’s cyberwarfare capabilities are weaker than those of China and Russia, which intelligence officials believe are the sources of a significant number of attacks on American companies and government agencies.

The expansion of Cyber Command comes as the Pentagon is making cuts elsewhere, including in the size of its conventional armed forces.

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

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
01/25/2013 06:31 PM

The Hunt for Red October: Virus Hunters Try to Catch Diplomatic Time Bomb

By Benjamin Bidder, Matthias Schepp and Hilmar Schmundt

For five years now, the Red October computer virus has embarked on a new brand of espionage, stealing emails and other encrypted classified documents undetected from diplomats around the world. Though the virus may now be in hibernation, it's designed so that it can strike again at anytime.

The virus hunters have their headquarters in a nondescript office building in northwest Moscow. Vitaly Kamlyuk, a 28-year-old Belarusian with gel in his hair and a shiny black tie, sits in front of a giant monitor wall displaying a world map. He is having a discussion with a pale female computer scientist and a nerdish-looking man with long hair and a bouncy goatee.

The three virus hunters, part of a special unit at Kaspersky, a Russian computer firm, are hunting for "Red October." It's the moniker they have given to a newly discovered spy program, inspired by the almost noiseless submarine in the eponymous novel by Tom Clancy.

The virus has infected at least 350 government ministries, embassies and research facilities worldwide, especially in the former Soviet republics. The attackers apparently had "a special interest in geopolitically significant information," says virus analyst Kamlyuk.

The Russian Embassy in the United States was apparently among the targets. Tens of thousands of documents, probably including classified reports to the foreign ministry in Moscow, reportedly fell into the hands of cyber spies. It's possible that a total of several terabytes of data were stolen, the contents of which could very well be as explosive as the cables made public by Wikileaks.

The digital submarine has been lurking for five years, fishing for classified information and it's likely that the data theft still hasn't been detected by some of the victims.

"We have never before seen an attack done with such surgical precision," says Kamlyuk, who is now urging his colleagues to speed up their efforts. Since Kaspersky went public with the discovery of the spy network, the attacker's control servers are gradually being taken offline. "The enemy is destroying the evidence," says Kamlyuk.

Deepening Intrigue

Red October is part of a group of new spyware programs that are expensive and complex, and yet promise hardly any financial gain. They are designed to steal political information, not bank data. Government intelligence agencies are believed to be behind the programs.

Company founder Eugene Kaspersky, a graduate of the KGB's internal university, is increasingly specializing in this new generation of government Trojan horses. His company analyzed the Stuxnet virus in 2010. The computer worm had infected computers in Iran, dealing a major setback to the Islamist regime's nuclear program. Last year, the Russians deciphered "Flame" and "Gauss," two destructive computer worms that were mainly active in the Middle East. Like Stuxnet there has been speculation that the United States or Israeli governments commissioned the programs.

Red October, however, bears a different handwriting. Russian slang keeps appearing in its code, including words like "zakladka" (bug) and "proga" (program). Sergei Nikitin of the Moscow-based security firm Group-IB believes that many authors were at work here, and that they were not in contact with one another. The programming style of the individual modules, says Nikitin, is inconsistent, ranging from sophisticated to roughly put together. He believes that the program was probably commissioned by "an intelligence service that hired the programmers through underground forums in the Russian hacker community."

There are many independent cyber warriors willing to sell their services, especially in Russia. While the country offers good technical training opportunities, the pay is often miserable in government research institutes, leading some specialists to seek secondary income sources. The Russian Interior Ministry estimates that Russians make up about 30 percent of individuals involved in global cybercrime.

The backers of Red October, on the other hand, could be in any other country. China came under suspicion at first, because no victims had been discovered there yet. In addition, Chinese hackers had previously used a few of the program's infection paths to spy on the computers of Tibetan activists. But it could be a false trail, perhaps even put there deliberately.

Targeted Trawling

It is clear, however, that Red October was inserted in a targeted manner into the computers of a few selected recipients, so as to attract little attention, using a method called "spear phishing." The messages in which the program was hiding were tailored to the recipients. In one case, for example, a recipient received a bogus email with the words "diplomatic car for sale" in the subject line.

The program wastes little energy trying to infiltrate external computers. Its ingenuity lies in so-called "exfiltration," or the discreet removal of the spoils.

"Red October is fantastic," raves Costin Raiu, barely disguising his admiration. "The attackers wrote about 1,000 different modules to steal data." Raiu, a man in his mid-30s with a roundish face, runs Kaspersky's research team, with 34 employees scattered around the world, from his office in the Romanian capital Bucharest.

An informant passed him a virus in October 2012. The file seemed trivial. Raiu decided to observe the intruder.

When he intentionally infected special laboratory computers, the virus began to take effect. The software activated itself, mapped the entire network from within, established a directory of all connected devices, and then stored and encrypted the information. The orderly intruder also assigned a victim number to each infected computer.

After its investigation is done, the program contacts a number of control computers on the Internet. Depending on which hardware the virus discovers, it downloads the applicable break-in tools: to fish for passwords, addresses, calendars, text, tables and call lists. One module is used to read information stored on iPhones, while another one copies the content of USB flash drives, even when users believe that they have deleted the contents.

Pulling Apart the Layers

The virus also searches specifically for classified documents that are secured with encryption software called "Acid Cryptofiler," which is also used by the European Union and NATO. To decrypt these files, it records keyboard entries using a so-called "keylogger."

Then it compresses the data and transmits it in neat little packages to a selection of about 60 command servers, some of which are in Germany. These servers, in turn, communicate with "mother ships," a system of switching computers (proxies) that forward the data to the hidden culprits. "The whole thing is structured like an onion peel," says Raiu.

Raiu set a trap to determine who was targeted in the attack. Some web addresses that the virus contacted did not respond. Raiu simply registered these out-of-date Internet addresses to his name and diverted the data traffic to his laboratory. The method is called a "sinkhole," because it enables the user to look deeply into a hidden tunnel system.

Within a few weeks, he had collected 55,000 inquiries from computers contaminated with the virus. "We were only able to access six of 60 command servers," says Raiu. "In other words, we could see only about 10 percent of the network." It's possible that the number of victims was much higher.

Raiu is currently observing the command servers gradually being shut down. But this only means that Red October is hibernating. Secret plug-ins are left behind that can be reactivated at any time, despite the virus supposedly having been deleted, warns Igor Kotenko, an IT professor at the University of Saint Petersburg.

Virus Protection

The anti-virus industry is now left with egg on its face. How could the worm have remained undetected for five years?

Andreas Marx, managing director of AV-Test in the eastern German city of Magdeburg, explains the problem: "Red October only infected individual computers in a very targeted manner, while anti-virus software usually focuses on widespread worms."

The torrent of dangerous software is growing immensely, says Marx. "An estimated 50 million variants are being added this year alone." That comes to two per second. Marx advises users to also use an onion-like protection system, consisting of automatic updates of all programs, virus protection, firewalls and a "white list" of trustworthy computers.

"Anti-virus programs can lead people to believe that they are safe when they are not," says Fred Cohen, a security advisor on the editorial board of the Journal in Computer Virology. "Many users download all kinds of things, because they believe that they are protected."

Cohen is one of the pioneers in the community. He coined the term "computer virus," after he had released computer worms on a test basis at the University of Southern California. That was in 1983.

Thirty years of experience have taught Cohen that for every digital protective shield, there is a virus that can circumvent it. That, he says, is why he places most of his trust in the virus protection programs between his ears: skepticism and caution.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #4263 on: Jan 28, 2013, 07:53 AM »

January 27, 2013

North Korean Leader Vows ‘High-Profile’ Retaliation Over New U.N. Sanctions

By CHOE SANG-HUN
IHT

SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, has ordered his top military and party officials to take “substantial and high-profile important state measures” to retaliate against American-led United Nations sanctions on the country, the North’s official media reported Sunday.

North Korea did not clarify what those measures might be, but it referred to a series of earlier statements in which Mr. Kim’s government has threatened to launch more long-range rockets and conduct a third nuclear test to build an ability to “target” the United States.

Mr. Kim threw his weight behind his government’s escalating standoff with Washington when he called a meeting of top security and foreign affairs officials and gave an instruction in his name. He inherited the posts of supreme party and military leaders from his father, Kim Jong-il, who died in December 2011.

By calling such a meeting and having it reported in state news media, Mr. Kim appeared to be asserting his leadership in what his country called an “all-out action” against the United States, unlike his father, who tended to remain reclusive during similar confrontations.

“At the consultative meeting, Kim Jong-un expressed the firm resolution to take substantial and high-profile important state measures in view of the prevailing situation,” said the North’s Korean Central News Agency, or K.C.N.A. “He advanced specific tasks to the officials concerned.”

The K.C.N.A. dispatch, which was distributed Sunday, was dated Saturday, indicating that the meeting in Pyongyang, the capital, took place then. That was the same day on which the North’s main party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said that the United Nations Security Council’s resolution last Tuesday calling for tightening sanctions against the North left it with “no other option” but a nuclear test.

“A nuclear test is what the people demand,” it said in a commentary.

The resolution was adopted unanimously — with the support of the North’s traditional protector, China — as punishment for its Dec. 12 rocket launching. The Security Council determined that the launching was a cover for testing intercontinental ballistic missile technology and a violation of its earlier resolutions banning North Korea from conducting such tests.

The North rejected the old resolutions, as well as the latest one, insisting that launching rockets to put satellites into orbit was its sovereign right. Its successful rocket launching in December, coming after a failure last April, was the most visible achievement that Mr. Kim’s government could present to its people, who have suffered decades of poverty and isolation. In North Korean propaganda, defending the rocket program is likened to protecting national pride and independence — even if the country has to pay a high economic price.

Last Thursday, North Korea said that its drive to rebuild its moribund economy and its rocket program, until now billed as a peaceful space project, would be adjusted and redirected toward efforts to foil hostilities by the United States. On Sunday, it said the Security Council’s action “has thrown a grave obstacle” in the way of its efforts to focus on “economic construction so that the people may not tighten their belts any longer.”

Still, it said it had to “defend its sovereignty by itself” because “different countries concerned” failed to “fairly solve the problem.” In the past few days, North Korea, without citing China by name, expressed bitterness and defiance against its longtime Communist ally for endorsing the American-led Security Council resolution. On Saturday, Rodong Sinmun reaffirmed its dislike of “sadae,” or toadying to big countries, including China.

China provides all of North Korea’s fuel and remains its biggest trading partner, but analysts believe that its influence on the recalcitrant government in Pyongyang is limited. China has been thus far reluctant to use its economic leverage, fearing that it would only drive its neighbor into more provocations, which would be a blow to China’s interest in maintaining stability in the region.

International attention has focused on the Punggye nuclear test site in northeastern North Korea, where the country conducted its two previous underground nuclear tests, in 2006 and 2009. Enough preparations have been made there recently that a third test could happen on short notice from the North Korean leadership, South Korean officials said.

In a report issued Sunday, the Institute for National Security Strategy, a research organization affiliated with South Korea’s main intelligence service, said that North Korea might use provocations this year to tame the government of President-elect Park Geun-hye, who will be sworn in next month.

“It will wait and see until the new government’s North Korea policy shapes up,” it said. “If the policy is not favorable, the North may lash out with provocations.”
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« Reply #4264 on: Jan 28, 2013, 07:59 AM »

Berlusconi praises Fascist dictator Mussolini on Holocaust Remembrance Day

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, January 27, 2013 12:17 EST

Italy’s gaffe-prone former premier Silvio Berlusconi sparked outrage Sunday with remarks praising wartime dictator Benito Mussolini despite Il Duce’s persecution of Jews and allowing thousands to be deported to Auschwitz.

“The racial laws were the worst mistake of a leader, Mussolini, who however did good things in so many other areas,” Berlusconi, who is angling for a return to politics in elections next month, said on the sidelines of a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in Milan.

Starting in 1938, Mussolini promulgated decrees known collectively as racial laws that barred Jews from the civil service, the armed forces and the National Fascist Party. The laws also banned intermarriage.

Mussolini’s Italy participated in the deportation of Jews to the Auschwitz death camp, and an estimated 7,500 are estimated to have been victims of the Holocaust.

Italy “does not have the same responsibilities as Germany,” said Berlusconi, a billionaire media tycoon known for ill-considered outbursts.

On Saturday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany had “an everlasting responsibility for the crimes of (the Nazis)”.

The head of Italy’s Jewish community, Renzo Gattegna, slammed Berlusconi’s remarks, saying they were “not only superficial and inopportune, but also… devoid of any moral meaning or historical foundation.”

Gattegna, head of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, added: “The persecution and the racist anti-Semitic laws of Italy originated well before the war and were applied with full autonomy under the… fascist regime, later an ally and willing and conscious accomplice of Nazi Germany.”

He said the remarks showed “the extent to which Italy still has trouble seriously accepting its own history and its own responsibilities”.

Centre-left politicians also voiced outrage over Berlusconi’s comments.

“Berlusconi’s words are a disgrace and an insult to history and memory. He should apologise to the Italian people today,” Dario Francheschini, head of the centre-left Democratic Party, said in a Twitter message.

His party is tipped to win the elections set for February 24-25.

Left-wing MEP Debora Serracchiani said in a statement: “It is simply disgusting that even on Remembrance Day Berlusconi goes about rehabilitating the actions of the dictator who dragged Italy into the Second World War.”

Antonio Di Petro, head of the small anti-corruption Italy of Values party, dismissed Berlusconi as “nothing more than a caricature” of Mussolini.

The flamboyant, scandal-plagued 76-year-old, who has had three stints as prime minister, heads the centre-right People of Freedom Party (PDL) but has not decided whether to seek a fourth term or settle for a cabinet post if the party wins in February.

The head of the PDL’s parliamentary group, Fabrizio Cicchitto, came to Berlusconi’s defence, saying: “The fascist dictatorship never attained the horror of that of the Nazis or the Russians.”

He said the left’s reactions were politically motivated and that “Berlusconi was obviously talking about (Mussolini’s) social aid policies and support for families.”

Berlusconi’s long history of gaffes includes an earlier comment about Il Duce: “Mussolini never killed anyone. Mussolini used to send people on vacation in internal exile,” he told an Italian magazine in 2003.


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« Reply #4265 on: Jan 28, 2013, 08:08 AM »

Czech Republic: “Zeman”

28 January 2013
Presseurop
Hospodářské Noviny

Return Milos Zeman in politics is impressive - straight to the Prague Castle with the support of 2.7 million voters. How it should have happy citizens who voted for someone else or not vote, what to prepare for government, political parties or partners abroad?

It is completely foolish idea that Milos Zeman as president restrained, calm and connecting. That will be refined and fair negotiations to improve political culture. Such a head of state by now - after a rough campaign, too - although the country needed the most, but the new president's policies uncontrolled and arrogant.

Miloš Zeman used in countless campaign of lies, and he and his allies then another unfair means, slander and insults. This is ominous predictor of future presidential political program. Looks even worse set of people with Zeman returning: Miroslav Slouf cadres and the other dark, which created its suspected corruption around the 90 years.

And if elected president in the first few utterances mouth full of early elections, it is clear that the fragile political marches porcelain elephant.

The president is the most powerful and the most important man in the country, a few hours after won the election looks. Its powers are limited and Zeman's future position just does not matter to him, but also from other political institutions - the government, parties, MPs, regions ... Where it begins in the Constitution, but there is a new president gets.

What seems to be a really good election result is that at the Prague Castle we have a pro-European president - even if it meant just better interplay of head of state and the Prime Minister Necas Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg. How are the outgoing and incoming president close in political style and the castle provocation and obstruction against the European Union do not have to worry.

And what is the first experience with the direct election of the President? Voters in it clearly stood the test. Doubled participation around sixty percent is excellent, many supporters of candidates engaged in politics while days and weeks before the election. Hoping someone in autumn 2012 after a series of government crises, it is possible to raise so great and sincere interest in politics?

Were it not for the direct election should not Miloš Zeman and his team (which we include Vaclav Klaus) podpásovou opportunity to launch a campaign, so the company would have after the election was not so divided. Unfortunately, this is a tax which imposed a direct election of one party and you need to pay.

Among the supporters of all the candidates left next to hostility with positive energy, appetite to intervene in political affairs, energy funny to action, inspiring thought and will stick to the rules of the game. And so much positive energy or just nevytratí not turn into its opposite.

Compared to the Senate or the House of shameful choice Klaus five years ago, this year's direct election genuinely democratic, clean and exciting. And despite this year's result remains infamous in society much more hope.

**********

The head of the Agrarian Chamber Veleba: Selecting Zeman is good news for the Czech countryside

"I was intrigued by one-sided presentation of the media in favor of Karel Schwarzenberg," says HN poll on the presidential election chief Agrarian Chamber of the Czech Republic Jan Veleba under which the aid has been counterproductive. According to the election Veleba Milos Zeman "good news for the Czech countryside and the Czech agriculture."

Below gradually publish reviews of other representatives of Czech business associations and businessmen. We asked them to evaluate the presidential election and what was for them personally the most interesting and surprising moment and experience of the elections.

Number of other responses Czech businessmen see Hospodářské Monday.

Karel Havlicek, president of the Association of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

Probably a bit exaggerating when he says now that it was clear-cut. When you compare with other countries, so those options are completely classic and standard. I would even say that in other countries are far more severe. From this perspective, it was no big surprise and in the end was not a surprise winner. This was to be expected to some extent. Mr. Zeman is likely to be the president who keeps an eye on the Czech political scene. Not a man who would put wreaths, but rather it will be the type of person who will not let the body various political arrows, which I think is probably good in principle.

Libor Small - founder and former owner of the LMC (Jobs.cz operator portals, Prace.cz)

The greatest experience of elections? Knowledge about what kind of society I live. This is neither positive nor negative. You can see what the Czech nation thinks and what he wants. And it's good to know. It was close, fifty-fifty. Nothing surprised me, but I'm excited. It was kind of what politics is about, so that the end justifies the means. On the other hand, what I learned is that the country is indeed unhappy and wants to change the value and does not want corruption, but actually does everything that it should. People who behave in a way that I think people want and still win.

Jiri Grund - Grund family business

I do not know if it is "interested in" the right word, but it was a negative campaign, especially at the end, to Mr. Schwarzenberger. Attacking through the Benes decrees, etc., therefore I did not like at all. And also the fact that the choice of the nation split into two halves.

Petr Zemanek, director of the Association of Engineering Technologist ie

I was intrigued by the mass turnout, and a polarization of opinions.

Paul Tunkl, secretary of the Association of Car Importers

Rather than intrigued, so I was in the second round disillusioned inflammatory campaign. I also expected a larger turnout in the second round, because I thought that people vyhrocenost little more excited. I expected it at 65 percent.

Špryňar Martin, Secretary General ČESMAD

The highlight is how the campaigns were awful, and from both sides. Glad to five years we have peace again.

Zdenek Juračka, president of the Association of Commerce and Tourism

Nation is manifested. I was intrigued by how perfectly the choice of a nation divided.

Jan Veleba, president of the Agrarian Chamber of the Czech Republic

I was intrigued more things. The main advantage was one-sided presentation of the media in favor of Karel Schwarzenberg, which I think was one of the reasons the election results, but not the main one. Then I took a great interest in people, the media, etc. I personally as a voter Milos Zeman'm satisfied with the result. This is good news for the Czech countryside and the Czech agriculture. Among other wins because it is essentially a rural one. I was surprised by a mobilization of activists Karel Schwarzenberg, who took over the Czech Republic. This is in my opinion a new phenomenon elections. To some extent, I was surprised by a large difference. This means a clear victory Milos Zeman. Attributed, among other things counterproductive effect of media.

Jiri Rusnok Association of Pension Funds

Perhaps what some people who otherwise think of as a very intelligent and experienced, it took too emotional. Decided there almost being and non-being. I think we still have a bit to learn democracy so we took her from a distance.

Vit Nice, CEO of Kia Motors Czech

What interested me? I do not think it was something extreme. What I'm positively surprised by the relatively high turnout. I waited a while, in the second round will be even bigger than the first, but I think it was the choice of one of the largest participation.

Středula Josef, Chairman of the Trade Union KOVO

I did not think that would be the campaign so controversial and causes a reaction between the two camps. I did not expect. It was not for me in any way a pleasant experience. Intransigence of both camps also certainly would benefit from choosing as such.

Jan Wiesner, Vice President of the Economic Chamber of the Czech Republic

For the campaign I did not expect it would be so sharp - sometimes it was not until beyond. But it probably belongs to, we are not so much used to. The election itself - I think it was interesting 14 days. I assumed it would be about fifty-fifty, that there will not be much difference.

As I said earlier - I was to win the Mr. Zeman, because for the economy and do more business than Mr. Schwarzenberg, even though I like him. For the economy it is necessary, in order to live a little, was an economist and was able to export and do something.

Jan Svetlik, Vitkovice Holding chairman, chief engineering group Vitkovice Machinery Group

I suppose that after ten years of residence outside of politics will Miloš Zeman some recovery on the Czech political scene, and I hope that his policy statements, which resounds in the campaign - for example, on the promotion of Czech exporters - will gradually fulfill. On the other hand, now, in my opinion, should come after heightened campaign a calm situation. About Karel Schwarzenberg do not come, it remains in high politics. It has a very important position. It is the first Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Chairman of the coalition party TOP 09 I believe that its current popularity to promote the rational use of government action and real reform.

Radim Jančura, Chief Student Agency

It intrigued me that the first time I can remember, people with the candidate somehow more zosobnili and wore clothes pancakes. That seemed very emotional and beautiful. I noticed in the last election during the revolutionary events when wore tricolor.

Eva Štěpánková, company owner Ryor

Result enthused me. The behavior of Milos Zeman, shortly after his election proves that communication with him will not be easy. Mr. President is not too much of a gentleman.

Vlastislav Birch, Koh-i-noor

I thought that the campaign will be weaker, it will not be so acute. On the other hand, it was probably needed because the end justifies the means.

In the economic sphere is elected Milos Zeman good news, because it will be able to open the doors on both east and west. A general? It is hard to answer. When little change rhetoric, so it could handle.
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« Reply #4266 on: Jan 28, 2013, 08:09 AM »

The Netherlands: Petition for a referendum on the EU

28 January 2013
Presseurop
NRC Handelsblad, De Volkskrant

Will the Dutch hold a referendum on their future in the EU? Only a few days after the British Prime Minister announced a referendum in 2017 on the UK’s place in the EU, nine Dutch Eurosceptic academics have launched a citizens' initiative to do the same thing in the Netherlands. If their proposal gathers 40,000 signatures, the Second Chamber must deal with their demand. In an article published by NRC Handelsbladthe signatories, which include historian Thierry Baudet, jurist Paul Cliteur and economist Ewald Engelen, write that —

    We are being forced unavoidably into a political union. We believe that the federal path indicated by [José Manuel] Barroso and [Herman] Van Rompuy is unwanted, that it cannot work, and that it is even dangerous. It should not be pushed through before a consultation with Dutch citizens. Do they want gradually to lose their democratic capabilities and to be absorbed into a federal European state? Or do they want a EU reformed into a more modest organisation that leaves room for diversity among member states and merely facilitates mutual trade without any political ambitions?

Critics of the initiative were quick to make themselves heard. In De Volkskrant journalist Bart Schut qualifies the initiative as “cowardly” and “hypocritical”, because deep down “the originators want the Netherlands to leave from the EU.”

    They dare not admit it, though, because they are not sure of winning a referendum on this much more fundamental issue. To attack the unpopular Barroso and Van Rompuy and their federal dreams is one thing. But to accept the ultimate consequences of asking voters if they want to turn the Netherlands into an island adrift off the coast of Britain is another.
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« Reply #4267 on: Jan 28, 2013, 08:11 AM »


Immigration: Romanian or Bulgarian? You won't like it here

Ministers consider launching negative ad campaign in two countries to persuade potential immigrants to stay away from UK

Rajeev Syal   
The Guardian, Sunday 27 January 2013 22.10 GMT    

Please don't come to Britain – it rains and the jobs are scarce and low-paid. Ministers are considering launching a negative advertising campaign in Bulgaria and Romania to persuade potential immigrants to stay away from the UK.

The plan, which would focus on the downsides of British life, is one of a range of potential measures to stem immigration to Britain next year when curbs imposed on both country's citizens living and working in the UK will expire.

A report over the weekend quoted one minister saying that such a negative advert would "correct the impression that the streets here are paved with gold".

There was no word on how any advert might look or whether it would use the strategy of making Britain look as horrible as possible or try to encourage would-be migrants to wake up to the joys of their own countries whether Romania's Carpathian mountains or Bulgaria's Black Sea resorts. With governments around the world spending millions on hiring London-based consultants to undertake "reputation laundering" there would be a peculiar irony if Britain chose to trash its own image perhaps by highlighting winter flooding of homes or the carnage of a Saturday night A&E ward.

There are precedents. In 2007, Eurostar ran adverts in Belgium for its trains to London depicting a tattooed skinhead urinating into a china teacup. It remains unknown if any discussions have taken place over personalities who could carry off a similar exercise in anti-nation branding.

On Sunday a Downing Street source said: "It is true that options are being looked at but we are not commenting on the specific things mentioned ... as obviously it is an ongoing process and we will bring forward any proposals in due course."

The source also said that the government did not think the rule changes would necessarily bring a big influx of people, since Romanians have closer links to Germany and Italy rather than Britain.

Other reported options include making it tougher for EU migrants to access public services. Another is to deport those who move to Britain but do not find work within three months.

The Home Office has not produced an official estimate of how many of the 29 million Romanian and Bulgarian citizens will take advantage of their new freedoms when controls are lifted.

Campaign groups such as MigrationWatch have predicted that 250,000 will come from both countries over the next five years, although these figures are disputed. One Tory MP, Philip Hollobone, has claimed that Romanian and Bulgarian communities will treble to 425,000 within two years.

These figures have been questioned by experts, because they are based upon the numbers of Poles and Czechs who moved to Britain in in 2004. Then, only three countries opened their borders. This time, all of the 25 EU states will lift Labour market restrictions.

Buoyed by Cameron's offer of an in-out referendum, a growing number of Tory MPs now believe the UK should block the lifting of restrictions even if it were to prompt a row with the European commission.

The idea, however tentative, appears to clash with the billions of pounds Britain spent on the Olympics, partly to drive up the country's reputation. It also emerged as the Home Office launched a guide to Britishness for foreigners who would be citizens which opens with the words: "Britain is a fantastic place to live: a modern thriving society".
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« Reply #4268 on: Jan 28, 2013, 08:13 AM »


Jailed Yulia Tymoshenko set to face murder charges in Ukraine

Daughter fears that her mother's health is being affected after she was named as official suspect in killing of an MP

Miriam Elder, Moscow
The Guardian, Monday 28 January 2013      

The daughter of Yulia Tymoshenko fears that new murder charges expected to be brought against her mother have prompted severe health issues for the former Ukrainian prime minister, who faces the prospect of going to jail for life.

Tymoshenko, already serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of office, has now been named as a suspect in the 1996 murder of a Ukrainian MP.

"My mother's name was never mentioned during the 16 years they investigated the case – not once," Eugenia Tymoshenko said in Kharkiv, the north-eastern city where her mother is in jail. "Why is this accusation coming out now and not before?"

Since criminal charges were first brought against Tymoshenko in December 2010, she and her supporters have insisted that Viktor Yanukovych, the president, was merely using the country's justice system to mete out revenge and silence his chief political rival.

Tymoshenko was found guilty in October 2011 of abusing her prime ministerial office while negotiating a gas deal with Russia. Prosecutors brought charges of embezzlement and tax evasion months later. Now prosecutors say she is officially a suspect in the murder of Yevhen Shcherban, an MP and businessman shot dead, along with his wife and several bystanders, at an airport in the eastern city of Donetsk.

Ukraine's chief prosecutor, Viktor Pshonka, said Tymoshenko could face life in prison if found guilty of ordering the contract killing, which Ukrainian officials say carried a $2.8m (£1.8m) price tag.

Tymoshenko, 52, has complained of ill health since her trial, but recently the situation has got worse, her daughter said. "Her health has become critical," Eugenia Tymoshenko said. "She's in a very serious condition, in bad pain. She is mainly lying down."

Tymoshenko has been transferred to a hospital, but it lacks the doctors and equipment to treat her worsening back pain, her daughter said.

Tymoshenko has also complained that video cameras have been installed in her hospital room and has launched a "disobedience campaign" in response – she refuses to sleep in her hospital bed, and has taken to a cot set up in a shower room instead.

"Most of the time, she is in inhuman psychological conditions that always cause her pain and cause her condition to become worse," her daughter said.

"Now, after several weeks of protest and the fact that, in spite of her bad health, she's been submitted to investigation procedures by the general prosecutor, her health has become worse."

Tymoshenko is a complex figure in Ukraine, associated both with the criminally chaotic post-Soviet 90s when she became a supremely wealthy oligarch, and also with co-leading the country's 2004-05 pro-western Orange revolution. There are many in the country who passionately admire her, and just as many who equally despise her.

Yet few believe the cases against her are the result of justice. A poll conducted by Kiev's international sociology institute in early 2012 found that just 26% of those polled believed she had been found guilty of a crime while 39% believed it was the result of her political activity.

Tymoshenko has denied any part in Shcherban's killing. Her naming as a suspect came amid a wider campaign of pressure against her team.

Last week, her lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, said he was under criminal investigation for car theft, robbery and failing to obey a court ruling related to his divorce and feared arrest as part of the campaign against his client.

The step to new charges against Tymoshenko come at precarious time. On 25 February, the EU and Ukraine are due to hold a summit to discuss the country's integration with the bloc. Western leaders have been loudly critical of Tymoshenko's detention.

At the same time, Russia has been pressuring Yanukovych's government to join its customs union, something analysts believe is designed to solidify its influence in the region.

"The fate of Ukraine is that we are found between Russia and Europe – this is the year Ukraine will have to choose," said Volodymyr Fesenko, chairman of the Penta Centre for Applied Political Studies in Kiev. "To join these two vectors is impossible."


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« Reply #4269 on: Jan 28, 2013, 08:20 AM »

Anger mounts over corruption in recession-hit Spain

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, January 27, 2013 19:01 

Anger over a long list of corruption scandals implicating bankers, politicians and even members of the royal family is on the rise in recession-hit Spain, putting the spotlight on the failure of the country’s democracy to tackle the issue.

At demonstrations against government austerity measures, chants against alleged shady deals by Spain’s elite are as common as those venting anger at tax hikes and spending cuts to social services and public workers’ pay.

Around 200-300 elected officials out of more than 50,000 in the country are currently implicated in corruption cases in regions governed both by both the left and the right, said the head of the Spanish branch of anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, Jesus Lizcano.

“While small, it is a significant percentage and is a bit alarming and calls for an urgent response on the part of political parties,” he said.

With taxpayers reeling under austerity measures and a record unemployment rate of 26 percent, many feel that “the political class is not able to resolve the economic crisis, that it is useless, and that they protect each other”, said University of Santiago de Compostela political science professor Anton Losada.

The latest corruption scandal to make headlines involves Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s centre-right Popular Party, whose popularity has plunged since it won a November 2011 election in a landslide.

Daily newspaper El Mundo reported on January 18 that former Popular Party treasurer Luis Barcenas distributed envelopes containing thousands of euros to party officials on top of their declared salaries.

It said the money came from commissions collected from construction firms, insurance companies and anonymous donors.

Top Popular Party officials have strongly denied any involvement in the affair and have kept their distance from Barcenas, who reportedly had up to 22 million euros ($29 million) in Swiss bank accounts until 2009.

Hundreds of people protested, chanting “thieves” and “shame”, near the headquarters of the Popular Party in central Madrid on the day El Mundo published its allegations against Barcenas.

Corruption scandals have even hurt the popularity of King Juan Carlos after one implicated a member of his family.

His son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin was accused last year of embezzling public money paid by regional governments to a charitable organisation based in Mallorca which he chaired from 2004 to 2006.

“During the past three weeks people have been very, very, very angry, there has been a growing social alarm and it is very important that politicians take this issue seriously,” said Lizcano.

The corruption scandals have shaken Spaniards’ faith in politicians nearly four decades after the death of dictator General Francisco Franco in 1975 paved the way for the country’s return to democracy.

Three in four Spaniards think political corruption is rising in the country and that politicians get better treatment in the courts than regular citizens, according to a poll published in conservative newspaper ABC on January 20.

Rajoy has ordered an internal investigation into the finances of the party and has vowed to take action if any wrongdoing is uncovered.

Last year his government vowed to table a law on political transparency and earlier this month it proposed an anti-corruption pact with other parties.

After Franco’s death the country’s 17 autonomous communities were given broad powers with little oversight over their finances, which are largely blamed for the country’s bloated public deficit.

“There is an urgent need for parties to publish their accounts and their sources of financing,” as in other European nations, said Lizcano.

He said there is too much involvement by politicians in institutions such as the courts and regional savings banks.

Popular anger was fuelled this month when Spanish telecom giant Telefonica hired Rodrigo Rato, a former head of the International Monetary Fund, as an advisor just weeks after he appeared in court in a fraud case involving bailout-out bank Bankia, which he once headed.

Lizcano has little faith that the government will follow through on its vow to step up the fight against corruption.

“I am sceptical but I hope I am wrong,” he said.


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« Reply #4270 on: Jan 28, 2013, 08:22 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
01/28/2013 11:31 AM

ECB Warns of Euro-Zone Risk: Draghi Clashes with Berlin Over Aid to Cyprus

The head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, warned German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble last week not to dismiss Cyprus as not being 'systemically relevant' and said a failure to bail out the island nation could threaten the wider euro zone.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi confronted German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble last week to criticize his stance on Cyprus and said failure to bail out the island nation could threaten the euro zone.

At a meeting of EU finance ministers last week, Draghi contradicted Schäuble's view that Cyprus was not "systemically relevant," a term that implied it wouldn't endanger the euro zone if it went bankrupt.

Draghi told Schäuble that he often heard that argument from lawyers, even though the question of whether Cyprus was systemically relevant or not was not one that lawyers could answer. That, said Draghi, was a matter for economists. Schäuble is a trained lawyer.

Draghi was backed by the European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn as well as the head of the European Stability Mechanism, Klaus Regling.

The three pointed out to Schäuble that the two biggest banks in Cyprus had a large network of branches in Greece. If any doubt were cast on the safety of deposits held with those banks, the uncertainty of Greek savers could quickly spread to Greek banks, whoch would represent a major setback for Greece.

Undo the Positive News

In addition, they argued, a Cypiot bankruptcy would undo the positive news that had recently helped to calm the euro crisis.

In recent weeks, all indicators have pointed to an improvement, they said. The risk premiums on Spanish and Italian sovereign bonds had fallen significantly and the liabilities of national central banks had retreated from the dangerous levels they had reached. This recovery could be reversed if Cyprus was refused aid. It would also make it harder for Ireland and Portugal to return to financial markets.

They also came up with a judicial argument for helping Cyprus: the country had contributed to the bailout fund, hence it was entitled to assistance from it.

Aid talks for Cyprus, which has applied for a financial rescue that could reach more than €17 billion ($22.8 billion), have run into difficultiies because of concern in Germany and other European nations that the island has become a haven for dirty money from Russia.

Cyprus denies allegations that it is a hub for money laundering.


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« Reply #4271 on: Jan 28, 2013, 08:24 AM »


January 27, 2013

Italians Have a New Tool to Unearth Tax Cheats

By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
IHT

ROME — Despite the government’s best efforts, tax evasion remains something of a pastime in Italy, where, famously, more than a few of the Ferrari-driving set claim impoverishment when it comes to declaring their incomes.

So this month, not without controversy, the National Revenue Agency decided to try a new tack. Rather than attempting to ferret out how much suspected tax cheats earn, the agency began trying to infer it from how much they spend.

The new tool, known as the “redditometro,” or income measurer, aims to minimize the wiggle room for evasion by examining a taxpayer’s expenditures in dozens of categories, like household costs, car ownership, vacations, gym subscriptions, cellphone usage and clothing. If the taxpayer’s spending appears to be more than 20 percent greater than the income he or she has declared, the agency will ask for an explanation.

In a country that is desperate for revenue to straighten out its ailing public finances — and where newspapers routinely publish articles about Lamborghini-loving proletarians — one might expect the redditometro to attract some support, at least among Italians who file truthful tax returns. Yet the redditometro has run into strong opposition, not least from the nation’s suffering retailers, who are worried that it will discourage consumer spending and sink their businesses further. Others have criticized it on civil rights grounds, saying it is overly intrusive.

However it is received, the measure reflects the government’s widening effort to persuade more Italians — some say, to bully them — to comply with the tax code.

“This tool is part of a broader strategy of tension, which is the real objective,” said Andrea Carinci, a professor of tax law at the University of Bologna. “Not to create panic, but to make taxpayers understand that they have to be virtuous, because there is no escaping. The revenue agency wants to give a message to frighten people.”

The message is being received.

Serena Sileoni, a legal expert with the Bruno Leoni Institute, an Italian research organization, said in an interview on Radio 24 that forcing taxpayers to keep receipts to document their spending amounted to “an act of psychological terrorism.”

Even before the redditometro was introduced, the Italian tax authorities had been steadily adopting tougher measures that have begun to bite. The financial police said last week that in 2012, they uncovered more than 8,600 full-blown tax evaders — individuals who were not in their files at all — with more than $30 billion in undeclared income. Another $23 billion in income that should have been declared on Italian tax returns was unearthed abroad, they said.

Even so, those figures represent a relatively small part of Italy’s tax collection shortfall. The national statistics agency estimates that as much as 18 percent of Italy’s gross domestic product comes from the underground economy; if taxes were paid on all of that money, the state would take in as much as $162 billion more each year.

When the redditometro was first presented in November, the tax authorities said that by their analyses, about one-fifth of all Italian households exhibited “contradictory results” in their returns. Such contradictions do not necessarily imply tax evasion, officials hastened to add, but they would be enough to warrant closer scrutiny in some cases.

The redditometro cross-checks spending against the type of household — say, young single adults, families with children, or retirees — as well as where the taxpayer lives. It also considers national averages for various kinds of spending, calculated by the national statistical agency, Istat.

Critics decry what they say is a presumption of guilt, and say the hunt for tax evaders is having a chilling effect on parts of the economy.

Sales of domestic sports cars and luxury autos plummeted last year, in part because of higher taxes and tighter tax scrutiny, industry experts say. Other big-ticket luxury goods are also suffering. “People feel under such scrutiny, they’re afraid — and that stops them from purchasing items that are seen as luxury goods,” said Raffaella Cortese, the owner of a gallery in Milan that specializes in contemporary art. “It’s paralyzing for our field.”

Even the Italian association of veterinarians raised an alarm last week, saying that one pet owner refused to have an identifying microchip placed in his dog because he did not want to turn up on the radar of the redditometro, which monitors pets as one sign of wealth.

Others object to the way the new focus on spending is being applied retroactively — officials are starting with income tax returns filed in 2010 — and have even questioned the redditometro’s constitutionality.

Ms. Sileoni, of the Bruno Leoni Institute, said the new approach would probably prompt a flood of lawsuits from taxpayers — cases that, statistics show, the agency often loses, she said. A consumer advocacy group said this month that it would challenge the redditometro in court.

Others say that using national averages will unfairly ensnare honest Italians whose spending habits happen to be outside the norm.

“If this instrument is used in a bureaucratic and automatic way across the board,” it could be “very dangerous,” said Enrico Zanetti, a tax expert and fiscal consultant for Italia Futura, a centrist political party. No matter what the statistics say, not everyone eats meat, has a dog or goes to the hairdresser each week, he said.

With an election campaign looming this year and populism in the air, candidates have begun distancing themselves from the genesis of the tax tool. But there is plenty of credit — or blame — to go around.

The redditometro was originally proposed in 2010 by the conservative government of Silvio Berlusconi, and approved by its successor, the nonpartisan government led by Mario Monti. Both men are in the running for prime minister this year.

Mr. Monti, who now leads a coalition of small centrist parties, described the redditometro as a “time bomb placed on the road” by his predecessor. For his part, Mr. Berlusconi has argued that the Monti government transformed it “into an instrument that frightens citizens.”

The tax authorities are trying to quell some of those concerns, insisting that the redditometro will be used only on the most egregious tax evaders — “fake poor people” who brazenly lie about their incomes, as Marco Di Capua, the deputy director of the national revenue agency, has called them.

“It is not an instrument of mass verification,” he said.


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« Reply #4272 on: Jan 28, 2013, 08:26 AM »

January 27, 2013

Myanmar and World Bank Sign Deal to Clear Old Debt

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — The World Bank on Sunday announced a long-awaited deal to allow Myanmar to clear part of its huge decades-old foreign debt, opening the door for lending to jump-start its lagging economy.

The bank’s Washington headquarters said in a statement that the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, the country’s overseas development bank, will provide a bridge loan to Myanmar to allow it to cover outstanding debt to the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which totals about $900 million.

Myanmar stopped payments on its old loans in about 1987, making it ineligible for new development lending.

The deal is a major breakthrough for Myanmar, with loans likely to go to upgrading its dilapidated infrastructure, including electricity and ports. A result could be to bring in more foreign direct investment, already attracted by the country’s relatively low-cost economy.

The deal is also likely to draw criticism, because it comes as Myanmar’s army is pushing hard against ethnic Kachin rebels in the country’s north, echoing the counterinsurgency campaigns of previous military governments.

A former general, Thein Sein, became the country’s elected president in 2011 and began reversing almost five decades of military repression by instituting political and economic reforms.

He won the substantial easing of economic and political sanctions imposed against the junta by the United States and other nations. But some democracy activists say the rewards have been too much, too fast, allowing some abuses to continue, like repression of ethnic minorities.

Myanmar ran up $8.4 billion of debt during the socialist government of Gen. Ne Win from 1962 to 1988, and $2.61 billion of debt after a new military junta took over in 1988, making for a total of a little more than $11 billion.

The largest creditor before 1988 was Japan, with loans of $6.39 billion, and the biggest post-1988 creditor was China, with $2.13 billion.
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« Reply #4273 on: Jan 28, 2013, 08:28 AM »


India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
January 28, 2013, 6:39 am

One Delhi Gang Rape Suspect Ruled a Minor

By HEATHER TIMMONS and NIHARIKA MANDHANA

NEW DELHI

The Indian Juvenile Justice Board ruled Monday that one suspect in the recent fatal gang rape of a young woman on a moving bus is officially a juvenile, which could result in a lenient sentence if he is found guilty of the crime.

The teenager, who school records show is 17 years old, could receive a maximum sentence of three years in a detention facility if found guilty. Five other men accused of the premeditated rape and killing of a 23-year old physiotherapy student on Dec. 16 could face life imprisonment or the death penalty if found guilty.

The December gang rape and the victim's subsequent death of injuries sustained during the rape prompted widespread protests in India over the lack of safety and justice for women, and calls for the rapists to be executed.

Some criminal and legal experts expected the juvenile to be forced to undergo a bone ossification test, which is sometimes used to determine age in India where birth records are not always accurate. But the juvenile board's ruling Monday makes that unlikely.

Separately, the judge in a fast-track court set up to try the five men accused in the Delhi gang rape on Monday rejected a plea by one suspect, Vinay Sharma, that he take a bone ossification test in order to prove his age, to prove he is a juvenile. Mr. Sharma's mother told India Ink earlier this month that he was born in March 1994, which would make him 18, or legally an adult.

Lawyers for the five suspects on Monday began their arguments on the framing of charges against the men. They are jointly facing 14 charges, including robbery, murder, kidnapping and gang rape.

V.K. Anand, the lawyer for two of five suspects, brothers Ram and Mukesh Singh, argued on Monday that a majority of the charges against his clients should be dropped. The fast-track court, in the Saket District Court Complex, meets again Tuesday at noon.


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« Reply #4274 on: Jan 28, 2013, 08:32 AM »


Ariel Sharon showing brain activity seven years into comatose state

Former Israeli PM responding to external stimuli including son's voice and family pictures, say team of Israeli and US scientists

Associated Press in Jerusalem
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 27 January 2013 20.11 GMT   

A team of Israeli and US scientists say new tests on comatose former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon show significant brain activity.

Ben-Gurion University on Sunday said Sharon responded to external stimuli at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba.

He was shown pictures of his family and listened to recordings of his son's voice while undergoing a special brain imaging scan. The university said "significant brain activity was observed ... indicating appropriate processing of these stimulations."

However, Sharon remains in a deep coma.

Sharon, 84, led Israel from 2001 until suffering a stroke in 2006. Since then, he has been in a vegetative state, connected to a respirator.

Sharon was a storied military officer who fought in three wars before entering politics. He unilaterally withdrew Israeli troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005.


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