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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1073490 times)
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« Reply #4290 on: Jan 29, 2013, 08:32 AM »

01/29/2013 01:30 PM

Envelopes of Cash: Corruption Charges Put Madrid on Defensive

By Helene Zuber

New revelations about the corruption scandal that is rocking Spanish politics has put conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his party on the defensive. Voters are beginning to lose patience.

The powerful reacted the way powerful people react when they are in a tight spot. Former Prime Minister José María Aznar instructed his attorneys to sue the newspaper El País. Current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a conservative like Aznar, threatened to sue anyone who leveled accusations at his People's Party (PP).

For weeks, Spanish newspapers have published new details about one of the country's biggest ever corruption scandals, called "Gürtel affair," named in German after businessman Francisco Correa, whose last name means "belt". For years Correa allegedly bribed PP officials with money and gifts in return for public contracts.

The general outline of the affair was known, but not the fact that the former treasurer of the People's Party, Luis Bárcenas, had amassed up to €22 million ($30 million) from dubious sources in accounts with Dresdner Bank in Geneva. The judge on the Spanish National Court only learned of this as a result of legal assistance from Switzerland. Even the conservative newspaper El Mundo could no longer refrain from delving into the scandal.

For as long as Bárcenas managed the PP's finances, El Mundo writes, the politician handed party officials envelopes filled with banknotes worth between €5,000 and 15,000 every month. A former member of parliament for the PP confirmed this practice. Although accepting additional pay is not prohibited if a person declares it on his tax return, the conservatives are nonetheless worried. Bárcenas may have recorded the source of the funds in his notebooks (anonymous donations to political parties have been banned since 2007), as well as to whom the money was passed and why.

An 'Atom Bomb'

Bárcenas accepted the equivalent of more than €1.3 million in bribes, a circumstance that businessman Correa bragged about in recorded conversations that led to the discovery of the scandal in 2009. Rajoy, head of the PP and leader of the opposition at the time, protected his treasurer at first, and the party paid an attorney. A year later, however, the conservatives forced Bárcenas to resign from his senate seat and to leave the People's Party.

A few days after Correa's arrest in 2009, Bárcenas began to move the money that had been parked in Switzerland, and by 2010 the Geneva accounts were empty. Thanks to a tax amnesty declared by the Rajoy government, he transferred close to €10 million back to Spain in recent months, said his lawyer. But that amnesty doesn't cover funds obtained illegally, stresses the finance minister.

Bárcenas denies all accusations. And if he is sent to prison, he has threatened that an "atom bomb" will explode.

PP Secretary General María Dolores de Cospedal denies any knowledge of envelopes stuffed with money, and she says that she never discussed such a practice with Rajoy. "The PP has nothing to do with the account, and this gentleman also has nothing to do with the party anymore." Rajoy, plagued with sovereign debt and a persistent budget deficit, ordered an internal and external audit. He also expects former party officials to sign a statement that they did not collect any illegal money. The prime minister plans to address the opposition's questions this week.

Sympathy for the Sweet Life

Alfredo Rubalcaba, leader of the Socialist Workers' Party, called for an anti-corruption pact at the very beginning of the year, but has so far found few takers despite the fact that more than 200 politicians face corruption charges in six of the 17 autonomous regions. In socialist Andalusia, six senior government officials face indictments in a fraud case involving early retirement funds. In Catalonia, officials are examining the business dealings undertaken by members of the long-time regional governmental head's family.

It is hardly a surprise that citizens no longer trust their politicians. In a poll, 95 percent of respondents said they were convinced that political parties in the country cover up corruption and bribery. Next to their concerns about unemployment and income, the Spaniards see politicians and nepotism as the country's biggest problem.

In the last elections, notoriously corrupt officials were reelected. But in the sixth year of the crisis, in which the conservative government is constantly calling for new sacrifices and raising taxes, and in which more and more people are losing their jobs, there is no longer any sympathy for the sweet life of the powerful. When the first reports of Señor Bárcenas' alleged special payments were discussed on the radio and on Twitter, hundreds of people marched to the party headquarters in Madrid and protested against politicians lining their pockets at taxpayer expense.

There were also new revelations within the last week over how the king's son-in-law, married to the Infanta Cristina, may have diverted money from a charity to his own accounts. He has once again been called to testify on the matter in February, although he denies the charges. The trial could become unpleasant for the king, because his daughter's private secretary is also allegedly embroiled in the matter.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #4291 on: Jan 29, 2013, 08:36 AM »

January 28, 2013

Russia Moves to Prosecute a Lawyer Who Died in Jail


MOSCOW — Russia took the unusual step on Monday of attempting to put a dead man on trial, when it tried to open posthumous proceedings against Sergei L. Magnitsky, the whistle-blowing lawyer who died three years ago in a Moscow jail cell.

The effort to prosecute Mr. Magnitsky, which was postponed when Mr. Magnitsky’s legal team refused to participate, stoked tensions in a case that has already damaged Russia’s image abroad and strained relations with the United States.

Mr. Magnitsky was 37 when he died in a Russian jail, where he had been held for nearly a year. The authorities said he was detained on tax evasion charges and died of a heart attack. His advocates say that he was jailed for investigating hundreds of millions of dollars possibly taken by the authorities in a fraudulent tax case, and that he was beaten and denied medical care.

Last month, the United States Congress passed a law barring anyone linked to Mr. Magnitsky’s imprisonment or the initial fraud from entering the United States. In retaliation, Russia’s Parliament in December prohibited Americans from adopting Russian orphans.

As expected, the empty-chair prosecution drew an immediate rebuke. Critics said that it was an attempt to intimidate Mr. Magnitsky’s family members, and that it was a clear indication of rising prosecutorial overzealousness under President Vladimir V. Putin.

In the past year amid political protests, critics note, Russian courts have tried members of a punk band, Pussy Riot, sending two of its members to prison for an anti-Putin performance in a prominent Moscow cathedral; dozens of street protesters; and the American singer Madonna for a performance in St. Petersburg over the summer that officials said violated a local law against propagandizing homosexual behavior. The case was thrown out.

In Monday’s hearing, it was unclear who or what, exactly, went on trial. Mr. Magnitsky’s co-defendant, William F. Browder, the manager of the Hermitage Capital hedge fund, has been barred from entering Russia since 2005, so he did not appear in court.

The hearing was of a type in Russian practice that indicates that the police consider their work complete, and that the case can go to trial, Aleksandra V. Bereznina, a spokeswoman for Tverskoi Regional Court, said in an interview.

Judge Igor B. Alisov promptly postponed the trial because the defendants did not appear in the courtroom — as expected — but neither did lawyers representing their interests.

Posthumous criminal cases are rare in international practice, most often allowed only when relatives want to clear the name of a suspect, and rarely at the behest of the police, criminal law experts say. When a suspect dies, the question of guilt or innocence is usually rendered moot.

“All questions about investigating and charging of suspects, whoever it may be, alive or maybe not alive or something else, that is up to the police,” Ms. Bereznina said. “The court just looks at the case and the court just decides, what evidence is there?

“It can decide to proceed, to convict or to acquit.”

The hearing took place in a closed courtroom. The defendants’ chairs were unoccupied, Ms. Bereznina said. Mr. Browder and relatives of Mr. Magnitsky have said they will boycott the proceedings.

As Congress debated its punitive law against Russia, the police in Russia reopened the criminal case against Mr. Magnitsky last February, saying it would provide a chance for relatives and supporters to clear his name, in effect to defend his reputation. Mr. Browder maintains that the case is instead intended to intimidate members of Mr. Magnitsky’s family and discourage them from pressing for prosecutions in his death.

Judge Alisov ordered a delay of the start of the trial until Feb. 18 so that the Moscow bar association could appoint public defenders for the dead man and his long-absent co-defendant.
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« Reply #4292 on: Jan 29, 2013, 08:38 AM »

India’s top court rejects bid to move gang-rape trial

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 29, 2013 7:25 EST

India’s Supreme Court rejected on Tuesday an application to move the trial of five men accused of the fatal gang-rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi.

A three-judge bench dismissed the petition, which argued that the men could not get a fair trial in the capital, because the lawyer who filed it had ceased to represent one of the defendants.

Legal experts have raised concerns over the public pressure on the judge in New Delhi hearing the case of the men accused of abducting the woman and repeatedly raping her on a moving bus on December 16.

The incident has sparked violent protests and a bout of soul-searching in India about the treatment of women. The victim’s family have led calls for prompt verdicts and the death penalty.

The case is being held in a new “fast-track” court set up after the gang-rape, which is designed to deliver justice more quickly than the rest of the system where cases often take years to come to trial.

The petition to move the trial out of New Delhi was filed by lawyer M.L. Sharma, who said he was acting on behalf of defendant Mukesh Singh.

The three-judge bench hearing the petition on Tuesday said Singh had since appointed V.K. Anand as his counsel, meaning the original petition was void.

The father of the victim has called for changes in the law to allow a teenage suspect to be tried as an adult, local media reported on Tuesday.

The father of the 23-year-old victim said he was shocked a court ruled the sixth suspect in the deadly gang-rape case would be tried as a juvenile, facing a maximum prison term of three years if convicted.

“I want to ask the lawmakers if an exception shouldn’t be made in this case,” the father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was quoted as saying in the Hindu newspaper.

“We want to be reassured by the government that my rights to justice is protected. In this case the accused is hiding behind legal loopholes in the system,” he added.

The victim’s family has been among those calling for the juvenile to be tried alongside the five other accused, who face the possibility of being hanged if found guilty of rape and murder charges.

But the Delhi-based Juvenile Justice Board on Monday accepted the school records of the teenage suspect, which states that he was born on June 4, 1995, making him 17.

“The news came in as the family sat down to have its evening meal. Nobody has eaten since then,” the father said from the family’s modest one-room accommodation in east Delhi.

Though sexual harassment is commonplace in India and gang-rapes far from rare, the case has touched a nerve, leading to an outpouring of criticism of the treatment of women in Indian society.

A government panel set up to recommend changes to sexual crime laws last week rejected calls for the age at which people can be tried as adults to be lowered to 16 from 18.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #4293 on: Jan 29, 2013, 08:41 AM »

01/29/2013 12:48

Take Out the N-Word: It's Time to Remove Racism from Children's Books

By Dialika Neufeld

SPIEGEL reporter Dialika Neufeld has a German mother and a Senegalese father. In an essay, she recalls the discrimination she experienced as a child and argues it is correct for publishers to remove deeply offensive language, such as the N-word, from children's books because it perpetuates racist stereotypes.

A few weeks ago I experienced a feeling I had almost forgotten about, but one which was familiar to me from my childhood. It's a feeling that had to do with the fact that people liked to call me a "nigger".

I was called this often as a child. That's how it was in the northern German city of Kiel in the early 1990s, when I was in elementary school. A boy at the playground might tug at his mother's sleeve, point at me and say, "Look, Mom, a nigger!" When a child had a birthday party, the parents served marshmallow-filled chocolates known as "Negerküsse," or "Nigger kisses." When I dove into the swimming pool and the water beaded off my curls, someone was bound to say, "Niggers don't even get their hair wet, do they?"

My mother is German and my father Senegalese. I looked different, and the other kids let me know it. Their treatment of me was, of course, largely a product of how they were raised. But it was in some sense also a product of the writers they read, children's book authors such as Astrid Lindgren and Otfried Preussler, who put this word in my playmates' heads. There are "Negroes" in "Pippi Longstocking," "little Negroes" in Preussler's "The Little Witch" and "woolly-headed Black-a-moors" in "Struwwelpeter," another German children's classic. Anyone reading these books would think, logically enough, that there was nothing wrong with using the same words to describe me, since I was black like the character Jim Button in "Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver" and had frizzy hair. I read those books too, and loved the stories in them. But at the same time I hated them too.

Modernization or Censorship?

A recent statement by German Family Minister Kristina Schröder unleashed a flood of memories in the back of my mind. In an interview with Die Zeit, Schröder explained that when she reads books like "Pippi Longstocking" to her child, she leaves out discriminatory terms like "Negro king," saying she does so "to keep my child from picking up such expressions." That comment sparked a debate in Germany's newspapers, on the Internet and among publishers. Publishing house Thienemann Verlag has since announced that it will update "The Little Witch" to remove the term "little Negroes." It's about time, I say.

The critics, though, are up in arms, calling this censorship. Such critics can be divided into three categories: Those who insist on saying "Negro" or "nigger" as a matter of principle, those who deny a problem even exists and those who have honest concerns about literature.

I'm familiar with those who use the N-word as a matter of principle. There are many people like this, people who perceive political correctness as a threat and glorify the language of their childhood. "But then I won't be able to say 'Zigeunerschnitzel'* anymore either," when I order a schnitzel, they fret -- since "Zigeuner" is German for "Gypsy."

My second grade teacher fell into this category. He insisted on singing "Zehn kleine Negerlein" ("Ten Little Niggers") with us, a children's song in which one black child after another dies in a variety of amusing ways: one falls off a barn, one gets shot, one freezes to death. There were two black children in this teacher's class, my best friend and I, and we refused to sing along. But the song is still sung in Germany to this day.

People in the second category -- those who deny the problem exists -- claim that everyone nowadays knows not to use words like "Negro," "Gypsy," "Polack" or "Slit-Eyes," these terms that seem to come straight out of some handbook of discrimination. But their view holds little weight, given that I regularly find myself having to explain to adults why they shouldn't use the words "nigger" or "Negro" -- and certainly not in my presence.

Perpetuating Racist Stereotypes

Then there is the third category, people who are concerned about literature. This is a valid concern, because there is an important question at stake here: Is it acceptable to alter the original version of a text?

I say yes, when the texts in question are children's books that serve to perpetuate racist stereotypes. These books are not only read aloud to children, they are also read by children themselves, without anyone there to help them make sense of what they read. And the things children pick up from their reading, they bring with them into the classroom -- classrooms where their fellow students might have parents who come from Ghana or Pakistan. One in five children born in Germany today has some kind of immigrant background.

The worst thing for me as a child was being ostracized and insulted because of the color of my skin. And it wasn't just about language. This was the 1990s, when neo-Nazis set homes for asylum-seekers on fire and black people were chased through the streets by right-wing thugs. "nigger," for me, was neo-Nazi language.

My mother taught me from a young age to defend myself. My best friends were African-German children, Turks and Iranians. We went with our parents to anti-racism demonstrations and we sang "Zehn kleine Nazi-Schweine" ("Ten Little Nazi Pigs"). We became little smart alecks: "You shouldn't say that," we called after the people who had insulted us. "That's what Nazis say."

At some point, the ostracism I experienced transformed into a sense of pride. I came to see that it can be an advantage not always to be part of the crowd. The world was bigger for me than it was for other people, because I didn't know just German culture, I knew other cultures as well. I had a name other people could remember easily, and I started to like the way I looked.

But there are also children for whom constantly being labeled a "nigger" is more painful than it was for me in my own childhood. That alone is enough reason why publishers should revise their children's books and parents should stop claiming the whole thing "isn't so bad."

A few years ago, Oetinger Verlag made changes to "Pippi Longstocking," turning the "Negro king" into a "South Sea king." The text doesn't suffer for it in the least. And in Michael Ende's "The Dream Eater," the "Negro children" have been replaced with "children from all the world."

In Preussler's story "The Little Witch," the scene in question is of carnival costume festivities. It doesn't matter to the story in the least whether the child is dressed as a "Negro" or as a cook.

A fellow student at my high school wrote in my friendship book, under the heading "Things I Don't Like": "spinach and asylum-seekers." Who can say what she had been reading.

Editor's notes: In any usage, the term Neger, can be considered inappropriate and offensive in the German language, and, depending on the context, it can be translated to mean either "Negro" or "nigger".

* Zigeunerschnitzel is a schnitzel served with a so-called Zigeuner, or "gypsy" sauce.

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« Reply #4294 on: Jan 29, 2013, 09:46 AM »

In the USA...

Father of Newtown victim heckled by gun advocates at legislative hearing

By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, January 28, 2013 20:05 EST

Neil Heslin, whose six-year-old son was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month, was heckled by gun advocates during a legislative hearing on Monday.

“Changes have to be made,” he told Connecticut lawmakers in an emotional testimony. “I’ll tell you a little bit about Jesse. He was a boy that loved life, lived it to the fullest. His mother and I are separated. He spent equal time with both of us. He was my son, he my buddy, he was my best friend, and I never thought I would be here speaking like this, asking for changes on my son’s behalf.”

“And I never thought I would be laying him to rest. The happiest day of my life was the day he was born. He is my only son, my only family. The worst day of my life was the day when this happened.”

He said firearms like the popular AR-15/M16 rifle were designed to “put a lot of lead out on the battlefield quickly.” When Heslin asked why anyone should be allowed to own a semi-automatic rifle like the one used to kill 26 people in Newtown last month, angry gun advocates shouted, “the Second Amendment!”

“We’re all entitled to our own opinions and I respect their opinions and their thoughts,” Heslin said. “But I wish they’d respect mine and give it a little bit of thought.”

Helsin said he grew up with guns and doesn’t believe they should be completely prohibited. But he supports the proposed assault weapons ban and restrictions on high-capacity magazines to prevent mass shootings like the one that killed his son.

“That wasn’t just a killing. That was a massacre,” he said. “Those children and those victims were shot apart. And my son was one of them.”

Thousands of people gathered at the Capitol to attend the public hearing of the Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety, the second of four the state legislature is holding. While Heslin and other parents affected by the tragic Newtown shooting called for additional gun control measures, other parents said mass shootings couldn’t be prevented by more laws.

“I believe in a few simple gun laws. I think we have more than enough on the books. We should hold people individually accountable for their actions,” said Mark Mattioli, whose six-year-old son was killed at Sandy Hook.

Watch video, uploaded to YouTube by the Associated Press, below:


NRA Tactics Under Fire After Father of Newtown Victim Heckled

By: Sarah Jones
Jan. 28th, 2013

Martin Bashir took down the tactics of the NRA against gun safety today, starting off with a clip of an ‘NRA mole’ who heckled father of a victim the Newtown tragedy, Neil Heslin, as he talked about the loss of his 6-year-old son Jesse.

Transcript (with slight modifications) from MSNBC:

Roll Clip from Newtown:

Heslin (father of Newtown victim): Why anybody in this room needs to have one of these assault-style weapons or military weapons. All right.

Heckler: The Second Amendment shall not be infringed!

End Clip

Martin Bashir: A father’s grief interrupted by the cries of a heckler. That was the scene in Hartford, Connecticut, where the parents of children killed at Sandy Hook elementary testified before an audience that wasn’t always friendly. Neil Heslin talked about the loss of his 6-year-old son Jesse who was shot and killed while urging his classmates to run. In Washington the president and vice president met at the white house with law enforcement officials from towns that have been scarred by gun violence.

Let’s bring in Steve Kornacki, my colleague here at MSNBC, and Democratic strategist Julian Epstein. I want to put this question to both of you if I can. Steve, these gun lobbyists are fairly aggressive. They dragged the president’s children into the debate with that scurrilous advert but heckling the father of a child who was lost? Can you explain that to me?

Steve Kornacki: If you look at the outpouring of grief for these families, one thing that’s separated the aftermath of Newtown is this story has stayed in the news. It stayed in the news a lot longer than other shootings and it’s kept gun control in the news a lot longer which has created this political opening. When you look at a moment like that, which obviously it’s indefensible for somebody to show up at a hearing and treat a man like that, but I think it adds to the momentum. It adds to the outrage and it adds to the case for action to be taken here.

Click to watch:

Martin Bashir: Julian, you heard that father. Wayne Lapierre of the NRA will be going to the White House, sorry, to the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. What do you think of the reaction of these lobbyists to a father whose child has been murdered?

Julian Epstein: Well, leaving aside the fact that the hecklers have no idea what they’re talking about in the sense that the second amendment in no way restricts the outlawing of assault weapons, this has to be a new low in the debate. The idea that you would desecrate the memory of the victims of Newtown and insult their families. This shows just I think how extreme and outrageous the NRA and I assume the hecklers were NRA moles, how they’ve become.


Heckling the father of a victim of the Newtown massacre is a new low for assault weapon defenders. Perhaps they are finally going to learn that bullying the parents who lost their children due to gun violence is not the best plan if they want to win in the court of public opinion.

The NRA defenders are starting to look like members of the Westboro Baptist Church — fringe lunatics.

Interrupting the father of a victim so you can get in your propaganda about the second amendment as you ignore other Americans’ right to life calls into question whether you are even capable of participating in the larger debate. It’s worth considering whether anyone who is so self-servingly enraged as to heckle a parent that lost a child to horrific gun violence is responsible enough to own a weapon of mass destruction.

Just as the Westboro Baptist Church members’ behavior is not a good argument for their version of Christianity, so too this behavior is not a good argument to the American people for why they should want people like this heckler to have access to assault weapons.


January 28, 2013

Reliving Horror and Faint Hope at Massacre Site


NEWTOWN, Conn. — The gunfire ended; it was so quiet they could hear the broken glass and bullet casings scraping under their boots. The smell of gunpowder filled the air. The officers turned down their radios; they did not want to give away their positions if there was still a gunman present.

They found the two women first, their bodies lying on the lobby floor. Now they knew it was real. But nothing, no amount of training, could prepare them for what they found next, inside those two classrooms.

“One look, and your life was absolutely changed,” said Michael McGowan, one of the first police officers to arrive at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, as a gunman, in the space of minutes, killed 20 first graders and 6 adults.

Officer McGowan was among seven Newtown officers who recently sat down to share their accounts of that day. Some spoke for the first time, providing the fullest account yet of the scene as officers responded to one of the worst school massacres in United States history, one that has inflamed the national debate over gun control.

It is an account filled with ghastly moments and details, and a few faint instances of hope. One child had a slight pulse, but did not survive. Another was found bloody but unhurt, amid her dead classmates. Teachers were so protective of their students that they had to be coaxed by officers before opening doors. And the officers themselves, many of them fathers, instinctively used their most soothing Daddy voices to guide terrified children to safety.

The stories also reveal the deep stress that lingers for officers who, until Dec. 14, had focused their energies on maintaining order in a low-crime corner of suburbia. Some can barely sleep. Little things can set off tears: a television show, a child’s laughter, even the piles of gifts the Police Department received from across the country.

One detective, who was driving with his wife and two sons, passed a roadside memorial on Route 25 two weeks after the shooting, and began sobbing uncontrollably. “I just lost it right there, I couldn’t even drive,” the detective, Jason Frank, said.

Officer William Chapman was in the Newtown police station along with Officer McGowan and others when the first reports of shots and breaking glass came in early on the day of the massacre. The school was more than two miles away. They traveled up Route 25, then right onto Church Hill Road. “We drove as fast as we’ve ever driven,” Officer McGowan said.

They made it in under three minutes, arriving in the parking lot while gunfire could still be heard.

“I got out of the car and grabbed my rifle and it stopped for second,” Officer Chapman said. “But then we heard more popping. You could tell it was rifle fire. And it was up so close, it sounded like it was coming from outside. So we were all looking around for someone to shoot back at.”

As the officers converged on the building, the gunfire stopped again. Officers Chapman and Scott Smith made their way to the front entrance. It was here, only minutes earlier, that a rail-thin 20-year-old named Adam Lanza, armed with a .223 Bushmaster semiautomatic carbine, two semiautomatic pistols and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, had blasted his way through the glass.

Leonard Penna, a school resource officer who had raced to the scene from his office at the Newtown Middle School, entered the school with Sgt. Aaron Bahamonde and Lt. Christopher Vanghele, through a side door that leads to the boiler room, he said. Officer McGowan and two other officers entered through a locked rear door. One of them knocked out the glass with his rifle butt so the rest of the officers could get in.

The halls were familiar to Officer McGowan. He attended the school as a child. But now, they were eerily silent.

“The teachers were doing a phenomenal job keeping their kids quiet,” Officer Chapman said.

The officers turned their radios down. They entered the front lobby and saw the first bodies, those of Dawn Hochsprung, the principal, they would later learn, and Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist.

“You saw them lifeless, laying down,” Officer Penna recalled. “For a split second, your mind says could this be a mock crime scene, could this be fake, but in the next split second, you’re saying, there is no way. This is real.”

The officers went from room to room, urgently hunting for the killer before he could do more harm.

They found a wounded staff member in one room, made sure her co-workers were applying proper first aid and moved on.

As Officers Chapman and Smith approached the second classroom in the hallway on their left, they spotted a rifle on the floor. Inside, they found the gunman, Adam Lanza, dead by his own hand, along with the bodies of several children and other adults.

The officers searched the room for any other gunmen, then began searching for signs of life among the children. One little girl had a pulse and was breathing. Officer Chapman cradled her in his arms and ran with her outside, to an ambulance. Officer Chapman, a parent himself, tried to comfort her. “You’re safe now; your parents love you,” he recalled saying. She did not survive.

Most of the bodies were found in the classroom next door, where, Detective Frank recalled, “the teacher had them huddled up like a mother hen — simple as that, in a corner.”

Officer Penna, who was the first officer to enter the second room, found a girl standing alone amid the bodies. She appeared to be in shock, and was covered in blood, but had not been injured. He, not knowing the gunman had been found, told her to stay put.

He ran into the next classroom and saw the dead gunman, with Officers Chapman and Smith standing nearby. State troopers and other officers were now flooding in. Officer Penna returned to the second classroom, his rifle slung around his chest, grabbed the uninjured girl by the arm and ran with her out to a triage area set up in the parking lot.

With state troopers coming in, the officers began to evacuate the children who were still behind locked doors. But many of the teachers, seeking to protect their students and following their own training, refused to open up.

“We’re kicking the doors, yelling ‘Police! Police!’ ” Officer McGowan said. “We were ripping our badges off and putting them up to the window.”

Detective Frank, who had been off duty and rushed to the scene so quickly that he had to borrow a gun from a colleague once he arrived, remembers ripping the handle off one of the doors, “just trying to get through.”

As the children emerged, the officers tried to reassure them. “Everything is fine now,” they said, even as they stayed alert for a possible second gunman. “Everybody hold hands, close your eyes,” they told the children.

Some officers formed a human curtain around the bodies of Ms. Hochsprung and Ms. Sherlach, to shield the children from the sight as they filed past. Others blocked the doorways of the two classrooms.

As the scene settled that day, officers standing guard outside warned newly arriving colleagues not to go in if they had children. Detective Joe Joudy, one of the senior members of the force, spotted Officer Chapman walking back to the building, covered in blood. “I was a mess, and he looks at me and says, ‘They’ve got to get you guys out of here,’ ” Officer Chapman said.

Newtown’s three-man detective squad, which also included Dan McAnaspie, would spend much of the next week working with the State Police to collect and inventory every bit of evidence from the crime scene.

“Words can’t describe how horrible it was,” said Detective Joudy, who has been with the department for 27 years.

As he left the building that day, Officer Tom Bean, who had also been off duty when he rushed to the scene, realized he had not told his wife where he was. He fumbled for his phone in the parking lot, and called her. “That’s when I broke down in tears, crying,” he said.

More than a month later, the officers continue to feel the pain of that day. Some spoke reluctantly, not wanting to compare their torment with the agony of the families of the children and adult victims. But they also worried about their ability to do their jobs, as they continue to suffer. They said they omitted some details out of sensitivity to the victims, and to protect the investigation as it continued.

At least one person, Officer Bean, said he has already received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he had been unable to return to work since the shootings, and had needed medication to sleep.

The officers and their union are reaching out to state lawmakers, hoping to expand workers’ compensation benefits to include those who witness horrific violence.

“Our concern from the beginning has been the effects of PTSD,” said Eric Brown, a lawyer for the union that represents the Newtown police. “We estimate it is probably going to be 12 to 15 Newtown officers who are going to be dealing with that, for the remainder of their careers, we imagine, from what we’ve been told by professionals who deal with PTSD.”

For Detective Frank, who spent days sequestered in the school, meticulously collecting evidence, the images keep recurring — and not just of the children. The monster-truck backpack he found that was identical to his 6-year-old’s. The Christmas ornaments that sat unfinished, drying on the windowsill.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “These kids will never take those ornaments home to their parents.”


Obama discusses gun control with police from places hit by shootings

By Matt Williams, The Guardian
Monday, January 28, 2013 21:13 EST

Barack Obama has met police chiefs from communities hit by the worst shooting atrocities to have occurred during his presidency, and promised to take on board their views concerning gun violence.

Anticipating a “robust conversation” on Monday, Obama hosted officers from Oak Creek, Tucson, Aurora and Newtown. Also in attendance at the White House were police commissioners and superintendents from cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia, where gun violence has become a serious problem.

In comments ahead of the closed-door meeting, Obama stressed that he intends to seek to prevent not only incidents of mass killing but also the “day-in, day-out” shootings that occur across the US. Welcoming the police chiefs, he said “no group is more important for us to listen to than our law-enforcement officers – they are where the rubber hits the road”.

Obama said he was keen to hear the officers’ views regarding what would make the biggest difference in preventing another Newtown – where 20 children and six adults were killed at an elementary school in December – or Oak Creek, where six people were shot dead at a Sikh temple in August.

But, Obama said, many police chiefs “also recognise that it is not only the high-profile mass shootings that are of concern here, it is also what happens on a day-in, day-out basis in places like Chicago and Philadelphia, where young people are victims of gun violence every single day.”

The president’s comments came after a typically bloody weekend in Chicago. On Saturday, at least seven people were shot dead and six wounded in numerous incidents. Among those killed was a 34-year-old man whose mother had already lost her three other children to shootings. Last year, there were more than 500 murders in Chicago; there were 331 in Philadelphia.

The White House meeting came two weeks after Obama put forward a broad package of measures aimed at curbing gun violence. It includes a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity clips, alongside improved background checks on would-be owners. However, speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation yesterday, New York police commissioner Ray Kelly suggested that military style assault rifles were not the main problem.

“We don’t want them on the street, make no mistake about it. But the problem is the handgun. Sixty percent of the murders in New York City are caused by handguns, and we simply have too many of them.”

Kelly, alongside New York’s vehemently anti-gun mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has spearheaded the city’s drive against guns and violent crime. Last year, New York recorded record lows in both murders and shootings.

But there is no possibility of an outright ban on handguns, which have been ruled on more than one occasion by the Supreme Court to be legal under the Second Amendment.

Indeed, in an interview published on Sunday, Obama chastised some gun-control advocates for not listening to the concerns of rural Americans.

Speaking to the New Republic, the president said: “If you grew up and your dad gave you a hunting rifle when you were 10, and you went out and spent the day with him and uncles, and that became part of your family’s traditions, you can see why you’d be pretty protective of that.”

Those comments may reflect the sensitivity of the issue of gun control in the US. The White House proposals, although timid by the standards of other countries, are likely to come up against strong opposition from gun enthusiasts and powerful lobbying groups such as the National Rifle Association.

In comments ahead of the meeting with police chiefs, Obama said that the issue of gun control gave rise to “a lot of passion across the country”. The Senate judiciary committee is due to take up the White House proposals on Wednesday, with testimony from the NRA executive director Wayne LaPierre. © Guardian News and Media 2013


The New Republican Class War: State Tax Hikes on the Poor to Fund Tax Cuts for the Rich

By: Rmuse
Jan. 29th, 2013

The idea of surrender after losing a defining battle is usually the course of wisdom to save the vanquished from annihilation, and one certainly would not expect the losing side to continue hostilities after a defeat and especially when the odds are stacked against them. After Republicans waged a class war against the people on behalf of the wealthy for two years, it seemed likely they would cease attacking the least fortunate Americans after being defeated in the November election, but apparently they decided to continue their class war by engaging the people in a new theatre; in states with Republican governors and legislatures. After the election, Republicans like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said his party had to appear friendlier to all the people to avoid the appearance of being the party of the one percent, but actions speak louder than a pleasant demeanor, and Republicans are still waging class war against poor Americans to benefit the rich.

The new front in the Republicans class war is just getting underway as Louisiana, Virginia, and Kansas governors are proposing new tax schemes that raise taxes on the poor to fund tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. The idea of making the wealthy richer at the expense of the poor is not new, but instead of just cutting services and giving the savings to the rich as tax cuts, Republicans are following an ALEC-inspired tactic of “broadening the tax base” that is code for taxing the poor to pay the wealthy and corporations. Throughout the past year, Congressional Republicans Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor suggested taxing those Americans struggling for basic survival and reducing rates for the wealthy, but they had little chance of success in a Democratic Senate or surviving President Obama’s veto pen. However, states with Republican governors and legislatures do not have constraints on their Draconian measures and are moving forward with ALEC’s plan to give the rich and corporations relief from what they label burdensome tax liabilities.

Jindal’s tax scheme typifies the ALEC model of broadening the tax base by totally eliminating income tax that corporations and the rich oppose, while increasing sales tax that inordinately affects the poor. It is a simple scam that, on first blush, seems innocuous and fair for all, but like anything ALEC  proposes, it is for the express purpose of providing entitlements for the wealthiest Americans. It is still class war, but with a slightly different means to a predictable Republican end; more income inequality, more poverty, and more wealth for Republicans’ favorite benefactors, the rich and corporations.

According to an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Jindal’s plan increases taxes on the bottom 80 percent of Louisianans, while cutting them for the richest 1 percent by repealing personal and corporate income taxes and replacing them with a higher sales tax. In Jindal’s plan, the poorest 20 percent of taxpayers, those with poverty level income of $12,000 annually, would see an average tax increase of 3.4 percent of their income,  and the top 1 percent  with an average income of well over $1 million would get an average tax cut of 2.3 percent of their income. Increasing the sales tax disproportionately affects poverty level Americans because the lion’s share of their meager income is spent on basic living expenses as opposed to the rich whose enormous wealth makes the share of taxable expenditures incredibly lower. Jindal is not the only ALEC devotee implementing higher sales taxes that hurt the poor as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is taking a similar approach to burden the poor.

McDonnell is touring Virginia promoting a plan to eliminate Virginia’s gas tax and replace it with an expanded sales tax that McDonnell says fixes the state’s dysfunctional transportation funding system, but it makes Virginia’s regressive tax system even worse; for the poor. McDonnell’s plan increases state sales tax that will hurt poverty level households whose share of income buying basic necessities of life like clothing, toiletries, and school supplies higher putting them deeper in poverty. Virginia’s current tax system is already tilted in favor of the richest 1 percent who pay a 5.2 percent effective tax rate, while Virginians making less than $19,000 pay 8.8 percent, and McDonnell’s plan would raise those rates, but in a way that broadens the gap between what the richest and poorest Virginians are paying in taxes. His plan also shifts the responsibility for funding Virginia’s highways from people who most use the roads and highways, including tourists, to poorer residents who are hardly affording a poverty existence, but that has been the goal of the Republican war on the least fortunate for years.

Similar ALEC schemes are being promoted by Governor Sam Brownback in Kansas, Governor Dave Heineman of Nebraska, and another ALEC alum, Nikki Haley in North Carolina as a way to burden the poor to enrich the wealthy and their precious corporations. This new line of attack on the poor is an ambitious experiment in tax reform that could spread to the national level in the Republican’s never-ending attempt to aggressively cut personal and corporate income taxes for the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the poorest Americans. The ALEC scheme of “an economically efficient tax system with a sensible, broad tax base and a low tax rate” is a Republicans’ dream because “broad tax base” is code for tax the poor and reduce rates for the rich and corporations. ALEC sells the scam as a way states with Republicans in charge can increase wealth and create jobs, but facts (as usual)  belie their claim and only create more wealth for the rich and corporations.

In a 2012 report, “Selling Snake Oil to the States: The American Legislative Exchange Council’s Flawed Prescriptions for Prosperity,” the authors conclude actual data finds Alec’s recommendations not only fail to predict positive results for state economies, the policies they endorse actually forecast worse state outcomes for job creation and paychecks. Why? Because when Americans struggling in a recovering economy and those barely subsisting on poverty level incomes have more of their income taken to support the rich and corporations, they spend less, and less spending means less revenue for business and less hiring. However, the rich and their corporations profit from lower taxes and the Republican cycle of economic despair continues without end as states face reduced revenue that results in defunding public goods such as education, assistance to the needy, and infrastructure improvements which play a major role in economic development for all the people; something so averse to Republicans and their mastermind ALEC, that they have embraced a new class war tactic.

The 2012 election should have been a wakeup call to Republicans that the American people will not abide being assaulted and driven deeper into poverty to enrich the wealthy elite and their corporations, but old habits die hard. At least Republicans have stopped their deeply entrenched abhorrence of tax increases of any sort, but they are still the party that will cut taxes for the rich and corporations to, as McConnell and Cantor said, unburden the job creators by “broadening the tax base” by increasing taxes on working families and those who can least afford it; the poor.


House Republicans Freak Out When They Realize Obama’s Coming for them in 2014

By: Jason Easley
Jan. 28th, 2013

Terror has gripped House Republicans as they have finally realized that President Obama is already working to defeat them in 2014.

Real Clear Politics reported, “When an irate House Speaker John Boehner declared last week that President Obama was out to “annihilate” the Republican Party, he was exaggerating, or at least engaging in a bit of hyperbole. Obama is not out to destroy the Republican Party, just severely cripple it, and thereafter to cement his legacy in the final two years of his presidency.What upset Boehner and many of his Republican colleagues is that they have finally recognized what Obama’s second inaugural address really was: the first speech of the 2014 congressional campaign. That has them in a panic. It is now obvious to Republicans that Obama has no intention of becoming a lame duck president at the end of his second term. He’s seems willing to bide his time and push for a more-friendly Congress.”

It looks like House Republicans are finally getting it. The reason why Obama hasn’t disassembled his campaign operation is that there is another important election to win in 2014. This might have already been obvious to anyone who doesn’t reside in the Republican bubble, but congressional Republicans had adopted the mantra that the worst was over now. (For example, Mitch McConnell’s crackpot declaration that there will be no more discussions about revenue.) Republicans were kidding themselves if they thought that President Obama was going to sit back and let them run out the clock until 2016.

Right wing Fox News based paranoia runs wild in a large segment of the House Republican caucus, but this time they should be paranoid. Barack Obama really is after them.

The math is simple. Obama can’t carry out his agenda while Republicans control the House. In order to move this country forward, Obama needs a Democratic House majority.

If the president puts his ample campaign resources to work, and motivates Obama voters to show up on Election Day 2014, the Republican House majority could be in trouble. More importantly, House Republicans have demonstrated by their behavior so far this year that they have learned nothing. As Obama’s approval rating reaches new highs, Congress continues to sit near historic lows.

A perfect storm could be brewing against House Republicans in 2014. If a popular president decides to mobilize his machine and campaign against the unpopular Republicans in the House, the GOP could find itself back in the House minority. There has been a lot of talk about gerrymandering, but 2014 could be the year that Democrats take advantage of lower midterm election turn out to take back the House.

The message that Democrats must vote in 2014 in order to give Obama the congress that he needs is already echoing across the Internet. Should President Obama choose to adopt this message as a partywide rallying cry, panic could turn into disaster for John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and their fellow House Republicans.


Mitch McConnell Gets Desperate and Promises to Avoid Losing Battles with Obama

By: Sarah Jones
Jan. 28th, 2013

As Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faces mounting tea party challenges (assisted by some Democrats) in his home state of Kentucky, his attempts to spin the daily news cycle in his favor are growing rather desperate. Recently, hoping to steer the base away from the reality of his fiscal cliff cave, McConnell bragged to the Republican base that he had beaten the liberals by avoiding complete Filibuster Reform.

Today, Senator McConnell announced that there will be “no more brinkmanship and no more last-minute deals.”

    Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has declared there will be no more brinkmanship and no more last-minute deals. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, last year’s Republican vice presidential nominee, says it’s all about “prudence.”

This translates, as the AP pointed out, to avoiding losing battles with the very popular second-term Democratic President, and instead trying to reframe Republicans’ battles as being against Senate Democrats. So much for four years wasted attacking the Kenyan Socialist and asking for his birth certificate. Republicans can’t win against Obama, so they need to pretend they are no longer interested in fighting him.

As Jason Easley pointed out for Politicus today, Republican fear of Obama is only growing, “Terror has gripped House Republicans as they have finally realized that President Obama is already working to defeat them in 2014.”

In other words, the new “bad guys” are the Democrats in Congress. Forget all that you’ve heard about the evils of Obama. Republicans are running scared of the man they claim is out to destroy them. They can’t beat Obama, so they want their base to look at the new shiny object of their hatred — congressional Democrats.

The President is only coming after certain Republicans because they have made it clear that they are not interested in governing, whereas he is. Their own whinging obstructionism led to this. They painted themselves out to be the Party of No Jobs and austerity for the poor while subsidizing the rich.

Mitch McConnell swore to devote all of the Republicans’ energy to defeating President Obama in his first term, and he failed.

Today, facing the brutal failure resulting from four years of Republican obstructionism, McConnell is like the school yard bully who can’t win against his target, so he’s going after the littler kids.

It’s also known as defeat in some circles.


January 28, 2013

Bipartisan Plan Faces Resistance in G.O.P.


GREENVILLE, S.C. — At Tommy’s Country Ham House, a popular spot downtown for politics and comfort food, not much has changed since 2007, the last time conservatives here made it crystal clear to politicians how they felt about what they see as amnesty for people who entered the country illegally.

“What we need to do is put them on a bus,” said Ken Sowell, 63, a lawyer from Greenville, as he ate lunch recently at the diner. “We need to enforce the border. If they want to apply legally more power to them. I don’t think just because a bunch of people violate the law, we ought to change the law for them.”

Six years ago, the intensity of that kind of sentiment was enough to scuttle immigration overhaul efforts led by President George W. Bush and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both Republicans.

Now, as a new bipartisan group of eight senators, including Mr. Graham and Mr. McCain, try again — this time with President Obama as their partner in the White House — members of Congress will have to overcome deep-seated resistance like that expressed in the restaurant if they are to push legislation forward.

Republicans are betting that opposition from Tea Party activists and the party’s most conservative supporters will have less impact because of the dire electoral consequences of continuing to take a hard line regarding immigrants. The senators on Monday released a blueprint for a new immigration policy that opens the door to possible citizenship ahead of a Tuesday speech on the subject by Mr. Obama in Las Vegas.

There is some evidence that the politics of immigration may be changing. Sean Hannity, the conservative host at Fox News, said days after the 2012 presidential election that he has “evolved” on immigration and now supports a comprehensive approach that could “get rid of” the issue for Republicans. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a rising star in the Republican Party, is pushing his own version of broad immigration changes — and getting praise from conservative icons like Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed.

But the Republican-controlled House remains a big hurdle. Speaker John A. Boehner on Monday was noncommittal about the emerging proposal, with a spokesman saying that Mr. Boehner “welcomes the work of leaders like Senator Rubio on this issue, and is looking forward to learning more about the proposal.”

Representative Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, said that “when you legalize those who are in the country illegally, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs and encourages more illegal immigration.”

And if the lunch rush conversation at Tommy’s is any indication, many Republican lawmakers will soon return home to find their constituents just as opposed to the idea as they were before. Concern about immigration varies regionally. But in many Congressional districts around the country, the prospect of intense opposition carries with it the threat of a primary challenger if Republican lawmakers stray too far from hawkish orthodoxy on the issue.

“The people who are coming across the border — as far as I’m concerned, they are common criminals,” said Bill Storey, 68, a retired civil engineer from Greenville. “We should not adopt policies to reward them for coming into this country illegally. I have all the regard for them in the world if they come through the legal system, but not the illegal system.”

Charlie Newton, a construction worker in the Greenville area, praised the work ethic of Hispanic co-workers, but said he opposes any laws that would provide benefits to illegal immigrants, including help becoming citizens.

“I think we need to help our own people before we keep helping somebody else,” he said.

The president’s proposals are expected to include more border enforcement, work site verification systems that allow employers to check the status of their employees online, and a road map to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants now living in the country. Democratic senators could begin work on a bill in the next couple of weeks.

In the Fourth Congressional District in South Carolina, which includes Greenville, the formal arrival of such a plan is likely to anger the constituents of Trey Gowdy, a Republican House member who was elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave and is now the chairman of a key subcommittee that will deal with immigration.

Mr. Gowdy has already taken a hard line, signing on last year to the “Prohibiting Backdoor Amnesty Act,” which aimed to reverse Mr. Obama’s plans to delay deportations for some young illegal immigrants. The congressman will be under pressure to change his mind from the White House and its allies, including groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But when he goes home to Greenville, Mr. Gowdy may find that his constituents want him to hold firm in his opposition.

“If you had to go find the heartburn, you’d find it in Greenville,” said Katon Dawson, a former chairman of the Republican Party in South Carolina. Mr. Dawson, who supports comprehensive immigration changes, said the matter was likely to become a hot-button issue again, as it was in 2006 and 2007.

“All I’d ever hear is, ‘Why don’t you enforce the laws that we already have?’ And then I’d hear, ‘Why don’t you just build the fence?’ ” Mr. Dawson said, describing the comments he expects to hear again during the immigration debate.

Mr. Gowdy referred questions about the immigration debate to the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia. But veterans of South Carolina politics say the reaction in his district, and others like it across the country, will help determine the fate of the national legislation.

Bruce Bannister, the Republican majority leader of the South Carolina House of Representatives, said much of that response will depend on how the White House and its allies in Washington frame the debate.

“The amnesty provisions that got everybody fired up — I think you’re not going to see states like South Carolina ever support that, even though we recognize that shipping or sending home all the folks that came here illegally is almost impossible,” Mr. Bannister, who represents Greenville, said.

Josh Kimbrall, a conservative radio talk show host in South Carolina, agrees with Mr. Bannister. Mr. Kimbrall supports immigration law changes, but says Republicans like Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain allowed their effort in 2007 to be portrayed in a bad light by opponents.

“It’s how you message it,” Mr. Kimbrall said. “In Greenville, it’s the rule of law. As soon as the word amnesty is thrown in, very few people are willing to go along.”

January 28, 2013

In California, Son Gets Chance to Restore Luster to a Legacy


LOS ANGELES — During a 1960s renaissance, California’s public university system came to be seen as a model for the rest of the country and an economic engine for the state. Seven new campuses opened, statewide enrollment doubled, and state spending on higher education more than doubled. The man widely credited with the ascendance was Gov. Edmund G. Brown, known as Pat.

Decades of state budget cuts have chipped away at California’s community colleges, California State University and the University of California, once the state’s brightest beacons of pride. But now Pat Brown’s son, Gov. Jerry Brown, seems determined to restore some of the luster to the institution that remains a key part of his father’s legacy.

Last year, he told voters that a tax increase was the only way to avoid more years of drastic cuts. Now, with the tax increase approved and universities anticipating more money from the state for the first time in years, the second Governor Brown is a man eager to take an active role in shaping the University of California and California State University systems.

Governor Brown holds a position on the board of trustees for both Cal State and UC. Since November, he has attended every meeting of both boards, asking about everything from dormitories to private donations and federal student loans. He is twisting arms on issues he has long held dear, like slashing executive pay and increasing teaching requirements for professors — ideas that have long been met with considerable resistance from academia. But Mr. Brown, himself a graduate of University of California, Berkeley, has never been a man to shrink from a debate.

“The language we use when talking about the university must be honest and clear,” he said in a recent interview. “Words like ‘quality’ have no apparent meaning that is obvious. These are internally defined to meet institutional needs rather than societal objectives.”

California’s public colleges — so central to the state’s identity that their independence is enshrined in its Constitution — have long been seen as gateways to the middle class. Mr. Brown said his mother had attended the schools “basically free.” Over the last five years tuition at UC and Cal State schools has shot up, though the colleges remain some of the less costly in the country.

Governors and legislatures are trying to exert more influence on state colleges, often trying to prod the schools to save money, matters that some say are “arguably best left to the academic institution,” said John Aubrey Douglass, a senior research fellow of public policy and higher education at Berkeley. So far, Mr. Brown has not taken such an aggressive approach, but half of the $250 million increase for the university systems is contingent on a tuition freeze.

“He’s creating stability, but basically he’s looking at cost containment with an eye on the public constituency,” Mr. Douglass said. “But the system has been through a very long period of disinvestment, and this may meet an immediate political need, but it is not what is going to help in the long term.”

Over all, the University of California receives 44 percent less from the state than it did in 1990, accounting for inflation. The governor’s proposed increase still leaves the schools with about $625 million less than they received in 2007. At the same time, a record number of students applied for admissions to the system’s 10 campuses for next fall. While the California State University system has capped freshman enrollment, administrators at the UC system, which has about 190,000 undergraduate students, have been reluctant to formally do so, in part to prevent limiting access to in-state students.

Spurred by grumbling from voters, legislators have repeatedly complained that too many out-of-state students are enrolling in the University of California, arguing that they take spots away from talented local students. But others argue that without the out-of-state students, who make up less than 9 percent of undergraduates and pay much more in tuition, the university would have to make even deeper cuts.

Timothy White, the newly appointed chancellor for California State University and the former chancellor at UC Riverside, said the systems were facing a fundamental dilemma over access.

“Our budget is not going to allow us to grow enrollment at all, so I’m concerned that we are going to disappoint a lot of people in a lot of communities,” he said.

So far, the governor has focused his attention on whether the universities should be offering more courses online, requiring faculty to teach more classes and cutting administrators’ pay.

His plea that faculty members, particularly at the University of California, teach more undergraduate classes has been met with resistance, with one trustee fretting that doing so would “turn this place into a junior college in about 15 years.” Faculty members say that requiring more teaching would take away from crucial research areas, which will bring in roughly $5 billion this year.

“You can talk abstractly about faculty teaching more, but that begs the question of what you give up by requiring them to teach more,” said Daniel Dooley, the senior vice president for external relations for the University of California. Mr. Dooley, who worked in Mr. Brown’s first administration in the 1970s, has had several conversations with the governor about the state colleges.

Even before he began attending the board of trustee meetings, Mr. Brown repeatedly criticized high salaries for university administrators, arguing that they should serve as “public servants” and be willing to accept smaller paychecks. During his last term he famously remarked that professors derived “psychic income” from their jobs. When the University of California board of trustees voted to approve the new chancellor at Berkeley, in November, Mr. Brown voted in favor of his appointment, but voted against his $486,000 salary.

Some see the governor’s new focus as a sign that there could be major improvements afoot, but others are less optimistic.

“The old days of the social compact with the state is gone,” Mr. Douglass said. “It seems clear that it will not come back.”
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January 30, 2013

French Forces Pressing Mali Campaign Enter Rebel Stronghold


BAMAKO, Mali — French troops took control overnight of the airport of the last major northern Mali town still in rebel hands, officials said on Wednesday, after Islamist militants abandoned two other principal settlements in the vast, desert region where residents’ relief and elation has given way to some measure of reprisal and frustration.

A French military spokesman in Paris, Col. Thierry Burkhard, said French troops reached the airport of Kidal, in the remote northeast of Mali, in an operation that is continuing.

Haminy Maiga, a local official, told news agencies that French forces met no resistance when they arrived aboard four airplanes that landed late on Tuesday without encountering resistance. France also sent helicopters, he said.

Kidal is the capital of a desert region of the same name. Secular Tuareg rebels claim to be in control of the town after Islamists fled. A newly formed Islamist splinter group that broke with the main Ansar Dine Islamist force also claims to have a power base there.

The new group calls itself the Islamic Movement for the Azawad and is led by Alghabass Ag Intalla, a leader of the Tuareg ethnic group from the Kidal region who has said he wants to negotiate a settlement with the central government in Bamako, 800 miles to the southwest. Azawad is a Tuareg term for northern Mali.

Mali has been in turmoil since early 2012, when junior officers in the south staged a coup to protest the government’s tepid response to an uprising in the north by Tuareg separatists who were subsequently pushed to the side by Islamic extremists bent on imposing an extreme form of Shariah law.

Earlier this month, the Islamists suddenly advanced toward the capital, threatening to engulf the south, topple the weak central government and destabilize a vast area of northern Africa.

After a series of punishing French airstrikes in recent days, French and Malian troops launched a lightning campaign on the ground, entering the northern towns of Gao and Timbuktu as Islamist rebels seemed to melt away to far-flung hide-outs, possibly in the Kidal Province.

In Gao, groups of residents were reported on Tuesday to be hunting down people suspected of being fighters who had not fled ahead of the French-Malian military forces who took control of the town over the weekend. Other residents expressed concern that Gao remained unsafe and was acutely short of food and fuel after a prolonged isolation.

“The city is free, but I think the areas close by are still dangerous,” said Mahamane Touré, a Gao resident reached by telephone from Bamako, the capital. “These guys are out there.”

Mr. Touré, who spent the evening watching soccer on television and listening to music with friends, said that although everyone was enjoying the new freedoms, the legacy of Islamist occupation was evident in the hardship of everyday life.

“The price of gasoline is almost double, and the price of food is very high,” Mr. Touré said. “There are still things in the market, but no one has any money and there is no aid.”

Reporters and photographers in Timbuktu, the storied desert oasis farther north that the French-Malian forces secured on Monday, saw looters pillaging shops and other businesses, with some saying the merchants were mainly Arabs, Mauritanians and Algerians who had supported the Islamist radicals who summarily executed, stoned and mutilated people they suspected of being nonbelievers during their 10-month occupation.

Alex Crawford, a television correspondent for Britain’s Sky News, said, “This is months and months of frustration and repression finally erupting.”

The rapidly shifting developments came less than three weeks into the military effort led by France, the former colonial power whose helicopters and warplanes began arriving here at the Malian government’s invitation on Jan. 11. Since then other West African countries have started to send troops. Britain is preparing to send more than 300 military trainers.

Since the hostage crisis in Algeria this month, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain has cast the presence of Islamists in the North African desert region known as the Sahel as the newest threat from terrorism confronting the West.

“We must frustrate the terrorists with our security, we must beat them militarily, we must address the poisonous narrative they feed on, we must close down the ungoverned space in which they thrive,” he said recently in Parliament.

On Wednesday, Mr. Cameron planned to fly to Algeria for the first visit there by a British prime minister since the country’s independence from France in 1962.

In Washington, Pentagon officials said that as of Tuesday 17 sorties by United States Air Force C-17 cargo jets had flown 500 French troops and 390 tons of equipment into Bamako. In addition, there has been one aerial refueling operation by an American KC-135 tanker aircraft, which provided 33,000 pounds of fuel to several French warplanes, the officials said.

At the same time, a meeting of international donors was getting under way on Tuesday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as part of an effort to provide more than $450 million in long-term financing for the military intervention in Mali.

The French-led effort has met surprisingly little resistance from the array of Islamist militias that occupied the northern part of Mali, an area about twice the size of Germany, in the spring of 2012 in the midst of a national political crisis.

It remains unclear how long the foreign military occupation will last. Most of the Islamist fighters have melted into the desert and could be regrouping to fight again.

In a bid to consolidate the gains, troops from Mali and neighboring Niger arrived Tuesday in the small town of Ansongo, about 50 miles south of Gao, one day after President François Hollande of France urged African countries to take a more prominent role in the operations.

Just as in Gao two days before, residents filled the streets there to greet the arrival of the African troops as they toured Ansongo and its environs.

“Everyone is very, very, very happy,” said Ibrahim Haidara, an Ansongo resident reached by phone. “They chanted, ‘Vive la France!’ and ‘Long live African armies!’ ”

But like his counterparts in Gao, he worried that the fighters might not have gone very far.

“They are in the bush. They are hiding,” he said. “One must be careful.”

Peter Tinti reported from Bamako, Rick Gladstone from New York, and Alan Cowell from London. Scott Sayare contributed reporting from Paris, John F. Burns from London, and Elisabeth Bumiller from Washington.


Mali conflict: African and western nations pledge $450m for military force

Japan, which saw the heaviest losses at the In Amenas gasfield siege in Algeria, among the biggest donors with $120m

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris and Ian Traynor in Brussels, Tuesday 29 January 2013 17.51 GMT   

African and western nations have pledged more than $450m (£286m) to fund an African-led military force to fight Islamists in Mali, as Britain and Germany increased logistical support to the French intervention on the ground.

The African-led support mission in Mali, known as Afisma, has already seen troops arriving steadily from several countries including Nigeria and is eventually expected to take over operations from France. But the needs of the sudden and laborious mission have mushroomed and the overall budget is likely to be nearer $960m.

Among the biggest donors was Japan, which suffered the heaviest foreign losses in the In Amenas gasfield siege in Algeria last week with 10 workers killed. Tokyo said its pledge of $120m in aid and support for refugees reflected its "unshaken resolve to fight terrorism".

France, which has 3,500 troops on the ground in Mali, is paying for its own initial intervention, codenamed Operation Serval. It has not asked other western nations to contribute ground forces, but there was relief in Paris as Britain, the US and Germany increased their support in terms of logistics, transport and intelligence.

There had been tension between France and the US at the end of last week when Washington handed Paris a $20m bill for the use of its transport flights. Irked, Paris calculated that it amounted to $50,000 dollars per hour of flight time, according to Le Monde.

The bill was dropped and the differences appeared to have been patched up at the weekend when the US announced it would fly tankers to refuel French fighters and bombers, stepping up the American involvement considerably and effectively directly supporting military attacks.

Germany's offer of a third transport aircraft to carry west African troops to Mali was looked upon favourably by France after the Mali operation initially seemed to put strain on the Paris-Berlin relationship and their different views of intervention abroad. Germany is traditionally reticent to intervene, as it showed by standing back from the recent Libya campaign.

Germany pledged $20m to the UN fund for the African mission in Mali, but its foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, pointedly noted: "In the long-term there can only be a political solution" to Mali's problems.

European government officials met in Brussels on Tuesday to decide how to put together a 500-strong military training mission to be sent to Mali in a fortnight, amid growing complaints about how the war in Sahel is highlighting an EU security policy and defence capacity vacuum.

Amid speculation that an EU "battle group" of 1,700 troops on constant standby for emergency deployment could be rushed to Sahel, senior officials in Brussels admitted this was a non-starter. The group's main real function was for practice, senior sources said.

The necessary consensus of 27 EU governments on a deployment was impossible to reach in any case and had not been attempted. While use of the battle group had been discussed in Brussels, the issue had not been raised with EU governments as there was no point.

General Patrick De Rousiers, the French air force officer who heads the EU's military committee, said the French-German-Polish group currently on standby was "useful for keeping up the level of the unit. The aim is to foster interoperability between nations."

He added: "When will at last the battle groups be deployed? When the 27 agree." Since being formed six years ago, the rotating six-month battle groups have never seen action.

De Rousiers stressed that France was receiving logistical help from 10 EU countries. "The training mission in Mali is really the sign that the EU is engaged," he said. "France is not alone at all. France, I imagine, should be happy having what it has."

A French diplomat said of the Mali ground operation: "The decision was taken by France to go in alone. We knew from the start that it would be an operation supported by African forces. It was never a question of a European ground troop mission. But Europe's role in training the African force has now been accelerated. Things are falling into place, we don't have any criticisms to make."

Colonel Michel Goya, a senior French officer, told the EUobserver website: "The EU doesn't know how to wage war. It's not prepared to launch military operations of this type."

He said it was difficult enough waging war by Nato committee, as in Libya or in 1999 in Serbia and Kosovo. "It would be even worse at EU level. If we do it alone, it's more efficient in military terms. We have more freedom of action if we do it alone."

* Soldiers-from-Chad-patrol-010.jpg (32.75 KB, 460x276 - viewed 81 times.)
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« Reply #4296 on: Jan 30, 2013, 08:24 AM »

January 30, 2013

Opposition in Egypt Urges Unity Government


CAIRO — A prominent Egyptian opposition leader called on President Mohamed Morsi on Wednesday to hold a national dialogue, a day after the nation’s top general warned that the state itself was in danger of collapse because of violence verging on anarchy in three Suez Canal cities.

On Tuesday, thousands of residents poured into the streets of the three cities, protesting a 9 p.m. curfew with another night of chants against Mr. Morsi and assaults on the police.

With Mr. Morsi himself expected in Berlin on Wednesday for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel and potential investors, Mohamed ElBaradei, the former United Nations diplomat and coordinator of the secular opposition, said on Twitter that “stopping the violence is the priority.”

He urged Mr. Morsi to start a “serious dialogue” and to bow to a demand for a “national salvation government” including members of the opposition and a committee to institute constitutional reforms. There was no immediate response from Mr. Morsi, whose concern about the chaos in his country was reflected in decisions, reported by Egyptian and French officials, to cancel a visit to Paris after his trip to Berlin and to shorten his stay in the German capital to just a few hours.

On Tuesday, Mr. Morsi seemed powerless to halt the violence along the Suez Canal, a vital waterway. He had already granted the police extralegal powers to enforce the curfew and then called out the army as well. His allies in the Muslim Brotherhood and their opposition also proved ineffectual in the face of the crisis, each retreating to their corners, pointing fingers of blame.

The general’s warning punctuated a rash of violent protests across the country that has dramatized the near-collapse of the government’s authority. With the city of Port Said proclaiming its nominal independence, protesters demanded the resignation of Mr. Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, while people across the country appeared convinced that taking to the streets in protests was the only means to get redress for their grievances.

Just five months after Egypt’s president assumed power from the military, the cascading crisis revealed the depth of the distrust for the central government left by decades of autocracy, two years of convoluted transition and his own acknowledged missteps in facing the opposition. With cities in open rebellion and the police unable to tame crowds, the very fabric of society appears to be coming undone.

The chaos has also for the first time touched pillars of the long-term health of Egypt’s economy, already teetering after two years of turbulence since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. While a heavy deployment of military troops along the Suez Canal — a vital source of revenue — appeared to insulate it from the strife in Port Said, Suez and Ismailia, the clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo spilled over for the first time into an armed assault on the historic Semiramis InterContinental Hotel, sending tremors of fear through the vital tourism sector.

With the stakes rising and no solution in sight, Gen. Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, the defense minister, warned Egypt’s new Islamist leaders and their opponents that “their disagreement on running the affairs of the country may lead to the collapse of the state and threatens the future of the coming generations.”

“Political, economic, social and security challenges” require united action “by all parties” to avoid “dire consequences that affect the steadiness and stability of the homeland,” General Sisi said in an address to military cadets that was later relayed as a public statement from his spokesman. And the acute polarization of the civilian politics, he suggested, has now become a concern of the military because “to affect the stability of the state institutions is a dangerous matter that harms Egyptian national security.”

Coming just months after the military relinquished the power it seized at the ouster of Mr. Mubarak, General Sisi’s rebuke to the civilian leaders inevitably raised the possibility that the generals might once again step into civilian politics. There was no indication of an imminent coup.

Analysts familiar with General Sisi’s thinking say that unlike his predecessors, he wants to avoid any political entanglements. But the Egyptian military has prided itself on its dual military and political role since Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser’s coup more than six decades ago. And General Sisi insisted Tuesday that it would remain “the solid mass and the backbone upon which rest the Egyptian state’s pillars.”

With the army now caught between the president’s instructions to restore order and the citizens’ refusal to comply, he said, the “armed forces are facing a serious dilemma” as they seek to end the violence without “confronting citizens and their right to protest.”

The attack on the Semiramis Hotel, between the American Embassy and the Nile in one of the most heavily guarded neighborhoods of the city, showed how much security had deteriorated. And it testified to the difficult task that the civilian government faces in trying to rebuild public security and trust.

Capitalizing on the melee between protesters and the police outside the hotel after about 2 a.m., at least a dozen armed men overpowered the guard at the hotel’s door, looted the luxury stores in its mall and ransacked its lobby, hotel staff members said. The assailants carried knives, pellet guns and one semiautomatic weapon, a guard told Al Ahram Online, run by the state-owned news media.

When the police failed to respond to calls for help, the hotel staff resorted to Twitter, the favorite medium of the Egyptian revolt. “We are under attack! Several thugs have entered the Semiramis! Send help!” the hotel’s Twitter account blared in capital letters.

“Revolutionaries” from the protest outside helped drive out the attackers, said Nabila Samak, the marketing manager who sent out the messages. The police finally responded about an hour and a half after the attack began, she said. The guests were relocated and the hotel closed.

Instead of taking a united stand in support of the law, Egypt’s political elite bickered over who was to blame. On Monday, the main coalition of the opposition refused to join a committee Mr. Morsi has created with the promise that it would include opponents to review the government’s measures to stem the chaos and to propose amendments to the Islamist-backed Constitution.

The president must “publicly admit his political responsibility for the Egyptian blood that was shed,” Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist former presidential candidate, demanded at a news conference.

Mr. Morsi’s allies in the Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, charged that the opposition leaders were looking for “political cover to justify the ongoing violent crimes their members are committing, including attempted murder, arson, burglary, sabotage and vandalism,” as Ahmed Diab, a leader of the Brotherhood’s political party, said in a statement on Monday. “But they cannot so fast wash their hands of the blood of Egyptians they shed in one way or another.”

In a news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Morsi’s spokesman echoed the Brotherhood’s charges by pointedly demanding that the opposition “clearly condemn violence, repudiate it and urge against taking part in it.”

Talaat Abdullah, the public prosecutor Mr. Morsi recently appointed, went a step further, issuing warrants for the arrests of a spectral new activist group calling itself the Black Bloc, which Brotherhood leaders have begun calling the opposition’s “militia.”

The group’s only confirmed act is its debut in an online video posted just a week ago depicting a group of masked figures. Declaring themselves part of a worldwide “liberation” movement, they said they intended to counter the Muslim Brotherhood, which it called “the regime of fascist tyranny.”

Since then, rumors have swirled about masked figures in protests and clashes who may or may not be members of the Black Bloc. Masked men purporting to belong to the group have given interviews denouncing the Brotherhood. But in a second video posted on Monday by the same source the Black Bloc disavowed them. In a bizarre twist, the video charged that the supposed spokesmen were in fact from the Muslim Brotherhood, seeking to blame the group for unrest.

Without any public evidence that the group has done more than pose for a video, the state news service reported Tuesday that an investigation by the prosecutor had found the Black Bloc a terrorist group. What is more, the news service reported, prosecutors ordered the arrest of not only its members but also of anyone who would “participate in it in any form including wearing the costumes” — outlawing, in effect, the wearing of a black mask.

Kareem Fahim and Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting from Cairo, Alan Cowell from London and Melissa Eddy and Victor Homola from Berlin.


01/30/2013 10:50 AM

Uncomfortable Visit: Morsi to Face Tough Questions in Berlin

By Raniah Salloum

Egypt has once again been shaken by deadly riots this week, but President Mohammed Morsi still plans to visit Germany on Wednesday. The trip is vital, with Morsi hoping to obtain urgent funding. But he will face tough questioning from Chancellor Merkel.

It would be hard to imagine much small talk taking place between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi when the two meet on Wednesday in Berlin. The leaders have too many serious and pressing issues to address.

Morsi's first official visit to Berlin couldn't come at a more difficult time. A state of emergency has been declared in three Egyptian cities. Since Thursday, some 60 people have died in riots. And on Tuesday, the country's military chief warned the country could be facing collapse.

The president cancelled a trip to Ethiopia on Tuesday for a meeting of the African Union. But the visit to Germany is important to Morsi. Considerable money is at stake that the Egyptian leader urgently needs at a time when Egypt's economy is in a state of crisis, with unemployment and poverty rising. The country's access to foreign currencies is diminishing and the budget deficit is increasing.

Germany is one of Egypt's most important economic partners. Tourism is certainly one part of that relationship with hundreds of thousands of Germans still traveling to the country's Red Sea beaches each year even after the unrest of the Arab Spring uprising. The country is also Egypt's third-largest trading partner, with German know-how and investors held in high esteem by the Egyptians. Few countries receive more money from the coffers of Berlin's development funds than Egypt.

Germany had also been planning to incrementally forgive Egypt's debt by some €240 million ($324 million). But one month ago, Germany delayed its debt forgiveness program as well as the presentation of new development projects. At the time, German Development Minister Dirk Niebel said the delays were a product of domestic political developments in Egypt.

Morsi will likely face the following questions in his Wednesday meeting with Merkel:

    Riots in Egypt: Parts of the Egyptian opposition are calling for early elections. The fact that Merkel is meeting with Morsi signifies that she still considers him to be the legitimately elected leader of Egypt. At the same time, she is also likely to urge him to make concession to his opponents. "Egypt needs a de-escalation of violence and a serious political dialogue," says Markus Löning, the German government's human rights commissioner. "All sides need to contribute to it."
    Relations with Israel: Video recordings taken in 2010 that were broadcast in January show Morsi describing the "Zionists" as "bloodsuckers" and "descendants of apes and pigs." The German government is likely to expect Morsi to issue a response to the video. Good relations between Cairo and Jerusalem are imperative to Berlin.
    Political foundations: Since the revolution, political foundations and non-government organizations operating in Egypt have found themselves in muddy waters. A new law bans organizations from accepting money from abroad. In 2012, charges were filed against employees of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a political think tank aligned with Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union party. The charges included "illegal transfer of money." Berlin is likely to push for clearly defined legal regulations for political foundations operating in Egypt.

    Election observers: On Feb. 25, Egypt is expected to determine when the next national parliamentary elections will take place under the new constitution. It is likely that the Egyptian people will go to the polls in April or May. During the most recent elections, very few international observers were permitted into the country, and then only at a very late stage. It is important to the international community that the coming elections proceed differently to guarantee that they are free and fair.

As such, Morsi's visit to Berlin is unlikely to be a comfortable one. It is likely that he can forget previously planned debt forgiveness of €240 million. Berlin government sources are now discussing a much lesser figure of €30 million. Nor is Berlin prepared to talk about which development projects it is prepared to pursue. Initially, €360 million had been planned for such projects during the next two years.
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« Reply #4297 on: Jan 30, 2013, 08:36 AM »

Israeli warplane 'struck target on Syria-Lebanon border' amid weapons fears

Unconfirmed report of attack comes as Israel monitors region for possible chemical weapons convoys leaving Syria for Lebanon

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Wednesday 30 January 2013 14.14 GMT   

Israeli warplanes have attacked a target on the Syrian-Lebanese border, according to unconfirmed reports, after several days of heightened warnings from government officials over Syria's stockpiles of chemical weapons.

The Reuters news agency cited a western diplomat and a security source as saying there had been "a hit" in the border area. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said it had no comment on the report.

The report followed claims in the Lebanese media that IDF fighter planes had flown sorties over Lebanon's airspace from Tuesday afternoon until Wednesday morning.

A Lebanese army statement, quoted by local news agencies, said: "Four Israeli planes entered Lebanese airspace at 4.30pm on Tuesday. They were replaced four hours later by another group of planes, which overflew southern Lebanon until 2am, and a third mission took over, finally leaving at 7.55am on Wednesday morning." The IDF also declined to comment on these reports.

It was also reported that the IDF's intelligence chief, Major-General Aiv Kochavi, arrived in Washington on Tuesday for private talks with the US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Martin Dempsey, at the Pentagon.

Israel has publicly warned that it would take military action to prevent the Syrian regime's chemical weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon or "global jihadists" fighting inside Syria. Israeli military intelligence is said to be monitoring the area round the clock via satellite for possible convoys carrying weapons.

Hezbollah is also believed to have extensive stockpiles of conventional weapons in warehouses inside Syria. Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nazrallah, "wants to remove everything from Syrian soil to Lebanon", said Amnon Sofrin, a former head of intelligence in the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. Israel, he added, was "looking very carefully at convoys heading from Syria to Lebanon."

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, was reported earlier this week to be conducting intense security consultations on the possible response to the movement of weapons.

The deputy prime minister, Silvan Shalom, told Army Radio on Sunday: "If there is a need, we will take action to prevent chemical weapons from being transferred to Islamic terror organisations. We are obligated to keep our eye on it at all times, in the event chemical weapons fall into Hezbollah's hands."

Israel's concern over the civil war in Syria has mounted over recent months as Bashar al-Assad's regime has come closer to collapse and fighting has bordered on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Although Israel has been technically at war with Syria since 1967, the Golan Heights has been mostly quiet since Israel occupied it, almost 46 years ago.

But Israel fears that the implosion of the Assad regime could herald an Islamist Syria, which could seek to reignite hostilities with its neighbour.

Alex Fishman, defence analyst for the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, wrote earlier this week: "In the light of Assad's increasingly unsteady status, Hezbollah figures have understood that [its stockpiles of conventional] weapons cannot remain there. And as soon as these weapons reach Lebanon, they are swallowed up in secret underground stockpiles. Looking for them will be like searching for a needle in a haystack.

"If chemical weapons are brought into Lebanon, Israel will probably not hesitate - and will attack."

According to Sofrin, the Israeli military would be more inclined to deploy "specialist skilled units" on the ground to secure depots of chemical weapons, rather than use air strikes, which risked dispersing chemicals over a wide area. But any such operation would be complicated and risky, he added.

Israel's primary concern was to prevent Hezbollah acquiring chemical warheads that it could mount on existing missiles, he said.

Netanyahu told Sunday's cabinet meeting Syria was "increasingly coming apart". He added: "The reality is developing apace. 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."

In the past few months, errant shells from fighting in Syria have landed in the Golan Heights, prompting Israel to lodge formal complaints with the United Nations. In November, Israeli forces fired tank shells at Syrian artillery units, causing casualties, over two consecutive days after a mortar shell landed close to an Israeli army post.

Netanyahu recently announced plans to build a steel security fence along the armistice line in the Golan Heights, similar to the one constructed on the Israel-Egypt border.


January 30, 2013

Israel to Transfer Tax Funds to Palestinians


JERUSALEM — Israel has decided to transfer tax and customs revenues collected last month on behalf of the Palestinian Authority to help ease the economic crisis there, a senior Israeli government official said on Wednesday.

This reverses an earlier decision to use the revenues to offset at least part of the Palestinian debts to Israeli utility companies as a punitive measure following the Palestinians’ successful bid to upgrade their status at the United Nations to that of a nonmember observer state in late November.

But the official emphasized that the decision was “a one-time event” and was “not an indication of what Israel might do next month.”

The decision to transfer the funds came after a meeting on Monday between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Tony Blair, the envoy of the so-called quartet of Middle East peacemakers that groups the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia. In a statement after the meeting, both men pledged to work on peace and security issues.

Nour Odeh, a spokeswoman for the Palestinian Authority, said that Palestinian and Israeli officials were scheduled to hold a regular technical meeting on Wednesday where they would calculate the amount of revenues collected and owed. Revenues usually amount to around $100 million a month.

The Palestinian Authority, a self-rule body with limited control over parts of the West Bank, has been in financial crisis for about two years, largely because of a drop in donor funds, and it has been struggling to pay its 150,000 government workers their full salaries on time, leading to growing restiveness and strikes.

Israel’s decision to withhold the transfers after the United Nations move was expected, but special funds pledged by Arab states to the authority as a so-called “safety net” after the diplomatic clash with Israel have not yet materialized.

Israel has withheld transfers of Palestinian tax revenues at least five times before, sometimes for weeks and, after the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in 2000, for two years. But this was the first time that Israel had used the money, which constitutes about two-thirds of the authority’s income, to pay off Palestinian debts to the Israel Electric Corporation and other Israeli providers without the consent of the authority.

The prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad, called in December for a voluntary boycott of Israeli goods by Palestinian consumers in what he called a “logical response” to the Israeli measure because the tax revenues are accrued on Palestinian trade with Israel. The call did not appear have had much impact either in the Palestinian territories or on the Israeli economy.

Israel’s former foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, had said in December that it would take four months of tax revenues collected by Israel for the Palestinian Authority to repay its debts. He had threatened that no money would be transferred from Israel to the authority until the debts were paid.

In a statement released by the Palestinian Authority cabinet after a meeting on Tuesday, the withholding of tax revenues was described as “Israeli piracy.” The cabinet said that government workers would be paid the remaining half of their November salaries in the next two days, “if work is resumed in the ministries, at the least by those responsible for executing the salary payment procedures.”

The cabinet also “affirmed the urgency for our Arab brethren to accelerate the implementation of their commitments to support the state treasury,” according to the statement.

Israel is engaged in a delicate balancing act since it does not have an interest in seeing the Palestinian Authority collapse, officials there have said. In the weeks before the United Nations action, they said, Israel advanced money to the Palestinian Authority in response to calls for help and to provide some relief ahead of a Muslim holiday.


Secretary Clinton: Israeli vote doesn’t nail shut door to peace

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 29, 2013 12:29 EST

Israel’s parliamentary vote did not end hopes for peace with the Palestinians but instead has opened up a new chance for dialogue, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argued Tuesday.

“I actually think this election opens doors, not nails them shut,” she said, during a so-called “global townhall” meeting, in which she took questions from Internet-users and broadcasters around the world.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu list emerged from last week’s vote with the biggest single share of seats in the Knesset, but was weakened by a surge in support for Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party.

Party leaders are negotiating a new coalition, which is expected to have a center-right bent, and the talks are being watched for signs as to whether it will be more or less able to revive talks with the Palestinians.

Clinton, in one her final public engagements before she steps down from US President Barack Obama’s administration, chose to strike an optimistic note.

She said: “A significant percentage of the Israeli electorate chose to express themselves by saying: ‘We need a different path than the one we have been pursuing internally and with respect to the Middle East peace process.

“So I know President Obama and my successor soon-to-be secretary of state John Kerry will pursue this and will look for every possible opening.”

As Clinton was speaking, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave its backing to Kerry’s appointment, clearing the way for the full Senate to confirm him as Clinton’s successor later in the day.

Last week, in his confirmation hearings, Kerry had been less upbeat about the prospects for the Middle East peace process than Clinton was on Tuesday in her farewell online global event, which she delivered from Washington.

“We need to try to find a way forward, and I happen to believe that there is a way forward,” Kerry, a decades-long veteran of successive attempts to reach an elusive deal between Israel and the Palestinians, said on Thursday.

“But I also believe that if we can’t be successful that the door, or window, or whatever you want to call it, to the possibility of a two-state solution could shut on everybody and that would be disastrous in my judgment.”

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have theoretically committed themselves to an internationally-mediated “road-map to peace” that would see a “two-state solution” with both living side-by-side within agreed borders.

But direct talks have foundered, with Palestinians decrying ongoing Israeli settlement building on occupied territory and Israel denouncing rocket attacks on its civilians from Gaza, which is controlled by the Hamas militia.
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« Reply #4298 on: Jan 30, 2013, 08:38 AM »

01/29/2013 06:21 PM

'Don't Forget Your Photo Albums!': The Flight of Syria's Middle Classes

By Ulrike Putz in Beirut

They once were affluent, took vacations to Greece, purchased art and designer furniture. Now this Syrian family is on the run and forced to rely on charity. Their fate is typical of the exodus of the country's large middle class.

Farah Schemi* wants to get something off her chest: in the event that readers of her story at some point in their lives have to flee their homeland, she wants them to take to heart her list of what to pack. "Passports, gold, bank records and deeds of property, very important," she says. Almost more important are all the things that keep you warm. "Blankets, warm clothing, sturdy shoes," says the 54-year-old. It's best to wear a heavy coat, even in sweltering summer weather.

One thing Mrs. Schemi has learned: "You never return home as quickly as you'd hoped." The first winter in a foreign land comes inevitably. And when all hope vanishes in those first cold nights and you accept the fact that everything is lost, warm feet are at least a small consolation.

Mrs. Schemi never dreamed she one day would become an expert on the matter of escape luggage -- back when her world was still in order.

Before the start of the revolution in Syria, she packed a suitcase only when the family was headed for a summer vacation on a Greek island or the Turkish coast. In her former life, Farah Schemi worked as a dietician, advising well-paying private patients on nutrition. She specialized in advising cancer patients on what to eat to assist the healing process.

A Cancer Patient Becomes a Victim of War

Two years and one war later, that is all just memories. Farah Schemi's husband Helmi suffers from cancer but his Syrian health insurance doesn't cover treatment in Lebanon, where the family has settled after fleeing the war in their homeland.

So the Schemis sit with their two adult daughters in the backroom of a Lebanese mosque and watch Helmi grow weaker by the day. He should be running his printing company in Damascus, but is destined to become another victim of the Syrian Civil War.

In the meantime, up to one million Syrians have fled into neighboring countries, according to estimates by the major aid organizations. Some 300,000 are said to have ended up in Lebanon. But because the Lebanese government has close ties with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, official agencies are reluctant to offer assistance to Syrian refugees. There are no refugee camps operated by aid organizations in Lebanon.

Those who are lucky stay with relatives or have enough money to rent an apartment. All of the other Syrian refugees in Lebanon are forced to rely on the help of strangers: on the mosques that open soup kitchens, on the farmers who let them sleep in their stables, on the owners of apartment buildings who let them set up tarpaulins on flat roofs. Medical care for the displaced is wholly inadequate.

Many Children Are Starving, All Are Freezing

The first stop for many refugees is the Lebanese border town of Majdal Anjar. Surrounded by snow-covered mountains and just an hour by car from Damascus, the small town was once a smugglers' stronghold. Today it functions as a kind of reception camp: in recent months, tens of thousands of Syrians have taken their first rest here after fleeing over the border. Thousands have stayed. Since then, Majdal Anjar -- like many other Lebanese cities -- has operated under a state of emergency: water and electricity come only sporadically and are simply not enough for the sharply increasing population. Lessons in the schools are taught in two shifts: Lebanese children in the morning, Syrians in the afternoons.

The Schemis too made their first stop in Majdal Anjar, after they fled the Damascus district of Kutseija during a ceasefire last July. The parents, who were traveling with three of their four adult children (the eldest is studying at a university in the USA), turned to a mosque for help. The Muezzin said they could sleep in his office for one night. That one night has turned into six months. When a Levantine winter storm rolls over the mountains, temperatures in the room drop below freezing. When it clears up again, melted snow drips down the walls of their lodging.

"But we don't want to complain. We still have it good. Many refugees live outdoors, with their children, in the middle of the snow," says Mariam, who at 31 years old is the eldest daughter of the Shemis. She and her sister Rula, both teachers, have found work in a Lebanese school and use the wages to feed their family. After they finish work in the afternoons, they teach Syrian refugee children, without pay. "I look at the children, how bad it is for their parents," says Mariam. Some of her students are highly aggressive, others apathetic about their war experiences.

In the beginning the Schemis thought that their exile would soon be over, that they would soon return home. But these hopes were soon dashed. Just a month after their flight, a neighbor called from Damascus: the apartment building where they had lived on the third floor had been set on fire. Moreover, soldiers had looted all the apartments.

Potential Sons-in-Law Have Fallen

Mariam and Rula managed to struggle their way back to Damascus. They wanted to bring the family's possessions to safety -- but there was nothing left to save. On her smartphone, Rula shows photos of the rubble that was once her home: the rooms were all blackened by soot. What wasn't burned was smashed to pieces, and the computer had bullet holes in it. "On the first floor of the building, a doctor and a veterinarian had their practices," says Rula. Both had apparently treated injured dissidents, and the army took revenge on the whole house. Aside from one neighboring family, all the residents of the building have fled the country: the exodus of the well-off and strikingly large Syrian middle class.

The Schemis and their neighbors are among those who had something to lose and lost it fast.

Rula also has other pictures on her cell phone, images of a happier time. One video shows the family at the father's birthday two years ago: in a living room filled with antique furniture, aunts with blow-dried hair laugh into the camera, and children are being passed from arm to arm. There are cakes and bouquets of flowers on a mahogany dresser, under a modern painting. Suddenly Rula dances through the picture, her hair worn loose, her top low-cut and bright blue. "Another age," she says and shut the cell phone. Today Rula and her sister wear tracksuits and don't remove their white headscarves, even indoors -- after all, they have to rely on the goodwill of the head of the mosque.

"Photos are among those things that you don't think about at first," says Farah Schemi. Not a single baby photo of any of her children still exists. Her wedding photo, school enrollments, birthdays -- all gone. Her advice to anyone who must quickly pack the essentials: "Don't forget your photo album!"

The prospect that the war in Syria may shorten her husband's life isn't Mrs. Schemi only concern. She's also worried about her daughters' future. "The girls are at the age when they should marry and have children of their own," she says. "But who should they marry?" Fifty thousand young men in Syria have died over the course of the revolution, 70,000 have been arrested. "The men my daughters should have married have fallen in the revolution."

*All names have been changed by the editors.

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« Reply #4299 on: Jan 30, 2013, 08:42 AM »

January 30, 2013

Australian Leader Calls for Elections After Bruising Year


SYDNEY, Australia — Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia on Wednesday announced that federal elections would be held in September, ending speculation over the timing with an unusually early announcement that will launch what is sure to be a bruising almost nine-month long campaign season.

Ms. Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister, has led a tenuous minority Labor Party government since a disappointing election in 2010, which saw her parliamentary majority severely diminished. In setting the elections for Sept. 14 — well ahead of the latest possible election date of Nov. 30 — Ms. Gillard insisted that she was aiming for political stability and not the start of the nation’s “longest election campaign.”

“Time is not for wasting. So decisions have to be made about how we use our time this year,” she said during a speech to the National Press Club in the capital, Canberra. “It gives shape and order to the year, and enables it to be one not of fevered campaigning, but of cool and reasoned deliberation.”

The announcement comes after a particularly tough year for the prime minister in 2012, even by the standards of Australia’s normally raucous political culture. In February Ms. Gillard fended off a very public leadership challenge by her former foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, a former prime minister. In November, the opposition leveled allegations of corruption stemming from Ms. Gillard’s past work as a young labor lawyer, leading to vitriolic and deeply personal arguments on the floor of parliament.

Ms. Gillard acknowledged in her speech that Australians’ patience had been seriously tried by “months of boiling hot political debate.”

“In 2013, I am determined their patience is not tried again,” she said.

Within moments of Ms. Gillard’s announcement, however, members of the opposition Liberal-National coalition led by MP Tony Abbott took to social media to assail the decision — giving some early sense of what Australian voters can expect of the elongated campaign season. Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey responded to her announcement by accusing the government of timing the elections to obfuscate the results of the annual federal budget, which will be released later in the year.

“Election on Sept. 14 is before the final budget outcome is revealed for the current year,” Mr. Hockey protested on Twitter.

Malcolm Turnbull, a former opposition leader and Liberal member of parliament, accused Ms. Gillard of setting a date that was insensitive to Jewish voters. The elections will coincide with the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.

“Deeply disappointed that Julia Gillard chose to hold the election on Yom Kippur — the most solemn and sacred day of the Jewish year,” he posted on Twitter.

Ms. Gillard replaced Mr. Rudd as prime minister in a 2010 party coup that left her politically hobbled. For much of her tenure as prime minister, her ruling Labor Party has languished in the polls, despite the passage of significant legislation including the institution of a national carbon emissions trading scheme and a tax on the profits of big mining companies.

Both the Labor Party’s and the prime minister’s poll numbers have risen steadily in recent months, however, and Ms. Gillard seemed confident that she would be able to lead the party to victory over the opposition and Mr. Abbott, who polls have consistently shown is deeply unpopular with the electorate.

Ms. Gillard said that she would ask that parliament be dissolved on Aug. 12, setting up a short parliamentary year to cap a long election season.
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« Reply #4300 on: Jan 30, 2013, 08:45 AM »

South Korea launches rocket carrying satellite in battle for space supremacy

Launch of 140-tonne rocket likely to anger North Korea, which incurred tougher UN sanctions after December launch

Justin McCurry in Tokyo, Wednesday 30 January 2013 10.29 GMT   

The battle for space supremacy on the Korean peninsula intensified on Wednesday when South Korea launched its first satellite, weeks after a similar launch by North Korea.

Relief greeted the Naro rocket's flawless liftoff from a space centre on the south coast at 4pm local time. South Korea had twice failed to put a satellite into space, while two further attempts last year were aborted due to last-minute technical problems.

Reports from Seoul said the 140-tonne rocket, which was built in Russia and South Korea, successfully completed its stage separation before the satellite entered orbit. There was no immediate confirmation that the satellite was following its intended trajectory.

Before Wednesday, all of South Korea's satellite launches had been from overseas sites using foreign-made rockets. The country is thought to have about 10 satellites in orbit.

US experts believe the satellite launched by North Korea on 12 December is tumbling through space, despite claims by Pyongyang that it is functioning normally.

Seoul's launch is likely to anger the North, which incurred tougher UN sanctions after its recent launch.

The regime insists rocket technology is central to its peaceful space programme, but the US, South Korea and Japan say the launches are being used to test ballistic missile technology.

The North appeared to confirm those suspicions last week when its top military body, the national defence commission, said the rocket programme's secondary purpose was to target the US.

North Korea responded to widespread condemnation of its latest rocket launch and tighter sanctions with a threat to conduct a third nuclear test, as early as next month. Possible dates are the birthday of its former leader, Kim Jong-il, on 16 February, or the inauguration of South Korea's newly elected president, Park Geun-hye, on 25 February.

Intelligence officials in Seoul believe the North has a rocket capable of travelling 6,200 miles, potentially putting San Francisco in range, but it is not yet capable of mounting a long-range missile with a nuclear warhead

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« Reply #4301 on: Jan 30, 2013, 08:50 AM »

January 29, 2013

Japan’s Leader Expresses Willingness to Meet Chinese Counterparts


TOKYO — Japan’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said he is willing to meet with Chinese leaders to cool tensions in an emotional island dispute, saying the two Asian neighbors should not let the row further damage their huge economic relationship.

"There might be a need to re-establish the relationship, starting with a summit," Mr. Abe said on a television talk show late Tuesday, referring to the fraying ties between Tokyo and Beijing over the uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. While he reiterated his position that there is "no room for negotiations" over Japan’s current control of the islands, Mr. Abe said Asia’s two largest economies should rebuild what he called a "strategic partnership of mutual benefit," according to comments quoted Wednesday by Kyodo News agency.

The apparent olive branch comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity in the last week aimed at ratcheting down an increasingly heated standoff that saw both nations scramble fighter jets earlier this month, prompting debate in Japan over whether its planes should fire warning shots. Decades-old tensions over the islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan and Diaoyu in Chinese, flared anew last year when the Japanese government bought three of the islands, igniting violent protests against Japanese businesses in China.

To defuse tensions, a Japanese delegation led by former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama and including leading lawmakers from Mr. Abe’s governing Liberal Democratic Party met in Beijing on Monday with Tang Jiaxuan, a former Chinese foreign minister with ties to Japan. That visit followed a meeting on Friday that the Chinese head of state, Xi Jinping, held with Natsuo Yamaguchi, the leader of a small Buddhist party that is a junior partner in Mr. Abe’s ruling coalition.

After that meeting, Mr. Yamaguchi, of the New Komeito party, told reporters that he hand delivered a letter from Mr. Abe to the Chinese leader, though he did not disclose the letter’s contents. He also said that during the meeting, he suggested to Mr. Xi that the two nations hold a summit, to which the Chinese leader replied that he would "seriously consider" the idea.

Despite such diplomatic efforts, on Monday, the Chinese leader, Mr. Xi, seemed to cast cold water onto hopes of a quick resolution to the islands dispute, saying that he will not bargain over China’s territorial interests.

The delicate diplomacy underscores the emotions in both nations, where the islands have taken on different symbolic meanings. In China, they are seen as the last unreturned piece of Chinese territory seized during Japan’s empire building a century ago, and thus a sign that Japan remains unrepentant about its early 20th-century militarism. To many Japanese, the islands have become emblematic of the broader challenge that their nation, long Asia’s strongest power, faces from the emergence of an increasingly powerful China bent on settling old scores.

But China’s rise is seen here not just as creating a military threat, but also an economic opportunity. This has led to the difficult balancing act faced at home by Mr. Abe, a conservative who became prime minister a month ago with promises to defend Japan’s territorial claims but also improve ties. While his supporters in his party’s nationalist wing want him to take a bolder stand against rising Chinese pressure, another traditional Liberal Democratic support group, big business, wants less friction with China, Japan’s biggest export market.

To offset China’s growing military strength, Mr. Abe is seeking Japan’s first military spending increase in 11 years to bolster its ability to defend its southwestern islands, including the disputed island group. He has also vowed to improve ties with the United States, Japan’s traditional protector, and is working to arrange a summit meeting with President Obama in Washington late next month.

However, concerns that both Japan and the United States may be declining powers has led to growing anxieties here about Tokyo’s future ability to resist China’s growing strength. In the islands row, many Japanese officials now say they think China’s has embarked on a long-term strategy aimed at pressing Japan first to admit that a territorial dispute exists -- something that Tokyo has so far resisted acknowledging -- and then eventually agreeing to some form of joint stewardship, if not conceding the islands to China altogether.

This Chinese pressure has taken the form of almost daily appearances near the islands by ships and more recently aircraft from Chinese civilian agencies, but not the military to avoid a dangerous escalation. Still, the Japanese have responded in kind by sending their own ships and aircraft to intercept them, fanning fears that a misstep would trigger a violent clash. These concerns grew earlier this month, when both nations scrambled military fighter jets that shadowed each other.

In a show of American support for its longtime ally, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Jan. 20 that the United States opposes unilateral actions to try to undermine Japanese control of the islands, bringing an angry response from Beijing urging her to watch her words.


January 29, 2013

China Leader Affirms Policy on Islands


HONG KONG — China will never bargain over what it deems to be “core” territorial and security interests, the country’s top leader, Xi Jinping, said in his first published speech setting out his foreign policy views since taking over as head of the Communist Party.

At a time of volatile tensions with Japan and other Asian neighbors over rival maritime claims, Mr. Xi laid out to the Communist Party’s elite Politburo some of the principles likely to shape Chinese diplomacy, seeking to balance vows of commitment to peace with a warning that certain demands are sacrosanct to Beijing.

At the heart of that message was Mr. Xi’s invocation of “core national interests,” a sweeping and ill-defined term that he and other senior Chinese officials use to refer to security and sovereignty interests that they say are not negotiable. These include quelling independence movements in Tibet and the far western region of Xinjiang and eventually bringing the island of Taiwan under Chinese sovereignty.

“No foreign country should ever nurse hopes that we will bargain over our core national interests,” Mr. Xi said at the meeting on Monday, according to an account published on Tuesday by the state-run Xinhua news agency. “Nor should they nurse hopes that we will swallow the bitter fruit of harm to our country’s sovereignty, security and development interests.”

His published comments did not mention China’s quarrel with Japan over an outcrop of rocky islands in the East China Sea, or any other specific foreign policy issues. But his words could reinforce nationalist expectations in China and anxieties abroad that he will press territorial claims more determinedly than did his predecessor, Hu Jintao. Mr. Hu remains state president until March, when the national Parliament will install Mr. Xi.

“Yes, it’s a tougher policy, saying that we’re not trading our core interests,” said Shen Dingli, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Mr. Xi’s comments were in the bounds of established Chinese policy, but he appears more willing than his predecessors to show an assertive position on territorial issues, said Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

“These are the basic principles, just stated more clearly,” Mr. Jin said. “Now China’s strength is greater and domestic audiences are more focused on foreign policy, hence the talk of resolute protection.”

During a visit to the United States a year ago, Mr. Xi also demanded respect for China’s “core national interests.” There has been controversy in Chinese policy circles in recent years over how to define core interests beyond the territorial issues involving Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan. Starting in 2009, some senior officials began pressing a definition of those interests that covered broader territorial claims, while some policy advisers argued that expanding the concept could entangle Beijing in needless and costly disputes.

The months before and since Mr. Xi was appointed Communist Party leader in November have been overshadowed by the feud between China and Japan over the East China Sea islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan. Starting in August and continuing for several weeks, torrid and sometimes violent protests spread across dozens of Chinese cities after activists from both sides tried to land on the islands and the Japanese government responded to the dispute by buying islands that were in private Japanese hands.

Speaking on a talk show late Tuesday, Japan’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, offered to meet with Chinese leaders to cool tensions over the island dispute, an overture that followed a flurry of Japanese diplomatic visits to China to try to defuse the standoff. But Mr. Abe reiterated that there is “no room for negotiations” over Japan’s current control of the islands.

Japan has held the islands for more than a century. But China says it has legitimate title to them, and recently has sent government ships and planes to skirt the islands and assert its claim. This month, tensions spiked when both countries sent fighter jets over the East China Sea at the same time.

China is also locked in disputes with Southeast Asian countries, especially the Philippines and Vietnam, over Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Bree Feng contributed research from Beijing, and Martin Fackler contributed reporting from Tokyo.

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« Reply #4302 on: Jan 30, 2013, 08:55 AM »

Vietnam attempts to address ‘long illness’ of public sector

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 30, 2013 7:20 EST

Opaque, corrupt, inefficient — Vietnam’s state-run companies are used to criticism, but now they stand accused of creating a systemic economic crisis which the communist regime cannot fix.

More than 25 years after it started a transition towards a market economy, the government is trying to unpick a web of state-owned firms, which have a stranglehold on the economy and are proving stubbornly resistant to reform.

“The public sector is the Communist Party’s biggest mistake,” said Hanoi-based economist Nguyen Quang A, adding that the “long illness” of the public sector was causing a broader economic crisis.

“The economy is in its worst situation since 1986,” he told AFP, referring to a major economic crisis which precipitated free-market reforms.

The state sector is “the spoiled child of different interest groups (who) do not want to reform the sector to protect their power… They are seeking to maintain its status at any price.”

Despite a string of interest rate cuts aimed at stimulating the economy, Vietnam’s annual growth slowed to its weakest pace in 13 years in 2012, and resurgent inflation is seen as limiting the scope for further stimulus.

Vietnam has more than 1,300 state-owned enterprises (SOEs). They account for 45 percent of the country’s total investment, use 60 percent of commercial bank loans, and absorb some 70 percent of development aid.

But they contribute just 30 percent of annual GDP growth according to figures from the Ministry of Planning and Investment made public in November.

Some analysts argue that if one counts SOE subsidiaries and so-called private enterprises which are in reality controlled by top government officials, the state sector accounts for 70 percent of Vietnam’s total economic activity.

But the sector is not in good health. SOEs have racked up some $61 billion of debt which represents more than half of total public debt in Vietnam.

Several of the SOEs have already collapsed in spectacular fashion, including shipping giants Vinashin — which ran up $4.4 billion of losses — and Vinalines, which has defaulted on payments of some $1.1 billion.

Their downfalls have been used in particular by detractors of Prime Minister Ngyuen Tan Dung — seen as a reformer when he took office in 2006, but now roundly blamed for the country’s economic woes.

Dung championed the SOEs as a path to economic prosperity, citing the example of South Korea’s Chaebol.

Experts say the SOEs have become expert at hiding their debts, have incomprehensible strategies, hazardous investments in non-core sectors which are cunningly designed to circumvent government regulations.

The top officials running the companies frequently flaunt lifestyles incompatible with their official remuneration, fuelling public anger at the corruption, inefficiency and waste.

“The crisis of public debts is an economic drama that has lasted five years already and is linked to the authority of the Communist Party,” said Quang A.

In the last few months, rumours have been multiplying about the weaknesses of a string of other major SOEs.

The official media has singled out Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) and the coal giant Vinacomin as the next heavyweights heading for a collapse, only kept alive on a life-support drip of official favours and credit.

Some 30 of the 85 largest SOEs have accumulated debts between three and 10 times larger than their capital according to Minister of Planning and Investment Bui Quang Vinh, speaking in December.

“People intentionally violate the law purely for personal interest,” he said, bringing up massive investments by several SOEs in sectors they were not authorised to operate in.

Scapegoated for the sector’s broader collapse, the ex-head of Vinashin has been sentenced to 20 years in prison, and the top officials at Vinalines are in prison awaiting trial.

No systemic solution has been proposed to avoid repetition of their failures. Yet the Vietnamese model, a strange mix of “market economy with socialist orientation” has been discredited both at home and overseas.

“Public enterprises have to beg for state subsidies to survive — they have become a cancer in the economy,” said one Vietnamese parliamentary on condition of anonymity.

“Reform is too slow because it faces strong opposition from leaders and company directors. Billions of dollars have been lost. But hardly anyone has been brought to justice.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #4303 on: Jan 30, 2013, 09:00 AM »

Serbia: ‘The crisis in Europe and Serbian politicians are to blame’

30 January 2013

Author: L. Valtner

Belgrade - The economic crisis and poverty, the conditions set by the EU integration process, lack of knowledge of the principles on which the Union operates, as well as contradictory messages sent and former and current government are the reasons a record decline in support for the citizens of Serbia joining the EU, respondents considered Danas .

As exclusively revealed yesterday Today, only 41 percent of Serbian citizens would vote for their country's entry into the EU, which is the lowest support in the last decade and a decrease of eight percent compared to the survey conducted in June 2012. It is one of the results of research that has been done in December for the Office for European Integration of Serbia, which will be officially unveiled tomorrow.

Nikola Papak, adviser Susan Grubješić, Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration, told Today that "what is good and does so much support for the EU after a decade of failed expectations, manipulation of the Union by some politicians and bureaucratic explanations of what the EU is and what it means Serbia ".

"However, no other social process not so much public support as a European integration. Political parties can only dream of such a support. However, this is an alarm, it is high time to change some things. So it's good that you posted this information, "says Nikola Papak.

According to him, the new government had found difficult situation, citizens are tired of the transition, blocked the integration process, the country has lost credibility in the eyes of European partners, and was followed by the "shameful verdict of the Hague tribunal," plus a crisis in the monetary union.

"We started to fix things that are in our area, and we're going in the right direction, but there is still much to do. European integration is no longer the monopoly of a single party or a marketing issue, but a serious public policy. I believe that the work pay off and to better communicate with the public support on this issue will again be about 50 percent, "an optimist is a consultant Suzanne Grubješić.

Maja Bobic, Secretary General of the European Movement in Serbia, for today indicates that the decline in support for EU membership in the trend of the last few years.

"It is much more concerned about growth in the number of those who are against Serbia joining the EU. The reasons are numerous, but most of all there are the confusing, contradictory messages and this and the last government on European integration and the EU, and valency to the financial crisis in the EU, which makes it less attractive, and in some international decisions that have little to do with EU, such as the Hague verdict. Paradoxically, that is almost a consensus in Parliament on European integration, 90 percent of the delegates officially supports this goal, and to decrease public support. Finally, we did not discourage it, especially politicians, were able to communicate better with the public that the vision of modern advanced Serbia is a European Serbia, despite the economic crisis and other challenges - states berries.

Jadranka Joksimovic, a member of the Presidency of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, said today that the "height of civic support European integration coincides with the height of the standard of living, which is very low, after 12 years of political abuses of the former regime, the road to the EU as unquestionable reason for all that is done asistemski in the economy, and bring bad results. "

"The fall in confidence is the logical outcome of things, but I do not think it will discourage the government to continue on the path that is realistic for Serbia, sensible and long-term profitable in economic terms but also in the process of strengthening institutional capacity and political culture, which will undoubtedly lead to the construction of more efficient and reliable citizens of the state, "said Jadranka Joksimovic.

Natasa Vuckovic, vice president of the Democratic Party, said today that the economic crisis, rising unemployment and deepening poverty allegations that Serbian citizens are wondering whether the pro-European reforms to improve the overall situation.

- It seems to me that the overall process of European integration was the focus of a lot more than the political dimension of the economic and social, which are much closer to the citizens. For this part of the responsibility borne by the EU, because the people from her view only political demands. Another reason is that a part of the new ruling coalition of European integration and the EU as a way of life rather than a process of modernization of the country that adopts European values ​​- explains Natasa Vuckovic.

Djordje Milicevic, a spokesman for the Socialist Party of Serbia, said that such a low support "an emotional reaction of the citizens," the difficulties that the country meets the integration of the difficult decisions that the government has to make, but also to the economic crisis in the EU. Milicevic states that if Serbia this year get a date for the start of negotiations, support increase, because "every time you feel the actual benefit the citizens of the EU, they have more confidence in it."

Letter to the DSS Sanda Raskovic estimates that erosion of support for the EU, "clearly shows that the people much better and more regular than the political elite which sees Serbia needs to go."
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« Reply #4304 on: Jan 30, 2013, 09:04 AM »

January 29, 2013

Ukrainian General Sentenced to Life in Journalist’s Killing


MOSCOW — A Ukrainian court sentenced a former security official to life in prison on Tuesday for the death of Georgy Gongadze, a journalist whose mysterious death in 2000 provoked an international outcry and helped set off protests against the president at the time, Leonid D. Kuchma.

The former security official, Gen. Olexey Pukach, who once headed a surveillance department for Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, testified that he had not intended to kill Mr. Gongadze, but that he strangled him with a belt accidentally in the course of an interrogation. He is the highest-ranking official to be convicted in Mr. Gongadze’s death.

Mr. Gongadze vanished in September 2000, and his body was found two months later, beheaded, in a forest 75 miles from Kiev, the capital. He had infuriated the president, Mr. Kuchma, with muckraking articles in Ukrainskaya Pravda, an Internet newspaper he had founded.

Suspicions of official involvement grew with the release of covert recordings made by one of Mr. Kuchma’s bodyguards, in which a man who sounded like the president spoke of Mr. Gongadze, telling a subordinate to “throw him out, give him to the Chechens.”

The killing came to epitomize the role that crime had come to play in Ukrainian politics and provoked a wave of demonstrations that some describe as the first manifestation of the 2004 Orange Revolution.

Three former police officers who stood trial over Mr. Gongadze’s death said that he had climbed into what he believed to be a taxi and was taken to a location outside Kiev, where he was beaten and strangled, doused with gasoline and burned.

General Pukach said he had been trying to force Mr. Gongadze to confess to espionage, but he refused to do so, though he did admit to accepting $400,000 from Western diplomats for passing on information.

Volodymyr Shilov, a prosecutor, said that General Pukach had testified that he was carrying out an order, but would not say what the order was or who issued it, according to the Interfax news agency. But just before guards took him away on Tuesday, General Pukach gave a revealing response to journalists who asked him to comment on the verdict, telling them to direct their questions to Mr. Kuchma and his chief of staff, Volodymyr Lytvyn.

“Ask Kuchma and Lytvyn, they’ll tell you everything,” he said, shaking his finger angrily, according to television coverage of the trial. “I told everything during the investigation and trial. So ask Lytvyn and Kuchma about their motives and intentions.”

The trial was mostly closed to journalists, who were allowed to be present only for the verdict and sentencing. But a lawyer representing Mr. Gongadze’s widow complained that the investigation and trial were flawed and inconsistent, overlooking evidence that General Pukach had intended to kill Mr. Gongadze.

“He spoke clearly about receiving an order to kill, burn and bury him, and he was prepared for this,” the lawyer, Valentyna Telychenko, said in comments shown on television. “He brought a shovel and a canister of gasoline, meaning his actions were directed toward murder, and nothing else.”

Mr. Gongadze’s widow, Myroslava, told a Ukrainian television channel that she would not consider the ruling final until “not only the killers themselves, but also those who ordered the killing” have been punished.

Ms. Telychenko told reporters after the hearing that she and her client would probably appeal, hoping to prove that the killing was ordered and identify its mastermind.

General Pukach had testified that he had been ordered to conduct surveillance by Ukraine’s interior minister — a man who was found dead in 2005, hours before he was to be questioned by prosecutors in the matter. Officials called it a suicide, though Ukrainian news agencies said he had suffered two gunshot wounds.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 29, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated, on first reference, the year of Georgy Gongadze’s death. It was in 2000, not 2002.

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