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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1080556 times)
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« Reply #4425 on: Feb 06, 2013, 08:18 AM »

Afghanistan’s Karzai to leave power in 2014

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 5, 2013 19:04 EST

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai confirmed Tuesday in Oslo that he plans to step down next year when his mandate expires.

“The question of me staying as the president beyond 2014 is out of the question,” Karzai said when reporters asked about recent speculation that he was keen to stay on.

“Neither am I seeking a third term, nor does the constitution allow it. There will be an election and a new president will come,” he said.

Karzai was elected in 2004, and re-elected in 2009 in a vote marred by accusations of fraud.

Afghanistan’s next presidential election is scheduled for April 2014, just a few months before the end of NATO’s mission.

Karzai has previously said he would not stay in power beyond 2014, including at a meeting with US President Barack Obama last month, amid some concern that he could try to cling to power.

During his visit to Oslo, Norway said it would continue to help the country until 2017, with annual aid of 750 million kroner (101 million euros, $137 million). Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, and one of the most corrupt.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said the aid agreement — which formalises previously-made pledges — would depend on Afghan authorities’ commitment to “good governance, the rule of law, human rights, transparency and democracy.”

“We have zero tolerance for corruption,” he stressed, noting that Oslo had suspended development aid in the past when funds had been misappropriated.

Afghanistan, the second-biggest recipient of Norwegian aid, is ranked as one of the most corruption-riddled countries in the world alongside North Korea and Somalia, according to graft watchdog Transparency International.

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« Reply #4426 on: Feb 06, 2013, 08:21 AM »

February 5, 2013

Georgian Sees Closer Ties With Russia


TBILISI, Georgia — As Russia took steps to resume imports of Georgian-produced wine and mineral water, Georgia’s new prime minister, the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, said Tuesday that he was making progress on one of his campaign promises — to repair the country’s badly frayed relationship with its huge neighbor.

Mr. Ivanishvili has struggled to meet the expectations that swept him to power in October, ending the nine-year political dominance of President Mikheil Saakashvili and his party. Many voters expected his election to be followed by immediate financial relief and a turnaround in relations with Russia.

On Monday came the news that Russia would dispatch teams of sanitary inspectors to Georgia in anticipation of resuming imports. Georgian wine and mineral water — Russian consumer staples since the Soviet era — were banned from Russian shelves in 2006, as Mr. Saakashvili openly challenged Russia’s supremacy in the region. At a news conference marking his first 100 days in office on Tuesday, Mr. Ivanishvili said he was making headway in repairing the rift.

“It will not happen as fast as I used to say,” he said. But he said that he felt a friendly tone was returning to the relationship, and that Russian officials had given him “a surprisingly warm reception” at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos.

Mr. Saakashvili and his allies have warned that Mr. Ivanishvili’s overtures may represent a departure from Georgia’s longstanding efforts to join NATO and the European Union, which still have strong public support. Late last month, legislators from Mr. Saakashvili’s United National Movement proposed amending the country’s Constitution to make Georgia’s “pro-Western orientation” legally binding.

Mr. Ivanishvili said Tuesday that he would not amend the Constitution, but that altering the country’s pro-Western foreign policy was “unimaginable.”

Olesya Vartanyan reported from Tbilisi, and Ellen Barry from Moscow.
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« Reply #4427 on: Feb 06, 2013, 08:23 AM »

February 5, 2013

Hollande Warns Britain About Its Demands on E.U.


BRUSSELS — President François Hollande of France told the European Parliament on Tuesday that countries like Britain were on a dangerous path that other members of the European Union might not accept and suggested that their demands could even jeopardize the bloc.

The Union, said Mr. Hollande, is more than a marketplace, as the British sometimes see it, and he said France would oppose British proposals for deep cuts to the bloc’s communal budget at a summit meeting this week.

Making his first appearance as French head of state at the Parliament, in Strasbourg, Mr. Hollande sketched a vision of the Union’s future that is radically different than that of David Cameron, the British prime minister, who said last month that his country wanted to continue its free-trade relationship with the bloc — but shield it from Union rules in areas like finance and justice.

Mr. Hollande did not identify Britain or Mr. Cameron during his speech in Strasbourg. But Mr. Hollande said an “à la carte” approach to Europe was wrong in what was a thinly veiled reference to the position of the British leader, who last month demanded changes to the Union’s treaty and promised a British referendum on whether to remain inside the bloc. Instead, Mr. Hollande pleaded for a less confrontational approach from discontented members like Britain.

“A Europe with differences is a Europe where states — not always the same ones — decide to go ahead, take on new projects, unblock funds, harmonize their policies and to go beyond the base of common competences that we’ve created and that must remain intact.”

Mr. Hollande also warned in his speech that Europe faced “no longer the risk of indifference, but detachment, even a split.”

In a news conference later, Mr. Hollande said that Mr. Cameron had the sovereign right to call a referendum on membership but that the British leader had a different vision of Europe.

“My conception of Europe is not to call into question the gains” derived from membership in the Union but to emphasize the “construction of Europe,” Mr. Hollande said.

The next major challenge for the Union — and for relations between big members like France and Britain — gets under way on Thursday when the Union’s 27 leaders gather in Brussels for a two-day summit meeting that is aimed at delivering a seven-year budget worth about €1 trillion, or $1.36 trillion, for the period from 2014 to 2020.

A failure to reach a deal would be an embarrassment for the Union, which already spent much of the past two years in summit meeting after summit meeting seeking to keep the euro currency union intact. The previous attempt in November failed after net contributor countries like Britain, Germany and Sweden were at loggerheads with net recipient countries like Poland, Lithuania and Spain over the size of the budget.

A failure to reach a deal this week could also make it hard to agree until 2015 on a long-term budget, after elections in Germany in September and in 2014 for the European Parliament, whose approval is also required for the plan.

Mr. Hollande said he was prepared to compromise to reach a deal this week. But he staunchly defended farm subsidies cherished by French growers and warned that cutting too deeply into other areas, like infrastructure funds, would jeopardize growth and face stiff opposition from other countries.

It is necessary “to reason with those who want to amputate the E.U. budget beyond what it was possible to accept,” he warned. Answering questions from members of Parliament, Mr. Hollande took direct aim at Britain, asking, “Why should one country be able to decide in the place of 26 others?”

Mr. Cameron has called for wide-ranging cuts and reducing a proposed budget of €973 billion for the period from 2014 to 2020.

In a statement on Tuesday, Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, the body that is organizing the summit meeting, said he wanted “final negotiations” on the budget to begin on Thursday. But he warned that the negotiations could be long and rancorous.

“Budget talks are always difficult, lengthy and can look messy from the outside — and sometimes even from the inside,” Mr. Van Rompuy said. “It happens that we get so absorbed by small details during the negotiations that the bigger picture gets lost.”

He added that agreement would help tackle youth unemployment and bolster research and job creation.

Mr. Van Rompuy also promised to deliver the first budget delivering “a real terms cut” compared with the previous seven-year budget.
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« Reply #4428 on: Feb 06, 2013, 08:25 AM »

EU budget: Roads in Brussels are paved with gold

5 February 2013
Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, 5 February 2013

The knives are out, ahead of the European council meeting to hammer out an EU budget for 2014 to 2020, as Dziennik Gazeta Prawna reports: “Tusk and Merkel paid less than eurocrats.” The story comes on the day of a strike by Brussels civil servants angry at pressure to cut EU administration staff and costs, as proposed by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, backed by seven other countries. Under the plan, the budget, which must be agreed at the February 7-8 summit, would see a €15bn cut over seven years, warns Pierre-Philippe Bacri, head of European Civil Service Federation (ECSF). However, according to Die Welt’s estimates, more than 4,000 Eurocrats already earn more than Chancellor Angela Merkel, while European Commission general directors are the “Croesuses”, pocketing more than €21,000 per month. In comparison, Poland’s PM Donald Tusk earns monthly a mere €3,960. According to DGP,

    For the EU summit to conclude with a deal, [European Council president] Herman Van Rompuy has to find extra €30bn in savings in the proposed €973bn EU budget. That is Cameron and Merkel’s condition. Since Poland and other Central European countries are blocking further cuts in structural funds and France in the Common Agricultural Policy, EU administration is likely to be the main victim of the cuts.

As a result, Eurocrats may have to work longer, lose their family separation allowance and have their pension premiums increased. Moreover, they will have to give up automatic salary raises linked to length of service at the EU.

Die Welt in Berlin announces that it is in favour of reform of the European public sector, which is becoming too powerful, too sure of itself and insufficiently controlled.

    The question of wages is not the fundamental problem – it is a symptom of a creeping shift of power from politics to administration. The fact that they have long opposed civil service reform reflects the fact that Eurocrats lead a charmed life, with a little too much comfort. The administration is a hybrid, mixing legislature and executive.

The story from Die Welt “prompted a prickly rebuttal” by an EU commission spokesman on Monday, notes the EUobserver, which quotes the spokesman as saying –

    If you count Merkel's perks […] she pockets about €25,000 a month. "Not one EU official, including all their allowances, gets more than Chancellor Merkel, including all her allowances," he noted. He claimed EU institutions are fully transparent because they publish salary scales. […] But he declined to disclose the take-home pay of any specific EU employee, including top public figures such as foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, saying this would violate "common human decency" on the right to privacy.
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« Reply #4429 on: Feb 06, 2013, 08:30 AM »

02/06/2013 10:15 AM

Core or Periphery?: Poland's Battle Over Embracing the Euro

By Jan Puhl

Prime Minister Donald Tusk and the Polish business community want to boost competitiveness by introducing the euro. However, the opposition and a majority of Poles believe the country's independence and stability could suffer.

It's a typical paparazzi photo. Chris Martin, lead singer of the band Coldplay and the husband of actress Gwyneth Paltrow, steps out of his New York townhouse with his young daughter, Apple, on his arm.

It isn't really the sort of photo that interests Slawomir Piwowarczyk, from Nowa Huta near Krakow, but he studied this one very carefully. He had noticed the yellow soles on Apple's shoes, a trademark of his company, Gucio. He even owns the patent. "Do you think the stars know where their children's shoes are from?" he asks.

Piwowarczyk produces 700 pairs a month -- by hand -- with his wife Beata, his mother-in-law and three employees in a barn on the grounds of the former Lenin Metal Combine. His design for children's shoes is brilliantly simple and has won several awards.

He is currently writing a business plan, and when he's finished, he wants to apply for European Union funds to build a real production facility. "We sell 70 percent of our shoes abroad, through the Internet," Piwowarczyk says. "As an exporter, I feel that it's high time that Poland introduces the euro."

Many Polish business owners who have established companies in recent years and are now hoping for a breakthrough into the European Union agree. Since the fall of communism in 1989, Poland has become an EU member that has developed from a backward, agricultural country into a prosperous nation. Now liberal-conservative Prime Minister Donald Tusk wants to take the next step. He has announced his intention to hold a "national debate" in the spring over Poland's accession to the euro zone. "How should we decide?" he asks. "Do we want to be part of Europe's core in the future or remain along its periphery?"

With its national debt at only 56 percent of GDP and its currency, the zloty, relatively stable, the stability criteria are hardly an issue for Poland. The only minor sticking point is that last year's 3.1 percent budget deficit is slightly higher than the deficit-to-GDP ratio of 3 percent demanded by the Stability and Growth Pact.

The parliament is a much bigger hurdle. Replacing the zloty with the euro would require an amendment to the constitution with a two-thirds majority, which Tusk doesn't have. The right-wing nationalist opposition headed by Jaroslaw Kaczyski has announced its intention to sharply oppose the plan.

Stiff Resistance

Poland is headed for the kind of culture war it hasn't experienced since it joined the European Union in 2004. The government camp argues that the country needs the euro to remain competitive. But the conservative-nationalist opposition believes that Poland's independence is at risk. It argues that, owing to German dominance, if Poland joins the euro zone it will lose the national character it developed in difficult struggles that claimed many victims.

"We are about to face a battle," says Henryka Bochniarz, president of the Polish Confederation of Private Employers. She called for "political leadership" in a letter she wrote to the premier. "We need a business plan," she says. "Where do we see Poland in 10 years?"

About 75 percent of Polish exports go to EU countries. If the country joined the euro zone, one of the most important benefits is that the transaction costs caused by fluctuating exchange rates would disappear.

Piwowarczyk, the shoemaker, says that he can hardly estimate at the beginning of a month what he will have made at the end. "I feel every exchange rate fluctuation directly in my wallet," he says.

But according to the most recent polls, 58 percent of Poles are skeptical about the euro. Despite the Europe-wide recession, Poland consistently generated high growth rates, but now the crisis has arrived. Poland's 38 million people are holding onto their money, triggering a sharp drop in domestic demand. The Polish economy grew by only 2 percent in 2012, compared to 4.5 percent in 2011.

It is mostly older Poles, the unemployed and rural residents who are afraid of the euro. They fear a drastic rise in food prices. These are the people opposition leader Kaczyski targets with his message. The polls sometimes show his Law and Justice Party dead even with Tusk's Civic Platform Party.

Kaczyski is fighting Tusk's pro-European approach. The first showdown is expected in late February and early March, when the Polish parliament, the Sejm, will vote on ratification of the European fiscal compact, the agreement championed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that obliges signatories to implement balanced-budget legislation and accept automatic sanctions for violating the new deficit rules

Krzysztof Kawecki is one of those organizing resistance to the pro-European approach. He is the director of a private business college in Warsaw and a member of the center-right Right Wing of the Republic party. It is even more conservative than Kaczyski's Law and Justice Party, though they campaign on a joint list. Last fall, Kawecki led hundreds of demonstrators in a "march for the zloty" in front of the presidential palace.

"We think that EU integration goes much too far," says Kawecki. "We don't want a United States of Europe, but a confederation of independent national states." The fiscal compact, he says, gives Brussels a say in fiscal and budgetary policy. Kawecki believes that it would be "suicidal" to introduce an ailing currency like the euro today. The next march for the zloty is already being planned, he adds, "and there will be many more after that."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #4430 on: Feb 06, 2013, 08:33 AM »

Greenland: The wealth that lies beneath

6 February 2013
De Standaard Brussels

For a long time, prawns were all that Greenland was famous for. However, the melting ice caps mean that natural resources are there for the taking. This development is both a curse and a blessing and one that puts the Danes in a difficult situation.
Annelien De Greef

The latest joke among Greenland's inhabitants is that the name of their capital, Nuuk, sounds extremely similar to the English word "nuke", meaning nuclear warhead. After all it would appear that Greenland, and therefore Denmark as well, will soon become one of the most important players in the world of uranium.

This is an idea that is giving a lot of people in the north the creeps. People have known for years that Greenland has rich uranium deposits. Not only did it seem almost impossible to access them, they were also regarded as the forbidden fruit.

Denmark has pursued a zero tolerance nuclear policy for a quarter of a century. Now Copenhagen is making a political U-turn. The Danish head of Greenpeace, Flarup Christensen, referred to the development as "the ultimate hypocrisy", reminding them: "We forced Sweden to close a nuclear power plant because it was too close to Danish soil."
Temptation of independence

What has happened? "A crucial element is that, in 2009, Greenland acquired greater autonomy to manage its natural resources itself", explains Cindy Vestergaard of the Danish Institute for International Studies during a telephone call from Copenhagen. Greater autonomy also means an end to the millions that flow annually from Copenhagen to Nuuk. It is difficult to live from prawns alone. That is why uranium has become so interesting.

Nevertheless, Greenland cannot decide on the issue unilaterally. Denmark continues to be responsible for foreign and defence policy. What is more, the island, which has fewer than 60,000 inhabitants, is unable to organise the mining and export on its own.

According to Vestergaard, "Everything will change if the plans are given the green light. That would make Denmark a nuclear player." At the moment Canada, Australia and Kazakhstan are the largest export countries. Given the enormous stocks, Denmark and Greenland would also become key players.

However, organising everything in the proper way would be a major achievement. "The trade in uranium is one of the most shady in the world. How can you be sure it does not end up in a nuclear weapon? The Australians claim it is possible, but evidently there is no guarantee." The plans could therefore burden the green, peace-loving Danes with a serious image problem.
Fisherman becomes miner?

Greenland has even more to lose. Global warming is improving the accessibility not just of uranium, but of other natural resources as well. It is even the case that, should uranium mining continue to be banned, Greenland would miss out on the economic benefits of large stocks of iron ore, copper, gold and rare earth metals in the vicinity. This while international mining giants, and countries such as South Korea and China, are just getting interested. On top of all this, Greenland could break the monopoly of China in the field of rare earth metals, which are very important for use in smart phones and cars.

As reported in The Copenhagen Post, the wealth of raw materials is both a curse and a blessing. The melting ice caps is also causing the disappearance of the shrimping villages. The crustaceans are seeking colder waters further north, leaving unemployment, an exodus of inhabitants and even suicide in their wake. The question is whether you can turn a fisherman into a miner.
Strategic importance

Indeed, that is not the only challenge. Last year, pressure from international companies led Greenland to approve a law which makes it possible to pay foreign workers less than Greenlanders themselves. For example, the American aluminium giant, Alcoa, wants to establish a factory in a village which has 3,000 residents. The plan was to bring in an equal number of Polish and Chinese workers. How would this affect a local community and how would the fewer than 60,000 island residents cope with having an industrial heavyweight in their midst?

The US has long been aware of Greenland's strategic importance. After World War II the Americans offered Denmark $100m for the island. Nuuk would now appear more and more to be going its own way. "Up to now, fishing was the only thing they had," Vestergaard explains. "However, it is clear that the mining of the raw materials – and they really have the lot – is now regarded as a way of eventually making the country independent." Elections are to be held in Greenland soon. There are no prizes for guessing what the most important theme is going to be.   

View from Denmark: Greenland is too poor to refuse

Whatever the Greenlanders chose to do, their future will be shaped by “Murphy's Law”, which states that: “Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong” writes Politiken.

According to the Danish newspaper, exploiting the country's petroleum and mineral resources will inevitably lead to more nepotism in a country already plagued by corruption, and where there are few experienced people who can navigate between politics and business. For the newspaper –

    Pollution and environmental destruction will once again trail in the slipstream of the “the frivolous atmosphere of the Klondike” and the social polarisation between the cities near the mines and the isolated villages is going to increase.

At the same time, the Greenlanders have no choice, writes Politiken.

    Revenues from fishing are falling, and so are grants from Denmark, which is forcing the Greenlanders to experiment. Few who do not know Greenland can grasp the extent of the poverty there.


Kvanefjeld, thought to be home to the world's second-largest deposit of rare earth oxides and the sixth-largest deposit of uranium.

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« Reply #4431 on: Feb 06, 2013, 08:37 AM »

EU budget cuts expected to hit foreign aid hardest

As European Union budget talks begin, its foreign aid funding is facing a bigger cut than any other line of spending

Mark Tran, Wednesday 6 February 2013 07.00 GMT   

Foreign aid is expected to take the biggest hit in the EU budget, NGOs have warned, ahead of what promises to be another difficult summit.

Talks on the 2014-20 EU budget broke down in November, with David Cameron, calling on the EU to start living "in the real world" by recognising the need for financial belt-tightening in line with national austerity measures.

Just before a second attempt to break the deadlock begins in Brussels on Thursday, the prime minister's spokesman made clear that Britain is still holding out for further reductions in the €756bn ($1bn) budget proposal from the European commission.

But with the two biggest areas of spending – structural funds, which go the poorer regions of the EU, and the common agricultural policy – protected from further cuts, the axe is likely to fall most heavily on the commission's €51bn proposal for development spending. This consists of €21bn from the Development Co-operation Instrument, which focuses on Latin American and Asia, and €30bn from the European Development Fund (EDF), which mainly targets sub-Saharan Africa.

Technically, the EDF is a separate fund – outside of the main budget. But the level of spending for the EDF will be agreed as part of the overall budget negotiations.

In November, the president of the European council, Herman Van Rompuy, proposed cutting the EDF by 11% compared with figures put forward by the commission. Other budget lines faced cuts of just 7.5% on average. Now, groups such as One and Concord, the European group of NGOs, fear even steeper cuts, meaning the EU could end up spending less in 2020 than it did in 2007 on its partners in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Developing countries have also expressed concerns at the prospect of aid cuts. The secretary general of the group of African, Caribbean and Pacific states, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, said in November that proposed cuts to EU aid would mean rich countries falling far short of achieving the internationally agreed targets for halving the number of people in absolute poverty under the millennium development goals for 2015.

"Our partners also still need to honour their commitments of 0.7% of gross national income for development assistance," Chambas said. "There are new global challenges of climate change, food security, universal access to energy, and ensuring peace and stability for societies in serious political upheaval, which require global collective action."

Cameron – one of three co-chairs on the UN post-MDG panel – has pledged that Britain will meet the UN target of 0.7% this year. But in pressing for cuts in the EU budget, the prime minister is in effect pushing the EU further away from the UN goal.

"The price of reversing cuts to the proposed aid budget for the poorest countries would be just three cents a week for each citizen," said Eloise Todd, Brussels director of One. "But the cost of letting these cuts go ahead would be children going unvaccinated, uneducated and without access to clean drinking water – the building blocks of a stable and productive life. All leaders have to agree for the budget deal to get the green light, so it only takes one to stand up and say, 'we must not balance Europe's books on the backs of the poorest'."

Ben Jackson, chief executive of Bond, the UK NGO network, said: "EU humanitarian and development aid is deemed one of the most efficient, impactful and transparent in the world. It has stopped 50 million people in more than 50 countries from going hungry in the last three years … Leaders must not use the life-saving aid budget as a bargaining tool in this week's talks."

According to a Eurobarometer survey (pdf), released in October, 85% of EU citizens believe Europe should continue helping developing countries despite the economic crisis, and 61% are in favour of increasing aid. At the same time, 55% think rapidly growing emerging countries should no longer receive aid. Most people (61%) believe aid should focus on fragile countries that have suffered through conflict or natural crises.

EU aid is generally praised – although it has also been criticised by MPs in Britain. The UK government's multilateral aid review, published by the Department for International Development in March 2011, rated the European Development Fund as "critical to UK development objectives".

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« Reply #4432 on: Feb 06, 2013, 08:39 AM »

February 5, 2013

China Issues Proposal to Narrow Income Gap


HONG KONG — The Chinese government issued a long-awaited plan on Tuesday to narrow the gulf between rich and poor, offering broad vows to lift the incomes of workers and farmers and choke off corrupt wealth but few specific goals to rein in the nation’s wide inequality.

The proposal was mired for months in an internal dispute about whether to aggressively scale back the rising salaries and benefits of some officials working for state-owned businesses and banks. The document that emerged from the discussions is filled with commitments to deal with that issue and other sources of public concern about the gap between the incomes of residents of dirt-poor villages and those living in privileged urban enclaves.

“There are some stark problems in income distribution that need urgent solving,” said the plan, which was issued on the central government’s Web site. “Chiefly, there remain quite large disparities in urban-rural development and incomes, income allocation is poorly ordered, and there are quite serious problems with invisible and unlawful sources of income.” The plan was drafted by the National Development and Reform Commission and other central agencies.

The income distribution plan was an initiative promised by the departing Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, who leaves office in March. But it also underscores the extent to which the new generation of leaders under Xi Jinping has promised to expand state spending on health care, education and social welfare.

Mr. Xi, who was appointed Communist Party chief in November and is set to become state president in March, has said he wants to accelerate economic changes in the spirit of Deng Xiaoping, who initiated market-based liberalization from the late 1970s after decades of rule by Mao Zedong.

But in the process of introducing market forces in China, such changes have starkly widened income disparities, and Mr. Xi has said that the party must defuse widespread public dissatisfaction with poor public services and, above all, corruption.

The income plan, however, does not offer specific new initiatives to reduce corruption.

Beyond a general commitment to eliminate sources of illegal income, the plan says that officials must abide by already announced rules to report earnings and assets to superiors. Many experts, however, have said such rules are ineffective without public disclosure as well.

The new plan also says that by the end of 2015 state-owned corporations under central administration should increase the returns they pay the government by five percentage points, with the additional payments to be used for social welfare.

Average disposable annual income for Chinese urban residents in 2012 was the equivalent of about $4,000, an increase of 9.6 percent after taking inflation into account. Average rural net income was just under $1,300 per person, a rise of 10.7 percent after adjusting for inflation, the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics announced in January.

The bureau also said that in 2012 China’s Gini coefficient, a widely used index of income inequality, was 0.474, slightly higher than levels of inequality in the United States, where income disparity now stands as one of the highest among advanced industrial nations. But some economists have said China’s measure is actually much higher, when illicit and poorly reported sources of wealth are taken into account.

“Deepening reform of the income distribution system is an extremely arduous and complex task of systemic engineering,” the new plan says. “It cannot be achieved in one step.”
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« Reply #4433 on: Feb 06, 2013, 08:46 AM »

Falklands will be under our control within 20 years, says Argentina

Argentinian foreign minister rules out military solution but says 'not one single country' supports UK right to govern islands

Patrick Wintour, political editor, Tuesday 5 February 2013 12.00 GMT   

The Falklands Islands will be under Argentinian control within 20 years, the South American country's foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, has said in an interview with the Guardian.

Visiting London for the first time, he ruled out a military solution to the 130-year-old sovereignty dispute but claimed the world increasingly recognised that the islands were a product of colonialism. He accused the British government of being motivated by a fanatical desire to hold on to the islands and claimed "the United Kingdom has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to find a solution for the Malvinas".

He said: "I don't think it will take another 20 years. I think that the world is going through a process of understanding more and more that this is a colonial issue, an issue of colonialism, and that the people living there were transferred to the islands."

He vowed that the interests of the existing islanders would be protected under Argentinian rule, including "their way of life, their language and right to remain British citizens". But he drew a distinction between the islanders' interests, which could be met, and their wishes, which could not.

Timerman is in London to argue the historical and legal case for Argentinian sovereignty over the islands. He has refused to meet the foreign secretary, William Hague, after the Foreign Office insisted representatives of the islands also attend. He said Hague's refusal to hold talks bewildered him as in the past the British had been quite willing to talk to a military junta that claimed 35,000 Argentinian lives.

In his interview, Timerman refused to discuss the possibility of joint sovereignty, saying he would not as a diplomat conduct negotiations through the Guardian and could only do so directly with Hague.

Explaining his refusal to meet the islanders, Timerman, speaking at the Argentinian embassy in Mayfair, said: "We have been trying to find a peaceful solution for 180 years. I think the fanatics are not in Buenos Aires [but] maybe in the United Kingdom because they are 14,000km away from the islands. And I think they are using the people living in the islands for political [reasons] and to have access to oil and natural resources which belong to the Argentine people. I think we are not fanatical at all.

"There is not one single country in the world which supports the right of the United Kingdom to govern over the Malvinas. Not one.

"According to the United Nations, there are only two parties to the conflict – the United Kingdom and the Republic of Argentina. It is an issue that has to be resolved by Argentina and the United Kingdom. By introducing a third party [the Falkland Islanders], the United Kingdom is changing more than 40 resolutions by the United Nations, which call on the two countries to negotiate."

Asked if it would be better to develop a relationship with the islanders as a way of reaching a settlement, he said: "I don't have to persuade them. The United Nations says there is a conflict between the United Kingdom and Argentina. I don't have to persuade anybody. We have to apply international law and accept the resolutions, if not the UN becomes a body that is only useful when it backs the powerful."

He also dismissed the referendum that is being held by the British government on the islands in March, designed to underline that the islanders want to remain part of the British Overseas Territories. He said the referendum "is something that doesn't mean anything because if you ask the colonial people who came with a colonial power and replaced the people who were living in the islands, it is like asking the British citizens of the Malvinas Islands if they want to remain British".

He likened it to asking only new Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories if they want to remain Israeli.

He pointed out that the number of islanders who have lived there for more than nine generations was tiny.

Expressing his country's deep sense of grievance, in the interview jointly conducted with the Independent, Timerman added: "It is strange to be accused of being fanatical when you see all your natural resources being taken away, part of your country under the administration of a foreign power and you try to sit down and have dialogue and you are refused."

A form of joint sovereignty has been repeatedly urged on both countries as the best solution to the conflict, and in the past before the invasion of the islands by the military dictatorship in 1983, British diplomats had discussed the proposals with their Argentinian counterparts.

Pressed on whether the Argentinians could propose such a solution, he said: "When we sit down we will discuss everything that has to be discussed, not before. You don't discuss through the media. You discuss face to face. That is why I asked for a meeting with William Hague and he refused. If I can sit down with him, he will know what we think, but he refuses to sit down with us."

An exile during the military junta that invaded the islands leading to a total of 907 deaths, he ruled out any Argentinian intention to settle the dispute through force. He said: "I am a victim of a dictatorship, please take me more seriously. Argentina is a country which has not been in a war under a democratic government for over 100 years." He pointed out Britain had invaded Argentina three times in the past.

He denied the Argentinians had been making life difficult for the Falklands Islanders, instead accusing the British government of taking unilateral decisions including giving fishing licences for 25 years instead of, as in the past, just two years. He also accused Britain of exploring for oil in a way that could cause a real ecological disaster.

He said drily: "Wherever there is a smell of oil, big powers start to look around and they find a reason to stay there. I think probably oil will complicate the peaceful solution that is asked for by the United Nations. I think in history that Britain has had a tendency to stay in places where there are natural resources belonging to other people."

He also denied that his government was seeking to distract from its economic problems by highlighting the conflict. Taking a swipe at the state of the British economy, he said: "I think it is the United Kingdom that is going through an economic crisis and is becoming isolationist more than Argentina. They want to get out of the European Union, there is a sense here [in Britain] that we want to stop the world and get out."

He also said that at least under the Labour government Gordon Brown had been willing to meet the Argentinians.

The foreign minister ended with a plea for Hague to meet him, saying he was willing to stay in London for extra days until the foreign secretary could find a slot in his diary.

He said: "I hope that one day soon we can start a dialogue and not be hostage to a group of people who are there because a colonial empire took them and sent them there to settle and to live. There are other issues we should be discussing and hope we can discuss them."

A spokesman for the Foreign Office reiterated the foreign secretary's refusal to meet Timerman without Falklands Islands representatives present.

"We are still very much open to a meeting with Mr Timerman and the original appointment is still in the foreign secretary's diary for tomorrow. We hope that he will accept this offer and that we can engage in a meaningful discussion on issues of mutual interest. Mr Timerman's own plans in the UK are clearly focused on the Falkland Islands issue and since we remain concerned about the Argentine government's recent behaviour towards the Falkland Islanders, it is right and proper that their political representatives are involved in the part of the meeting that concerns them. We continue to make that clear to the Argentine government in diplomatic exchanges and the foreign secretary's offer of a meeting on these terms still stands."

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« Reply #4434 on: Feb 06, 2013, 08:47 AM »

02/06/2013 12:25 PM

Mexican President Peña Nieto: 'We Have to Crush the Mafia'

Enrique Peña Nieto took over as Mexico's president in December. In a SPIEGEL interview, he discusses his plans to fight poverty and drug violence and why Europe should take advantage of his country's economic boom.

SPIEGEL: Mr. President, more than 60,000 Mexicans have lost their lives in the drug war during the last six years. You have been in office for two months now. How do you propose to end the carnage?

Peña Nieto: We must fight inequality and poverty if we want to re-establish peace and security. Seven million Mexicans live in extreme poverty, which is why I have launched a crusade against hunger. We also have to improve our educational system and stimulate economic growth.

SPIEGEL: Social policy alone will hardly be enough to come to grips with the problem.

Peña Nieto: We will strengthen the security forces and the judiciary. Cooperation between the central government and the individual federal states has already improved. We will professionally train and equip the police. And where there is a lack of police officers, we will provide security personnel with military training under civilian supervision.

SPIEGEL: The number of murders and kidnappings recently went up in the capital. And in the State of Mexico, your nearby home state, criminal gangs have recently been dumping bodies again.

Peña Nieto: The situation won't improve overnight. Mistakes were made in the past, and we have to learn from them. The violence will decline in the medium term. I have made that promise to Mexicans.

SPIEGEL: Is it more important to you to reduce violence or track down the drug lords?

Peña Nieto: Our top priority is to reduce the number of murders and kidnappings. But we also have to crush the mafia. Many murders happen because the criminals are fighting each other over markets.

SPIEGEL: Your predecessor, Felipe Calderón, deployed the military to fight the drug mafia. Will you pull back the troops?

Peña Nieto: Only when the security situation improves. At that point, we are obligated under the constitution to withdraw the military.

SPIEGEL: Human rights groups accuse soldiers of assaulting innocent people. Will you bring those responsible to justice?

Peña Nieto: We have passed a law that awards compensation to the victims of violence and obligates us to clear up the crimes. This will compel the security forces to respect human rights.

SPIEGEL: The residents of some regions are now forming militias to protect themselves against gangsters. Hasn't the government already lost control of the country?

Peña Nieto: The population in some parts of the country is so frustrated that people are resorting to vigilante justice. We have strengthened the government's presence in these areas. Vigilante justice only leads to more violence.

SPIEGEL: The drug cartels also derive their power from the fact that they bribe police officers and mayors. This is especially applicable to your party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Peña Nieto: It has nothing to do with party affiliation. It also affects regional governments headed by the opposition. Some cartels have accumulated enormous amounts of money and weapons. We are now taking action against money laundering and, in doing so, we will cut off the cartels' lifeblood.

SPIEGEL: Your predecessor also promised to fight corruption. Why should Mexicans believe that you will succeed this time around?

Peña Nieto: It isn't solely the president's responsibility. The regional governments have to cooperate. We are willing to assist them.

SPIEGEL: The United States is boosting its military aid to fight organized crime in Mexico. Will you allow American military advisers to be stationed in Mexico?

Peña Nieto: We want to expand our cooperation with Washington, but without violation of our sovereignty. Cooperation cannot be limited to the security situation. We want to take advantage of our proximity to the United States to press ahead with economic integration.

SPIEGEL: Most of the drug mafia's weapons come from the United States.

Peña Nieto: That's why Mexico supports US President Barack Obama, who has come out in favor of stronger controls on the gun trade. The most important thing is to regulate the sale of large-caliber weapons and assault rifles.

SPIEGEL: Some US states have relaxed the prohibition of marijuana. Doesn't that deprive the drug war of its credibility?

Peña Nieto: It should at least encourage a debate. I'm opposed to legalizing marijuana because it acts as a gateway drug.

SPIEGEL: Apparently undeterred by the drug violence, foreign companies are investing in Mexico more than ever before. VW has just opened a new engine plant and plans to produce the new Golf model in Mexico. Audi is also building a new plant.

Peña Nieto: Mexico offers a stable economy, the debt is minimal, inflation is below 4 percent, we have almost no budget deficit and we have a thick cushion of foreign currency reserves. This, of course, attracts investors.

SPIEGEL: Can Europe learn something from Latin America?

Peña Nieto: We want to expedite integration with South America and the Caribbean, so that we can compete more effectively with other economic regions. Mexico can grow at an even stronger rate than financial experts predict. Europe should take advantage of our economic boom.

SPIEGEL: Mexico used to play an important role as a mediator in Latin America. Can you help with potential political reforms in Cuba or Venezuela?

Peña Nieto: Our foreign policy has lost some of its punch in recent years, partly because of internal problems. In the future, we want to put more of an effort behind the integration of all of Latin America. But we will not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. We want to expand our relations with Cuba.

SPIEGEL: Your party ruled Mexico for more than 70 years, until the opposition replaced you in 2000. Mario Vargas Llosa, a winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, once described the PRI's virtually monarchic system of control as "the perfect dictatorship." Does the party's return to power rule out the possibility of democratic reforms?

Peña Nieto: Our democracy is stable. My administration has reached an agreement with all of the major opposition parties, the "Pact for Mexico." It calls for reforms and democratization. This process isn't complete yet.

SPIEGEL: Why should Mexicans believe that the return of the PRI isn't synonymous with a return of its authoritarian behavior?

Peña Nieto: Mexico has changed. There is no room today for the mechanisms of the past. The PRI, like any other party, will submit to the democratic rules of the game. We are part of a pluralistic, critical and informed society. There is no chance that we will fall back into the past.

Interview conducted by Jens Glüsing; translated by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #4435 on: Feb 06, 2013, 08:50 AM »

UK lawmakers approve marriage equality

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 5, 2013 15:52 EST

British lawmakers voted in favour of legislation allowing gay marriage on Tuesday despite a split in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party.

Members of parliament voted by 400 to 175 to approve the draft law allowing same-sex couples to marry in England and Wales.

In a late intervention just two hours before lawmakers voted, Cameron made a televised statement to say the move was about “making our society stronger”.

But Conservative opponents to the bill had spoken out angrily in the debate before the vote, arguing that they undermined marriage and could damage the party’s prospects at the next general election in 2015.

There was never any doubt that the legislation would pass because it had overwhelming support from the opposition Labour Party, so the key question was how many Conservative MPs would vote against.

Early estimates put the number of Tories who voted against their leader at between 140 and 150, or around half the Conservative lawmakers in the House of Commons.
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« Reply #4436 on: Feb 06, 2013, 08:56 AM »

Report: Catholic laundries enslaved women and girls in Ireland as recently as 1996

By Henry McDonald, The Guardian
Wednesday, February 6, 2013 8:57 EST

Taoiseach Enda Kenny fails to formally apologise for involvement over female enslavement causing more outrage

After more than seven decades of exploitation and a 10-year struggle for justice, Ireland on Tuesday admitted its role in the enslavement of thousands of women and girls in the notorious Magdalene Laundry system, but stopped short of issuing a formal apology from the government.

A long-awaited report headed by Senator Martin McAleese said there was “significant state involvement” in how the laundries were run – a reversal of the official state line for years, which insisted the institutions were privately controlled and run by nuns.

But the Irish Premier Enda Kenny’s failure to give the women and their supporters a full, formal, public apology in the Dail on Tuesday afternoon has infuriated the victims and their supporters, who said such an approach risked undermining Ireland’s attempt to right a historic wrong. Instead Kenny stated his “regret” about the stigma hanging over the women.

“The stigma that the branding together of all the residents, all 10,000, in the Magdalene Laundries, needs to be removed, and should have been removed long before this,” Kenny said. “And I really am sorry that that never happened, and I regret that it never happened.”

Claire McGetterick of the Justice For Magdalenes group said last night: “Frankly their country has failed them again”.

Labelled the “Maggies”, the women and girls were stripped of their names and dumped in Irish Catholic church-run laundries where nuns treated them as slaves, simply because they were unmarried mothers, orphans or regarded as somehow morally wayward.

Over 74 years, 30,000 women were put to work in de facto detention, mostly in laundries run by nuns. At least 988 of the women who were buried in laundry grounds are thought to have spent most of their lives inside the institutions.

McAleese and his co-authors said they hoped the report would bring “healing and peace of mind to all concerned, most especially the women whose experience of the Magdalene Laundries had a profound and enduring negative effect on their lives”.

“The majority of women who engaged with the committee spoke of the hurt they felt due to loss of freedom. They were not informed why they were there, they had no information on when they could leave and were denied contact with the outside world,” said the report, adding that the Gardaí “brought women to the laundries on a more ad hoc or informal basis”.

Among the key findings were:

• Over a quarter of the women, at least 2,500, who were held in the Magdalene Laundries for whom records survived were sent in directly by the state.

• The state gave lucrative laundry contracts to these institutions, without complying with Fair Wage Clauses and in the absence of any compliance with Social Insurance obligations.

• The Gardaí pursued and returned girls and women who escaped from the Magdalene institutions.

The report concluded there was no physical or sexual abuse by nuns or others on their charges, some of whom were only girls as young as 12.

Stephen O’Riordain, who made a film about the victims of the laundry system and speaks for Magdalene Survivors Together, said ex-inmates were “completely surprised” by the Taoiseach’s stance in the Dail. “I don’t think sorry is enough for these women who were seeking a fulsome, public apology. I feel he has let us down as a leader of the country.

“There was also a lot of disappointment that the report said there was no physical abuse which is something our members would completely dispute. Nor should we underestimate the impact of psychological abuse,” he said.

O’Riordain said he hoped the government was not trying to “water down” the import of the findings and the Magdalene women’s testimony.

Established in 1922, some Magdalene laundries operated as late as 1996. Half of the women incarcerated in these institutions, which washed clothes and linen from major hotel groups and even the Irish armed forces, were under the age of 23.

The Justice for the Magdalenes group said it was time for a compensation scheme to include “the provision of pensions, lost wages, health and housing services. Magdalene survivors have waited too long for justice and this should not be now burdened with a complicated legal process or closed-door policy of compensation.”

The inquiry into the Magdalene scandal was prompted by a report from the UN Committee Against Torture in June 2011. It called for prosecutions where necessary and compensation to surviving women.

Maureen Sullivan, 60, said: “I feel that they are still in denial, but other parts of this report clearly state that we were telling the truth,” she said.

© Guardian News and Media 2013


February 5, 2013

Irish Premier’s Apology Fails to Appease Workhouse Survivors


DUBLIN — Advocates for survivors of a Catholic workhouse system that kept generations of young women and girls in virtual slavery expressed disappointment and anger on Tuesday at Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s failure to formally apologize after a report found extensive state involvement in the institutions.

Reacting to the 1,000-page government report, which found the state responsible for committing thousands of young women to the workhouses, the last of which closed in 1996, Mr. Kenny told Parliament that the women had been sent at a time when Ireland was a harsh, uncompromising and authoritarian place.

“I’m sorry that this release of pressure and understanding for so many of those women was not done before this, because they were branded as fallen women,” he said.

However, Mr. Kenny stopped short of issuing an official apology on behalf of the state for its involvement in the so-called Magdalene Laundries, saying that a full parliamentary debate would take place in two weeks after politicians had time to review the document.

James M. Smith, an associate professor at Boston College and a member of the campaign group Justice for Magdalenes, described Mr. Kenny’s statement as “egregious and insensitive,” adding that the government had received the report two weeks ago and had plenty of time to consider it.

“Mr. Kenny has failed the test of moral courage,” he said. “Yet again an Irish government has let down the very people it purports to serve.”

Professor Smith said the prime minister’s failure to apologize not only was a setback for the dwindling number of survivors but would also ultimately reflect badly on the Irish state.

“The women really did expect something more from this government,” he said. “This fairly cynical response has lost it an awful lot of good will today as a result.”

Steven O’Riordan, a member of another lobby group, Magdalenes Survivors Together, said that while the report recognized that the Irish state was directly complicit in allowing the laundries to exist, Mr. Kenny’s statement was “halfhearted at best.”

“I am annoyed because it sounded like a throwaway gesture,” he said.

The report found that 10,012 women and girls were detained in the laundries from 1922 to 1996, but this figure excludes two large laundries operated by one Catholic order. It stated that 2,124 of those detained in the institutions had been sent by the authorities.

The survivors of the laundries are seeking a state apology for their treatment as well as redress for years of unpaid labor and pension payments. The “Maggies,” as they were known, were excluded from a previous compensation scheme for those who suffered in state-run institutions because officials said that the laundries were never under the aegis of the state.

The institutions were named after Mary Magdalene, a prostitute who was redeemed by the teachings of Christ. While many women sent to work in the 10 laundries around the country were unwed mothers, the report found that the vast majority were referred for a wide range of other reasons, ranging from petty offenses to mental illness.

In his introduction to the report, Martin McAleese, the committee chairman, said the women had for too long felt the social stigma of the “wholly inaccurate characterization” of them as “fallen women,” something “not borne out by the facts.”

The report characterized the conditions in the laundries as “harsh” but found no evidence of systematic sexual abuse. Mr. McAleese said that did not mean the women had not suffered in other ways.

“None of us can begin to imagine the confusion and fear experienced by these young girls, in many cases little more than children,” he said. “Not knowing why they were there, feeling abandoned, wondering whether they had done something wrong and not knowing when, if ever, they would get out and see their families again.”

When women were admitted to the laundries, they were uniformly given different names, which survivors say was done to erase their identities. The report says that the religious orders that operated the laundries and cooperated with the committee explained that the new names helped to protect the women’s privacy.

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« Reply #4437 on: Feb 06, 2013, 09:07 AM »

Chess becomes a source of hope for homeless Ugandan children

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 6, 2013 7:25 EST

Sitting in a dimly lit room in the run-down Kampala suburb of Katwe, Phiona Mutesi stares at the chessboard in front of her as she ponders the next move in her improbable journey.

“Chess has changed my life,” Mutesi says, shifting the thick-framed glasses perched on her nose.

“Before I didn’t have hope but now I have hope — I can become a doctor and a grandmaster.”

Once forced to live rough after her father died when she was a toddler, Mutesi has risen from the streets to play in international tournaments from Sudan to Siberia.

Just 16 years old, she is the first female Ugandan to reach the level of candidate master and the country’s reigning under-20 champion– and now film studio Disney has bought the option to turn her story into a movie.

Despite her success, Mutesi never set out to play chess.

At nine, she began following her older brother to a nascent chess club — not to play the game but for the free cup of porridge that was on offer.

“I then asked myself ‘what is this game chess?’ and started to play,” she says.

Soon her talent shone through and she began beating all-comers– often older boys and girls — as she rose steadily to the Ugandan youth team and the chance to compete in chess’s most prestigious tournament– the biennial Olympiad.

“I never expected to be where I am now,” Mutesi says.

The man who introduced Phiona — and other children in Katwe’s slums — to chess is her coach Robert Katende.

A former footballer, in 2003 Katende swapped balls for boards when he hit on the unusual idea of teaching street kids chess — even if none of the children had ever heard of the game.

“I was looking for a platform to reach out to the kids, so I got my old chessboard and came with it down to the slums,” says 30-year-old Katende.

Typically taught only in Uganda’s more elite private schools, Katende says that chess caught on quickly.

For impoverished slum children struggling daily for food and shelter, he says, the game can teach some useful life lessons and give them a sense of much needed self-confidence.

“It’s not just a game, it’s a way of transforming lives,” Katende says.

“You face challenges and you have to think of the best move — for children who might have become petty thieves or criminals it makes them disciplined.”

Since the early days of playing in the open with makeshift boards and pieces made from bottle tops, Katende’s chess club has come a long way.

Despite limited resources, the club’s 63 members — some as young as four — cram onto benches in a rented room that serves as a clubhouse. Although battered, there are now enough boards to go around.

Lying on his stomach in a grubby red football shirt, Michael Talemwa, 11, fingers a pawn as he tries to block an attack from his opponent.

Like many of the children crowding around the chess boards, Talemwa had few opportunities before he found out about the chess club.

“I used to be home alone with nothing to do until a friend came along and said we should come and play chess,” Talemwa says.

“I didn’t know anything about it and told him I couldn’t play but he convinced me.”

Now, after playing for two years and watching the meteoric rise of club members like Phiona Mutesi, Talemwa says he dreams of emulating their success.

“I feel so happy when I hear one of our friends has achieved such a great level and I hope that I too can make it that far.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #4438 on: Feb 06, 2013, 09:20 AM »

In the USA...

February 5, 2013

Obama Urges Congress to Act to Stave Off Cuts


WASHINGTON — President Obama on Tuesday called on Congress to quickly pass a new package of limited spending cuts and tax increases to head off substantial across-the-board reductions to domestic and military spending set to begin on March 1, but his appeal for more revenue was dismissed by Republicans.

Trying to gain the upper hand in the latest fiscal clash, Mr. Obama said Congress should delay the reductions for at least a few months to give lawmakers a chance to negotiate a full deficit reduction package that permanently resolves the threat of a so-called sequester.

“They should at least pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would delay the economically damaging effects of the sequester for a few more months,” Mr. Obama said Tuesday afternoon in the White House briefing room. He said there was no reason to put at risk “the jobs of thousands of Americans.”

The president said the economy, which unexpectedly contracted at the end of last year, had begun to recover slowly. But he warned that continuing fights over taxes and spending threaten to delay or derail that improvement.

“We’ve also seen the effects that political dysfunction can have,” Mr. Obama said. “We’ve made progress. And I still believe we can finish the job with a balanced mix of spending cuts and more tax reform.”

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, mocked the president’s demands to close tax loopholes, calling them “gimmicky tax hikes” and said, “It’s time for Washington Democrats to get real.” House Republicans noted that they had already passed their own plans to avoid the sequester.

With the deadline looming, each party is eager to blame the other for consequences that could include thousands of layoffs at military contractors, service reductions in programs for the needy and a new economic slump.

Mr. Obama, who missed a deadline this week to submit his annual budget to Congress, acknowledged on Tuesday that a broader deficit agreement is unlikely to be reached by the March deadline. He provided no details about the tens of billion of dollars in spending cuts and tax adjustments that he wants Congress to pass quickly. More specifics could come when he delivers his State of the Union address next Tuesday.

“While it’s critical for us to cut wasteful spending, we can’t just cut our way to prosperity,” the president said, returning to fiscal issues after several weeks focused on gun control and immigration. “I still believe that we can finish the job with a balanced mix of spending cuts and more tax reform.”

Without action in the next three weeks, federal law will set off automatic cuts worth about $1.2 trillion over the next decade. Mr. Obama and Republicans in Congress designed the cuts in 2011 to be devastating as a way to prod passage of a more thoughtful deficit reduction approach, but no agreement has been reached.

Mr. Obama spoke as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its annual economic report with the latest 10-year projections for the annual federal budget deficits. It provided some fodder to critics on the left and some economists who say that Washington’s continued emphasis on immediate deficit reduction is constraining economic growth, though the budget office said lower deficits would help the economy starting in 2014.

“The federal fiscal policy specified by current law will represent a drag on economic activity” this year and through 2017, the report said. It said that growth in 2013 “would be roughly 1 ½ percentage points faster than the agency now projects if not for the fiscal tightening.”

Conservative House Republicans, as a price for their vote to suspend the debt ceiling, last month demanded that their leaders allow the automatic cuts to go into force as scheduled unless alternatives could be found on time. So far, Republican leaders have held firm to that promise even with some Republicans expressing anxiety about the cuts to the Pentagon.

House Republicans last year passed two bills that would reduce domestic spending enough to avoid the automatic military cuts, although those bills expired with the last Congress. Speaker John A. Boehner on Tuesday called their proposals “common-sense cuts and reforms” that the president and his Democratic allies in the Senate could immediately accept.

Democrats say the cuts favored by House Republicans would unfairly target domestic programs, and Mr. Obama again insisted on Tuesday that any short-term action in the next several weeks must meet his demands for a balanced approach that also closes tax loopholes for wealthy citizens and industries.

Democrats in the Senate are divided on how to proceed in the coming fiscal negotiations with Republicans. Like Mr. Obama, Senate Democratic leaders want a three-month replacement bill, just long enough to move the showdown past other budget deadlines like March 27, when the current stopgap law financing the government expires, and April 15, when the Senate and House must produce budgets.

Senator Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, favors a yearlong agreement. Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has a broader, $200 billion plan to shut down offshore tax havens and other loopholes. And Senator Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, wants to defer any action on closing tax loopholes for the broader fight over taxes and spending.

“We are not going to have multiple bites at this apple,” Mr. Baucus said Tuesday.

The report from the Congressional Budget Office was its first fiscal analysis since the year-end deal between the White House and Congress that raised taxes on high incomes, and it projected that the deficit for this fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 would be $845 billion.

That would be the first deficit below $1 trillion in five years, since the financial crisis of 2008. It would be equal to 5.3 percent of the nation’s total output, or gross domestic product — about half of what the deficit was relative to the size of the weaker economy in fiscal year 2009 when Mr. Obama took office, but still higher than the roughly 3 percent level that many economists consider the maximum that is sustainable in a growing economy.

While the budget office forecast that annual deficits will decline significantly as the economy recovers, the budget office once again emphasized that the deficit will rise later in the decade, beginning in 2016, and continue do to so as the population ages and health care prices rise.

Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.


February 5, 2013

Bipartisan House Plan Focuses on Gun Trafficking


WASHINGTON — Members of both parties in the House outlined a plan on Tuesday to stiffen penalties on the illegal purchase and transportation of guns, a rare show of agreement on an issue where bipartisanship has been scarce.

Two Democrats and two Republicans in the House of Representatives have introduced legislation that would create a dedicated federal anti-gun-trafficking law while further cracking down on people who buy firearms for someone else and lie about it on federal background check forms.

As the law is written now, “the penalties are so weak it’s like a slap on the hand,” said one of the bill’s sponsors, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York.

Their proposal closely mirrors one already introduced in the Senate. That bill has bipartisan support as well, a fact that has heartened gun-control supporters on Capitol Hill.

But even with new signs of greater bipartisan open-mindedness on gun control — the House majority leader, Representative Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, signaled support on Tuesday for a stronger background check system — lawmakers acknowledged the hurdles they face in getting any bill through both houses of Congress.

“For those who have deep concerns about the overreach of the federal government, I’m in that group,” Representative Scott Rigell of Virginia, a Republican sponsor of the measure, said as he tried to assuage concerns of those in Congress and across the country who are worried about a federal push to limit the right to bear arms.

“To the extent that people slow down and take a look at it, read it — unless you’re a gun trafficker, unless you’re a person who’s a straw purchaser, there’s really no problem with this,” Mr. Rigell said.

The debate over gun-control legislation has never broken down cleanly along partisan lines. And this pattern is especially evident now as a number of Senate Democrats from states like Alaska, Colorado, Montana and West Virginia face tough questions from constituents back home.

But the unveiling of the House legislation on Tuesday showed the flip side of that dynamic. There are many House Republicans who represent affluent suburban areas where voters view gun control in less absolute terms and are generally more open to stricter laws. This includes Mr. Rigell, who represents an area around Virginia Beach, and Representative Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania, another sponsor of the bill, whose district includes the north and west suburbs of Philadelphia.

Mr. Meehan, who was on hand for the announcement on Tuesday, said he planned to begin reaching out to other Republicans soon. “We will begin the process of lining up the support of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” he said.

Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, lost his 20-year-old nephew to gun violence in 2011 and is another sponsor of the anti-trafficking bill. When he spoke on Tuesday in support of it, he said Americans grieving everywhere were calling on Congress to act. “They are begging us to address this problem,” he said.

The companion bill in the Senate is being sponsored by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, and Mark Steven Kirk, Republican of Illinois. Though it differs in some central ways from the House bill, it also would create a federal gun trafficking statute and strengthen penalties for lying on federal background check forms.

That bill is competing with a number of other gun control measures in the Senate, including another one focused on curbing trafficking. Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has a bill that would create a federal gun trafficking statute. But unlike the others, Mr. Leahy’s focuses more on the buyer of the guns rather than the seller. He does not yet have a Republican co-sponsor.

Then there is the effort by Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, to ban the sale and manufacture of 157 types of semiautomatic weapons, as well as magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. And a group including Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, is preparing legislation that would allow for a more stringent system of background checks for firearms buyers.

Much of the agreement between Democrats and Republicans on gun control has been around strengthening background checks, and that has appeared to be the most likely prospect for approval early this year.

But anti-trafficking laws enjoy broad support from law enforcement agencies because they would help tackle a huge problem for police forces in major cities. Because of the country’s patchwork gun laws, trafficking has enabled the spread of guns from places where firearm restrictions are relatively few, like in the South, to places where they are stricter, like New York City and California.

President Obama, speaking before an array of law enforcement officials in Minneapolis on Monday, stressed the importance of such laws.


February 5, 2013

House G.O.P. Open to Residency for Illegal Immigrants


WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Tuesday staked out what they cast as a middle-ground option in the debate over immigration, pushing an approach that could include legal residency but not a path to citizenship — as their Democratic counterparts favor — for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

Republicans also signaled that they are open to the idea of breaking immigration legislation into several smaller bills, which would allow them to deal with the question of highly skilled workers, as well as a farmworker program, without addressing what Democrats and immigration advocates say is the larger issue of potential citizenship. Immigration advocates favor a comprehensive measure to enable them to use elements that have bipartisan backing to build support for broader legislation.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing exploring an overhaul of the immigration system — the first of several such hearings expected in the House — Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and chairman of the committee, tried to frame what he called the question of the day: “Are there options that we should consider between the extremes of mass deportation and a pathway to citizenship for those not lawfully present in the United States?”

It was a question later echoed by Representative Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas and the former chairman of the committee, when questioning Mayor Julián Castro of San Antonio. “Do you see any compromise area between the current status quo and a path to citizenship for virtually all the 11 million who are illegal immigrants in the country today?” he asked.

Mr. Castro, whose twin brother, Representative Joaquín Castro, is a newly elected Democrat from Texas, said he saw the compromise as “a recognition that a path to citizenship will be earned citizenship,” meaning that illegal immigrants would be forced to learn English, and pay fines and back taxes before they could become citizens.

Representative Spencer Bachus, Republican of Alabama, turned to the question of how to approach an overhaul of the system when he said he thought the panelists could all agree that “it’s going to be a much easier lift to solve the problem of highly skilled workers.”

“When you take comprehensive, then we’re dealing with certain issues like full citizenship,” Mr. Bachus said. “And whatever else we disagree on, I think we would agree on that that’s a more toxic and contentious issue, granting full amnesty.”

But Representative Cedric L. Richmond, Democrat of Louisiana, countered that the only way to tackle immigration is through comprehensive legislation. “Why don’t we just get the skilled labor part done first?” Mr. Richmond asked. “Well, politically, and just being very practical about it, if we got the skilled labor part done first, do you think we would ever come behind it and finish the job? I think it has to be a comprehensive approach or we’ll never get to the hard part.”

Immigration advocates, who had been eagerly awaiting the hearing for an early hint of the tenor of the debate on immigration as it unfolds in the House, said the use of the word “amnesty” would most likely be a bad sign for those in favor of a comprehensive overhaul.

Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, tried to set the tone early — “I hope no one uses the term ‘illegal immigrants’ here today,” he said in his opening remarks. But the a-word, as immigration advocates have called “amnesty,” came up twice. In addition to Mr. Bachus, Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina, also used the phrase: “This is not our country’s first foray into amnesty.” He expressed concern for “respect for the rule of law.”

Meanwhile, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House Republican, used a speech on his legislative priorities beyond the fights over deficit reduction to try to soften his party’s position on immigration. Speaking at a research group downtown, he explicitly embraced offering illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children a pathway to legal residency and citizenship, a position he had opposed. And he endorsed in broad terms a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.

“I’m pleased these discussions make border security, employment verification and creating a workable guest worker program an immediate priority. It’s the right thing to do for our families, for our security, and for our economy,” Mr. Cantor said. But he warned, “There are some who would rather avoid fixing the problem in order to save this as a political issue.”

Representative Raúl R. Labrador, Republican of Idaho, also challenged immigration advocates on the question of a political versus policy victory.

“If we want a political solution, you guys are going to insist on a pathway to citizenship,” he said. “You’re going to beat Republicans over the head on this issue. But if we want a policy solution, I think there’s good will here in the House of Representatives for us to come together, actually pass a pragmatic solution to the current problem that we have, and solve and modernize the immigration system for years to come.”

In a flurry of immigration legislation offered in recent days in the House, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, introduced a bill on Tuesday that would allow American citizens with foreign-born same-sex spouses or partners to obtain permanent resident visas, known as green cards, for them. Mr. Nadler’s proposal would allow a well-established same-sex couple to apply for a green card, avoiding any direct challenge to a federal law that bans recognition of gay marriage.

Julia Preston contributed reporting from New York, and Jonathan Weisman from Washington.


February 5, 2013

Lost Votes, Problem Ballots, Long Waits? Flaws Are Widespread, Study Finds


WASHINGTON — The flaws in the American election system are deep and widespread, extending beyond isolated voting issues in a few locations and flaring up in states rich and poor, according to a major new study from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The group ranked all 50 states based on more than 15 criteria, including wait times, lost votes and problems with absentee and provisional ballots, and the order often confounds the conventional wisdom.

In 2010, for instance, Mississippi ranked last over all. But it was preceded by two surprises: New York and California.

“Poor Southern states perform well, and they perform badly,” said Heather K. Gerken, a law professor at Yale and a Pew adviser. “Rich New England states perform well and badly — mostly badly.”

A main goal of the exercise, which grew out of Professor’s Gerken’s 2009 book, “The Democracy Index,” was to shame poor performers into doing better, she said.

“Peer pressure produces horrible things like Britney Spears and Justin Bieber and tongue rings,” Professor Gerken said. “But it also produces professional peer pressure.”

The project includes an interactive tool that allows rankings by individual criteria or clusters of them.

Some states, for instance, lost very few votes because of shortcomings in voting technology and voter confusion, with the best 10 reporting failure rates of 0.5 percent or less in 2008. In West Virginia, by contrast, the rate was 3.2 percent.

Natalie Tennant, West Virginia’s secretary of state, said she was not happy with that result and would look closely at Pew’s data and methodology. But she added that “2012 went really well, even with Sandy,” referring to the hurricane that disrupted early voting. “We were humming,” she said.

“You’re only as good as your next election,” she added.

The Pew study focused on the 2008 and 2010 elections, the most recent ones for which comprehensive data were available.

The study also found wide variation in how easy registering to vote can be. North Dakota does not even require it, and Alabama and Kansas reported rejecting less than 0.05 percent of registration applications in 2008. But Pennsylvania and Indiana each rejected more than half of the registration applications they received in 2010.

On Election Day, the voting experience can also vary. The 10 states with the shortest waiting times at the polls in 2008 averaged six minutes, the study found. In South Carolina, the wait was more than an hour.

The shift to voting by mail, which now accounts for some 20 percent of all ballots cast, tends to eliminate lines. But it has also produced new problems, especially in places where mail voting has soared because the state does not require an excuse or a new ballot request for each election. Arizona and California, where voting by mail is commonplace, had among the highest rates of problems with voter registration and absentee ballots.

In 2010, California rejected absentee ballots 0.7 percent of the time, a higher rate than any other state.

Dean C. Logan, the registrar for Los Angeles County, said the rate was partly a byproduct of the popularity of voting by mail in California and partly a function of how the state defines rejected ballots. Its definition includes ballots that voters requested but that the Postal Service returned to election officials as undeliverable.

“Voter behavior is changing and evolving,” Mr. Logan said. Young people do not sign their names as consistently as older ones, he said, and mail delivery is becoming less reliable.

He also cautioned that statewide results can mask the fact that “the elections process is extremely decentralized.”

Colorado, where some 70 percent of voters cast their ballots by mail in 2012, rejected absentee ballots 0.4 percent of the time in 2010.

Pam Anderson, the clerk of Jefferson County, Colo., defended that rejection rate. “It’s not 10 percent, and it’s not zero,” she said. “We do a very rigorous signature verification process.”

Charles Stewart III, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Pew adviser, said that high provisional ballot rates were an important signal of potential trouble.

“Nationwide, a bit over 1 percent of voters are given a provisional ballot,” he said. “In Arizona in 2008, the rate was 6.5 percent. In the battleground state of Ohio, it was 3.6 percent. While these numbers may seem small, in a recount or election dispute, they would be huge.”

In both 2008 and 2010, Arizona had the highest rate of rejected provisional ballots, though the rate dropped to 0.8 percent in 2010 from 1.9 percent in 2008.

Tammy Patrick, an elections official in Maricopa County, Ariz., said that last year “65 percent of people voted by mail, which is grand.”

Ms. Patrick said that voting by mail gave voters the benefit of convenience, and also the ability to reflect on their choices. “We have a fairly long ballot,” she said, “and this allows the voter a full month to vote that ballot.”

But the trend also led to problems, Ms. Patrick said, partly as a result of grass-roots misinformation about whether and how such votes would be counted.

Many people voted by mail and nonetheless turned up at polling places just in case, where they would often cast provisional ballots. “We had a 20 percent increase in our provisional ballots over all,” Ms. Patrick said, and many of those ballots were rejected.

She said that the Pew data reflected “a piece of what we do,” but that the local political culture also played a role. “Arizonans don’t feel their elected officials represent them,” she said. “They don’t participate in their neighborhoods and civic activities. There’s a detachment in the sprawl.”

Professor Gerken said that other cultural factors may affect voting rates. “States in the Deep South with high obesity problems seem to be having a problem getting people to the polling place,” she said.

Absentee ballots from members of the military and Americans living overseas were also rejected at varying rates, the study found. In 2010, New York rejected a quarter of the 22,000 such ballots it received. Pennsylvania rejected just 2 percent of the 8,000 ballots it received.

Professor Stewart said the study should focus attention on the infrastructure of democracy.

“Among all important areas of public policy, election administration is probably the most episodic and prone to the problem of short attention spans,” he said. “What would the world be like if we only gave intense attention to education, corrections, transportation and public health problems for a one-week period every four years?”


February 5, 2013

Drone Strikes’ Dangers to Get Rare Moment in Public Eye


SANA, Yemen — Late last August, a 40-year-old cleric named Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber stood up to deliver a speech denouncing Al Qaeda in a village mosque in far eastern Yemen.

It was a brave gesture by a father of seven who commanded great respect in the community, and it did not go unnoticed. Two days later, three members of Al Qaeda came to the mosque in the tiny village of Khashamir after 9 p.m., saying they merely wanted to talk. Mr. Jaber agreed to meet them, bringing his cousin Waleed Abdullah, a police officer, for protection.

As the five men stood arguing by a cluster of palm trees, a volley of remotely operated American missiles shot down from the night sky and incinerated them all, along with a camel that was tied up nearby.

The killing of Mr. Jaber, just the kind of leader most crucial to American efforts to eradicate Al Qaeda, was a reminder of the inherent hazards of the quasi-secret campaign of targeted killings that the United States is waging against suspected militants not just in Yemen but also in Pakistan and Somalia. Individual strikes by the Predator and Reaper drones are almost never discussed publicly by Obama administration officials. But the clandestine war will receive a rare moment of public scrutiny on Thursday, when its chief architect, John O. Brennan, the White House counterterrorism adviser, faces a Senate confirmation hearing as President Obama’s nominee for C.I.A. director.

From his basement office in the White House, Mr. Brennan has served as the principal coordinator of a “kill list” of Qaeda operatives marked for death, overseeing drone strikes by the military and the C.I.A., and advising Mr. Obama on which strikes he should approve.

“He’s probably had more power and influence than anyone in a comparable position in the last 20 years,” said Daniel Benjamin, who recently stepped down as the State Department’s top counterterrorism official and now teaches at Dartmouth. “He’s had enormous sway over the intelligence community. He’s had a profound impact on how the military does counterterrorism.”

Mr. Brennan, a former C.I.A. station chief in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, has taken a particular interest in Yemen, sounding early alarms within the administration about the threat developing there, working closely with neighboring Saudi Arabia to gain approval for a secret C.I.A. drone base there that is used for American strikes, and making the impoverished desert nation a test case for American counterterrorism strategy.

In recent years, both C.I.A. and Pentagon counterterrorism officials have pressed for greater freedom to attack suspected militants, and colleagues say Mr. Brennan has often been a restraining voice. The strikes have killed a number of operatives of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist network’s affiliate in Yemen, including Said Ali al-Shihri, a deputy leader of the group, and the American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

But they have also claimed civilians like Mr. Jaber and have raised troubling questions that apply to Pakistan and Somalia as well: Could the targeted killing campaign be creating more militants in Yemen than it is killing? And is it in America’s long-term interest to be waging war against a self-renewing insurgency inside a country about which Washington has at best a hazy understanding?

Several former top military and intelligence officials — including Stanley A. McChrystal, the retired general who led the Joint Special Operations Command, which has responsibility for the military’s drone strikes, and Michael V. Hayden, the former C.I.A. director — have raised concerns that the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen are increasingly targeting low-level militants who do not pose a direct threat to the United States.

In an interview with Reuters, General McChrystal said that drones could be a useful tool but were “hated on a visceral level” in some of the places where they were used and contributed to a “perception of American arrogance.”

Mr. Brennan has aggressively defended the accuracy of the drone strikes, and the rate of civilian casualties has gone down considerably since the attacks began in Yemen in 2009. He has also largely dismissed criticism that the drone campaign has tarnished America’s image in Yemen and has been an effective recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.

“In fact, we see the opposite,” Mr. Brennan said during a speech last year. “Our Yemeni partners are more eager to work with us. Yemeni citizens who have been freed from the hellish grip of A.Q.A.P. are more eager, not less, to work with the Yemeni government.”

Christopher Swift, a researcher at Georgetown University who spent last summer in Yemen studying the reaction to the strikes, said he thought Mr. Brennan’s comments missed the broader impact.

“What Brennan said accurately reflected people in the security apparatus who he speaks to when he goes to Yemen,” Mr. Swift said. “It doesn’t reflect the views of the man in the street, of young human rights activists, of the political opposition.”

Though Mr. Swift said he thought that critics had exaggerated the role of the strikes in generating recruits for Al Qaeda, “in the political sphere, the perception is that the U.S. is colluding with the Yemeni government in a covert war against the Yemeni people.”

“Even if we’re winning in the military domain,” Mr. Swift said, “drones may be undermining our long-term interest in the goal of a stable Yemen with a functional political system and economy.”

A Parallel Campaign

American officials have never explained in public why the C.I.A. and the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command are carrying out parallel drone campaigns in Yemen. Privately, however, they describe an arrangement that has evolved since the frantic, ad hoc early days of America’s war there.

The first strike in Yemen ordered by the Obama administration, in December 2009, was by all accounts a disaster. American cruise missiles carrying cluster munitions killed dozens of civilians, including many women and children. Another strike, six months later, killed a popular deputy governor, inciting angry demonstrations and an attack that shut down a critical oil pipeline.

Not long afterward, the C.I.A. began quietly building a drone base in Saudi Arabia to carry out strikes in Yemen. American officials said that the first time the C.I.A. used the Saudi base was to kill Mr. Awlaki in September 2011.

Since then, officials said, the C.I.A. has been given the mission of hunting and killing “high-value targets” in Yemen — the leaders of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula who Obama administration lawyers have determined pose a direct threat to the United States. When the C.I.A. obtains specific intelligence on the whereabouts of someone on its kill list, an American drone can carry out a strike without the permission of Yemen’s government.

There is, however, a tighter leash on the Pentagon’s drones. According to American officials, the Joint Special Operations Command must get the Yemeni government’s approval before launching a drone strike. This restriction is in place, officials said, because the military’s drone campaign is closely tied to counterterrorism operations conducted by Yemeni special operations troops.

Yemen’s military is fighting its own counterinsurgency battle against Islamic militants, who gained and then lost control over large swaths of the country last year. Often, American military strikes in Yemen are masked as Yemeni government operations.

Moreover, Mr. Obama demanded early on that each American military strike in Yemen be approved by a committee in Washington representing the national security agencies. The C.I.A. strikes, by contrast, resulted from a far more closed process inside the agency. Mr. Brennan plays a role in overseeing all the strikes.

There have been at least five drone strikes in Yemen since the start of the year, killing at least 24 people. That continues a remarkable acceleration over the past two years in a program that has carried out at least 63 airstrikes since 2009, according to The Long War Journal, a Web site that collects public data on the strikes, with an estimated death toll in the hundreds. Many of the militants reported killed recently were very young and do not appear to have had any important role with Al Qaeda.

“Even with Al Qaeda, there are degrees — some of these young guys getting killed have just been recruited and barely known what terrorism means,” said Naji al Zaydi, a former governor of Marib Province, who has been a vocal opponent of Al Qaeda and a supporter of Yemen’s president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Mr. Zaydi, a prominent tribal figure from an area that has long been associated with members of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, pointed out that the identity and background of these men were no mystery in Yemen’s interlinked tribal culture.

A Deadly Ride

In one recent case, on Jan. 23, a drone strike in a village east of Sana killed a 21-year-old university student named Saleem Hussein Jamal and his cousin, a 33-year-old teacher named Ali Ali Nasser Jamal, who happened to have been traveling with him. According to relatives and neighbors of the two men, they were driving home from a nearby town called Jahana when five strangers offered to pay them for a ride. The drone-fired missile hit the vehicle, a twin-cab Toyota Hilux, just outside the village of Masnaa at about 9 p.m. The strangers were later identified in Yemeni news reports as members of Al Qaeda, though apparently not high-ranking ones.

After the strike, villagers were left to identify their two dead relatives from identity cards, scraps of clothing and the license plate of Mr. Jamal’s Toyota; the seven bodies were shredded beyond recognition, as cellphone photos taken at the scene attest. “We found eyes, but there were no faces left,” said Abdullah Faqih, a student who knew both of the dead cousins.

Although most Yemenis are reluctant to admit it publicly, there does appear to be widespread support for the American drone strikes that hit substantial Qaeda figures like Mr. Shihri, a Saudi and the affiliate’s deputy leader, who died in January of wounds received in a drone strike late last year.

Al Qaeda has done far more damage in Yemen than it has in the United States, and one episode reinforced public disgust last May, when a suicide bomber struck a military parade rehearsal in the Yemeni capital, killing more than 100 people.

Moreover, many Yemenis reluctantly admit that there is a need for foreign help: Yemen’s own efforts to strike at the terrorist group have often been compromised by weak, divided military forces; widespread corruption; and even support for Al Qaeda within pockets of the intelligence and security agencies.

Yet even as both Mr. Brennan and Mr. Hadi, the Yemeni president, praise the drone technology for its accuracy, other Yemenis often point out that it can be very difficult to isolate members of Al Qaeda, thanks to the group’s complex ties and long history in Yemen.

This may account for a pattern in many of the drone strikes: a drone hovers over an area for weeks on end before a strike takes place, presumably waiting until identities are confirmed and the targets can be struck without anyone else present.

In the strike that killed Mr. Jaber, the cleric, that was not enough. At least one drone had been overhead every day for about a month, provoking high anxiety among local people, said Aref bin Ali Jaber, a tradesman who is related to the cleric. “After the drone hit, everyone was so frightened it would come back,” Mr. Jaber said. “Children especially were affected; my 15-year-old daughter refuses to be alone and has had to sleep with me and my wife after that.” 

Anger at America

In the days afterward, the people of the village vented their fury at the Americans with protests and briefly blocked a road. It is difficult to know what the long-term effects of the deaths will be, though some in the town — as in other areas where drones have killed civilians — say there was an upwelling of support for Al Qaeda, because such a move is seen as the only way to retaliate against the United States.

Innocents aside, even members of Al Qaeda invariably belong to a tribe, and when they are killed in drone strikes, their relatives — whatever their feelings about Al Qaeda — often swear to exact revenge on America.

“Al Qaeda always gives money to the family,” said Hussein Ahmed Othman al Arwali, a tribal sheik from an area south of the capital called Mudhia, where Qaeda militants fought pitched battles with Yemeni soldiers last year. “Al Qaeda’s leaders may be killed by drones, but the group still has its money, and people are still joining. For young men who are poor, the incentives are very strong: they offer you marriage, or money, and the ideological part works for some people.”

In some cases, drones have killed members of Al Qaeda when it seemed that they might easily have been arrested or captured, according to a number of Yemeni officials and tribal figures. One figure in particular has stood out: Adnan al Qadhi, who was killed, apparently in a drone strike, in early November in a town near the capital.

Mr. Qadhi was an avowed supporter of Al Qaeda, but he also had recently served as a mediator for the Yemeni government with other jihadists, and was drawing a government salary at the time of his death. He was not in hiding, and his house is within sight of large houses owned by a former president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and other leading figures. 

Whatever the success of the drone strikes, some Yemenis wonder why there is not more reliance on their country’s elite counterterrorism unit, which was trained in the United States as part of the close cooperation between the two countries that Mr. Brennan has engineered. One member of the unit, speaking on the condition of anonymity, expressed great frustration that his unit had not been deployed on such missions, and had in fact been posted to traffic duty in the capital in recent weeks, even as the drone strikes intensified.

“For sure, we could be going after some of these guys,” the officer said. “That’s what we’re trained to do, and the Americans trained us. It doesn’t make sense.”

Robert F. Worth reported from Sana, and Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane from Washington.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 5, 2013

An earlier version of a photo caption with this article misstated the given name of a former official at the State Department who said John O. Brennan wielded great influence in the counterterrorism field. He is Daniel Benjamin, not David.


February 5, 2013

Report on Targeted Killing Whets Appetite for Less Secrecy


WASHINGTON — Early in his first term, President Obama rejected the vehement protests of the Central Intelligence Agency and ordered the public disclosure of secret Justice Department legal opinions on interrogation and torture that had been written in the administration of George W. Bush.

In the case of his own Justice Department’s legal opinions on assassination and the “targeted killing” of terrorism suspects, however, Mr. Obama has taken a different approach. Though he entered office promising the most transparent administration in history, he has adamantly refused to make those opinions public — notably one that justified the 2011 drone strike in Yemen that killed an American, Anwar al-Awlaki. His administration has withheld them even from the Senate and House intelligence committees and has fought in court to keep them secret, making any public debate on the issue difficult.

But with the disclosure on Monday of a Justice Department document offering a detailed legal analysis of the targeted killing of Americans, the barricades of secrecy have been breached. Just as leaks of interrogation memos in 2004 under President Bush ignited a fierce public debate over torture, the report on the so-called white paper by NBC News instantly touched off a renewed, and better informed, public discussion about whether and when a president can order the execution of a citizen based on secret intelligence and without any trial.

The Justice Department prepared the white paper, an unclassified, 16-page document, to brief Congressional oversight committees in lieu of providing lawmakers with the far longer, classified memorandum that justified the killing of Mr. Awlaki, a New Mexico-born Sunni Muslim cleric who joined Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen and died in an American drone strike there in September 2011. But the paper dovetails with the legal arguments in that still-secret document, as described to The New York Times in October 2011 by people who have read it.

In short, the Justice Department argued that it was lawful for the government to kill an American citizen if “an informed, high-level official” decided that the target was a ranking figure in Al Qaeda who posed “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States” and if his capture was not feasible. While the administration’s basic legal conclusions had already been aired — including in speeches by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and other officials — the white paper provided a far more detailed legal justification.

Some human rights groups dismissed it in language reminiscent of their critiques of the Bush administration’s legal opinions on torture, taking particular aim at its flexible definition of what might constitute an “imminent” threat and the lack of any outside check on its claimed authority.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the paper “chilling.” A spokeswoman for Amnesty International said there was increasing evidence that American practices were “unlawful, violating the fundamental human right not to be arbitrarily deprived of one’s life.”

But Matthew Waxman, a Columbia University law professor who worked on detainee affairs in the Bush administration, defended the reasoning as “careful and narrow,” saying it was limited to cases in which “there are no viable alternatives.”

“I see a very serious and reasonable effort to translate traditional legal principles to account for the context of this war,” he said.

The Times, which is pursuing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to obtain the Awlaki memo, in December filed a separate request under that act for the unclassified white paper after it was discussed in a Congressional letter. On Jan. 23, the administration declined to disclose it, portraying it as a “draft” and citing an exemption for documents that are part of the executive branch’s “deliberative process.”

Yet on Tuesday, Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, pressed by reporters to explain why the Obama administration would not release the classified Awlaki memorandum, suggested that reporters should be satisfied with the now-leaked white paper, in addition to speeches by administration officials.

“I think the discussions that you’ve seen in public, including in the white paper, have to do with general principles that are applied on this important matter,” Mr. Carney said, adding, “The fact of the matter is that the white paper that we’ve discussed was provided — was developed and produced in an unclassified manner precisely so that those general principles could be spelled out and elaborated.”

While Mr. Carney conceded that the government still had not officially disclosed even the white paper, he noted that it was now “online.”

Separately on Tuesday, when asked why the Bush memos could be released while the Obama memos were withheld, Mr. Holder suggested cautiously that it might be possible to make more material public.

“We’ll have to, you know, look at this and see how — what it is we want to do with those memos,” he said, while also noting “a real concern” about revealing information that could “put at risk the very mechanisms that we use to try to keep the American people safe, which is our primary responsibility.”

While lawmakers on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees had seen the white paper, several used the disclosure to renew their call for the administration to lift its veil of secrecy.

Both Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the administration should give their committees the full opinion. Mr. Rogers said he agreed with the rationale for killing Mr. Awlaki, but called it “a bit ridiculous” that the memo had been withheld from lawmakers.

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said that while there were “clearly” some circumstances in which the president could order strikes on Americans, the government should make public more details of the standards it uses in making such decisions so there could be debate on “whether the president’s power to deliberately kill American citizens is subject to appropriate limitations and safeguards.”

Some legal scholars said Tuesday that the Justice Department document does not provide enough information to permit a full assessment. Officials have said the Awlaki memorandum includes about 30 pages describing intelligence said to link him to attacks But the white paper lacks such context for its analysis.

Steve Vladeck, an American University law professor who specializes in national security issues, said the discussion engendered by the document obtained by NBC bolstered the case for disclosing the real memo.

“The more general the justification, the less convincing it is going to be,” he said. “So the ultimate problem with the white paper is that it cannot do what it needs to do, which is explain why in the case of Awlaki the United States government thought it literally did not have a choice.”

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« Reply #4439 on: Feb 07, 2013, 07:35 AM »

Transgender woman runs for office in Ecuador for first time

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 6, 2013 18:24 EST

A 30-year-old rights activist is vying to become Ecuador’s first transsexual lawmaker.

Diane Rodriguez is seeking to fill a vacant congressional seat as a candidate of the leftist Rupture 25 party in the South American country’s February 17 presidential and parliamentary elections.

If she succeeds, the psychology student would become the first transsexual to hold public office in this socially conservative nation where 85 percent of the population identifies as Catholic.

“My focus will be on all minorities, vulnerable ethnic groups and feminist causes,” Rodriguez told AFP, adding that she would also push for the legalization of same-sex marriage — an issue President Rafael Correa and his main rival have spoken out against.

Rodriguez, whose former legal name was Luis Benedicto, says she has struggled for years due to her sexual orientation.

When she came out as a teenager to her parents, they kicked her out of the house, and for a brief time she survived as a prostitute before being allowed to return home.

“I wanted to develop my sexuality freely,” she said, explaining her decision to secretly undergo hormone therapy.

As her appearance gradually became more feminine, Rodriguez said she faced discrimination in both her personal and professional lives.

After a legal battle, Rodriguez set a precedent when she finally obtained an ID card in 2009 that replaced her given male name — but not her gender.

With the support of NGOs, Rodriguez launched a campaign that calls for individuals to be allowed to choose which gender they want to register as.

Rodriguez is not the first transsexual to seek a legislative seat in Latin America. In Chile, Valentina Verbal, who had a sex change operation four years ago, also is running for a seat in the parliament.

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