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« Reply #4470 on: Feb 08, 2013, 08:25 AM »

February 7, 2013

Supreme Leader of Iran Rejects Direct Talks With U.S.


WASHINGTON — Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rejected any idea of bilateral talks with the United States on Thursday, in a speech in which he seemed to dismiss the views of Iranian officials — including the country’s foreign minister — who had advocated for such negotiations.

“The Iranian nation will not negotiate under pressure,” Ayatollah Khamenei said. Noting the international sanctions against Iran, which were bolstered on Wednesday by new American financial restrictions that essentially reduce Iran to using its oil for barter trade, he added: “The U.S. is pointing a gun at Iran and wants us to talk to them. The Iranian nation will not be intimidated by these actions.”

“Direct talks will not solve any problems,” he concluded.

His statement was considered particularly important because, as one senior Obama administration official put it, “we believe Khamenei now holds the entire nuclear file.”

But the White House did not immediately react to the statement, and some officials said that history — including during the Iran-Iraq war — demonstrates that Iran can change its position quickly. Despite the ayatollah’s comments, it appears that talks scheduled to begin Feb. 26 between Iran and six nations, including the United States, will go ahead in Kazakhstan.

But American officials have said repeatedly in recent months that they believe negotiating in that multinational forum can be awkward, partly because of differences with Russia and China over Tehran. That is one reason Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. went to a security conference in Munich last weekend to publicly reinforce President Obama’s private offer of direct talks.

It was at that conference that the Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said he was open to such talks, although Mr. Biden noted that they could proceed only if the ayatollah showed serious interest. Mr. Salehi had been one of Iran’s top nuclear negotiators, and while he has often projected a moderate tone, he has also made it clear that his authority is limited. An effort to negotiate a deal early in Mr. Obama’s presidency resulted in an agreement that Ayatollah Khamenei rejected.

The ayatollah’s objection is an edict to which other Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, must adhere, and it comes after several high-ranking Iranian officials, including Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Salehi, said that the Obama administration had been taking positive steps toward Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei’s wording was quite direct in his speech before air force commanders at his Tehran office, and his comments were reported on his personal Web site.

“I’m not a diplomat; I’m a revolutionary, and speak frankly and directly,” he said. “If anyone wants the return of U.S. dominance here, people will grab his throat.”

He said that while some “simple-minded people” might be eager for the prospect of bilateral talks, Iran had seen nothing from the Obama administration other than conspiracies. Those comments are in accord with American intelligence assessments of the supreme leader’s views, which include, officials say, a belief by the ayatollah that the sanctions are hurting the United States more than they are hurting Iran.

Other officials close to the ayatollah have said in recent days that the real goal of America’s negotiations, the sanctions and the sabotage of Iran’s nuclear facilities is to bring down the Iranian government.

Under the new restrictions on Iranian oil payments announced Wednesday, when countries still buying Iranian oil pay for their purchases, the money must be put into a local bank account, which Iran can use only to buy goods within that country. It is a way of keeping the money from being transferred to Iran, and the Treasury Department said on Thursday that it would strictly enforce the provisions, barring any banks that violate the new sanctions from conducting transactions with the United States.

In Tehran, the comments were met with some sense of resignation — and suggestions that Mr. Obama’s openness to negotiation was a ploy, intended to set international opinion against Iran.

“There is no room for any optimism,” said Hamid Reza Taraghi, an influential politician. Pointing to the new sanctions, decisions by American courts to seize Iranian assets and the American support for the opposition in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad is Iran’s last regional ally, he said, “We haven’t seen anything good from the U.S.”

Iran experts outside the country said they were not surprised that Ayatollah Khamenei had ruled out dialogue with the United States, given his longstanding antipathy toward the Americans.

“This is expected from Khamenei; his ideological view of the United States is getting in the way,” said Alireza Nader, a senior policy analyst at the Washington offices of the RAND Corporation. “Khamenei may be reluctant to negotiate — perhaps he does not want to from a weak position — but his hand is going to get weaker as time goes by.”

Trita Parsi, the author of a critical account of the Obama administraton’s diplomacy with Iran, “A Single Roll of the Dice” (Yale University Press, 2012), wrote in a post Thursday on The Daily Beast that the ayatollah sees little advantage in breaking the current stalemate.

“As long as the West does not put offers on the table that meet Iran’s bottom line, the calculation goes, Iran should play for time and seek a game changer that enables it to set the terms for a deal,” he wrote.

“Even though the price of stalling will be high, the price of failed talks will likely be equally high, leaving Tehran better off seeking to press the West to improve the deal — rather than participating in talks that are doomed to fail.”

Thomas Erdbrink contributed reporting from Tehran, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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« Reply #4471 on: Feb 08, 2013, 08:27 AM »

EU maps out new cyber-security plan

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 7, 2013 14:36 EST

The European Commission on Thursday launched a new cyber-security plan, aimed at safeguarding vital information systems and bolstering the bloc’s defences against a growing criminal threat.

The plan calls on member states to set up specialised agencies to ensure the security of information networks and rapid intervention units to counter any cyber attack.

These bodies should cooperate to improve the resilience of information systems, on which all aspects of life increasingly depend, and bolster overall defences against crime.

To highlight the scale of the problem, the Commission cited World Economic Forum research estimating there is a 10 percent chance of a major critical information infrastructure breakdown in the coming decade, which could cost $250 billion.

Cybercrime meanwhile costs even more, with security firm Symantec saying victims worldwide lose around 290 euros billion each year.

“The more people rely on the Internet the more people rely on it to be secure. A secure Internet protects our freedoms and rights and our ability to do business. It’s time to take coordinated action,” said Neelie Kroes, EU Commissioner in charge of the bloc’s Digital Agenda.

EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton highlighted the importance of cyber-security to the bloc’s wider political aims.

“For cyberspace to remain open and free, the same norms, principles and values that the EU upholds offline, should also apply online. Fundamental rights, democracy and the rule of law need to be protected in cyberspace,” Ashton said.

Last week, Twitter said it was hit by a “sophisticated” cyber attack similar to those that recently hit major Western news outlets and that the passwords of about 250,000 users were stolen.

“This attack was not the work of amateurs and we do not believe it was an isolated incident,” Twitter information security director Bob Lord said in a blog post.

The attack coincided with the revelation of several high-profile security breaches as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal said they too had been hacked, pointing to attackers from China.

Last month, the US Department of Defense reportedly approved a five-fold expansion of its cyber-security force to defend critical computer networks.
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« Reply #4472 on: Feb 08, 2013, 08:32 AM »

02/07/2013 02:40 PM

Austerity Summit: EU Budget Compromise Faces Major Hurdles

By Severin Weiland

EU leaders are meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday to hammer out a budget for the next seven years. Massive differences over how much to spend on agriculture, development and administration will make a compromise extremely difficult.

The German chancellor is preparing herself for a tough summit. The European Union has set aside two days for leaders to negotiate a new EU budget, setting priorities for spending from 2014 to 2020. Angela Merkel is cautiously hopefuly her position will prevail. "We're going to try, but there's no guarantee," a source close to her said. Last November, the heads of state and government failed miserably to reach a compromise on the budget. Now they're hoping the second time's the charm.

The likelihood of the 27 member states united under one budgetary vision hinges in large part on Germany and France, and on the good will of all those taking part. If there's no agreement, leaders would have to put together a new EU budget every year, using the prior year as a starting point. Sources in Berlin, however, said that was "not a negotation target." They want a breakthrough.

Merkel flew to Paris on Wednesday to meet with President François Hollande and come up with a common line on the budget -- and to watch the international friendly football match between their two countries (Germany won 2-1, their first victory over France in 26 years). A previous compromise suggested by European Council President Hermann Van Rompuy three months ago was not well received by Germany or the United Kingdom. Van Rompuy had proposed just over €1 trillion ($1.35 trillion) for the seven-year period, including the so-called "shadow budget," a parallel set of allocations outside the main budget that covers a number of things, including international development and reserves for agricultural crises.

Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden and the Netherlands -- all countries that pay more into the EU than they get back -- found the budget to be too high. They rallied around the motto of "better spending" -- meaning a greater focus on innovative and growth-stimulating measures that could boost the economy.

Grumbling About Costs of Bureaucracy

The reality is far more complicated. Farm subsidies, which are particularly important to France, have thus far been set at about 40 percent of the entire EU budget, making them by far the largest expenditure. That's followed by the Structural and Cohesion Funds, which make up 36 percent of the budget and are meant to soften the economic inequalities between rich and poor countries -- in practice, to support EU members in Eastern Europe.

Administrative costs make up only 6 percent of spending, but they have still emerged as one of the most controversial budget items. Those advocating a slimmer budget want to see cuts across the board -- including for the approximately 46,000 EU civil servants, who generally enjoy high salaries, low tax rates and strong job security. Unions representing the civil servance organized protest actions in Brussels on Tuesday in anticipation of budget cuts. Further controversy arose on Sunday when the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag published a comparison of salaries indicating that 4,365 EU public employees earn at least as much as Germany's chancellor each month -- about €16,275 -- with another 1,760 staffers earning even more.

Van Rompuy in November proposed cutting a larger budget proposed by the European Commission by about €80 billion. That would make a total of €972 billion in obligations, not including the shadow budget. The amount was rejected by Germany as too high, and diplomats are now saying Van Rompuy will offer €960 billion instead.

Despite all the proposed cuts, officials in Berlin say it's becoming clear that their relatively strong economic position in comparison with other EU countries increases the pressure on Germany to contribute more. "We know that German contributions will increase," sources in Berlin said.

Germany Holding Series of Two-Way Talks

The focus of the Brussels summit, however, is the big picture. Hollande said Germany and France have a mutual obligation to convince other governments to support their position. And that necessitates both countries going into the broader negotiations with a common front. Officials in both countries said they were making progress at unifying their stances.

Still, major differences remain among the various EU member states. Germany wants cuts to agricultural spending and the structural funds, while increasingly euroskeptic Britain wants to cut even deeper. In the middle are France and many other eastern and southern member states favoring much more moderate cuts. Hollande told the European Parliament this week that he would not agree to any cuts in the cohesion funds.

Merkel has held numerous bilateral talks in recent weeks. Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti complained in Berlin that his country is paying too much into the big pot. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was also recently in the German capital, although recent allegations of corruption overshadowed any talk on his country's struggling economy and dismal unemployment rate. And then there's the UK, where Prime Minister Cameron is complaining of administrative costs. The European Commission's seven-year budget proposal allocated €62 billion for that sector, but Cameron wanted to cut it by €6 billion. Germany, too, has joined that chorus, with officials in Berlin saying there was "significant savings potential" in administrative costs.

Even if the summit does produce results, the EU budget battle is still not over. The European Parliament must still approve it, and that is not a foregone conclusion. Joseph Daul, chairman of the European People's Party parliamentary group, which represents the Continent's Christian Democrats, said a budget of €960 billion would be unacceptable.

"These proposals are going in the wrong direction, attacking one of our best tools to generate growth -- the European budget -- of which 94 percent goes back to the member states. The proposal we have today is a political capitulation and we are going to reject it."

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« Reply #4473 on: Feb 08, 2013, 08:34 AM »

Has David Cameron's EU budget gamble paid off?

With the prime minister expected to claim a historic victory, Tory backbenchers will give him a warm welcome back from Brussels

Nicholas Watt in Brussels, Friday 8 February 2013 10.58 GMT   
David Cameron will receive a warm, and possibly rapturous, reception from Conservative MPs on Monday when he reports back to parliament on the European summit.

Barring a last-minute accident, the prime minister will say he played a leading role in drawing up the first cut in the EU's budget in its 56-year history.

As he headed out of the European council to freshen up during a break in the negotiations on Friday morning, after one of the EU's dreaded all-night sessions, No 10 was hopeful he had secured his original target.

Cameron had always aimed to secure a real-terms freeze in the EU's near-€1tn budget. The latest proposals, presented by the European council president, Herman Van Rompuy, in the early hours of Friday, called for the EU's "payment ceiling" to be cut from €942.8bn in 2007-13 to €908.4bn in 2014-2020.

The prime minister hopes to be able to go one step further and say that he has secured a cut in the budget, the first time this has happened in the history of the EU.

Nothing is ever agreed in the EU until everything is agreed. This meant that British government officials were careful not to punch the air on Friday morning, as the British ambassador to the EU's political and security committee, Julian Braithwaite, made clear. He tweeted: "UK Delegation at #EUCO buzzing. Nobody's relaxing. It ain't over 'til it's over, nothing's agreed until everything's agreed."

But if the Van Rompuy plan does hold, it is difficult to imagine better timing for the prime minister. Weeks after he was warned that he was marginalising Britain in the EU by outlining plans for a referendum by the end of 2017, Cameron has shown that Britain can shape events.

The prime minister will say that the latest summit shows the wisdom of his three fundamental calculations about the EU. These are that Britain should never underestimate its ability to be a major player in the EU. It should also not be frightened of laying down red lines that cannot be crossed, though it helps not to refer to them in that way.

Cameron's final – and most important calculation – holds that the key player in EU negotiations is the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. If she is pushed too far, Merkel will bite, as she did in December 2011 when she drew up the eurozone fiscal compact treaty outside the EU after Cameron wielded a veto.

But if she believes that Cameron's demands are reasonable, then she will work constructively with him as she did over the EU budget. This meant Cameron could afford to risk a frosty reception from the French president, François Hollande, who ducked out of a joint meeting with Merkel and Cameron, and still broker a deal.

Fuelled by an overnight supply of Haribo sweets and Nespresso coffee in the UK delegation room in the Justus Lipsius building – the red decaffeinated capsules were the only ones left over – the prime minister may think he is invincible.

But Cameron might like to bear in mind the thinking of Merkel's officials in the runup to the first budget summit in November. Berlin was quite prepared to see Cameron isolated to show Merkel's displeasure as she awaited his speech on the EU, which she feared would be unremittingly hostile. In the end, Merkel worked closely with Cameron in November for one very simple reason – she agreed with his call for restraint.

The German chancellor is keen to co-operate with Cameron at a tactical level – if she agrees with him – and at a broader strategic level to maintain the UK as an influential member of the EU as a counterweight to the protectionist France. But Merkel's support should never be taken for granted. The prime minister will therefore need to calibrate his negotiating stances with care when he embarks on the much more delicate and complex task of repatriating EU powers, as he promised in his Bloomberg speech on the EU.

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« Reply #4474 on: Feb 08, 2013, 08:46 AM »

European Council: ‘Wealthy countries try to impose the most restrictive budget

8 February 2013
El País

The summit decided today European accounts to 2020, marked by austerity
For the first time in the history of the EU, the budget will be less than in the previous period
Most countries can hardly hope to limit damage

Claudi Perez Brussels 7 FEB 2013 - 15:26 CET

Summits are large mirrors mood of the European project, as reflected in an abundant literature statements. Germany said Wednesday he does not think scratching your pocket austerity by flag once again. UK requires cuts, but has ensured that keep intact the rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in the day with that battle cry, "I want my money back": the ensign of the British, and that of many others, is what's that hackneyed mine, the lack of solidarity. And France, which is in favor of growth policies, has not gotten a single one of his proposals prokeynesianas has the slightest traction, demonstrating that this is above all, a lack of political crisis.


Austerity, lack of solidarity and political crisis: the Summit of Heads of State and Government starts this Thursday in Brussels to decide the EU budget from 2014 to 2020, marked by these three principles. The rich Europe has conspired to cut, again, budgets, after the failed summit in November. This time the deal is possible: all, without exception, agree that the EU budget can not be alien to the culture that permeates snip European economic policy. For the first time in the relatively young history of the Union, the budget will be lower than the previous period, 2007-2013. Good metaphor to reflect the poor health of the European project.

The team of President of the Council, Herman Van Rompuy, was close to closing the deal in November. then introduced a cut 80,000 million compared to the Commission proposal (approximately billion euros for seven years, equivalent to a meager 1% of European GDP, twenty times less than the U.S. budget). In Germany, the UK, Holland and Sweden seemed little. So there was no sign the agreement and this cut will have to add an additional day at least 15,000 million. Scissors on scissors.

With those numbers, budgets can not serve as an impetus to nowhere: not really fight against youth unemployment, despite preparing patches, or to stimulate growth, to what is already approved in June useless patches in October and have not had the slightest effect. The Twenty aspire at most to save the furniture. Each country and Spain is not far from an exception, expected to leave for home by limiting the maximum damage. Nothing more.

The theater is assured: "It is now or never," said a senior source community. The meeting will last until dawn - "the distance between the proposals is still big," Merkel warned before the start of the summit, but likely will end with an agreement that, despite the cuts, President Van Rompuy has listed a string of strips to each other, so that almost all the presidents and heads of state can come home with something in his hands to defend himself before the public.

2014-2020 budgets are anything but simple, since the very name (Multiannual financial perspective) to a set of esoteric concepts acrisolado only suitable for hardened Eurocrats. These are some of the keys that are discussed today:

Spain: it looks like I'm

The main objective of the delegation led by a weakened (after recent scandals) Mariano Rajoy is that Spain remains a net recipient of funds. During the past few years has been about 13,000 million a year (basically agricultural and structural funds), and has contributed 10,000 million. This time will receive significantly less than in the previous period: Spain is relatively richer than before, partly because of the EU enlargement to the East, although paradoxically faces the worst crisis in generations. The government managed to soften the blow in November with a check last minute, was then called "the Spanish for": 2,800 million for cohesion projects and 500 million for agriculture. A pressure suits Spain French agriculture and German cohesion projects. In addition, it benefits a novelty: the review clause, which is to modify the budgets throughout the period, depending on the evolution of the crisis (in the Spanish case, expected to worst: that will make more money earner). Although you should probably a bigger budget that pays for growth, Spanish sources explained that the budget cut does not hurt: Spain will pay less at a difficult time for the public coffers.

The additional scissors, infrastructure

The thesis of the rich countries are imposed: in additional snip prepares Van Rompuy, and to be known around four in the afternoon of Thursday, there will be deep cuts in infrastructure (mainly telecommunications and energy: transport just suffer variations). This is a chapter called connecting Europe, suffering a loss of 10,000 million. The rest, more than 5,000 million, will focus on the external action service discutidísimo -condemned, even more, to irrelevance to the renationalisation of EU foreign policy, and personnel costs. The strikes eurofuncionarios prepared to resist what looks like a tsunami in Europe: trimming institutional structures. United Kingdom has put all the emphasis possible (and formidable propaganda machine) in reducing the EU bureaucracy, and in general has been one of the countries that has demanded cuts. Germany is not going to lag behind: a German newspaper published these days that there are 4,000 officials in Brussels that charge more than Chancellor Angela Merkel, a figure almost impossible to prove. Austerity, however, not true for some things, like the British rebate, which remains more or less shielded: 3.000 million per year. Some exceptions are untouchable: the check would remain intact even if there was agreement among the leaders. Cosas de Bruxelles.
What if there is no agreement?

The multiannual financial perspectives, over a seven-year, have every sense to implement long-term European projects: linking investment territories can not specify in a single year, and which enable the continent to some convergence gone with the crisis. But first a failure in the negotiations, although have serious problems, not seen as a debacle: if there is no agreement, annual budgets will be developed. In that case, Spain would suffer, as percipient of structural funds. UK-how to keep your check-no, but Germany, Sweden, Holland and Austria would also very touched, as European sources. The country would be better off France, whose direct payments in agriculture would be extended.
The common interest and possible veto of the Parliament

Despite the fanfare, European budgets have been declining over time. Not only is that the figures used are virtually no macroeconomic impact, beyond the war stories with one another and patches last minute face-saving in some capitals (the Thursday in the Spanish case, will probably a package of several billion euros to youth unemployment, Spain section which is, by far, European champion ). The latest negotiations show that, once again, will be key austerity budgets, sacrificing growth policies to preserve national interests of large countries. Even in the case of France, which calls press conferences stimulus policies but that when negotiating resist tooth and nail to reduce the weight of agriculture in the budget, around 40% of the total, when the sector accounts for only 4% of European GDP. More and more countries require similar checks to the British, and if not ad hoc solutions to save the furniture: "It's like 27 Margaret Thatchers sit around a table" to get the most out of the budget and provide the minimum, claimed a few days ago Alain Lamassoure, chairman of the Budget Committee of the European Parliament, in Le Monde. MEPs certainly retains the ability to veto whatever comes out of the summit if not satisfied with the compromise. It is the first time I have that option, and threatens to use it if the scissors than their red lines. And it will not be nothing, but that nothing away from them.

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« Reply #4475 on: Feb 08, 2013, 08:49 AM »

Estonia: Crowdfunding — the future of banking

8 February 2013
European Voice Brussels
With the global credit crunch slowing bank loans to a trickle, “peer-to-peer” lending is filling the void, providing much-needed small businesses finance and better returns for investors. Now, this revolution is providing a lifeline to a Baltic country's business sector.
Edward Lucas

I have started making loans to total strangers – scores of them. I am not mad, rich or philanthropic. The loans are tiny. The safeguards are good. So far, the borrowers are paying me back and I am turning a handy profit. Even nicer, I feel I am part of a revolution which could save Western capitalism. It is all happening in Estonia.

Banking is the economy's biggest weakness. It offers stingy, fee-ridden savings products and over-priced loans with nasty hidden costs. Intermediaries gain colossal profits, especially when they are greedy and reckless. When things go wrong, as they inevitably do, the taxpayer picks up the bill. Apart from that, it works fine.

So alternatives are welcome, such as ‘peer-to-peer' lenders, which put the cash-thirsty and the cash-rich in touch with each directly (they make their money by charging a fee for the service). Zopa, a British peer-to-peer outfit, has lent £260 million (€310m) since it started in 2005.

Isepankur (it means ‘Self-banker' and sounds like ‘Easy-banker') offers a better deal, because it is lending in countries where the banking system is less developed. Estonians (even with a good credit rating) typically pay 50% for an unsecured ‘doorstep' loan. Isepankur gives me and other outsiders a chance to lend to them at much lower rates – 28% is typical.

That is a good deal: the best savings rate I can get in a British bank is under 3% (and half the meagre proceeds go in tax).

Isepankur opened for non-Estonian investors late last year. I sent off a few hundred euros to get going – and immediately got a phone-call from the chief executive. That was an impressive bit of customer service. (I have since helped tidy up the English on the website.)

The potential borrowers have to convince lenders of their creditworthiness. ‘Tanelvakker', for example, is a telephone engineer wanting to renovate his flat. He wanted to borrow €2,600 for 36 months at 12%. He is a single man, with a salary of €2,500 a month. The capital and interest payment would be €86. I took a look at his other outgoings (mortgage, car-lease payment and a credit card) and reckoned he could afford that easily. So I lent him €10. Dozens of others did the same. He makes one payment a month to Isepankur – which splits the money among us. If loans go bad, Isepankur sells them to a debt-collection agency.

Competition drives loan costs down. Good risks pay less. ‘Akiraam' (a secretary on €600 a month) wanted €200 to pay for a Finnish language course. She was ready to pay 28% but ended up paying only 12% because lenders piled in. Dodgy borrowers struggle, or pay more: lenders can grill them online. If they provide inadequate answers (or none), then their credibility suffers.

Some borrowers do default: an average of 3%, Isepankur reckons. But the interest rates that the successful ones pay more than make up for that. So far three of my loans are a bit late – but the money from the good ones more than outweighs that.

My net average return (like most Isepankur lenders) is about 17%. I have so far lent €1,570 to about 50 borrowers, in amounts ranging from €5 to €25. I have received €60 back in repaid capital and €24 in interest. I also got €0.06 in ‘penalties' (my share in a small fine levied on a borrower called ‘Lillekas' who paid a few days late).

Isepankur's costs are low: mainly running its website and advertising. It is still tiny. Perhaps it is too new, and too different. But I remember when they said that about another Estonian invention: Skype.
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« Reply #4476 on: Feb 08, 2013, 08:52 AM »

Greece: Gold fever is difficult to shake

7 February 2013
El País Madrid   

The Greek government has sold off new mining concessions in the north of the country as a way of reducing its debt. But the inhabitants, though hit hard by unemployment, are wary of the environmental consequences of the big dig.

“There, you see? That's where they want to dig the hole.” Lazaros Toskas points his finger at the top of the mountain. Up there, amid forests of oak, beech and pine, a mining company, Hellas Gold, plans to excavate an immense pit to extract the treasure hidden in the bowels of Mount Kakavos in Skouries.

The wealth of this corner of Chalkidiki in northern Greece has been known of for millennia: copper, silver, lead, zinc – and especially gold, which has quadrupled in value over the past 10 years. But where some see business and job opportunities in a land awash in unemployment, others fear the destruction of an ecosystem by an urge to develop, driven by the economic crisis, that they mistrust.

Toskas is a 54-year-old civil engineer. He lives in Megali Panagia, the town closest to the proposed Skouries mine, and is one of the leaders of the movement against the project that has organised several protests in recent months. The engineer shows the work that has already been done for water drainage: “They have to hollow out the mountain to build the galleries.” Under the open pit, which will be up to 250 metres deep, tunnels will be driven up to 700 metres down. The population fears for the water in the area. “There are a lot of minerals in the ground, and they include high percentages of arsenic. We don't know what can happen,” says a worried Toskas. The subject of arsenic often comes up in the talk of those who oppose the mine. The process the company wants to use to extract the gold, they say, is not feasible on a site with high concentrations of arsenic.
Water worries

Eduardo Moura, vice president of Eldorado Gold (the Canadian mining giant, which owns 95 per cent of Hellas Gold), responds by e-mail: the company, he writes, operates in strict compliance with European and Greek environmental regulation. “The environmental impact study of the Chalkidiki mine,” he adds, “has taken five years to be prepared, reviewed and approved by the Greek state.” As for the production process, the company claims to have made “tests that prove it can be used successfully.”

“I'm neither for or against,” says the owner of a jewellery store in Ierissos, the tourist centre of Halkidiki that has become the headquarters of the protest against the mine. “But I would prefer to see jobs coming from somewhere else.” The jeweller sums up the worries of the people, and even of those who, like him, have not marched in demonstrations. “The water we drink comes from the mountain. If it gets contaminated, what will we do?” Then there is tourism. “Do you think anyone would come if he knew there was a mine just a few kilometres away?” He assures us that understands the worries of the unemployed; it's employment that is the main dividing line between backers and opponents of the project. The company does already employ 1,100 workers, and, explains Moura, “our operations will create more than 5,000 direct and indirect jobs.”

Many, however, believe that the benefits will not outweigh the risks, and they distrust the official line. To explain why, they point to the way the state grossly undersold the exploitation rights to the mining project in a region of northern Greece that has metal reserves worth about €20bn euros.
Quick dealing

In December 2003, the Greek government took control of the mine after an out-of-court settlement with TVX Hellas, the former owner, which shut down the project because of the protests from the locals. The state bought it for €11m and sold it the same day for the same amount to Hellas Gold, founded three days earlier, ceding the company all rights to exploitation. Shortly thereafter, 95 per cent of the company's shares were acquired by a Canadian company, European Goldfields (EG). The market value of the company was then estimated in an audit to be about €400m. In 2012, Eldorado took over EG.

The company defends the project, claiming that “it has all the necessary environmental permits.” But groups opposing the mine have appealed against the environmental impact study to the Greek Council of State, which has still to hand down its final ruling.

“Here, between 1947 and 1949 the major battles of the civil war were fought out,” says unemployed Yorgos Tarazas, who has been in the front lines of the protests against the project. Some have ended in violent clashes with the police. Once, last summer, after a pitched battle on the mountain, the riot police retreated back into the centre of Ierissos, where they charged and used tear gas. “Some of us had only ever seen the riot police on TV,” says Tarazas.

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« Reply #4477 on: Feb 08, 2013, 08:54 AM »

February 7, 2013

Hewlett Directs Its Suppliers in China to Limit Student Labor


HONG KONG — Hewlett-Packard, one of the world’s largest makers of computers and other electronics, is imposing new limits on the employment of students and temporary agency workers at factories across China. The move, following recent efforts by Apple to increase scrutiny of student workers, reflects a significant shift in how electronics companies view problematic labor practices in China.

Many factories in China have long relied on high school students, vocational school students and temporary workers to cope with periodic surges in orders as factory labor becomes increasingly scarce. Students complain of being ordered by school administrators to put in very long hours on short notice at jobs with no relevance to their studies; local governments sometimes order schools to provide labor, and the factories pay school administrators a bonus.

For much of the last decade, many of the world’s big electronics companies have largely neglected the problem, beyond in some cases tracking reports of the abuses. Apple made the unusual move last year of joining the Fair Labor Association, one of the largest workplace monitoring groups, which inspects factories in China that make computers, iPhones and other devices under contract from Apple. And last month, Apple said it would begin requiring suppliers to provide information about their student workers “so we can monitor this issue more carefully.”

Now H.P. is pushing even harder. Its rules, given to suppliers in China on Friday morning, say that all work must be voluntary, and that students and temporary workers must be free “to leave work at any time upon reasonable notice without negative repercussions, and they must have access to reliable and reprisal-free grievance mechanisms,” according to the company.

The rules also require that student work “must complement the primary area of study” — a restriction that could rule out huge numbers of students whose studies have nothing to do with electronics or manufacturing.

Enforcing workplace rules in China has always been difficult, as even Chinese laws on labor practices are flagrantly ignored by some manufacturers as they struggle to keep up with production demand amid labor shortages. The Chinese government announced last month that the nation’s labor force had begun to shrink slowly because of the increasingly rigorous one-child policy through the 1980s and 1990s.

But complying with the new rules might be easier for suppliers contracting with H.P., which has relatively steady demand through the year for its products, than for suppliers working for rivals like Apple, with its big bursts of sales when new models are introduced.

Howard Clabo, an H.P. spokesman, said that the company would hold training sessions for suppliers starting in March and also discussion sessions for government officials, nongovernment organizations and academics — an initiative that could put pressure on other companies.

Tony Prophet, H.P.’s senior vice president for worldwide supply chain operations, said in a phone interview that H.P. was also capping the combined number of students and temp workers at any supplier factory at no more than 20 percent of labor during peak periods, which tend to be during summer vacations and the lengthy Chinese New Year holiday. H.P. plans to reduce that to 10 percent, but has not decided when, Mr. Prophet said.

The practice of employing students and temporary workers has been at the center of growing criticism of employment practices at Chinese suppliers used by big international electronics companies. Some of the companies are now seeing that the problems can harm their reputations.

In announcing increased scrutiny of student workers last month, Apple said in its supplier responsibility report that the “cyclical nature” of the student work “makes it difficult to catch problems.”

“We’ve begun to partner with industry consultants to help our suppliers improve their policies, procedures and management of internship programs to go beyond what the law requires,” Apple said.

Mr. Prophet of H.P. presented his company’s new rules as a sign of corporate responsibility, as opposed to a competitive maneuver. “We’re doing this because we think this is an important issue, and there are certainly concerns around it and some ambiguity around the appropriate standards,” he said.

Labor activists have been particularly critical of Foxconn, a large Taiwanese contract manufacturer that produces electronic devices for Hewlett-Packard, Apple and other companies.

Mr. Prophet of H.P. declined to discuss Foxconn’s work except to say that Foxconn would also be expected to meet the new standards. Foxconn manufactures computers for the Chinese domestic market in partnership with H.P. in Chongqing.

Liu Kaiming, the director of the Institute of Contemporary Observation, a group in Shenzhen, China, that advocates for labor rights, said some vocational school students spent the last year of school working at Foxconn and other factories.

“This sometimes even involves forced labor, which is absolutely against the corporate social responsibilities of companies like Apple and H.P.,” Mr. Liu said.

Foxconn, in a statement, said that it had an apprenticeship program allowing students to work for one to six months on a voluntary basis only. Students are given subsidized housing and food like full-time workers, are paid above the minimum wage and are not allowed to work overtime or night shifts, Foxconn said.

Foxconn also said that it did not use workers from temporary employment agencies, and that on average students made up only 2.7 percent of its work force over a year. The company did not provide peak percentages during school holidays.

Mr. Prophet said that restricting students and temp workers would limit the company’s ability to increase production during seasonal spikes in demand.

“That is a compromise,” he said, adding that H.P. and the industry will “have to be increasingly sharp in their demand forecasts.”

Anita Chan, an expert on labor issues in China and a visiting fellow at the Australian National University in Sydney, said electronics companies should not use student workers at all.

“Often, they are forced to work in a factory like it’s an internship, and the schools may take a cut of the salary; often, they even send teachers to the factory to make sure the students are disciplined,” she said, adding that schools continue charging tuition while students are in factories.

Electronics companies have taken the position that students also do summer jobs in other countries, including the United States, and learn something just from being in a work setting.

Keith Bradsher reported from Hong Kong and David Barboza from Shanghai. Xu Yan contributed research from Shanghai.
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« Reply #4478 on: Feb 08, 2013, 08:56 AM »

02/06/2013 07:18 PM

Intellectual Emptiness: Paris Summit Proves Europe Needs New Thinkers

By Ullrich Fichtner

It was billed as a major summit of Europe's top intellectual icons, whose brilliance would light the path toward solving the Continent's crises. But, if anything, the recent powwow in Paris on the future of Europe only proved that it badly needs new thinkers.

For a long time, the Théâtre du Rond-Point in Paris had the kind of ice-skating rink that used to be abundant in large European cities. With the men dressed in suits and ties and the women wearing dresses, bourgeois Parisians skated to their hearts' content, no matter how fragile the condition of the world outside might be. It wasn't until much later that the building on the Champs-Elysées was used as a theater, as it still is today. But on Monday, January 28, against the backdrop of the beautiful art nouveau architecture, a group of people took to the ice once again, if only figuratively.

The event was titled "Europe or Chaos?" and the program listed an entire exhibition of famous intellectuals. Top billing went to philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, who appeared on the radio that morning beating the drum for himself and his friends, including Italian writer Umberto Eco and his Hungarian colleague György Konrád, Spanish journalist Juan Luis Cebrián and Bulgarian-French psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva, as well as the two German writers Peter Schneider and Hans Christoph Buch. On the radio program, Lévy said that they were all going to sound the alarm that evening and call for the rescue of Europe.

And that was exactly what happened.

Well, actually, today's Europe wasn't exactly being rescued at the meeting so much as buried in verbose and nostalgic ranting about the glorious past. The historical references and erudite allusions to Athens ("cradle of democracy") and Rome ("source of the constitutional state") practically bubbled out of Lévy, wearing one of his trademark white shirts, unbuttoned halfway down, which his butler presses for him at his home in Saint-Germain.

In their remarks, the attendees mentioned Goethe and Herder and Husserl and Voltaire, Pushkin and Freud, and Adenauer and de Gaulle and Schuman and De Gasperi. In the face of so much name-dropping, smartphones and Google turned out to be an audience member's best friend.

Europe, said the poets and thinkers, as if they had read a few articles on Wikipedia just before the event, stands for enlightenment, humanism, universally applicable values and the separation of church and state. In fact, as Peter Schneider said in broken French, Europe boasts "the noblest of all cultures in the world." And Umberto Eco? He read a long, baroque, confusing text, which met with thin and somewhat distracted applause. György Konrád? He mumbled something about the "murderous, old dualities" that continue to exist in Europe, and about the conflicts between East and West, and between North and South. And so on. And so forth.

Real Crisis Is Not Black and White

The panel discussion followed a manifesto -- signed by Salman Rushdie, António Lobo Antunes and other members of the cultural nobility -- which had been published in Le Monde and El País a few days earlier. The first sentences read: "Europe isn't just in a crisis. Europe is dying. Europe as an idea, as a dream, as a project." The text continues in this black-and-white vein. The questions of the day, according to the manifesto, are "political union or barbarism," or even better, "political union or death."

Strange. The social purpose of the assembled intellectuals is to calmly and reasonably dissect the world. But, here, they forgot all nuance and seemed to merely launch into a rant. The rhetoric at the Paris panel discussion and in the manifesto alike was childishly exaggerated and filled with plainly false arguments. Europe, the appeal reads, "is crumbling everywhere, from West to East, and from North to South. Populism and chauvinism of all stripes are on the rise."

This is clearly not the continent on which most Europeans live rather unsuspectingly. The intellectual doom-and-gloom scenario makes no mention of the fact that anti-European populists have been losing ground in important parliamentary elections throughout Europe, most recently in the Netherlands. It shrugs off the fact that politicians, perhaps without vision but certainly with great persistence, have been worried about this Europe for years. And if all of this were nothing, it ignores the fact that entire nations have reformed themselves in positive ways in response to pressure from the European Union, that persecution of the Roma in France is now denounced internationally, that media-censorship laws are being fought in Hungary, and that many people can find work -- all thanks to the EU.

And is the euro itself, the currency, "not ultimately an illusion?" the manifesto asks. Well, this rhetorical question is ultimately intellectually dishonest and, above all, one for the populists. That's because the most bizarre aspect of this crisis, even though the opposite is being hammered into everyone's head day in and day out, is that the euro, the money, is not actually in crisis. In the pockets of Europeans, it is simply a functioning, unproblematic means of payment.

The system and the foundation necessary to support the stability of the currency are indeed in crisis. This is what has been the subject of debate for years, and it should have been talked about in Paris. This is where the intellectuals would actually have something to contribute -- provided they are willing to read the small print -- and all of their proposals would be welcome. The problem is that they have none. During the evening in Paris, Lévy went so far as to claim that markets would play no role at all if only the political world had enough gumption. The Americans have a way of responding to this sort of nonsense: "Really?"

Manifesto Lacks Insight into Real World

At no point was the discussion in Paris concerned with the real world. It didn't address the fact that half of Spain's young people are unemployed, or that Greek hospitals are often only willing to treat families for cash, if at all. No one mentioned that the French, the Irish, the Czechs, the Poles and the Portuguese are afraid of what tomorrow will bring, whether they will have work and how much worse off their children could be. The discussion in Paris wasn't about banks and stock markets, work and everyday life, facts or life itself. Within a half hour, some onlookers were already yearning for an end to the evening.

Of course, it's easy and costs nothing to ridicule intellectuals and their vanities. But, in this case it's a testimony to wounded love, an expression of the disappointment ,that coursed through the visitors' gallery at the Théâtre du Rond-Point as the evening wore on. If these great authors of our time, well-read writers and admired thinkers can think of nothing better to mention in connection with the European crisis than Goethe, enlightenment and, somehow, Rome, if their remarks sound as if they had been written for political soap-box oratory, then Europe must be in truly bad shape, possibly even worse shape than Europe's sensationalist tabloids claim on a daily basis.

The Paris group merely kept reiterating, in various configurations, what European politicians have been saying for 20 years, quoted almost verbatim from the Maastricht Treaty: That there is no alternative to Europe. But no one is saying -- tangibly, comprehensibly and concretely -- why this is the case. The only option they have left is to issue dire warnings, as the intellectual citizens' initiative headed by Bernard-Henri Lévy demonstrated when it used such catchphrases as "political union or barbarism" and "political union or death."

But this means that they too have no idea why we need today's Europe. All they know -- as do we all -- is that they no longer want what is bad about the old system, and yet they somehow want to keep its good aspects.

In Paris, Spaniard Cebrián, the co-founder and longtime editor of the newspaper El País, made a few hesitant advances in that direction. Perhaps one could take a somewhat more "practical" approach to the issue, he said. Citing the Erasmus student exchange program as a model, he advocated projects for trainees and perhaps even for seasoned workers, so that Europe isn't just something to be experienced by its educated elites.

Conclusion: Europe Needs New Intellectuals

Cebrián was the only one to mention the world of work. He had hardly finished speaking before Kant and Shakespeare, Schiller and Mozart were back on stage. It's unlikely that they will save the European Union. But that wasn't even the purpose of the evening. The people on the stage were interested in assuming the rescue pose, albeit two or three years too late, even as they were constantly predicting Europe's imminent demise.

At times, there were overtones of the 1930s, as if a new Hitler were at the door once again. But such fears seem baseless, especially because, as Julia Kristeva mentioned so cleverly, the idea of the "cult of the nation" has diminished to the extent that its criminal potential has disappeared.

Perhaps one of the outcomes of the summit meeting in Paris is that a new, successful Europe also needs new intellectuals. Or intellectuals who are willing to let old battles lie and finally look to the future. These people exist, perhaps they were just not invited. Someone like Jacques Attali would have been good for the debate. The Frenchman, an adviser to former President François Mitterand, is a man of the 20th century, but he also has some exciting, fresh thoughts on the 21st century. And he also gave one of the best pieces of advice against despair, and about how man should behave in relation to the world around him.

In a speech to UNESCO -- another organization familiar with the tired feeling of crisis -- Attali said that he no longer allows himself to be guided by pessimism or optimism. Both, he said, are the attitudes of spectators in the stands, rooting for the players below, hoping or fearing for them. We human beings, Attali said, are not spectators, but players in our lives. And like all good players, he added, we are better off fighting and working until the final whistle, instead of getting caught up in our hopes and fears.

And how should we react to those who are constantly telling us about gloom and doom scenarios or quoting Goethe and Shakespeare? We should stick out our tongues or thumb our noses at them.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #4479 on: Feb 08, 2013, 09:00 AM »

February 7, 2013

Russian Winter Olympics Hit a Snag Over Time


SOCHI, Russia — A year before the world’s top ski racers are due to rocket down the Rosa Khutor alpine track here in the Caucasus Mountains, a sharp debate is under way among senior Russian officials over how to keep time at next year’s Winter Olympics — not the time on the race clocks, but the actual time of day.

The crux of the matter is how many hours ahead Russia will be — two or three — compared with most of Europe when Sochi holds the 2014 Winter Olympics. While the difference may seem slight, at stake are broadcast rights worth billions of dollars and the added viewership and profitability of showing the games in prime time.

Also hanging in the balance appears to be the legacy of former President Dmitri A. Medvedev, now prime minister, who decided in 2011 that Russia should abandon daylight saving time, widening the gap with Europe for six months of the year.

Mr. Medvedev has watched many of his liberal-leaning policy changes be undone since his mentor, Vladimir V. Putin, returned to the Russian presidency last year. And Mr. Medvedev seems to view the time change as an important decision he wants to preserve.

The topic is so delicate that officials of the International Olympic Committee recently denied asking Mr. Putin to revert to daylight saving time, and said they had asked only for Russia’s Olympics planning team to consider the issue.

And when reports emerged on Thursday that Mr. Putin had cut a deal with International Olympic Committee officials to resume daylight saving time next year, Mr. Medvedev spoke out publicly and with uncharacteristic force.

“The government finds a new correction of time in the current period unadvisable,” Mr. Medvedev told government ministers at a cabinet meeting.

He urged that the government consult medical doctors and other experts as well as measure public opinion before making another change.

Of course, the outcome has real-life consequences for 140 million Russian citizens, who already grapple with the challenges of being spread across nine time zones.

In Moscow, leaving the clocks unchanged means that for much of the winter, people wake up in the dark, arrive at school and work in the dark and return home in the dark.

And for anyone working in the financial sector, it means an additional hour’s difference with London and New York — lengthening the workday.

“In Moscow it’s unbearable,” said a senior Russian official who asked not to be identified while sharing a personal opinion. “It’s really unbearable. You simply lose your living power, because you don’t see sun. You don’t see light.”

To be sure, Russia has always taken an idiosyncratic approach to time.

Official railroad schedules are printed only in Moscow time, and arrivals and departures are similarly shown that way on electronic billboards in every station — even in cities like Vladivostok, seven time zones away in the Far East.

Mr. Putin has not publicly stated a position on the time issue, though the decision is his to make.

On Thursday, he was here in Sochi with officials from the International Olympic Committee, presiding over a celebration to start the one-year countdown to the games.

Also on Thursday, new details emerged of Mr. Putin’s fury over construction delays and cost-overruns for a ski-jump that is part of the Olympics mountain cluster.

The cost had soared from a projected $400 million to about $2.4 billion.

In a video of Mr. Putin touring the site on Wednesday, he appeared incredulous, repeating aloud the amount of the projected cost overrun.

“Well done,” he said sarcastically.

Nikolay Khalip contributed reporting.

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« Reply #4480 on: Feb 08, 2013, 09:06 AM »

February 7, 2013

Cities of Leicester and York Argue Over Where to Rebury Richard III


LEICESTER, England — Just days after the yellowed bones found in a municipal parking lot here were declared to be those of King Richard III, a less-than-seemly tug of war has broken out between the cities of Leicester and York to claim the remains.

While others have revived the centuries-old dispute about Richard — whether he was Shakespeare’s “poisonous, hunchbacked toad” and ruthless murderer of two princely nephews he imprisoned in the Tower of London, or champion of the common man and author of reforms that channeled charity to the poor — it took Leicester and York little time to compute the benefits in having him buried in their precincts, generating revenues from tourists eager to see the burial site and tour the visitors’ centers the two cities have planned.

Though barely 100 miles apart, Leicester in the English Midlands and York in the country’s northern reaches have widely differing claims. Leicester notes that it is a couple of hours away by horse from where Richard was killed in 1485, at the Battle of Bosworth Field, and that he lay for centuries in a shallow grave in the heart of the city. York’s riposte has been to depict Leicester as little more than a way station in Richard’s life.

The city’s officials have noted, edgily, that Richard’s ancestral roots lay in the House of York, a protagonist in the Wars of the Roses that lasted 30 years and pitted the Yorkists against the House of Lancaster in rival claims to the Plantagenet monarchy, which disappeared into history with Richard’s death. It was in York, the city’s champions say, where Richard spent much of his youth, and where he told contemporaries that he wished to be buried.

As matters stand, Leicester seems likely to win, since it is where the skeleton now affirmed by a team of scientific and historical experts to be Richard’s was discovered last fall, in a corner of the parking lot of the city’s social services department. The sheer mundanity of the location has, if anything, elevated Leicester’s profile and given rise to a feast of newspaper cartoons and lame Twitter jokes, many about the size of the unpaid parking ticket awaiting Richard’s heirs.

The king’s remains were buried in a corner of the chapel of a Franciscan monastery, the Greyfriars Priory, that like Richard fell victim to the Tudor kings when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and seized their wealth about 50 years after Richard’s death. Long before there was a parking lot, the priory had disappeared, its stone walls and tiled floors looted, until all that remained were the trace foundations that were discovered when the dig supervised by a team of experts from the University of Leicester uncovered Richard’s bones in September.

Leicester’s case for retaining the bones and reburying them at the city’s Anglican cathedral, a stone’s throw from the parking lot, is anchored in a provision in the exhumation license granted last summer by the British government, which specified that the reburial take place at the cathedral, as the university proposed.

Perhaps anticipating a challenge, Leicester’s mayor unveiled plans this week for the excavated corner of the parking lot to become part of a larger visitors’ site, including the new burial plot in the cathedral precincts and an exhibition on Richard’s life, already opened temporarily, in an old school building the city has acquired for the purpose.

The cities have lost no time in starting their campaigns. By midweek, York had drawn 7,000 signatures to an online petition for the government to support its bid; Leicester’s petition lagged with only 2,000 signatures. Leicester, though, could celebrate that Chris Grayling, the justice minister in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, had affirmed in the House of Commons that the exhumation license required the reburial to take place in Leicester.

But even that cut little ice with the Yorkists.

“Let’s not have another war on this matter,” said Kersten England, chief executive of York’s City Council, who said she would write to Queen Elizabeth II asking for support. “Possession may be nine-tenths of the law,” she said, referring to Richard’s bones, now under tight guard in Leicester. “But we definitely have the moral high ground.”

She was backed by Paul Toy, an official at York’s Richard III Museum, which has long existed in the Monk Bar gatehouse at the entrance to the old city. “It’s purely by chance that Richard III was in Leicester, because he got killed at Bosworth,” he said.


February 7, 2013

A ‘Son of Hell,’ Reconsidered



SO the last — and worst — of the Plantagenets is back after a long sojourn beneath a Leicester parking lot, here to give the lie to that Tudor propagandist, William Shakespeare. At school, influenced by the bard’s devastating portrait, we knew him as Dick the Bad. But no, King Richard III is simpatico.

I say “is” not “was” for Richard lives, almost 528 years after his death in 1485 at Bosworth Field, debated on page after page of the British press as he awaits reburial in Leicester Cathedral (if rival claims and an e-petition from York are rebuffed). His identity proved “beyond a reasonable doubt” through DNA analysis, Shakespeare’s “troubler of the poor world’s peace” bestrides the stage once more.

Einstein observed that “the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” We have moved beyond time.

No “bunch-backed toad,” no “slave of nature and the son of hell,” no “bottled spider,” the exhumed Richard is enjoying a remake as a physically challenged fellow with spinal curvature who might have starred in last year’s London Paralympics if given the chance.

Alas he got clobbered several times with a halberd (presumably wielded by a halberdier ignoring late 15th century safety regulations), and may have suffered the ignominy of being sodomized with an unlicensed dagger while being carried naked on horseback to Leicester. There inglorious burial awaited him after just two years on the throne. The Plantagenet dynasty, which had ruled England since 1154, was no more.

“I’ve spoken to scoliosis experts and they say acute scoliosis like that was painful,” Philippa Langley, a Richard III enthusiast, told The Guardian. “So we know that he was working through the pain barrier every day just to do his job.”

Right. Langley, a leading member of the Richard III Society (founded in 1924 as the Fellowship of the White Boar to clean up the king’s Tudor-besmirched image), suggested the deformed schemer of Shakespeare’s play had been misunderstood: “He had an incredibly powerful, strong work ethic. This man never stopped. He was on a horse every day, fighting skirmishes, doing everything they had to do.”

Such duties for a workaholic English monarch during this era of violent feuds included plotting dynastic murder on a substantial scale. But of course this, like most things, is now up for debate. Granted, history is written by the victors: The Tudors, in search of legitimacy, were hard on Richard, commissioning eminent scribblers to pen hatchet jobs. The king, his would-be rehabilitators say, passed some good laws and cared for the common people (living, like himself, without painkillers or disability welfare.)

Still, too much smoke swirls around Richard III for there to be no fire. And besides, don’t we need our villains in all their ugly, scheming iniquity to give shape to our moral universe? Spare me Leonardo DiCaprio as this unquiet king. Give me a snarling Javier Bardem!

Richard III has been implicated in the killing of his brother, Clarence, and may well have dispatched Edward, Prince of Wales, in cold blood after the battle of Tewkesbury before wedding the prince’s widow within a year (“Your beauty that did haunt me in my sleep” — Shakespeare allows his villain a voluptuary’s charm). Did he not kill Henry VI and, most damning of all, have his nephews, aged 9 and 12, murdered in the Tower of London after getting them declared illegitimate by an act of Parliament? Dick was very bad.

The remains of the princes in the Tower (where you can push a button to register the most likely suspects in their murder — Richard III leads comfortably), are now in Westminster Abbey, contained in an urn designed by Sir Christopher Wren. A movement is afoot to do DNA testing on these little vestiges in order to date them and help settle the matter of the princes’ killer. The idea has been resisted on the grounds it may lead to “sensational speculation,” in the words of a former dean of the abbey, and a cascade of further exhumations. Besides, what would be done with the bones if they all prove bogus?

These arguments smack of ageism: The kids deserve their day with the scientific-archaeological team, too. I see no reason why equal opportunity should not be extended to bones. With luck many wrongs will get righted. There will be grounds for a deluge of retrospective apologies from tearful, lip-biting folk stretching all the way back to the case of Cain.

I happen to work near Buckingham Palace, and strolling in the twilight the other day I noticed a hunch-backed fellow of murderous mien clutching the wrought-iron railings. Something in his malevolent gaze troubled me. “Because I cannot flatter and speak fair, do not hold me a rancorous enemy,” he said. “Can you direct me to a parking lot where I might find some peace?”

“Head up Pall Mall, sir, and take the first left — but you’ll need to text your credit card number to the authorities.”

The horror on his twisted face was terrifying. “A hearse!” he wailed. “A hearse! My kingdom for a hearse!”
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« Reply #4481 on: Feb 08, 2013, 09:08 AM »

NASA: Asteroid to zoom just 17,200 miles above Earth’s surface

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 7, 2013 21:25 EST

Hold on to your hats: an asteroid will zoom within spitting distance of Earth next week, in what NASA said is the closest flyby ever predicted for an object this large.

The 2012 DA 14, discovered by chance by astronomers after passing nearby last February, will be just around 17,200 miles (27,700 kilometers) above Earth’s surface when it speeds by, the US Space Agency said.

That’s outside the Earth’s atmosphere, but closer than the orbit of most weather and communications satellites.

However, despite the close shave, NASA said there was nothing to fear.

“This asteroid’s orbit is so well known that we can say with confidence that even considering it’s orbital uncertainties, it can pass no closer than 17,100 miles from the Earth’s surface. So no Earth impact is possible,” said Donald Yeomans of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“At the same time, it will pass 5,000 miles inside the ring” of satellites, Yeomans told reporters, saying the asteroid’s path puts it right in the “sweet spot” to avoid having any damaging impact.

The asteroid is predicted to come closest to Earth on February 15, at around 1924 GMT, plus or minus a minute or two, and will pass over the Indian Ocean off Sumatra.

It will be visible, with a little help from a telescope, in eastern Europe, Australia and Asia, astronomers said.

“What you would see through a small telescope would be something like a star, a small point of light… that moved against a background of stars,” said Tim Spahr, of the Harvard-Smithsonian’s Minor Planet Center.

The asteroid measures about 150 feet (45 meters) in diameter. That makes it relatively small by celestial standards.

“The object that … took out the dinosaurs was about 10 kilometers,” said Yeomans.

Nevertheless, if it were to hit the Earth, the impact would be roughly equivalent to a 2.4 megaton bomb — enough to flatten a large area but not globally catastrophic, he explained.

NASA estimates an smallish asteroid like 2012 DA 14 flies close to the Earth every 40 years, on average, but only hits the Earth once every 1,200 years.

Statistically-speaking, that means we’re probably safe for quite a while, since a similar asteroid hit just over 100 years ago.

“With an estimated size of the order of 50 meters, (2012 DA 14) is comparable in dimensions to the object that destroyed over 2,000 square kilometers of forest in Tunguska, Siberia, on 30th June 1908,” Mark Bailey, director of the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, told AFP.

Astronomers have detected some 9,500 celestial bodies of various sizes that pass near Earth, but they estimate that’s only a tenth of what’s out there.

Even 2012 DA 14 was almost missed last year, because of how quickly it passed through the observable sky, said Jaime Nomen, one of the astronomers who spotted it from the La Sagra observatory in southern Spain.

“It was an elusive target, and it could have been undetected,” he told AFP.

But NASA, in its teleconference Thursday, emphasized that it was keeping a careful watch on the skies, including telescopes that make nightly sweeps, with ever improving technology.

“We’ve found about 95 percent of those larger asteroids that come close to the Earth,” said Lindley Johnson, a top official in the space agency’s Near-Earth Object Observations Program.

Smaller objects, like 2012 DA 14, are more numerous and harder to spot, he said, but NASA has found “lots” of them.

And based on the agency’s observations and analysis, this is the nearest brush for an serious asteroid impact for the foreseeable future.

– –
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« Reply #4482 on: Feb 08, 2013, 09:47 AM »

In the USA...

Bernie Sanders seeks to crackdown on corporate tax havens

By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, February 7, 2013 20:58 EST

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Thursday announced new legislation aimed at preventing corporations from using offshore havens to lower their taxes.

“If we are going to be serious about deficit reduction, corporate America — which is now enjoying record breaking profits — is going to have to step up to the plate,” he said at a press conference. “We are not going to balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick, or the poor.”

The Corporate Tax Fairness Act would require corporations to pay U.S. taxes on their offshore profits as they are earned. Currently, corporations can defer U.S. income taxes on overseas profits as long as the money is held overseas. The bill would also limit foreign tax credits, and crack down on corporations that claim to be a foreign company by purchasing a post office box in another country.

“Every year corporations and the wealthy are avoiding more than $100 billion in U.S. taxes by sheltering their income in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, and other offshore tax havens,” Sanders said, noting a relatively small, four-story building in the Cayman Islands was home to more than 18,000 corporations.

“The Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated in the past that the provisions in this bill will raise more than $590 billion in revenue over the next decade,” he added.

Watch video, uploaded to YouTube by Senator Sanders, below:


Meet The 31 Corporations and Banks Who Dodged $128 Billion in US Taxes

By: Jason Easley
Feb. 7th, 2013

Sen. Bernie Sanders released a report today directly taking on the Business Roundtable, by outing 31 banks and corporations who have dodged $128 billion in taxes.

According to the report, the 31 corporations and banks have dodged $128 billion in taxes by setting up offshore tax havens. They have received $6.5 billion in tax refunds, and $2.5 trillion in taxpayer bailout money. While stuffing their pockets with trillions of taxpayer dollars, the Business Roundtable has called for the deficit to be reduced by raising the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 70, cut Social Security and veterans’ benefits, and increase taxes on working families.

The reason why congressional Republicans are adamantly opposed to generating new revenue through closing these loopholes is that doing so would force these tax dodgers to pay their fair share. For Republicans, the concept of fairness only applies to making sure the wealthy get more by doing less. One of the reasons why Republicans continue to lose elections is because they insist on protecting corporations and banks at the expense of the American people.

Instead of passing the burden of deficit reduction on to workers, seniors, the poor, and the middle class, how about we start with getting the 31 corporations and banks listed below to pay their taxes?

Here is the list:

1. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan.

Number of Offshore Tax Havens in 2010? 371.

Amount of federal income taxes Bank of America would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $2.5 billion.

Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2010? Zero. $1.9 billion tax refund.

Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS in 2010, even though it made $4.4 billion in profits.

Taxpayer Bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department? Over $1.3 trillion.

2. JP Morgan Chase CEO James Dimon

Number of Offshore Tax Havens in 2010? 83.

Amount of federal income taxes JP Morgan Chase would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $4.9 billion
JP Morgan Chase has stashed $21.8 billion in offshore tax haven countries to avoid paying income taxes. If this practice was outlawed, it would have paid $4.9 billion in federal income taxes.

Taxpayer Bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department? $416 billion.

3. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein

Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2008? Zero. $278 million tax refund.

Number of offshore tax havens in 2010? 39.

In 2010, Goldman Sachs operated 39 subsidiaries in offshore tax haven countries.
Amount of federal income taxes Goldman Sachs would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $3.32 billion.
Taxpayer Bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department? $824 billion.

During the financial crisis, Goldman Sachs received a total of $814 billion in virtually zero interest loans from the Federal Reserve and a $10 billion bailout from the Treasury Department.

4. General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt

Number of offshore tax havens? At least 14.

Amount of federal income taxes General Electric would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $35.7 billion.

GE has stashed $102 billion in offshore tax haven countries to avoid paying income taxes. If this practice was outlawed, it would have paid $35.7 billion
more in federal income taxes.

Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2010? Zero. $3.3 billion tax refund. In 2010, not only did General Electric pay no federal income taxes, it received a $3.3 billion tax refund from the IRS, even though it earned over $5 billion in U.S.

Taxpayer Bailout from the Federal Reserve? $16 billion.During the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve provided GE with $16 billion in
financial assistance, at a time when Jeffrey Immelt was a director of the New York Federal Reserve.

Jobs Shipped Overseas? At least 25,000 since 2001.

5. Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam

Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2010? Zero. $705 million tax refund.
In 2010, Verizon received a $705 million refund from the IRS despite earning $11.9 billion in pre-tax U.S. profits.
Amount of federal income taxes Verizon would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $525 million.
Verizon has stashed $1.5 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S.
income taxes. Verizon would owe an estimated $525 million in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.
American Jobs Cut in 2010? In 2010, Verizon announced 13,000 job cuts, the
third highest corporate layoff total that year.

6. Honeywell International CEO David Cote

Amount of federal income taxes paid from 2008-2010? Zero. $34 million tax refund.
From 2008 through 2010, not only did Honeywell pay no federal income taxes, it received a $34 million tax refund from the IRS, even though it earned over $4.9 billion in U.S. profits during those years.

Amount of federal income taxes Honeywell would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $2.835 billion.
Honeywell has stashed $8.1 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Honeywell would owe an estimated $2.835 billion in federal
income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

7. Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier

Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2009? Zero. $55 million tax refund.
In 2009, not only did Merck pay no federal income taxes, it received a $55 million tax refund from the IRS, even though it earned more than $5.7 billion in U.S. profits.

Amount of federal income taxes Merck would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $15.5 billion.

Merck has stashed $44.3 billion in offshore tax haven countries to avoid paying income taxes. If this practice was outlawed, it would have paid $15.5 billion more in federal income taxes.

8. Corning CEO Wendell Weeks

Amount of federal income taxes paid from 2008-2010? Zero. $4 million tax refund. From 2008 through 2010, not only did Corning pay no federal income taxes, it received a $4 million tax refund from the IRS, even though it earned nearly $2 billion in U.S. profits during those years.

Amount of federal income taxes Corning would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $3.78 billion. Corning has stashed $10.8 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Corning would owe an estimated $3.78 billion in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

9. Boeing CEO James McNerney, Jr.

Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2010? None. $124 million tax refund.

Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS in 2010.

Amount of federal income taxes Boeing would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $66 million.

Boeing would owe an estimated $66 million more in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

American Jobs Shipped overseas? Over 57,000. Since 1994, more than 57,000 Americans lost their jobs at Boeing as a result of overseas outsourcing or rising imports.

Amount of Corporate Welfare? At least $58 billion.

10. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

Amount of federal income taxes Microsoft would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $19.4 billion.
Microsoft has stashed over $60 billion in offshore tax haven countries to avoid paying income taxes. If this practice was outlawed, it would have paid 19.4 billion more in federal income taxes.

11. Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs

Amount of federal income taxes Qualcomm would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $5.8 billion.

Qualcomm has stashed $16.4 billion in offshore tax haven countries to avoid paying income taxes. If this practice was outlawed, it would have paid $5.8
billion more in federal income taxes.

12. Caterpillar CEO Douglas Oberhelman

Amount of federal income taxes Caterpillar would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $4.55 billion. Caterpillar has stashed $13 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Caterpillar would owe an estimated $4.55 billion in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

13. Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers

Amount of federal income taxes Cisco would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $14.455 billion.

Cisco has stashed $41.3 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Cisco would owe an estimated $14.455 billion in federal income
taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

14. Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris

Amount of federal income taxes Dow Chemical would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $3.5 billion.

Dow has stashed $10 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Dow would owe an estimated $3.5 billion in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

15. Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld

Amount of federal income taxes Alcoa would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $2.9 billion.

Alcoa has stashed $8.3 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income
taxes. Alcoa would owe an estimated $2.9 billion in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

16. Stanley Black & Decker CEO John Lundgren

Amount of federal income taxes Stanley Black & Decker would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $1.26 billion.
Stanley Black & Decker has stashed $3.6 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. They would owe an estimated $1.26 billion in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

17. Motorola Solutions CEO Greg Brown

Amount of federal income taxes Motorola Solutions would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $350 million.Motorola Solutions has stashed $1 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. They would owe an estimated $350 million in federal income
taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

18. Tenneco CEO Gregg Sherill

Amount of federal income taxes Tenneco would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $269 million.

Tenneco has stashed over $698 million in offshore tax haven countries to avoid
paying income taxes. If this practice was outlawed, it would have paid $269 million in federal income taxes.

19. Express Scripts CEO George Paz

Amount of federal income taxes Express Scripts would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $19 million.

Express Scripts has stashed over $54 million in offshore tax haven countries to avoid paying income taxes. If this practice was outlawed, it would have paid $19 million in federal income taxes.

20. Caesars Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman

Amount of federal income taxes Caesars Entertainment would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $15 million.

Caesars Entertainment has stashed $42 million in offshore tax haven countries to avoid paying income taxes. If this practice was outlawed, it would have paid about $15 million more in federal income taxes.

21. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink

Amount of federal income taxes BlackRock would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $525 million.

BlackRock has stashed $1.5 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. BlackRock would owe an estimated $525 million in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

22. United Parcel Service (UPS) CEO D. Scott Davis

Amount of federal income taxes UPS would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $1.12 billion. UPS has stashed $3.2 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. UPS would owe an estimated $1.12 billion in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

23. CA Technologies CEO William McCracken

Amount of federal income taxes CA Technologies would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $700 million.

CA Technologies has stashed nearly $2 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. CA Technologies would owe an estimated $700 million in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

24. Eaton CEO Alexander Cutler

Amount of federal income taxes Eaton would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $2.24 billion.

Eaton has stashed $6.4 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Eaton would owe an estimated $2.24 billion in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

25. Nasdaq OMX Group CEO Robert Greifeld

Amount of federal income taxes Nasdaq OMX Group would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $21 million.

Nasdaq OMX Group has stashed $60 million in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Nasdaq OMX Group would owe an estimated $21 million in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

26. Textron CEO Scott Donnelly

Amount of federal income taxes Textron would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $165 million.

Textron has stashed $470 million in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Textron would owe an estimated $165 million in federal income
taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

27. Thermo Fisher Scientific CEO Marc Casper

Amount of federal income taxes Thermo Fisher Scientific would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $1.645 billion.Thermo Fisher Scientific has stashed $4.7 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Thermo Fisher Scientific would owe an estimated
$1.645 billion in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

28. Weyerhaeuser CEO Daniel Fulton

Amount of federal income taxes Weyerhaeuser would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $8 million.

Weyerhaeuser has stashed $22 million in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. It would owe an estimated $8 million in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

29. World Fuel Services CEO Paul Stebbins

Amount of federal income taxes World Fuel Services would have owed if offshore tax havens were eliminated? $278 million.

World Fuel Services has stashed $794 million in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. It would owe an estimated $278 million in federal
income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

30. Time Warner CEO Glenn Britt

Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2008? Zero. $74 million tax refund.

In 2008, not only did Time Warner pay no federal income taxes, it received a $74 million tax refund from the IRS, even though it earned over $2 billion in U.S. profits.

31. R.R. Donnelly & Sons CEO Thomas Quinlan III

Amount of federal income taxes paid in 2008? Zero. $49 million tax refund. In 2008, not only did R.R. Donnelly & Sons pay no federal income taxes, it
received a $49 million tax refund from tax refund from the IRS, even though it earned $561 million in U.S. profits.


North Dakota GOP Proposes a Fee to Get Welfare

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, February 7, 2013 9:51 EST

I’ve seen a lot of liberals protest drug testing people seeking welfare, but rarely if ever has it been discussed as what I suspect these bills are intended to be: A ban on welfare through back door means. Just as abortion bans are smuggled under feigned concern for “women’s health” and bans on large swaths of Democratic voters are smuggled in as “voter ID” laws, I suspect that people who push for drug testing welfare recipients thought that would end welfare. “They’re all just a bunch of druggies who want money to lay around smoking crack all day,” Republican legislators thought. “No way will welfare recipients pass a drug test.”

Unfortunately, their brilliant plan was rooted in bigotry and not reality, and they soon learned that it doesn’t work. It turns out very few recipients of welfare use drugs. This makes sense to the reality-based community. Of course people subsisting on welfare don’t use drugs like, say, middle class white people do, because drugs cost money.  Single mothers raising kids on welfare don’t have, you know, money. Derp de derp.

Well, now legislators in North Dakota have taken this realization—people who need welfare don’t have money!—and figured out how to use it to make that back door ban on welfare work.

    Several Republican lawmakers are pushing the measure, which also would require applicants of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to pay for the drug testing themselves before getting assistance.

Drug tests cost money. People who need welfare don’t have money. Forcing people to pay to get welfare means they won’t get it. It’s basically a poll tax on welfare.

I bet a lot of Republicans are kicking themselves right now. “Of course that’s how you starve needy children! Charge their mothers a fee to get welfare! Why didn’t we think of that?!”



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« Reply #4483 on: Feb 08, 2013, 09:55 AM »


North Dakota Senate approves ‘fetal personhood’ amendment

By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, February 7, 2013 19:24 EST

The Senate of North Dakota approved a measure on Thursday that would outlaw abortion by defining a fetus as a person.

“North Dakota is leading the way for equal rights and protections for all human beings,” Jennifer Mason, spokesperson for Personhood USA, said. “After the struggles to pass life-affirming amendments in the Senate in the past four years, we are very pleased that the North Dakota Senate has chosen to protect all living human beings. This is a historic day in North Dakota.”

The proposed amendment to the Constitution of North Dakota states, “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”

The bill still needs to be passed in the state’s House and ratified by voters during the general election in 2014. Similar proposed amendments in Colorado, Ohio, Mississippi, and Oklahoma have been rejected in recent years.

“Politicians in North Dakota are wasting taxpayer time advancing what would no doubt become another divisive constitutional amendment with dangerous unintended consequences for North Dakota families,” said Sarah Stoesz of Planned Parenthood.

“Planned Parenthood will continue to fight these legislative attacks on women’s health in partnership with a broad coalition of doctors, patients, teachers, lawyers and other concerned North Dakotans who do not want to see politicians inserting themselves into the private medical decision-making of women and families in our state.”


KKK rallying ‘thousands’ after Memphis parks drop Confederate names

By David Edwards
Friday, February 8, 2013 9:16 EST

A Ku Klux Klan leader named Edward, who goes by the title “KKK Exalted Cyclops,” is promising the “largest” rally in Memphis history after the city decided to remove Confederate names from three parks.

In an 9-0 vote on Tuesday night, the Memphis City Council approved temporary names for three Confederate-themed parks. Forest Park will become “Health Sciences Park,” Confederate Park will be called “Memphis Park” and Jefferson Davis Park will get the name “Mississippi River Park.”

On Thursday, the KKK Exalted Cyclops told WMC-TV that his group had started planning its response before the City Council even voted.

“You’re going to see the largest rally Memphis, Tennessee has ever seen,” he promised. “It’s not going to be 20 or 30, it’s going to be thousands of Klansmen from the whole United States coming to Memphis, Tennessee.”

The KKK’s rally is expected to be held in the newly-renamed “Health Sciences Park.” Confederate Army lieutenant general Nathan Bedford Forrest, for whom the park was originally named, was elected to the post of KKK grand wizard after returning from the war.

The Memphis City Council acted quickly to change the park names because two state lawmakers have proposed the “Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2013,” which would prevent local governments from changing the name of any “statue, monument, memorial, nameplate, plaque, historic flag display, school, street, bridge,building, park preserve, or reserve which has been erected for, or named or dedicated in honor of, any historical military figure, historical military event, military organization, or military unit.”


February 7, 2013

Some States Push Measures to Repel New U.S. Gun Laws


DENVER — A tide of anger at Washington’s gun-control efforts is sweeping through statehouses from South Carolina to North Dakota, taking the form of laws that would let states ignore — or at least resist — any new national gun restrictions.

Lawmakers in at least 15 states have introduced bills that would nullify any new efforts to further restrict access to guns or high-capacity magazines within their borders. Some have provocative language calling for states to arrest and prosecute federal agents who dare to enforce new firearms regulations.

Some of the measures have died quietly or been voted down amid concerns they are unconstitutional. Others are moving along with support from rural pro-gun Republicans, who say their constituents are threatened by Washington’s push — however halting and uncertain — for stricter gun laws.

Quixotic as they may be, the nullification moves reach back to John C. Calhoun and the antebellum South, and tap a deep frustration with what conservative lawmakers call Washington’s intrusion on the rights of states and gun owners. The spirit, while more muted, echoes the state-level backlash to President Obama’s health care law in 2010.

“It’s about citizens having the ability to be armed to protect themselves in their homes,” said Casey Guernsey, a Missouri state representative and hunter who holds an annual coyote shoot in his district as a charity fund-raiser. His bill to block any new gun laws has 60 co-sponsors in the state’s Republican-controlled House and is likely to come up for a hearing next week, he said.

“We aren’t here to do the bidding of the federal government,” he said. “Whenever they go out of bounds, it’s our responsibility to step up.”

They are supported by states’ rights groups like the Tenth Amendment Center (named for the Constitutional provision that grants power to the states and people), and have allies among the scores of rural sheriffs who are objecting to new gun laws.

In Wyoming, home to some of the country’s least restrictive gun regulations, a bill to exempt the state from any new gun-control laws sailed through the Republican-controlled House by a vote of 46 to 13 and is now headed to the State Senate.

The measure, called the Firearm Protection Act, declares that any new gun-control laws or executive orders that ban semiautomatic weapons or limit ammunition clip sizes are “unenforceable” in Wyoming. Any federal agent who tries to enforce gun-control measures would be guilty of a felony punishable by five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. It also allows the state’s attorney general to defend Wyoming residents prosecuted for violating federal gun laws.

“I don’t want to see federal agents arrested. That’s not the goal,” said Representative Mark Baker, a Republican from southwest Wyoming. “It gives us a way to challenge them.”

Republicans sponsoring the legislation say they have been flooded with e-mails from their constituents praising the effort. The clamor for new gun laws after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut has gratified many Democrats and politicians in heavily Democratic cities, but it is a creeping shadow in rural areas, where hunting and shooting are badges of identity as much as weekend diversions.

“Our citizens are very nervous,” said Andrew G. Maragos, a North Dakota representative supporting a measure that would prevent any state employees — like police officers — from enforcing new national gun laws. “Our culture is tied to guns. We’re hunters. We have the best hunting in the world. The mere idea of any kind of restriction just makes them nervous.”

Even in Wyoming, the nullification law faces a hazy future. Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, has raised concerns about putting the state’s police officers and sheriffs at loggerheads with federal agents charged with enforcing federal gun laws. Legal experts and even lawyers for solidly Republican legislatures have warned that the Constitution’s supremacy clause would allow federal gun laws to override any state measures.

Montana is an instructive example of the challenges these states face.

Three years ago, the state passed the Firearms Freedom Act, declaring that any guns manufactured and owned entirely inside the state were off-limits to the reach of federal laws. Gary S. Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, spent years pushing for the law. Once it passed, he asked the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives whether, without a federal license, he could now go into business making a bolt-action rifle for young shooters — the Montana Buckaroo.

No way, the agency told him.

Mr. Marbut sued, saying their denials flew in the face of Montana’s law. His case is to be heard in March before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In Wyoming, Representative Kendell Kroeker, a Republican from Casper who introduced the state’s nullification bill, said he welcomed a court fight.

“I would much rather have that challenge now, rather than when they show up to take citizens’ guns away,” Mr. Kroeker said. “Let it be decided in the courts before it comes to bloodshed.”


February 7, 2013

For Democrats in G.O.P.-Led House, a New Congress Means Some New Muscle


LEESBURG, Va. — After more than two trying years in the political wilderness, House Democrats who gathered here for their annual retreat are starting to appreciate a new political reality that few of them expected: They matter.

It is one of the more notable aspects of the current House of Representatives, which is still controlled by Republicans and more deeply partisan than ever. With Democrats now in control of 200 seats, a handful more than they had in the last Congress, and Republicans often sharply split on big issues like spending and taxes, Democratic votes have been decisive in getting major legislation through the House.

Other issues that are equally threatening to Republican unity like gun laws and immigration changes will likely be on the agenda early this year, giving Democrats what they hope will be an even bigger opportunity to play a pivotal role both in shaping legislation and in deciding its fate.

So far this year, two major bills — the multibillion dollar Hurricane Sandy aid package and the fiscal compromise that let tax rates on high-earners rise — have made it through the House without a majority of Republicans voting yes. That left Democrats as the ones who provided the needed votes.

Before that, the last time a bill passed the House with a minority of the majority party behind it was in 2009. And even before then, it was an extremely rare occurrence.

“It was somewhat of a pleasant surprise,” said Representative Joseph Crowley, Democrat of New York, “that the minority votes have relevance.”

Mr. Crowley, the vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said he anticipated that the pattern would repeat itself because Republicans would continue to struggle to find consensus. “Some of these items are going to be difficult for their caucus,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

In his remarks to the Democrats who gathered here on Thursday, President Obama recognized the legislative partnership he hopes to have with House Democrats moving forward.

“We got a lot of work to do,” the president said, pointing to the lessons from his first term. “What I’ve learned over the last four years is that it won’t be smooth, it won’t be simple; there will be frustrations, there will be times where you guys are mad at me.” But he added that he expected Democrats to “continue the extraordinary progress that we’ve made already.”

Representative Steve Israel, the New Yorker who leads the Democrats 2014 House campaign efforts and also held the job in the last election cycle, said party members felt buoyed by its their suddenly larger role. “We are, I think, more powerful than we’ve been since 2005,” he said. “We’re more united. We feel empowered.”

Their relevance is thanks in large part to an unlikely ally: Speaker John A. Boehner. Mr. Boehner has broken with Republican tradition by dispensing with one of the party’s unwritten tenets. It is known as the “Hastert Rule” for its chief adherent, former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who declared: “The job of speaker is not to expedite legislation that runs counter to the wishes of the majority of his majority.”

Mr. Boehner did this with the fiscal cliff compromise, which many members of his party opposed in part because it allowed tax rates to rise on people with high incomes and contained little in the way of spending cuts. One hundred fifty one Republicans — some two-thirds of their ranks — voted against the legislation.

With the Hurricane Sandy relief legislation, which many conservatives deplored as bloated with giveaways and far too expensive, 179 Republicans voted no.

There have also been some close calls. When the House voted last month to raise the nation’s statutory borrowing limit through May 18, 86 Democrats voted yes, providing a cushion so that 33 Republicans could vote no without bringing the bill down and handing Republican leaders a defeat.

One of the major choices Mr. Boehner could face this year is whether to allow immigration or gun control legislation to reach the floor even if there is strong dissent within his caucus. He has said that he is open to considering any gun measure the Senate passes. And he has also said that an immigration overhaul is a task this Congress needs to address.

Some Democrats said they were heartened by what they saw as the speaker’s pragmatism on these issues.

“There are a growing number of Republicans — and this is a very positive development by the way — who want to be seen as here to solve problems rather than force confrontation,” said Representative Peter Welch of Vermont.

Mr. Welch said he had seen other Republicans taking their cues from Mr. Boehner’s sudden openness to passing legislation with Democratic support.

“He’s made a practical assessment that they can’t hold this confrontational, in-your-face approach that they thought worked in the last Congress,” he said. “That gives license to the individual members to freelance.”

Derek Willis contributed reporting from Washington.
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« Reply #4484 on: Feb 09, 2013, 07:12 AM »

Russian court cancels two formal reprimands against jailed Pussy Riot member

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, February 8, 2013 11:41 EST

A Russian court ordered the cancellation Friday of two formal reprimands against a jailed Pussy Riot member, in a move her supporters hailed as a rare victory for the embattled punk band.

Maria Alyokhina, who is serving a two-year sentence in a prison camp over a protest against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s cathedral last year, went to court to contest reprimands meted out for transgressions including getting up late and being rude to prison staff.

A court in the Perm region where she is imprisoned cancelled two of Alyokhina’s four formal reprimands, but the others remain in place, court spokeswoman Yulia Medvedeva said.

The remaining reprimands mean Alyokhina, 24, cannot be released on parole.

Her lawyer Oksana Darova told AFP she would lodge a formal complaint about the remaining two reprimands.

Alyokhina and bandmate Nadezhda Tolokonnikova are serving two-year sentences for hooliganism motivated by religious hatred for singing a “punk prayer” against Putin in the country’s top church.

Court spokeswoman Medvedeva said the judge also ruled the prison service must correct its procedural violations in dealing with Alyokhina.

Alyokhina’s public defender, rights activist Alexander Podrabinek, said the deputy head of the labour colony had admitted in court to altering internal documentation in order to issue reprimands.

“In practice, this was a falsification, although he did not use this word,” Podrabinek told AFP.

Supporters hailed the result as a small but significant victory.

“This is a success, because even the slightest move in an inmate’s favour in any such political case is quite a significant rarity,” Podrabinek said.

“The court upheld Alyokhina’s right to change the prison system and publicly reprimand (prison) management,” the Voina (War) art collective closely affiliated with Pussy Riot wrote on Twitter.

Alyokhina said in court she wanted to defend her rights and those of her fellow inmates.

“I went to court for everyone who is powerless, everyone who is speechless, everyone who has been deprived of the right to speak by those who have been entrusted with power,” the outspoken activist said in court Thursday in comments posted on the Echo of Moscow radio station website.

She lambasted the camp’s rigorous daily regime, saying it was designed to break inmates and bring out their worst qualities.

“I believe that prisons reflect a general state of affairs in Russia. We all know what coercion, powerlessness and lawlessness is,” she said.

Alyokhina has said in an interview with opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta that she had met a local rights ombudsman and complained that inmates did not have warm winter clothes and had to wash in cold water.

She said she had received death threats over her activism from long-serving prisoners who she believes cooperate with prison authorities.

Soon after the interview, the punk band’s Twitter account said Alyokhina’s camp had received a “huge shipment” of warm head scarves.

The Voina art collective said that in the small Urals town where she is serving time, Alyokhina was turning into something of a local celebrity.

“Residents of Berezniki like to say with straight faces: ‘(First president) Boris Yeltsin went to school in our town and now Maria Alyokhina is serving time here.”

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