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« Reply #4575 on: Feb 14, 2013, 09:07 AM »

Obama's second term begins in earnest as he takes his pitch to the people

President kicks off three-day tour in effort to pressure Congress into passing measures aimed at lifting up US middle class

Chris McGreal in Washington, Thursday 14 February 2013 07.51 GMT   
Barack Obama has embarked on an effort to rally grassroots support for his ambitious second-term programme outlined in his state of the union speech, including a bigger role for government in uplifting the poor and strengthening the middle class.

In an effort to pressure Congress to act on his proposals, the president kicked off a three-day tour in North Carolina to whip up backing for the plans, which included a raise in the minimum wage.

Obama pledged on Tuesday to restore "the basic bargain" of prosperity for the bulk of Americans as well as to push immigration reform and some gun control measures.

The proposals had a mixed reception. Republicans denounced proposals to make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to obtain weapons, but gave a tentative welcome to immigration reform. They questioned whether the president can fulfill his promises without raising the national debt.

In a conference call with supporters immediately after the speech, Obama acknowledged that he would face stiff opposition in Congress to many of his proposals, particularly those involving the government in business.

"It's going to be tough. There's going to be resistance in Congress on some of these initiatives, but this is not about me. This is about us. Our success is going to depend on how well we'll work together not just here in Washington, but all across the country," he said.

But Obama won broad public approval for his speech, with more than half of TV viewers giving it a "very positive" reaction and nearly a quarter saying they felt "somewhat positive" about it, according to a CNN poll.

Obama put jobs and the economy at the heart of his speech with a call for the lower-paid to get a fair shake after years of wages falling in real terms while top earners have become richer.

"Let's declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets," he said.

The present minimum wage under federal law is $7.25 (£4.65) an hour, well below much of western Europe, although some US states set it higher.

Obama said that the government will step in where even minimum wage jobs are in short supply by directing money toward using the unemployed to renew infrastructure "like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country" and providing work "rebuilding vacant homes in run-down neighbourhoods". He said he will target "resources at public safety, education, and housing".

Republicans scorned the plans. Senator Marco Rubio, who the Republicans chose to give the response to Obama's speech, told PBS that there should not be such a thing as a minimum wage.

"We all support – I certainly do – having more taxpayers, meaning more people who are employed. And I want people to make a lot more than $9 – $9 is not enough. The problem is you can't do that by mandating it in the minimum wage laws. Minimum wage laws have never worked in terms of having the middle class attain more prosperity," he said.

There was particular scepticism that Obama can fulfill commitment to implement his plans without adding to the deficit.

Republican congressman Cory Gardner called the pledge "economic fairy dust" and accused the president of being "more interested in campaign-style rhetoric than actual solutions".

Congressman Steve Scalise, chairman of the conservative House Republican study group, was dismissive. "I think it doesn't pass the laugh test," he told CBS. "People realise the president promised to cut the deficit in half and it's more than doubled."

The president faces a looming fight over automatic budget cuts that will kick in on 1 March, slashing defence, education and government health spending unless a deficit reduction plan is agreed.

But there was more flexibility on the president's call for comprehensive immigration reform as the Republicans grapple with winning back Latino voters alienated by anti-immigrant legislation and hostile rhetoric from some Republican leaders.

Republicans and Democratic party members of Congress stood and clapped the president together when he called for greater fairness toward the estimated 11 million people undocumented aliens in the US.

Republican congressman Raul Labrador said: "I've always said that this is the one issue where maybe Republicans need to be a little bit softer. There's other areas like the budget spending all those areas where we need to stand firmly on our conservative principles but on immigration i think we can move and we have moved," he said.

However, there's likely to be a tough fight in Congress over the detail of legislation with some Republicans pushing for much tougher border controls and sanctions against people entering the country without authorisation in the future.

Obama made an emotional appeal for a measure of gun control following the massacre of 20 children at a Connecticut elementary school, noting that "in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun". Some members of Congress wore green ribbons in solidarity with the Newtown victims.

Democratic party congressman Steve Israel said many were moved by Obama's naming of some of the victims of gun violence. "That one moment where the president talked about the families of gun violence deserving a vote was one of most emotional moments that I have ever seen at a state of the union. And I hope we can translate that emotion into some common-sense reforms of our gun laws," he told NPR.

But a Republican congressman, Trent Franks, reflected some of the difficulties Obama will face in pressing gun control in the face of a powerful lobby.

"The truth is all of us are moved in our hearts on this issue. We all desperately want to protect our children and yet I saw almost nothing [in the president's speech] that would actually protect them," he said.


Why the consensual Barack Obama is becoming confrontational

The president knows Republicans aren't going to compromise, but can he get Americans to back him in the coming battle?

Martin Kettle   
The Guardian, Wednesday 13 February 2013 21.00 GMT

The recent school shootings shocked America to its core, setting off an anguished national debate. So the second-term Democrat in the White House felt bold enough to call for fresh gun laws in his state of the union speech. And, knowing that Congress was hostile, he decided to use the televised address to appeal over its head to the voters at home.

To give his message maximum impact, the president invited some of the parents of the murdered schoolchildren to sit in the galleries. So, when he reached the issue of guns, he gestured up to the emotional relatives and called on Congress to give them justice, knowing that even his most bitter opponents would have to applaud with respect.

That's what Barack Obama memorably did on Tuesday night, forcing even the most implacable congressional opponents of gun laws to stand and applaud the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old Chicago girl who was shot dead two weeks ago, two months after the Newtown school massacre. It was without question the emotional climax of Obama's speech, and it has already been much replayed.

But it's also precisely what Bill Clinton did in his state of the union speech 13 years ago. That was when, following the Columbine school shootings in Colorado in 1999, Clinton called for fresh gun curbs. At a key moment in his speech he too compelled a hostile Congress to rise, this time for the parents of Daniel Mauser, another senselessly slain 15-year-old whose death had transformed his grieving parents into gun law-reform campaigners.

The result of Clinton's powerful piece of political theatre, however, was a great big legislative nothing. In January 2000, Congress applauded, sat down, and was unmoved. From that day to this, US gun laws have been unchanged.

Clinton's failure does not prove Obama's reform will fail too. But it is a reminder it might. Obama has the votes for gun-law reform in the Senate, just as Clinton had. But the Republican-controlled House is hostile, now as before. Perhaps the re-elected Obama may have more political momentum in his favour than Clinton did in the aftermath of his partisan impeachment proceedings. And while sometimes history repeats itself, other times it doesn't.Looked at from abroad, it is tempting to see gun reform, seemingly so self-evident a reform to liberal Europeans, as a central issue for Obama's second term. This seems naive, for two closely connected reasons.

The first is the nature of the Republican congressional majority in Washington. Elected on the same day as Obama was re-elected to the White House, the Republicans owe their majority to the intense gerrymandering of congressional districts by Republican controlled state legislatures after 2010. As a result of it, while the Democrats won the popular vote in the House of Representatives by a margin of 1.4m votes in November, the Republicans won a clear majority of 33 in seats. In several states won by Obama, the Republicans took the lion's share of congressional seats by these means – for instance, 13 out of 18 in Pennsylvania, 12 out of 16 in Ohio and eight out of 11 in Virginia.

This means, as Michael Tomasky recently argued, that larger than usual numbers of Republicans in the current Congress represent districts that Democrats have little chance of winning. Only 15 Republicans out of 234 sit for districts that Obama won in 2012. As a result, they are under less pressure to behave in a moderate way and under much greater pressure to please the Republican right. As Tomasky points out, it all adds up to a political structure within the Republican party that rewards obstruction and regards compromise with Obama not as reasonable trading but as treachery.

That is likely to mean bad news for gun-law reform or for the climate change agenda, which also loomed large in Obama's speech. But these feel like second-order issues for the second term. Obama's speech covered a vast array of subjects, but it concentrated on very few of them. There was little of significance on foreign policy, for instance, with the striking exception of a US-EU trade deal – which anti-European Tories should reflect on very carefully.

But the big issue is federal spending. This is the subject that makes both sides get out of bed. For Obama, as the speech made clear, it means stimulus, investment in infrastructure, and taxing the rich. For the Republicans it means cutting the federal government, except defence spending, with large spending cuts and lower taxes. Two fundamentally different ways of looking at the economy and the role of government are locked in a battle for supremacy that was not, as it now turns out, resolved at the ballot box in November.

For both sides, March's second round of the battle over federal spending is now front and centre. Obama may win some sort of limited victory in March, just as he won the earlier contest at the top of the so-called fiscal cliff in the new year. Whether it will be a conclusive victory, defining the course of governmental action for the rest of his presidency and beyond, is even less predictable. But this week's speech matters because it was his biggest opportunity to shape that confrontation.

Obama's great unresolved problem is how to translate his electoral victory into effective and sustainable legislative action. His underlying problem is that American democracy, as the political scientist David Runciman argued in a powerful London Review of Books lecture this week, is in the kind of crisis from which it has normally only been able to extricate itself in time of war or depression. But what kind of times does America currently live in? The leitmotiv of Obama's speech was that it is time to get important but actually quite modest things done. But the constitution is not on his side, and American voters may not be as resolutely committed to him as he wants either. Energising them about gun control is a means to that larger end.

Judged by the two big speeches of his early second term, the second inaugural and the state of the union, Obama believes two big things. First, that the American mood is swinging back towards the need for government-driven solutions rather than laissez-faire individualistic ones. Second, that the Republicans will not compromise and so will only budge under pressure of public opinion. These convictions are increasingly driving this most instinctively consensual president towards confrontation and the strengthening of presidential power. The great unknown is whether Americans accept that things are serious enough to back him through the battles ahead.

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« Reply #4576 on: Feb 14, 2013, 09:09 AM »

February 13, 2013

Obama Bid for Europe Trade Pact Stirs Hope on Both Sides


BERLIN — President Obama’s call for a free-trade agreement between the United States and the European Union has unleashed a wave of optimism on both sides that a breakthrough can be achieved that would lift trans-Atlantic fortunes, not just economically but politically.

Experts cited tough economic times on both sides of the Atlantic and a perceived need among European leaders for a cause to unify their frayed union as major reasons that an agreement might be reached now, where past efforts have failed. But an even greater consideration, they said, was the growing economic might of China.

“There will be an agreement in the end,” said Claudia Schmucker, head of the globalization and world economy program at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “This will be the first time in 20 years where something can happen.”

Proponents hope that a comprehensive trade agreement will not only raise economic growth, but also lower prices for European and American consumers and give new impetus to a relationship that has lacked forward momentum almost since the end of the cold war. Talks could begin in late May or early June.

Negotiations are not expected to be easy, with entrenched interests, especially in protected sectors of the agriculture industry, fighting to maintain their subsidies and preferences. European consumers have rejected the kinds of genetically modified crops that are commonplace in the United States but are known across the Atlantic as Frankenfoods.

Nevertheless, Mr. Obama’s announcement was applauded by leading politicians and business groups in Europe, especially here in Germany, and so far the news has not provoked the instant union opposition in the United States that free-trade talks with underdeveloped, low-wage countries do.

Trade experts agreed that several new factors had converged to make an agreement more likely. The economic stagnation on both sides of the Atlantic has heightened the awareness that a prod to growth is needed. In a Democratic administration, free-trade agreements are much easier to reach with higher-wage, unionized countries like those in Europe that do not spook trade unions. And the cross-pollination between American and European companies, as in the auto sector, also is expected to blunt opposition from labor groups.

But China may present the single most compelling factor. There is an increasing awareness that to deal with the challenge of China’s rapidly growing economy, Europe and the United States will have to learn to cooperate better.

“In every trade negotiation that I know of between Europe and the U.S., China is on their minds in terms of how can we use trade negotiations to better compete,” said Jeffrey J. Schott, a senior fellow working on international trade policy at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

While trade deals often take years to negotiate, a senior Obama administration official said that a pact is possible in as little as 18 months — before the terms of the current European commissioners end. Even so, trade experts with experience from previous rounds say they are acutely aware of how often negotiations begin with optimism and grand plans and end with intractable fights between vested interests.

Karel De Gucht, the European Union’s trade commissioner, said completing a trade pact could take two years. In an interview, he said that a deal “will have a worldwide impact.” The talks were “about our place, and by our place I mean the United States and Europe, within a decade on the world economic scene,” Mr. De Gucht said.

Mr. Obama devoted a single sentence to the topic in his State of the Union address, but that was what proponents of a trade deal had been hoping for. His statement set the stage for talks to remove tariff barriers and regulatory hurdles between the United States and the European Union, which are already each other’s largest trading partners.

In his speech on Tuesday, Mr. Obama called the initiative the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, but the idea is an old one, much discussed during the Clinton administration under the name Tafta, something like a sequel to the Nafta deal.

Mr. Obama’s reference to talks about a possible free-trade pact with the European Union was a late addition to his State of the Union address, according to a senior administration official, because a working group of the United States and the European Union had sent recommendations to Washington only on Tuesday that the two sides were close enough on various issues to pursue talks toward a comprehensive free-trade agreement, rather than a more limited one.

That high-level working group has spent most of a year discussing whether the talks would cover just tariff issues, or also regulatory questions on environmental, pharmaceutical and automobile industry issues. The administration official, who declined to be identified, said the Europeans, being eager “for anything that looks like a growth strategy,” seemed “to be ready to take on some of the more difficult issues” like agriculture.

There had been some frustration among supporters of a deal that more progress was not being made. “We’ve had 20 years of failure on these trans-Atlantic initiatives,” Mr. Schott said, adding, “Before they signed on the dotted line they wanted to make sure there weren’t any potholes that would trip them up.”

Tariffs on goods traveling between the United States and Europe are low, averaging about 3 percent, but proponents say that the savings from eliminating duties would still be significant because the volume of trade is so enormous. Trade in goods between Europe and the United States totaled $646 billion last year, according to United States government figures.

On Tuesday, two powerful American senators on the committee that would consider any draft trade agreement before it could get a Senate vote, warned that any deal must open Europe to American farm products.

Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the highest-ranking Republican on the committee, wrote that a trade deal presented an “enticing opportunity” in a letter to Ron Kirk, the United States trade representative. European leaders, including Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, have been pushing for a trade deal as a low-cost way of stimulating their struggling economies. The United States Chamber of Commerce and large companies like General Electric have also lobbied for an agreement.

Potentially more important than abolishing tariffs, but also much more complicated, would be a deal that harmonized regulations on products like food, cars, toys and pharmaceuticals. Automobile manufacturers would like to see agreement on safety and emissions standards for cars, reducing or eliminating the need to build different versions for the American and European markets.

Matthias Wissmann, head of the German Association of the Automotive Industry, said that harmonizing safety features would save several hundred dollars per automobile. Mr. De Gucht, who is expected to lead the talks on the European side, said that a deal could provide vital leverage over emerging powerhouses like China.

Nicholas Kulish reported from Berlin, and Jackie Calmes from Washington. James Kanter contributed reporting from Brussels, Jack Ewing from Frankfurt, and Brian Knowlton from Washington.

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« Reply #4577 on: Feb 14, 2013, 09:11 AM »

02/13/2013 06:06 PM

Divided Europe: Car Industry Winners and Losers Drift Apart

By Dietmar Hawranek

A two-tiered industry is emerging among European automakers. While German brands BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen are reporting record profits, competitors Opel, Peugeot, Renault and Fiat are struggling to survive.

The word "blood" is often mentioned in connection with the crisis in the European automobile industry, a sector that accounts for about 12 million jobs.

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, for example, complains that German carmaker Volkswagen is creating "a bloodbath" among its competitors with discounts. And French Minister of Industrial Renewal Arnaud Montebourg announced that France will fight "to the last drop of blood" for its industrial sites.

In fact, most European automakers are seriously wounded. In 2012, car sales in Europe reached their lowest level in 17 years. Sales have declined by 25 percent since 2007 alone, and there is no improvement in sight.

Mass-market carmakers Opel, Ford, Renault, Peugeot and Fiat are running at a loss in Europe, with their plants often operating only at half capacity. Ford is closing two auto plants in Great Britain and one in Belgium. Peugeot plans to shut down its plant near Paris and Opel is closing a production facility in the western German city of Bochum.

Widening Gap

So far, so bad. But from the standpoint of the affected companies, what makes their decline doubly vexing is the fact that some companies are actually doing well.

At the top of the list are the German competitors : the VW Group, BMW and Daimler. Together, they are selling more cars than ever before, despite the weak European market. And then there is Korean carmaker Hyundai, which is coming at the French and Italians from the outside.

The automobile industry remains a growth sector worldwide, despite the economic crisis in the southern European countries, as well as the loss of interest in cars among many Europeans, for whom a motor vehicle is no longer a status symbol but a means a transport that can also be rented on an as-needed basis.

Demand is growing in China, India, Russia, Brazil and many other markets outside Europe. About 70 million vehicles were sold worldwide last year, and sales are expected to increase to 90 million by 2020.

The German and Korean manufacturers are benefiting from this development. They have had a presence in these growth markets for some time. In most cases, this involves more than just a distribution network to sell imported vehicles, but also having their own production facilities.

The gap between the winners and losers continues to widen, creating a divided Europe in the automobile industry. Some companies are raking in billions, while others suffer losses that threaten to drive them out of business. And when a European politician and a CEO mention blood in this situation, nationalism is never far away.

A Simple Recipe

French Industry Minister Montebourg claimed that workers at Hyundai and its sister brand Kia are striking in Korea against a 12-hour day. The French, he said, would be "participating in a form of social cruelty by buying Hyundais or Kias."

The French government even called upon the European Commission to monitor auto imports from Korea. According to Montebourg, imports have risen sharply since a free-trade agreement reduced customs duties.

The French move is nothing more than a diversionary tactic, because only 12 percent of the cars Hyundai sells in Europe are from Korean factories. Hyundai already produces more than half of its vehicles at its plant in the Czech Republic. Clearly tariffs are hardly going to deter the Korean competitor.

The Koreans' success is not based on unfair competition, but on a simple recipe: They build good cars at affordable prices. A five-year warranty at Hyundai and a seven-year warranty at Kia help dismantle preconceptions about poor quality among the Korean automakers.

Peugeot, Fiat and Opel lack the right models. Even worse, for years the management of these companies neglected to globalize their brands.

They can hardly make up for lost time in the midst of an economic crisis. Building a distribution network in China, for example, takes years and costs several hundred million euros. But high losses are instead forcing the companies to curtail their investments. As a result, the companies that are in crisis can do nothing more than try to slow their decline.

Prime Targets

Under these circumstances, it is almost understandable that they are attacking their successful competitors. In addition to Hyundai, VW is a prime target for attacks from France and Italy. The French weekly news magazine L'Express printed the headline "VW über alles," an allusion to the opening words of the German national anthem that were used under the Nazis.

"This worries me," says VW CEO Martin Winterkorn in a SPIEGEL interview. Volkswagen hopes to be the world's largest automaker by 2018. While competitors close plants, VW is opening new ones in China, Russia and Mexico. The New York Times recently praised the German company for its thriving US business.

Other automakers are discontinuing deeply traditional brands, like Saab. The VW Group has now assembled eight car brands (Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Seat, Škoda, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti), three truck manufacturers (MAN, Scandia and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles) and one motorcycle maker (Ducati) under one corporate roof.

VW still has plans to establish a low-cost brand to produce basic cars for developing countries. And if competitor Fiat slides even further into crisis, Wolfsburg-based VW would even be interested in acquiring its subsidiary Alfa Romeo, to the chagrin of Fiat CEO Marchionne, who has repeatedly said: "Alfa Romeo is not for sale." He would love to see a merger between Fiat and Peugeot or Opel to combat Volkswagen, but neither company is interested.

Fighting the Image Battle

Nevertheless, VW can't be indifferent to the resentment that is being stirred up in France and Italy. It could harm the company's image and thus put a dent in car sales. "The worst thing that can happen to someone who is successful is that he is hated," says VW CEO Winterkorn. He doesn't want his company to acquire a reputation for mowing down the competition.

Winterkorn is taking a friendlier approach instead. For instance, when VW executive Karl-Thomas Neumann was hired as Opel's new CEO, Winterkorn allowed him to withdraw from his contract prematurely.

As a result, Opel doesn't have to wait until the end of June for its new chief executive to assume office. VW also declined to file a complaint with the European Union when the French government granted Peugeot's in-house bank more than €7 billion ($9.4 billion) in loan guarantees. The German automaker could have denounced the move as a case of illegitimate government assistance.

Even VW Group Supervisory Board Chairman Ferdinand Piëch is taking a reserved approach. When he was asked to comment on Fiat CEO Marchionne's predictions of a bloodbath in the European automobile market, Piëch merely said: "It won't be bloody for us."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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« Reply #4578 on: Feb 14, 2013, 09:17 AM »

Secret funding network pushed climate change denialism, opposed environmental regulations

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Thursday, February 14, 2013 9:04 EST

Anonymous billionaires donated $120m to more than 100 anti-climate groups working to discredit climate change science

Conservative billionaires used a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120m (£77m) to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change, the Guardian has learned.

The funds, doled out between 2002 and 2010, helped build a vast network of thinktanks and activist groups working to a single purpose: to redefine climate change from neutral scientific fact to a highly polarising “wedge issue” for hardcore conservatives.

The millions were routed through two trusts, Donors Trust and the Donors Capital Fund, operating out of a generic town house in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. Donors Capital caters to those making donations of $1m or more.

Whitney Ball, chief executive of the Donors Trust told the Guardian that her organisation assured wealthy donors that their funds would never by diverted to liberal causes.

“We exist to help donors promote liberty which we understand to be limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise,” she said in an interview.

By definition that means none of the money is going to end up with groups like Greenpeace, she said. “It won’t be going to liberals.”

Ball won’t divulge names, but she said the stable of donors represents a wide range of opinion on the American right. Increasingly over the years, those conservative donors have been pushing funds towards organisations working to discredit climate science or block climate action.

Donors exhibit sharp differences of opinion on many issues, Ball said. They run the spectrum of conservative opinion, from social conservatives to libertarians. But in opposing mandatory cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, they found common ground.

“Are there both sides of an environmental issue? Probably not,” she went on. “Here is the thing. If you look at libertarians, you tend to have a lot of differences on things like defence, immigration, drugs, the war, things like that compared to conservatives. When it comes to issues like the environment, if there are differences, they are not nearly as pronounced.”

By 2010, the dark money amounted to $118m distributed to 102 thinktanks or action groups which have a record of denying the existence of a human factor in climate change, or opposing environmental regulations.

The money flowed to Washington thinktanks embedded in Republican party politics, obscure policy forums in Alaska and Tennessee, contrarian scientists at Harvard and lesser institutions, even to buy up DVDs of a film attacking Al Gore.

The ready stream of cash set off a conservative backlash against Barack Obama’s environmental agenda that wrecked any chance of Congress taking action on climate change.

Those same groups are now mobilising against Obama’s efforts to act on climate change in his second term. A top recipient of the secret funds on Wednesday put out a point-by-point critique of the climate content in the president’s state of the union address.

And it was all done with a guarantee of complete anonymity for the donors who wished to remain hidden.

“The funding of the denial machine is becoming increasingly invisible to public scrutiny. It’s also growing. Budgets for all these different groups are growing,” said Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace, which compiled the data on funding of the anti-climate groups using tax records.

“These groups are increasingly getting money from sources that are anonymous or untraceable. There is no transparency, no accountability for the money. There is no way to tell who is funding them,” Davies said.

The trusts were established for the express purpose of managing donations to a host of conservative causes.

Such vehicles, called donor-advised funds, are not uncommon in America. They offer a number of advantages to wealthy donors. They are convenient, cheaper to run than a private foundation, offer tax breaks and are lawful.

That opposition hardened over the years, especially from the mid-2000s where the Greenpeace record shows a sharp spike in funds to the anti-climate cause.

In effect, the Donors Trust was bankrolling a movement, said Robert Brulle, a Drexel University sociologist who has extensively researched the networks of ultra-conservative donors.

“This is what I call the counter-movement, a large-scale effort that is an organised effort and that is part and parcel of the conservative movement in the United States ” Brulle said. “We don’t know where a lot of the money is coming from, but we do know that Donors Trust is just one example of the dark money flowing into this effort.”

In his view, Brulle said: “Donors Trust is just the tip of a very big iceberg.”

The rise of that movement is evident in the funding stream. In 2002, the two trusts raised less than $900,000 for the anti-climate cause. That was a fraction of what Exxon Mobil or the conservative oil billionaire Koch brothers donated to climate sceptic groups that year.

By 2010, the two Donor Trusts between them were channelling just under $30m to a host of conservative organisations opposing climate action or science. That accounted to 46% of all their grants to conservative causes, according to the Greenpeace analysis.

The funding stream far outstripped the support from more visible opponents of climate action such as the oil industry or the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, the records show. When it came to blocking action on the climate crisis, the obscure charity in the suburbs was outspending the Koch brothers by a factor of six to one.

“There is plenty of money coming from elsewhere,” said John Mashey, a retired computer executive who has researched funding for climate contrarians. “Focusing on the Kochs gets things confused. You can not ignore the Kochs. They have their fingers in too many things, but they are not the only ones.”

It is also possible the Kochs continued to fund their favourite projects using the anonymity offered by Donor Trust.

But the records suggest many other wealthy conservatives opened up their wallets to the anti-climate cause – an impression Ball wishes to stick.

She argued the media had overblown the Kochs support for conservative causes like climate contrarianism over the years. “It’s so funny that on the right we think George Soros funds everything, and on the left you guys think it is the evil Koch brothers who are behind everything. It’s just not true. If the Koch brothers didn’t exist we would still have a very healthy organisation,” Ball said.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

[Image via Shutterstock]

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« Reply #4579 on: Feb 14, 2013, 09:22 AM »

02/14/2013 12:29 PM

Blocking the Neo-Nazis: Peaceful March Remembers Dresden Bombing

In the past, right-wing extremists have sought to dominate Dresden efforts to remember the World War II bombing of the city on Feb. 13, 1945. But on Wednesday night, a vast human chain blocked a planned neo-Nazi march while peacefully marking the tension-filled anniversary.

Thousands of people joined hands to form a human chain in Dresden Wednesday, blocking a planned neo-Nazi march and remembering the World War II bombing of the city 68 years before.

During the night of Feb. 13-14, 1945 Allied bombers began a violently destructive bombing campaign of Dresden, decimating wide swaths of the historic center of the city on the Elbe River, including its centerpiece, the protestant cathedral Frauenkirche, or "Church of Our Lady." An estimated 25,000 people were killed in the raid.

For years, neo-Nazis have used the anniversary of the bombing to march on the city. The bombing of Dresden holds great emotional significance for some because of the vast destruction of the city -- long admired for its beauty and cultural heritage -- and because of the number of people killed in the attack. It has often been instrumentalized by right-wing extremists to highlight what they see as Allied barbarity.

Keeping Neo-Nazis at Bay

Peaceful protesters have been gathering in Dresden in recent years in counter demonstrations to the neo-Nazi marches, and local politicians say they have been effective in keeping the right-wing presence down. Until just a few years ago there were an estimated 6,000 right-wing marchers in the city on the anniversary each year. This year police say there were between 600 and 800.

Several arrests were made Wednesday, and some 3,000 police officers from around Germany were on site. Two police officers received head wounds after being attacked by masked assailants, and were treated in a local hospital. For the most part, however, Wednesday evening's march was peaceful.

Thousands of the victims of the 1945 bombing were buried at the Heide cemetery, where local dignitaries held a moment of silence on Wednesday. Dresden Mayor Helma Orosz said Wednesday that the bombing was deeply ingrained in the city's memory, but stressed that Germany bore the blame for World War II.

Bells at the city's churches rang at 9:45 p.m. Wednesday, marking the time when the first bombs started falling 68 years before. Numerous churches held services and prayers for peace earlier in the day.

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« Reply #4580 on: Feb 14, 2013, 09:49 AM »

In the USA...

February 13, 2013

Extending a Theme, Obama Promotes Resurgence in U.S. Manufacturing


ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The day after President Obama charted an expansive new view of the government’s role in society, it seemed less and less likely that many of his proposals would survive the political riptide on Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday, as Mr. Obama took to the road and visited a Canadian engine-parts factory near here to sell his vision, Republicans and even some Democrats expressed doubt about whether plans to raise the minimum wage or provide universal access to prekindergarten would ever be enacted — especially on top of ambitious White House efforts on gun violence and immigration.

Mr. Obama chose a politically friendly corner of Republican-leaning North Carolina to promote the resurgence of American manufacturing, one of the central messages of a State of the Union speech that also included initiatives on education and energy.

“What’s happening here is happening all around the country,” Mr. Obama said against a backdrop of three hulking engine blocks. “Just as it’s becoming more and more expensive to do business in places like China, America is getting more competitive.”

The far-reaching nature of the president’s agenda took lawmakers from both parties by surprise, even though it built on his assertive Inaugural Address. Republicans, whose policies are focused on deficit reduction, reacted incredulously.

“It’s not like we’ve solved all of the problems we’re working on now so we have to be looking for other things,” said Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri. “The federal government taking over prekindergarten programs in America? The federal government deciding Washington, D.C., is the best place to administer elections? I don’t see it.”

Some Democrats counseled that the presidential wish list laid out Tuesday night should not be taken literally in a suspicious Capitol.

“You can disagree with the president, but you cannot say he has no vision, no dreams or aspirations for this country, and that’s what he was laying out,” said Representative Joseph Crowley, Democrat of New York.

Asheville was the first of three stops in a campaign-style swing that has become a tradition after the State of the Union speech. Speaking to a sympathetic audience of factory workers, Mr. Obama played up his proposed increase in the federal minimum wage, to $9 an hour from $7.25. “If you work full time,” he said, “you shouldn’t be in poverty.”

Yet even in stronger economic times, minimum wage increases have been heavy political lifts. The last increase passed in 2007, after Democrats swept to control of Congress, and even then it had to be tacked onto an Iraq war financing and Hurricane Katrina relief law.

Republicans swiftly rejected Mr. Obama’s latest attempt, saying it would only exacerbate the jobless rate.

“I’ve been dealing with the minimum wage issue for the last 28 years that I’ve been in elected office,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said to reporters on Wednesday. “And when you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it.”

Democrats, however, said that after a first term marked by failed outreach to Republicans, Mr. Obama appears intent on marshaling support outside of Washington to bring pressure to bear inside. That could yield different results from those of the last two frustrating years, said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York.

If nothing else, the president’s push gives Democratic senators something to do after they tackle gun violence and immigration. Democrats in the Senate and House said they would work together on a bill to raise the minimum wage to $10.10.

“I think the Senate is hungry to do things that will help the middle class,” Mr. Schumer said.

During his 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama proposed an even larger increase in the minimum wage, to $9.50 an hour. Jason Furman, the deputy director of the National Economic Council, said the net benefit to workers would be the same, or slightly greater, because of refundable tax credits that the administration granted to working families.

As he toured the factory, owned by Linamar of Canada, Mr. Obama showcased his goal of making the United States a magnet for manufacturing. Linamar, which makes parts for heavy-duty engines, recently opened its fourth American manufacturing plant here, taking over a closed Volvo construction equipment factory. The plant has hired 160 workers and plans to take on 40 more by the end of 2013.

“A few years ago, a manufacturing comeback in North Carolina, a manufacturing comeback in Asheville, may not have seemed real likely,” Mr. Obama said. “This plant had gone dark.”

Mr. Obama has a fondness for Asheville, a picturesque town of bookshops and bed-and-breakfasts in the shadow of the Blue Ridge. He vacationed here with his family, and mentioned that he and his wife, Michelle, mused about retiring here.

Voters in Asheville broke heavily for Mr. Obama over his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, making Buncombe County an island of blue in deeply red western North Carolina.

At the factory, south of Asheville, Mr. Obama reiterated his proposals for bolstering manufacturing, which include eliminating tax breaks for companies that move jobs overseas and offering incentives for them to build factories in the United States.

Among his new proposals is a $1 billion plan, modeled on one in Germany, to create a network of 15 institutes that would develop new industries. He extolled a pilot project in Youngstown, Ohio, that he said had turned a shuttered factory into a lab where workers are honing skills in three-dimensional printing.

Linamar’s decision to put its plant here in 2011 predated most of the president’s proposals, but officials said these ideas would encourage other companies to do likewise.

Mr. Obama boasted of his record in luring well-paying manufacturing jobs back home. “After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the last three,” he said.

He pointed to Ford, Caterpillar, Intel and Apple as examples of companies that had recently built plants or decided to make products in the United States after investing abroad.

The flicker of life in manufacturing is one of the more persuasive parts of Mr. Obama’s case that the country has made progress on his watch.

Even the return of manufacturing jobs shows some evidence of tailing off. The Labor Department said employment in the sector was flat in January and essentially unchanged since July.

Mr. Furman said the leveling-out reflected depressed growth rates in Europe because of the euro crisis, which hurt American exports, as well as uncertainties over the fiscal negotiations at the end of 2012. Both of these, he said, were only temporary brakes.

Still, after inspecting the factory floor, with its highly automated milling and lathe machines, Mr. Obama struck a realistic note.

“I want to be honest with you,” he said. “We’re not going to bring back every job that’s been lost to outsourcing and automation over the last decade.”

Mark Landler reported from Asheville, and Jonathan Weisman from Washington.


February 14, 2013

Details Emerge on Obama’s Call to Extend Preschool


President Obama’s call in his State of the Union address to “make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America” rallied advocates across the country who have long argued that inequity in education begins at a very young age.

In details that emerged early Thursday, the administration proposed that the federal government work with states to provide preschool for every 4-year-old from low- and moderate-income families. The president’s plan also calls for expanding Early Head Start, the federal program designed to prepare children from low-income families for school, to broaden quality childcare for infants and toddlers.

While supporters herald the plans as a way to help level the playing field for children who do not have the advantages of daily bedtime stories, music lessons and counting games at home, critics argue that federal money could be squandered on ineffective programs.

In the 2010-11 school year, the latest year for which data is available, 28 percent of all four-year-olds in the United States were enrolled in state-financed preschool programs, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.

According to W. Steven Barnett, director of the institute, which is based at Rutgers University, only five states, including Oklahoma and Georgia, have a stated objective of offering preschool slots to all 4-year-olds. While about 1.1 million students across the country are enrolled in federally financed Head Start programs and others attend private preschools, that still leaves millions of children on the sidelines.

The president’s plan would provide federal matching dollars to states to provide public preschool slots for four-years olds whose families earn up to 200 percent of the poverty level. President Obama would also allocate extra funds for states to expand public pre-kindergarten slots for middle-class families, who could pay on a sliding scale of tuition.

President Obama’s early education proposals come as a handful of states have been more aggressively pushing taxpayer-financed preschool.

In Alabama, for example, Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, has called for a $12.5 million increase — or more than 60 percent — in the state’s preschool budget, with the eventual goal of increasing financing over 10 years to the point where every 4-year-old in the state could have a preschool slot.

The governor’s proposal is supported by a coalition of early-education advocates and business leaders, who see preschool as an important component of future job readiness.

“We’re trying to invest in a work force that can compete in 20 years with other states and other nations,” said Allison de la Torre, executive director of the coalition, the Alabama School Readiness Alliance.

Alabama is one of only five states whose preschool program received top marks based on an assessment of its quality standards by the National Institute for Early Education Research, but only 6 percent of 4-year-olds there are enrolled in a state-financed preschool.

To receive state money in Alabama, a preschool must employ teachers with bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education or child development, keep class sizes under 20 children, and follow a state-approved curriculum. The Obama administration is proposing similar standards for its federal matching program.

At one of the state-financed sites on Wednesday, the Nina Nicks Joseph Child Development Center in Mobile, Tina Adair, the lead teacher in a class of 18 students, most of whom come from low-income families, helped Amiyah Wilson, 5, copy the words “Happy Valentine’s Day” onto a card for her mother. Elsewhere in the classroom, Donovan Smith, 5, and Henry Hinojosa, 5, used a scale to compare the weights of two loads of blocks.

Ms. Adair said that the children had plenty of time to paint, sing or play with dress-up clothes and toy trucks. But she said they were also preparing for kindergarten and beyond through letter and number games, science experiments and writing.

As a former middle-school teacher, Ms. Adair said she could tell when students have had academic preparation from an early age.

“As fast-paced as our public school system is right now,” she said, “any little advantage that they can get is a bonus.”

Advocates for early education frequently cite research on the long-term benefits of preschool, by James J. Heckman at the University of Chicago and others, showing a link to reduced crime rates, lower dropout rates and eventual higher incomes among those who attend preschool.

Critics say the federal government has already tested a national preschool program with Head Start. A national study sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services of 5,000 3- and 4-year-olds in 84 local programs found few lasting benefits by third grade.

“It’s one thing to say that there are a handful of small pre-K programs that may have had lasting and significant benefits,” said Andrew J. Coulson, director of the Cato Center for Educational Freedom, a unit of the Cato Institute, a conservative-leaning research organization. “It’s another to imagine that the federal government can scale them up nationally.”

But other education analysts say that Head Start, which receives about $7 billion in federal money annually, is hampered by inconsistent standards and low pay for teachers, who are typically paid less than public school educators.

“When I hear people say, ‘We’ve tried to replicate high-quality preschool programs, and it hasn’t worked,’ I always stop and say, ‘We haven’t yet tried to replicate high-quality preschool programs, because we haven’t yet tried to pay preschool teachers the same that we’re paying our K-12 teachers,’” said Lisa Guernsey, director of early education at the New America Foundation, a nonprofit and nonpartisan policy institute. “It’s pretty hard to imagine that we’re going to be recruiting great teachers if we’re paying them a poverty-level or just-above-poverty-level wage.”

The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Head Start, has started changing the program, including requiring local providers to compete for financing every five years and imposing structured evaluations on classrooms.

In a report released last week, the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning research organization, estimated that providing preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds would cost about $98.4 billion in federal spending over 10 years.

In Alabama, business leaders see the benefits of both educating future workers early and saving future potential spending on remedial schooling or prison cells.

“The evidence is, if we don’t make this investment and we don’t make it wisely,” said Bob Powers, president of a real estate and insurance company in Eufaula and chairman of the Education Workforce Development Committee of the Business Council of Alabama, “we’re going to pay for it later.”

Meggan Haller contributed reporting from Mobile, Ala.


February 13, 2013

On Immigration, Obama Draws Bipartisan Praise


WASHINGTON — President Obama’s nonconfrontational tone on an immigration overhaul in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night probably did more to advance the issue, lawmakers said, than if had he offered a fierce rallying cry, as he did about gun restrictions.

As senators gathered Wednesday for the first hearing on the proposed sweeping changes in immigration law, they said the president’s decision to give members of both parties room to maneuver on the delicate politics of immigration was a strategic choice that could pay off as negotiations continued.

“He’s walking a tightrope here, trying to allow Congress on a bipartisan basis to come up with a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the Senate,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. “He encouraged us, told us he doesn’t want this to drag on forever, and if we can’t get it done he’ll play more forceful role.”

Mr. Durbin, a member of a bipartisan group of eight senators working on an immigration bill, added, “The reason he’s on this tightrope is the Republicans don’t want to make it appear that they are bending to the president on this issue.”

Influential Republicans praised Mr. Obama as well. Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the party’s vice-presidential nominee last year, said the president’s tone on immigration was measured and constructive.

“I thought on immigration he used the right words and the right tone, which tells me he actually doesn’t want to politicize this, which is conducive to getting something done,” Mr. Ryan said.

Given their losses in the Congressional elections in November, Republicans in both the House and Senate have demonstrated a new openness to immigration changes that could lead to legal residency for millions who have entered the country illegally. At the same time, polls have shown that the president’s involvement in the debate decreases Republican support.

White House officials said the president was just as aggressive on immigration as he was on firearms, though his appeal for changes in gun laws was one of the emotional peaks of the night.

Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said immigration was “an issue on which we expect an outcome and we expect it soon.”

The president, who most recently laid out his own immigration principles in a January speech in Las Vegas, told Congress on Tuesday night that “the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.” It was a refrain he repeated several times to applause.

Mr. Obama proceeded to highlight what he believed are the three goals of any immigration deal — ensuring that the borders are secure, creating a meaningful path to citizenship, and overhauling the system to deal with legal immigration. But when talking about immigration, he seemed to lack the emotional resonance, not to mention the forceful call to action, that he exhibited when discussing gun control, where he exhorted the country to remember that all victims of gun violence “deserve a vote.”

Which may have been exactly the point.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, began his remarks at Wednesday’s hearing by thanking the president for his State of the Union comments on immigration.

“His remarks last night on immigration were just right,” Mr. Schumer said. “He importuned us to act, he stated how important it was to get this done for the future of America, but at the same time he did not make it a wedge issue. He made it clear that we had to act in a bipartisan way and gave us, in our little group, the space to come up with a bipartisan proposal, which we know is really our only hope.”

Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, and a member of the bipartisan group, said he had “no complaints — actually I thought it was good for the process.”

“If he were to be seen as leading the effort, it likely wouldn’t be that helpful,” Mr. Flake said. “But to say that he’ll sign the bill we put on his desk, that’s helpful.”

The hearing focused largely on border security and enforcement, with an entire panel devoted to just one witness — Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security. Ms. Napolitano said that border security was often used as an excuse to prevent meaningful changes.

But in a glimpse of the debate to come, Ms. Napolitano met resistance from key Republicans — including Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, the committee’s ranking member, and Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas — over enforcement. “I do not believe that the border is secure,” Mr. Cornyn said. “And I still believe we have a long, long way to go.”

The four Democratic senators in the bipartisan group — Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, as well as Mr. Durbin and Mr. Schumer — were to meet with Mr. Obama at the White House on Wednesday evening to discuss the group’s progress. They hope to introduce their legislation in March.

Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.


February 13, 2013

Senate Democrats, Accusing G.O.P. of Obstruction, Try to Force Hagel Vote


WASHINGTON — Accusing Republicans of a new level of obstruction, Senate Democrats moved on Wednesday to force a vote on President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense.

Mr. Hagel’s nomination was endorsed by the Senate Armed Services Committee along party lines on Tuesday. But with Republicans demanding more information before allowing a vote on Mr. Hagel by the full Senate, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, took procedural steps to limit floor debate on his nomination and bring the partisan clash to a head by Saturday.

“This is the first time in the history of our country that a presidential nominee for secretary of defense has been filibustered,” Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor. “What a shame. But that’s the way it is.”

Republicans, sensitive to the accusation that they were filibustering Mr. Hagel, tried to draw a distinction between a filibuster and delaying the vote because of unanswered questions.

“There’s nothing unusual about this,” said Senator James M. Inhofe, the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, who on Tuesday suggested without evidence that Mr. Hagel was “cozy” with Iran, an accusation that caused the committee meeting to erupt with Democratic outrage. “There’s not a filibuster,” he added.

Even if Republicans succeeded in dragging out the vote into the weekend, Democrats said they remained confident that he would be confirmed by Saturday because Republicans did not appear to have the 40 votes necessary to block the nomination. Such a move would be an extraordinary step, and one that Republicans seem wary of taking should they find themselves in the White House four years from now.

Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, meanwhile, said on Wednesday that he intended to try to block the nomination of John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s choice to be director of the C.I.A., until Mr. Brennan provides answers to questions he had on the scope and legality of the Obama administration’s drone operations. Democrats have also sought to extract more information from the White House about those operations.

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the Intelligence Committee chairwoman, said she expected to schedule a committee vote on Mr. Brennan’s nomination when the Senate returned from recess the week after next. She said that Mr. Brennan would make a “strong and capable C.I.A. director.”

According to the Senate’s historian, Donald A. Ritchie, only 5 percent of presidential cabinet nominees have been blocked or rejected by the Senate. Only twice since 1917, when the Senate’s modern filibuster rules were created, has a cabinet-level nominee been subject to a supermajority vote of 60, as Republicans are forcing with Mr. Hagel.

In the case of Mr. Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, the opposition is especially striking because senators have traditionally afforded their former colleagues a high level of courtesy. But many Republicans still nurse a grievance against Mr. Hagel for his opposition to the war in Iraq, and others have sought to make an issue of statements he has made on Israel and Iran. Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona want the Obama administration to provide information about the timeline of its actions on the day of the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, an episode that has become a point of conservative ire against the president.

When Mr. Hagel testified before the Armed Services Committee he was pummeled.

As Mr. Obama’s counterterrorism adviser, Mr. Brennan has been the chief architect of the administration’s drone policy, and his nomination has focused new attention on it. In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Mr. Obama said that he planned in the coming months to work with lawmakers to “ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remain consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.”

White House officials on Wednesday did not give any details about Mr. Obama’s plans for more transparency about the targeted killing program, which has long been shrouded in secrecy.

Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee have expressed frustration that the White House has not allowed lawmakers to read the legal memos, written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provide the justification for the targeted killing operations in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere and that have been expanded during the Obama administration.

The committee said that the Justice Department had written 11 secret legal memorandums related to the targeted killing of terrorism suspects but said the Obama administration had shown the committee only four of them.

Senator Feinstein did, however, provide new details about the extent to which her committee has been briefed by the administration about drone strikes.

“The committee has devoted significant time and attention to targeted killings by drones,” she said in a statement. “The committee receives notifications with key details of each strike shortly after it occurs, and the committee holds regular briefings and hearings on these operations” to review their basis and effectiveness.

She added that Intelligence Committee staff members had held 35 monthly oversight meetings with government officials “to review strike records (including video footage) and question every aspect of the program.”

Charlie Savage contributed reporting.


February 13, 2013

Calmly, Pick for Treasury Offers Replies to Senators


WASHINGTON — Jacob J. Lew, President Obama’s nominee for Treasury secretary, faced some fierce questioning on Wednesday from the Senate Finance Committee on his tenure at the bailed-out Citigroup and on an investment based in the Cayman Islands. But the even-tempered, bookish Mr. Lew parried the blows and appeared likely to win the committee’s approval and Senate confirmation.

“Frankly, I think you’ve done really well today,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the committee. “My gosh, I have nothing but respect for people like you who give yourself to our government.”

Many questions from Senate Republicans seemed intended to rankle or ruffle Mr. Lew and score some political points. Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina asked about the Benghazi attack in Libya. Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, referring to Mr. Lew’s lucrative but short time at Citigroup, commanded him to “explain why it might be morally acceptable to take close to a million dollars out of a company that was functionally insolvent and about to receive a billion dollars of taxpayer support.”

Mr. Lew calmly responded, “I was compensated for my work. I’ll leave for others to judge.”

He emphasized that he had worked in operations at Citigroup, albeit for a time at an investment unit that made proprietary trades on behalf of the bank.

“I was not in the business of making investment decisions,” he said. “I was certainly aware of things that were going on. I was working in a financial institution. I learned a great deal about the financial products. But I wasn’t designing them and I wasn’t opining on them.”

Aside from his time on Wall Street from 2006 to 2008, Mr. Lew has spent most of his career as a Democratic budget official — and the White House chose him in no small part for that experience. Much of his testimony focused on the trillion-dollar budget battle he would face immediately after becoming secretary. On March 1, automatic cuts to military and nonmilitary programs, known as the sequester, will start to take effect. Republicans and Democrats are both struggling to unwind or delay them, with hundreds of thousands of jobs at stake.

Mr. Lew said Congress needed to undo the sequester. He also said political dysfunction in Washington was threatening the real economy.

“The short-term-crisis, deadline-driven practices that we’ve seen over the last couple of years are undermining the economy,” Mr. Lew said. “It’s the first time in my nearly 30 years in public life that I felt that the actions of government were actually working against the goal of getting the economy moving.”

Mr. Lew also described tax reform as a top priority, with an eye to raising more money, lowering rates, reducing loopholes and generally rationalizing the code. He said cutting the tax rate on corporate income to 25 percent from its current 35 percent would be difficult. He also called for a minimum tax on foreign profits. And he said there was “room to work together” on creating a tax system in which income is taxed only in the country where it is earned, a change long sought by large American companies that operate around the world.

Over and over, Mr. Lew asserted his longtime budget bona fides and willingness to work with Republicans. “Working across the aisle while serving under President Clinton, I helped negotiate the groundbreaking agreement with Congress to balance the federal budget,” he said in his opening statement. He added that he had been involved in “almost every major bipartisan budget agreement over the last 30 years,” and that “the things that divide Washington right now are not as insurmountable as they might look.”

But as one of Mr. Obama’s main budget negotiators in the last few years, Mr. Lew has at times clashed with Republicans, particularly in the House. Former Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, not Mr. Lew, acted as a main negotiator during the talks over the automatic tax increases and spending cuts, the so-called fiscal cliff, that Congress cut a deal to avoid last month.

During the hearing, Republicans also targeted a money-losing investment Mr. Lew had made in a fund based in the Cayman Islands. Mr. Grassley noted that Mr. Obama had derided Ugland House, which provides an address for thousands of investment entities — including the fund Mr. Lew bought into — and said he saw some hypocrisy in Mr. Lew’s nomination, given the investment.

But the attacks seemed mostly tactical. “Jack Lew paid all of his taxes and reported all of the income, gains and losses from the investment,” said Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman. “There are no new facts that provide a basis for senators to reach a different conclusion about Mr. Lew’s nomination than they reached twice before in this administration.”

Some senators — including Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, and Bernard Sanders, the left-leaning independent from Vermont — have said they do not support Mr. Lew. But it seemed unlikely that he would face a filibuster that might delay his confirmation or end his candidacy.

“Mr. Lew has been confirmed by the Senate three times already,” Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Finance Committee, said in a statement released before the hearing, referring to Mr. Lew’s service in both the Obama and Clinton administrations. “I don’t expect there to be any reason why he should not be confirmed this time around as well.”


Republicans Don’t Want You to Know That Obamacare Is Working

By: Becky Sarwate
Feb. 13th, 2013

There’s a subtle story going around this week that you definitely won’t see covered on Fox News. You won’t hear Speaker John Boehner or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell discussing these results in their usual rote talking points about Obamacare and the socialist takeover of the country by the President’s policies. Between all the baying about the deficit, the budget and the huge negative impacts of the upcoming sequestration plan that will be implemented in the absence of fiscal resolution, if you blinked, you could almost miss the headline:

Slower Growth of Health Costs Eases U.S. Deficit

The New York Times ran this piece on Monday morning, and to be fair, it might have been difficult for anyone to focus what with Benedict XVI’s stunning announcement that he would be the first Pope in six centuries to resign his post. There’s also the President’s first State of the Union Address since winning re-election in 2012. It has undoubtedly been a busy news cycle and that will likely continue as we move through the week.

But come on! This is a big deal!According to the piece by writer Annie Lowrey, “A sharp and surprisingly persistent slowdown in the growth of health care costs is helping to narrow the federal deficit, leaving budget experts trying to figure out whether the trend will last and how much the slower growth could help alleviate the country’s long-term fiscal problems.”

Excuse me for asking this obvious, but isn’t this precisely what both political parties claim to be after? Going back to the 2008 Presidential campaign, then candidates John McCain and Barack Obama devoted near equal time to lamenting the spiraling costs of healthcare and its affect on deficit spending. Both men vowed to do something if elected. It seemed to be an issue that most Americans and politicos could get behind.

Then low and behold, early into his first term, Obama and the Democrats actually got something accomplished – with the GOP fighting them every step of the way. It wasn’t pretty. It was embarrassing and painful for almost everybody, and the end result was a far cry from the single payer system that many liberals badly desired. But in the end the Patient Protection and the Affordable Care Act was a huge pivot away from a throughly broken system that seemed to exist for the benefit of health insurance companies, rather than the sick and injured they were created to serve.

Republicans wasted no time decrying the Act as the largest increase in government bureaucracy since ___ (fill in the blank), a measure that would drive medical costs and the Federal deficit up rather than down. Through it all, Obama held steady, confident that history would have the final say.

It didn’t even take a leap year. Lowrey goes on to write, “In figures released last week, the Congressional Budget Office said it had erased hundreds of billions of dollars in projected spending on Medicare and Medicaid. The budget office now projects that spending on those two programs in 2020 will be about $200 billion, or 15 percent, less than it projected three years ago.”

President Obama is way too gracious a person to perform the “I told you so dance” on Capitol Hill to which he is richly entitled. So I will do it for him. BOOM!!! How’s that for change you can believe?

Here’s hoping the President and his team use this data to their advantage, to head naysayers and sycophants off at the pass who stand to gain much by protecting the status quo. As the POTUS seeks to take on a host of issues this calendar year that seem to draw crazies out of the woodwork (I’m thinking gun control and immigration), let this early data from the effects of health care reform empower him to keep doing what is right.


Obama’s Attack on Medicare Fraud Reaps Record Results for Second Year in a Row

By: Adalia Woodbury
Feb. 13th, 2013

We’re about to shoot down two Republican myths with a single post. First, the Obama Administration cut Medicare costs by attacking Medicare Fraud instead of attacking benefits.  Second, Government can do things, and do them well.

For years, the Republican Party claimed that benefits are the problem.  They tried to sell us several versions of coupon care and privatization while claiming that eliminating Medicare was the best way to protect it for future generations.

The Justice Department and Department of Human Services found a way to reduce Medicare costs without reducing benefits, without coupons and without privatizing it. Instead of attacking seniors access to healthcare, they attacked Medicare fraud, otherwise known as the means by which Florida’s Governor, Rick Scott became “a maker” in GOP speak.

According to a report on The Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Act Team’s (HEAT) performance released Monday,  for the second year in a row, Obama’s plan to attack Medicare Fraud reaped recording breaking results.

The Feds recovered $4.2 billion of taxpayers’ money last year from legal proceedings, settlements and penalties. In 2011, joint efforts to attack Medicare fraud resulted in a record of $4.1 billion dollars. That is compared to the $2.86 billion recovered in 2010 before Obama’s policies to attack Medicare Fraud existed.

In May 2012, Medicare Strike Force teams charged 107 people, including licensed health care professionals in seven cities, who were allegedly involved in schemes involving over $452 million in false billing.

In 2011, the same teams charged 115 people, including health care professionals, companies and executives for suspected participation in Medicare fraud schemes that involved over $240 million in false billing.  In another case, 91 suspects were charged for their alleged involvement in a Medicare fraud scheme that involved $290 million + in false billings.

According to the HHS’s press release :

    “A key component of HEAT is the Medicare Strike Force – interagency teams of analysts, investigators, and prosecutors who can target emerging or migrating fraud schemes, including fraud by criminals masquerading as healthcare providers or suppliers.”

The Department of HHS attributes success to HEAT and several additional steps President Obama’s Administration took to combat Medicare Fraud – including provisions in Obamacare.  That’s the law that Republicans spend almost as much time trying to destroy as they spend on trying to shield the rich from paying taxes.

Aside from establishing tougher sentencing and more jail time for Medicare fraudsters, recovering funds obtained by Medicare fraud is easier. In other words, it reduces Medicare costs without reducing benefits.

When the President told us that Obamacare reduces Medicare costs without touching benefits, he was honest.  Thanks to Obamacare, Medicare fraudsters will receive 20 to 50 percent longer sentences for crimes involving more than $1million dollars in lost taxpayer money. It also makes it more difficult for Medicare fraudsters to transfer their scams to another state or between Medicare and Medicaid.  Under Obamacare, if Medicare, Medicaid or a State terminates a scammer’s billing privileges, all other states must terminate their billing privileges.

Once again, the Republican Party is on the wrong side of policy.  Not only does their policy seek to deny Americans access to healthcare, it also makes the Republican Party soft on crime, namely Medicare Fraud.

If they really want to get rid of their image as the Party of Stupid, defending criminals over seniors isn’t the way to go.  Just sayin’.

Ironically, the HEAT report also shows once again that the Republican Party’s fiscal responsibility begins and ends with its rhetoric.


Obama Rolls Into North Carolina and Challenges Decades of Republican Minimum Wage Myths

By: Jason Easley
Feb. 13th, 2013

President Obama did something significant that could change the lives of millions today. In Asheville, NC, the president linked raising the minimum wage to creating jobs.

The president began by saying the economy is still not where it needs to be. He said it is our job as Americans to restore the basic bargain that says you can get ahead by working hard and meeting your responsibilities. Obama calls the middle class the true engine of our economic growth. The president repeated his three questions related to jobs in his State of the Union. He said, “That’s part of the reason why I said last night that it is time for an increase in the minimum wage.”

He discussed the role of expanding expanding education from pre-school to college. The president also said, “I believe in manufacturing. I think it makes our country stronger.” Obama talked about the recovery of manufacturing in Asheville.

Obama is challenging decades of Republicans lies and mythology centered around the false belief that raising the minimum wage destroys jobs.

Fox News has wasted no time in reviving the right’s false minimum wage myths:

What should be frightening for Republicans is that President Obama is subtly linking economic growth to increasing the minimum wage. A 2011 report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that increasing the minimum wage has no discernible impact on employment, and they found that raising the minimum is likely to result in more, not fewer, jobs.

The president’s speech focused on his plan to bring even more manufacturing back to the United States but included in that plan is acknowledgement that employees need to earn higher wages. Obama was linking the creation of new jobs to higher wages. The media has mostly ignored it, but one of the biggest reforms in Obama’s second term agenda is the push to raise wages for minimum wage workers.

This effort will likely be a centerpiece behind the Democratic push to retake the House next year. For the last few years, Republicans have floated the claim that lowering the minimum wage will increase employment. Paul Krugman debunked this by writing, “So let me repeat a point I made a number of times back when the usual suspects were declaring that FDR prolonged the Depression by raising wages: the belief that lower wages would raise overall employment rests on a fallacy of composition. In reality, reducing wages would at best do nothing for employment; more likely it would actually be contractionary.”

Most of the mainstream media isn’t getting it, but President Obama has stealthily launched an effort that could boost the economy and sink the Republicans.

The focus is on the big issues of guns and immigration, but it might be the minimum wage issue that impacts the most lives and determines the outcome of the 2014 election.


Most Americans Are No Longer Fooled By Republican Buzzwords and Dishonest Slogans

By: Rmuse
Feb. 13th, 2013

Perspective is the subjective evaluation of relative significance, or point of view, and unfortunately  it can be perverted depending on one’s veracity and grounding in reality. It is entirely possible for one to understand their perspective has no founding in reality, and yet still put forward an argument based on lies, buzzwords, and catch phrases in hopes their point of view, however faulty, makes sense to their audience. In the past, Republicans have had a measure of success convincing ignorant Americans their perspective on economic policy based on a pro-growth, anti-government agenda is the path to economic prosperity for all Americans, but after being exposed as abject failures and rejected at the polls, they cannot face reality that the people have come to understand their catchy slogans are as dishonest as they are contradictions.

In Republican parlance,  pro-growth means tax cuts for the rich and corporations, deregulation, and slashing government spending regardless the damage to the economy, and dreaded “big government” is any federal spending that is not relegated to defense or tax cuts for corporations and the rich. In the President’s brilliant State of the Union speech, he laid out a vision that incorporates everything Republicans hate and have opposed from his first day in office; so-called big government that means investing in infrastructure, jobs, education, clean energy alternatives, and maintaining Social Security and Medicare that are key to a strong economy. It is curious, but Republicans deplore big government unless it works to their advantage to deny Americans personal liberties such as women’s reproductive rights, gay rights, minority’s rights (voting rights), and freedom from fundamentalist religious tyranny.  However, big government aside, it is their pro-growth canard that will further retard economic growth and decimate the poor and middle class they now claim to hold in the highest regard.

Republicans fallacious esteem for Main Street America is belied by their “pro-growth” policies that, after thirty years, have reduced the middle class through wage cuts, job outsourcing, increased income inequality, and austerity in the form of education cuts, public sector job losses, and denying funding for infrastructure improvements. The push for austerity defies reason as one European nation after another that incorporated severe austerity suffers from slow, or no, growth and soaring unemployment, and yet it is the GOP’s sole remedy for creating jobs, growing the economy, and reducing the nation’s debt and deficit. A perfect example is the rapidly approaching sequestration cuts due to cripple the economy beginning on March 1st, and instead of working with the President to reach a balanced approach of new revenue and spending cuts, Republicans appear willing to let sequester cuts go into effect under the guise of pro-growth.

Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell is the latest high-ranking Republican to indicate no interest in doing anything to prevent sequester cuts. Yesterday McConnell said “I think we ought to keep the commitment we made, if the super-committee failed, these reductions (sequester) were made without raising taxes” referring to the President’s proposal to replace the cuts with a balance of new revenue and budget cuts. McConnell, like nearly all Republicans said, “It is pretty clear to me that the sequester is going to go into effect,” because as far as he is concerned, “the tax issue is over.” Another Republican, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn said, “We’re waiting for the president to tell us how he wants to avoid the sequester,” but they oppose scrapping tax breaks for the oil-and-gas industry and eliminating tax breaks and loopholes unique to the largest corporations. Their offer is replacing sequester cuts with Draconian cuts to social programs, and in lieu of President Obama capitulating social program austerity, Republicans will allow sequester austerity, or as they call it; “pro-growth.”

Republicans understand what it will take to foster economic growth, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, and create jobs that are intrinsic to a strong recovery, and they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the proposals the President conveyed in the State of the Union are the best approach to ensure prosperity for the nation and every American. Americans not mesmerized by the GOP’s buzzwords like “pro-growth” understand it was President Obama’s stimulus that saved the economy and staunched massive job losses, and his historically low spending is reducing the deficit and debt Republicans have made a priority to cut Social Security and privatize Medicare. However, they will be loath to consider any of the President’s proposals and are resolute to impose austerity whether by sequester or Draconian cuts and it informs their new-found regard for the middle class is as phony as their pro-growth agenda; because from their perspective, growth is for corporations and the rich, and austerity is for the people. If the economy crumbles like the nation’s infrastructure, then as Boehner says, so be it.


Panetta laments ‘meanness’ of U.S. politics

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 13, 2013 20:03 EST

Looking back at a long political career, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday lamented an increasingly bitter atmosphere in Washington, saying there was “too much meanness” on display.

His comments come amid a mounting budget crisis in a deeply divided Congress and after Republican lawmakers renewed threats to block the appointment of the man nominated to succeed Panetta at the Pentagon, former senator Chuck Hagel.

Panetta, who served for decades in Washington as an influential lawmaker before holding powerful posts under two Democratic presidents, said his only “disappointment” in his job as Pentagon chief was how Congress sometimes failed to play a constructive role.

“I always felt that — you know, that the leadership in the Congress and the leadership of whatever administration was involved here, that when it came to the big issues facing this country, that there was a willingness to work together to resolve those issues,” he told a news conference.

“There will always be party differences. There will always be political differences. There will be ideological differences,” he said.

“But there are also some lines that are there that make that process work, lines that involve mutual respect; lines that involve, you know, courtesy and a degree of respect for each other, despite whatever their decisions are.”

But traditions of courtesy and civility were “breaking down” among lawmakers, he said.

“It becomes too personal. It becomes too mean,” he said.

“Everybody’s got legitimate points, but there’s a way to express it in a way that compliments our democracy, doesn’t demean our democracy. And I think, you know, what you see on display is too much meanness.”

Panetta first entered politics as an aide to a Republican senator, Thomas Kuchel, in 1966, then served under president Richard Nixon in the Office for Civil Rights, before resigning over differences with the White House.

He left Washington and worked for New York City Mayor John Lindsay and later was elected as a Democrat to Congress from California, serving for 17 years.

During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Panetta served as budget director and later chief of staff. Under President Barack Obama, Panetta led the CIA from 2009 to 2011 and then served as defense secretary.


Look out Idaho, A New Herd of Paranoid Survivalists Are Heading to Your State

By: Dennis SF
Feb. 13th, 2013

Attention Idaho: You’re getting some new neighbors compliments of Citadel Land Development, already duly incorporated in your state.

Maybe as many as 7,000 incoming souls will be populating something called a developing community of Patriots. They’ll be guarding against those fed black choppers whirling overhead and that Kenyan gun control President of ours who clouds their every waking hour. Looming large in the distant Idaho Mountains is the figure of convicted felon, Christian Kerodin by way of the DC suburbs and 30 months in stir for a shopping mall shake-down protection racket.

But post-slammer, Kerodin is energized and convinced that he and a few lower-profile business colleagues have stumbled onto a potential bonanza to be headquartered in a yet to be determined mountainous section of Idaho.

Kerodin is the nominal head of the ” lll Citadel Project.” He’s also throwing in a gun manufacturing facility titled lll Arms for good measure. Apparently 20 acres have already been set aside for the latter. The lll Arms company has received permission from AFT to start putting their kill sticks together but are having trouble getting parts.

The parent lll Citadel Project is already accepting applications and money from patriots who want to get in the queue to have their wallets lightened.

Before you U-haul it to Idaho, a Citadel Patriot Agreement must be signed and included with an application prior to having even the slightest chance to hole up in a walled fortress. The agreement is made up of a preamble and 13 conditions that you must pledge to obey.

Here are samplings from 9 of the 13 conditions that apply to firearms imperatives or militia activities. Agreement two: Every able-bodied patriot, 13 and up must demonstrate proficiency with a rifle annually. A later agreement spells out the same requirement for a handgun.

Agreement four seems to be the most self-serving for the Citadel leadership. It reads in part; Every able-bodied Patriot of age within the Citadel will maintain one AR15 variant in 5.56mm NATO and at least 5 magazines of 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Guess who’s going to be selling AR15′s in the near future? Why it’s the Citadel affiliated lll Arms; that’s who.

Agreement eight mandates that all qualified Patriots pack an on-person loaded sidearm whenever visiting the Citadel Town Center. Again, guess who makes a 1911 semi auto sidearm? Yep! And it’s priced at $1,550 and up. Sort of mid-range as these pieces go, but still not cheap. You’re not required to buy a lll Arms pistol, but if I were you, I would.

In what seems like a lot of mandates for an anti-government crowd, here’s another one. Once a month Militia training is required for every household. Trainees are to be 13 or older. So, an ATF agent may have a 13-year-old draw an AR15 bead on his noggin while visiting the Citadel Project.

Agreement Ten calls for a twice a year “Full-Scale” Town Defense Drill.

So it’s all guns, all the time for the estimated 7,000 families on the Citadel wish list. Residents will lease their residence on a yet to be purchased 2,000-3,000 acre tract. A total of 640-1280 of those acres will be walled in. Locations are being scouted in the mountainous regions of Idaho.

It’s now online application time. When the agreements and the application are completed and you PayPal or Visa a $208 fee to corporate, you’re on your way. If approved and if and when this Fortress is ever built, you’re officially on the waiting list. If you’re not wacky enough to get selected, all but a $33 administration fee will be returned to your current address at the home. The real money sacrifice comes later when you lease your house (trailer?) from lll Citadel. No word on how much such a lease will set you back.

Are your feathered quill pens at the ready? Is your tri-corner cocked at a jaunty angle? Here are a few family secrets you’ll have to expose on the application. You’ll have to do all the routine stuff; name, address, family members and the like. And you’ll have to have to agree with the agreements of course.

You also have to promise to live in accordance with Thomas Jefferson’s “Rightful Liberty.” As idealistically defined on Citadel’s Website, “Rightful liberty” according to Jefferson, is “unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.” This is the edited version with only the first sentence in the answer. Missing is Jefferson’s next sentence; “I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’, because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.” Aha! The federal government as tyrant.

I suspect the full text of “Rightful Liberty” has been the extreme right-wing, survivalists and militia mantra all along. Google “Rightful Liberty” and you’ll get 3,190,000 hits. Interesting how it was coded into the Citadel application.

Immediately following the “Rightful Liberty” question, the application asks “Do you agree to abide Constitutional laws of the state of Idaho and the United States Government? Funny question for a project that I’m sure will claim virtual sovereignty.

You’re then asked if you’ve ever been associated with any racist or subversive organization. “Just a second; this Klan robe is getting in the way of my ‘no’ answer.” There’s no more welcoming state to Aryans than Idaho.

Some boilerplate questions follow. Do you want to farm, raise livestock, live inside or outside the walls of the compound? Those who are really attracted to this kind of oddball community are going to lie on virtually every question involving true intent. People who would pick up and relocate to Citadel nation hate blacks, despise the government and think guns are the answer to everything.

The only question the organizers are truly interested in isn’t even on the application; “Do you posses a bloated bank account?”

Pistol-packin’ Patriots should prepare for a long winter’s nap before hearing back from this crowd. At present Citadel doesn’t even pay staff who all work as volunteers. A number of contributors to a survivalist blog I recently read, questioned whether this project would ever get off the ground. They likened it to the Bo Gritz “Almost Heaven” developments, founded in 1994 in Central Idaho. He pitched Almost Heaven as escape mechanisms from a “predator government.” Almost Heaven attracted a similar clientele to that expected to respond to the Citadel Project. Armed to the teeth and spoiling for a confrontation with the feds, most of the residents were too far right for even Green Beret war hero Gritz, who ended up moving out of the planned community, fleeing to Nevada.

I’m inclined to agree with the blog doubters, though walling in nutbags in a distant wilderness is a dream come true. Citadel promoters liken their project to Disneyland. I agree except there are far more Goofy’s.


February 13, 2013 07:00 AM

GOP 'Savior' Rubio Votes No on Violence Against Women Act

By Diane Sweet

The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass legislation reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act on Tuesday, despite the efforts of a group of Republican men who tried to block it.

Florida senator Marco Rubio led a group of 22 male Republicans who voted against the bill, which established a system for helping women in danger from domestic violence. No women or Democrats opposed the bill and it passed 78-22. That's right, the guy that Time magazine hailed this week as the "GOP Savior" voted against helping protect women from violence.

In fact, Rubio was also one of eight Republican senators who last week voted against moving to debate on the revived legislation.

One of the most contentious issues of the bill is that the updated version grants additional protections to immigrants which would encourage undocumented women to report assaults done to them.

Another issue some of the gang of 22 are hiding behind is that they object to the updated VAWA extending protections to LGBT and Native Americans.

The spending and grant provisions of the bill may have had something to do with the no votes, as well.

    The Senate bill also prohibits discrimination against LGBT victims in grant programs to help victims, and would let illegal immigrants stay in the country to receive help if they are victims of domestic violence or rape.

    VAWA provides grants to victims of domestic violence in order to encourage victims to leave their abusive situations. Some feel they can’t get away from their abusers because they might not have another form of family income, so the grants can provide housing assistance and cellphones for victims. Under this reauthorization bill, these programs would continue for another five years.

It seems that those who voted "no" feel some women are more deserving of help than others.

The senators who voted against the bill were: John Barrasso (R-WY), Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Boozman (R-AK), Tom Coburn (R-OK), John Cornyn (R-TX), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), James Inhofe (R-OK), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Rand Paul (R-KY), Jim Risch (R-ID), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), John Thune (R-SD) and Tim Scot (R-SC).

In a statement released on Tuesday, Rubio said that though he continues to support programs "to combat domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking", he did not support all elements of the expanded bill. He objected to programs that would divert funding from domestic violence to sexual assault programs.

Women's groups were scathing about Rubio's attempts to derail the bill and said that it would cause problems for the GOP among women voters, a key demographic that deserted them in the last election.

The bill authorizes $659 million over five years for VAWA programs. It also expands VAWA to include new protections for LGBT and Native American victims of domestic violence, to give more attention to sexual assault prevention and to help reduce a backlog in processing rape kits. Created in 1994, VAWA has helped to strengthen programs and services for victims of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

Ahead of the vote, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the bill's sponsor, questioned why anybody would vote against his legislation since it just expands protections to vulnerable groups.

"It is difficult to understand why people would come in here and try to limit which victims could be helped by this legislation," Leahy said. "If you're the victim, you don't want to think that a lot of us who have never faced this kind of problem, sat here in this body and said, 'Well, we have to differentiate which victims America will protect.'"

Senators voted on a few amendments to the bill. They voted 93 to 5 to include a provision targeting human trafficking, and 100 to 0 on a provision to ensure child victims of sex trafficking are eligible for grant assistance. They rejected amendments by Coburn to consolidate certain Department of Justice programs and to allow grants for sexually transmitted disease tests on sexual assault perpetrators.

VAWA typically gets reauthorized with little to-do. But Congress failed to do so last year amid House Republican objections to provisions in the Senate bill that expanded protections for LGBT, Native American and undocumented immigrant victims of violence. This year's Senate VAWA bill includes the LGBT and Native American provisions, but leaves out the piece for undocumented immigrants. Leahy has pledged to attach that piece to immigration reform legislation.

In a statement Tuesday, Joe Biden -- the chief author of the original law -- called on the House to pass the legislation expeditiously.

“Delay isn’t an option when three women are still killed by their husbands or boyfriends every day,” Biden said. “Delay isn’t an option when countless women still live in fear of abuse, and when one in five have been victims of rape.”

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« Reply #4581 on: Feb 15, 2013, 08:18 AM »

02/15/2013 10:52 AM

'Significant Thermal Explosion': Meteorite Strike in Russia Injures Hundreds

By Benjamin Bidder in Moscow

Suddenly, there was a flash of light and then a loud explosion bursting windows across the Russian city of Chelyabinsk. A large meteorite detonated over the city on Friday morning, injuring more than 400. The disaster could have been much larger.

The students in School Number 15, in the city of Chelyabinsk some 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) east of Moscow, had just finished first period when a blinding light flashed through the windows of the building. Then, at about 9:20 a.m., a violent shockwave from an explosion shattered the glass.

"There was a very loud noise, similar to the roar of an airplane, and then a detonation and the shattering of glass," one of the school pupils told the Russian news website "We've never seen anything like it in our lives. We had the feeling that something very large had landed in the neighboring courtyard." According to initial media reports, some 20 pupils in the school and in a neighboring kindergarten were injured.

What caused the windows in Chelyabinsk to shatter was documented in numerous videos and photos. A meteor pushed its way through the Earth's atmosphere on Friday morning and crashed to the ground. Across the region, people on their way to work became witnesses to the rare phenomenon. Numerous commuters filmed the meteorite, many of them more by chance than intent: Many Russians have installed video cameras, called dashcams, in their cars in order to help prove their innocence in the case of accidents or to document corrupt traffic cops.

Some of the footage, such as that from the airport in Yekaterinburg, shows the path of the meteorite from a distance along with its characteristic tail. But images from Chelyabinsk itself also show how the meteorite burst into a blinding fire-ball with pieces then raining down to the ground.

'Significant Thermal Explosion'

Hundreds of calls from fearful residents flooded into local emergency services. According to initial reports, at least 400 people were injured, most of them from broken glass. A state of emergency was called in the city.

A zinc factory was particularly hard hit, with heavy damage to the roof and to factory walls. It looked, witnesses said, as though it had been struck by a bomb.

"The clear morning sky meant (the meteorite) could easily be observed," said Sergei Smirnov from the Pulkovo Observatory in St. Petersburg. He said it "was a relatively large object." Its weight has been estimated at several dozen tons. Andrei Lukashev, a professor in Moscow, spoke of a "significant thermal explosion." He added, however, that the object was relatively small in comparison to other asteroids. Were a larger meteorite to strike the earth, he said, it could result in damage "worse than a nuclear explosion."

As soon as the initial shock from the event began to subside, the meteorite continued its journey through social networks such as the Facebook-clone and Twitter. Some spoke of the "end of the world," noting that the chronically tardy Russian postal service only now delivered it instead of on Dec. 21 as planned. Also, an image of a shirtless Vladimir Putin riding the tail of the meteorite began making the rounds.

The gallows humor seems initially not to be as tasteless as it could have been. It looks as though Chelyabinsk barely escaped a much larger disaster.

Click to watch a video of it:

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« Reply #4582 on: Feb 15, 2013, 08:20 AM »

Asteroid to whiz past Earth

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, February 15, 2013 7:39 EST

NASA is keeping close tabs on a sizable asteroid set to whiz past our planet Friday in what the US space agency says is the closest flyby ever predicted for such a large object.

About 150 feet (45 meters) in diameter, the asteroid — dubbed 2012 DA 14 — is expected to pass about 17,200 miles (27,000 kilometers) above the Earth at the time of closest approach, about 2:25 pm EST (1925 GMT), NASA said.

“This distance is well away from Earth and the swarm of low Earth-orbiting satellites, including the International Space Station,” it said in a statement on its website.

Still, “the flyby of 2012 DA14 is the closest-ever predicted approach to Earth for an object this large.”

The space agency insisted there was nothing to fear.

“NASA places a high priority on tracking asteroids and protecting our home planet from them,” it said.

The asteroid will be visible in eastern Europe, Australia and Asia, according to astronomers, and NASA noted the flyby will provide a “unique opportunity for researchers to study a near-Earth object up close.”

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California planned a half-hour broadcast incorporating real-time animation to show the asteroid’s location.

Meanwhile, the Goldstone Solar System Radar, located in California’s Mojave Desert, was poised to take radar images of the asteroid over the coming days to determine its exact size and shape.

The 2012 DA 14 was discovered by chance by astronomers after passing nearby last February.

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

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.

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« Reply #4583 on: Feb 15, 2013, 08:22 AM »

Research confirms source of mysterious cosmic rays

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 14, 2013 19:43 EST

Cosmic rays — fast-moving particles that constantly pummel our planet — come from the explosion of supernovae, new research confirmed Thursday, resolving an astronomical mystery.

Protons make up 90 percent of these rays that pelt Earth’s atmosphere and were discovered a century ago by the Austrian-born physicist Victor Franz Hess.

Scientists had suggested two possibilities for the origins of these protons — supernovae explosions within our Milky Way galaxy or strong jets of energy from black holes elsewhere in the universe.

The recent consensus among scientists has pointed to supernovae remnants as the source, but this remained unproven, said Stefan Funk, astrophysicist at Stanford University and a co-author of the new findings.

The report was presented at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston and will also appear in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

“In the last century we’ve learned a lot about cosmic rays as they arrive here,” Funk said in a statement announcing the findings.

“We’ve even had strong suspicions about the source of their acceleration, but we haven’t had unambiguous evidence to back them up until recently.”

Using NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, researchers over the course of four years analyzed data from two supernova remnants thousands of light years away and found the proof they were looking for.

“For the first time we were able to detect the smoking gun feature of the accelerated protons,” Funk told reporters.

“We are talking about the most gigantic explosions in our galaxy and they give energy to the tiniest things we know.”

The supernova remnants that led to the discovery are known as IC 443 and W44 and are located 5,000 and 9,500 light years away, according to NASA.

The researchers found that shock waves from the supernovas accelerated protons to nearly the speed of light, turning them into cosmic rays, said the statement.

“When these energetic protons collided with static protons in gas or dust they gave rise to gamma rays with distinctive signatures, giving scientists the smoking-gun evidence they needed to finally verify the cosmic-ray nurseries,” it said.

Still, as man spends more time in the higher atmosphere, questions remain.

“While we have demonstrated that supernova remnants accelerate cosmic rays, the next step will be to determine exactly how they do it, and also up to what energies they can do so,” Funk said.

In addition, he noted “there are suggestions that cosmic rays have provided early mutations that make life possible” and provide condensation droplets that create clouds.

– –
[Image via Shutterstock]

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« Reply #4584 on: Feb 15, 2013, 08:29 AM »

Satellite images show North Korea making progress on long-range missile

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 14, 2013 17:27 EST

Already under fire for its latest nuclear test, North Korea has been making preparations at a launchpad that could pave the way for firing a long-range missile, a US think tank said Thursday.

38 North, a blog of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, analyzed satellite photos that it said showed possible assistance from Iran at the Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground in northeastern North Korea.

38 North said that a commercial satellite photograph taken on January 5 showed “important progress” since the area was hit with typhoons last year and indicated activity that was consistent with preparations for a launch.

But the website said there was not enough evidence to support speculation that North Korea could raise the stakes by testing its KN-08, a new missile with potential intercontinental range first displayed in a parade in April.

The website said that North Korea likely was preparing to test much larger rockets by the time the site is completed in 2016. The launchpad was last used in April 2009 for a long-range test widely seen as a failure.

The area has a new flame trench covering, which would protect large rockets from exhaust gases, that has a design similar to one used at the Semnan launchpad in central Iran, the website said.

It said that the satellite photos showed that three storage tanks were built last year that can hold 439,100 liters (116,000 gallons) of fuel, a level far above North Korea’s capacity during its most recent launch.

38 North said that it also observed a conduit through which technicians and electrical and communications lines can pass, even though Tonghae is accessible only by a dirt road.

North Korea defiantly carried out its third nuclear test on Tuesday, saying it was responding to US “hostility” after the UN Security Council condemned its last launch two months earlier.

On December 12, North Korea launched a rocket from its separate Sohae site that, according to experts, managed to reach near the Philippines and to put a small satellite into orbit.

The United States and its allies condemned the launch, fearing it was part of efforts to refine a longer-range missile.


Mass rally in Pyongyang celebrates North Korea nuclear test

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, February 15, 2013 7:15 EST

More than 100,000 troops and civilians staged a mass rally in Pyongyang to celebrate North Korea’s nuclear test and praise the “matchless” bravery of leader Kim Jong-Un, state media said.

The rally in the capital’s sprawling Kim Il-Sung square on Thursday was attended by top party and military officials, as well as police workers and students, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

A number of speakers addressed the rally, praising Tuesday’s test as the “brilliant fruition of the extraordinary decision and matchless gut of the dear respected Kim Jong-Un”, KCNA said, in reference to the leader’s courage.

The young leader, who took over after the death of his father Kim Jong-Il in December 2011, did not attend the rally.

It was the North’s third test, following previous detonations in 2006 and 2009, and seismic data suggested it was significantly more powerful.

“It serves as a striking demonstration of the might of a scientific and technological power and a military power capable of manufacturing any strike,” KCNA said.

North Korea said the test — widely condemned by the international community — was a direct response to UN sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after its long-range rocket launch in December.

Pyongyang accused the United States of leading the sanctions charge in the UN Security Council, and speakers at Thursday’s rally threatened “merciless retaliatory blows” if the US pushed tougher sanctions after the nuclear test.

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« Reply #4585 on: Feb 15, 2013, 08:31 AM »

February 14, 2013

South Korea Shows Military Muscle in Sparring With North


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea staged large military drills and disclosed a new cruise missile capable of hitting any target in North Korea, just days after the North said it detonated its third nuclear device and as Pyongyang became increasingly candid about its intentions to build intercontinental ballistic missiles tipped with nuclear warheads.

“We no longer hide but publicly declare: If the imperialists have nuclear weapons, we must have them, and if they have intercontinental ballistic missiles, we must have them, too,” the North’s state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the most authoritative mouthpiece for the North’s leadership, said in a commentary published Thursday. “Anger seeks weapons.”

North Korea uses the word “imperialist” to refer to the United States.

Washington and its allies have condemned North Korea’s rocket launching in December as a cover for developing the technology needed to build ballistic missiles capable of reaching North America. But only recently did the North begin publicly indicating that it intended to build such missiles.

Last month, the North said that Washington’s attitude toward it, pushing for United Nations sanctions against the country, was forcing it to redirect its rocket and nuclear programs to “target against the U.S.”

Although blustering is a common propaganda tactic for North Korea, its increasingly public boasting comes amid growing concerns that the country is moving closer to building workable long-range nuclear missiles.

If unchecked, American officials fear, the North’s drive will embolden Iran to pursue its own nuclear ambitions despite stiff sanctions.

“It’s important for the world to have credibility with respect to our nonproliferation efforts,” Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday in urging the world to make a “swift, clear, strong and credible response” to the North’s third nuclear test. “What our response is with respect to this will have an impact on all other nonproliferation efforts.”

South Korea’s reaction has been a rapid attempt to show North Korea its own military strength. On Thursday, the South’s political parties put aside their bickering over domestic politics and passed nearly unanimously a parliamentary resolution condemning the North’s nuclear test. Its navy deployed destroyers and submarines off its eastern coast to test their combat readiness.

South Korea started a similar naval drill off the western coast on Wednesday and planned on Friday to begin live-fire drills involving rockets and artillery near the land border with North Korea. The American military, which keeps 28,500 troops in South Korea, was staging an air drill mobilizing jet fighters of the two allies.

Also on Thursday, the South’s Defense Ministry offered a rare glimpse of its military abilities by releasing a 50-second video clip that showed two cruise missiles blasting targets after they were launched by a South Korean submarine and destroyer. It was the first time the South Korean military had publicly disclosed the recently deployed missiles, believed to have a range of 620 miles, and it did so with a bravado that reflected the tension on the divided peninsula after the North Korean test.

“Our cruise missile shown today is a precision-guided weapon so accurate that it can be directed to smash through the window of a North Korean command post from anywhere on the Korean Peninsula,” Kim Min-seok, a ministry spokesman, said during a news briefing.

On the same day, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin of South Korea visited his military’s rocket command, as well as its Agency for Defense Development, which is in charge of developing ballistic missiles able to reach any target in the North.

“North Korea as a whole is a hopeless rogue state, and it will continue to launch provocations,” Mr. Kim was quoted as saying by the national news agency Yonhap during his visit to the rocket command.

The North’s nuclear test deepened doubts about the effectiveness of the efforts by the United States, China and other regional powers to curb its nuclear and missile ambitions. North Korea has recently warned that United Nations sanctions would cause it to take “second and third measures of greater intensity” and could even ignite an “all-out war.”

“We are neither surprised nor confused by them; they were imposed on us regularly and countless times,” Rodong, the North Korean newspaper, said Thursday, about the prospects of more United Nations sanctions, which it called part of Washington’s long effort to subjugate the recalcitrant nation. “They are not fighting against our nuclear weapons or satellites but against our sovereignty.”
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« Reply #4586 on: Feb 15, 2013, 08:33 AM »

February 14, 2013

Vows of Change in China Belie Private Warning


HONG KONG — When China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, visited the country’s south to promote himself before the public as an audacious reformer following in the footsteps of Deng Xiaoping, he had another message to deliver to Communist Party officials behind closed doors.

Despite decades of heady economic growth, Mr. Xi told party insiders during a visit to Guangdong Province in December, China must still heed the “deeply profound” lessons of the former Soviet Union, where political rot, ideological heresy and military disloyalty brought down the governing party. In a province famed for its frenetic capitalism, he demanded a return to traditional Leninist discipline.

“Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Soviet Communist Party collapse? An important reason was that their ideals and convictions wavered,” Mr. Xi said, according to a summary of his comments that has circulated among officials but has not been published by the state-run news media.

“Finally, all it took was one quiet word from Gorbachev to declare the dissolution of the Soviet Communist Party, and a great party was gone,” the summary quoted Mr. Xi as saying. “In the end nobody was a real man, nobody came out to resist.”

In Mr. Xi’s first three months as China’s top leader, he has gyrated between defending the party’s absolute hold on power and vowing a fundamental assault on entrenched interests of the party elite that fuel corruption. How to balance those goals presents a quandary to Mr. Xi, whose agenda could easily be undermined by rival leaders determined to protect their own bailiwicks and on guard against anything that weakens the party’s authority, insiders and analysts say.

“Everyone is talking about reform, but in fact everyone has a fear of reform,” said Ma Yong, a historian at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. For party leaders, he added: “The question is: Can society be kept under control while you go forward? That’s the test.”

Gao Yu, a former journalist and independent commentator, was the first to reveal Mr. Xi’s comments, doing so on a blog. Three insiders, who were shown copies by officials or editors at state newspapers, confirmed their authenticity, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the risk of punishment for discussing party affairs.

The tension between embracing change and defending top-down party power has been an abiding theme in China since Deng set the country on its economic transformation in the late 1970s. But Mr. Xi has come to power at a time when such strains are especially acute, and the pressure of public expectations for greater official accountability is growing, amplified by millions of participants in online forums.

Mr. Xi has promised determined efforts to deal with China’s persistent problems, including official corruption and the chasm between rich and poor. He has also sought a sunnier image, doing away with some of the intimidating security that swaddled his predecessor, Hu Jintao, and demanding that official banquets be replaced by plainer fare called “four dishes and a soup.”

Yet Mr. Xi’s remarks on the lessons of the Soviet Union, as well as warnings in the state news media, betray a fear that China’s strains could overwhelm the party, especially if vows of change founder because of political sclerosis and opposition from privileged interest groups like state-owned conglomerates. Already this year, public outcries over censorship at a popular newspaper and choking pollution in Beijing have given the new party leadership a taste of those pressures.

Some progressive voices are urging China’s leaders to pay more than lip service to respecting rights and limits on party power promised by the Constitution. Meanwhile, some old-school leftists hail Mr. Xi as a muscular nationalist who will go further than his predecessors in asserting China’s territorial claims.

The choices facing China’s new leadership include how much to relax the state’s continuing grip on the commanding heights of the economy and how far to take promises to fight corruption — a step that could alienate powerful officials and their families.

“How can the ruling party ensure its standing during a period of flux?” asked Ding Dong, a current affairs commentator in Beijing. “That’s truly a real challenge, and it’s creating a sense of tension and latent crisis inside the party.”

Mr. Xi and his inner circle have about 18 months to consolidate power and begin any big initiatives before preparations for the next Communist Party Congress and leadership reshuffle in 2017 start to consume elite attention, said Christopher Johnson, an analyst on China at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“For now, he’s a guy who’s trying to be two things at once,” said Mr. Johnson, formerly a senior China analyst for the C.I.A. “The question is: How long will they be able to get by with gestures like four dishes and a soup before they have to make the hard choices?”

So far, Mr. Xi has been busy distinguishing himself from his predecessor through an energetic succession of visits and speeches. Mr. Hu, who formally remains state president until next month, when Mr. Xi will take over that post, also came to power accompanied by widespread expectations of change. But he proved to be a rigidly unadventurous leader.

In recent weeks, Mr. Xi has promised to clean up Beijing’s noxious smog and make it easier to hail a cab on the city’s congested streets. Before that, Mr. Xi also vowed that the party would allow “sharp criticism” of its failings, and said “power must be held in an institutional cage.”

Censors have allowed photographs showing Mr. Xi as a relaxed man of the people to spread on the Internet, including one of a jolly encounter with a man in a Santa Claus costume during a trip overseas.

Mr. Xi “doesn’t want to be known as Hu Jintao is known, as someone who didn’t make much progress,” said Ezra Vogel, an emeritus professor of social sciences at Harvard University who recently visited China, a country he has studied for decades.

Yet Mr. Xi has qualified his promises in ways that have already disappointed some proponents of faster market-driven change and political liberalization. In one speech, Mr. Xi said that change must be piecemeal, citing Deng’s dictum that progress is made “crossing the river by groping stones.” In another, he said Mao Zedong’s era of revolutionary socialism should not be dismissed as a failure.

He has also repeatedly demanded that the military show unflinching loyalty — a principle that, in his view, the Soviet Communist Party under Mikhail S. Gorbachev fatally failed to uphold.

Mr. Xi, 59, is the son of a revolutionary who worked alongside Mao until he was purged and jailed. A senior commentator for a major Chinese newspaper said that political patrimony had made Mr. Xi even more sensitive to showing that “while talking about reform, he also wants to tell the party that he won’t become a Gorbachev.”

Unlike the former Soviet leader, Mr. Xi presides over an economy that, for all its hazards, has grown robustly over three decades, propelling China to greater international influence. But Chinese officials have warned that rising stature is also generating external rivalries and domestic demands that would magnify the damage from political missteps and schisms.

“We’re a major power, and we absolutely cannot allow any subversive errors when it comes to the fundamental issues,” Mr. Xi told party officials in Guangdong. “If that happens, there’s no going back.”

Edward Wong contributed reporting from Beijing.

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« Reply #4587 on: Feb 15, 2013, 08:36 AM »

Singapore protest: 'Unfamiliar faces are crowding our land'

The island nation's government faces unprecedented dissent towards an immigation plan to increase its population by 30%

Kate Hodal, Friday 15 February 2013 11.19 GMT      

Liane Ng is 25 and single, works 60 hours a week, and until recently, shared a bedroom with her grandmother. Like many other Singaporeans, her life revolves around work, family and the stress of making ends meet in a nation that works the longest hours in the world. But lately her life has taken on a more immediate concern: a government initiative to increase Singapore's population by a third by 2030, a move that would see citizenship granted to more foreigners and squash the native population to just over half the total.

"I love my country," says the advertising executive. "[But] the cost of living is high, the income gap is widening, transport is failing and unfamiliar faces are crowding our land. People are getting increasingly fed up because our daily lives are affected."

Singapore has long been heralded as the success story of south-east Asia, a small island nation less than half the geographical land size of Greater London that in just 50 years has transformed from colonial backwater to one of the world's most formidable economic powerhouses.

But that gain has come at increasing cost. Skyrocketing housing prices, overcrowding, long working hours, low birth rates and an ageing population – that the government terms Singapore's "silver tsunami" – are all major contributors to discontent often been focused on the country's rapid immigration.

The city-state currently has a population of 5.3 million, and is now more densely populated than Hong Kong. Under a government white paper – which was approved last week despite widespread public anger – Singapore will aim to increase its population to 6.9 million people over the next 20 years by granting permanent residency to 30,000 people and allowing an inflow of some 25,000 new citizens every year. New social programmes, including marriage and parenthood initiatives, as well as infrastructure schemes, will accommodate the burgeoning population, with immigration calibrated to retain its current ethnic ratios.

"We are producing too few babies, our society is ageing, and if we do nothing, our population will soon start shrinking," said Singapore's prime minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"Singapore must continue to develop and upgrade to remain a key node in the network of global cities, a vibrant place where jobs and opportunities are created."

It is the government's focus on Singapore's economy, rather than its people, that has stirred much of the public's discontent. Singapore is the third most expensive city in Asia.

The ruling People's Action Party (Pap), in power since independence in 1965, is seemingly on a one-track mission to maintain its own rule, despite having heavily lost a recent byelection and potentially standing to lose more, says Singapore expert Michael Barr of Australia's Flinders University.

"Pap has always presented itself as a party above vested interests … [but] that is not washing anymore," says Barr.

"Just like a multinational company's CEO has bonuses tied to the rise and fall of share prices, ministers and civil servants have bonuses tied to economic growth in Singapore. And we're talking about million-dollar bonuses here and more, so there's a lot at stake."

Dissent over the white paper has been huge. Social media, newspapers, blogs and even parliament itself have been rife with commentary, and a rare public protest – with over 3,500 already planning to attend – has been scheduled for Saturday. "There is this fear that foreigners will eventually replace and take over our country," explains protest organiser Gilbert Goh, who hopes for a referendum. "There is no known employment protection for local workers here – people can be easily replaced at the workplace … [and] workers have been known to be replaced by foreigners, as many employers are now foreigners as well."

Racial tensions already run high, not least between the ethnic Chinese, Malay and Indian Singaporeans who already make up the city-state, but also among new immigrants, says Barr.

Some of that tension is due to the country's focus on economics rather than culture. Local opposition politician Nicole Seah, who ran as the youngest female candidate in the 2011 general elections, recently said that the "Singapore Inc" brand cultivated by the government has created a "transient state where people from all over come, make their fortunes and leave".

She added: "The policies over the past decades have created an erosion of our social roots, widespread resentment, and a loss of who we are as Singaporeans. We have been taught to prioritise money-making practicality over what it means to have a solid culture."

The bubbling discontent in Singapore has recently been compounded by a string of scandals causing some outsiders to wonder if the Asian utopia so carefully crafted by the nation's so-called founder, Lee Kuan Yew, is finally crumbling. Most young professionals still live at home because they can't afford to move out, the government has had to subsidise speed-dating schemes to encourage partnerships, and abortion rates among married women now account for over half the total – as many families struggle to stay afloat.

"The government does not give allowance for people who are different from them and this is one of the reasons why we are so politically and creatively stunted," says Ng. "My perspective is, I'm different, I don't want to toe the line, and that's why we have to speak up and push through until something happens."

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« Reply #4588 on: Feb 15, 2013, 08:40 AM »

February 14, 2013

A Tiny Village Where Women Chose to Be Single Mothers


LOI, Vietnam — They had no plan to break barriers or cause trouble. But 30 years ago in this bucolic village in northern Vietnam, the fierce determination of one group of women to become mothers upended centuries-old gender rules and may have helped open the door for a nation to redefine parenthood.

One recent morning in Loi, as farmers in conical straw hats waded quietly through rice paddies, a small group of women played with their grandchildren near a stream. Their husbands were nowhere to be found, not because they perished in the war, but because the women decided to have children without husbands.

The women’s story began during the American War, as it is called here, when many put the revolution before their families. As peace settled more than a decade later, it became clear that they — like so many of their generation — had sacrificed their marriageable years to the war.

At that time Vietnamese women traditionally married around 16, and those still single at 20 would often be considered “qua lua,” or “past the marriageable age.” When single men who survived the war returned home, they often preferred younger brides, exacerbating the effects of a sex ratio already skewed by male mortality in the war. According to the Vietnam Population and Housing Census of 2009, after reunification in 1979 there were on average only about 88 men for every 100 women between 20 and 44.

Unlike previous generations of unwanted Vietnamese women who dutifully accepted the “so,” or “destiny,” of living a solitary life, a group of women in Loi decided to take motherhood into their own hands. They had endured the war, developed a new strength and were determined not to die alone.

One by one they asked men — whom they would never interact with afterward — to help them conceive a child. The practice became known as “xin con,” or “asking for a child,” and it meant breaking with tradition, facing discrimination and enduring the hardships of raising a child alone.

“It was unusual, and quite remarkable,” said Harriet Phinney, an assistant professor of anthropology at Seattle University who is writing a book on the practice of xin con in Vietnam. Purposely conceiving a child out of wedlock, she said, “was unheard-of” before the revolutionary era.

It was a product of the mothers’ bravery, said Ms. Phinney, but also of a postwar society that acknowledged the unique situation of women across Vietnam, including thousands of widows, who were raising children alone.

Some of the women in Loi were willing to share their stories, though they always kept the names of the fathers a tightly held secret. One of the first women in Loi to ask for a child was Nguyen Thi Nhan, now 58.

Ms. Nhan had led a platoon of women during the war, and though she never saw battle, was awarded a medal for her exemplary leadership. Her husband, with whom she had a daughter, abandoned her after the war. Ms. Nhan moved to the cheapest land she could find, a field near the stream on the outskirts of Loi, where a few refugees from bombing nearby still lived. She then asked for a second child, ending up with the son she wished for.

Her first several years were hard. Despite her best efforts, food and money were scarce. The villagers eventually set aside prejudices and accepted her choice, offering to share the little food they could spare. Eventually, Ms. Nhan was joined by more than a dozen other women. Among them was Nguyen Thi Luu, 63. She had fallen in love with a soldier who was killed in battle in 1972.

“I was 26 when the war ended,” Ms. Luu said. “That was considered too old for marriage, in those times. I did not want to marry a bad, older man, and no single men came to me.”

But Ms. Luu wanted to become a mother, not least so she would have support in her old age. In Vietnam, nursing homes are scarce, and care for the elderly is considered a filial duty.

“I was afraid to die alone,” Ms. Luu said. “I wanted someone to lean on in my old age. I wanted a child of my own.”

Although her decision at first angered her parents and brother, they soon accepted it and embraced her two daughters. Her parents bought her a plot of the only land they could afford — here in Loi, in what had by then become known as the community of single women.

“It was comforting to be in a group with other women in a similar situation,” she said.

Outside of Loi, many women across Vietnam had made the same decision. The growing number of single mothers, especially those who had fought for the revolution, at length caught the attention of the Women’s Union, the government agency that oversees programs for women.

“Many women gave everything in the war, and it was important to recognize their sacrifice,” said Tran Thi Ngoi, head of the Women’s Union in the Soc Son district of Hanoi.

Although the plight of the war generation single mothers was only one factor, in 1986 the government passed the Marriage and Family Law, which for the first time recognized single mothers and their children as legally legitimate. It was a victory for the mothers in Loi, and for others like them.

“Every woman has the right to be a wife and a mother, and if she cannot find a husband, she should still have the right to her own child,” Ms. Ngoi said.

Since then, the government, working with international organizations, has continued to push for equal rights for women and to improve their health and education. Today single mothers in the countryside still face hardship, discrimination and shame, but benefit from government initiatives that started with the older generation.

In Loi only four of the 17 women who founded the community are left. Three have died, some have gone to live with their children in other villages and others married men who were widowers later in their lives.

Those who remain have upgraded their huts to real homes, with small gardens. Their children, now grown, send a portion of their small salaries to support their mothers. None of the women see themselves as pioneers, nor do they dwell on the impact of the choices they made.

“I don’t know if I ever served as inspiration,” said one, who did not want to be identified to preserve her privacy and that of her son. “I just worked on my own decisions. I just wanted to be a mother. No one could change my mind.”

Click to view slideshow of this village:

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« Reply #4589 on: Feb 15, 2013, 08:42 AM »

February 14, 2013

Main Hurdle in Afghan Withdrawal: Getting the Gear Out


WASHINGTON — As the military begins carrying out President Obama’s order to cut force levels in Afghanistan by half over the next year, getting 34,000 troops out is the easy part: just deliver them to an airfield, march them by the hundreds onto transport planes and fly them home.

But after 11-plus years of war, the accumulated American hardware in Afghanistan amounts to more than 600,000 pieces of equipment valued at $28 billion. In that arsenal are systems that always present challenges to international shipping, including MRAP mine-resistant troop transports and Stryker infantry fighting vehicles, each built with tons of armor, and heavy tractor-trailers and tankers.

So far, the heavy vehicles have all been shipped out by air because Afghanistan is landlocked, it has a primitive road system and the Taliban remain strong in many parts of the country. But the real problem to withdrawing from Afghanistan is the same one that has helped make fighting there so difficult: the tenuous relationship with neighboring Pakistan, which offers the cheapest land route to the closest seaport but through border crossings that are unreliable.

Logistics officers are only too mindful that Pakistan closed the routes after American airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at an outpost on the Afghan border in November 2011. The routes were reopened only last July after Washington apologized. But American officials hope that up to 60 percent of the hardware in Afghanistan can be sent out by way of Pakistan.

As Mr. Obama delivered his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, almost 40,000 armored or other large vehicles remained in Afghanistan. The military has a goal of bringing out 1,500 of them every 30 days, a target it can reach — in a good month — by air. But there are just 22 months until the American-led combat mission ends in December 2014. It is going to be a challenge, requiring Pakistan to permanently open those border crossings, and it is going to be expensive.

The military, of course, is practiced at large movements of material, and most of the senior officers involved in pulling equipment from Afghanistan — they call the effort “retrograde” — did the job in Iraq. But these officers emphasize that Iraq offered a sophisticated roadway system and flat terrain. Even more helpful, Iraq borders Kuwait, where American equipment could be stored in large numbers at American bases, and then shipped home on a relatively unhurried timeline.

“Afghanistan is not Iraq, and it’s harder,” said Lt. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for logistics. “No. 1, it’s landlocked. And we have no Kuwait. We have no ‘catcher’s mitt,’ no shock absorber. In Iraq, on the last day, you could still send stuff across the border into Kuwait, and absorb it there.”

General Mason said re-establishing with certainty a pair of ground crossings into Pakistan would allow a larger volume of equipment to make a faster exit from Afghanistan; the gear would be driven to Karachi, and then shipped by sea back to the United States. He said the first containers of hardware leaving Afghanistan had been driven into Pakistan just in the past few days. “That’s the good news,” he said. “But it is still very fragile.”

Maj. Gen. Kurt J. Stein, commander of the First Theater Sustainment Command, in charge of logistics across the Middle East and Southwest Asia, said there was another land route out of Afghanistan, called the Northern Distribution Network, which runs north through Central Asian republics. But the initial land portion is inconveniently long as it strings toward ports on the Black Sea, the Mediterranean and Atlantic, and presents its own challenges: railroads are of different gauges, and there are prohibitions on shipping lethal cargo.

Regardless, the movement north from Afghanistan requires passage through the Salang Tunnel, dug into the mountains of Parwan Province. The tunnel was a favorite of insurgent ambushes during the Soviet invasion and withdrawal. And, today, American troops are not deployed in Afghanistan’s north.

“About 85 to 90 percent of our equipment is south and east of the tunnel,” General Stein said, noting that the military never relies on what officers call “a single point of failure” like the lone and vulnerable tunnel on the northern exit route.

General Stein, who is based at Fort Bragg, spoke from his forward headquarters in Kuwait, and also has a second forward hub in Afghanistan. He has traveled the region inspecting ports, and has met with transportation executives to accelerate the effort.

In response to queries on the retrograde effort, the military’s Transportation Command said the recent shipments through Pakistani border crossings were a test — “proofs of principle shipments” — to gauge whether the routes can be dependable.

But problems arose. The immense backlog of 7,000 containers that had piled up during the Pakistani closing still had to be reduced. Officials had anticipated starting dry runs for withdrawal — essentially running trucks through the border crossings — in January. But labor strikes by drivers, squabbles between Afghan and Pakistani custom offices, and internal disputes among Pakistani bureaucracies delayed the initial phase until last weekend. Similar tests of cargo routes are being conducted along the Northern Distribution Network.

Transportation Command officials said major transit hubs, in addition to Karachi, would include ports in the United Arab Emirates, Romania and Spain.

Then there is the whole other question of where the equipment is to go once it leaves Afghanistan. As the withdrawal accelerates, the armed services are negotiating with Pentagon civilians about how best to sort the equipment: some weapons and hardware must be brought home, repaired and redistributed across the fighting force; some will be sold or donated to the Afghans or other partner nations in the region; and some will be scrapped because it is damaged or obsolete.

Members of Congress are carefully watching to see how the Pentagon deals with the MRAP troop carriers in Afghanistan, part of a $45 billion urgent effort to build a fleet of armored transports to deflect lethal roadside bombs. The military does not want to pay for hauling them home and fixing them if they are not relevant to future wars. Likewise, officers do not want to scrap them or give them to Afghans or other allies — and then have to buy them again if needed in the future.

Other challenges remain. Even as forces are withdrawn on a timeline set by Mr. Obama, sufficient troops must remain to carry out the mission to train and assist Afghan forces — and to facilitate the withdrawal of the gear, and protect that effort.

Senior officials warn that as the number of American troops dwindles, they will be living an increasingly rugged life as dining facilities, gymnasiums and other support services are pulled out in advance of critical combat services that will be the last home.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.
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