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« Reply #4680 on: Feb 20, 2013, 08:22 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
02/20/2013 12:11 PM

Another Austerity Victim: Bulgarian Government Resigns Amid Protests

Europe's debt crisis claimed its latest victim on Wednesday when the Bulgarian government stepped down after days of violent nationwide protests against austerity measures, high energy costs and corruption.

Bulgaria's government bowed to political pressure Wednesday morning, stepping down after violent demonstrations in the capital Sofia over low living standards and government corruption. For nearly two weeks thousands of protestors have taken to the streets across the country, first demonstrating against rising electricity prices. In recent days the protests spiraled into general anti-government demonstrations.

Prime Minister Boyko Borisov had tried to assuage protesters by firing his finance minister and asking the country's energy regulator to cut power prices by 8 percent starting March 1. He had promised Tuesday to revoke the power distribution license of CEZ AS, the Czech Republic's biggest utility and Bulgaria's largest foreign-controlled power supplier.

But those measures weren't enough to quell unrest in Bulgaria, the European Union's poorest country. On Tuesday night clashes turned more violent with dozens of injuries as protestors threw stones and fire crackers against police and damaged cars and windows. The police arrested 25 people.

"I did everything in my power to meet the people's demands yesterday," Borisov told parliament as he announced his resignation on Wednesday four months ahead of scheduled elections. "I won't be part of a government in which the police is fighting with the people," said Borisov, who has been in power since 2009.

Borisov has yet to announce whether he'll move forward elections from July to April or whether he'll propose a new leader from his party.

Despite the country's slow growth, Bulgaria has managed to avoid international aid and navigate Europe's debt crisis through strict austerity measures. A new government will have to make good on promises to improve living standards across the country.

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« Reply #4681 on: Feb 20, 2013, 08:29 AM »

February 20, 2013

Greek Unions Walk Out in Fresh Austerity Protest

By NIKI KITSANTONIS
IHT

ATHENS — Thousands of Greek workers walked off the job on Wednesday in the first nationwide protest against austerity this year, shutting schools, reducing staffing at state hospitals and disrupting transportation.

The 24-hour strike was called by the country’s two main labor unions which represent about 2.5 million workers and have led public resistance to three years of austerity measures that have raised taxes and cut salaries and pensions. The unions called on Greeks to join them in protest rallies in Athens and other cities on Wednesday to oppose “dead-end policies that have squeezed the life out of workers and impoverished citizens,” slashing average incomes by a third and pushing unemployment to 27 percent.

Transport employees were to run a limited service to allow Greeks to join protest rallies. In Athens, the police were out in force to guard against violence that frequently accompanies demonstrations near Parliament.

Ferries remained moored in ports, trains stayed in depots and air travel was disrupted. Tax offices and courts also closed.

The action came just days before representatives of Greece’s international creditors – the so-called troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — were to return to Athens to assess the country’s progress in implementing reforms. After a revenue shortfall of 7 percent last month, the shaky coalition government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will have to convince foreign auditors that it can boost tax collection and impose state sell-offs vehemently opposed by trade unions.

The government has taken a tough line in recent weeks, using emergency laws twice to force Athens metro workers and seamen back to work after protracted strike action. It has resisted demands from farmers who have been blocking roads in a bid to obtain tax breaks.

But authorities have yet to proceed with layoffs in the civil service that the troika has been demanding for two years. This week, the authorities announced that nearly 2,000 public workers facing possible dismissal would be transferred to other parts of the civil service where a wave of early retirements has left vacancies.

Recently troika officials indicated that a failure by Greece to meet revenue targets through improved tax collection and lower public spending could require another round of cuts to salaries and pensions, a prospect the government has ruled out, warning of a social explosion.

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February 19, 2013

Hollande Visits Greece to Show Support for Recovery Efforts

By NIKI KITSANTONIS
IHT

ATHENS — During a quick visit to the Greek capital on Tuesday, President François Hollande of France expressed support for Greece’s efforts to revive its economy and called on French companies to invest in the debt-racked country. He also indicated France’s interest in working with Greece to exploit oil and natural gas reserves in the Aegean Sea, a likely point of contention with neighboring Turkey.

“Our message is one of friendship, support, trust and growth” for Greece, Mr. Hollande said after talks with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. “No European people have undergone such a test, so we must stand by Greece’s side.”

Mr. Hollande, a socialist who came to power last spring on a pledge to increase growth to counteract deepening austerity in Europe, emphasized the importance of foreign investment to bolster Greece, which is in its sixth year of recession. Greek unemployment has risen to 27 percent, climbing above 60 percent for young people.

Mr. Hollande said he would push French companies to “actively support investments” and to participate in bids for the privatization of Greece’s state water and rail companies as well as other projects.

“I will speak to them this evening,” he said, before further talks with Mr. Samaras and his partners in Greece’s coalition government that were to conclude his roughly six-hour visit.

Mr. Samaras, for his part, heralded “a new chapter” in bilateral ties, describing the French leader’s visit as “a vote of confidence that proved Greece is no longer the weak link of Europe.”

He said talks on possible cooperation focused on sectors including the military, construction and, chiefly, energy, noting that Greece aimed to become an “energy hub in the Aegean.”

A plan to cooperate on energy projects is to be broached during Mr. Samaras’ visit next month to Turkey, which objects to Greece’s prospecting for oil and gas in the Aegean until the two countries resolve a longstanding dispute regarding the delineation of the countries’ territorial waters and the continental shelf.

Mr. Hollande indicated that energy was a potential area of mutual business opportunity. “If France is able to commonly exploit hydrocarbon reserves with Greece, it will do so,” he said.

The French president added that he was “not here to sell arms,” an apparent response to speculation about the possible lease or sale of frigates to Greece. He added that he and Mr. Samaras had signed a deal to bolster tourism, which accounts for a fifth of Greece’s dwindling gross domestic product.

Recession is a Europe-wide problem, not particular to Greece, Mr. Hollande added, noting that France would fall short of its target of 0.8 percent growth for 2013.

Although security was tight on Tuesday, with police helicopters circling over central Athens, the French leader’s visit did not involve the draconian measures that accompanied the arrival last October of Chancellor Angela Merkel: Germany is widely seen by Greeks as having imposed a series of austerity measures including wage and pension cuts. Still, tension in Greece is high ahead of the anticipated return to Athens next week by inspectors from the so-called troika — the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.

Thousands of Greek workers were poised to walk off the job Wednesday in the first general strike of the year, protesting salary cuts and plans for selling state-owned assets.

Mr. Samaras’s government has insisted on the need to attract foreign investments to raise revenue, which fell 7 percent short of the budget target last month. But unions and opposition parties oppose further foreign involvement. Greece has agreed to two bailouts worth a total of €240 billion in exchange for implementing austerity measures that have lopped 25 percent off its G.D.P. since the crisis erupted three years ago.
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« Reply #4682 on: Feb 20, 2013, 08:34 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
02/20/2013 11:12 AM

Spain and Italy: The Euro Crisis Gnaws at Europe's Underbelly

By SPIEGEL ONLINE Staff

The euro crisis may have dropped out of the headlines recently, but Spain and Italy would seem to be doing their best to bring it back. Real estate giant Reyal Urbis' bankrupcy has raised fresh concerns about Spanish banks and many fear that a Berlusconi election victory could drive Rome to seek emergency aid.

It had become a trend among top European politicians to forecast that the worst of the euro crisis had passed. A pledge by the European Central Bank to buy up unlimited quantities of sovereign bonds as needed, promising numbers from Greece indicating that the country was finally getting its budget deficit under control and a reform-minded government in Rome -- 2012 seemed set to go down in history as the year the crisis lost its bite.

This week, the outlook is looking less rosy. And much of the pessimism is focused on the two countries long seen as potentially the most dangerous should the euro crisis grow: Spain and Italy.

The situation looks especially bleak in Madrid, with real estate giant Reyal Urbis filing for insolvency on Tuesday. With debts of €3.6 billion, the bankruptcy would be the second largest in Spain's history after real-estate company Martinsa-Fadesa filed in July 2008 with debts of €7.2 billion. Reyal Urbis has until Saturday to ward off insolvency by reaching a deal with its creditors.

The demise of Reyal Urbis isn't just a problem for Spain. Several German banks are also among the company's creditors. Furthermore, the firm's list of Spanish debt holders reads like a who's who of the country's already wobbly financial industry, including Santander (which holds €550 million in Reyal Urbis debt), Banco Popular (€220 million) and BBVA (€120 million).

Tops on the list, however, is Bankia which is owed at least €460 million by the real estate firm, with Reuters reporting that number could be as high as €785 million. Bankia was placed under government control in 2012 and received bailout aid from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). Furthermore, Spain's "bad bank" SAREB -- set up last year to help absorb a raft of bad real-estate debt from the books of Spanish financial institutions -- is also involved.

Extremely Shaky

Still, the insolvency has not come as a surprise. The Spanish real estate market has shown no signs of improvement in recent months and prices continue to fall -- with property in the country having lost 40 percent of its value since 2007. It is a development which has hit construction giants like Reyal Urbis hard and is largely responsible for the troubled state of Spain's banks. Even worse, experts do not expect things to improve any time soon.

In addition, new regulations from Madrid have forced companies to undertake larger write downs on their property holdings. And the establishment of a bad bank has also meant that it now often makes more sense for financial institutions to pull the plug on bad loans rather than to patiently agree to refinance.

Beyond the country's financial industry, however, the insolvency provides yet a further indication as to just how far away Spain remains from economic health. Unemployment remains at a record high of 26 percent and data from the fourth quarter of 2012, showing a worse-than-expected contraction of 0.7 percent, has cast doubt on a return to growth this year.

Furthermore, the government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is struggling to survive an ever-expanding series of corruption scandals, some involving his own conservative Popular Party. This week, Spanish papers are reporting that King Juan Carlos may even be more tainted than thought by an ongoing scandal involving his son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin.

The Need for a Bailout?

Despite the troubles in Spain, however, it is Italy that has Europe -- and Berlin in particular -- holding its breath this month. The reason the country's general election scheduled to be held on Sunday and Monday -- and the real risk that former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi might actually win the vote.

Though public opinion polls are banned in the country for the two weeks prior to elections, the Italian media is reporting this week that the camp of center-left candidate Pier Luigi Bersani's lead over Berlusconi's coalition has shrunk to a mere 3.5 percent. And if Berlusconi returns to the helm, most expect that Rome will return to the abyss it found itself staring into at the end of 2011. Indeed, Italy's largest investment bank Mediobanca said this week that it believes a Berlusconi victory would trigger an investment market shock, ultimately leading to the need for an EU bailout of the debt-laden country.

Berlin, too, has warned of a Berlusconi resurrection, with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle issuing a barely concealed admonition to Italian voters on Tuesday. He was echoed by Ruprecht Polenz, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in German parliament and a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).

Norbert Barthle, CDU budget expert in parliament, was even starker in his warning. Speaking to Reuters, he said: "If Mr. Berlusconi wins the election, this course (of reforms) could be in danger. Doubts about Italy's solidity could have serious consequences for the euro."

Back to the Drawing Board

Ultimately, those doubts might multiply regardless of who wins the election. Mario Monti, the country's outgoing technocrat premier, was able to shave percentage points off the budget deficit and introduce modest reforms. But the last six months of his 14-month stint was less productive as he began encountering resistance. And the country's next government, whether from the right or the left, likely won't have a mandate sufficient enough to make much headway either.

That such headway is badly needed has been well documented, most recently by the Economist, which noted that Italy is one of only two euro-zone countries which have seen a fall in per-capital GDP since the introduction of the euro. Globally, it ranks 169th out of 179 since 2000 in terms of per capita GDP growth.

The International Monetary Fund recently noted that the Italian economy stands to make huge gains if the country's politicians can agree on a far-reaching package of economic and labor market reforms -- worth up to 10.5 percent growth over the next decade. But if Berlusconi wins next week, the opposite, it would seem, also holds true. Italy could trigger a return of the euro crisis, just when Europe thought it was out of the woods.
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« Reply #4683 on: Feb 20, 2013, 08:37 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
02/19/2013 05:36 PM

'Land Grabbing': Foreign Investors Buy Up Third World Farmland

Foreign investors are buying or leasing vast amounts of farmland in Third World countries to profit from surging demand for food crops as a result of rapid population growth. "Land grabbing" amounts to a new form of colonialism that often runs counter to the interests of locals.

A number of developing nations have sold or leased much of their farmland to foreign investors. The list is led by Liberia, whose arable land is 100 percent under foreign ownership.

The process is known as "land grabbing," and it is affecting countries in Africa, South America, Asia and Eastern Europe. Around half of the farmland of the Philippines is owned by foreign investors. In Ukraine, American companies have secured over one-third of the country's farmland.

Population growth in countries like India and Brazil is driving up demand for cereal crops, and investments in farmlands offer the chance of solid returns.

In many cases, the population suffers from this new form of colonialism, and the planting of monocultures tends to sap the soil.


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« Reply #4684 on: Feb 20, 2013, 08:40 AM »

Scientists looking beyond Earth in search for ‘rare earths’ elements

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 7:05 EST

The quest for rare earths vital to some of modern life’s most indispensable technologies may see mining robots jet to the stars within decades, a world-first conference in Australia was told Wednesday.

Yttrium, Lanthanum and the other 15 minerals which make up the group of elements known as rare earths are crucial to everything from wind turbines and hybrid cars to cruise missiles and the ubiquitous smartphone.

As technology advances so too does demand for the elements which, although relatively abundant, require laborious and waste-intensive processing to be freed from surrounding rock.

They are a precious commodity — so precious scientists are now looking beyond Earth’s reaches for new supplies, with moon and asteroid mining becoming a lucrative prospect, according to researchers and tech firms gathered in Sydney for the world’s first formal “Off-Earth Mining Forum”.

“It’s about joining the dots,” explained conference convenor Andrew Dempster from the Australian Centre for Space Engineering.

“I think we’ve got to the point where people are saying ‘yeah, I think we can do this’.”

A cross-section of the space and mining industry’s top minds have gathered to swap ideas about the latest advances in space and mining technology, from Rio Tinto and Sandvik to NASA and Japan’s space agency JAXA.

Rene Fradet, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory — the organisation behind the current Mars Curiosity Rover mission — believes space mining will be possible and economical within 20-30 years.

But Dempster thinks it could be quicker than that.

“Most of the technology already exists, but there needs to be a business case. It depends on making that business case.”

Like the challenges, the costs are substantial: to transport one kilogram to the moon is $100,000, and none of the cutting-edge completely automated technology comes cheap.

One delegate, NASA affiliate Berok Khoshnevis from the University of Southern California, has developed technology to make waterless sulphur-based cement from the loose rubble on Mars and Earth’s moon.

Matthew Dunbabin, from the Australia’s government’s science agency CSIRO, has done a large-scale simulation of using mining machinery in space and told delegates the main issue was electrical power.

Few space missions had attempted significant excavations — the sum total of all NASA’s Apollo missions had been 382 kilograms and the Mars programme had netted in the order of “grams”, Dunbabin said.

Gravity, temperatures, atmospheric pressure, radiation and the consistency of surfaces themselves all present unique problems, complicated by the fact that operations in space would have to be largely automated and remote-controlled.

Space drilling also throws up the question: who owns the moon’s resources?

SingTel Optus lawyer Donna Lawler likened it to the law of the high seas, where energy firms can mine in international waters without claiming territorial ownership.

More than 100 countries including the US have ratified the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which holds signatory nations responsible for activities in space but it is as yet untested.

It may be soon if space mining joins the moon landings in the annals of science fiction-turned-reality.

“There’s nothing really science fiction about any of this. In many ways a lot of the technology already exists, I don’t think we really have to invent much science,” said Dempster.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #4685 on: Feb 20, 2013, 08:52 AM »

Pope Benedict XVI is ‘nearly blind in one eye’ and was advised to limit air travel because of high blood pressure: report

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 4:01 EST

Pope Benedict XVI is nearly blind in one eye and was advised by his doctor to limit air travel because of his high blood pressure, the website Vatican Insider reported on Wednesday.

The report also said the 85-year-old pontiff often has problems sleeping and has fallen out of bed several times in recent years on foreign trips, making him tired in public appearances.

The report was based on indiscretions from papal aides that Vatican affairs specialist Marco Tosatti said he had promised to keep secret until the end of the pontificate on February 28.

“The picture is of a progressive deterioration of his health and his energy — a context that fully justifies the difficult decision that the pope has taken,” Tosatti wrote after the pope said he would step down due to old age.

The report cited the pope’s doctor Patrizio Polisca saying two years ago that Benedict’s blood pressure was having “major jumps” and insisting that he spend “as little time as possible in a plane because of the dangers”.

Tosatti added that Benedict had been expressly advised not to make the transatlantic flight to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day later this year.

In his report, Tosatti also said the pope could “almost no longer see” out of his left eye and therefore had to be helped up and down steps.

The report said Benedict even began using a walking stick to get around his own residence last year because his left hip and knee were hurting.

The Vatican last week revealed the pope had hit his head and bled during a trip to Mexico last year and underwent surgery three months ago to replace the batteries in a pacemaker he was fitted with while he was still a cardinal.

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The 117 Men Who Will Choose the Next Pope

Cardinal electors from every region of the world will gather to choose the man to succeed Pope Benedict XVI. See how they add up.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/02/17/world/europe/pope-cardinals.html?ref=world

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The Christian Science Monitor

Copernicus and the Church: What the history books don't say

Many believe the heliocentric theory was immediately rejected by the Catholic Church. However, the relationship between the Church and Copernicus is much more complex than popular historical narratives suggest.

By Steph Solis / February 19, 2013 at 3:14 pm EST

Legend has it that Nicolaus Copernicus and the church were at odds over his development of the heliocentric theory, a principle that disputed the widely held belief that Earth was the center of the universe.

Unlike Galileo and other controversial astronomers, however, Copernicus had a good relationship with the Catholic Church. It may come as a surprise, considering the Church banned Copernicus' "Des revolutionibus" for more than 200 years. Copernicus was actually respected as a canon and regarded as a renowned astronomer. Contrary to popular belief, the Church accepted Copernicus' heliocentric theory before a wave of Protestant opposition led the Church to ban Copernican views in the 17th century.

Throughout his lifetime, Copernicus was active in the religious community. Copernicus was born in 1473 in Torun, Poland, the youngest of four children. At age 10, his father died and he were sent to live with his uncle Lucas Watzenrode, who would later become the bishop of Warmia (Ermland).

Copernicus studied at St. John’s Church in Torun's parochial school before going to Krakow Academy in 1491 to pursue astronomy and astrology. He became known as a skilled mathematical and astronomer, but he also maintained his ties to the church. He became a canon of the cathedral chapter of Frombork through his uncle, and he served the church of Warmia as a medical advisor.

Copernicus first outlined his ideas about the heliocentric theory in a manuscript titled “Commentariolus.” There he suggested a heliostatic system, where the sun was at the center of the universe and the earth made rotations.

The astronomer published “De revolutionibus” in March 1543, after more than a decade of revisions. The book included a letter to Pope Paul III arguing the legitimacy of the heliocentric theory. He died two months later.

“De revolutionibus” initially met no resistance from the Catholic Church. It was not until 1616 that the church banned the book. The ban continued until 1835.

Mano Singham, an associate professor of physics at Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio, points out discrepancies between popular narratives about Copernicus and the full story.

Singham published an article in Physics Today in December 2007 disputing the assumptions that Copernicus’ ideas were “fiercely opposed by the Catholic Church.” The article, “The Copernican myths,” debunks many assumptions: that people regarded Earth as the center of the universe with pride, that Earth was believed to be the center of the universe rather than at the center, that the Catholic Church immediately rejected Copernicus’ findings.

Copernicus’ heliocentric model did receive some criticism from colleagues, but it was in part due to people’s understanding of direction and of Earth's mass in relation to the universe, Singham writes. “De revolutionibus” was read and at least partially taught at several Catholic universities.

One possible reason for the misconceptions about Copernicus is the execution of Giordano Bruno, a philosopher who was known as a heretic and an advocate of Copernican theory. While he was condemned for other reasons, Bruno became known as “the first martyr of the new science” after he was burned at the stake in 1600.

However, the article also notes that Copernicus gained ridicule from poets and Protestants, who condemned it as heresy. While the Catholic Church initially accepted heliocentricity, Catholics eventually joined the wave of Protestant opposition and banned the book in 1616. The Protestant churches accepted Copernicus’ findings after more evidence emerged to support it. The Catholic Church, however, remained ground in its anti-Copernican beliefs until the 19th century. The ban on Copernicus's views was lifted in 1822, and the ban on his book until 1835.

It is worth noting, as Stanford University does, that the Catholic Church had no official stance on Copernican teachings. Pope Clement VII, who died about a decade before Copernicus, was said to have been receptive about the astronomer’s theories. While there was no recorded response from Pope Paul III, one of his advisors intended to condemn the book before dying.

Phil Lawler, editor of Catholic World News, also says Copernicus was in good standing with the Church when he died. He notes that while heliocentric theory was controversial during Copernicus’ lifetime his work did not cause him any conflict with the Catholic Church.

"Yes, he delayed because he feared an adverse reaction — not from Church leaders, but from his fellow scholars. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Copernicus was worried about a hostile reaction from the Church.”

Despite the resistance to Copernican views in the future, the astronomer’s life was one immersed in religion. And while it may be forgotten, it is under the auspices of the Catholic Church that Copernicus made his theories known.


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« Reply #4686 on: Feb 20, 2013, 08:57 AM »

Massive 300 million-year-old asteroid impact zone discovered in Australian outback

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 1:19 EST

Scientists have discovered a massive 200-kilometre (124-mile) impact zone in the Australian outback they believe was caused by an asteroid which smashed into Earth more than 300 million years ago.

Andrew Glikson, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University, said the asteroid measuring 10 to 20 kilometres in diameter was a giant compared to the plunging meteor which exploded above Russia a week ago.

That event set off a shockwave that shattered windows and hurt almost 1,000 people in the Urals city of Chelyabinsk, but Glikson said the consequences of the Australian event would have been global.

“This is a new discovery,” Glikson told AFP on Wednesday of the impact zone in South Australia’s East Warburton Basin.

“And what really was amazing was the size of the terrain that has been shocked. It’s now a minimum of 200 kilometres (in diameter), this makes it about the third biggest anywhere in the world.”

The East Warburton Basin has evidence of some 30,000-square kilometres of shock-metamorphosed terrain which Glikson first began studying after another scientist showed him samples which displayed microstructural anomalies.

“Following that I spent many months in the lab doing a number of tests under the microscope to measure the crystal orientations… and determined that these rocks underwent an extraterrestrial impact or shock,” he said.

“We are dealing with an asteroid which is least 10 kilometres in size.

“It would have had a global impact, not just regional.”

Besides a vast crater, now buried under more than three kilometres of sediments, it would have released huge amounts of dust and vapour which would have literally blanketed the Earth.

Glikson, from ANU’s Planetary Science Institute and School of Archaeology and Anthropology, said despite the recent Russian meteor and the 45-metre wide asteroid dubbed 2012 DA 14 which whizzed safely past Earth last week, events of the scale of the Australian asteroid were extremely rare.


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« Reply #4687 on: Feb 20, 2013, 09:43 AM »

In the USA...

Chris Matthews: GOP using ‘Cold War CIA tactics’ to bring down U.S. government

By Eric W. Dolan
RawStory
Tuesday, February 19, 2013 19:17 EST

MSNBC host Chris Matthews tore into the Republican Party on his show Tuesday night, comparing their anti-government attitude to CIA-led coups during the Cold War.

“If they didn’t like a government somewhere — Guatemala, Iran, the Dominican Republic, Chile — they just brought it down,” he said. “Guess what, Republicans are now using the same tactic here at home. If they don’t like who we’ve elected president, they find some way to undermine the government, discredit its leaders, whatever it takes to destroy it.”

“We are using in this country the same old Cold War CIA tactics to destabilize our own country,” Matthews continued. “Look at the impact of the constant threats to shut down the government on public confidence. It’s all in the ratings. It’s making people forever nervous about the basic ability of America to even have a running government. Is that patriotic? I don’t think so.”

The liberal MSNBC host alleged that while President Barack Obama was attempting to keep the government running, Republicans were hoping to gain political points by refusing to compromise and crash the government.

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Maddow: Regular Americans routinely ask tougher questions than whiny Beltway media

By David Ferguson
RawStory
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 10:05 EST

On Tuesday night’s edition of “The Rachel Maddow Show,” host Rachel Maddow examined the gap between what average Americans are concerned about and what the Beltway press corps is concerned about, and how these concerns are reflected in the kinds of questions they ask when given access to politicians.

Parents magazine hosted an online town hall meeting with Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday, asking Biden questions submitted by readers through the magazine’s Facebook page. Maddow played a video clip of some of the questions.

“Does it make sense to provide armed guards for our schools like those that are provided for government buildings?” asked one reader. “Do you believe that banning certain weapons and high capacity magazines will mean that law-abiding citizens will then become more of a target to criminals?” asked another, followed by, “Should parents who don’t have guns in their homes demand to know which of their children’s friends are gun owners?”

In the video, Biden seemed surprised that these were the kinds of questions readers were asking. Maddow echoed his surprise, saying that usually articles in Parents have titles like “Is home birth for you?” and “Is ‘Clean your plate’ a recipe for obesity?”

But most people, she said, are going to save up their most important questions for a sitting vice president rather than asking him, “Should I clean my plate?”

“People are going to ask him hard questions,” Maddow said. “Even in that non-journalism-based, Facebook-moderated forum.”

But on the other end of the spectrum, she continued, this past weekend, President Barack Obama spend some time in Florida and went golfing with some friends, including pro golfing legend Tiger Woods.

However, “The White House press corps is very angry about this weekend,” she noted, because they weren’t allowed to watch the game. The pool reporters who generally track the president’s every move were kept away from the golf game, while one single reporter, a writer from Golf Digest, was allowed to observe.

Reporters were furious. ABC’s Ann Compton called it “a disgrace.” Ed Henry of Fox News said that a mood of “extreme frustration” gripped the press corps. Politico accused the president of being “strangely fearful” of them.

Maddow went on to say that the president and vice president have both gone out of their way to make themselves available to questions from ordinary citizens, who have asked in town hall meetings about the Democratic Party’s stance on Internet freedom, about tax deductions for homeowners and how to prevent abuse of software patents.

Those substantive questions about real policy issues came from people at a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session with President Obama and from questions submitted to the president via Twitter, not from paid journalists who are charged with covering the White House.

“The professional press corps plays an important role,” said Maddow, “no matter how you feel about the Beltway media.”

But, she said, there is something important there, which you see in the gaps between the kinds of questions asked by Beltway media types and the kinds of questions ordinary people ask of people in power when they get the chance, which seem to come, in Maddow’s words, “from totally different universes.”

Politico led the pack of angry press corps dissenters in the wake of the golf trip to Florida, but media critic Greg Mitchell pointed out that when Politico‘s Mike Allen has had access to President George W. Bush during the 2008 election, he asked questions like, “All right. Mr. President, who does the better impression, Will Ferrell of you, or Dana Carvey of your father?” and “Now, Mr. President, you and the First Lady appeared on American Idol’s charity show, ‘Idol Gives Back.’ And I wonder who do you think is going to win? Syesha, David Cook, or David Archuleta?”

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Former Powell chief of staff ‘damn sure the Bush administration cooked the books’ on Iraq

By Stephen C. Webster
RawStory
Tuesday, February 19, 2013 12:40 EST

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, said Monday on MSNBC that he’s “damn sure the Bush administration cooked the books” when it came to pushing for the invasion of Iraq.

Wilkerson was speaking to host Ed Schultz about the Republican filibuster of Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, but transitioned into a plug for MSNBC’s new documentary “Hubris: Selling the Iraq War,” which aired Monday night.

The documentary featured never-before-seen memos by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, composed in November, 2001, clearly showing he and aides workshopping ideas for selling the invasion of Iraq. “US discovers Saddam connection to Sept. 11 attack or to anthrax attacks?” one possibility reads. “Dispute over WMD inspections? Start now thinking about inspection demands.”

Another memo instructed administration officials to, “Focus on WMD,” then worked down the list going from “building momentum for regime change” to “Surprise, speed, shock and risk,” and ending with emphasizing the importance of “who would rule afterwards,” without a single mention of efforts to win the peace following the invasion.

In the film Wilkerson recalls how Powell, who gave a key speech to the United Nations presenting fabricated evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, seemed to acknowledge there were no weapons in the country. “He said, ‘I wonder what will happen when we put 500,000 troops into Iraq and comb the country from one end to the other and find nothing,’” Wilkerson explained.

“Do you believe the Bush administration cooked the books to sell the war in Iraq?” Schultz asked him.

“I didn’t know it at the time, and I fault myself for that,” he said. “I’ll go to my grave with that mass failing on my part. But yes, in retrospect, having done all the research and work that my students have done, plus myself, I’m damn sure that the Bush administration cooked the books.”

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The Christian Science Monitor -

Unanimous juries for criminal convictions? Supreme Court declines case.

By Warren Richey, Staff writer / February 19, 2013 at 4:08 pm EST

The US Supreme Court declined on Tuesday to take up a case examining whether the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial requires that juries in criminal cases reach their verdicts unanimously.

Two states, Louisiana and Oregon, permit convictions on less than unanimous jury verdicts. In both states a defendant can be convicted by an 11-to-1 or 10-to-2 vote.

All other states and the federal government require that jurors reach a verdict unanimously.

Lawyers urging the high court to take up their case alleged that the jury process in Louisiana is a vestige of a Jim Crow-era policy that sought to undermine African-American participation in the criminal justice system.

The petitioning lawyers also charged that the system undercuts the reliability of jury verdicts. They note that Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish, where their case was tried, has the fourth highest rate of wrongful convictions in the country. Neighboring Orleans Parish has the highest rate.

The root cause of these failures is Louisiana’s embrace of non-unanimous verdicts – “a practice that stultifies the time-honored method of ensuring careful review of the prosecution’s case in the jury room,” Stanford Law Professor Jeffrey Fisher wrote in his brief urging the court to confront the issue.

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Officials in Louisiana deny that their non-unanimous jury system perpetuates racist policies or shoddy justice.

“Petitioner asks this court to reverse a matter settled by this Court forty years ago and a settled matter of state law for over 100 years,” assistant district attorney for Jefferson Parish, Terry Boudreaux, wrote in his brief to the court.

The issue arose in the case of Corey Miller, a New Orleans rapper, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the 2002 shooting death of 16-year-old Steve Thomas at a nightclub. The crime scene was crowded and confused, with conflicting testimony about who the shooter was or might have been. Prosecutors charged Mr. Miller, put him on trial for second-degree murder, and the jury voted 10 to 2 to convict.

Miller was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The US Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that the Constitution does not bar states from adopting less-than-unanimous jury verdicts. The nine justices split 4 to 4 on the issue. Justice Lewis Powell broke the tie, siding with the justices supporting non-unanimous juries at the state level.

At that time only Louisiana and Oregon embraced the idea, and they remain today – 40 years later – the only two states with such a system.

Fisher urged the justices to reconsider the 1972 decision and reverse it.

Mr. Boudreaux, the assistant district attorney, said in his own brief that the Supreme Court has been asked repeatedly to take up the same issue and has repeatedly refused. He said the court declined twice in 2008, once in 2009, and twice in 2011.

“The Sixth Amendment provides for a right to a trial by jury. The Tenth Amendment reserved to the States the authority to define that right. Louisiana has done so in a way which has been recognized by this Court as respecting due process and equal protection. This Court’s precedents refute petitioner’s claim. It should be denied,” Boudreaux wrote.

Miller’s lawyers sought to link Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury law to the state’s past history of racist policies by citing comments made at a state constitutional convention in 1898. The convention was designed to “establish the supremacy of the white race,” Fisher wrote.

Prosecutors dispute that Louisiana’s non-unanimous jury law is aimed at suppressing the rights of blacks. They said the constitutional convention in 1898 was related to voting rights, not juries at criminal trials.

“The comments should not be taken out of context and forcibly grafted onto the issue herein,” Boudreaux wrote.

Fisher countered: “The state contends that this abhorrent purpose animated only the grandfather clause and literacy test that came out of the convention. But the State offers no reason why the nonunanimity rule does not share the same taint.”

“Public discourse of the [late 1800s] era viewed black votes in jury rooms with the same kind of derision as black votes at the ballot box,” Fisher wrote in his brief. He cited an 1873 letter to a newspaper complaining: “If a Negro be on trial for any crime, [a black juror] becomes at once his earnest champion, and a hung jury is the usual result.”

Fisher said the racial effects of the jury rule continue to be felt in Louisiana. Prosecutors in Jefferson Parish seek to remove African Americans from a prospective jury panel more than three times the rate that whites are challenged, he said.

As a result, 80 percent of guilty verdicts in Jefferson Parish can be handed down with no African American votes in favor of conviction, Fisher said.

The case was Miller v. Louisiana (12-162).

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The Sequester Cuts are the Latest Crime in the Republican War on America

By: Rmuse
Feb. 19th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

In criminal law, intent is when a person proposes and anticipates certain consequences they foresee will happen if their series of acts or omissions continue, and desire it to happen, and generally informs a bad human being, or a criminal. Most Americans would like to believe their politicians are not criminals, or would not intentionally commit acts they know harm the people or government, and yet Republicans have made it clear for the past two years they have every intention of damaging the economy and the people they are elected to serve. As the dreaded sequester cuts and the certain damage to the economy, jobs, and most Americans loom large, Republicans have revealed that the harm their sequester cuts were intended to cause is part of their plan that defines them as criminals, enemies of the state and the American people.

Despite the devastation the Republican cuts will wreak on the economy and the people, another Republican joined leading Congressional Republicans in categorically stating the GOP intends on allowing the cuts to occur and are reveling in the prospects of another recession and increased poverty. Republican Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) said, “Let me be very clear, these spending cuts are going to go through on March 1st ….The Republican Party is not in any way going to trade spending cuts for a tax increase. When you take a look at the total dollars there are better ways to do this, but the cuts are going to occur.” Barrasso echoed Ayn Rand devotee and failed vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan who said, “House Republicans twice passed legislation replacing the sequester with smarter cuts,” that include denying 600,000 poor children food stamps and Medicaid coverage, end food assistance for 1.8 million adults including Meals on Wheels, and healthcare for disabled Americans. In Republican parlance, smarter means more damage to Americans; particularly those Ryan considers “takers” that his running mate Willard Romney enumerated at 47% of the population who want “free stuff.”

Thus far, Republicans have not offered any proposals to offset the sequester cuts, and have rejected two different proposals from Democrats that achieve greater deficit reduction, create jobs,  and contain revenue that Republicans reject on principle, and their message to the President, and the people, is that  they have no intention of stopping the sequester damage. The GOP’s backdoor austerity program has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to impede growth, destroy a million jobs, and send the economy into a recession, and it is their sole intention to see it come to pass. It is tempting to cite aversion to revenue that is their raison d’être in government, and it plays a role, but it is their aversion to the American people, especially those in need, that drives their Draconian intent to increase poverty and cull the takers from the population with slow-death starvation, untreated infirmities, and job-killing austerity.

Republicans claim their adherence to cutting programs affecting 98% of the population is due to out-of-control spending, but spending is already at historically low levels, and if the sequester goes into effect, food safety, education, law enforcement, safety net programs, and economic growth will be, and already has been, dramatically impacted which is the GOP’s intent. They have also laid the groundwork to blame their economic malfeasance on the President, and not their wont to create hardship on the population. In fact, Republicans’ only plan to avoid the sequester cuts is voiding the defense cuts and replacing them with more domestic cuts including those already in the sequester.

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, allowing the automatic sequester cuts, regardless how they are apportioned, will subtract 0.6 % from gross domestic product growth and eliminate a minimum 750,000 jobs in 2013 alone. Conversely, eliminating the sequester, Budget Control Act cuts, in conjunction with the fiscal cliff’s tax increase on the extremely wealthy will boost real GDP by about 2¼% by the end of 2013. Still, Republicans are resolute to allow the sequester and impose deeper cuts the CBO did not include in the dire warning of defunding the economy in a deliberate, pre-meditated assault on America and the people. In fact, their abhorrence of new revenue to reduce the falling deficit, and stimulate the economy, informs more than just their wont to protect the richest 1% of income earners, it informs their hatred of the people.

America’s infrastructure is crumbling, people need jobs and a raise in the minimum wage, education funding is deplorable, and more Americans are living in poverty as a result of the GOP’s inaction. Republicans know spending creates jobs, boosts the economy, and yet their strategy is allowing sequester cuts to decimate the economy and the people instead of even considering new revenue. They are culling the population with cuts that affect Ryan’s “takers” and Romney’s 47%, and when they have starved children, seniors, Veterans, and killed off disabled Americans, they will replace them with the middle class their policies are decimating to protect the rich.

Intentionally taking the life out of the economy and the people is not to prevent President Obama from winning a second term, it is solely to create economic distress and it is not just because they abhor revenue; they abhor America. Their refusal to invest in jobs, the decrepit infrastructure, or lift a finger to continue economic recovery puts them in league with America’s enemies because their actions are intentional, they know the consequence, and desire it to happen.  With the damage Republicans intend imposing on the economy with job-killing sequester cuts, and the severe austerity calculated to decimate the American people, Republicans are not saying “so be it,” they are saying “bring it on.”

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John Boehner Calls Eliminating Food for 1.7 Million Americans ‘Common Sense Cuts’

By: Jason Easley
Feb. 19th, 2013
PolitcusUSA

John Boehner won’t tell you this, but the “common sense cuts” he referred to that would avoid the sequester, will eliminate food for 1.7 million Americans.

In a statement responding to President Obama’s call for a balanced approach to avoiding the sequester, Speaker Boehner said, “Today the president advanced an argument Republicans have been making for a year: his sequester is the wrong way to cut spending. That’s why the House has twice passed legislation to replace it with common sense cuts and reforms that won’t threaten public safety, national security, or our economy. But once again, the president offered no credible plan that can pass Congress – only more calls for higher taxes. Just last month, the president got his higher taxes on the wealthy, and he’s already back for more. The American people understand that the revenue debate is now closed. We should close loopholes and carve-outs in the tax code, but that revenue should be used to lower rates across the board. Tax reform is a once-in-a generation opportunity to boost job creation in America. It should not be squandered to enable more Washington spending. Spending is the problem, spending must be the focus.”

While it is technically true that the twice passed cuts that won’t jeopardize public safety or national security, Boehner didn’t mention what his cuts really do.

The cuts that the House has passed twice would end funding for the Meals on Wheels program. Meals on Wheels serves up to 1.7 million seniors with food security issues. According to Meals on Wheels, “1 in 7 Seniors is threatened by hunger. 8.3 million Seniors faced the threat of hunger in 2010. This reflects a 78% increase since 2001 – and a 34% increase since the start of the recession in 2007. The threat of hunger for seniors increased in 44 states since 2007.”

John Boehner isn’t the only member of House leadership to support cutting food for seniors. On December 20, 2012, Majority Leader Eric Cantor called them, “common sense spending reforms.” On Sunday, Paul Ryan called ending funding for food assistance and also throwing 600,000 children off food stamps and Medicaid, “smarter cuts.”

The fact that Boehner, Cantor, and Ryan all agree that these spending cuts are common sense demonstrates that this is the stated policy of the House Republican caucus. The House leadership, much like history’s most infamous dictators, believes that denying food and medical care to children and senior citizens is good policy.

This is what President Obama has to deal with as his opposition. There can be no middle ground for Obama when Republicans are advocating for starving kids and seniors.

There is nothing common sense about cutting aid to vulnerable people during a time of economic hardship, but to Boehner, Cantor, and Ryan, children and seniors are “takers.”

Speaker Boehner doesn’t want to tell you the truth, but it is time for you to tell him something.

Boehner has been quite active on twitter lately, so send him the message @SpeakerBoehner that there is nothing “common sense” about taking food and medical care away from seniors and children so that the wealthy can avoid paying a tiny bit more in taxes.

Speaker Boehner and his fellow House Republicans need to understand that the American people know what they are up to, and they aren’t going to get away with it.

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February 19, 2013

With Cutbacks Days Away, Obama Tries to Pressure G.O.P.

By JACKIE CALMES
NYT

WASHINGTON — Days away from another fiscal crisis and with Congress on vacation, President Obama began marshaling the powers of the presidency on Tuesday to try to shame Republicans into a compromise that could avoid further self-inflicted job losses and damage to the fragile recovery. But so far, Republicans were declining to engage.

To turn up the pressure on the absent lawmakers, Mr. Obama warned in calamitous terms of the costs to military readiness, domestic investments and vital services if a “meat-cleaver” approach of indiscriminate, across-the-board spending cuts takes effect on March 1. Surrounding him in a White House auditorium were solemn, uniformed emergency responders, invited to illustrate the sort of critical services at risk.

The president plans to keep up the pressure through next week for an alternative deficit-reduction deal that includes both spending cuts and new revenues through closing tax loopholes. He will have daily events underscoring the potential ramifications of the automatic cuts, aides said, and next week will travel outside Washington to take his case to the public, as he did late last year in another fiscal fight on which he prevailed.

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama will be interviewed by television anchors from eight cities to emphasize the harm that the impending cuts could do locally.

In stern tones, Mr. Obama said that the automatic cuts, known in budget terms as a sequester, would “affect our responsibility to respond to threats in unstable parts of the world” and “add thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls.”

He framed the debate in the way that he hopes will force Republicans into accepting some higher tax revenues, something they so far refuse to do.

“Republicans in Congress face a simple choice,” Mr. Obama said. “Are they willing to compromise to protect vital investments in education and health care and national security and all the jobs that depend on them, or would they rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs and our entire economy at risk just to protect a few special-interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations?”

Mr. Obama once again finds himself in a budget showdown with the opposing party, and numerous polls show his position to be more popular than Republican calls for spending cuts only, including cuts in Medicare. Mr. Obama and senior aides hardly disguised their sense of political advantage.

Still, the president’s leverage might in fact be limited, since by all appearances he seems to want a deal far more than Republicans do. As the leader of the nation, Mr. Obama is eager to see an end to the repeated evidence of Washington dysfunction, or what he referred to again on Tuesday as the cycle of “manufactured crisis.” And with his legacy ultimately at stake, he needs to lift the fiscal uncertainty that since 2011 has held down economic growth.

Despite the risks of an impasse for Republicans, those who control the House have all but forfeited this battle to Mr. Obama and seem poised to let the automatic cuts take effect. Many Republicans, particularly newer members elected with Tea Party support, have pushed party leaders to accept the sequester and lock in the spending cuts rather than compromise. The leaders seem to have decided to wage battle later this spring in the larger fight over the annual federal budget.

Contributing to Republican calculations is the fact that at least in the short term, an impasse over the sequester is not as potentially catastrophic as the threats that loomed in past partisan showdowns, like a full shutdown of government or the nation’s first-ever default on its global debt obligations.

The potential impact is potentially hazardous nonetheless, both economically and politically. As Mr. Obama noted, the prospect of the sequester has already affected military deployments and hiring by military contractors, and threatens layoffs of teachers, air traffic controllers and researchers, among others.

Hours after the president’s remarks, economic forecasters at Macroeconomic Advisers, based in St. Louis, projected that sequestration would reduce the firm’s forecast of growth this year by nearly a quarter, 0.6 percent, and cost roughly 700,000 civilian and military jobs through 2014, with heightened unemployment lingering for several years.

“By far the preferable policy,” the analysis said, “is a credible long-term plan to shrink the deficit more slowly through some combination of revenue increases within broad tax reform” as well as “more carefully considered cuts” in spending programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. That prescription for both long-term spending reductions and revenue increases, as an alternative to immediate deep spending cuts that inhibit job growth, generally tracks Mr. Obama’s approach.

He has proposed $1.5 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years and revenue increases that would build on the roughly $2.5 trillion over the decade that he and Congress have agreed to in the past two years.

The total, $4 trillion, is the minimum reduction that many economists say is necessary to stabilize the growth of the nation’s debt at a time when the population is aging and health care costs are rising, driving projected costs to entitlement programs to unsustainable levels.

That approach mixing spending cuts and increased revenues got another endorsement on Tuesday when the chairmen of Mr. Obama’s 2010 debt-reduction commission — former Senator Alan K. Simpson, a Republican, and Erskine B. Bowles, a Democrat and former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton — released a revised fiscal plan that would reduce annual deficits by $2.4 trillion in a decade through spending cuts, including in Medicare and Social Security benefits, and an overhaul of the tax system.

But Republicans say they will not consider additional tax increases since Mr. Obama in January won more than $600 billion over 10 years in higher revenues from the wealthiest taxpayers. “The revenue debate is now closed,” SpeakerJohn A. Boehnersaid in a statement reacting to the president’s remarks.

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February 19, 2013

Justices Take Case on Overall Limit to Political Donations

By ADAM LIPTAK
NYT

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a challenge to federal campaign contribution limits, setting the stage for what may turn out to be the most important federal campaign finance case since the court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United, which struck down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions.

The latest case is an attack on the other main pillar of federal campaign finance regulation: limits on contributions made directly to political candidates and some political committees.

“In Citizens United, the court resisted tinkering with the rules for contribution limits,” said Richard L. Hasen, an expert on election law at the University of California, Irvine. “This could be the start of chipping away at contribution limits.”

The central question is in one way modest and in another ambitious. It challenges only aggregate limits — overall caps on contributions to several candidates or committees — and does not directly attack the more familiar basic limits on contributions to individual candidates or committees. Should the court agree that those overall limits are unconstitutional, however, its decision could represent a fundamental reassessment of a basic distinction established in Buckley v. Valeo in 1976, which said contributions may be regulated more strictly than expenditures because of their potential for corruption.

The case was brought by Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama man, and the Republican National Committee. Mr. McCutcheon said he was prepared to abide by contribution limits to individual candidates and groups, which are currently $2,500 per election to federal candidates, $30,800 per year to national party committees, $10,000 per year to state party committees and $5,000 per year to other political committees. But he said he objected to separate overall two-year limits, currently $46,200 for contributions to candidates and $70,800 for contributions to groups, arguing that they were unjustified and too low.

He said he had made contributions to 16 federal candidates in recent elections and had wanted to give money to 12 more. He said he had also wanted to give $25,000 to each of three political committees established by the Republican Party. Each set of contributions would have put him over the overall limits.

In September, a special three-judge federal court in Washington upheld the overall limits, saying they were justified by the need to prevent the circumvention of the basic limits.

“Although we acknowledge the constitutional line between political speech and political contributions grows increasingly difficult to discern,” Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote for the court, “we decline plaintiffs’ invitation to anticipate the Supreme Court’s agenda.”

In June, in a brief, unsigned 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the Citizens United ruling, summarily reversing a decision of the Montana Supreme Court that had upheld a state law limiting independent political spending by corporations.

“The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law,” the opinion said. “There can be no serious doubt that it does.” Montana’s arguments, the opinion continued, “either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case.”

In 2006, in Randall v. Sorell, the Supreme Court struck down Vermont’s contribution limits, the lowest in the nation, as unconstitutional. Individuals and political parties were not allowed to contribute more than $400 to a candidate for statewide office over a two-year election cycle, including primaries. In a brief concurrence, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said there was no reason to address the continuing validity of Buckley v. Valeo in that case, suggesting that a later case might present the question directly.

The latest case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, No. 12-536, may be that case.

The court also issued a pair of Fourth Amendment decisions on Tuesday.

In one of them, the court ruled, 6 to 3, that the police may not stop and detain people without probable cause in connection with a search warrant once they had left the premises being searched.

The case, Bailey v. United States, No. 11-770, concerned Chunon Bailey, a New York man who left an apartment in 2005 as it was about to be searched. The police had a warrant to look for a gun, which they ultimately found. They also followed Mr. Bailey’s car for about a mile before stopping, handcuffing and searching him.

Mr. Bailey was later convicted of gun and drug charges. He asked lower courts to suppress evidence from the stop — statements he made and a key linking him to the apartment — but they refused, relying on Michigan v. Summers, a 1981 Supreme Court decision allowing the detention of people in the immediate vicinity of the place to be searched.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said none of the interests justifying the detention of people at the scene had allowed Mr. Bailey to be detained. People far from the scene cannot endanger officers conducting the search or disrupt it, he said. Nor could the interest in “preventing flight” be stretched, he wrote, to “justify, for instance, detaining a suspect who is 10 miles away, ready to board a plane.”

Justice Kennedy added that a detention in public gave rise to a different sort of indignity than one inside a home.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the majority opinion.

In a second, unanimous ruling, the court decided the first of two cases concerning dog sniffs on its docket this term, Florida v. Harris, No. 11-817.

The case concerned a man, Clayton Harris, who was pulled over in 2006 near Bristol, Fla., for driving with an expired license plate. A police dog named Aldo alerted his human partner to contraband in Mr. Harris’s pickup truck.

Based on the alert, the officer searched the truck and found ingredients for making methamphetamine.

The Florida Supreme Court suppressed the evidence, saying that prosecutors had not adequately established the reliability of Aldo’s nose through comprehensive documentation of his performance in earlier searches. Justice Kagan said the dog’s substantial training and certification sufficed.

“A sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test,” she wrote.

The case was argued in October on the same day as Florida v. Jardines, No. 11-564, concerning dog sniffs outside a home, and there was reason to think the two cases would be decided together. But the justices apparently found the question in the second case harder.

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February 19, 2013

It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk

By CATHERINE RAMPELL
NYT

ATLANTA —The college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job.

Consider the 45-person law firm of Busch, Slipakoff & Schuh here in Atlanta, a place that has seen tremendous growth in the college-educated population. Like other employers across the country, the firm hires only people with a bachelor’s degree, even for jobs that do not require college-level skills.

This prerequisite applies to everyone, including the receptionist, paralegals, administrative assistants and file clerks. Even the office “runner” — the in-house courier who, for $10 an hour, ferries documents back and forth between the courthouse and the office — went to a four-year school.

“College graduates are just more career-oriented,” said Adam Slipakoff, the firm’s managing partner. “Going to college means they are making a real commitment to their futures. They’re not just looking for a paycheck.”

Economists have referred to this phenomenon as “degree inflation,” and it has been steadily infiltrating America’s job market. Across industries and geographic areas, many other jobs that didn’t used to require a diploma — positions like dental hygienists, cargo agents, clerks and claims adjusters — are increasingly requiring one, according to Burning Glass, a company that analyzes job ads from more than 20,000 online sources, including major job boards and small- to midsize-employer sites.

This up-credentialing is pushing the less educated even further down the food chain, and it helps explain why the unemployment rate for workers with no more than a high school diploma is more than twice that for workers with a bachelor’s degree: 8.1 percent versus 3.7 percent.

Some jobs, like those in supply chain management and logistics, have become more technical, and so require more advanced skills today than they did in the past. But more broadly, because so many people are going to college now, those who do not graduate are often assumed to be unambitious or less capable.

Plus, it’s a buyer’s market for employers.

“When you get 800 résumés for every job ad, you need to weed them out somehow,” said Suzanne Manzagol, executive recruiter at Cardinal Recruiting Group, which does headhunting for administrative positions at Busch, Slipakoff & Schuh and other firms in the Atlanta area.

Of all the metropolitan areas in the United States, Atlanta has had one of the largest inflows of college graduates in the last five years, according to an analysis of census data by William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. In 2012, 39 percent of job postings for secretaries and administrative assistants in the Atlanta metro area requested a bachelor’s degree, up from 28 percent in 2007, according to Burning Glass.

“When I started recruiting in ’06, you didn’t need a college degree, but there weren’t that many candidates,” Ms. Manzagol said.

Even if they are not exactly applying the knowledge they gained in their political science, finance and fashion marketing classes, the young graduates employed by Busch, Slipakoff & Schuh say they are grateful for even the rotest of rote office work they have been given.

“It sure beats washing cars,” said Landon Crider, 24, the firm’s soft-spoken runner.

He would know: he spent several years, while at Georgia State and in the months after graduation, scrubbing sedans at Enterprise Rent-a-Car. Before joining the law firm, he was turned down for a promotion to rental agent at Enterprise — a position that also required a bachelor’s degree — because the company said he didn’t have enough sales experience.

His college-educated colleagues had similarly limited opportunities, working at Ruby Tuesday or behind a retail counter while waiting for a better job to open up.

“I am over $100,000 in student loan debt right now,” said Megan Parker, who earns $37,000 as the firm’s receptionist. She graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta in 2011 with a degree in fashion and retail management, and spent months waiting on “bridezillas” at a couture boutique, among other stores, while churning out office-job applications.

“I will probably never see the end of that bill, but I’m not really thinking about it right now,” she said. “You know, this is a really great place to work.”

The risk with hiring college graduates for jobs they are supremely overqualified for is, of course, that they will leave as soon as they find something better, particularly as the economy improves.

Mr. Slipakoff said his firm had little turnover, though, largely because of its rapid expansion. The company has grown to more than 30 lawyers from five in 2008, plus a support staff of about 15, and promotions have abounded.

“They expect you to grow, and they want you to grow,” said Ashley Atkinson, who graduated from Georgia Southern University in 2009 with a general studies degree. “You’re not stuck here under some glass ceiling.”

Within a year of being hired as a file clerk, around Halloween 2011, Ms. Atkinson was promoted twice to positions in marketing and office management. Mr. Crider, the runner, was given additional work last month, helping with copying and billing claims. He said he was taking the opportunity to learn more about the legal industry, since he plans to apply to law school next year.

The firm’s greatest success story is Laura Burnett, who in less than a year went from being a file clerk to being the firm’s paralegal for the litigation group. The partners were so impressed with her filing wizardry that they figured she could handle it.

“They gave me a raise, too,” said Ms. Burnett, a 2011 graduate of the University of West Georgia.

The typical paralegal position, which has traditionally offered a path to a well-paying job for less educated workers, requires no more than an associate degree, according to the Labor Department’s occupational handbook, but the job is still a step up from filing. Of the three daughters in her family, Ms. Burnett reckons that she has the best job. One sister, a fellow West Georgia graduate, is processing insurance claims; another, who dropped out of college, is one of the many degree-less young people who still cannot find work.

Besides the promotional pipelines it creates, setting a floor of college attainment also creates more office camaraderie, said Mr. Slipakoff, who handles most of the firm’s hiring and is especially partial to his fellow University of Florida graduates. There is a lot of trash-talking of each other’s college football teams, for example. And this year the office’s Christmas tree ornaments were a colorful menagerie of college mascots — Gators, Blue Devils, Yellow Jackets, Wolves, Eagles, Tigers, Panthers — in which just about every staffer’s school was represented.

“You know, if we had someone here with just a G.E.D. or something, I can see how they might feel slighted by the social atmosphere here,” he says. “There really is something sort of cohesive or binding about the fact that all of us went to college.”
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Manhunt launched in India after three sisters aged five to 11 found dead in well

Police seek men suspected of raping and killing sisters, whose bodies were found in Maharashtra state on 14 February

Associated Press in New Delhi
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 21 February 2013 12.53 GMT   

Activists from left-wing organisations shout slogans during a protest outside the Indian Parliament
Fatal gang rape of a young woman in a bus in New Delhi in December set off nationwide protests about India’s treatment of women. Photograph: B Mathur/REUTERS

Police have launched a manhunt for men suspected of the rape and killing of three sisters, aged five to 11, in the latest case of sexual violence to grip India.

Police officer Javed Ahmed said the sisters' bodies were found in a village well in Maharashtra state on 14 February after they had gone missing from school. The area is more than 630 miles south of New Delhi, the capital.

Enraged villagers blocked a national highway passing through the area for several hours on Wednesday demanding justice.

The fatal gang rape of a young woman in a moving bus in New Delhi on 16 December set off nationwide protests about India's treatment of women. Five men are being tried on rape and murder charges

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« Reply #4689 on: Feb 21, 2013, 08:24 AM »

The children who work in India’s rat-hole coal mines for $4 a day

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 21, 2013 2:45 EST

Thirteen-year-old Sanjay Chhetri has a recurring fear: that one day, the dark, dank mine where he works will cave in and bury him alive.

Like thousands of children in India’s remote northeast, Chhetri begins work in the middle of the night, ready to dig pits, squat through narrow tunnels and cut coal shards.

At four feet six inches, the skinny teenager is the perfect fit for a job in the lucrative mining industry in Meghalaya state whose crudely-built rat-hole mines are too small for most adults to enter.

Each day Sanjay makes his way down a series of slippery ladders in the pitch-dark, carrying two pickaxes, with a tiny flashlight strapped to his head.

Seven months into the job, he still walks gingerly, taking care not to miss a step and fall fifty metres (165 feet).

Once he reaches the bottom, he squats as low as he can and slips into the two-feet-high rat-hole, pulling an empty wagon behind him.

That’s where his nightmares begin.

“It’s terrifying to imagine the roof falling on me when I am working,” he says.

Twelve hours later, he will have earned 200 rupees ($4) for a day’s work, more than his parents make as labourers in the state capital Shillong.

The eldest boy in a family of ten, Sanjay left school two years ago when his family could no longer pay the bills.

“It’s very difficult work, I struggle to pull that wagon once I have filled it with coal,” he tells AFP.
As he shivers in coal-stained jeans and flip-flops — revealing wrinkled feet that look like they belong to a much older man — he says his parents constantly ask him to return home to work with them.

But he isn’t ready to leave the mines yet.

“I need to save money so I can return to school. I miss my friends and I still remember school. I still have my old dreams,” he says.

– No curbs on child labour –

Mine manager Kumar Subba says children like Sanjay turn up in droves outside Meghalaya’s coal mines, asking for work.

“New kids are always showing up here. And they lie about their age, telling you they are 20 years old when you can see from their faces that they are much, much younger,” he tells AFP.
Baby-faced Surya Limu is among the most recent recruits to join Subba’s team in Rymbai village.

Limu, who claims he is 17, left his native Nepal for Meghalaya when his father died in a house fire, leaving behind a widow and two children.

Unlike his more experienced colleagues, Limu moves slowly down the precarious mine steps, his delicate features straining with the effort.

“Of course I feel scared but what can I do? I need money, how else can I stay alive?,” he tells AFP.

Child labour is officially illegal in India, with several state laws making the employment of anyone under 18 in a hazardous industry a non-bailable offence.

Furthermore, India’s 1952 Mines Act prohibits coal companies from hiring anyone under 18 to work inside a mine.

Meghalaya, however, has traditionally been exempt due to its special status as a northeastern state with a significant tribal population.

This means that in certain sectors like mining, customary laws overrule national regulations. Any land owner can dig for coal in the state, and prevailing laws do not require them to put any safety measures in place.

According to the Shillong-based non-profit, Impulse NGO Network, some 70,000 children are currently employed in Meghalaya’s mines, with several thousand more working at coal depots.

“The mine owners find it cheaper to extract coal using these crude, unscientific methods and they find it cheaper to hire children. And the police take bribes to look the other way,” Rosanna Lyngdoh, an Impulse activist, told AFP.

– Accidents and burials –

After decades of unregulated mining, the state is due to enforce its first-ever mining policy later this year.

The draft legislation instructs mine owners not to employ children, but it does allow rat-hole mining to continue.

“As long as they allow rat-hole mining, children will always be employed in these mines, because they are small enough to crawl inside,” Lyngdoh said.

Accidents and quiet burials are commonplace, with years of uncontrolled drilling making the rat-holes unstable and liable to collapse at any moment.

According to Gopal Rai, who lives with seven other miners in an eight by ten feet tarpaulin-covered bamboo and metal shack, compensation is rarely, if ever, paid to injured children.

The 17-year-old spends his wages on clothes, mobile phone downloads and a fortnightly schedule of spiky “Korean-influenced” haircuts.

“Some days I feel all right, on other days it’s a little difficult to breathe,” Rai said, a saffron and black scarf wrapped around his neck.

He sees no reason to visit a doctor.

“What’s the point? Anyway, when I leave home for work I have no idea if I will come back alive.”

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« Reply #4690 on: Feb 21, 2013, 08:26 AM »

India plans $70 million mission to Mars in 2013

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 21, 2013 6:37 EST

India said on Thursday it will send a $70 million space mission to Mars this year to study the red planet’s atmosphere.

The unmanned Mars orbiter mission, to be launched in October by the Indian Space Research Organisation, will undertake a 300-day journey to the planet to collect data about its climate and geology.

“The space programme epitomises India’s scientific achievements and benefits the country in a number of areas,” President Pranab Mukherjee told lawmakers in a speech opening a new session of parliament in New Delhi.

“Several space missions are planned for 2013, including India’s first mission to Mars” and the launch of its first navigational satellite, he said.

India says the Mars mission will mark a significant step in its space programme, which has already placed a probe on the moon and envisages its first manned mission in 2016.

A host of countries have previously launched missions to Mars, including the United States, Russia, Japan and China.

India has a well-established space programme, which began in 1963, that is a source of national pride. But the programme has also attracted criticism as the government struggles to tackle widespread poverty and massive infrastructure problems.


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« Reply #4691 on: Feb 21, 2013, 08:28 AM »

NASA’s Mars rover finds gray rock beneath the Red Planet’s surface

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 20:22 EST

So much for Mars being “The Red Planet.”

NASA said Wednesday that its Curiosity rover has scooped up a sample from the interior of a Martian rock and found that the powdery soil just beneath the planet’s rust-colored exterior is actually a light gray color.

“Something that the science team is really excited about, is the fact that the tailings from our drill operation aren’t the typical rusty orange-red that we associate with just about everything on Mars,” said Joel Hurowitz, sampling system scientist for Curiosity.

“When things turn orange, it’s because there’s a rusting process of some kind going on that oxidizes the iron in the rock,” he said during a press conference at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

NASA said earlier this month that Curiosity had succeeded in obtaining the first sample ever collected from the interior of a rock on another planet, which the JPL scientists hailed as an “historic” breakthrough.

“Seeing the powder from the drill in the scoop allows us to verify for the first time the drill collected a sample as it bore into the rock,” said JPL’s Scott McCloskey, drill systems engineer for Curiosity.

“Many of us have been working toward this day for years. Getting final confirmation of successful drilling is incredibly gratifying.

“For the sampling team, this is the equivalent of the landing team going crazy after the successful touchdown,” he said.

NASA scientists said the hue of the Martian rock, once the sample is subjected to further study, may reveal some intriguing clues about the history and composition of Earth’s closest neighbor.

“It may preserve some indication of what iron was doing in these samples without the effect of some later oxidative process that would have rusted the rocks into the orange color that is typical of Mars,” Hurowitz told reporters.

The powder was released after the drill on Curiosity’s robotic arm bore a 2.5-inch (6.4-centimeter) hole into flat Martian bedrock on February 8.

The rover team plans to have Curiosity sieve the sample and analyze it with instruments aboard the rover.

“Going beyond that surface of the rock gets us behind or under all the environmental exposure that the rest of the top layers of Mars have been seeing,” Louise Jandura, sample system chief engineer for Curiosity, said.

“Once we get inside the rock, we get to look at, with our instruments, powder that we bring up that hasn’t been affected by some of these other weathering processes.”

The sample was taken from a fine-grained, sedimentary rock called “John Klein” — named in honor of a Mars Science Laboratory deputy project manager who died in 2011.

The rock was selected for the first sample drilling because it may hold evidence of the presence of water long ago.

The $2.5 billion Curiosity mission, set to last at least two years, aims to study the Martian environment — and hunt for evidence of water — to prepare for a possible future manned mission.

US President Barack Obama has set a goal of sending humans to the planet by 2030.


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« Reply #4692 on: Feb 21, 2013, 08:30 AM »

Astronomers spot smallest planet ever: Kepler-37b

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 17:54 EST

Astronomers on Wednesday said they had found the smallest planet ever spotted beyond our Solar System, a scorched and uninhabitable mini-world tinier than Mercury.

The planet is the innermost of three that orbit a Sun-like star called Kepler-37, named after the Kepler telescope, which was launched in 2009 with the quest of scrutinising the Milky Way for other worlds.

Kepler monitors more than 150,000 stars, analysing their light for a characteristic “wobble” caused by the gravitational tug of a planet that passes just in front of the star.

Dubbed Kepler-37b, the little world is smaller than Mercury, the innermost and smallest planet of our Solar System, and just a tad bigger than the Moon at a third the size of Earth.

“Kepler-37b is probably rocky with no atmosphere or water, similar to Mercury,” according to the study, headed by Thomas Barclay of NASA’s Ames Research Center.

The findings appear in the journal Nature.

A total of 699 extrasolar planets have been found since the first was spotted in 1995, according to a toll compiled by the website http://exoplanets.org.

Another 2,222 findings by Kepler await confirmation.

So far, none of the sightings is a potential home from home — a rocky planet that orbits in a balmy zone, enabling water to exist in liquid form and thus nurture life as we know it.

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« Reply #4693 on: Feb 21, 2013, 08:32 AM »

February 20, 2013

Women Face Fight to Keep Their Rights in Tunisia

By AIDA ALAMI
IHT

TUNIS — At the funeral this month of Chokri Belaid, the murdered secular opposition leader in Tunisia, his widow Basma Khalfaoui, a prominent feminist, stood on the ambulance carrying his casket, her head uncovered, raising her arm to wave a defiant victory sign.

“My husband was denouncing Ennahda’s double talk and we will continue his struggle,” Ms. Khalfaoui, 42, said at the funeral, referring to the moderate Islamist party that governs the country. “We will not give up the fight.”

Tunisia, perceived by the West as the most secular country in the Arab world and a staunch promoter of women’s rights, has gone through a rocky transition since the revolution two years ago that ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. While political pluralism exists for the first time in decades, new freedoms for some are threatening long-cherished ones for others — in particular those for Tunisian women.

After Tunisia gained its independence from France in 1956, the government passed laws to expand women’s rights, including the right to education and gender equality. Over the following decades, Islamists were persecuted and exiled while the government pushed the secularization of society to such an extent that a decree in 1981 banned women from wearing a veil in public buildings and universities.

After the fall of Mr. Ben Ali’s regime, the Ennahda party won elections in October 2011 with a comfortable majority. Since then, worries have grown that one of its aims is to restrict women’s freedoms in a country where, until recently, those rights had been taken for granted for decades.

“I think it’s normal that the Islamists are so vocal — veiled women used to be harassed and the frustration came out all at once,” said Sarah Ben Hamadi, 28, a blogger and journalist. “We are simply paying today for Ben Ali’s mistakes.”

“I don’t think the country is more radical,” she added. “There is more freedom so we see more of the religious people who were hiding in the past.”

Certainly, the religious ultraconservatives known as Salafists are more visible. The University of Manouba, in suburban Tunis, experienced months of tension last year after Salafist students rioted against the ban on the niqab, the face-covering veil.

More worrying are legal overhauls, human rights officials say. As Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly writes a new constitution, there have been repeated confrontations between Islamists, who dominate the assembly and want to roll back some rights acquired by women, and secular liberals, who want an expansion of those rights to include, for example, equal inheritance rights.

“We cannot speak of an obvious rollback since the legal reality is still the same,” said Amna Guellali, the director of Human Rights Watch in Tunis. “But acquired rights are being threatened by repeated attacks by Salafist groups on those they consider infidels or on behavior they deem contrary to Islamic morality.”

When a young woman was allegedly raped by police officers in September, she was charged with indecency and risked six months in prison before the charges were dropped, after a huge uproar. Human rights organizations cite the case as an example of how rights are under threat.

“Under the old regime, there were similar cases,” Ms. Guellali acknowledged. “Now with the new freedoms in the country, the media is paying attention to these kinds of stories.” Still, she said, even allowing for the amplifying effect of the news coverage, something has changed.

Chema Gargouri, the president of the Tunisian Association for Management and Social Stability, a nongovernmental organization that provides training and microloans for women and young people in poor areas, said women were more secure under Mr. Ben Ali.

“What was really striking to me after the revolution was that women started to lose their self-esteem,” Ms. Gargouri said. “The dictatorship was pro-woman. The hatred against the dictatorship is expressed through action against women.”

The rise of social and religious repression and the loss of self-confidence “prevents any entrepreneurial initiative for women,” she added.

Ms. Gargouri, who is in her 40s, said that women of her generation had never previously had to debate or defend their rights. But recent developments had pushed her to work to raise awareness of the challenge now facing them.

“What scares me is that the Tunisian woman seems lost,” she said. “In many places I go to, people ask what the government can do for them. We try to teach them to do it on their own.”

The fact is that Tunisia has an Islamist majority, said Ms. Ben Hamadi, the blogger. “Article 1 of the Tunisian Constitution states that it is an Islamic state,” she said. “If we want real democracy, we must listen to everyone’s voice.”
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« Reply #4694 on: Feb 21, 2013, 08:34 AM »

February 20, 2013

Lebanon Voting Plan Stirs Sectarian Fervor

By JOSH WOOD
IHT

BEIRUT — A controversial draft law to overhaul Lebanon’s electoral system gained traction Tuesday when a parliamentary joint committee supported it, raising the possibility that voters will in future be able to cast ballots only for candidates from their own sect.

Proponents say the law would protect their communities and ensure fairer elections. Opponents say it would further entrench sectarianism in a sharply divided country.

“Election law was one of the last things that wasn’t codified in sectarian terms,” said Emile Hokayem, an analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, or I.I.S.S., in Bahrain.

The change, known as the Orthodox Proposal, was first supported by Christian parties that felt their communities were misrepresented in past elections.

Lebanon’s political system is largely governed by sectarian quotas and criteria. Under an agreement reached at independence in 1943, the president is always a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of Parliament a Shiite. Parliamentary seats are split evenly between Christians and Muslims: Each specific sect within these groups — for example Greek Orthodox Christians or Druze Muslims — is allocated a set number of seats.

The number of seats allocated to each group is now quite arbitrary since there has been no census in Lebanon since 1932. Quotas and electoral districts have been adjusted since, but the demographic base for the system remains the 80-year-old, and visibly obsolete, poll.

The system, intended to promote coexistence, has instead become a driving factor in Lebanon’s conflicts over the years, most notably its 15-year civil war.

In past elections, Lebanon was divided into electoral districts — 26 in 2009, up from 14 in the previous two elections, in 2000 and 2005. In each district, seats were allocated on a sectarian basis, but voters could cast ballots for any candidate, with one vote for every available seat, regardless of sect.

Christian parties have argued that the system allowed many seats reserved for their communities to be decided by Muslim votes.

In Lebanon’s second-largest city, Tripoli, for example, two parliamentary seats are reserved for Christian sects, but the overwhelming majority of residents are Sunni Muslims. Even if every Christian in the city voted en bloc for two candidates, the outcome could still be determined by Sunni voters.

In other districts, seats are only allocated to one sect despite the presence of other groups.

“There is a really deep feeling within the Christian community today in Lebanon that it’s time to stop this injustice,” said Farid El Khazen, a member of Parliament from the Free Patriotic Movement, a Christian party, who supports the draft law.

As well as limiting voters’ choices to candidates from their own sect, the proposal would replace local voting districts with a single, nationwide poll.

The parliamentary committee vote Tuesday showed support for the proposal from Amal and Hezbollah — the principle Shiite factions — as well as the main Christian parties. Among the plan’s harshest critics have been the Sunni-affiliated Future Movement, the Druze-backed Progressive Socialist Party and President Michel Suleiman.

Rhetoric for and against the law has been fervent. Opponents have called it unconstitutional and warned that it would encourage extremism. Saad Hariri, leader of the Future Movement and a former prime minister, took to Twitter to call Tuesday a “black day” for the Lebanese Parliament.

But Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, said that Tuesday was the happiest day in Lebanon’s history.

Parliamentary elections are slated for June but could be delayed. The proposal needs to go before the entire Parliament, and if passed could be vetoed by the president. The outcome remains unclear.

For critics, the draft law is seen as a step that further ingrains sectarianism. “It shapes the discourse in a very fundamental way,” said Mr. Hokayem, the I.I.S.S. analyst. “We already had positions divided by sect, not allocated based on competence. Now we are actually breaking one of the last societal bridges, which had political hopefuls forced to engage other constituencies beyond their comfort zones.”

Lokman Slim, a social and political activist, said the proposal “should be seen as one of the signs of the times of what is happening in Syria, Lebanon and in Iraq.” Mr. Slim heads an organization documenting Lebanon’s conflicts.

The 1932 census found that over half of Lebanon’s population was Christian. That percentage is widely believed to have fallen since then, probably to well under half, but no precise figures exist.

With this in mind, some say that the proposal would mean that fewer Christian votes would be needed to elect candidates to Parliament, skewing the system in their favor.

“These issues were present in 1975 due to the fact that Christians were presiding over power beyond their demographic distribution or demographic size — that’s why part of the civil war started” said Imad Salamey, an associate professor of political science at Lebanese American University in Beirut. “Now, this is bringing back sectarianism and bringing back the same issues that gave rise to the war.”

Mr. El Khazen, the Parliament member, defended the law. “Lebanon is sectarian and will become more sectarian with or without the law,” he said. “We have no signs, no indications whatsoever, that in the next 10 years Lebanon will be headed toward a secular system or a less confessional system.”

Such support for the plan underscores how deep sectarian identity still runs in a country where, to take just one example, interfaith marriages are prohibited from being performed by the state.

In 2011, a movement against Lebanon’s sectarian political system was inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions. Some protests brought tens of thousands to the streets, but the movement soon lost momentum and collapsed.

This year saw a push for the adoption of civil marriage in Lebanon. It received verbal support from Mr. Hariri, the former prime minister, and Mr. Suleiman, the president. But last month, Sheik Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, the top Sunni cleric in the country, issued a ruling that called support for civil marriage apostasy, effectively quashing the idea and illustrating the strong pushback such initiatives face.

Many see a break from sectarianism as the only way to finally shake the ghosts of the civil war. “The only way that Christians and Muslims can coexist is by undermining sectarian-driven politics and making political interests cross-sectarian,” said Mr. Salamey, the professor.

But Tuesday evening, when secular activists called for a protest against the draft law in Beirut, few turned up.

“At the end of the day, the sectarian leaders — the feudal leaders — are still around, and they mobilize much larger numbers,” Mr. Hokayem said.
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