March 4, 2013
Kerry Criticizes Iran and Russia for Shipping Arms to Syria
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Making a case for providing increased support to the Syrian opposition, Secretary of State John Kerry criticized Russia and Iran on Monday for continuing to ship arms to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
Mr. Kerry has sought to enlist Russia’s cooperation for a political solution to the war in Syria and met last week with Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov.
But Mr. Kerry said in Riyadh that Russia had continued to send weapons to forces loyal to Mr. Assad.
“Believe me, the bad actors, regrettably, have no shortage of their ability to get arms — from Iran, from Hezbollah, from Russia, unfortunately,” Mr. Kerry said in a joint news conference with the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal.
Mr. Kerry attended an international conference in Rome last week that was convened to show backing for the Syrian opposition. The secretary of state appeared to welcome some outside efforts to provide military support to rebels in Syria, even though the Obama administration has decided not to send arms. Asked if there was a danger that arms sent by Saudi Arabia might fall into the wrong hands, Mr. Kerry said that it was important to put pressure on the Assad government.
“There is no guarantee that one weapon or another might not, at some point in time, flow into the wrong hands,” he said. “But I will tell you this: there is a very clear ability now in the Syrian opposition to make certain that what goes to the moderate, legitimate opposition is in fact getting to them, and the indication is that they are increasing their pressure as a result of that.”
“Morally, we have a duty,” the Saudi foreign minister said, alluding to efforts to provide military support.
He added that the Assad regime was firing missiles at population centers in Syria at times of the day when civilians were concentrated. “Nobody who has done that to his citizens can claim a right to lead a country,” he said.
While it has decided not to send arms, the Obama administration said that it would send food and medical supplies to the armed wing of the Syrian opposition. Britain is expected to soon announce a package of nonlethal military assistance, like vehicles.
Mr. Kerry had a working lunch on Monday with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, who was visiting Riyadh along with leaders from the Persian Gulf states. The meeting comes two weeks before President Obama and Mr. Kerry are planning to travel to Israel, Palestinian areas and Jordan to hear ideas for trying to revive the Middle East peace effort.
On Iran, Mr. Kerry repeated the American refrain that time was running out for a diplomatic solution regarding Iran’s refusal to accept internationally verified limits on its nuclear program. He reiterated the argument that allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons would encourage nuclear proliferation and heighten tensions in the region.
“But talks will not go on for the sake of talks, and talks cannot become an instrument of delay that will make the situation more dangerous,” Mr. Kerry said. “So there is a finite amount of time.”
Saudi Arabia was the seventh stop on Mr. Kerry’s nine-nation tour. His next are the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, nations that are very concerned about Iran and the situation in Syria.
Israeli defense minister: ‘All options’ open to deal with Iran
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, March 3, 2013 21:41 EST
AFP – Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Iran on Sunday that Israel would never allow Iranian leaders to develop a nuclear weapon, as he addressed a powerful US-Israel lobby.
“It is Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear capability which is the greatest challenge facing Israel, the region and the world today,” Barak told thousands of delegates at the opening of the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
World powers leading negotiations with Iran to rein in its suspect nuclear program concluded talks in Kazakhstan last week, after putting forward a proposal to Iranian leaders to halt their uranium enrichment.
But Barak, stepping down as defense minister as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu draws up a new cabinet, cast doubt on whether the negotiations, due to resume later this month, would have any success.
“Frankly, while exhausting all diplomatic means is understandable, I do not believe it will lead to a moment of truth when the ayatollahs will give up their nuclear situation. Therefore, all options must remain on the table,” Barak said.
“We expect all those who say it to mean it. Ladies and gentlemen, we mean it. And let me repeat it, we mean it,” he added forcefully.
AIPAC, which touts itself as the most influential US foreign policy lobby, will also hear a speech live from Netanyahu on Monday via video link, following an address by US Vice President Joe Biden.
Some 13,000 people are expected to flock to the three-day event being held at the Washington Convention Center, but the gathering is more muted than in previous years, with neither President Barack Obama nor Israeli President Shimon Peres in attendance.
Obama is preparing to make his first trip as president to Israel in just two weeks’ time, and Netanyahu has stayed at home as he seeks to patch together a coalition following January’s elections.
Iran and its nuclear ambitions will top the agenda for his talks in Israel, along with the war in Syria and the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
There have been fears that Israel would take unilateral action against Tehran, but the threat has somewhat receded after Obama vowed the United States will not pursue a policy of containment if Iran seeks a nuclear weapon.
Iran has denied seeking an atomic bomb, saying its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only.
Barak thanked Obama and former defense secretary Leon Panetta for their “resolute backing of Israel.”
And he also wished new Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel “all the best in his new role,” adding that “he will no doubt serve his country with the same pride and honor with which he served on the battlefield and in Congress.”
Hagel’s confirmation by Congress met some stiff opposition from US lawmakers over his past statements on Iran’s nuclear program and US-Israeli relations.
Hagel was eventually confirmed last week and he will meet with Barak for the first time as defense secretary on Tuesday.
Israel to begin ‘Palestinians-only’ buses
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian
Sunday, March 3, 2013 22:23 EST
Service will ferry workers from the Palestinian town of Qalqiliya across the border of the West Bank towards Tel Aviv
The Israeli government will on Monday begin operating a “Palestinians-only” bus service to ferry Palestinian workers from the West Bank to Israel, encouraging them to use it instead of travelling with Israeli settlers on a similar route.
Officially anyone can use them, but the ministry of transport said that the new lines are meant to improve services for Palestinians.
Information on the new services, which are operated by the company Afikim, have reportedly only been advertised in Arabic and distributed only in Palestinian areas of the West Bank.
The buses will run from the Eyal checkpoint by the Palestinian town of Qalqiliya across the border of the West Bank towards Tel Aviv. The passengers are Palestinians who have been granted permits by the army to enter Israel during the day to work.
Palestinians used to use Palestinian minibuses and taxis to travel into Israel but Israel has increased the number of permits it gives to Palestinians which has led to more mixing on shared routes.
In a statement to the Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, the ministry said: “The new lines are not separate lines for Palestinians but rather two designated lines meant to improve the services offered to Palestinian workers who enter Israel through Eyal Crossing.
“The new lines will replace irregular, pirate lines that charge very high prices from Palestinian passengers. The new lines will reduce congestion and will benefit Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
The ministry also said it is against the law to prevent any passenger from boarding a bus but Israeli civil rights groups said this was not the case in practice.
The Israeli civil rights group, Checkpoint Watch, which monitors the army’s treatment of Palestinians at West Bank checkpoints has reported recent incidents of Palestinians being ejected from buses and told they were not allowed to board them.
In 2011 Palestinian activists were arrested after they boarded Israeli buses in the West Bank to protest against segregation.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
« Last Edit: Mar 04, 2013, 08:40 AM by Rad »
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
March 4, 2013, 6:34 am
Mystery Shrouds the Deaths of 3 Sisters
By BETWA SHARMA
BHANDARA, Maharashtra —As the police investigate the deaths of three young sisters in a small village in central India, they are certain of one thing: someone killed the girls, ages 6, 9 and 11, sometime after they were last seen on Feb. 14 in Murmadi, in the Bhandara district of Maharashtra, and then dumped their bodies into a well in a rice field, where they were found on Feb. 16.
Everything else, however, is uncertain, including how they were killed and whether this is a rape and murder case, or a merely a murder case, which affects the pool of possible suspects. The lack of clarity is raising concerns among villagers that the police are conducting a shoddy investigation.
The Bhandara police, which are currently treating this as a rape and murder case, have questioned more than 100 people, but so far no one has been arrested, which has infuriated the residents of Murmadi, especially the girls’ mother.
“I dressed them for school. That was the last time I saw them alive,” Madhuri Jaipal Borkar, who has no other children, told India Ink on Friday. “What can I say now? How do I go on?”
The tragic fate of the three girls became national headlines in a country still reeling from the gang rape of a 23-year-old student on a bus in Delhi on Dec. 16. The capital was rocked by protests demanding justice for the student after she died from her injuries. Faced with an explosion of public outrage, the Delhi police rounded up six suspects within a day after the gang rape occurred.
“This is a bigger tragedy than what happened in Delhi. Three real sisters are dead,” said Sevakbhau Waghaye Patil, a Bhandara politician, who was on a hunger strike to demand a swift investigation. “It’s a terrifying incident and it’s not really been highlighted by the media in the same way.”
Family members and neighbors have accused the police of being callous about the case from the start. After the girls disappeared on Feb. 14, Raibhan Ganpat Borkar, the girls’ grandfather, said that his complaint was not registered when he visited the police station the same evening. The next day, he said, a group of angry neighbors went together to the police station demanding a search.
Residents of Murmadi and the neighboring village of Lakhani have staged several protests demanding justice for the three girls. The central government, led by the Indian National Congress party, has been forced to respond in Parliament.
Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told Parliament on Friday that Prakash Mude, the police inspector in-charge of the station, had been suspended because he did not act promptly. On Friday, however, the main issue of the police investigation was sidelined after an opposition party member criticized Mr. Shinde for naming the girls, who are considered rape victims.
In a new twist, the Bhandara police, who had registered a case for murder and rape based on the initial postmortem report, are now are considering the possibility that the girls may not have been raped, which would change the focus of the investigation.
Aarti Singh, the superintendent of police for Bhandara, told India Ink that the forensic report found no male DNA on the girls. “It doesn’t categorically or specifically rule out rape,” she said. “Fifty percent you can rule out rape, and 50 percent you can’t.”
Ms. Singh added that the police needed to further consult with forensic experts before confirming rape or sexual assault.
Ms. Singh explained that if rape were ruled out, then women, including the mother of the girls and their grandmother, could be considered suspects. “Now the horizon of the suspects will also be ladies,” she said.
Neighbors said that Mrs. Borkar, whose husband is dead, and her mother-in-law had been squabbling over property. The younger Mrs. Borkar has also accused her mother-in-law of being involved in the murder.
The girls’ grandmother, Satyasheila Raiban Borkar, showed India Ink her will, and the will of her husband, which named the three girls as inheritors of their house and land. The elderly Mrs. Borkar, who has lost both her sons, has no other grandchildren.
“I am feeling bad because I am the grandmother and I am facing allegations. Even people are suspecting me,” she said.
Ms. Singh said that 10 teams, made up of experts from all over the state, had been formed to investigate the case.
“There are certain theories that we are working on. It can be a revenge angle, or a property angle, or the lust angle,” she said. “We have rounded up suspects and we are getting some good clues.”
But villagers of Murmadi are now outraged that the police are still not certain whether the girls were raped or not, which only confirms the villagers’ fears of the police’s incompetence.
“It got highlighted all over the state as rape. On what basis did they say it was rape?” asked Ashwini Bhiwagade, a social worker and member of the local village committee.
“What kind of investigation is going on that they don’t know where rape occurred or not. Are they playing a joke on such a serious incident?” she added.
Other questions about what happened to the girls remain unanswered. The postmortem report, for instance, does not establish cause of death. It only finds that they died before being thrown into the well.
Bharat Gabhane, a local lawyer, said that pressure from the public and politicians had resulted in an investigation fraught with mistakes. He pointed out that legal procedures allowed the police 90 days to complete an inquiry.
“After finding the body, there were so many protests that it became very difficult to manage the protests and collect evidence,” he said. “The police was entirely confused and could not work properly.”
Meanwhile, the atmosphere in the Borkar household remains tense as the girls’ mother and her mother-in-law continue to reside in adjacent rooms.
On Friday, the younger Mrs. Borkar opened up about the daughters she has lost. The 11-year-old, she said, had made a scrapbook by cutting the photos of women leaders and writing about them. “She also loved dancing especially to Katrina Kaif songs,” she said, referring to a popular Bollywood actress.
The middle sister, the mother said, was a quiet girl who followed her elder sister around everywhere. The youngest, she continued, was studious. “She remembered whatever she was taught at school,” said the mother. “She wanted to become a teacher.”
The three sisters always played together, she said. “They recently brought a cycle home,” she said. “They made the smallest one sit at the back since she could not ride.”
In another room of the house, Mr. Borkar, the grandfather, recalled that the youngest sister loved drawing and dancing as well. “She was the doll of the house,” he said. “She also used to teach me how to dance.”
March 3, 2013
Bangkok’s Governor Re-elected, Signaling Thailand’s Political Split
By THOMAS FULLER
BANGKOK — Defying predictions by pollsters, the incumbent governor of Bangkok retained his post on Sunday, winning a hard-fought election against a candidate from the party of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The incumbent, Sukhumbhand Paribatra, was mocked during the election campaign for his disjointed speeches and his short list of accomplishments. His commanding victory on Sunday means that the country’s opposition Democrat Party retains a major executive position.
“All votes were votes from heaven,” said Mr. Sukhumbhand, who is a member of Thailand’s royal family.
The victory maintains a traditional split in Thai politics between Bangkok and rural provinces, which in recent elections have overwhelmingly supported the party of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the brother of Ms. Yingluck who was ousted in a 2006 military coup and remains abroad.
Like the country itself, Bangkok appeared divided along economic lines in the election. The wealthy districts of central Bangkok supported Mr. Sukhumbhand while the poorer outskirts of the city supported the candidate from the governing party, Pongsapat Pongcharoen.
Sukhum Nuansakul, a political analyst, said on the Thai channel TV3 that the election showed that “Bangkok residents don’t like monopolies.” Voters sought to retain a counterbalance to the national government, he said. The vote seemed to confirm Thailand’s evolution toward a two-party system, with independent candidates faring poorly.
Other losers on Sunday were the polling organizations, which have struggled with accuracy in recent years.
Polls leading up to the election, and exit polls, had predicted victory for Mr. Pongsapat.
The final result showed Mr. Sukhumbhand winning by a significant margin, 1.26 million votes compared with Mr. Pongsapat’s 1.08 million.
Poypiti Amatatham contributed reporting.
March 4, 2013, 2:25 am
Strong Calls for Change on Eve of China’s National Congress
By DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW
BEIJING — Amid lots of Communist red in the Great Hall of the People on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, China’s Parliament, the National People’s Congress, opens Tuesday with some delegates issuing strong calls to end the country’s re-education-through-labor camps.
“The reeducation-through-labor system to a certain extent makes citizens live in fear,” said Dai Zhongchuan, a delegate and law professor from Huaqiao University in Fujian Province, in a report by china.com.cn, the news portal of the State Council Information Office and the National Internet Information Office.
“Not to go through the courts to decide on a crime is to deprive and limit personal freedoms. Not to take steps to restrict and monitor this can very easily lead to the abuse of power,” said Mr. Dai.
The comments reflect an ongoing debate here on so-far vague plans to abolish, or reform, the unpopular, extrajudicial system of punishment set up by Mao Zedong in the 1950s to deal with political opponents of the Communist Party.
As my colleague Andrew Jacobs wrote recently, “re-education through labor has evolved into a sprawling extralegal system of 350 camps where more than 100,000 people toil in prison factories and on farms for up to four years. Sentences are meted out by local public security officials, and defendants have no access to lawyers and little chance for appeal.”
Yang Weicheng, a delegate and the head of the Qindao Law Firm in Shandong Province, said it ran counter to the legal system that China was building and to the pursuit of public justice, according to the china.com.cn report. It damages the country’s image and is in need of urgent reform, the report said.
Deng Hui, a law professor at the Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics, said the system was in violation of China’s human rights treaty obligations and that change was coming. “The arrow is already on the bowstring,” the report quoted him as saying. “Not to reform is not an option.”
These and other significant issues are almost certain to be debated, often in private, at the Congress, which lasts for about 13 days and meets just once a year, unlike parliaments in democracies, which meet year-round. That means there’s a lot to talk about in a very short space of time.
The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body, also meets during this time every year in Beijing.
For weeks beforehand, special interests around the country have been lobbying the nearly 3,000 delegates to the congress try and make sure they are represented at the meeting.
Important institutional issues on the agenda: appointing Xi Jinping, the leader of the Communist Party, as state president (in Chinese, the title is chairman, or “zhuxi,” as it was during Mao Zedong’s day,) and Li Keqiang as prime minister. China’s defense budget for 2013 will also be announced at the meeting. Contrary to expectations, the budget was not announced today at an opening news conference, as is customary. “You’ll know after the meeting has examined and approved it,” said Fu Ying, the congress’s newly appointed spokeswoman, holding eager reporters at arm’s length.
China’s military budget has been rising fast in recent years, but Ms. Fu said prosperity and peace in the greater Asian region, which she contrasted with turbulence elsewhere in the world, was to China’s credit. “Because what we have done is successful, in the midst of that success people should acknowledge that China’s peaceful foreign policy has played a core role,” she said.
A key issue this year: the role of state-owned enterprises. Insiders say there is a growing groundswell of support among politicians and businessmen for trying to force the powerful companies, which enjoy financial privileges such as special, low-interest bank loans, to privatize, or just to contribute more to public coffers, something that will be fiercely resisted by the powerful bloc.
“A group of private businessmen will meet on the sidelines to push for privatization of state firms, which they view as a ‘vital second round of reforms,’ according to a person knowledgeable about their plans,” Reuters reported.
“Fiscal reforms and changes to let private firms advance and the state retreat will decide whether this round of reforms can succeed,” Xia Bin, an economist at the cabinet think-tank Development Research Center and a former central bank adviser, told Reuters. “There is definitely no way out,” Mr. Xia wrote in the latest edition of China Finance, a magazine published by the central bank, Reuters said.
The champions of the private sector argue that private firms generate nearly 60 percent of China’s economic growth and 75 percent of jobs, Reuters reported. “Favoring state firms that thrive on political connections rather than market discipline skews the economy, undermining future competitiveness,” the news agency said.
The congress is a talking shop that approves measures already worked out by the government, and not a parliament in the democratic sense. Yet increasingly, people want it to reflect their concerns.
For a sense of just how broad is the pressure for change in this nation of over 1.3 billion people, as it experiences fast-paced social change as well as high economic growth: a leading women’s rights group, the Beijing Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling and Service Center, issued half a dozen documents highlighting key issues it hopes will be discussed at the meeting. These include moving faster on a proposed law against domestic violence; amending laws defining the rape of someone younger than 14 differently from that of someone over 14, to the detriment of the younger victims; protection orders for the victims of domestic violence; and reversing a recent trend in which universities require women to score higher than men in entrance examinations as women begin to outstrip men academically.
And this year, the wining and dining that customarily precedes the congress for weeks, as special interests vie for influence among delegates, has been crimped by strong calls by Mr. Xi for less corruption and less waste of state finances.
In a sign of a different atmosphere this year, the Communist Party secretary and president of Gree, a state-owned air conditioner company based in Zhuhai in the south, Zhou Shaoqiang, was fired from his position in late February for inviting 16 officials from state-owned banks and state-owned companies to a banquet in January, where 12 bottles of red wine were consumed at a cost to the public purse of nearly 40,000 renminbi, or $6,400, Xinhua, the state news agency, reported.
Chinese elite tighten their designer belts at sober annual congress
No VIP receptions, no extravagant gifts and fewer ostentatious displays of wealth as incoming president tackles official excess
Tania Branigan in Beijing
The Guardian, Sunday 3 March 2013 15.22 GMT
For some of China's richest men, and even some women, the next couple of weeks may bring an unwelcome change. In past years the annual parliamentary session has been something of a beanfeast for the almost 3,000 deputies; a chance to schmooze and show off.
The event opening on Tuesday and a political advisory meeting that began on Sunday look rather lower key this time. There will be no VIP receptions at airports or railway stations, no bouquets waiting in hotel rooms, and no extravagant galas or gifts, according to the state news agency Xinhua. Lavish banquets will be replaced by alcohol-free buffets.
As the country's new leaders take on their governmental roles – Xi Jinping, the Communist party general secretary, will become president; Li Keqiang will become premier – the sober new tone reflects Xi's dual theme of tackling official excess and abuses and ardently pursuing the "Chinese dream". In remarks published this weekend, he warned that the party's future was on the line.
Delivered in no-nonsense language rather than the party jargon favoured by his predecessor, Hu Jintao, Xi's message appears to be connecting with ordinary people concerned about corruption, the arrogance of officials and growing inequality.
The annual session normally underlines the deep links between power and wealth. The net worth of the 70 richest members of the National People's Congress rose to 565.8bn yuan (£60bn) in 2011. Although the legislature itself is largely a rubber-stamp body, members are powerfully connected.
Observers have delighted in highlighting the expensive designer gear of deputies. This year attendees are likely to avoid ostentatious watches and gaudy belts.
"Of course it's having an effect. Many officials are now running on thin ice; they're very careful," said Ji Xiguang, a former newspaper journalist who spread news of a recent sex-and-extortion scandal in Chongqing.
Paul French, chief China strategist for Mintel, said designer boutiques were "still selling individual suits, but they don't get the guy coming in and buying 10 that he wants to give out. Or they come in and say: 'I want 10 suits, but I need an invoice saying it's office stationery.'"
As Avery Booker of Jing Daily noted: "Gift giving's not dying away in China – no matter what the government tries to enact."
Like many, Booker predicted a short-term hit for some brands and a shift to stealth gifting instead, via "very small, concealable luxury items" such as pens and cufflinks, or overseas trips.
Ji said real and lasting change would require "strong medicine": not only tolerance for the public airing of official scandals, but a push for legislation to make officials declare their assets publicly – long discussed but yet to come to fruition.
Few expect progress on a "sunshine law" this year or anticipate radical shifts of policy at the congress – precedent suggests these come later in political terms. State media coverage has made clear that the tough if unexciting task of reorganising ministries and agencies is a top priority.
Even so, activists and scholars hope for serious discussion of some of the big challenges facing China – particularly because many argue that the last administration did little more than maintain the status quo.
"We wasted 10 years – and some things got worse: social contradictions, ecological problems, population problems … The new leaders have to solve these problems urgently," said Chen Ziming, a Beijing-based independent political scholar.
Though officials ensure that the meeting invariably takes place under the bluest of skies, the terrible pollution that has blanketed large swathes of China this winter has pressed the case for environmental protection. Food safety is also a growing concern.
So too is reform of the hukou, or household registration system, which prevents migrant workers and their children from enjoying the same services as their urban neighbours. And pledges to overhaul the re-education through labour system might finally be detailed.
Discussion of these and other issues will offer early indications of where China's leaders are heading. "It could be a pleasant surprise or a further disappointment," said Cheng Li, of the Brookings Institution.
While the message of greater party discipline is clear enough, observers have struggled to decipher Xi's repeated invocations of the Chinese dream. "Realising the great renewal of the Chinese nation is the greatest dream for the Chinese nation in modern history," he said just after taking power, in remarks some saw as hinting at an increasingly nationalist and assertive China.
Some hope the idea could yet contain somewhat greater space for discussion and debate, albeit under party control. Its opaqueness may be the point: it breathes optimism without spelling out a specific new course to which anyone could object.
In a system that prizes continuity and consensus, and in which leaders choose their successors, politicians win advancement by conforming and must show respect for their influential predecessors even when they hold power, said Chen Ziming.
Xi's Chinese dream implies change and movement without jettisoning the past. "I think he deliberately makes it ambiguous, but sooner or later he needs to be clear about it," said Cheng.
"As the leader you want to unite the country and help people reach consensus, but that doesn't mean saying one thing one day and something else next day. You need to aim high and reach consensus in a different way – by serious debate and discourse."
Protesters hit Caracas streets to demand 'truth' over Chávez's health
Demonstrators have called on country's supreme court to rule if Venezuela's ailing president is well enough to stay in office
Associated Press in Caracas
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 3 March 2013 19.20 GMT
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Venezuela's capital on Sunday, demanding the government provide complete details about the health of ailing president Hugo Chávez. At the same time, Chávez supporters staged their own rally in the city.
Protesters waving Venezuelan flags chanted "tell the truth!" as they marched through eastern Caracas. They accused government officials of keeping from the public a full account of Chávez's condition.
"They don't tell us the truth," complained Mildred Moreau, a 64-year-old woman who said Chávez isn't healthy enough to govern the country. "We feel that they are trying to trick us."
The protest was staged a day after vice-president Nicolas Maduro said Chávez has been receiving chemotherapy while recovering from a severe respiratory infection.
Chávez underwent cancer-related surgery on 11 December in Cuba and has not been seen or heard from since, except for several "proof of life" photos released 15 February before he returned to Venezuela.
Officials have sent mixed signals about Chávez's condition, sometimes saying he's recovering and at other times saying he's battling for his life.
Sunday's marchers joined university students who have chained themselves together near a supreme court office while also demanding a full account of Chávez's health and urging justices decide if he's healthy enough to remain in office.
"We are going to stay here until they tell the truth, until they give an explanation about his state of health and say if he's in a condition to govern," said Johan Gomez, a 23-year-old university student with chains wrapped around his arms and waist.
On the other side of the city, government supporters gathered in front of a stage to listen to pro-Chávez musicians and demonstrate their support for the socialist leader.
"Here is the youth that represents the future of the fatherland," said pro-Chávez governor Tareck El Aissami.
Referring to opposition-sided students, El Aissami said: "they represent the past."
The human brain is not as simple as we think
By Vaughan Bell, The Observer
Sunday, March 3, 2013 23:58 EST
Neuroscience has entered the public consciousness, and changed the way we talk about ourselves. But much of what passes as knowledge is inaccurate
I never used to discuss neuroscience on the bus but it’s happened twice in the last month. On one occasion a fellow passenger mentioned that her “brain wasn’t working properly” to explain that she had gone through a long period of depression. On another, an exchange student enthusiastically told me that one of the advantages of learning abroad is that a new language “made your brain more efficient”. In each case, the conversation was spattered with references to the brain as casually as we mention family members– “I don’t think my brain can handle multi-tasking” gliding between us as easily as “my cousin studied in Paris”. A grey day in London, rain on the windows, talking neuroscience with strangers.
Scientific concepts have always washed in and out of popular consciousness but like never before, the brain has become part of contemporary culture. With the recent announcement of two billion-dollar science projects, the Human Brain Project in Europe and the Brain Activity Map in the US, it would be hard to ignore the impact on public spending. Meanwhile, the Barbican has just kicked off an unprecedented month-long festival of neuroscience called Wonder, suggesting even the traditionally science-shy art world has raised an eyebrow.
But it’s the sheer penetration of neuroscience into everyday life that makes it remarkable. We talk about left- and right-brain thinking, brainstorming and brain disorders. Differences between the male and female brain are the subject of regular press speculation and newspapers publish stories on brain scans that claim to explain everything from love to memory. Young people are increasingly warned that everything from video games to sexual activity could “damage their brains” while old people are encouraged to “train their brain” lest they lose its functions later in life.
Unpleasant experiences from malaise to trauma to mental illness are reframed as primarily neurological problems, while art and music are evaluated for their neurochemical effect.
Brain science is persistently championed as an answer to life’s deepest problems. It reveals “the deepest mysteries of what makes us who we are”, claims Elaine Fox in the introduction to her book Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, which could be the introduction to any number of pop neuroscience books that now fill our shelves. Super Brain, Buddha’s Brain, The Tell-Tale Brain, The Brain That Changes Itself – you could stock a library with the new generation of books that encourage us to view life through a neurological lens.
This everyday brain talk has taken up an interesting place in our culture. Academics talk about “folk psychology”, which is the collection of concepts we use in everyday life to explain our behaviours and mental states to others. Crucially, it’s distinct from the scientific or systematised psychology used by professionals. When we hear common explanations like “she needs a good cry” or “men are just interested in sex”, that’s folk psychology in action. It’s a mixture of consensus, experience and prejudice that allows us to give reasons for why people do the things they do.
One of the difficulties scientific psychology has faced is that it gives reasons for behaviour that often conflict with folk psychology. Most people assume that their experience of their own mind and other people’s actions makes them sufficiently expert to discount any other explanation even if it’s scientifically validated.
For example, a great deal of psychology research has shown that we tend not to have a good insight into why we make certain choices. In one of the many studies in the area, Lars Hall and colleagues gave people a survey about their moral beliefs but used sleight of hand to change the choices they had originally made. When asked to justify the beliefs they hadn’t endorsed, more than two-thirds of people didn’t notice the switch and happily gave reasons for why they supported the opposite of their original position. Folk psychology tells us that we can accurately explain our actions and, consequently, many people think that these well-validated psychological effects never apply to them or simply don’t exist. Suggesting that someone may not fully know their own actions and that their post-event justifications might be improvised simply won’t wash in everyday conversation.
The popular interest in the brain means that we increasingly have a “folk neuroscience” that is strongly linked to personal identity and subjective experience. Like folk psychology it is not necessarily very precise, and sometimes wildly inaccurate, but it allows us to use neuroscience in everyday language in a way that wasn’t previously credible for non-specialists.
Folk neuroscience comes with the additional benefit that it relies on concepts that are not easily challenged with subjective experience. When someone says “James is depressed because he can’t find a job”, this may be dismissed by personal experience, perhaps by mentioning a friend who was unemployed but didn’t get depressed. When someone says that “James is depressed because of a chemical imbalance in his brain”, personal experience is no longer relevant and the claim feels as if it is backed up by the authority of science. Neither usefully accounts for the complex ways in which our social world and neurobiology affect our mood but in non-specialist debate that rarely matters. As politicians have discovered it’s the force of your argument that matters and in rhetorical terms, neuroscience is a force-multiplier, even when it’s misfiring.
It is important to bear in mind that part of this persuasive force comes from genuine scientific progress. The revolution in understanding neurochemistry has brought us important medical treatments for mental illness and neurological disorders, while the study of brain-injured patients has demonstrated that individual brain circuits make specialised contributions to our emotions and behaviour. The development of brain scanning technology in the 80s and 90s allowed scientists to see, at least vaguely, brain activity in healthy individuals as they undertook recognisable tasks.
But these advances have been unevenly incorporated into public debate. Brightly coloured brain scans are a media favourite as they are both attractive to the eye and apparently easy to understand but in reality they represent some of the most complex scientific information we have. They are not maps of activity but maps of the outcome of complex statistical comparisons of blood flow that unevenly relate to actual brain function. This is a problem that scientists are painfully aware of but it is often glossed over when the results get into the press.
You can see this selective reporting in how neuroscience is used in the media. Psychologist Cliodhna O’Connor and her colleagues investigated how brain science was reported across 10 years of newspaper coverage. Rather than reporting on evidence that most challenged pre-existing opinions, of which there is a great deal, neuroscience was typically cited as a form of “biological proof” to support the biases of the author.
This is often a circular argument because studies typically compare groups based on identifiable differences and then look for how this is reflected in the brain. But what defines a person, experience or action as different is the totality of the thing itself, not just the workings of the brain. The “biological proof” argument makes about as much sense as saying that you have confirmed that pancakes and pizzas “really are” different because you have chemically analysed the ingredients. It’s only in rare circumstances where two things appear to be identical that a biological analysis will be the deciding factor in confirming whether they differ or not.
Crucially, most neuroscience is not concerned with if things differ but how they differ – but this is rarely the focus of media coverage. A recent Fox News article claimed that “Brain scans reveal doctors actually feel their patients’ pain”. But the study which inspired the news report didn’t test whether doctors felt the pain of the people they were treating, rather it looked at how brain activation differed during doctors’ observations of pain and pain relief. Yet the study was discussed as if it provided “proof” for the idea that doctors have empathy. While this seems an innocuous enough example, O’Connor’s media review found that many stereotypes championed under the guise of neuroscience were far less positive. The researchers, somewhat wearily, noted that: “Articles devoted considerable space to demonstrating male-female neurobiological differences and also to evidence that substance abusers, criminals, homosexuals, obese people, and people with mental health conditions had distinctive brain types. Media coverage of such groups tended to correspond with existing stereotypes: for example, articles regularly linked obesity to low intelligence, adolescence to disagreeableness, and women to irrationality.”
But this enthusiasm for a neurological view of human nature is not solely a media fad. Sociologist Nikolas Rose has tracked how society increasingly defines and manages individuals in terms of the brain and how this tendency has permeated commerce, law and politics. The birth of lucrative neuromarketing firms are based on this idea. Ad campaigns have traditionally been assessed by asking people about marketing material and seeing how it affects consumer behaviour. The neuromarketing industry uses brain scans and relies on the belief that this must somehow reveal the “real consumer” despite the fact that no benefits have ever been demonstrated over traditional assessments of buyer behaviour.
Politicians have also been keen to use talk of the brain to support their ideas. During the past year, references to neuroscience were used in the House of Commons to argue for a range of social reforms from early intervention with problem families to the regulation of entertainment. Chris Ruane MP argued that unemployment was a problem as it has “physical effects on the brain”. As everything has a physical effect on the brain we are left none the wiser but it is interesting that not having a job was not considered problem enough. It’s not that neuroscience isn’t relevant to these concerns, but just that it has gained such rhetorical power that explaining your concerns in terms of fairness, success, pain or poverty no longer seems sufficient.
This is sad but, perhaps, inevitable. As neuroscience has gained authority over previous ways of explaining human nature, it is not surprising that people will be compelled to use it if they want to try and make persuasive claims about how people are or should be – regardless of its accuracy. Folk neuroscience has become Freud for Freud-phobes, everyday psychology for the sceptical, although in reality, rarely more helpful than either.
At this point, let me declare my own interests. I’m a neuropsychologist who researches the brain and treats people with neurological difficulties. I am a firm believer in the importance of neuroscience as a way of revealing previously hidden aspects of human nature and as a tool to help us overcome some of our most disabling problems. The advances we make in understanding the brain have, and will continue to have, a significant and lasting impact on our lives.
For me, perhaps the most dazzling example is brain surgery for epilepsy. Small malfunctioning brain areas can be the source of disruption that engulfs the brain in waves of activity. Removing this area can often stop the seizures but it’s important to avoid anything that may be important for speech, memory or other essential functions. So patients are woken up during surgery and their brain is mapped by testing psychological functions as the surgeon temporarily freezes the identified areas to make sure they would be safe to remove. For a condition that used to send people to hospital for “incurables” it’s a remarkable example of how our understanding of the intricacies of mind, brain and behaviour have developed and meshed together.
Yet instead of revealing the beautiful complexity at our core, we live in a culture where dull biological platitudes make headlines and irritating scientific cliches win arguments. In response, we do not need a simpler culture but one that embraces complexity.
Neuroscience holds a prism up to human nature. Be suspicious of anyone who says there are no colours to be seen.
© Guardian News and Media 2013
In the USA...
March 3, 2013
As Automatic Budget Cuts Go Into Effect, Poor May Be Hit Particularly Hard
By ANNIE LOWREY
WASHINGTON — The $85 billion in automatic cuts working their way through the federal budget spare many programs that aid the poorest and most vulnerable Americans, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program and food stamps.
But the sequestration cuts, as they are called, still contain billions of dollars in mandatory budget reductions in programs that help low-income Americans, including one that gives vouchers for housing to the poor and disabled and another that provides fortified baby formula to the children of poor women.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers largely resigned themselves to allowing sequestration — a policy meant to force them to the negotiating table, not to actually reduce the deficit — to take wider effect after it started on Friday. That leaves agencies just seven months to carry out their cuts before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30. In many cases, they will eventually have to deny aid to eligible needy families.
Unless a deal is reached to change the course of the cuts, housing programs would be hit particularly hard, with about 125,000 individuals and families put at risk of becoming homeless, the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated. An additional 100,000 formerly homeless people might be removed from emergency shelters or other housing arrangements because of the cuts, the agency said.
Local administrators are trying to decide how to put the mandatory 5.1 percent budget cuts into effect by the end of September. Adrianne Todman, the executive director of the District of Columbia Housing Authority, said that no person in her program currently using a housing voucher or living in a public facility would be affected or put out on the street.
But to absorb the cuts, Ms. Todman plans to defer maintenance and leave staff vacancies open. She may also not be able to fill open public housing units as tenants vacate them. And she may stop rolling over housing vouchers to families on the waiting list. Eventually, she said, she may have to furlough employees.
“It’s a shame. It’s more than a shame, it’s despicable,” Ms. Todman said, noting that her agency already lacked enough capacity to meet the district’s needs. “These are real families that we have deemed eligible and are waiting to receive their voucher from us.”
In Washington and across the country, families and individuals generally need to have very low incomes to be eligible for federal assistance. Public housing residents in Washington have an average annual income of just $12,911. More than 40 percent are either children or the elderly, and more than a quarter live with a disability. In the voucher program, the annual income is even lower, just over $10,000 a year, and similarly large proportions of residents are elderly, disabled or young.
“These people are very, very, very poor,” said Sheila Crowley, the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, speaking of recipients of federal housing support across the country. “They don’t have resources to fall back on.”
In some places, officials have already started carrying out cuts. For instance, King County in Washington State, which includes Seattle, stopped issuing new housing vouchers on Friday.
“Sequestration will result in some 600 fewer families in our local communities receiving crucial rental assistance over the next year,” Stephen Norman, the executive director of the county housing authority, said in a statement. “Because rents are so high, many of these families may, quite literally, find themselves out on the street.”
Members of Congress have indicated that they might give agencies more discretion in fulfilling the cuts, to help blunt their impact. But policy experts said that in the case of many low-income programs, budget cuts would necessarily mean fewer people get help.
“There’s no loose change in the cushions,” Ms. Crowley said. “Anything you take out of HUD is going to reduce services and cut programs. There’s just no fat there. There hasn’t been for a long time.”
Other programs that assist low-income families face similarly significant cuts, including one that delivers hot meals to the elderly and another that helps pregnant women. Policy experts are particularly concerned about cuts to the supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children known as WIC, which provides food and baby formula for at-risk families.
It is considered one of the most effective social programs in government, reducing anemia and increasing birth weights. But up to 775,000 low-income women and their children might lose access to or be denied that aid because of the mandatory cuts, according to calculations by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit research group.
The start of sequestration, a policy never meant to take effect, has left both sides seeking cover, with many Democrats dramatizing the impact of the cuts and many Republicans playing them down.
Some Republicans, in fact, have said that whatever the effect, the cuts are a necessary part of reversing the trend of the government spending more and taking on more debt.
“President Obama proclaimed that the sequester’s ‘brutal’ and ‘severe’ cuts will ‘eviscerate’ America’s domestic spending,” Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, wrote in a recent article published by Investors.com. “But ‘eviscerate’ is not the adjective I would use; in fact, I believe the sequester is a pittance.”
The $85 billion in cuts is just a small part of the $3.6 trillion annual budget, but policy experts say that even those cuts that are being applied to programs that do not specifically focus on low-income people and communities will disproportionately affect them.
Other cuts might not hit low-income Americans specifically, but their impact could affect vulnerable families disproportionately. Those include cuts to programs that aid children with special needs; job-training programs that help unemployed people find a new career; foreclosure prevention services; and programs that help 150,000 veterans every year make the transition into the nonmilitary work force.
They also include a reduction in jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. Those out of work for more than six months could see their checks shrink by as much as 11 percent.
The Budget Control Act, a 2011 law that created the automatic cuts, exempted “mandatory” spending programs that aid low-income Americans, like Medicaid, which receive automatic federal financing. But it did not exempt “discretionary” programs, whose financing Congress determines in its annual appropriations process.
David Gregory spars with Boehner: ‘Mr. Speaker, that’s just not true’By Jonathan Terbush
Sunday, March 3, 2013 15:05 EST
Meet the Press host David Gregory repeatedly pressed Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) to explain why he believed President Obama was to blame for the automatic budget cuts that went into effect Friday when Congress failed to reach a compromise. He never got an answer that quite satisified him.
I an interview, taped Friday after last-ditch negotiations failed, Boehner insisted that Obama and Senate Democrats were to blame because they did not send any proposal his way.
“Even today, there’s no plan, from Senate Democrats or the White House, to replace the sequester,” he said.
But Gregory was unconvinced, pointing out that Obama had in fact outlined what he required in a compromise deal. Importantly, that framework included specific mention of entitlment and spending cuts—both of which are central to Repubican demands—that he’d be willing to make.
“Mr. Speaker, that’s just not true,” Gregory said. “They’ve made it very clear, as the president just did, that he has a plan that he’s put forward that involves entitlement cuts, that involves spending cuts, that you’ve made a choice, as have Republicans, to leave tax loopholes in place.”
“Well David, that’s just nonsense,” Boehner interrupted. “If he had a plan why didn’t Senate Democrats go ahead and pass it?”
Senate Democrats did not pass a competing bill to avert the automatic cuts because Republicans in that chamber effectively fillibustered their efforts. The bills passed by the Republican-led House were also a solely a symbolic gesture, as they did not address revenue increases, making them a non-starter for Democrats.
Gregory continued to rebuff Boehner’s claims, pointing again and again to the fact that Republicans had an offer from the president that included policies they very much support.
“Why not give on this?” Gregory asked. “Why not allow some revenues to come from tax reform? You protect defense spending, and you unlock the key to getting the kind of entitlemnt cuts the president said he’ll give you.”
Boehner demurred once more, saying that Washington had to “live within their means,” and that the president already got some tax cuts on the last debt ceiling compromise.
Again, Gregory was incredulous.
“You yourself said, ‘Look we got 99% of the Bush tax cuts extended,’” he said. “That’s a pretty good deal.”
John Boehner Admits He’s Completely Clueless About The Republican Sequester
By: Sarah Jones
Mar. 3rd, 2013
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told David Gregory in an exclusive interview on Meet the Press today, “I don’t know whether it’s going to hurt the econonmy or not. I don’t think anyone quite understands how the sequester is really going to work.”
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Boehner continued, “I don’t think anyone quite understands how it gets resolved.”
So, Republicans like Paul Ryan have been pushing for this thing they don’t understand. John Boehner announced that he got 98% of what he wanted when the Budget Control Act of 2011 was signed into law, which included sequester, as a direct result of Republicans threatening to fail to pay off the debt they’d already aquired by raising the debt ceiling.
Boehner scoffed at the idea that sequester would be bad (after warning us earlier that it would be very, very bad), suggesting that since air traffic controllers weren’t laid off yet, all was well. The full impact of the cuts won’t kick in for a month, and Boehner should understand at least this much about his party’s idea. That didn’t stop Boehner from insinuating that the President wasn’t being truthful about the impact of sequester.
Boehner should have a chat with his colleague Eric Cantor (R-VA) (who happily took responsibility for this mess before it was an actual mess) after the hits make themselves apparent in Virginia, where the economy is largely dependent upon the Department of Defense and military contractors. Experts predict Virginia sliding into a recession as a result of sequestration.
Boehner then tried to sell Republicans refusing to raise revenue by comparing it to average Americans making things work in a tough economy, “Every American, in these tough economic times, has to find a way to balance their budget. They’ve got to make choices. They expect Washington to live within its means and to make choices as well.”
Yes, indeed, Speaker, they do. But average Americans aren’t refusing to work for a living and expecting to pay for their living expenses via cuts to movies and dinners out alone. You see, most of us have to do this thing called work. We do that in order to make this thing called revenue. Revenue is used to pay the mortgage and buy food. Most of us can’t cut our way out of trouble without revenue and you’d be hard pressed to find an American who would turn down additional revenue (pay).
But that’s exactly what House Republicans are doing. They don’t want to ask corporations to pay a little or cut tax subsidies to oil companies and they refuse to entertain the idea of taking away tax breaks for corproate jets. Those things are off the table because they somehow lead to job creation in Republican fantasy.
Boehner claimed that Republicans are refusing to hit corporate taxes because they love the middle class. “American family’s wages aren’t growing. They’re being squeezed. And as a result, we’ve got to find a way through our tax code to promote more economic growth in our country.” Boehner then suggested Republicans are willing to close loopholes, but if this is so, then why don’t they do it, ” We can do this by closing loopholes, bringing the (tax) rates down for all Americans, making the tax code fairer. It will promote more economic growth.”
Tax rates are already very low for most Americans and lower tax rates does not equal more revenue. Increasing tax rates for all Americans is not on the table; rather, closing corporate loopholes and subsidies to oil companies is on the table (from the Democrats).
Without revenue we can’t pay down the debt. Allegedly, this entire debacle was started over Republican concern for the debt. It makes you wonder why they refuse to do the one thing that even Ronald Reagan knew had to happen in order to pay our bills.
Then we got this gem of soothing wisdom from the Speaker, “I don’t know whether it’s going to hurt the economy or not. I don’t think anyone quite understands how the sequester is really going to work.”
As I’ve been pointing out for weeks now, the notion of using the trigger of sequester in order to force compromise is a Republican idea. They’ve been holding it up as the holy grail of budget discipline for years. Paul Ryan has been touting it as great governance since 2004. That is, until it looked like it might actually happen. Republicans cheered it on as the great solution. Sequester is supposed to be so awful it forces both sides to the table, yet the Republicans refuse to raise any revenue.
Now that they’ve finally got it, now that it has gone into effect because Republicans refused to compromise on any loopholes or revenue, Speaker John Boehner admitted that he doesn’t know how to resolve it. In fact, he doesn’t think anyone understands how sequester is going to really work. Well done, Republicans.
House Republicans Congratulate Themselves On Killing a Million Jobs
Mar. 2nd, 2013
It is customary to give one’s good wishes, or praise, when something special or pleasant has happened to someone, or for a particular achievement they persevered and worked hard to accomplish. For eight long years, Bush Republicans ran up the deficit with two unfunded wars, an unfunded Medicare prescription plan, and then bailed out banks as the economy tanked, and witnessed their handiwork eviscerate millions upon millions of Americans’ jobs and had the temerity to run against Barack Obama promising more of the same economic malfeasance. Apparently, they wanted the nation to give them a hearty “job well done” and “please continue” taking the economic life out of the people in 2008. After President Obama bailed the country out of the Bush Republican economic disaster, they swept into power in the House and directly proceeded attempting to return to their old ways of killing jobs and retarding growth, and yesterday they finally accomplished their goal.
Doubtless, Republicans are congratulating themselves for allowing the dreaded sequester to take effect knowing full well that in the first year of a ten year plan, about a million Americans will lose their jobs, the economy will contract, and hundreds-of-thousands of children, seniors, and the poor will be kicked off safety nets, because that has been their goal for four years. However, Republicans cannot expect many Americans not in the upper 1% of income earners to congratulate them for finally imposing their precious Draconian austerity on America, and with little options to avoid the certain economic hardship most American families are going to feel, it safe to say Republicans will be cursed from one end of the nation to the other and they deserve much worse. If they had a conscience, or morality, Republicans might be bothered that the people are going to pay for GOP’s austerity economic strategy, but they will collect their bloated salaries, and corporate contributions, and hit the talk shows to tell Americans that killing jobs and retarding GDP growth was the best way to build a vibrant economy; for the wealthy and their corporations.
One might be inclined to excuse the feckless Republican drive to send the nation back into a recession if there were no living examples of the devastation austerity wreaks on a recovering economy, but after most European nations suffered slow or no growth and double dip recessions as a result of severe austerity measures, and reduced GDP growth in the fourth quarter in America on account of spending cuts, they cannot be excused. Their austerity measures served one purpose and one purpose only; damage the economy and make the people suffer to protect the rich and for re-electing President Obama.
Republicans did pass a bill in the House to replace the sequester in the last session of Congress, but it would have kept all the domestic cuts and replaced the defense cuts with yet more domestic cuts to anti-poverty programs. Republicans hate programs that combat poverty, so they must be celebrating the sequester cuts to WIC, food stamps, meals on wheels, Head Start, and reduced school lunch programs, but they will not be getting kudos from half-a-million working-poor families deciding how to provide their hungry children with at least one daily meal. Seniors too, will not be singing the GOP’s praises as their food stamps dry up and those luxuries like Meals on Wheels stop bringing food to shut-ins, but they can rest assured Republicans fought diligently to continue big oil subsidies, corporate tax breaks, and tax loopholes for the richest 1% of Americans while complaining America’s broke and cannot afford to assist the generation that built the infrastructure the wealthy depend on to post record profits as middle class families face declining wages and job losses.
While most Americans are desperately looking for ways to survive another Republican economic onslaught, a million workers nervously await notice their job was eliminated due to spending cuts, and as 11,000 special education teachers await pink slips, and tens-of-thousands of others began receiving notices their jobs face elimination, it is safe to say educators and students will not be sending congratulatory notes to Republicans. The list of affected Americans includes 99% of the population in some way or another, and any American can peruse a comprehensive list to see precisely how they will be affected by austerity-drunk Republicans responsible for reductions in law enforcement, healthcare, disaster relief, aviation safety, and regulators keeping the food and medicine supply safe. One thing is assured, Republicans succeeded in adversely affecting every American negatively and they are quite pleased with themselves, but if they expect to be congratulated for deliberately and with malice aforethought damning Americans to unnecessary harm, they will be disappointed at the silence.
Republicans know, and promised faithfully in 2010, that creating jobs was the surest way to maintain President Obama’s economic recovery, and yet over two full years later, they have not created one job and deliberately attempted to kill millions, and on Friday they succeeded with the sequester. They may be congratulating each other, but they owe their success, in part, to EmoProgs and whiny Liberals who sat home during the 2010 midterm elections to punish the President for not exceeding the authority of his office and not waving a magic wand to repeal DADT, DOMA, or close Guantanamo without Congressional approval, and although many liberal and professional left pundits took pride in “teaching Obama a lesson,” they are to be congratulated for handing the House to teabaggers and Republicans running on a pro-poverty platform. Good job!
Yesterday President Obama said, “At a time when our businesses have finally begun to get some traction, hiring new workers, and bringing jobs back to America, we shouldn’t be making a series of dumb, arbitrary cuts to things that businesses depend on and workers depend on like education and research and infrastructure and defense,” but the President was not being honest. “We” didn’t make dumb arbitrary cuts, Republicans did, and in all honesty, they were not “dumb” or “arbitrary.” They were calculated cuts Republicans yearned, and fought, for from the day the President took office and they were imposed because Republicans love poverty and hate the poor, thrive on ignorance and hate education, love the rich and hate taxing them, but most of all, they hate America and only traitors congratulate America’s enemies, but a Secular Humanist damns them to their proverbial Hell, and may they rot there for eternity.
Obama Delivers the Devastating Truth: Republicans are Intentionally Killing the Recovery
Mar. 1st, 2013
Anyone who has ever had to be the bearer of bad news knows there is no kind way to convey devastating information regardless the best intentions or amount of compassion the messenger feels for the victim. When a doctor reveals the results of a laboratory test indicating a person has cancer, they simply walk in and tell the patient “you have cancer” and offer treatment options or tell them how long they have left to live. Over the past few weeks, President Obama has had the unpleasant task of telling Americans the brutal truth that, without intervention, sequester cuts will adversely affect the economy and be painful to most Americans, and despite earlier admissions the cuts will be damaging, Republicans have made no attempt to find a less-painful replacement. Republicans are notorious for fear mongering on the basis of lies and misinformation, but now they are accusing the President of fear mongering based on truth about the sequester the GOP whole-heartedly supports.
Yesterday House Majority Leader and pathological liar Eric Cantor accused President Obama of touring around the country “scaring people, creating havoc telling Americans their food is going to go uninspected and that our borders will be less patrolled and unsafe” instead of working on a sequester replacement. What Cantor is saying, in effect, is that the sequester is “not that bad,” and it explains Republican intransigence to offer any replacement and why they continue trumpeting their plan from last year’s session of Congress that included only cuts to domestic programs. The President, Senate Democrats, House Democrats, and Progressive Democrats have all proposed sequester replacements Speaker John Boehner refused to allow to come up for a vote because they included revenue and would have passed.
Cantor and many Republicans claim President Obama is intentionally making sequester cuts painful, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said “The President is ready to make it bite as hard as possible — all to send a simple message to the public: ‘You want to control Washington spending, America? Fine, let me show you much I can make it hurt.” The problem with McConnell’s remark is that Americans are not making devastating sequester cuts, Republicans are, and they are attempting to morph “the sequester is Obama’s fault” message to “Obama is purposely making sequester cuts to the federal government painful” while they refuse to even consider alternatives except voiding defense cuts and replacing them with more domestic and safety net cuts.
The underlying Republican message is that job-killing and safety net cuts are not painful, and they are cuts Americans controlling spending really want. The truth is Republicans are quietly applauding sequester domestic cuts and want much more, such as those in Paul Ryan’s Heritage Foundation budget, the Path to Prosperity (for the rich). The President has no control over the sequester because Congress is tasked to change the law to avoid across the board cuts. There is no department or program spared (by design), so education, first responders, safety nets, food inspectors, immigration, and aviation safety will all be subject to cuts. When the President says cuts affect the entire government, he is simply telling the truth and now it is what Republicans are revolting against because they have panted for deeper cuts under the guise of “reducing the deficit,” “strengthening the economy,” or “stopping Obama’s out of control record spending spree.” A spending spree, by the way, that is non-existent, and with spending growth at its lowest rates in 60 years, Americans recognize Republican’s are wrong and the nation needs more revenue, according to a recent poll.
Republicans unremittingly harp on one message that, under President Obama, Washington is spending too much money, and it needs to stop, but 67% of Americans reject the “way Republicans in Congress are handling federal spending” including 51% of self-identified Republicans. Republicans are unfazed by Americans’ opinion of their Draconian cuts and Cantor said next week Republicans will resolve to give flexibility to the Department of Defense (DOD) on spending for the rest of the year by letting the DOD start new programs. In another poll, 62% of Republicans and 82% of Democrats are against slashing social programs, and instead prefer cutting military spending to pay down the already rapidly declining deficit. It is typical of Republicans to oppose the will of the people and aid defense programs to survive the sequester while increasing social program cuts that kill jobs, reduce services, and impact hungry children, seniors, and poverty-level working poor Americans.
Republicans are losing the battle in the court of public opinion, even among their own base, and yet to cover their wont to punish 98% of the people to protect the wealthy, oil industry, military industrial complex, and corporations, they are resorting to accusing the President of fear mongering with the truth. However, now that they have abandoned any pretense of avoiding sequester cuts to domestic programs, and admitted the sequester was Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor’s plan, their goal of killing jobs and sending the economy into a recession is finally coming into focus and the President is right to tell Americans the devastating truth; Republicans are deliberately punishing people and reversing economic recovery.
Obama confident Republicans will cave on budget cuts
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, March 3, 2013 16:46 EST
AFP – As the blame game over a stinging package of deficit-reducing spending cuts grinds on, the White House said Sunday that as voters start to feel the pain, Republicans will pivot and seek compromise.
But the Republicans did not sound like they were in a mood to budge.
The administration of President Barack Obama also denied suggestions it is hyping the consequences of the so-called sequester — $85 billion in military and domestic spending cuts crammed into the seven remaining months of the fiscal year.
Gene Sperling, a top economic adviser to Obama, made the rounds of morning talk shows to press the case that the president is still working the phones and seeking out lawmakers in both parties who are open to an alternative way to trim the bloated $1 trillion a year deficit.
Sperling said a Republican proposal to give the president more leeway in deciding what funding gets cut is not enough. The spending bludgeon will cost 750,000 jobs in an economy that is fragile, he said.
“When you have those type of harsh spending cuts in such a short concentrated period of time, it’s like saying to somebody you can cut off three of your fingers, but you can have the flexibility to choose which ones you want to cut off,” Sperling said on ABC News.
“My belief is that as this pain starts to gradually spread… more Republican colleagues who are concerned about this harm to their constituents will choose bipartisan compromise.”
Obama signed an order bringing what he called the “dumb” spending cuts into effect Friday after a last-ditch meeting with congressional leaders went nowhere.
The measures could mean long lines at US border posts, reduced military readiness, cuts to special needs education programs, and will trim the resources of some emergency services, according to White House officials.
The cuts were never meant to take effect but rather were a poisoned pill clause attached to a 2011 agreement to raise the debt ceiling, and designed to be so scary that lawmakers would find a less drastic way to cut the deficit.
They failed and the sequester is here, although its effects are expected to take weeks to be felt.
“When this sequester goes off, yes, it’s not going to hurt as much on day one,” Sperling said.
“But, again, every independent economist agrees it is going to cost our economy 750,000 jobs, just as our economy has a chance to take off.”
Obama is pressing for what he calls a more balanced approach that includes concessions: changes to entitlement programs, like medical care for the elderly and poor, as sought by Republicans.
But he wants any deal to include fresh revenue from closing tax loopholes enjoyed by companies and wealthy Americans.
Obama won a showdown late last year over the fiscal cliff — which threatened to let across-the-board George W. Bush-era tax cuts expire — when Republicans agreed to higher taxes on the rich.
But they drew the line there, and now insist that any deficit deal has to focus solely on cutting spending.
“He got his tax hikes. It’s time to cut spending. And every American knows it,” House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner told ABC.
Boehner said neither Republicans nor Democrats were likely to cry uncle any time soon and eliminate the sequester.
“I don’t think anyone quite understands how it gets resolved,” Boehner said.
Behind the GOP’s Debt and Deficit Talk Is a Scam To Make the Super Rich Even Richer
Mar. 3rd, 2013
A fraudulent business scheme to swindle someone by means of a trick is a scam, and unscrupulous charlatans have cheated unsuspecting people for as long as human beings have existed. There are many approaches to separate a fool from their money as there are stars in the night sky, but they typically involve greed, fear, or loss that hardly ever fails to work. A group of Americans are being scammed by immoral operatives, and as is usually the case, the scammers are motivated by sheer greed for power and control of America and its wealth. The enactment of sequester cuts on Friday brought cheers from teabaggers as they realized their first victory in shrinking the government, but they will not be satisfied until it is small enough to drown in a bathtub. However, they are unaware they are victims of a scam, and pawns to enrich a small faction whose sole intent is separating America, and its people, from every last asset to give ultimate power and control of America to few wealthy industrialists.
Conservatives became deficit conscious in January 2009 with the Inauguration of Barack Obama, but debt or deficit was not their primary concern; fear of new regulations and tax increases drove their sudden deficit frenzy. Combined with propaganda of crushing taxation by a Black socialist, men like the Koch brothers used domestic spending, debt, deficit, and intrusive government to frighten ignorant teabaggers into becoming surrogates in their drive to eliminate government they argue infringes on their economic and personal liberty that continues unabated. Teabaggers cannot cite how shrinking government, or domestic spending, will help them prosper, but they just know eliminating intrusive government is the key to America’s problems.
It has long been a Libertarian goal to eliminate government rules, regulations, and taxation to give free rein to corporatists’ unrestrained “free capitalism,” and unbeknownst to so-called patriots in the tea party movement, the only thing standing between abject corporate plutocracy and their economic freedom is the government they long to destroy. However, the reason eliminating government is propagated by corporatists like the Kochs and anti-government advocate Grover Norquist is their religious belief they should be immune to taxation, or requirements to follow regulations in their drive to seize power and America’s wealth. In lieu of any real threat to freedom, economic or personal, conservatives and their Republican cohort invented a spending, taxation, and deficit crisis to take advantage of racist opposition to President Obama, and despite the shrinking deficit, historically low spending, and low tax rates, Republicans convinced teabaggers that to save America, government must go.
The deficit is shrinking, and regardless if it was growing, it doesn’t hamper business, or job creation, or affect day to day Americans’ lives or their economic freedom. However, in their drive to cut spending to shrink government teabaggers support killing jobs that does affect every American with loss of services as well as revenue that starves government which is men like the Koch brothers’ goal because less government means fewer regulations and more opportunities to step in and privatize government services like education for a profit. The billionaire Kochs are joined in their drive to starve and privatize the government by the Republican Party, and billionaire corporate CEOs and their campaign to “Fix the Debt” with their message that America faces an existential debt crisis that must be solved immediately regardless their profits are unaffected by the nation’s debt or spending.
The truth is that if there was a budget surplus and no national debt, businesses, corporations, or Americans would not be any better, or worse, off than they are today any more than the debt and deficit impacts a corporation’s business or obscene profits. When corporate leaders, Republicans, and deficit hawks decry the debt or deficit, their goal is shrinking government; especially regulatory agencies and the government’s ability to operate making room for privatization and corporate takeover.
What Republican controlled states are doing to education foreshadows their intent for the entire government. By reducing education funding they affect school performance, then they offer parents better school choice and divert public funding to for-profit private schools. If allowed to spread across the nation, public education will eventually be eliminated and all public funds will go directly to corporate-run schools which typically perform below public schools, but with profit as the motivation, and no government oversight, performance standards will be the purview of the local church, or corporate philosophy.
The intent to eliminate the government did not start with the tea party, but they were willing pawns in a long-standing goal of libertarian corporatists, with assistance from Republicans, to privatized America. It was not a fluke that newly elected teabaggers in Congress openly campaigned for a credit default to bankrupt America and give wealthy industrialists like the Koch cabal the opportunity to swoop in and “save” America from its creditors, or to stifle economic growth and reduce revenue with schemes like the sequester and claim government can no longer function. In less than three weeks, Republicans will again hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage when the debt limit expires on March 27, and there is little doubt they will hold the debt limit hostage for more damaging budget cuts or applaud a default.
That teabaggers cheered the economic damage the sequester is certain to wreak on the fragile economic recovery, and openly claim it was their “first” victory, portends a tenuous economy, and more poverty, over the remainder of the 113th Congress. Unfortunately for America, teabaggers align themselves with the Grover Norquist philosophy that until the government is small enough to “drown in a bathtub,” they will work tirelessly to achieve their goal and it means at best the government will come to a standstill, and worse, default and lurch into a major economic depression and it appears they will not stop until they reach their goal. All the while, the Koch brothers and their Republican allies will ratchet up the rhetoric that the economy is failing because of unrestrained taxation, regulations, and spending that prevents economic prosperity. The cycle will continue until America fails at which point plutocrats will take over and teabaggers will rue the day they gave up their freedom to the Koch brothers and helped eliminate the only protection they had against unrestrained oligarchy; the government.
In the name of God and Male Superiority ..
Vatican and Iran fight UN’s efforts to stop violence against women
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 4, 2013 16:03 EST
The Vatican, Iran and other religious states are resisting efforts by a UN conference, which started Monday, to demand tougher global standards to prevent violence against women and children.
More than 6,000 non-government groups are registered at the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women, one of the biggest events held at the UN headquarters which regularly turns into a diplomatic battle.
This year’s meeting has been made more emotive after an attack several months ago by the Taliban on 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai for her attempts to promote girls’ education in Pakistan and because of widely publicized gang rapes in India and South Africa.
Diplomats said the Holy See, Iran and Russia are leading attempts wipe out language in a draft final statement that says religion, custom or tradition must not be used as an excuse to avoid a government’s obligation to eliminate violence.
They also have opposed references to rape by a woman’s husband or partner, diplomats said.
“Violence against women must be seen as a human rights issue and that has nothing to do with culture or religion,” Norway’s Gender Equality Minister Inga Marte Thorkildsen told AFP.
“The Vatican, conservative religious forces within the United States and Europe, Catholic and Muslim countries are joining forces to stop women from gaining sexual rights,” the minister said, predicting tough negotiations during the two week conference.
“It has to do with power and equality and the lack of will to see women as valuable as men,” Thorkildsen added.
“We have to see good prosecutions, prevention and protection for these women and children.”
“I am optimistic, but it will be hard,” said Thorkildsen.
“When they speak about moral issues, those who are trying to hinder a conclusion, they have to ask themselves about the real moral hazard of our time — which is depriving millions of women and children of the right to a life.”
Much has been made at the conference of a World Bank report which estimates that more women aged 15-44 are killed violently than die of malaria, HIV, cancer, accidents and war combined.
“We have to commit to concrete means to prevent this,” said the Norwegian minister who estimated that gender-based violence costs her country one billion dollars a year.
Lynne Featherstone, Britain’s international development minister, said: “We must do everything in our power to defend the hard-gained progress on women’s rights.
“We must ensure that the international community agrees a set of global standards to help protect women and girls everywhere from violence.”
Michele Bachelet, the head of the UN Women agency and former president of Chile, said the two week meeting would be “critical”
“We need to strengthen implementation of laws, policies and programs for preventing and responding to violence against women and girls,” she said.
“Implementation must be accelerated and governments should be held accountable for their commitments and obligations,” Bachelet added.
The UN missions for the Vatican, Iran and Russia declined to comment immediately on the conference.
And then there is this privileged USA Caucasian congresswomen saying this:
Republican congresswoman upset Violence Against Women Act included ‘other different groups’
By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, March 4, 2013 21:11 EST
Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said Monday that she voted against the Violence Against Women Act because it protected “other different groups.”
During an appearance on MSNBC, Blackburn said the Violence Against Women Act had become “diluted” and “unfocused” due to new provisions added to the bill.
“I didn’t like the way it was expanded to include other different groups,” she explained. “What you need is something that is focused specifically to help these shelters and to help our law enforcement, who is trying to work with the crimes that have been committed against women and helping them to stand up.”
Though Blackburn supported House versions of the Violence Against Women Act, she voted against the more inclusive Senate version.
The Senate’s version of the Violence Against Women Act included new protections for Native Americans, LGBT individuals, and undocumented immigrants.
In particular, it allowed tribal courts to prosecute non-tribal individuals accused of domestic and sexual crimes that occurred on tribal land, removed barriers that prevented LGBT victims from accessing services, and provided additional temporary visas to abused undocumented immigrations.
The legislation was originally enacted in 1994 and easily renewed with bipartisan support twice since. But opposition to the new protections caused the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act to die in the Republican-led House last year.
Facing increasing pressure, the House approved the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act by a 286-138 vote last month.
U.N. cancels Gaza marathon after Hamas bans women runners
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, March 5, 2013 7:25 EST
Gaza’s third international marathon has been cancelled after the ruling Hamas movement refused to allow women to participate, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said on Tuesday.
The marathon, which runs the entire length of the coastal territory, was to have taken place on April 10.
“UNRWA regrets to announce that it has had to cancel the third UNRWA marathon which was to be held on 10 April. This disappointing decision follows discussions with the authorities in Gaza who have insisted that no women should participate,” a brief UNRWA statement said.
There was no immediate comment from Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
UNRWA said it was working on an alternative programme of events for those who had signed up for the race, which would have seen entrants running either the full 42-kilometre (26-mile) marathon, the half marathon or a 10-kilometre dash.
“UNRWA sincerely regrets the inconvenience this causes those who planned to participate in the marathon,” the agency said.
03/04/2013 06:01 PM
Italian Elections: Europe's Lost Generation Finds Its Voice
By Fiona Ehlers, Julia Amalia Heyer, Mathieu von Rohr and Helene Zuber
For years, Europe's young have grown increasingly furious as the euro crisis has robbed them of a future. The emergence of Beppe Grillo's party in Italy is one of the results -- and is just the latest indication that disgust towards European politics is widespread.
Only a few weeks ago, they hardly would have thought it was possible. But now here they are; their first public appearance following their surprise success in the Italian general election. In a hotel in Rome, not far from the Piazza San Giovanni, eight of the 162 newly elected parliamentary representatives of Movimento 5 Stelle (the Five Star Movement, or M5S) are squinting into the spotlights and speaking softly -- and what they are saying actually sounds reasonable.
They are talking about empowering Italians and giving people more of a say in political decisions -- and they want to know how their tax money is being spent. Grassroots politics is the goal. Their efforts remain somewhat clumsy, but they are sincere.
This group includes a male nurse, an IT specialist and a single mother -- all in their 30s or 40s with good educations and no previous political experience. Soon, they will enter the newly constituted parliament, which will be younger, have more women and, on the whole, be best less politically experienced than any other in Italian history. M5S emerged as the strongest single party in the lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, and the second strongest party in the upper house, the Senate. The party garnered nearly one-third of its votes in Sicily. The "Grillini," as the followers of former comedian Beppe Grillo are called, are the true miracle of this otherwise so chaotic election.
They are not clowns, but rather sincere young people who see themselves as a mouthpiece for everyday Italian citizens. These fledgling politicians do not rant and rave like Grillo, the founder of their movement.
In fact, it was just over a week ago that Grillo gave one of his loud and passionate speeches to half a million fans only a few hundred meters from here. He is their whip, their firebrand, "our megaphone," as his people call him -- and many of them can hardly stand him anymore. Grillo, who looks like he leapt straight out of a Baroque fountain by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and whose voice has grown hoarse from screaming, only offered the usual populist slogans: "Politicians are parasites -- we should send them all home!"
'Let Them Do Their Work!'
Grillo himself did not run for office because it would have violated his own party's rules. He has had a criminal record ever since he was convicted of manslaughter for causing a car crash in 1980 in which three people died. Now, it's up to his candidates to take the lead. "Now that they are in parliament," someone wrote in his blog, which is the most widely read in Italy, "let them do their work, take a backseat!"
Grillo is an Italian phenomenon, but his party's election results are an expression of the mounting rage and anxiety that is spreading throughout crisis-stricken Southern Europe. A new citizens' movement is taking shape, one that shares a mistrust of the established political system and a desire for more grassroots democracy. Only in Italy has it been democratically legitimized thus far.
These irate citizens are also united in anger against their own elite: politicians who have been tainted by party scandals and corruption, yet still remain in power or leaders who are seen as being the mere lackeys of Germany and Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Despite its name, Movimento 5 Stelle has long since ceased to be a movement. It has become a political party that is expected to take responsibility and make proposals for the formation of a government. During the campaign, it relied on a thin, 15-page platform.
The Grillini now have to prove that their country is not merely corrupt, indifferent and infiltrated by the Mafia. Ultimately, they could save Italy's image around the globe. They are the latest example of an uprising of the lost generation, that mass of people on Europe's periphery who are under the age of 40, desperate, unemployed and who have very little left to lose. The public outrage in Europe came to a boil in tent camps in Madrid's Puerta del Sol. It inspired the Occupy Wall Street activists. And it continued in Greece, where youth unemployment has reached 59.4 percent, and where there are no jobs and no economic recovery.
In the eyes of many, the power of the politicians only serves their own interests. "We have failed because we have not managed to change this," says Greek documentary filmmaker Aris Chatzistefanou.
A New Political Class
Yet whereas the Greeks have not yet stirred up the old political system, the Grillini have found unexpected success. They were long underestimated in Italy, yet they long ago started having an effect. They have, for example, fundamentally shaken up the old party system, with its irreconcilable right-wing and left-wing factions. A new political class has emerged with them. Since the advent of the Grillini, Italians are debating Europe more than ever before, including their country's possible exit from the euro zone.
What's more, an increasing number of women are rising through the ranks of Italy's political parties. In the recent election, 40 percent of the party-list spots for Italy's center-left Democratic Party were reserved for women candidates, most of them political novices.
The Five Star Movement has only existed as a party for three and a half years. Ignored by the press and, not surprisingly, completely shunned by Silvio Berlusconi's TV stations, the movement has relied on its own efforts to fuel its meteoric growth, primarily based on its savvy use of the Internet, and refused to accept government money available to help finance its campaign.
Silvana de Nicolò is one of the Grillini who is introducing herself at the hotel in Rome. She is in her mid-40s and was elected in the Lazio region, whose governor recently had to resign from Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party after fellow members allegedly used taxpayers' money to throw a bawdy Roman toga party. Given such examples, it is perhaps astounding that there are still those with enough idealism to pursue politics in today's Italy.
SPIEGEL met de Nicolò in a café near parliament. In the wake of the election, the government district was immediately overwhelmed with a hectic energy as politicians struggled to position themselves for the coming change. De Nicolò sips her espresso while she calmly and rather naively explains her political platform. It calls for reducing the number of parliamentarians from today's roughly 1,000 to half that amount, and slashing their monthly salaries to a maximum of €2,500 ($3,255) in net income. Reimbursement of election campaign costs will simply be abolished, she says, and the money saved by this measure will be used to finance micro-loans for social projects and people who can no longer acquire bank credit.
Nevertheless, she and her fellow party members usually avoid proposing concrete ideas for resolving the crisis. The party is often criticized for its "grilloeconomics," and rightly so. How do they intend to finance their guaranteed minimum monthly income of €1,000? Their proposal is to reduce pensions and public-sector salaries -- an adventurous proposal.
A Mistrust of Politicians
De Nicolò would rather talk about her voters. As a statistician and an opinion pollster, she is familiar with these 8.7 million Italians, most of whom are under the age of 40. When these people started working, the national debt was 102 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). Now, it has climbed to 127 percent. Today, Italians pay nearly 50 percent more taxes than the previous generation, yet their wages are shrinking. And if they ever do get a pension, it will only be roughly half as large as what their parents receive.
Grillo voters, says de Nicolò, are not leftists as Berlusconi likes to claim. They come from both political camps, she argues, and many of them previously voted for Berlusconi's PdL or the right-wing Lega Nord. They include public-sector employees, and one-quarter of them are unemployed. More than two-thirds of Grillo supporters are dissatisfied with the state of Italy's democracy. Less than one-quarter of them trust the European Union, and only 2 percent believe the promises of the government in Rome.
Spain's grassroots young protesters, dubbed Los Indignados (the outraged), have a similar mistrust of politicians -- the main difference being that they have remained an extra-parliamentary movement, at least for the time being. They are up in arms about foreclosures and evictions, the power of the banks, and the country's youth unemployment rate, which is running at 55.5 percent. During the last parliamentary election, the political establishment felt their wrath, in the form of blank election ballots, invalid votes or votes for fringe parties -- plus an increasing number of votes for Basque and Catalonian separatists.
What's more, all of Southern Europe appears haunted by a specter, which played a key role in the Italian election: the austerità. This term is shorthand for the belief that the rigid austerity measures are a diktat from Germany, and that Chancellor Merkel is to blame for the recession in Europe.
Such opinions can also be heard in France: The "German dream" is a "European nightmare" the French newspaper Le Monde wrote in a vehement commentary last week. According to the newspaper, Germany doesn't give a damn about the euro, is selfish, acts as if it has all the answers and has decreed that Italy and Greece shall be ruled by technocratic governments. After the election defeat of Mario Monti, such governments have no future, the commentary concludes.
The True Loser
The Grillini like to point out that they too intend to cut spending. What that means can be seen in the city of Parma, saddled with €800 million in debts. For the past three-quarters of a year, Parma has been governed by Mayor Federico Pizzarotti, 39, a member of the movement who has been busy trimming the fat from the municipal budget. He rides a bicycle to work and has exchanged two official sedans for an Opel natural gas vehicle. He adheres to the rules of the movement and doesn't spend more than what he collects in taxes, but he's still not seen as the Germans' cost-cutting commissioner.
Chancellor Merkel is the "true loser of our election," says Lucia Annunziata, editor in chief of the Italian edition of the Huffington Post, and one of the country's most influential journalists. It is Wednesday, and she's sitting in an editorial meeting and discussing the front-page headline for a piece on the clowns comment made by German Social Democratic Party (SPD) chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück -- and on Italian President Giorgio Napolitano's response. The headline reads "Napolitano Saves Italy's Honor." Annunziata says that the Italians have "voted against the German crisis policy."
Indeed, what the Germans somewhat euphemistically refer to as "reform policy" translates throughout Southern Europe as cost-cutting, reducing and foregoing, concepts that have an ugly ring to them. While many German policymakers and economists assume that Italy, Greece and Spain will be able to emerge from the current crisis as strong and competitive nations after a few hard years, it is primarily Anglo-Saxon economic experts who are convinced of the opposite: They see the austerity policies as a vicious circle that is dragging these countries deeper and deeper into recession.
For the time being, however, all of Europe is anxiously waiting to see what type of government will be formed in Rome. The politicians who have consistently ignored Beppe Grillo are now wooing him. Yet many of his young parliamentarians still lack a long-term political outlook and strategy. The future member of parliament Silvana de Nicolò says that after only two years she will be a non-politician again, and someone else will take her place. What's more, she insists that she is not interested in governing, but only in waving through individual laws that appeal to her. It sounds as if she were giving up before she even started.
'The Right Approach'
In reality, the Grillini protests are not likely to fade away overnight. But will they actually pursue long-term political goals, instead of merely fleeing abroad for work, like so many of their fellow Southern Europeans who see no future for themselves in the region? Or will they end up throwing stones like many young Greeks?
The experiment that has just begun in Italy already appears to be over in Athens. During last year's two parliamentary elections, many voters supported Alexis Tsipras, head of the Coalition of the Radical Left, Syriza. He was the Greek politician who drew large crowds to campaign rallies with speeches about "ending the financial occupation" and "liberating the country from Merkel's yoke." Syriza has much in common with Grillo's movement, despite being much further left on the political spectrum. Still, it is just as radical in its criticism of the European austerity drive -- and just as popular.
Like Grillo, Tsipras has no effective concepts for combating the crisis. He says he intends to keep the euro, but no longer serve the debts. The EU is the only thing that has prevented Syriza from becoming the strongest political force in Greece. In contrast to the recent election in Italy, the Greeks were literally intimidated. Brussels gave them an ultimatum: Either you elect parties that will continue to pursue the course of austerity, or you will be out of the euro zone. Tsipras narrowly lost to the leader of the conservative New Democracy, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
For many young Greeks, the election in Italy now provides a model. If the population of the third-largest economy in the euro zone so openly opposes the austerity measures, then the exit of individual countries from the euro zone is no longer taboo. "That then," says Aris Chatzistefanou, the Greek documentary maker, "is perhaps exactly the right approach."
03/04/2013 02:49 PM
Medicine Wears Off: Is the Euro Crisis About to Return?
By Dinah Deckstein, Christian Reiermann and Christoph Schult
The recent Italian elections demonstrated that the specter of the return of the euro crisis is never far away. Not a single problem in the currency zone has been definitively resolved and some are questioning if the European Central Bank might have to intervene again.
Mario Draghi has a close relationship with the world of faith. The president of the European Central Bank (ECB) was educated at a Jesuit school in Rome, he wrote articles for the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, and when he delivered remarks on the "crisis in the euro area" last week, he chose the Catholic Academy in Munich as the venue for his announcement. "Caring for the welfare of our neighbors is not only an ethical principle of the Christian faith," he preached, standing next to a candlelit crucifix, "it also makes eminent economic sense."
Europe's top monetary policymaker can certainly use the support of higher powers. Only a few weeks ago, he said "the worst" of the euro crisis was over. But since voters denied the proponents of the current reform policies a clear majority in Italy's recent election, providing former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi with a political comeback, the crisis is back.
The markets reacted nervously, as expected. Stock prices crumbled from Milan to New York, there was a marked increase in interest rates on Italian government bonds and the euro's exchange rate fell on foreign currency markets. The flare-up shows that the euro crisis hasn't been overcome by far. By announcing that he intended to do everything possible to save the common currency, if necessary, Draghi was merely buying time.
For weeks, his promise felt like a strong cold remedy: It successfully treated the symptoms, but it didn't eliminate the virus causing the cold in the first place. On the surface, the patient seemed to have recovered, but in reality he was as sick as before. Politicians in Berlin, Brussels and Washington, the headquarters of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), are keeping an eye on about half a dozen hot spots in the euro zone. Their alarming conclusion is that some pathogens are now more dangerous than ever.
The combination of the Italian election results and the continuing stagnation of the French economy has been a serious setback to recovery in the euro zone, say officials close to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a member of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Schäuble and his experts are especially worried about France's condition, as they note with disbelief how the government of President François Hollande has presided over a state of stagnation and decline for months.
Washington's view of the situation is similarly pessimistic. The first reforms on the French labor market, which employers and labor unions recently agreed to, point in the right direction, say IMF officials, but they are still too tentative. In her new World Economic Outlook, which will be released in mid-April, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde intends to bluntly expose the weaknesses of her native France, and to call upon Hollande to institute bold reforms.
But the IMF isn't just worried about France and Italy, the second and third-largest economies in the euro zone. According to the Washington-based organization, the euro zone's fourth-largest economy, Spain, is everything but rehabilitated. The country's banking sector, in particular, is seen as a trouble spot. Late last week Bankia, one of Spain's largest banks, reported a record loss of close to €20 billion ($26 billion).
Problems at the Periphery
Finally, the problems of the peripheral Mediterranean countries of Greece and Cyprus haven't been solved yet, either. In the case of Greece, IMF officials say they are shuttling from one troika visit to the next. Every three months, experts from Washington, the ECB and the European Commission descend on the country to make sure that reforms are succeeding. Although the situation is only slowly improving, last week the so-called Euro Task Force, a group of top officials tasked with preparing the monthly meetings of euro-zone finance ministers, released the February tranche for Greece in the amount of €2.8 billion. The fresh funds will keep the country afloat for a while, but almost all experts agree that the financial injections will not solve Greece's problems in the long run. Another debt haircut, this time by public creditors, is seen as unavoidable if Greece is to recover. But that won't happen before Germany's federal election in September.
Very little progress has been achieved in Cyprus, either. Although the country recently elected a conservative president, a change in the way of thinking remains unlikely. Like his Communist predecessor, the new president opposes raising the business tax -- the lowest in the euro zone at 10 percent, compared to the 29 percent levied in Germany -- and allowing the country's financial sector to be investigated for money laundering. Both are conditions of aid imposed by the donor countries.
But those conditions are the only thing members of the euro zone can agree on. Otherwise, they are deeply divided over Cyprus. The German government still questions whether the Mediterranean island even needs an aid program. Conversely, EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn believes: "Every euro-zone member is systemically relevant." He opposes plans to involve the creditors of Cypriot banks in the costs of the aid program.
Finance Minister Schäuble and his French counterpart Pierre Moscovici recently spoke of finding a solution by the end of March, but no one in Brussels is taking that date seriously at the moment. According to participants, there is no evidence of Franco-German unity in the negotiations. But time is short. Cyprus will run out of money around Easter, which is when the monetary union could begin to totter again. "If Cyprus were to face a disorderly default, there is a high probability that the consequence would be an exit from the euro zone," warns Commissioner Rehn.
There is growing concern in politicians' offices that the euro crisis could soon return in full force. "The mood in the financial markets, which signaled calm in recent weeks, was a little ahead of the actual situation," an IMF insider drily concludes.
No one is feeling the consequences with quite as much force as ECB chief Draghi, who notes with concern that credit is drying up and investment is shrinking in many countries. He fears that the ECB may have to step up to the plate even more than it has to date.
Last year, the ECB supported ailing Greece for months, because the EU couldn't agree on a bailout package for so long. It recently looked the other way when the Irish central bank came to the aid of a bank, and the prohibition on directly funding public budgets was cunningly circumvented. If the ECB were now forced to help an Italian government that is unwilling to institute reforms, its credibility would be destroyed once and for all. Many central bankers are no longer willing to cooperate with the lawmakers behind Europe's rescue programs.
Not surprisingly, Draghi's appeals to governments are slowly beginning to sound like sermons. "Individuals have to do what they can to help themselves before they seek help from the community," Draghi told his Munich audience last week. "The same is true for the countries in the euro area."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
03/04/2013 06:05 PM
Excess Under Siege: Europe Gains Momentum against Corporate Greed
By Stefan Simons and Carsten Volkery in Paris and London
Moves to contain salary excesses in big business by the EU and Switzerland have emboldened social democrats across Europe, who are calling for battle against greed in a financial world "gone wild."
Times are tough for Europe's top earners. Last week, the European Union agreed to introduce a cap on bankers' bonuses in a crackdown that will affect several thousand bankers in London alone. Then, this weekend in Switzerland voters handed shareholders a say on board and executive salaries in a bid to avoid exorbitant pay hikes.
These two decisions reflect a new mood currently sweeping the Continent. The skyrocketing pay of CEOs and boardmembers in various sectors was once seen as an inevitable byproduct of market economies, but it is no longer acceptable. Now, not even the suggestion that public disgust is rooted in envy holds sway with critics.
Across Europe, left-leaning politicians have welcomed the news from Brussels and Bern. "Long live the Swiss!" said Harlem Desir, leader of the French Socialists in an interview with broadcaster "France Info." The referendum in Switzerland marked a step in the same direction as the new cap on bonuses, which France had long been pushing for in Brussels, he said. "It is all part of the fight against a financial world that has gone wild, and can no longer be allowed to impose its own rules on the economy."
In Germany, the opposition Social Democrats were equally jubilant. Center-left Social Democratic Party deputy parliamentary floor leader Joachim Poss said that Germany should further tighten the cap on bonuses approved by the EU and extend it to other sectors, arguing that new laws inspired by the Swiss referendum were needed to curb soaring executive pay.
The days when resistance to astronomical CEO salaries was frowned upon even among Social Democrats are long over. In the 1990s, the party was keen to shed its working-class image and distribution of wealth was dismissed as old-fashioned. Modernizers such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his German counterpart Gerhard Schröder set about lowering marginal tax rates and sought to curry favor with the captains of industry. "(We) are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich -- as long as they pay their taxes," said Peter Mandelson, a British Labour Party politician, who served in a number of Cabinet positions under Blair and was a key architect in the rebranding of the Labour Party as "New Labour."
The Times Are Changing
Now it is suddenly acceptable again for the state to interfere in questions of salary. "We need stronger rules against salary excesses in Germany too," says Green party parliamentarian Gerhard Schick, who focuses on financial market issues. Meanwhile, France's Socialist President François Hollande has been undeterred in his fight for a super tax. His planned 75 percent tax on incomes over €1 million was ruled unconstitutional by the country's top court, but he now plans to amend the measure. Paris is said to be considering a tax of 65 percent on married couples who earn more than €2 million in combined income.
Even in Britain's laissez-faire economy the times are changing. Mandelson's philosophy is outdated, says Olaf Cramme, director of Policy Network, a think tank sympathetic to his center-left Labour Party. Labour's leader Ed Miliband is a "Continental European Social Democrat" with fundamental sympathies for bonus caps and the redistribution of wealth, he says. But these aren't positions he's ready to reveal to voters just yet.
The Labour Party is caught in a quandary. The bankers' reputations may be just as bad in Britain as they are on the Continent, but the financial industry is an important economic driver and employer. Any attack on the City of London financial district is branded as unpatriotic, so the party has held back in the European debate over bonus caps.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, the Conservative cabinet minister responsible for economic and financial matters, wants to question the new bankers' bonus cap once again when EU finance minister meet on Tuesday. But this is nothing more than a dutiful critique of the compromise already reached by the European Parliament, the European Commission and the rotating Irish EU presidency. No one expects anything more than cosmetic changes -- not even the British Bankers' Association.
03/04/2013 03:49 PM
EU Currency Commissioner: 'We Are Prepared to Initiate Sanctions'
In a SPIEGEL interview, European Union Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn discusses the current implementation of austerity measures in Europe, weaknesses in Italy and France and his view that even the smallest euro-zone countries are systemically relevant.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Rehn, you said in December that the peak of the crisis had already passed. Was your judgement premature?
Rehn: I said that the worst had passed, but there is no reason for complacency. It is vital that we continue on our reform path and that we complete the economic and currency union.
SPIEGEL: Following the election in Italy, calls are growing to abandon the strict austerity path and spend more money for growth.
Rehn: We all want to see sustainable growth and job creation. But we cannot solve our growth problems by piling new debts on top of the old ones. In light of an average national debt ratio of 90 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the European Union, I see no maneuvering room for abandoning the path of budget consolidation.
SPIEGEL: Does that also apply to the French government, which will miss the three-percent debt criteria (under the Stability Pact rules governing the stability of the common currency) this year and probably next year too?
Rehn: The French government has begun structural reforms, but the economic outlook has also simultaneously and unexpectedly worsened. France must now persuade the European Commission and its European partners that it will get its public finances in order in medium-term.
SPIEGEL: What use is it, then, if Europe obliges itself to ever greater budgetary discipline, but in reality is constantly making concessions?
Rehn: I don't make any trade-offs when it comes to the Stability Pact rules. The reformed pact places an emphasis on making public finances sustainable in the medium-term. In the short term, certain divergence can be accepted under the condition that a country is implementing reforms. So we are relying on partnerships, but we are also prepared to initiate sanctions instruments if necessary.
SPIEGEL: At 56 percent, the proportion of public expenditures compared to French GDP is very high. Does that worry you?
Rehn: The French government needs to see how it can bring the excessive public expenditures under control. From our perspective, there has been an over emphasis on raising taxes and too little attention paid to cuts in expenditures. I don't want to overstate the case of Gérard Depardieu …
SPIEGEL: … who has changed his main place of residence to Russia because he no longer wants to pay such high taxes …
Rehn: … but as a Finn, I can recall the debates in Sweden, my neighboring country, during the 1970s. At the time, children's book author Astrid Lindgren complained publicly that she had a marginal tax rate of 102 percent. The debate didn't fail to have an effect, either. Sweden lowered the tax and was able to increase its competitiveness without forsaking the standards of its social welfare system.
SPIEGEL: So why is it that a country like Cyprus can't muster up its own strength to reform and must instead rely on a bailout program?
Rehn: Even those people who come from larger EU countries should be conscious of the fact that every euro-zone member is systemically relevant. If Cyprus were to face a disorderly default, there is a high probability that the consequence would be an exit from the euro zone. All members of the euro zone have committed to doing everything in their power to preserve the unity of the euro. This promise has calmed down the markets. We shouldn't do anything that would jeopardize this success.
SPIEGEL: There are currently considerations in Berlin to make both creditors and depositors of Cyprus's banks participate in the costs of the bailout.
Rehn: The European Commission is opposed to a debt haircut. Nor do we aspire to include depositors. I am certain that we will find a solution that will take into account the concerns of all the euro-zone countries.
Interview conducted by Christoph Pauly and Christoph Schult
03/04/2013 01:29 PM
World From Berlin: 'Other Countries Should Heed Swiss Pay Cap for Execs'
Swiss voters have overwhelmingly approved strict controls on executive pay, a result praised by German politicians. Editorialists hope it will pave the way for new anti-greed legislation across Europe.
In a referendum on Sunday, nearly 68 percent of Swiss voters came out in favor of plans to give company shareholders a veto on compensation and ban big payouts for new and departing managers. The final results showed that all 26 Swiss cantons backed the proposals.
Named after its founder, Swiss businessman turned politician Thomas Minder, the Minder Initiative -- or "fat cat initiative," as it has also been dubbed -- will now be written into the Swiss constitution and applies to all Swiss companies listed on the stock exchange.
Just days after the European Union agreed on measures to cap bankers' bonuses, the Swiss referendum could serve as a signal to other European countries. In Germany, center-left Social Democratic Party deputy parliamentary floor leader Joachim Poss told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung that his party would be calling for a similar law on limiting executive salaries.
"The result should be seen as a spur to introducing a European guideline," he said. "People no longer accept this warped bonus system, not only in banks but also in the business sector."
Even Germany's pro-business Free Democratic Party, the junior party in Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right coalition, welcomed the result. Rainer Brüderle, the FDP's deputy parliamentary floor leader and its top candidate in upcoming national elections, said that the vote had sparked a useful debate. "The issue will be addressed before the election," he said on Monday morning.
Groundswell of Anger
Support for the Minder Initiative has been fueled by a series of perceived financial disasters, with Swiss banking giant UBS resorting to state aid during the financial crisis after posting billions in losses.
Meanwhile, companies such as pharmaceutical giant Novartis have announced thousands of layoffs. But executive salaries and bonuses continue to soar in Switzerland, which has sparked a groundswell of public anger.
Thomas Minder launched his campaign in 2006 and told Swiss TV on Sunday that he "was glad the long battle is over."
According to the draft law, shareholders will be able to veto salaries, while sign-on bonuses and golden handshakes will be forbidden. Company managers who flout the rules could face prison.
German editorialists on Monday agree on the trailblazing significance of the Swiss referendum but express concern that implementing some of the world's toughest rules on executive pay into national law could prove to be tricky.
Conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The referendum against 'fat cats' would probably be as welcome anywhere as it was in Switzerland. It's a popular issue and one that capitalizes on feelings of envy. But there are some factors unique to Switzerland. Over the years, the economy has failed to tame the more rapacious of its mangers, while double-digit salary hikes are conspicuously hard to reconcile with the Swiss principle of moderation. The squabble over the 72 million Swiss francs (€59 million) paid to Daniel Vasella, former head of the pharmaceuticals giant Novartis, was the last straw …. But it will be some time before the results of the referendum are enshrined in a law, throwing the door wide open for lobbyists across the board. It should not be forgotten that shareholder meetings are determined by international financial investors, who are more relaxed about salary issues than many small shareholders. That could significantly reduce the harsh impact of Sunday's vote."
Center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"Even the supposedly placid Swiss are capable of outbursts of anger…. Part of democracy is trusting in the voters. And now they have vented their rage at generously remunerated managers and board members…. Much to the astonishment of the rest of Europe, now looking enviously at this strange mountainous nation: Germany, France and Britain would also love to give a resounding thumbs down to fat cats in pinstripe suits."
"Anger over these big hitters must have been considerable for the Swiss to have taken Thomas Minder's cue …. The economy's self-regulatory forces failed when it came to manager salaries, and both their pay and their behavior came across to the Swiss as increasingly brazen. In other words, un-Swiss."
"Only the Social Democrats and the Green Party supported the initiative in parliament. Center-right parties might now give in to the temptation to blunt the edges of the draft law and dilute it when it comes to its implementation. But further referendums are scheduled later this year…. Were parliament to deny the people the fruits of their victory, they would take their revenge in the fall."
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"Manager bonuses are obviously an easy target for populists. But the distaste felt by people across Europe for often absurd incentive payments awarded to investment bankers and company heads is not just a result of envy. It is the result of a remuneration system that has, for too long, neglected the aspect of making success sustainable. Improvements in recent years have not really helped."
"In contrast, the Swiss model that has now met with broad public support hits the spot -- it dispenses with legal caps and quotas but boosts the rights of the shareholders to have a key say in the salaries of their most important members of staff …. Boards will therefore have to openly justify their own earnings and their head honchos' salary models to the company owners. This should limit bonuses more effectively than guidelines drawn up in the boardroom, which rarely reflect complex realities. Shareholders represent the best yardstick for measuring fairness of pay, after all."
SPIEGEL ONLINE writes:
"Political establishments in other countries would do well to heed Switzerland's lesson. It is no coincidence that support for the Minder Initiative came at the same time as negotiations in Brussels for a cap on bonuses in the European financial sector."
"Politically, Minder won. But it remains to be seen whether executive salaries really will be curbed when shareholders are making the decisions. Given British and US experience with boosting shareholder democracy, there is reason for skepticism. But one crucial factor is that pressure on executives in listed companies will increase. Exorbitant salaries will need to be explained -- not just to shareholders but to the public. Because the people will no longer passively accept excessive salaries."
-- Jane Paulick
03/04/2013 03:58 PM
Tanking Support: Austrian Right-Wing Populists Lose Ground
The state was once their most reliable stronghold, but Austria's right-wing populists suffered a painful defeat in Carinthia on Sunday. Amid a series of corruption scandals, the abysmal showing could bode poorly for national elections later this year.
The southern Austrian state of Carinthia was long a source of inspiration for right-wing populists across Europe. As early as 1989, the Freedom Party of Carinthia (FPK) briefly nabbed the governor's mansion in the state. In 1999, the right-wingers -- behind the charismatic leadership of Jörg Haider -- emerged victorious in state elections once again, and have managed to hold onto the state since.
Until Sunday, that is. In a key state election seen as a bellwether for the Austrian general election approaching in September, Carinthian voters delivered a painful blow to the FPK, the state chapter of the national Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). Sunday evening exit polls indicated that the FPK managed a mere 17.1 percent of the vote -- a veritable collapse since their 45 percent result four years ago. It was the largest vote-on-vote disintegration ever seen in postwar Austria.
The Social Democratic party SPÖ won with 37.1 percent of the vote, while the center-right ÖVP landed in third place with 14.2 percent. Notably, the 80-year-old billionaire businessman Frank Stronach managed to win 11.3 percent of the vote just a half year after bursting onto the Austrian political scene.
The right-wing populists' poor showing comes afternumerous corruption allegations stemming from the time when Jörg Haider set the tone on the Austrian right. Members of the FPK and the Haider splinter party Alliance for Austria's Future (BZÖ) -- which received just 6.5 percent in Carinthia on Sunday-- have been accused, investigated or indicted for just about every form of corruption imaginable in recent years.
Among the most notable cases is the purchase of Eurofighter jets under the aegis of BZÖ member Herbert Scheibner during his stint as defense secretary. He is under investigation for money laundering as part of that deal. In addition, the FPK has been heavily implicated in irregularities surrounding the sale of the Hypo-Alpe-Adria-Bank.
While politicians from other parties were also allegedly involved in bribery related to the sale, the reputation of Jörg Haider, who initiated the sale, has taken the biggest hit, particularly given his party's longstanding pledge to do away with the corruption endemic in the country's more established political camps. Haider died in an accident while driving drunk in 2008.
Sunday's result -- combined with their meager 8.2 percent showing in the other Austrian state election on Sunday, in Lower Austria -- does not bode well for the right-wing populists this autumn. "It was a clear rejection and a … clear demand for a restart," said a visibly irate FPÖ head Hans-Christian Strache on Austrian television on Monday morning. "There is no way around it. A renewal is necessary. The result is extremely disappointing, but the voters are always right."
As recently as last year, the populists under Strache's leadership had been in pole position, briefly leading in public opinion surveys. Lately, nationwide surveys have indicated sliding support, though, with the FPÖ now in third place behind the center-left SPÖ and center-right ÖVP.
And billionaire candidate Stronach's rise could further eat into the FPÖ's support. His party received a respectable 9.8 percent in Lower Austria on Sunday. While Stronach vehemently rejects the FPÖ's anti-immigrant stance, he is very skeptical of the euro and the European Union, positioning him well to siphon off additional voters from the right wing this fall.
Greece: ‘Kazan, Kazan’
5 March 2013
Ta Nea, 5 March 2013
“Win-win” announces Ta Nea in Turkish in its report on the Greek prime minister's visit to Istanbul on March 4, describing the atmosphere between the two leaders as friendly.
Antonis Samaras and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, signed 25 agreements in the fields of trade, tourism and mutual aid in the event of natural disasters.
Turkey secured Athens' support for its bid to hold 2020 Olympic Games in Istanbul. However, there was no progress on the thorny issue of hydrocarbon exploration in the Aegean Sea.
Greece - Turkey: Closer with 25 agreements
First of mutual interest and economic cooperation was the message sent Samaras and Erdogan. -
5 March 2013
Ta Nea, 5 March 2013
Issues of "low politics", or everyday as economic cooperation and the strengthening of trust between the two sides focused on the Greek-Turkish summit yesterday, during which 25 agreements were signed, which government sources estimated that reached the target improving the climate in bilateral relations. Warm climate prevailed, according to government sources, and face to face the two prime ministers, although discussed the whole range of Greek-Turkish relations, including the "thorn" setting EEZ.
"COMMON STEPS." Indeed, Mr Erdogan asked about after the meeting reiterated the Turkish position against the unilateral declaration of EEZ by the Greek side in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying: "We shared the EEZ issue of the belief that there must be common steps on the principle of mutual benefit (win-win) for the Eastern Mediterranean. " On his part, Mr. Samaras, both in statements and in a private meeting with Mr. Erdogan spoke about the rights of Greece under international law. Also, individual Turkish Prime Minister stressed the need and the issue of the EEZ to find a solution through exploratory talks are ongoing between the negotiating teams of the two countries.
In the same face to face meeting, which lasted one hour and 45 minutes - 45 minutes longer than was planned - Mr. Samaras with emphasis put the problem in Greece creates continuous flow of illegal immigrants, highlighting the crucial assistance could allow Turkey to prevent illegal immigrants in the Greek islands after the construction of the fence in Evros.
Mr. Erdogan, according to senior government source, vowed that will do everything in its power in order to hold the wave. The two sides signed an agreement for even closer cooperation on the issue of illegal immigration - one of the 25, which range from tourism to the commitment of Athens to help Turkey to win the Olympic Games of 2020 in Istanbul!
However, both men focused on the positives of Greek-Turkish rapprochement and economic cooperation at a time when Greece is in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis, while Turkey has opened all fronts with its neighbors in the Middle East - Syria Iran, Iraq (on the issue of the Kurds) and Israel.
FOR EXPORT. Thus, Mr. Erdogan's statements suggested that interested in further strengthening of Greek-Turkish economic cooperation. He said that Greek exports to Turkey more than 6.5 billion - $ 1.5 billion and exports of Turkey to Greece - and emphasized that the tourist traffic between the two countries more than one million tourists a year .
In this context, the two sides encouraged the Greek and Turkish businessmen who took part in the meeting to invest that will further enhance economic cooperation on both sides of the Aegean. Indeed, Mr Samaras said that this joint effort is aimed at improving the daily life of the citizen. "We build trust with careful steps to bring the citizens of the two countries closer."
The 25 agreements were signed in a festive atmosphere, attended by over 20 ministers of both governments. Among the most important agreements are signed for the first time in the healthcare sector, the MoU in the field of shipping and maritime transport (provides for cooperation and cruise lines in the Eastern Mediterranean), the joint declaration on cooperation in tourism (the Turkish tourists to Greece have more than doubled in the last three years), etc.
AVROTITES. Both Mr. Samaras and Mr. Erdogan spoke with the warmest words for the improvement of Greek-Turkish relations. Mr. Samaras said "Today is a good day 'for Greek-Turkish relations, expressing the hope that many will come such. On his part, the Turkish Prime Minister said: "In recent years, relations between Greece - Turkey is getting better every day," noting that the signing of the agreements is an indication of the progress achieved in the areas of cooperation Athens - Ankara. The Turkish Prime Minister also noted, inter alia, that "the minorities living in both countries deserve a life characterized by prosperity and peaceful living conditions," noting that the differences - which, he said, there are - "can be overcome through the dialogue is in progress. "
The Aegean: Catalyst deposits
"The issues of the Aegean is not so difficult to solve, provided there is political will on both sides. Mr. Erdogan seems to have it. " With these words seasoned diplomat described the current situation in Greek-Turkish relations. He noted that even exploratory talks once again (had happened over the last Simitis government) have come close to agreement on many issues related to the Aegean. However, he said that the solution requires a strong government that can take the political cost would eg one action in an international court.
"Unfortunately, in recent decades we have so much swell on the Aegean that even a decision of an international court if you do not believe 100% beneficial for the Greek side as national defeat. Usually, however, these decisions may even be 60% - 40%, sharing the benefits to both sides, "continues the same source. He noted, however, that if investigations show that hydrocarbons in the Aegean is buried immense wealth which should somehow excavate, then the Greek parties - now bet populism - should make critical decisions about the future of the country. Decisions are delayed as long as it remains unknown what hides in the Aegean continental shelf.