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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1081865 times)
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« Reply #5025 on: Mar 11, 2013, 07:04 AM »

Obama’s half-brother defeated in Kenya gubernatorial election by 140,000 votes

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, March 10, 2013 11:43 EDT

His half brother may be the most powerful man in the world but that stardust seemed not to rub off on Malik Obama as he failed miserably to win a county gubernatorial seat in Kenya’s recently concluded polls.

Obama, 54, who shares a father with United States President Barack Obama, won just 2,792 votes — some 140,000 behind the final winner — in his bid to claim the seat for his home area in western Kenya.

“He was not the winner but at least he competed,” said Benson Mughatsia, returning officer for Siaya county, where Obama’s ancestral home is located. “He was not last but he was still a long way off.”

Standing well over six feet, Obama, who describes himself as an economist and a financial analyst, told AFP on the campaign trail that he would use his contacts with Washington to bring development to the rural backwater he hoped to govern.

“Why would my people settle for a local connection when they have a direct line to the White House,” he said.

Campaigning under the slogan “Obama here, Obama there”, he said he dreamed of bringing chains like McDonald’s to the area and launching a bid for the presidency.

Obama, who was refusing to take calls from journalists Sunday, might have been undone by his much-vaunted refusal to give handouts, a common feature of Kenyan election campaigns where voters collect small sums of money to attend rallies.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama is facing a possible diplomatic headache in how to deal with Kenya’s new president elect Uhuru Kenyatta, who faces trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

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« Reply #5026 on: Mar 11, 2013, 07:07 AM »

Close friend of Mandela’s says his memory is fading

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 11, 2013 7:30 EDT

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s frail anti-apartheid hero who spent a night in hospital at the weekend for a medical checkup, is doing well but has memory lapses, a close friend said on Monday.

Renowned South African human rights lawyer George Bizos, who defended Mandela during his 1960s treason trial, said that while the 94-year-old is aware of current political events, he forgets at times that his fellow anti-apartheid activists are dead.

“Unfortunately he sometimes forgets that one or two of them had passed on and has a blank face when you tell him that Walter Sisulu and some others are no longer with us,” Bizos told Eyewitness News in an interview published on Monday.

Sisulu, the former leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) who was Mandela’s political mentor, died nearly a decade ago.

Bizos, who has been friends with Mandela since the 1940s, paid a visit to the Nobel Peace Prize winner at his Johannesburg home just over a week ago.

“I saw him about 10 days ago. He looked okay,” said Bizos.

Mandela was on Saturday admitted into hospital for “a scheduled medical check-up to manage the existing conditions in line with his age”, the South African presidency said.

The hospitalisation came less than three months after he was treated for a lung infection and gallstones.

Bizos represented Mandela and other leading anti-apartheid activists including Sisulu and Govan Mbeki, during the infamous 1960s Rivonia Trial that saw Mandela sentenced to life in prison.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #5027 on: Mar 11, 2013, 07:14 AM »

Austrian nostalgia for Nazism

Gazeta Wyborcza
Bartosz T. Wieliński
03/11/2013, Updated: 03/10/2013 22:14

Every second Austrian believes that Hitler's government had a good side, and if in their country of work NSDAP be glad to considerable support. Two-thirds want a strong leader in power - according to a survey conducted in the 75th anniversary of the Anschluss of Austria by the Third Reich.
A poll published at the weekend by the conservative newspaper "Der Standard" in Austria at the moment goes unnoticed. In neighboring Germany, however, the journalists put on their feet. If half of modern Germans spoke positively about Hitler, it would mean the country an international embarrassment. "These figures are appalling," - says the survey "Süddeutsche Zeitung". It is hard to disagree that opinion.

The survey emerges a picture of a country that is still not liberated from the clutches of the Nazis. 61 percent. respondents want the head of state "strong man". 57 percent. believes that "the benefits are only Austrians." And if she could stand up to the elections the NSDAP (which now prohibits the Austrian law) is, according to 54 percent. respondents would have a good chance of political success.

Survey was conducted by Market-Institut of the 75th Linz anniversary of the Anschluss - 12 March 1938 on the orders of Hitler's Wehrmacht occupied Austria without a shot. - My home is a part of the German Reich - announced two days later Hitler, speaking from the balcony of the Imperial Palace in Vienna. The crowds cheered, and after a few days in Vienna began anti-Jewish excesses. According to the survey, only 15 per cent. contemporary Austrians believe that Austria should then defend against Hitler. 42 percent. and believes that under the Nazis was not all bad. The opposite view is 57 percent. respondents.

- It's a disaster - says Peter Huemer, a famous Austrian writer. - The survey shows that politicians are not able to stop the growth of authoritarian tendencies in our country. The research of the last decade showed that more and more we accept democracy. But it is a global crisis and social attitudes have changed. Attended by supporters of authoritarianism - he explains.

However, despite the turmoil in the European economy Vienna is doing very well. Unemployment and inflation is kept in check, the economy and exports are rising. - The problem is that the government has a terrible image in society. The Chancellor is seen as a weakling who rules a weak country. Therefore, people are longing for a strong personality - Huemer explains. The third force in Austrian politics is invariably far-right Freedom Party, which in 2000, its then-leader, racist Prime Minister of Carinthia Jörg Haider, has introduced to the Austrian government. For libertarians, who recently began to demand out of Austria to the EU, want to vote every four Austrian.

- Austrians do not account for the history, as did the Germans . Not passed as painful as we debate - like Gunter Hofmann, a German journalist weekly "Die Zeit". Austria, considered to be the first victim of Hitler, he never became the pillory international public opinion. A Austrians shared responsibility for Nazi crimes has been for four decades taboo. Conspiracy of silence been broken only in the mid-80s, when it turned out that the Austrian president Kurt Waldheim was co-responsible for the deportation of Greek Jews to Auschwitz. - Since then, there is in our village, whose involvement in Nazism, not tested. But young people are more likely to say that they do not care about history - says Huemer. According to the survey, 61 percent. respondents believe that the settlement with the Nazi past is now complete.


Nazism descends to the underworld

Gazeta Wyborcza
Eve Siedlecka
11/11/2012, Updated: 11/11/2012 22:44

The course this year on Nov. 11 showed two things: that the tightening of the law on assembly was unnecessary. And that was needed opposition to the Nazi takeover of Independence Day.
A year ago, the president announced that the need to limit the freedom of assembly, because, supposedly, the presence of an ideologically hostile demonstrations "in the same place" provokes aggression. Meanwhile, though now antifascists and "tęczowi" manifested away from the "patriots" stoner szalikowo-patriotic and so attacked - with no "rainbow" beat cops and journalists.

You do not need them was an ideological challenge. Just like the "smoke" do not like everything and everyone. Unfortunately, they became a convenient excuse to limit freedom of assembly for all of us.

This year on Nov. 11 was quieter, although demonstrations have been reported under the old law, so everyone can register them in the same place. They did not do this, because I do not want to. Or - as in previous years - agreed route of the Security Office of the City of Warsaw.

We all learn from our mistakes, as tęczowi and antifascists. Resigned from blocking the march of Independence, he came to the conclusion that the slogan "Fascism will not pass" can be carried out as effectively in a less literal way. Anyway, not blocking the march last year: they did not kontrmanifestację fixed route march, just next door. Stories that their blockade has become a flashpoint of last year's riots are a myth: the march will not even encountered.

Commenting on the progress of the Independence Day does not see things the cardinal. Here's the patriotic marches hailowanie disappeared, flags with a swastika, password "Jews (or pedal) to the gas", " Poland all white only "and" white power, black syphilis ". Even if one of the rips, it is excess, not mainstream.

It is a great merit of the Agreement 11 November and Colorful Independent, which began two years ago, the campaign "Fascism will not pass" - is against the "patriotic" racism marches openly affirming sauce and sprinkled with Nazi nationalism.

But it's also - you have to admit it - thanks to the Polish right, which is "bounced" patriotic demonstration of neo-Nazis. Whether in order to promote themselves at the head of the procession wielotysięcznego young, well-built man and get a new group of voters. I have no illusions: the right hand part of the shared racist, anti-Semitic slogans. But this alone is valuable is that it makes sure that the public in March of Independence does not preach. This means that they became illegal, not only from the point of view of the law, but custom.

Racism and anti-Semitism have come to a time in the underworld, and fortunately they return. At least 11 of November.


Former head of Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra was Nazi paramilitary

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 11, 2013 8:51 EDT

A former head of Vienna’s prestigious Philharmonic Orchestra was a member of Nazi Germany’s elite paramilitary SS and collaborated with the secret police, while half of its musicians were members of the Nazi party, historians have said.

Helmut Wobisch, a member of the Nazi party since 1933 when it was still illegal in Austria, was the orchestra’s managing director between 1954 and 1968 even though he had been dismissed at the end of World War II because of his ties to the Nazi regime.

Wobisch became a member of the SS in 1938 when Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany.

In 1966, he presented a replica of the orchestra’s Honorary Ring to former Nazi youth leader Baldur von Schirach who was convicted of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials in 1946 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Von Schirach, Vienna’s local Nazi leader, had received the orchestra’s highest distinction in 1942 but US troops seized it when he was arrested in 1945.

Research by the independent group of historians which was coordinated by Vienna University professor Oliver Rathkolb and others was to shed light on the orchestra’s political involvement during the 1938-45 period when Austria was under Nazi control.

Historians also looked into the biographies of orchestra members who were expelled, persecuted or killed for political or racist reasons.

They found that six Jewish members of the orchestra were murdered and 10 deported to Nazi camps. None of those who emigrated, mainly to Britain and the United States, returned after World War II.

With 60 musicians out of a total of 123 members of the Nazi party, their percentage was well above that of the general population, which was about 10 percent.

As Austria marks the 75th anniversary of its annexation by Nazi Germany on Tuesday, the historians’ findings are available on the orchestra’s web site at

« Last Edit: Mar 11, 2013, 07:32 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #5028 on: Mar 11, 2013, 07:18 AM »

Malta: ‘Malta votes for change’

11 March 2013
The Malta Independent, 11 March 2013

With 55 per cent of the vote, the Labour Party led by Joseph Muscat has won a clear victory in the general election held on March 10, which was marked by a 93.1 per cent turnout. Muscat, age 39, is to be sworn in on March 11.

Scoring 44 per cent of the vote, the Nationalist Party, which has held power for 23 of the last 25 years, delivered its worst ever performance since the archipelago gained independence in 1964.

According to the daily, outgoing Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi has paid the price for his autocratic management of the government, corruption scandals, and of parting ways “with the man who had challenged him for the [party] leadership, [former European Commissioner

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« Reply #5029 on: Mar 11, 2013, 07:24 AM »

Greece: ‘Europe in the dock’

11 March 2013
Ta Nea

Save the euro, Europeans lose. From zenith to nadir the trust of citizens towards the EU in five years, according to a poll by Eurobarometer

Natasha Bastia | Published: 08:00 |

The crisis has seriously affected the confidence of citizens in the EU and this is evident in the Eurobarometer survey. After Greece, the countries where citizens had their biggest turnaround and confidence to Brussels expressing disbelief as Spain, Cyprus, Portugal, Ireland and Italy.
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European governments may have taken steps to rescue the single currency when the situation reached the brink of the abyss, but the price they pay is huge: the growing discontent of the citizens towards the European Union. The rejection of the austerity policy is reflected not only in the election results in countries such as Italy and Greece, observes the Spanish newspaper "El Pais". The Eurobarometer shows the collapse of public confidence in the EU not only indebted southern countries but also in countries north of the lender. That is, if it makes sense in a country like Greece with the strict austerity program, where 63% stated in 2007 that trusts the EU currently 81% saying they do not trust her, it is surprising that in all countries - except Malta and Estonia - the majority of people expressed disbelief about the policies decided in Brussels.

Bankruptcy "Democracy is an intangible value that deteriorates in Europe," says French economist Jean-Paul Fitousi, who observes that while it is an ongoing critical effort to save the euro, the EU leadership can not avoid dissatisfaction society, which is expressed on the streets but in recent polls. In 2007 the majority of citizens in 27 countries expressed support for the European Union, now crumbling confidence not only in the region but also in the heart of the EU, in countries such as Germany and France.

But there is an important "but". Questions to the people if they like the current EU if Europe meets their expectations and if the economic policy followed is the correct answer no Europeans. No, no and no. But when the question arises as to whether they would prefer their country to come out of the EU or to abandon the euro, the answer is negative: no way. "That answers that show the enormous inconvenience citizens against austerity," said diplomatic sources in the Spanish newspaper. "And despite the serious problems that exist, no one seems to forget the peace, welfare. Nobody wants to change these important achievements for dangerous experiments. "

But the crisis has seriously affected the confidence of citizens in the EU and this is evident in the Eurobarometer survey. After Greece, the countries where citizens had their biggest turnaround and confidence to Brussels expressing disbelief as Spain, Cyprus, Portugal, Ireland and Italy, but close follow more traditional pro-European countries such as Germany, Austria, France and the Netherlands. Therefore, distrust is now pan phenomenon.

The leadership of the European Union having saved the single currency (at least for now), is facing a crisis that seems to result in the demolition process of the welfare state. From this, according to experts, the reaction proceeds citizens. "The survival of the euro is at the cost of destruction of social institutions and massive unemployment in the region. We talk about destruction, "says American economist James Galbraith.

With elections in mind

Experts in Brussels studying carefully the outcome of recent Italian elections, having in mind that in June 2014, a little over a year that Europe will invite citizens to the polls. If not then to restore confidence in the EU, surprises can be very unpleasant

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« Reply #5030 on: Mar 11, 2013, 07:29 AM »

03/11/2013 12:37 PM

Jean-Claude Juncker Interview: 'The Demons Haven't Been Banished'

In an interview, Luxembourg prime minister and former Euro Group chief Jean-Claude Juncker, 58, urges other EU countries to push ahead with structural reforms, explains why he sees parallels between 2013 and the year preceeding World War I and throws his election support behind Angela Merkel's re-election campaign.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, it has been seven weeks since you stepped down as head of the Euro Group. Do you sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and think: I absolutely have to give another interview on the euro crisis?

Juncker: No, I'm not suffering from withdrawal symptoms. I would say that I have a balanced state of mind. My life is less hectic and I'm calmer and more relaxed.

SPIEGEL: For eight years, you were a kind of informal president of the monetary union. When you take stock of your accomplishments during this period, don't you have to admit that Europe has tended to drift apart rather than become more close-knit?

Juncker: For my generation, the monetary union has always been about forging peace. Today, I notice with a certain sense of regret that far too many Europeans are returning to a regional and national mindset.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean by that?

Juncker: The way some German politicians have lashed out at Greece when the country fell into the crisis has left deep wounds there. I was just as shocked by the banners of protesters in Athens that showed the German chancellor in a Nazi uniform. Sentiments suddenly surfaced that we thought had been finally relegated to the past. The Italian election was also excessively anti-German and thus un-European.

SPIEGEL: You're exaggerating. No one today seriously doubts peace and friendship in Europe.

Juncker: That's true. But anyone who believes that the eternal issue of war and peace in Europe has been permanently laid to rest could be making a monumental error. The demons haven't been banished; they are merely sleeping, as the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo have shown us. I am chilled by the realization of how similar circumstances in Europe in 2013 are to those of 100 years ago.

SPIEGEL: 1913 was the year before the outbreak of World War I. Do you seriously believe that there will be armed conflict in Europe?

Juncker: No, but I see obvious parallels with regard to people's complacency. In 1913, many people believed that they would never again be a war in Europe. The great powers of the Continent were economically so strongly intermeshed that there was the widespread opinion that they could simply no longer afford to engage in military conflicts. Primarily in Western and Northern Europe, there was a complete sense of complacency based on the assumption that peace had been secured forever.

SPIEGEL: The young generation tends to tune out when Brussels politicians lecture them again about the trenches of Verdun.

Juncker: Indeed, we can't completely rely on the aberrations of history to explain today's European necessities. Future-related issues are no less pressing. By the middle of this century, Europe will comprise only a good 7 percent of the world's population. Already today, over 80 percent of economic growth comes from other regions of the globe. A united Europe is our Continent's only chance to avoid falling off the world's radar. The heads of government of Germany, France and the United Kingdom also know that their voice is only heard internationally because they speak through the megaphone of the European Union.

SPIEGEL: The only problem is that a firm commitment to Europe and the monetary union doesn't pay off politically because it demands unpopular reforms. At the height of the euro crisis, you even said: We heads of government all know what to do, we just don't know how to get reelected when we do it. Does this still hold true?

Juncker: If I were to give a humorous response, I would say today: For a long time, we didn't know what to do, and we still weren't reelected.

SPIEGEL: And what is your serious answer?

Juncker: For starters, we have pushed through a series of far-reaching reforms in Europe. We have kept Greece in the euro zone, introduced bailout mechanisms for the monetary union and established a European banking union. Nevertheless, I am concerned that the temporary calm on the financial markets could weaken the will for renewal. It would send the completely wrong signal if the fear of reforms were to spread throughout Europe again.

SPIEGEL: You are presumably alluding to French President François Hollande.

Juncker: By no means. No one at the Elysée Palace is arguing that France does not need reforms. But the Socialist Party government in Paris objects to demands that it should copy the Agenda 2010 reforms (of the labor market and the welfare system introduced by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder one decade ago) -- and rightly so. After all, not everything that works in Germany can be transferred one-to-one to France.

SPIEGEL: Following the recent election in Italy, it's clear that the people of Southern Europe don't approve of your reform initiatives. Doesn't this worry you?

Juncker: The results of the Italian election are widely interpreted as an across-the-board rejection of the euro, but there are also other factors at work here. Beppe Grillo has primarily made a name for himself as a critic of his country's political class, while Silvio Berlusconi has promised to lower taxes. By contrast, the party that ran the most vehemently anti-euro campaign, the Lega Nord, lost many of its voters. Consequently, I don't see the Italian election result as primarily a vote against the euro and the European reform policy.

SPIEGEL: You always have an amazing ability to sugar coat the European plight. The reality is that the big loser of the election was outgoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, whose Europe-friendly course was soundly rejected. Does that spell the end of the reform policy in Italy?

Juncker: That would be a serious mistake. The consequence of the Italian election result cannot be that we suddenly return to the policies that caused this mess. It is not possible to combat the financial and economic crisis by saddling an already heavily indebted state with new debts. There is no getting around a solid budgetary policy.

SPIEGEL: In other words, Italian politicians should pursue a policy that the majority of the population does not support.

Juncker: I'm going to make a bold statement: One shouldn't pursue the wrong policies just because one is afraid of not being reelected. Those who intend to govern have to take responsibility for their countries and for Europe as a whole. This means, if need be, that they have to pursue the right policies, even if many voters think they are the wrong ones.

SPIEGEL: If push comes to shove, politicians should disregard the will of the people. Isn't that a rather odd understanding of democracy?

Juncker: Of course politicians should respect the will of the people as much as possible, provided they adhere to the European treaties. If the Italians intend to roll back the real estate tax, then they will have to come up with some other way of meeting their commitments. In Europe, even more so than in national politics, we have to follow the principle laid down by Martin Luther: Use language that the people will understand, but don't just tell them what they want to hear.

'I Feel Very Close to the Chancellor'
SPIEGEL: You've always been good at giving other people lessons. You like to talk about European responsibility, but when it comes to Luxembourg as a financial center, you vehemently defend national interests.

Juncker: That is grossly incorrect. The truth is that whenever progress has been made in Europe on common tax regulations, it happened under the leadership of Luxembourg -- or, more precisely, under my leadership. On June 24, 1991 -- I was a young finance minister at the time -- at 7:45 p.m., we approved the harmonization of value-added and consumption taxes. In 1997, under my direction, the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) adopted a European taxation on the interest earned on savings in combination with a code of conduct on business taxation to remove harmful tax competition within the EU.

SPIEGEL: This agreement was only reached after Luxembourg, along with other countries, blocked a harmonization of taxation of savings for years.

Juncker: Correct. But has it never occurred that progress was only possible in Europe after Germany changed its position? Breaking a taboo at home requires careful preparation. It took a great deal of persuasion on my part in Luxembourg to introduce a tax on the interest accrued on savings.

SPIEGEL: Recently, a large number of EU countries, including Germany and France, have come out in favor of introducing a tax on financial transactions. Why has Luxembourg voted against this?

Juncker: I was in principle a supporter of this tax. I was even in favor of only introducing this tax in the euro zone if we failed to convince the remaining EU members. But then a number of euro countries also rejected it, including Ireland, the Netherlands and a few others. It would put Luxembourg at a competitive disadvantage if we nevertheless accepted this tax.

SPIEGEL: After 18 years in office, you will run for the job of prime minister again in next year's general elections in Luxembourg. Why are you making the same mistakes as your political mentor, Helmut Kohl, who missed the ideal moment to make his exit and was voted out of office after leading Germany for 16 years?

Juncker: I have known a great many politicians who have not managed to stay in power for 16 years. I have nevertheless already managed to remain at the helm for 18 years. I still want to achieve a great many things for my country. Experience is not a disadvantage here, especially as the head of government of a small country in a European setting that has become more difficult.

SPIEGEL: Could it be that you see yourself as irreplaceable?

Juncker: In the highest government office, you have to be ready to bow out at any time, otherwise you are not a free individual anymore. It's not as if I don't have a decent profession to fall back on. I am a lawyer, so I see myself as still capable of being reintegrated into society.

SPIEGEL: You are now 58 years old. Would you be tempted by one of the other top EU jobs?

Juncker: No. In 2004, I could have easily become the president of the European Commission since all member states were asking me to take this position. But I had promised the people of Luxembourg that I would remain their head of government.

SPIEGEL: What about succeeding Herman Van Rompuy as the president of the European Council (the powerful body representing the 27 EU leaders)?

Juncker: I told all the heads of state and government who asked me back in 2009 -- and this was a sizable majority -- that I would take the job, and I would have done so, but some people apparently didn't want me …

SPIEGEL: You are referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Juncker: Why should I become something today that I could have become in 2009? To be honest, that just seems silly to me.

SPIEGEL: You also announced on a number of occasions that you wanted to step down as head of the Euro Group, but then you extended your tenure in office at the request of the other members.

Juncker: You can consider this carved in stone: I rule out becoming Herman Van Rompuy's successor.

SPIEGEL: This September, general elections will be held in Germany to elect new representatives for the national parliament, the Bundestag. Would you campaign for the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) if you were asked to?

Juncker: I have already been asked, and I have agreed. I recently spoke with the governor of the German state of Saarland to arrange dates for Bundestag election campaign events. I have always campaigned for the CDU, very often together with the chancellor.

SPIEGEL: And what does your friend, SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück, say about that?

Juncker: I have also often spoken at SPD events and events organized by the Green Party, but I don't intend to endorse the campaigns of the Social Democrats and the Greens.

SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, you are politically much closer to the European policy of the Social Democrats. For instance, you support euro bonds, which are rejected by top CDU politicians.

Juncker: This may sound presumptuous, but it is really up to the CDU and the SPD to position themselves with respect to me. Why do I have to say with whom I have more in common on individual issues?

SPIEGEL: If you are supporting Merkel's CDU campaign, then you also have to endorse the chancellor's policy on Europe.

Juncker: I feel very close to the chancellor and the CDU. But aside from that, I would like to challenge a few preconceptions during the German election campaign. As you know, it is a very widely held view in Germany that only the Germans are committed to the two-pronged approach of solidarity and solidity. I would like to point out that the European Commission has never initiated proceedings against Luxembourg for an excessive budgetary deficit, but it has done so against Germany.

SPIEGEL: During the upcoming election campaign, do you intend to quote Merkel's oft-cited comment: "If the euro fails, Europe fails"?

Juncker: During our religious instruction in school, we always asked: How can one prove the existence of God? And I have learned that the Catholic Church, which is never at a loss for an answer when it comes to existential questions, responds as follows: This question simply does not arise. The question of whether the euro will survive does not arise either and, consequently, I won't even attempt a theoretical answer to your question about the German chancellor's comment.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, we thank you for this interview.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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« Reply #5031 on: Mar 11, 2013, 07:38 AM »

Cardinals hold final talks before beginning selection of next pope

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 11, 2013 7:20 EDT

Cardinals will hold a final set of meetings on Monday before they are locked away to choose a new pope to lead the Roman Catholic Church through troubled times.

The conclave triggered by the historic resignation of Benedict XVI will start on Tuesday, with the eyes of the world on the 115 men who must nominate one of their own to take his place.

Vatican watchers say there is no clear favourite, but three names have emerged as frontrunners — Odilo Scherer, the charismatic archbishop of Sao Paulo, Italian conservative Angelo Scola, head of the powerful Milan archdiocese, and Marc Ouellet, a Canadian who holds a senior Vatican position.

“We are all waiting for the upcoming conclave, not only the faithful of the Catholic Church but the whole world is waiting,” Ouellet said in a homily in Rome on Sunday.

At 1545 GMT on Tuesday, all the cardinals will swear a solemn oath of secrecy and hold a first vote to find a new leader for the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

The challenge facing them is to find a pope — the 266th — strong enough to grapple with the challenges assailing the Catholic Church which proved too much for 85-year-old Benedict.

His resignation — the first for 700 years — has focused attention on the need to find a leader with the energy to shape the Church’s approach to the growing secularism in the West and the Islamic radicalism spreading to many parts of the globe.

Cardinals have expressed a desire for a more vigorous, pastoral figure to deal with the scandal over sexual abuse by paedophile priests and cover-ups that has rocked the Catholic Church.

A top French cardinal who will cast his vote this week told AFP that heaping the blame for paedophilia on the Church is simply a way of avoiding the issue.

“There is a kind of opinion that is an easy way of ridding (society) of the issue of paedophilia by putting it on the Church,” Andre Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris, said.

“We shouldn’t be duped. It’s easy because that prevents asking the question within society itself.”

The cardinals also want a man who can reform the Roman Curia, the central government of the Catholic Church, which has been beset by the intrigue laid bare in documents leaked by Benedict’s butler last year.

While Ouellet has attracted attention as the powerful prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, Scola was greeted by a mass of photographers and cameramen when he celebrated mass in the Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles on Sunday.

Scola, 71, a hardliner cut from the same cloth as Benedict, the German-born arch-conservative Joseph Ratzinger, has the advantage of not being associated with the tarnished Vatican bureaucracy.

“I think he is a good man, he would be a fine leader to help strengthen the Church. I am praying for him,” said 69-year-old parishioner Maria Bettini, after attending the mass.

African Catholics — whose numbers are growing in contrast to the dwindling church attendances in the Church’s one-time European stronghold — are praying for the first black pope.

“It is the aspiration of an entire people and an entire continent. It would be a strong sign,” said Justin Golo, a Congolese priest at an African-influenced mass filled with music in Rome on Sunday.

Africa’s hopes rest on Laurent Monsengwo, the archbishop of Kinshasa, and Ghana’s Peter Turkson.

Yet the odds are stacked against a pope coming from the southern hemisphere — 60 of the elector cardinals are from Europe and 14 from North America.

A two-thirds majority — 77 votes or more — is needed to elect a pope.

Every day of the conclave — which literally means “with key”, referring to the cardinals being locked in — the voting papers will be burned at around 1100 GMT after two rounds of voting in the morning and 1800 GMT after two rounds in the afternoon.

Smoke from a chimney above the Sistine Chapel is turned black to signal there has been no decision. If it is white, a new pope has been elected.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


March 10, 2013

Before Smoke Rises at Vatican, It’s Romans vs. the Reformers


VATICAN CITY — The cardinals who enter the papal conclave on Tuesday will walk into the Sistine Chapel in a single file, but beneath the orderly display, they are split into competing lineups and power blocs that will determine which man among them emerges as pope.

The main divide pits the cardinals who work in the Vatican, the Romans, against the reformers, the cardinals who want the next pope to tackle what they see as the Vatican’s corruption, inefficiency and reluctance to share power and information with bishops from around the world.

But the factions in this conclave do not break along geographical lines, and in fact, they have produced alliances that are surprisingly counterintuitive: the Romans’ top preference appears to be a Brazilian, and the reformers are said to be pushing for an Italian.

This conclave is far more unpredictable and suspenseful than the last because the church landscape has shifted in the last eight years. The next pontiff must unite an increasingly globalized church paralyzed by scandal and mismanagement under the spotlight in a fast-moving media age. And among the cardinals, there is no obvious single successor to Pope Benedict XVI, who rattled the church by resigning last month at age 85.

With all of the uproar over Vatican scandals, the Romans are aware that they may fail if they back one of their own, and so they are said to be coalescing behind the Brazilian, Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, the archbishop of São Paulo.

Cardinal Scherer is of German heritage, but his selection would give the Roman Catholic Church its first pope from Latin America. The region is home to about 40 percent of the world’s Catholics, and the church is staving off challenges there both from surging evangelical churches and a drift toward secularism.

The reformers, led by the Americans and some influential Europeans, are reportedly uniting around the Italian, Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, a popular pastor and an erudite moral theologian. As an Italian, he is familiar with the culture that dominates the Vatican bureaucracy, but he is not a part of it or beholden to it.

Many cardinals, however, say they are eager for a pope from outside Italy and better yet, from outside Europe, which they hope would energize the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.

Other front-runners could easily emerge in what is shaping up to be a fluid contest with ever-shifting alliances and priorities, according to interviews in the past week with church officials, and the scholars and journalists who study the church.

With the stage truly wide open, the next pope to come out on the balcony to address the crowd in St. Peter’s Square could be a cardinal from Argentina, Canada, Hungary, Mexico, the Philippines or even the United States.

Whoever he is, he will have to convince his fellow prelates that his gifts as an evangelist and an administrator can move the church past the scandals of child sexual abuse, the Vatican bank, the recent resignation of a cardinal who admitted he had used his own priests for sexual favors, and the so-called VatiLeaks episode in which the pope’s personal papers were stolen and published, revealing bitter infighting in the church’s central administration, known as the Curia.

“The most perceptive cardinals understand,” said Sandro Magister, a Vatican analyst with the weekly magazine L’Espresso, “that the evangelization of the church is obscured by the petty realities that represent the disorder of the Roman Curia.”

The last conclave eight years ago presented a far simpler scenario. There was one dominant candidate to beat going in, and that was the German cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the longtime head of the Vatican’s office on doctrine and the close collaborator of the previous pope, John Paul II. He was elected on the conclave’s second day after just four ballots and took the name Pope Benedict XVI.

“In 2005, it was, if not Ratzinger, who? And as they got to know him the question became, why not Ratzinger?” said Austen Ivereigh, a writer on Catholicism from England and the former spokesman for the retired Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.

The alignments then were animated by theological differences, with the dwindling pool of liberal cardinals backing alternatives to Cardinal Ratzinger whom others might find acceptable. But this time, there are not enough theological liberals among the cardinals to create a viable bloc.

“While there is doctrinal homogeneity between the cardinals,” said Paolo Flores d’Arcais, editor of the liberal Italian journal MicroMega, “the divisions are harsh between those who want change, in particular on issues of pedophilia and the Vatican bank, and the bishops who want to preserve the status quo of the Curia and preserve its power, even though on the surface they all say they want to change.”

The election comes down to the vote count, and with a two-thirds majority required of the 115 voting cardinals, the winner will need 77 votes. The cardinals in the Roman bloc, who work in the Vatican bureaucracy, number only 38 and come not just from Italy but also from other countries.

They, too, are split into rival factions, many church experts say, between those loyal to the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and the dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. Cardinal Sodano is beyond the age of 80 and ineligible to vote, and will therefore not be in the conclave in the Sistine Chapel.

However, Mr. Flores d’Arcais said, “They put their differences aside when it comes to blocking anyone who wants to change.”

For the first time, an American could be poised to overcome the conclave’s traditional aversion to a pope from a superpower, though not all analysts agree on this. The most likely contenders are: Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, known for his exuberant presence and evangelizing skills; and Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston, a Capuchin Franciscan friar, who has a reputation for having calmed the waters in three successive dioceses (Fall River, Mass.; Palm Beach, Fla.; and Boston) torn by child sexual abuse scandals. Both have spoken out in favor of change.

Gian Guido Vecchi, a journalist who covers the Vatican, said last week in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, “Even if this won’t be the time for the first American pope, it’s difficult to imagine that the pope can be elected without, or even against, them.”

Some cardinals are considered long shots as candidates, but they could still play kingmakers whose endorsements carry great weight. One kingmaker for the reformers is Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, a savvy diplomat descended from nobility who studied with Benedict. Cardinal Schönborn supports Cardinal Scola, the archbishop of Milan, according to Carlo Marroni, a Vatican expert for the Italian business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

If neither the Romans nor the reformers have enough votes to elect their front-runners, there are compromise candidates.

One name mentioned even before Benedict’s resignation is that of a Canadian, Cardinal Marc Ouellet. He is a doctrinal conservative who taught philosophy in Colombia and may have support from some Latin American cardinals. But Cardinal Ouellet has spent many years working in the Vatican and has led the department for bishops since 2010. He could be seen as a crossover candidate acceptable to both Romans and reformers.

Another candidate who is attracting a lot of attention is Cardinal Peter Erdo of Hungary, 60, a canon lawyer who despite his relative youth has twice been elected president of the European bishops’ conference. He has also cultivated close ties to African prelates.

Although both Cardinals Ouellet and Erdo are liked by their colleagues, neither can light up a room, church observers point out, which could be a liability at a time when the church needs a pope who can connect with people.

Nobody can now say reliably who will come out of the conclave as pope, Mr. Flores d’Arcais said, “Today only Nostradamus can make predictions.”

Ian Austen contributed reporting from Ottawa, and Dan Bilefsky from Budapest.


March 10, 2013

No Stumping for Papacy, but Babies Do Get Kisses


ROME — The American contender kissed babies and joked about bad food inside the papal conclave. The Brazilian blessed a couple on their 70th anniversary. The Italian blessed a pack of journalists, and a baby, too. The reserved Hungarian did not kiss anybody.

If a papal election resembled an ordinary campaign, Sunday in Rome would have vibrated with the high-wire intensity of the final hours of the Iowa caucus, when candidates sprint from cornfield to cornfield and beg for votes. Most of the 115 cardinals who will elect the new pope — and who themselves form the pool of papal candidates — scattered out to Roman Catholic churches in Rome to offer Lenten homilies for the equivalent of last-minute campaign appearances.

But with two days before the papal conclave begins, the cardinals instead carefully adhered to what might be called the art of running for pope, which means never, ever appearing to be running. And that left everyone who is trying to game the race — the estimated 5,000 journalists now in Rome, along with much of the Catholic world — with little to do but interpret gestures and to measure papal intangibles:

Did the Brazilian, Odilo Pedro Scherer, archbishop of São Paulo, exude a papal benevolence in the gentle way he touched the cheeks of the elderly couple that unexpectedly sought an anniversary blessing? Did the quiet grace of Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, bespeak a papal dignity? Or what about the Hungarian, Peter Erdo, archbishop of Esztergom- Budapest? True, he did not smile much, if at all, but might his steely discipline and intelligence offer what is needed for a Vatican in disarray?

“It is an odd little scene, the Sunday before a conclave,” said John Thavis, a longtime papal chronicler and the author of “The Vatican Diaries,” a look behind the scenes of the church. “They are going to be very careful not to say anything that appears to be campaigning.”

No one can really say which of the cardinals has the best chance of becoming pope. For the past week, they have been meeting daily, sizing each other up, even as the public has known almost nothing about the deliberations because the cardinals have taken an oath of secrecy. Beginning Tuesday afternoon, they will enter the Sistine Chapel for the secret voting to elect a pope, so Sunday was their final day of mixing with ordinary parishioners.

Rome is the center of the Catholic world, and almost every cardinal is assigned his own titular church. They usually visit the church when passing through Rome, help out with fund-raising and often develop a personal rapport with local priests and parishioners, some of whom were not quite as restrained with their opinions on who should be the next pope.

At Santa Maria della Vittoria, a church in central Rome best known for housing Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s baroque masterpiece “Saint Teresa in Ecstasy,” the rector, Father Stefano Guernelli, did not hesitate to stump for his assigned cardinal, Sean Patrick O’Malley of Boston. He introduced Cardinal O’Malley as a papal contender and implored him to reconsider his publicly expressed reservations about taking the job.

Taking the lectern, Cardinal O’Malley played down the introduction. “I promise you I’ll return to this church after the conclave as a cardinal,” he said. Then, alluding to Bernini’s famed sculpture, he added with a smile: “But maybe I’ll bring St. Teresa to Boston.”

This is the fourth Sunday of Lent and many of the cardinals offered homilies on the theme of reconciliation, alluding to the day’s Gospel reading about the return of the prodigal son. They wore purple Lenten vestments and, in several cases, were greeted by crowds of television crews and other journalists, especially those cardinals considered leading candidates.

At the Basilica of the Twelve Holy Apostles in downtown Rome, Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, had initially ducked dozens of journalists by entering through a garage on a side street. He left the same way after the Mass but not before briefly emerging from the sacristy to face a pack of photographers and videographers. “I was told I should bless you,” he said, and he did so, before disappearing back into the church.

Cardinal Scola, an intellectual known to cite writers from Shakespeare to Jack Kerouac, on Sunday quoted the French poet Charles Peguy. The online betting site, Paddy Power, has Cardinal Scola as the papal favorite, but he offered nothing in the way of a campaign speech other than a broad wish for a good pope.

“Let us pray that the Holy Spirit offers its church the man who can guide it in the footsteps marked by the great popes of the last 150 years,” he said.

Another presumed front-runner, Cardinal Scherer, the Brazilian, arrived at Sant’ Andrea al Quirinale, a church near Italy’s presidential palace, in a black sedan with tinted windows. The cardinal has probably never had a more scrutinized homily in his life as a priest: a video camera recorded his talk from 15 feet away, while a television reporter did a stand-up near the altar as Cardinal Scherer distributed communion to worshipers.

Carmine and Maria Persichetti were greeted with applause when they came forward for a blessing on their 70th anniversary. Cardinal Scherer caressed their faces and offered a pastoral touch.

“Seventy years?” he asked in excellent Italian. “I wasn’t born yet. Is it really possible?”

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York turned his appearance at a neighborhood church in Rome into almost a celebrity visit: He kissed babies, hugged worshipers and worked the pews like a rope line. He offered no clues as to whom he would support as the new pope — “Boy, it’s good to see you all!” he boomed when asked a probing question by a reporter — and thanked local worshipers for giving him a big basket of Italian biscuits, cookies, tuna and chickpeas.

“Maybe I can take a small candy bar into the conclave,” he said. “I hear that the food is not good.”

Cardinal Erdo of Hungary, seen as a strong dark horse candidate, appeared at Santa Balbina, a small fourth-century church where most of the parishioners were expatriate Hungarians living in Rome. He did nothing to contradict his reputation as a brilliant, intensely serious canonical lawyer; he did not appear to smile once during a service in which he delivered the homily in Hungarian and nearly flawless Italian.

“I think he is the most suited for the job,” said Joszef Rabi, a Hungarian doctor who has lived in Rome since 1956. “The church is falling apart and needs someone to bring order to it.”

He added: “All that is missing is the smile.”

By the end of the day, it appeared that none of the cardinals had violated their oath to keep secret their deliberations in advance of the conclave. Teasingly playing on the code of secrecy, Father Guernelli, the warm Carmelite rooting for Cardinal O’Malley, told the faithful at his church that the cardinal would be leaving out of a “secret” side door.

Remember, he joked, alluding to Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons,” a best-selling mystery novel that was also made into a movie, “a cardinal was killed in this church, so we know how to act in these situations!”

Reporting was contributed by Rachel Donadio, Daniel J. Wakin, Michael Paulson, Elisabetta Povoledo and Gaia Pianigiani.

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« Reply #5032 on: Mar 11, 2013, 07:45 AM »

Venezuela's opposition leader joins presidential race

Henrique Capriles, who lost to Hugo Chávez in October, confirms he will face acting president Nicolás Maduro

Reuters, Monday 11 March 2013 01.14 GMT   

Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles said on Sunday that he will challenge the late Hugo Chávez's preferred successor for the presidency next month, setting the stage for a bitter campaign.

Capriles, a 40-year-old state governor, will face election favorite and acting president Nicolás Maduro. The pair have until Monday to register their candidacies for the 14 April vote.

The election will decide whether Chávez's self-styled socialist and nationalist revolution will live on in the country.

"I am going to fight," Capriles said at a news conference. "Nicolás, I am not going to give you a free pass. You will have to beat me with votes."

Former vice-president Maduro, 50, a one-time bus driver and union leader turned politician who echoes Chávez's anti-imperialist rhetoric, is expected to win the election comfortably, according to two recent polls.

Maduro pushed for a snap election to cash in on a wave of empathy triggered by Chávez's death last Tuesday at the age of 58 after a two-year battle with cancer. He was sworn in as acting president on Friday to the fury of Capriles.

"You have used the body of the president for political campaigning," Capriles said of Maduro.

Capriles, the centrist Miranda state governor, lost to Chávez in October, but won 44% of the vote, the strongest showing by any opposition against Chavez.

Capriles has accused the government and supreme court of fraud for letting Maduro campaign without stepping down.

Although the ruling Socialist party is expected to win, opposition supporters are trying to raise their spirits.

"There's no reason to think that the opposition is condemned to defeat," Teodoro Petkoff, an anti-government newspaper editor, said on his Sunday talk show.

Maduro has vowed to carry on where Chávez left off and ratify his policy platform, and acknowledged he has big shoes to fill.

"I am not Chávez - speaking strictly in terms of the intelligence, charisma, historical force, leadership capacity and spiritual grandeur of our comandante," he told a crowd on Saturday.

Chávez was immensely popular among Venezuela's poor for funneling vast oil wealth into social programmes and handouts.

Heavy government spending and currency devaluations have contributed to annual inflation of more than 20%, hurting consumers.

Maduro's first official meeting on Saturday was with officials from China, whom Chávez courted to provide an alternative to investment that traditionally came from the United States.

He adopted his mentor's touch for the theatrical, accusing imperialists, often a Chávez euphemism for the US, of killing the charismatic but divisive leader by infecting him with cancer.

Emotional tributes were paid at a religious service at the military academy housing Chávez's casket on Sunday, where people continued to gather.

Venezuela's opposition coalition backed Capriles as its candidate on Saturday. If elected, Capriles says he would copy Brazil's "modern left" model of economic and social policies.

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« Reply #5033 on: Mar 11, 2013, 07:47 AM »

Falklands set to reaffirm their British status in referendum vote

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 11, 2013 7:25 EDT

Falkland Islanders were to vote Monday on the final day of a two-day referendum designed to make clear their staunch desire to remain British despite Argentina’s increasingly bellicose sovereignty claims.

In a move instigated by residents themselves, 1,672 eligible voters are being asked whether they want the Falkland Islands to remain an internally self-governing British overseas territory.

The ‘yes’ verdict, due overnight, is not in doubt but islanders hope the strength of the democratic vote will make their wishes crystal-clear in an uncontestable way.

Buenos Aires has dismissed the vote as meaningless, claiming it is “a British attempt to manipulate” the status of the remote archipelago.

“What we’re trying to do is send a message,” Barry Elsby, a member of the Falklands legislative assembly, told AFP by telephone.

“Argentina are totally ignoring us. But the rest of the world will see it for what it is — the democratic view of the people. No matter what Argentina says, the rest of the world will not ignore it.”

Homes and shops in the capital Stanley are festooned with posters and flags, both the British Union Jack and the deep blue Falklands standard, which features the Union Jack and the islands’ crest — a sheep, a wooden ship and the motto “Desire the Right”.

Elsby, a 57-year-old Welsh doctor who moved to the Falklands on a two-year contract in 1990 and never left, queued up to vote in Stanley on Sunday in what he called “the worst weather for months”.

Up to 90 people were waiting in the rain outside the single polling station in the town an hour after it opened, witnesses said.

The Falklands are a barren archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean which rarely feel warm due to the strong winds which buffet the islands.

The referendum barely featured in the British press, with only a few newspapers carrying brief reports or photographs from the overseas territory.

Bookmaker Ladbrokes called the result “the biggest certainty in political betting history” but Argentina said the vote had no legal standing and would not affect its claim.

Argentina seized the islands in 1982 but were ousted after a short but bloody war.

Britain has held the Falklands since 1833 but Buenos Aires claims the islands, called “Las Malvinas” in Spanish, are occupied Argentinian territory.

Diplomatic tensions have risen in recent years, fuelled by the discovery of oil near the Falklands, with Argentine President Cristina Kirchner ramping up her demands for the islands.

The ambassador to Britain, Alicia Castro, this weekend branded the referendum “utterly meaningless” from the perspective of international law.

“Its predictable outcome neither ends the dispute nor affects Argentina’s unquestionable rights,” she said.

Argentina, 400 kilometres (250 miles) away, has branded the referendum “illegal” because it claims the islanders are an “implanted” population and thus do not have the right to self-determination.

London, an even further 13,000 kilometres (8,000 miles) away, says it will not discuss sovereignty issues with Buenos Aires unless the islanders expressly wish it.

Islanders hope the referendum result will arm them with an unambiguous message to take to other capitals when pressing their case for acceptance on the international stage.

The United States, for example, has studiously avoided taking sides on the issue despite its close ties with Britain.

International observers, many of them from South America, are monitoring the polls, due to open between 10:00 am and 6:00 pm (1300 and 2100 GMT).

The referendum is a logistical challenge, taking place across an inhospitable territory of 12,000 square kilometres (4,700 square miles).

Four-fifths of the 2,563 permanent residents live in Stanley, with its pubs and red telephone boxes, but several hundred are scattered in sheep farms and settlements across the rugged area beyond, known collectively as “Camp”.

There are four static polling stations — one in Stanley and three in other settlements — while several mobile polling booths were transported around the islands by plane and by four-wheel-drive vehicles.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #5034 on: Mar 11, 2013, 07:49 AM »

Susan Rice in line to become Obama's national security adviser, say reports

US ambassador to the United Nations pulled out of contention earlier this year to become second-term secretary of state

Matt Williams in New York, Sunday 10 March 2013 17.17 GMT   

US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice is lined up to become President Barack Obama's national security adviser after the disappointment of being forced out of contention for secretary of state, it was reported on Sunday.

According to the Washington Post, Rice has emerged as the "far and away" favourite to replace incumbent national security adviser Thomas Donilon later this year.

If true, it would mark a speedy political rehabilitation for the senior diplomat, whose bid to succeed Hillary Clinton in the State Department was derailed under a barrage of Republican criticism over her potential nomination.

Having been widely tipped to become Obama's second-term secretary of state, Rice was forced to pull out from consideration in December amid complaints over her handling of the Benghazi consulate attack in which four Americans, including ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed.

Rice had initially suggested during TV interviews that the assault was sparked by a demonstration over a US-made anti-Muslim film. She later acknowledged that this assessment was wrong and that the attack, coinciding with the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, had been mounted by al-Qaida-linked groups.

In a subsequent inquiry into the affair, former CIA director David Petraeus told congressional hearings that Rice was not aware of the terrorist link initially, having been handed a set of talking points that pointed towards an angry mob as being responsible.

But scenting a major political scalp, leading Republicans, including senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, threatened to block her nomination and piled on the pressure for the White House to withdraw her name.

In the event, Rice removed herself from the running, writing to Obama asking him to no longer consider her in the face of a "lengthy, disruptive and costly" nomination.

The bruising encounter had led some to conclude that Rice, who remains in place as the US's most senior representative at the United Nations, would no longer be in contention when it came to high-profile political appointments.

Despite occasional TV interviews – including a self-deprecating turn on Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart – the diplomat has largely flown below the media radar of late.

But the Washington Post cites an administration official "familiar with the president's thinking" as suggesting that she is likely to be in the White House inner circle within the end of the year. The newspaper was told that despite taking a lower profile she remained very much in Obama's thinking when it came to his national security team.

An announcement could come after the US assumes the rotating presidency of the UN security council in July, it was reported.

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« Reply #5035 on: Mar 11, 2013, 07:53 AM »

Ancient people had clogged arteries, mummy scans show

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, March 10, 2013 23:58 EDT

Scans of mummies from as long ago as 2,000 BC have revealed that ancient people also had clogged arteries, a condition blamed on modern vices like smoking, overeating and inactivity, a study said Monday.

The finding, published in the Lancet medical journal, casts doubt on our understanding of the condition known as atherosclerosis that causes heart attacks and strokes.

“The presence of atherosclerosis in premodern human beings suggests that the disease is an inherent component of human ageing and not associated with any specific diet or lifestyle,” states the study conclusion.

“A common assumption is that the rise in levels of atherosclerosis is predominantly lifestyle-related, and that if modern humans could emulate pre-industrial or even pre-agricultural lifestyles, that atherosclerosis… would be avoided,” cardiologist Randall Thompson, one of the authors of the international study, said in a statement issued by Lancet.

“Our findings seem to cast doubt on that assumption, and at the very least, we think they suggest that our understanding of the causes of atherosclerosis is incomplete, and that it might be somehow inherent to the process of human ageing.”

This did not mean that lifestyle factors should be discounted, senior author Gregory Thomas, medical director of the MemorialCare Heart and Vascular Institute at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center in California, told AFP.

They have been shown in study after study to contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, though the degree remains unclear.

“Our study demonstrates… that we are all at risk of atherosclerosis,” said Thomas.

“We should do the very best we can to avoid these risk factors. We can not expect, however, that avoiding them will prevent atherosclerosis.”

Atherosclerosis is a hardening and narrowing of the arteries that transport oxygen-rich blood from the heart, through a buildup of fatty material or cholesterol.

The World Health Organisation considers smoking, physical inactivity, a high-salt, high-fat diet and high alcohol use as risk factors.

For this study, the researchers performed full-body computed tomography (CT) scans on 137 mummies from four geographic regions in modern-day Egypt, Peru, southwest America and Alaska.

The mummies were of people who had lived over a 4,000-year period stretching from ancient Egypt in about 2,000 BC to the Unangan hunter-gatherers who lived in the Aleutian Islands of modern-day Alaska as recently as 1930.

The team diagnosed “probable or definite” atherosclerosis in more than a third of the mummies on the basis of calcification of the arteries shown up by the scans.

A similar diagnostic method is used today.

The calcification was found in the same locations as in modern humans, and the appearance was the same.

“Our findings greatly increase the number of ancient people known to have atherosclerosis and show for the first time that the disease was common in several ancient cultures with varying lifestyles, diets and genetics, across a wide geographical distance and over a very long span of human history,” the scientists wrote.

“These findings suggest that our understanding of the causative factors of atherosclerosis is incomplete.”

The mummies of older people were more likely to show signs of the disease, just as in humans today.

Other research cited in the study has found atherosclerosis to be common in people living today, even ubiquitous in men by age 60 and women by 70.

“We simply don’t know enough about the diet and lifestyle of the people studied to say whether behaviour or genetics lies at the root” of the disease, the British Heart Foundation said in a comment on the study.

And Grethe Tell, an expert with the European Society of Cardiology, told AFP the findings “do not refute” that an unhealthy lifestyle increased the risk of heart attack and stroke.

“Not everybody who has atherosclerosis (whatever the cause may be) gets clinical disease,” she explained.

“Lifestyle factors increase the risk of heart attacks and may therefore be a triggering factor in the chain between atherosclerosis and heart attack.”

According to the study, the ancient populations’ diets had been varied — including everything from shellfish and fish, game, domesticated cattle, sheep, pigs and ducks to a wide variety of berries, farmed maize, beans and potato — even beer and wine in the case of the Egyptians.

None of the groups were known to be vegetarian, and physical activity was probably high.

Smoke inhalation may have played a role, as many of the communities used indoor fires for cooking and heating.

Clogged arteries previously observed in ancient Egyptian mummies had hitherto been attributed to a high-fat diet of the elite — as poor people in those communities were not mummified.

The latest findings also refute that conclusion.

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« Reply #5036 on: Mar 11, 2013, 08:13 AM »

In the USA....

Report: U.S. companies keeping $166 billion in offshore tax shelters

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 11, 2013 7:00 EDT

US companies are keeping more of their profits offshore, choosing overseas tax havens amid talk in Washington about closing corporate tax loopholes, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

The business newspaper said its analysis of 60 big American companies had found that they had collectively parked a total of $166 billion offshore last year.

That shielded more than 40 percent of their annual profits from US taxes, the report said.

Each of the 60 companies chosen for the analysis had held at least $5 billion offshore in 2011, according to The Journal.

The list included Abbott Laboratories, whose store of untaxed overseas earnings rose by $8.1 billion, to $40 billion, the paper said. The increase exceeded the pharmaceutical maker’s net income of $6 billion.

Industrial conglomerate Honeywell International Inc. boosted its store of untaxed earnings held by its offshore subsidiaries and earmarked for foreign investment by $3.5 billion last year to $11.6 billion, a rise equal to the company’s annual profit, excluding a pension adjustment, The Journal said.

The practice is a result of US tax rules that allow companies to not pay taxes on profits earned by overseas subsidiaries if the money is not brought back to the United States, the report pointed out.


Pelosi demands minimum wage increase after massive stock market gains

By Stephen C. Webste
Thursday, March 7, 2013 14:52 EDT

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Thursday that after witnessing Wall Street reach all-time highs this week, it’s time to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

“This week, we saw something quite remarkable, the stock market soaring to record heights. At the same time, we see productivity keeping pace,” Pelosi said during a Thursday briefing at the Capitol, according to The Hill. “But we don’t see income for America’s middle class rising. In fact, it’s been about the same as since the end of the Clinton years.”

Pelosi’s proposal overshoots a similar one by President Barack Obama, who suggested raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour from the current rate of $7.25, which translates to just $15,080 a year for a full-time employee.

A House Democratic aide told Raw Story that Pelosi asked for more than Obama did because she wants to see working people receive a livable wage, not just a small raise. “The economy is recovering, corporate profits are rising, but wages for lower-income folks are stagnating,” the aide said. “So there’s a strong case to be made for a wage that will help people raise families.”

“If we are going to honor our commitment to the middle class, we have to reflect that intention in our public policy,” Pelosi told reporters.

The Dow Industrial Average closed at 114,253 on Tuesday, an all-time high that bests the previous record set in October 2007, just before the financial crisis that nearly ground the global financial system to a halt.

Despite massive gains in share prices and corporate profits in recent years, under-employment remains rampant and the overall unemployment rate is hovering around 8 percent, according to a Gallup survey released Thursday.

Proponents say raising the minimum wage to $10.10 more closely reflects the purchasing power of the minimum wage in 1968, which was roughly $10.50 an hour when adjusted for inflation.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) said Tuesday they are proposing legislation to raise the minimum wage and peg it to the rate of inflation, which they say would better ensure working class Americans don’t fall behind the curb as corporate and Wall Street keep the lion’s share of profits for themselves.


Pelosi on raising Medicare age: ‘It’s a scalp’ for Republicans, ‘not a solution’

By David Edwards
Sunday, March 10, 2013 12:53 EDT

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says raising the eligibility age for Medicare benefits is just a political “trophy” for Republicans because the idea would not strengthen the program.

“We don’t want to hurt beneficiaries,” Pelosi told CNN’s Candy Crowley on Sunday. “We certainly want to strengthen Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid. We want to make them more fiscally sound. We want to make sure that for the purpose that they have been instituted, they’re honoring the purpose and the taxpayer, and the beneficiaries are getting their money’s worth.”

“The rising cost of health care in our country is the biggest increase to the rising cost of Medicare,” she explained. “So stopping the drastic increase of the cost of health care is important for our whole economy and health care. Especially important when it comes to Medicare is it’s already working — 0.4 percent, the rate of increase, much slower than it had been. And as I said, Medicaid [is] not increasing. Now, we want to do better than that.”

Pelosi pointed out that Democrats were willing to negotiate with Republicans if the objective was to strengthen earned benefits programs.

“But if the point of it is to take trophies — ‘Let’s raise the age’ — that doesn’t save money. It’s a trophy, it’s a scalp, but it’s not a solution.”

She concluded: “Raising the age, I’m very much against… We’re not there to make [the programs] cash cows to give tax breaks to the wealthiest people in our country and say, ‘We’re balancing the budget.’”


March 10, 2013

Cuts Give Obama Path to Create Leaner Military


WASHINGTON — At a time when $46 billion in mandatory budget cuts are causing anxiety at the Pentagon, administration officials see one potential benefit: there may be an opening to argue for deep reductions in programs long in President Obama’s sights, and long resisted by Congress.

On the list are not only base closings but also an additional reduction in deployed nuclear weapons and stockpiles and a restructuring of the military medical insurance program that costs more than America spends on all of its diplomacy and foreign aid around the world. Also being considered is yet another scaling back in next-generation warplanes, starting with the F-35, the most expensive weapons program in United States history.

None of those programs would go away. But inside the Pentagon, even some senior officers are saying that the reductions, if done smartly, could easily exceed those mandated by sequestration, as the cuts are called, and leave room for the areas where the administration believes more money will be required.

These include building drones, developing offensive and defensive cyberweapons and focusing on Special Operations forces.

Publicly, at least, Mr. Obama has not backed any of those cuts, even though he has deplored the “dumb” approach of simply cutting every program in the military equally.

Mr. Obama will visit Capitol Hill on Tuesday in another attempt to persuade lawmakers to reach a long-term deficit-reduction deal and replace the indiscriminate cuts with more targeted ones.

Still, Pentagon officials are starting to examine targeted ways to cut their budget. “What we’ve learned in the past year is that the politics of dumb cuts is easy, because no one has to think through the implications of slicing everything by 8 percent,” said one senior defense official who has been deeply involved in the planning process. “The politics of cutting individual programs is as hard as it’s always been.”

When Mr. Obama took office four years ago, with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars raging, deep cuts in the defense budget seemed unthinkable. He forced the Pentagon to cut nearly $50 billion a year, which was regarded by many as huge.

But today, deficit hawks outnumber defense hawks on Capitol Hill, and the possibility of $100 billion or more in additional annual cuts does not seem outrageous — if only agreement were possible on which programs should shrink fastest.

Last week, a group of five former deputy defense secretaries — essentially the Pentagon’s chief operating officers — called for a “bottom up” review that reassesses the need for each major program and weapons system, saying this was an opportunity to accomplish cuts that have long been delayed, after a decade in which the American national security budget has nearly doubled.

In their more candid moments — almost always when speaking with a guarantee of anonymity — the Pentagon’s top civilian and military leaders acknowledge that the painful sequestration process may ultimately prove beneficial if it forces the Defense Department and Congress to reconsider the cost of cold-war-era systems that are still in inventory despite the many changes made to the military in the last 10 years.

“Sequester is an ugly experience, but it could grow up to be a budget discipline swan,” said Gordon Adams, a former senior budget official in the Clinton administration who is now at the Stimson Center, which studies defense issues. “It could provide the planning discipline the services and the building have been missing since 2001.”

The central challenge facing the Pentagon and the White House, Mr. Adams and several current senior officials said, is this: All the big, immediate budget benefits come from reducing the size of active-duty forces. By contrast, cutting new weapons systems and bases and reducing health care costs can save large amounts 5 to 10 years out, but it does little in the short term.

Mr. Obama took a step in that direction in 2011, when he rejected a Pentagon request for a permanent standing force of 100,000 or so troops for future “contingency operations” like those in Iraq and Afghanistan. “That’s not the way we are going to go,” he told his staff after the request was received.

The message quickly got back to the Pentagon that Mr. Obama had no interest in repeating the kind of lengthy interventions that have consumed more than $3 trillion since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But the Pentagon’s subsequent agreement to cut $500 billion in planned spending over a decade turns out to have been just a start, and military officials are now abandoning the phrase that they will have to “do more with less” and starting to assess what it would mean to just do less.

Toward that end, officials say that Ashton B. Carter, the deputy defense secretary, plans to convene a panel of experts to conduct a crash review of the current national military strategy with an eye to reshaping it to fit the new budget constraints.

Mr. Carter, whom the White House asked to remain under the new defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, has already cut the budget for information technology, to force the Pentagon to find cheaper ways to provide it, officials say.

But the next set of cuts will be much harder, because they involve huge constituencies — in Congressional districts, inside the military services and among veterans’ groups.

“The problem is that the biggest, most-needed cuts are in programs that also have the broadest set of defenders,” said Maren Leed, the director of the defense policy studies group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a former top aide to Gen. Ray Odierno, now the Army’s chief of staff.

The most obvious examples of those problems come in base closings and higher co-payments or premiums for the beneficiaries of Tricare, the military’s sprawling health care program, which costs upward of $51 billion a year. To take the politics out of base closings, Congress in the past has established a commission to identify underused facilities, creating a list that it could either vote up or down on but could not amend.

But with many of the targeted bases now fairly obvious to members of Congress, they are reluctant even to establish a new commission. Similarly, Congress turned back a modest administration effort to revamp Tricare. “There’s not a single district without a lot of beneficiaries of the system,” Ms. Leed said.

Cuts in the nuclear arsenal face a different political imperative. Mr. Obama has been sitting for months on a proposal, agreed to by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that could trim the number of active nuclear weapons in America’s arsenal by nearly a third and make big cuts in the stockpile of backup weapons. But he has not signed off on it.

Rather than act unilaterally, the administration is hoping it can negotiate similar cuts with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — and do it without a treaty that would surely set off another battle with defense hawks in the Senate. But that prospect is doubtful, senior officials say.

Even if Mr. Obama wins his strategic argument that the arsenal is far too large for America’s future defense needs, it is not clear how big the savings would be. The easiest weapons to cut — those based in silos in the middle of the country — are also the cheapest to keep in the field.

The most expensive nuclear weapons to operate are carried aboard submarines; they are also the most invulnerable to attack, and thus Pentagon and White House strategists want to preserve them the longest.

Moreover, operating a production base for nuclear weapons, the Defense Department’s insurance policy in case the country ever needed to produce more, is very costly — though the administration is looking for ways to cut an $80 billion commitment to remake America’s nuclear laboratories.

The biggest target of all is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a new jet for the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines, and the largest single line item in the Pentagon’s budget. Between $55 billion and $84 billion has already been spent, but the estimates of final production costs run close to $400 billion.

The Marine Corps says it has no choice but to go forward with its version of the plane, because its current aircraft are obsolete, and the Air Force wants to replace aging F-16s with the new, stealthy plane.

But the program was wildly mismanaged during the Bush administration — “The Joint Strike Fighter program has been both a scandal and a tragedy,” Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said in December 2011 — and now that the number of planes scheduled for production has already been slashed, the per-plane cost has risen to well over $1 billion.

The handling of the production by Lockheed Martin, and the huge changes demanded by each of the services, has made the plane an easy target for critics.

But Lockheed has spread production over nearly every state in the union, in order to keep Congressional support high: as soon as the discussion veers toward strategic needs, Lockheed begins to stress the jobs at risk if the program were cut or canceled.


March 10, 2013

In Search of Debt Deal, Obama Walks a Narrow Path


WASHINGTON — President Obama will go to Capitol Hill this week to try to salvage a big deficit-reduction deal, battling not only Republican resistance but also complaints from Democrats that he mishandled his last attempt.

The president’s outreach to rank-and-file lawmakers, like the discontent of liberal Democrats, is the result of Republicans’ refusal to accept any additional tax increases to avert the automatic spending cuts that are beginning to affect the government and the economy. It could meet the same failure as Mr. Obama’s earlier bids to work privately through Congressional leaders and then to apply public pressure.

Hopes now rest on finding a narrow path through the ideological and political imperatives of both parties. White House aides have not ruled out some money-saving structural reforms to Medicare that Republicans favor, notably an idea promoted by the House majority leader, Eric Cantor, to combine the program’s doctor and hospital components with a single deductible for beneficiaries. Using savings from entitlement shifts like that to replace sequestration, as the automatic cuts are called, would meet Republicans’ demands not to use tax increases for that purpose.

At the same time, some Republican senators and aides, publicly and privately, have expressed an openness to accepting revenue increases as part of a loophole-closing overhaul of the tax code. Rolling together budget and tax agreements along those lines would allow Mr. Obama to complete the “grand bargain” that he has sought to tackle the nation’s long-term budget imbalances as the baby boom generation retires.

He plans to meet separately this week with Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, House Democrats and House Republicans. White House officials said the consideration of budget plans by the House and Senate in coming weeks would provide a natural forum to explore what deal might be possible this year.

“Hopefully there’s an opportunity to work things out through regular order in the House and Senate,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “How likely is that? I can’t say very likely — there are strong structural forces in the Republican Party working against it. But if you try and fail you still have an opportunity to build bonds of trust that could be helpful on other issues.”

Representative Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who is chairman of the House Budget Committee, will introduce a budget blueprint this week that would reduce projected federal spending by $5 trillion over the next decade, repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law, substantially remake Medicare and cut $770 billion from the growth of Medicaid over the next 10 years. But Mr. Ryan suggested that he is open to negotiations with the White House, which is opposed to nearly every element of his plan.

“I think there are things that we can do that don’t offend either party’s philosophy,” Mr. Ryan said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Mr. Obama has signaled a willingness to reduce cost-of-living increases for Social Security by using a less-generous measure of inflation. He has indicated openness to imposing means-testing on Medicare beneficiaries so that high-income retirees would pay more for their medical care, and he has put on the table $400 billion of cuts in Medicare over the next decade.

Republicans say they are looking for more, including two elements they discussed with the White House during failed talks in 2011: raising the eligibility age for Medicare and cutting federal costs for Medicaid.

White House officials said that those proposals were deeply flawed as a matter of policy and that they did not intend to submit any more offers until Republicans expressed some willingness to make tax revenue part of the equation.

But Mr. Cantor raised an idea last month that had been endorsed by the Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction commission: merging Medicare’s hospital and doctor coverage into one program in a way that could generate savings. Some Democrats also see that kind of proposal — in which Medicare is left fundamentally intact but is overhauled to become more efficient and which could potentially charge the affluent elderly more — as the basis for negotiation.

With all the familiar obstacles looming, however, Democrats are increasingly looking at the previous round of negotiations — at the end of 2012, as the Bush-era tax cuts were scheduled to expire — and concluding that Mr. Obama flinched, leaving tax revenue on the table that would have ended the budget standoff on more favorable terms to Democrats.

“There’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

The second-guessing extends to virtually every aspect of the deal: its failure to postpone the automatic budget cuts for more than two months, its failure to raise the federal debt limit and its yield of $600 billion in new tax revenue over 10 years out of $4 trillion of new taxes that would have taken effect had the Bush tax cuts been allowed to expire.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, said the White House should have negotiated after the election with the bipartisan group of senators that he is courting now, rather than resuming the talks with Speaker John A. Boehner that failed in 2011. In the agreement that concluded that 2011 standoff, said John D. Podesta, a former White House chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, the administration committed a “fundamental miscalculation” by believing Republican opposition to automatic Pentagon cuts would compel them to accept tax increases.

Other Democratic critics say the president should have ratcheted up pressure on Republicans by allowing all the Bush-era tax cuts to expire, even at the risk of saddling middle-class families with tax increases and inflicting harm on the economy.

“Thinking they’d have a second bite of the apple was a real mistake,” said Robert D. Reischauer, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office.

White House aides said the deal was a good one. Not only did they crack Republican resistance to income tax rate increases, they said, but they did it without committing to any major cuts to Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries.

They said that the president was not willing to risk the economy’s health by forcing showdowns when he could get much of what he wants through negotiation, and that the president had been able to make progress on changes to immigration policy and gun control thanks in part to the deal.

Moreover, White House officials said their negotiating position had been undercut by calls at earlier points from prominent Democrats like Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, and Senator Charles E. Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, for tax increases that would affect only families with incomes of at least $500,000, rather than Mr. Obama’s preferred $250,000 threshold. (The deal raised the top rate on income over $450,000 for couples and $400,000 for single people). And had they failed to reach a quick deal, White House officials said, they could have lost the opportunity for progress on the rest of the president’s second-term agenda.

Some former members of Mr. Obama’s economic team said the White House could have gotten more. Jared Bernstein, a former adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., faulted the administration for agreeing to extend the bulk of the Bush-era tax cuts rather than raising more tax revenue that could be used to pay for other priorities.

Peter R. Orszag, who was Mr. Obama’s first budget director, said, “By making the middle-class tax cuts permanent, we’ve unfortunately locked into a revenue base that is inadequate.”


Democracy Tested: Smaller States Find Outsize Clout Growing in Senate.The disproportionate power enjoyed in the Senate by small states is playing a growing role in the political dynamic on issues as varied as gun control, immigration and campaign finance.

By Adam Liptak

RUTLAND, Vt. — In the four years after the financial crisis struck, a great wave of federal stimulus money washed over Rutland County. It helped pay for bridges, roads, preschool programs, a community health center, buses and fire trucks, water mains and tanks, even a project to make sure fish could still swim down the river while a bridge was being rebuilt.

Just down Route 4, at the New York border, the landscape abruptly turns from spiffy to scruffy. Washington County, N.Y., which is home to about 60,000 people — just as Rutland is — saw only a quarter as much money.

“We didn’t receive a lot,” said Peter Aust, the president of the local chamber of commerce on the New York side. “We never saw any of the positive impact of the stimulus funds.”

Vermont’s 625,000 residents have two United States senators, and so do New York’s 19 million. That means that a Vermonter has 30 times the voting power in the Senate of a New Yorker just over the state line — the biggest inequality between two adjacent states. The nation’s largest gap, between Wyoming and California, is more than double that.

The difference in the fortunes of Rutland and Washington Counties reflects the growing disparity in their citizens’ voting power, and it is not an anomaly. The Constitution has always given residents of states with small populations a lift, but the size and importance of the gap has grown markedly in recent decades, in ways the framers probably never anticipated. It affects the political dynamic of issues as varied as gun control, immigration and campaign finance.

In response, lawmakers, lawyers and watchdog groups have begun pushing for change. A lawsuit to curb the small-state advantage in the Senate’s rules is moving through the courts. The Senate has already made modest changes to rules concerning the filibuster, which has particularly benefited senators from small states. And eight states and the District of Columbia have endorsed a proposal to reduce the chances that the small-state advantage in the Electoral College will allow a loser of the popular vote to win the presidency.

To be sure, some scholars and members of Congress view the small-state advantage as a vital part of the constitutional structure and say the growth of that advantage is no cause for worry. Others say it is an authentic but insoluble problem.

What is certain is that the power of the smaller states is large and growing. Political scientists call it a striking exception to the democratic principle of “one person, one vote.” Indeed, they say, the Senate may be the least democratic legislative chamber in any developed nation.

Behind the growth of the advantage is an increase in population gap between large and small states, with large states adding many more people than small ones in the last half-century. There is a widening demographic split, too, with the larger states becoming more urban and liberal, and the smaller ones remaining rural and conservative, which lends a new significance to the disparity in their political power.

The threat of the filibuster in the Senate, which has become far more common than in past decades, plays a role, too. Research by two political scientists, Lauren C. Bell and L. Marvin Overby, has found that small-state senators, often in leadership positions, have amplified their power by using the filibuster more often than their large-state counterparts.

Beyond influencing government spending, these shifts generally benefit conservative causes and hurt liberal ones. When small states block or shape legislation backed by senators representing a majority of Americans, most of the senators on the winning side tend to be Republicans, because Republicans disproportionately live in small states and Democrats, especially African-Americans and Latinos, are more likely to live in large states like California, New York, Florida and Illinois. Among the nation’s five smallest states, only Vermont tilts liberal, while Alaska, Wyoming and the Dakotas have each voted Republican in every presidential election since 1968.

Recent bills to overhaul the immigration system and increase disclosure of campaign spending have won the support of senators representing a majority of the population but have not yet passed. A sweeping climate bill, meant to raise the cost of carbon emissions, passed the House, where seats are allocated by population, but not the Senate.

Each of those bills is a major Democratic Party priority. Throughout his second term, President Obama is likely to be lining up with a majority of large-state Congress members on his biggest goals and against a majority of small-state lawmakers.

It is easiest to measure the small-state advantage in dollars. Over the past few years, as the federal government has spent hundreds of billions to respond to the financial crisis, it has done much more to assist the residents of small states than large ones. The top five per capita recipients of federal stimulus grants were states so small that they have only a single House member.

“From highway bills to homeland security,” said Sarah A. Binder, a political scientist at George Washington University, “small states make out like bandits.”

Here in Rutland, the federal government has spent $2,500 per person since early 2009, compared with $600 per person across the state border in Washington County.

As the money started arriving, Senator Bernard Sanders, the Vermont independent, took credit for having delivered a “hefty share of the national funding.” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, vowed to fight for her state’s “fair share.”

As a matter of constitutional design, small states have punched above their weight politically for as long as the United States has existed. The founding of the country depended in part on the Great Compromise, which created a legislative chamber — the Senate — in which every state had the same political voice, regardless of population. The advantage small states enjoy in the Senate is echoed in the Electoral College, where each state is allocated votes not only for its House members (reflecting the state’s population) but also for its senators (a two-vote bonus).

No one expects the small-state advantage to disappear, given its constitutional roots. But its growing importance has caused some large-state policy makers and advocates for giving all citizens an equal voice in democracy to begin exploring ways to counteract it. Those pushing for change tend to be Democrats.

One plan, enacted into law by eight states and the District of Columbia, would effectively cancel the small states’ Electoral College edge. The nine jurisdictions have pledged to allocate their 132 electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote — if they can persuade states with 138 more votes to make the same commitment. (That would represent the bare majority of the 538 electoral votes needed for a presidential candidate to prevail.)

The states that have agreed to the arrangement range in size from Vermont to California, and they are dominated by Democrats. But support for changing the Electoral College cuts across party lines. In a recent Gallup Poll, 61 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of independents and 66 percent of Democrats said they favored abolishing the system and awarding the presidency to the winner of the popular vote.

In 2000, had electoral votes been allocated by population, without the two-vote bonuses, Al Gore would have prevailed over George W. Bush. Alexander Keyssar, a historian of democracy at Harvard, said he would not be surprised if another Republican candidate won the presidency while losing the popular vote in coming decades, given the structure of the Electoral College.

Critics of the outsize power of small states have also turned to the courts. In December, four House members and the advocacy group Common Cause filed an appeal in a lawsuit challenging the Senate’s filibuster rule on the ground that it “upsets the balance in the Great Compromise” that created the Senate.

The filibuster “has significantly increased the underrepresentation of people living in the most populous states,” the suit said. But for the rule, it said, the Dream Act, which would have given some immigrants who arrived illegally as children a path to legalization, and the Disclose Act, requiring greater reporting of political spending, would be law.

A federal judge in Washington dismissed the suit, saying he was “powerless to address” what he acknowledged was an “important and controversial issue.” The judge instead sided with lawyers for the Senate, who said that the challengers lacked standing to sue and that the courts lacked power to rule on the internal workings of another branch of the government.

However these individual efforts fare, the basic disparity between large and small states is wired into the constitutional framework. Some scholars say that this is as it should be and that the advantages enjoyed by small states are necessary to prevent them from becoming a voiceless minority.

“Without it, wealth and power would tend to flow to the prosperous coasts and cities and away from less-populated rural areas,” said Stephen Macedo, a political scientist at Princeton.

Gary L. Gregg II, a political scientist who holds the Mitch McConnell Chair in Leadership at the University of Louisville, similarly argued that urban areas already have enough power, as the home of most major government agencies, news media organizations, companies and universities. “A simple, direct democracy will centralize all power,” he wrote recently, “in urban areas to the detriment of the rest of the nation.”

Others say the country needs to make changes to preserve its democratic vitality. They have called for an overhaul of the Constitution, as far-fetched an idea as that may be.

“The Senate constitutes a threat to the vitality of the American political system in the 21st century,” said Sanford Levinson, a law professor at the University of Texas, “and it warrants a constitutional convention to rectify it.”

Frances E. Lee, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, said the problem was as real as the solution elusive, adding that she and other scholars have tried without success to find a contemporary reason to exempt the Senate from the usual rules of granting citizens an equal voice in their government. “I can’t think of any way to justify it based on democratic principles,” Professor Lee said.

Fresno, Calif., is a city of a half-million people with a long list of problems, including 14 percent unemployment, the aftermath of a foreclosure crisis, homeless encampments that dot the sun-blasted landscape and worries about the safety of the surrounding county’s drinking water.

A thousand miles away, a roughly comparable number of people inhabit the entire state of Wyoming. Like Fresno and its environs, Wyoming is rural, with an economy largely based on agriculture. It is also in much better shape than Fresno, with an unemployment rate around 5 percent.

Even so, Wyoming receives far more assistance from the federal government than Fresno does. The half-million residents of Wyoming also have much more sway over federal policy than the half-million residents of Fresno. The vote people in Fresno remember best was taken in 2007, when an immigration overhaul bill that included a guest worker program failed in the Senate. Both agricultural businesses and leaders of Fresno’s large Hispanic population supported the bill, much as polls suggested a majority of Americans did.

But the immigration bill died in the Senate after a 53-46 vote rejecting a bid to move the bill forward to final passage. Wyoming’s two senators were in the majority and California’s two senators on the losing side.

Had the votes been allocated by population, the result would have been lopsided in the other direction, with 57 votes in favor and 43 against.

Even 57 votes would not have been enough to overcome a filibuster, which requires 60. In the last few years, 41 senators representing as little as a third of the nation’s population have frequently blocked legislation, as the filibuster (or the threat of it) has become a routine part of Senate business.

Beyond the filibuster, senators from Wyoming and other small states regularly oppose and often thwart programs popular in states with vastly bigger populations. The 38 million people who live in the nation’s 22 smallest states, including Wyoming, are represented by 44 senators. The 38 million residents of California are represented by two senators.

In one of every 10 especially consequential votes in the Senate over the two decades ending in 2010, as chosen by Congressional Quarterly, the winning side would have lost had voting been allocated by population. And in 24 of the 27 such votes, the majority of the senators on the winning side were Republicans.

David Mayhew, a political scientist at Yale, cautioned that the political benefit to Republicans is “quite small as well as quite stable,” adding that it is important not to lose sight of small blue states like Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Vermont. But he acknowledged that small states of both political stripes receive disproportionate federal benefits. Professor Lee, an author of “Sizing Up the Senate: The Unequal Consequences of Equal Representation,” argues that the partisan impact of the small-state advantage is larger. “There is a Republican tilt in the Senate,” she said.

“The way Republicans are distributed across the nation is more efficient,” she added, referring to the more even allocation of Republican voters, allowing them to form majorities in small-population states. Democrats are more tightly clustered, especially in large metropolitan areas.

Equal representation of the states in the Senate is a consequence of the Great Compromise, the 1787 deal that resolved a seemingly intractable dispute between the smaller states and a handful of large ones like Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia. But the country was very different then. The population was about four million, and the maximum disparity in voting power between states was perhaps 11 to 1. It is now six times greater than that. Even scholars who criticize how voting power is allocated in the Senate agree that parts of its design play an important role in the constitutional structure. With its longer terms and fewer members, the Senate can, in theory, be more collegial, take the long view and be insulated from passing passions.

But those qualities do not depend on unequal representation among people who live in different states. The current allocation of power in the Senate, many legal scholars and political scientists say, does not protect minorities with distinctive characteristics, much less disadvantaged ones.

To the contrary, the disproportionate voting power of small states is a sort of happenstance that has on occasion left a stain on the nation’s history.

Robert A. Dahl, the Yale political scientist, who is 97 and has been studying American government for more than 70 years, has argued that slavery survived thanks to the disproportionate influence of small-population Southern states. The House passed eight antislavery measures between 1800 and 1860; all died in the Senate. The civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, he added, was slowed by senators representing small-population states.

As the population of the United States has grown a hundredfold since the founding, to more than 310 million, the Supreme Court has swept away most instances of unequal representation beyond the Senate. In a series of seminal cases in the 1960s, the court forbade states to give small-population counties or districts a larger voice than ones with more people, in both state legislatures and the House.

“The conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Amendments can mean only one thing — one person, one vote,” Justice William O. Douglas wrote for the court in 1963, referring to the amendments that extended the franchise to blacks and women and required the popular election of the Senate.

The rulings revolutionized American politics — everywhere but in the Senate, which the Constitution protected from change and where the disparities in voting power have instead become more extreme.

A Barrier to Change

In his memoirs, Chief Justice Earl Warren described the cases from the 1960s establishing the equality of each citizen’s vote as the most important achievement of the court he led for 16 years. That made them more important in his view than Brown v. Board of Education, which ordered the desegregation of public schools, and Gideon v. Wainwright, which guaranteed lawyers for poor people accused of serious crimes.

“Legislators represent people, not trees or acres,” Chief Justice Warren wrote for the court in 1964, rejecting the argument that state senators, like federal ones, could represent geographic areas with varying populations. “Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests.”

Applying that principle to the Senate would be very hard. Even an ordinary constitutional amendment would not do the trick, as the framers of the Constitution went out of their way to require states to agree before their power is diminished. Article V of the Constitution sets out the procedure for amendments and requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or action by two-thirds of state legislatures to get things started. But the article makes an exception for the Senate. “No state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate,” the article concludes.

The United States Senate is hardly the only legislature that does not stick strictly to the principle of equal representation. Political scientists use the term “malapportioned” to describe the phenomenon, and it is common around the world.

But the Senate is in contention for the least democratic legislative chamber. In some other countries with federal systems, in which states or provinces have independent political power, a malapportioned upper house may have only a weak or advisory role. In the United States, the Senate is at least equal in power to the House, and it possesses some distinctive responsibilities, like treaty ratification and the approval of presidential appointments. A recent appeals court decision severely limiting the president’s power to make recess appointments, if it stands, will further increase the Senate’s power.

Professor Dahl has calculated the difference between the local government unit with the most voting power and that with the least. The smallest ratio, 1.5, was in Austria, while in Belgium, Spain, India, Germany, Australia and Canada the ratio was never higher than 21 to 1.

In this country, the ratio between Wyoming’s representation and California’s is 66 to 1. By that measure, Professor Dahl found, only Brazil, Argentina and Russia had less democratic chambers. A separate analysis, by David Samuels and Richard Snyder, similarly found that geographically large countries with federal systems tend to overrepresent sparsely populated areas.

This pattern has policy consequences, notably ones concerning the environment. “Nations with malapportioned political systems have lower gasoline taxes (and lower pump prices) than nations with more equitable representation of urban constituencies,” two political scientists, J. Lawrence Broz and Daniel Maliniak, wrote in a recent study. Such countries also took longer to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, if they ratified it at all. These differences were, they wrote, a consequence of the fact that “rural voters in industrialized countries rely more heavily on fossil fuels than urban voters.”

In 2009, the House of Representatives narrowly approved a bill to address climate change, but only after months of horse-trading that granted concessions and money to rural states. That was an example, Mr. Broz and Mr. Maliniak said, of compensating rural residents for the burdens of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

But it was not enough. The bill died in the Senate.


March 10, 2013

G.O.P. in Arizona Is Pushed to Expand Medicaid


PHOENIX — In the battle to get the Medicaid expansion being championed by Gov. Jan Brewer approved by the state’s legislators, her closest advisers are hanging their hopes on the number eight. That is how many of the 17 Republicans in the State Senate they believe they can get on their side.

They were working on an equally modest tally in the State House of Representatives, an unusual state of affairs for a staunchly conservative governor: her most reliable supporters on this issue are on the other side of the aisle, in the Legislature’s usually powerless Democratic minority.

“It is not often we agree with her,” said Representative Bruce Wheeler, the minority whip, “but we certainly do on this issue.”

Indeed, the governor has won respect in conservative circles for her outspoken criticism of President Obama and for her support of Arizona’s strict immigration legislation.

Last week, Ms. Brewer took her fight from conference rooms and the halls of the Senate and House to the steps of the State Capitol, surrounding herself with health care professionals in a public show of force before the Legislature, where the Medicaid bill she endorses will be unveiled on Tuesday.

In the meantime, a coalition of business leaders began running television advertisements promoting Ms. Brewer’s plan as a lifeline to hospitals, particularly in rural areas, where the number of Medicaid recipients is large, as is the number of uninsured seeking care in emergency rooms.

But in their push to win over Republicans, the governor’s advisers have found that they have no single persuasive argument, and at times, no chance at all for persuasion.

To make their case, they are pressing the idea that expanding Medicaid, the federal and state program that provides health care to poor and disabled people, is the best way to stabilize the state’s health care system, already buckling under the weight of caring for uninsured patients. They invoke the burden borne by the insured, whose high premiums cover, in part, the cost of treatment that goes unpaid. They remind legislators that to back the plan is to honor the choice of voters, who overwhelmingly passed ballot measures, in 1996 and 2000, expanding coverage for childless adults with incomes up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level.

For good measure, they warn of the perils of bad press just as the 2014 campaign season is getting started. If the state got hammered in 2010 for cutting Medicaid coverage for certain organ transplants, affecting 94 patients, the thinking goes, imagine the reaction if the expansion does not go through and thousands of childless adults are dropped from the rolls just days after Christmas. (The waiver that has allowed for their coverage expires on Jan. 1.)

“The legislative dance is just getting started,” said Chuck Coughlin, the governor’s former campaign manager and one of the lobbyists leading the effort.

It is a choreography that has fostered unlikely alliances and uncertain behind-closed-doors deals, in Arizona and in other states where Republican governors’ embrace of Medicaid expansion set off a backlash from Republican legislative majorities.

Committees are exploring other options in Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott faces increasing uncertainty over whether the expansion there will pass. In Ohio, Gov. John R. Kasich invoked dollars and God during his State of the State address, telling conservative legislators that the vulnerable should not be left behind.

For Ms. Brewer, getting the expansion approved has become a matter of personal pride, even if it has gone against her strong opposition to the Obama administration’s health care overhaul. She has thrown all of her political capital behind the effort, traveling across the state to sell her message and encouraging a Republican lawmaker, State Representative Heather Carter, who has generally been in line with the governor’s health policies, to nudge her colleagues in the Legislature.

“One of the things she has demonstrated is that she generally gets what she wants,” said her spokesman, Matthew Benson.

The battle has sometimes boiled down to semantics. For example, the state’s Medicaid director, Thomas Betlach, refuses to use the word expansion. “Restoration,” he said assertively during an interview, referring to the fact that the under the governor’s plan, the program would again apply to people who lost coverage when the recession hit and the state froze enrollment. (The expansion would stretch the coverage beyond the state’s income threshold to 133 percent of the poverty level, or $30,675 for a family of four.)

Ms. Brewer and her supporters call a fee that would be levied against hospitals to help offset the state’s share of the costs a “hospital assessment.” Opponents call it a “bed tax.”

Recently, 40 lobbyists, representing at least 110 groups pushing for the expansion, among them hospitals, health care associations and business organizations, huddled in the executive wing of the State Capitol to update the governor’s advisers on their progress and hone strategies. One of them reminded colleagues not to encourage enthusiastic Democrats to interfere; later, he said that in Arizona, using Democrats to win over Republicans can be disastrous.

The lobbyists have trained their focus on the Senate, whose president, Andy Biggs, a conservative Republican from a conservative district southeast of Phoenix, they hope to sway.

If enough Senate Republicans get behind the expansion, their thinking goes, House Republicans will follow. The House speaker, Andy Tobin, a Republican, has been carrying on his own offensive, meeting with freshman Democrats to try to dissuade them from voting for the expansion. And in an interview, State Representative John Kavanagh, chairman of the Appropriations Committee and a vociferous opponent of the governor’s plan, said that if the measure were to get a vote in the coming days, “it wouldn’t pass.”

“As more facts are revealed about the way it’s being funded, the bed tax and all,” he added, “more members of our caucus fall off.”

The Medicaid expansion is, by all accounts, the most contentious element of Ms. Brewer’s proposed budget, and the proposed hospital fee its sharpest thorn. In private, conservative groups like the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute have been weighing whether to sue the state, arguing that the assessment is a tax, which would require approval by a two-thirds vote in the Legislature, as prescribed in a ballot measure passed in 1992.

“They’ll never get two-thirds out of this chamber,” Mr. Kavanagh said.

The governor’s advisers seemed certain that the vote would not be necessary.

John Arnold, the state’s budget director, said the fee would be equal to the difference between what Arizona gets each year from the 1998 settlement with tobacco companies, which was struck as a means for most states to recover health care costs linked to tobacco use, and the state’s share of the Medicaid program. The amount is not fixed, he added, as settlement payments, federal contribution to the program and enrollment fluctuate.

Ms. Brewer has argued that expanding Medicaid would provide the state about $1.7 billion in federal financing, and that the state would be able to stop offering benefits to childless adults if federal reimbursement dropped below 80 percent.

In an interview, Darcy A. Olsen, the Goldwater Institute’s president, said: “This money doesn’t come free from Washington. Arizona taxpayers pay federal taxes, too.”

The governor has also emphasized Medicaid’s current cost (its cost per participant is $680 lower than the national average, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation) and managed-care system (it functions like an H.M.O.), which has helped reduce the number of emergency room visits and the length of hospital stays among participants. And Ms. Brewer has showed no signs of backing off.

“The governor is committed,” Mr. Benson, her spokesman, said. “People who follow politics in this state know that when she makes a decision, she digs in her heels.”

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« Reply #5037 on: Mar 12, 2013, 04:55 AM »

03/11/2013 06:00 PM

Constitutional Reforms: Hungary Steps Away from European Democracy

By Keno Verseck

As expected, the Hungarian parliament on Monday evening passed a package of constitutional amendments that legal experts say are an affront to democracy. Berlin, Brussels and Washington all voiced their concern in the run up to the vote. Leaders in Budapest, however, were unfazed.

Hungarian President János Áder arrived in Berlin on Monday for what might look merely like a standard bilateral meeting between two EU leaders. But the relationship between the European Union and Hungary is anything but normal these days. Budapest, after all, bid farewell on Monday to many of the values that define the 27-member club.

Prime Minster Viktor Orbán, like Áder a member of the conservative Fidesz party, has expanded his power dramatically. While the head of state was in Berlin, the prime minister moved ahead with a highly controversial package of amendments to the country's constitution. The amendments weaken the country's constitutional court, the last defender of Hungary's constitutional state, and they limit the independence of the entire judiciary branch.

In other words, a country at the center of the European Union is moving away from the principles of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

The vote on Monday evening in Budapest easily provided Fidesz with the two-thirds majority it needed to pass the amendments, with 265 voting in favor, 11 against and 33 abstaining.

László Kövér, president of Hungarian parliament and one of the most influential men in the country, was a primary mover behind the cause. He is a veteran leader of Fidesz and, when it comes to issues of nationhood and country, he doesn't shy away from confrontation. Last Friday, in an interview with the conservative broadcaster Hír TV, he laid out his theory that the world was conspiring against Hungary.

International capital, the EU and the United States had singled out Hungary as a "symbol of their Cold War," he said, simply because the government in Budapest had rejected the "forced path of liberalism." His rhetoric made use of the same slogans that the extreme right in Hungary has used for years.

Strong Criticism at Home and Abroad

The occasion for Kövér's tirade was the debate over constitutional reform. Yet despite massive critique from both within Hungary and abroad, he refused to consider cancelling or postponing the Monday vote.

Hungarian civil rights organizations and opposition parties spent weeks protesting the changes, with thousands of people turning out for a demonstration in front of the parliamentary building in Budapest on Saturday. Following criticism from the European Council, the European Parliament and the US State Department, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso personally appealed to Prime Minister Orbán to delay the vote last week. But several leading Fidesz politicians made it clear that there was no chance of a postponement.

That the constitutional amendments do, in fact, represent a serious departure from the principles of liberal democracy and civil rights is a view shared by the opposition, EU policymakers and also legal scholars. Hungarian constitutional law expert Gábor Halmai has called the reforms a "systematic abolishment of the constitutional order," while Hamburg-based European law expert Markus Kotzur calls the changes "highly problematic."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who is due to meet with President Áder on Tuesday, said the German government "has left no doubt that Europe is a community of values, and that we expect these values to be lived out." A spokeswoman for the European Commission also said the EU's executive branch "will not hesitate to use all the instruments at our disposal to make sure that member states comply with their obligations."

Limits on Free Speech, Legal Precedence

Among the most controversial aspects of the reform are severe limitations on the power of the constitutional court. The court will now be allowed to review the constitution or amendments to it based only on formal procedural aspects, not on their actual content. Additionally, all the court's decisions prior to the date when the country's new constitution came into force in 2012 are to be invalidated, essentially eliminating precedence.

Freedom of expression is also to be limited when it damages the broadly defined "dignity of the Hungarian nation." Students will be required to stay and work in Hungary for a certain time after finishing a university degree, or else pay tuition fees -- a measure meant to curb the emigration of highly-educated workers and academics.

The reforms also write into the constitution certain laws that had previously been overturned and deemed unconstitutional by the high court, making them essentially untouchable.These include a ban on the homeless from loitering in public spaces, and allowance of the state to prosecute them for violations; a ban on electoral campaign advertising in private media; and an exclusion of umarried, childless or same-sex couples in the official definition of family.

'Authoritarian System' Emerging

In the days leading up to the passage of the amendments, the opposition's rhetoric became sharper. András Schiffer, the otherwise reserved leader of the green-liberal party called "Politics Can Be Different" (LMP), said at a convention in Budapest on Saturday that an authoritarian system was emerging in Hungary, one in which no right was safe and constitutional law was being dissolved. The non-parliamentary opposition alliance "Together 2014" has called the reforms a "rampage against the constitutional order."

Hungarian constitutional expert Kolláth György said the constitutional amendments "destroy the system of checks and balances and overturns the mutual, trustful and pluralistic cooperation of the constitutional bodies. ... Likewise it is a rejection of the European values that Hungary once willingly accepted."

Such appraisals don't phase parliamentary speaker Kövér. Asked whether he thought a compromise was possible with government critics, he answered: "It's unlikely that we would find a compromise with representatives who see even same-sex marriage as conceivable."

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« Reply #5038 on: Mar 12, 2013, 04:57 AM »

Vienna Philharmonic admits sending Jewish musicians to their deaths in Hitler’s camps

By Luke Harding, The Guardian
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 1:04 EDT

On the 75th anniversary of Austria’s Anschluss with Germany, the famous orchestra is giving up dark secrets about its past

On 23 March 1938, the violinist Viktor Robitsek received a curt note from the management of the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra. It told him he was being fired. Robitsek’s “crime” had nothing to do with his musical talents: he was Jewish.

Eleven days earlier Hitler’s troops had marched into Vienna. Most residents greeted the occupiers warmly. But among the Führer’s many ardent admirers were some of Robitsek’s colleagues, about half of whom were card-carrying Nazis.

On the 75th anniversary of Austria’s fateful Anschluss with Germany, the world’s most famous orchestra is finally revealing some of its dark secrets. A panel of historians allowed access to its archives has discovered that five Jewish musicians – among them Robitsek – perished in Nazi death camps or ghettos. Two more died after persecution. In total 13 Jews were driven from the orchestra.

This shameful episode of expulsion and death took place with the approval of many of the orchestra’s members. By 1942, in the middle of the war, 60 of its 123 musicians were active Nazis. Two were members of the SS. The figure is proportionally higher than among Austria’s overall population.

Postwar Austria has been slow to acknowledge its central role in Hitler’s Third Reich and the Holocaust, only officially expressing regret in 1991. The Vienna Philharmonic now faces accusations that it, like much of Austrian society, deliberately covered up its Nazi ghosts. On Monday, the Philharmonic said it was discussing whether it should revoke honours for key Nazi figures.

The researchers found that to mark its 100th anniversary in 1942 the orchestra awarded honours to high-profile Nazis including Baldur von Schirach, Vienna’s infamous governor at the time, who was responsible for the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews. Schirach was among those given a special ring by the orchestra as a mark of honour.

“The orchestra overdid it,” said the historian Oliver Rathkolb, who led the research, which the orchestra published on its website at the weekend. “It was not necessary to give so many medals and rings of honour to people like Baldur von Schirach. In a formal sense, the Vienna Philharmonic still honours Schirach and therefore the chairman of the orchestra, Clemens Hellsberg, has asked to revoke the rings of honour to these people.”

The panel has also uncovered the role played by Helmut Wobisch, a trumpeter and fervent member of the Nazi party who later joined the SS.

Schirach lost the ring, but in 1966 or 1967, after he was released from Spandau prison after serving a sentence for crimes against humanity, Wobisch gave him a replacement.

Wobisch himself had been sacked from the orchestra in 1945 but managed to rejoin two years later as lead trumpeter. After the war just four party members were fired during the “de-Nazification” period and six pensioned off.

Rathkolb said he was surprised at the “high rate of Nazification” at the Vienna Philharmonic. Many of its members joined the Nazi party before 1938, when membership was illegal in Austria, he noted. However, he said it was notable that the chairman of the orchestra at the time, Wilhelm Jerger, tried to intervene on behalf of Jewish colleagues, petitioning Schirach to stop their deportation.

On 27 October 1941, he petitioned the governor to spare Robitzek and his wife, Elsa, who were to be sent to Theresienstadt, a major transit centre, at 9am the following day. Both were elderly and ill, he wrote, signing off “Heil Hitler”. The letter failed to have any effect.

“Jerger intervened in a positive way,” said Rathkolb. “He described the cultural history of his former colleagues like you would today in an encyclopedia. This was surprising for the Nazi period.”

The wave of anti-Jewish violence unleashed by the Anschluss not only changed the makeup of the orchestra but also diminished its audience. “Because so many Jews were forced out of Austria or killed, you see in the Nazi reports already in 1938-39 that they all had financial problems because the audience was so negatively affected by Nazi persecution policies,” said Rathkolb.

Music played an important role in Nazi society and was used as a propaganda tool. There was a strong rivalry between the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras and many musicians may have joined the Nazi party in order to advance their careers.

The Philharmonic is most popularly known for its annual New Year’s Concert, a Strauss waltz extravaganza that is broadcast to an audience of more than 50 million in 80 countries. It now emerges that the concert originated as a propaganda instrument under Nazi rule in 1939. The orchestra rarely played the music of the Strauss family, known for the “Blue Danube” and numerous other waltzes, before this period.

“There was competition to go to the Nazis,” said Kurt Drexel, a lecturer at the Institute of Music at the University of Innsbruck. “There were so many compositions for the Nazi party and for the institution. They needed a lot of music. If you joined as a composer you had lots of opportunities to earn money, become famous and have your music played in public. It was a good career opportunity.”

Rathkolb said that although the Philharmonic was responsible for failingto make its dark history public, he did not think it had tried to hide its past. “I think it’s something to do with the long policy of silence in Austrian society in general,” he said, adding that debates around National Socialism in the orchestra ended in 1947.

“De-nazification was over, the first international tour went to Edinburgh… it closed the chapter of the Nazi past. Since then no one talked openly about the philharmonic and the Nazi past.”

Not everyone agrees with this. Harald Walser, a Green MP in Austria and one of the Philharmonic’s most vocal and persistent critics, welcomed the orchestra’s decision to become more transparent, although he said it did not go far enough.

“It’s a little step in the right direction,” he told Reuters. “But we’re still a long way from having adequate access to the archives.”

Murder after deportation

Five Jewish musicians played with the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra before perishing in Nazi death camps or ghettos. Here are their stories:

Moriz Glattauer (Violin I)

First violinist with the Vienna Philharmonic, Moriz Glattauer retired from the orchestra in 1938. A member of Vienna’s Jewish community, he had a long career with the Philharmonic dating back to 1916. He and his wife were forced to move out of their home then deported in 1942 to the Jewish ghetto of Theresienstadt, north-west of Prague. Glattauer died there the following year, aged 73; his wife was gassed in Auschwitz in 1945.

Viktor Robitsek (Violin II)

Second violinist Viktor Robitsek was fired in March 1938, after 35 years with the orchestra. The management sent him a curt note saying he was dismissed with “immediate effect”. Robitsek was Jewish, but saw himself as non-confessional and had left the local Jewish community many years before. He and his wife were forced to move house four times. In October 1941 Philharmonic board member Wilhelm Jerger wrote to Vienna’s Gauleiter Baldur von Schirach, asking him not to deport the elderly couple. The plea was unsuccessful: both were sent to the Jewish ghetto in Lodz. Robitsek was murdered there in June 1942; his wife perished three weeks earlier.

Max Starkmann (violin I, viola)

Starkmann was a first violinist. He also played the viola. Further details have yet to be released.

Julius Stwertka (Concertmaster, Violin I)

Julius Stwertka was 66 years old when Nazi Germany carried out its infamous Anschluss with Austria in March 1938. A distinguished musician, recruited by Gustav Mahler, he was violinst and then Konzertmeister with the Philharmonic, and is pictured in a black and white photo from 1935 sitting in the pit next to Wilhelm Furtwängler. The Anschluss unleashed 250 new anti-Semitic laws and a wave of anti-Jewish violence. Stwertka and his wife Rosa were deported to the Jewish ghetto in Theresienstadt. He survived for just a few weeks, dying in December 1942. His wife was sent to Auschwitz in 1944. Her date of death is unknown.

Armin Tyroler (Oboe II)

Armin Tyroler was one of the Philharmonic’s most celebrated musicians. A teacher, professor of music, and a campaigner for better conditions for his less fortunate colleagues, Tyroler was honoured by the city of Vienna in 1933. In his acceptance speech he argued that musicians could only be artists if they were freed from hardship. He called Vienna his “adored city” and said he wanted it to be a “city of songs, a city of happiness”. In 1940 Tyroler and his second wife Rudolfine were forced to move home, then in 1942 sent – together with the Stwertkas – to Theresienstadt. In the ghetto Tyroler founded a Jewish cultural organisation and took part in a concert. On October 28, 1944, he and his wife were deported to Auschwitz. He was gassed two days later. His wife’s date of death is unknown.

© Guardian News and Media 2013


Vienna Philharmonic's conservatism has exposed it to unsettling truths

Revelations about its sympathies with nazism have thrown the 171-year-old orchestra's uniqueness into a different light

Tom Service   
The Guardian, Monday 11 March 2013 17.28 EDT   

The Vienna Philharmonic has been a byword for conservatism with both a small and a big C for much of its 171-year history. But until the revelations about the extent of nazism at the heart of the institution, many music-lovers have been able to excuse the eccentricity of the Vienna Phil's traditions as the grit in the oyster that produces the orchestra's lustrous, pearlescent sound.

That's because the Vienna orchestra is that rarest of things in classical music today: a group you can identify from the very first chord. Even the instruments they play – especially those reedy (if you're being kind), or goat-like (if you're not) oboes – are different to those anywhere else, and the secrets of how to play them are often handed down from father to son.

The orchestra jealously protects its individuality, as if it was one of the most precious resources in musical culture. And for many devotees of the Neujahrskonzert, or for anyone who heard them at the Proms with Bernard Haitink last year, that's exactly what it is.

The orchestra has so far weathered the criticism most often raised against it: the fact that there are hardly any women in its ranks. While the rest of Europe's orchestras – including Vienna's main rival for the title of "world's greatest" over the decades, the Berlin Philharmonic – have accepted the necessity of a level playing field, Vienna has remained stubbornly an (almost) men-only club. The first woman to play with the Vienna Phil was harpist Anne Lelkes (allowed to become a full member only in 1997); today, there are six female members – a pathetic, unjustifiable statistic. The orchestra's record on ethnic diversity is even worse. But that ludicrous institutional sexism – and even the orchestra's sometimes shabby treatment of composers such as Anton Bruckner and above all Gustav Mahler, who was in charge of the Vienna Staatsoper (from whose players the Vienna Phil are drawn), but resigned thanks to cultural antisemitism in 1907 – pales into insignificance next to the grim history revealed about the orchestra's relationship with the Nazis.

The most chilling single detail is the gift of a replica of the orchestra's ring of honour to the man in charge of the Hitler Youth, Baldur von Schirach. That apparently happened in 1966, after von Schirach's release from Spandau prison.

That year, Leonard Bernstein made his debut conducting the orchestra. Had Lenny known that its then director, the principal trumpet (and ex-SS member) Helmut Wobisch, had presented, or planned to present, a leading Nazi with this ring, he would surely have thought twice about having anything to do with Vienna or its orchestra.

The fact that the Jewish Bernstein did more to rehabilitate the reputation of Mahler than any other conductor, and that his performances and recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic allowed the orchestra posthumously to right some of the wrongs it did to Gustav during his lifetime, is a disturbing historical irony. In the light of this week's revelations, there are more unsettling questions for the Vienna Phil to answer. That's because there is such a strong link between the orchestra's institutional conservatism and the sound it makes. Its resistance to change is an essential part of its musical charm, but it's also the reason it's taken until now for the orchestra to even attempt to own up to its past. Those evenings of easy Viennese charm in the Musikverein, the Philharmonic's gilded home, have curdled into something much more distasteful.

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« Reply #5039 on: Mar 12, 2013, 05:10 AM »

03/11/2013 06:05 PM

Made Poor by the Crisis: Millions of Europeans Require Red Cross Food Aid

Needy families and individuals in the European Union are becoming increasingly reliant on charity organizations like the Red Cross for basic needs like food, water and shelter. While Germany is relatively unaffected, unemployment and austerity in countries like Spain are making the problem even more severe.

Two-thirds of national Red Cross societies within the European Union have begun distributing food aid, according to the head of the aid groups' international organization -- a sign that the economic crisis in Europe is having an alarming effect on poverty.

Yves Daccord, Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said on a visit to New Delhi on Monday that the scope of food distribution had not been at its current level since the end of World War II.

Germany's relative economic strength has made it mostly immune to the rise in food need. In contrast, the Spanish Red Cross is supporting 3 million Spaniards with food aid. Daccord said the need in Spain was so great that the organization has begun soliciting donations for not just foreign, but domestic operations as well.

Middle Class Hard-Hit By Crisis

A document published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Socities provides more detail on the food need. Last year alone, the Spanish Red Cross provided 33 million kilograms (73 million pounds) of groceries to the needy. It also supported 21,500 people with water and electricity, or with financial aid in paying rent.

The organization's counterpart in Romania has been operating a donation-based food distribution program since 2009. Three million people live in absolute poverty, according to the aid group, a figure that constitutes 14 percent of the country's total population. The relative poverty rate in Romania is also shockingly high, at 40 percent. Last year, the Romanian Red Cross distributed more than 500,000 kilograms (1.1 million pounds) of food to more than 81,000 needy families.

The IFRC also noted a rise in poverty in previously middle-class families and individuals. In Italy, the group noted a rise in the homeless population to include single parents, "particularly separated and divorced men who end up impoverished or on the streets as they struggle to maintain themselves while keeping up child support and alimony payments."

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