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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1071336 times)
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« Reply #5070 on: Mar 13, 2013, 05:51 AM »

Syrian war has caused 'collapse in childhood', Save the Children warns

Two million Syrian children are victims of war, charity says in report revealing third of children have been hit, kicked or shot at

Luke Harding   
The Guardian, Wednesday 13 March 2013   

Two million children in Syria have become the victims of bloody conflict, with many swept up in violence, and suffering from trauma, malnutrition and disease, a report says.

The catastrophic war in Syria has caused a "collapse in childhood", Save the Children warned on Wednesday. It cited research revealing that one in three children reported having been hit, kicked or shot at, as fighting between rebels and soldiers loyal to President Bashar al-Assad engulfed the entire country.

The report, Childhood Under Fire, was launched to coincide with the second anniversary of Syria's anti-Assad uprising. It paints a grim picture of how children have been targeted in the war and shows that many are struggling to find enough to eat. Others are living in barns, parks or caves. Few are able to go to school. Teachers have fled and school buildings are under fire. Sanitation systems have been damaged, forcing some youngsters to defecate in the street.

The research, by Bahcesehir University in Turkey, includes harrowing testimony from refugee children, some of whom have seen their parents arrested, beaten and killed by regime forces.

One, Nidal, said: "They shot at us near my foot so I jumped. I was scared, very scared, and my friend too. We were surrounded by walls. So we jumped over walls and ran away." Nidal recalled how his father was sleeping, and his mother doing chores, when government soldiers burst in.

"They entered and beat my father. They started to beat him with sticks. All of them were beating him. One of them was kicking him. I was hiding in the room so they wouldn't take me."

A mother, Um Ali, who escaped across the border to Turkey, added: "We couldn't leave our house at all. The snipers would shoot us straight away. They were on the roofs. We could see children falling dead. This is why we fled, because of the heavy shelling." She added: "The children were terrified."

The report suggests the conflict has had a disastrous effect on youngsters. It says armed militias are using boys as porters, runners and human shields, and bringing them to the frontline. Girls are being married off by their parents early to "protect" them from the widely perceived threat of sexual violence. "I know that men are hunting women. We could not protect her, so we had to marry her. We needed her to have a protector," Um Ali explained.

A universal problem faced by children and their parents in Syria has been hunger, with malnutrition growing. The military has targeted bakeries in many opposition-controlled areas. The price of basic foodstuffs, fuel and cooking oil has rocketed by up to 500%. Asked why he fled his home Rami, a father of three, replied: "Hunger. Food. There was none. No bread. If I stayed my children would have died from hunger."

"For millions of Syrian children, the innocence of childhood has been replaced by the cruel realities of trying to survive this vicious war," said Justin Forsyth, Save the Children's chief executive.

"Many are now living rough, struggling to find enough to eat, without the right medicine if they become sick or injured. As society has broken down, in the worst cases, hunger, homelessness and terror have replaced school for some of these young people. We cannot allow this to continue unchecked. The lives of too many children are at stake."

The fighting has also had profound emotional consequences for many youngsters. Three-quarters had experienced the death of a relative or close friend. Others have been separated from fathers and other members of their families.

The findings follow a report on Tuesday by Unicef, which said that the future of a whole generation of Syrian children was "disappearing under the rubble". It said 70,000 Syrians had been killed and one in five schools destroyed. In the divided northern city Aleppo – a battleground since last July – only 6% of children went to school.

Syrian troops shelled outlying rebel-controlled areas of Damascus using multiple rocket launchers on Tuesday, activists said. There were further clashes near Aleppo's airport and military bases in Syria's north, they added.

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« Reply #5071 on: Mar 13, 2013, 05:54 AM »

Mozambique turns to technology in battle against tuberculosis

New machine expected to cut TB diagnosis time dramatically, enabling speedier treatment in Maputo and beyond

Lucy Lamble in Maputo, Tuesday 12 March 2013 13.20 GMT   

A new machine that should speed up diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis is being rolled out across Mozambique.

The GeneXpert machine, which has been trialled in hospitals in Maputo and Tete following pilot schemes by NGOs, should speed up TB diagnosis from two to three months to two hours. More machines will be rolled out around the country over the next few weeks. Every province will have at least one machine, while areas with high rates of TB will have more.

The new test, which has been implemented successfully in South Africa, uses cartridges to automate diagnosis. The patient spits in a cup, and the sample is fed into the machine to identify any TB bacteria. These machines mean people can be tested, diagnosed and started on multi-drug resistant treatment on the same day – a significant improvement on current waiting times. The sooner patients are diagnosed, the better their prognosis. The new test will be subject to delays only if the patient has not supplied enough sputum.

Armanda Metens Novela, a nurse at Mavalane hospital in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, said that 20% of patients are typically lost from the system during the current process and that it can be prohibitively expensive to trace them to ensure the infectious disease is treated. With the new machines, samples do not have to be transported for analysis. Results are sent to a central printer, where the outcome can be recorded and shared with the patient as part of their follow-up counselling.

Expectations are high for the equipment, which was originally developed to test for anthrax. The machines are much smaller than existing diagnostic equipment and can be transported closer to where patients live. Civil society groups say many of those who need treatment in the provinces miss out as they can't make the long journey to the capital.

Dr Gael Claquin, national protection officer for TB in the World Health Organisation's Mozambique office, sounds one note of caution, pointing out that improving diagnosis across the country will increase the workload for health services as more people need care. But he is optimistic about the possible impact.

"As long as you are receiving appropriate drugs into the Mozambican national TB programme, your odds to be cured are pretty high. The issue is to reach this service and be diagnosed."

About 50,000 cases of TB are diagnosed in Mozambique each year, but Claquin believes this figure is only half the actual number. "So with the GeneXpert we are going to be able to tap into the big reservoir of undiagnosed cases, which is probably linked to HIV, because HIV has more difficult forms of tuberculosis than the classic form. So it's going to be a big help and it's going to help also with paediatric diagnosis, which is difficult and insufficient in the country."

The equipment has been funded by Unitaid, a global health organisation, hosted by the WHO, which uses innovative financing mechanisms to raise cash for the diagnosis and treatment of TB, HIV and malaria in low-income countries.

In July, Unitaid, with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, USAid and Pepfar, reduced the price of the relatively expensive cartridges by 40% – from $16 to $10 – for 145 low- and middle-income countries. Countries not directly supported by Unitaid, such as South Africa, are also now benefiting from the price reduction.

The majority of Unitaid's support for TB diagnosis and treatment in Mozambique comes from a solidarity tax on airline tickets introduced in 2006. The levy ranges from $1 for economy tickets to about $40 for business and first-class flights. In January, the French government said this levy had now raised more than €1bn. Six African countries have adopted an air ticket levy - Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius and Niger. The UK's contribution to Unitaid is provided by the Department for International Development, rather than through a flight tax.

Unitaid, which was established by the governments of Brazil, Chile, France, Norway and Britain in 2006, has invested almost $40m in healthcare in Mozambique.

Health minister Alexandre Manguele welcomed the opportunity to improve Mozambique's TB provision. On Monday, he said: "This is an innovative idea to source funding to increase the capacity of the health service. The most important thing is the solidarity Unitaid brings to a country like ours where, happily, the 2013 health budget has increased, but we still benefit from additional international support. If we can count on each air ticket raising funds in this way, we will reinforce the health budget. Mozambique too is considering implementing such a levy."

• Lucy Lamble travelled to Mozambique with Unitaid

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« Reply #5072 on: Mar 13, 2013, 05:57 AM »

Venezuelan foreign minister claims U.S. plotting coup

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 19:50 EDT

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua charged Tuesday that the United States had been plotting to overthrow late president Hugo Chavez.

He also denied that a US decision to expel two Venezuelan diplomats after Caracas ordered two US military officials out was a “tit-for-tat” slap.

The two US officials were expelled last Tuesday, shortly before Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced Chavez had died.

On Saturday, Washington declared the Venezuelan embassy’s second secretary, Orlando Jose Montanez, and consular official Victor Camacaro, both of whom worked in New York, as persona non grata and asked them to leave.

The US order came just 24 hours after the funeral of the staunchly anti-US late Venezuelan leader of 14 years, who died after losing a battle with cancer.

In an interview from Washington with official VTV television, Jaua said the two cases could not be in the “tit-for-tat” category due to what he claimed was the seriousness of the Americans’ actions.

Rather, the US decision to expel the two diplomats was taken by the Venezuelan government as a US “reprisal” for Venezuela’s diplomatic measure removing the two Americans, not a tit-for-tat measure, he said.

“None of the Venezuelans were contacting US army officials to organize a coup d’etat against (President Barack) Obama,” Jaua said, “the way the (American) military attaches were” against Chavez.

Since late president Chavez came to power in 1999, Washington and Caracas have had strained diplomatic ties. They have not had ambassadors in their respective capitals since 2010.


Venezuela looks to Lenin’s embalming experts for Chavez’s body

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 13:48 EDT

It’s a process described as “not a pretty sight” that involves the extraction of all the blood from a corpse. But if Venezuela needs help embalming Hugo Chavez then Russia has expertise stretching back to Soviet revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin.

Authorities in Caracas announced last week that Chavez’s body will be embalmed “like Lenin” whose mummified relics have been on public display in the Moscow Red Square mausoleum since the Bolshevik Revolution leader?s death in 1924.

It is not however clear whether Venezuela — which under Chavez forged a close partnership with Vladimir Putin’s Russia — has sought Russian specialists’ help or will do so in future.

Approached on Monday by AFP, the Moscow laboratory in charge of Lenin’s body declined to give any official comment on the matter.

But a member of its team, Yuri Denisov-Nikolsky said that although no official request has been made so far by Caracas, the Russian specialists were ready to help if need be.

Another Russian specialist who helped preserved Lenin’s body in Soviet times told the ITAR-TASS news agency on Friday that “the Russian technologies for embalmment are absolutely first rate”.

“We never disappoint our customers,” Denisov-Nikolsky said adding however that Venezuelan authorities might opt to use Cuban experts, who embalmed the body of the Argentinian president Juan Peron’s wife Eva in 1952.

Now called the Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, the laboratory owns the methodology which was used to embalm the bodies of a string of pro-Moscow leaders during and after the Cold War.

These included Bulgaria’s Communist leader Georgy Dimitrov (1949), the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin and the Czechoslovak president Klement Gottwald (both dead in 1953), the Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh (1969), the Angolan president Agostino Neto (1979), Guyana?s president Forbes Burnham (1985), and North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung (1994).

After the death in 2011 of the latter’s son, Kim Jong-Il, the Moscow institute specialist Pavel Fomenko, described the embalming procedure in detail.

“It is not a pretty sight,” he said in a rare interview to the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily.

To begin, a team of three to seven specialists “remove all internal organs, fill veins with a solution, and extract blood from tissues,” he said.

“The body is placed in a glass bathtub filled with the embalming solution, covered with a lid, and wrapped in a white cloth” as precise temperature and humidity conditions are maintained in the room, Fomenko explained.

“Gradually, the solution replaces water in the body’s cells. Embalming lasts for some six months.”

To ensure decades-long preservation, the process requires constant upkeep, including invariable temperature and humidity regimes.

Lenin’s body is also protected from bacterial threat by a glass sarcophagus. Twice a week it is inspected and every 18 months it is immersed in an embalming solution for a month.

Lenin’s mausoleum is currently closed for restoration and is covered by a huge white awning spoiling the historic view across Red Square.

The head of Russia’s federal bodyguard service (FSO) Sergei Devyatov which is responsible for protecting the mausoleum told ITAR-TASS that it would remain closed until April although Lenin’s body was inside and itself undergoing “precautionary work”.

According to Moskovsky Komsomolets, of those who were embalmed by the Russian specialists, only the bodies of Ho Chi Minh and Kim Il-Sung are now preserved “in their original state,” like Lenin.

According to a poll in 2012 by the FOM research group, 56 percent of Russians favour the burial of Lenin’s body, 28 percent are against and the rest remain undecided. However in recent years the issue has rarely featured prominently in public debate.

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« Reply #5073 on: Mar 13, 2013, 06:00 AM »

NASA rover finds conditions once suited to life on Mars

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 13:51 EDT

WASHINGTON — An analysis of a Mars rock sample by the Curiosity rover has unveiled minerals, including hydrogen, carbon and oxygen, that are the building blocks of life, NASA said Tuesday.

“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. “From what we know now, the answer is yes.”

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« Reply #5074 on: Mar 13, 2013, 06:20 AM »

In the USA...

Obama says U.S. won’t balance budget in next 10 years

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 13, 2013 7:04 EDT

President Barack Obama warned America will not balance its budget within a decade because Republican plans to do so would entail slashing social programs many citizens rely on for support.

Even as he set out to woo lawmakers Tuesday on Capitol Hill, including Republican foes, Obama called for an approach that restores fiscal stability but also protects healthcare for the poor and the elderly and shields the middle class.

“My goal is not to chase a balanced budget just for the sake of balance. My goal is how do we grow the economy, put people back to work, and if we do that we are going to be bringing in more revenue,” Obama told ABC News.

Obama said a plan unveiled by Republican congressman Paul Ryan on Tuesday which balances the budget in 10 years was too punitive.

“We’re not going balance the budget in 10 years because if you look at what Paul Ryan does to balance the budget, it means that you have to voucherize Medicare, you have to slash deeply into programs like Medicaid.”

“You’ve essentially got to either tax middle class families a lot higher than you currently are, or you can’t lower rates the way he’s promised.”

Obama is calling for a deficit cutting solution that raises new revenue by closing loopholes favored by the rich and corporations.

His Democrats say Ryan’s approach would entail painful cuts to Medicaid government health programs for the poor and Medicare for senior citizens.

Earlier, Obama visited Capitol Hill for lunch with Democratic senators.

But in the next two days, he will enter the lion’s den in separate talks with Republicans from both chambers and will also meet minority lawmakers from his own Democratic Party in the House of Representatives.

Obama has often appeared to shun the back-slapping and arm-twisting that greases power between a president and Congress, but has made a new effort in recent days, and dined with a dozen Republican senators last week.

Senate Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell, who has used his mastery of procedure to gum up Obama’s legislative program, complimented the president for his effort, though offered no real signs of a breakthrough.

“With regard to what a lot of you have described as the president’s charm offensive, we welcome it,” McConnell told reporters.

“The reports I got from the members who went down to dinner with him last week was excellent — that they had a good exchange. I told the president on Friday I hope he’ll invite all of our members down for these dinners.”

Democrats said the president mostly spoke about deficit cutting and budget issues and also expressed optimism that a bipartisan deal to fix America’s broken immigration system could be reached.

“He thinks it’s very important that we solve these problems together and he says that working together with Republicans in terms of getting a grand bargain, or a major dent in this issue, is critically important,” said Democratic Senator Carl Levin.

But “compromise is essential and he hasn’t seen enough of it from (Republicans) yet,” Levin said.

Democratic senator Tom Harkin said several senators brought up Republican plans to cut spending on social programs, adding: “We’re cautioning about that, be careful about this grand bargain.”

While atmospherics were improved, there were signs Tuesday, as Republicans and Democrats unveiled rival budgets, that staunch divisions over basic political philosophy could derail the latest push for compromise.

Ryan, the Republican party’s 2012 vice presidential candidate, said his budget would alleviate the “crushing burden” of debt that is threatening America’s future and would cut $4.6 trillion in spending.

The plan contains no new tax revenue and demands massive spending cuts, as well as major changes to cherished social programs like Medicare and Medicaid, in a bid to balance the budget within a decade.

Ryan on Tuesday described his plan as an “invitation to the president of the United States and to Senate Democrats to come together to fix these problems.”

“Show us how to balance the budget,” he said.

Democrats in Congress are unveiling their own budget plans, which include nearly $1 trillion in new revenues and $1 trillion in cuts.

The White House, under fire from Republicans over delays in its own budget blueprint, predicted Obama’s own plan would emerge after April 8.


Sen. Bernie Sanders introduces amendment to ban corporate spending in elections

By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 19:16 EDT

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) on Tuesday introduced the Democracy is for People Amendment, which seeks to overturn the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling.

“What the Supreme Court did in Citizens United is to tell billionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, ‘You own and control Wall Street. You own and control coal companies. You own and control oil companies,” Sanders said in a statement. “Now, for a very small percentage of your wealth, we’re going to give you the opportunity to own and control the United States government.’ That is the essence of what Citizens United is all about. That is why this disastrous decision must be reversed.”

The 2010 ruling held that limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and union violated the First Amendment. The decision paved the way for so-called Super PACs, which have allowed corporations and wealthy individuals to spend unprecedented amounts to influence elections.

The proposed amendment states that only “natural persons” can make political contributions and expenditures to influence the outcome of public elections. The amendment, if enacted, would completely bar for-profit corporations, nonprofit corporations and unions from spending money in elections.

“The Democracy is for People Amendment will stop corporations and their front groups from using their profits and dark money donations to influence our elections while reaffirming the right of the American people to elections that are fair and representatives that are accountable,” Deutch said.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) has also proposed a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United ruling. Schiff’s amendment would give the federal government the authority to impose “reasonable content-neutral limitations” on independent political contributions and spending.

But Deutch suggested such an amendment did not do enough to reverse the negative consequences of Citizens United.

“Any constitutional amendment that simply gives Congress the option of regulating campaign finance fails to immediately achieve what the American people want, and that is a complete reversal of Citizens United and other Supreme Court decisions that have allowed corporations and the wealthy few to drown out the voices of everyday voters,” he explained in a statement.


States push forward with new gun laws while Congress stalls

By Ed Pilkington, The Guardian
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 20:10 EDT

Three months after the mass shooting of 20 young children in a school in Connecticut, states across America are adopting starkly conflicting approaches to reducing gun violence.

Colorado and New York are in the process of introducing some of the toughest gun controls the country has ever seen at local level. Meanwhile, in South Dakota and Georgia, Republican-controlled assemblies are rushing through radical pro-gun policies that include the first law in the US that will allow teachers to bear arms in the classroom.

In Denver, state senators on Monday began approving a slew of new laws that give Colorado some of the most rigorous regulations on gun ownership in the country. Out of seven new bills on the table, five look likely to clear the Senate and move towards enactment.

They include: bills to provide background checks on all gun purchases and to require the buyer to pay for the tests; a bill to limit the size of ammunition magazines to 15 rounds; another to force gun owners applying for a concealed carry permit license to undergo physical training; and a new law banning domestic abusers from having guns.

Two other provisions – a proposal that would have prohibited the concealed carrying of firearms on college campuses, and a bill to hold gun makers liable for the violent acts committed by those “negligently entrusted” with assault weapons – were dropped in Colorado after it became clear they lacked political backing.

Colorado’s progressive stance on gun controls is a reflection of the state’s sensitivity to mass shootings, having suffered two of the most notorious examples: the Columbine high school massacre in 1999 in which 12 students and a teacher died; and, just 20 miles away, the Aurora shooting last year where 12 people were killed in a cinema.

Tom Mauser, father of the Columbine victim Daniel Mauser, said that the package of reforms passing the Colorado legislature would “send a message to the rest of the nation and Washington DC that we can take steps to reduce violence”. He said Colorado was a “bellwether state, a purple state, and a pro-gun state, so when we show we can take reasonable moves to reduce violence that’s significant, given that we haven’t seen much coming out of the capital.”

But a very different response to the Newtown tragedy is being rolled out by states such as South Dakota. Last week it passed the country’s first law that specifically grants teachers the right to carry guns in the classroom.

The new law, passed with the active backing of the largest gun lobbying group, the National Rifle Association, gives school boards the power to create “school sentinels” – teachers, staff or parent volunteers armed to “protect students”. The South Dakota governor, Dennis Daugaard, signing the legislation, said it would “provide the same safety precautions that a citizen expects when a law enforcement office enters onto a premises”.

The vast gulf in political response to Newtown expressed by Colorado and South Dakota is replicated in several other states. New York has introduced stringent new controls that include a seven-bullet limit on magazines, restrictions on assault weapons and registration of all semi-automatic firearms.

On the other side of the divide, Georgia is in the process of throwing out previous bans on carrying guns in bars, churches and college classrooms. Towns in Georgia, Idaho and Maine are discussing the idea of forcing all their residents to own guns in what they say would be a move to increase security for their communities.

Such divergence in approaches to gun regulation mirrors the huge political fault line within Washington, where Congress members are at loggerheads over how to prevent another Newtown. Measures that would impose renewed restrictions on military style assault-weapons and an upper limit on the size of magazines appear to be in danger of failing in the US Senate, though an extension of federal background checks on all gun sales has a greater chance of success.

Should moves to increase gun controls falter at national level, the highly diverse steps that are being taken at state level are likely to become all the more important. Advocates of greater gun controls believe that though a large cavern exists between states, there is a growing emergence of a middle ground.

“On the extremes you can find a giant gap in America,” said Josh Horwitz, head of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “But you can also find a convergence in opinion, with more and more people agreeing that we must have universal background checks.”

Horwitz pointed to new polling from the coalition group Mayors Against Illegal Guns that suggested that though politicians may be miles apart, voters across America are in accord over the need for background checks on all gun sales.

Support for an extension of such FBI monitoring, that is designed to prevent criminals and mentally unstable individuals buying guns, is running at an impressive 91% in Georgia and 79% in South Dakota – bridging the gap with Colorado and New York where such controls are already being enacted. © Guardian News and Media 2013


John Kerry shows off to diplomats by speaking Norwegian

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 19:49 EDT

US Secretary of State John Kerry showed off more of his hidden language skills on Tuesday, revealing he still knew some Norwegian picked up as a boy when he spent a couple of years in Oslo.

And he won praise from his Norwegian counterpart Espen Barth Eide, who said after talks at the State Department that Kerry “can even speak quite impressively Norwegian phrases.”

America’s new top diplomat had tried out some phrases “and we were quite impressed by his memory,” Eide told journalists.

During his first overseas trip after taking over as secretary of state from Hillary Clinton, Kerry delighted his European hosts by speaking French, German and Italian on stops in Paris, Berlin and Rome.

The son of an American diplomat, Kerry spent much of his boyhood in Europe as he accompanied his father to various postings.

He told Eide that he had “wonderful memories of Norway” and the times he had spent in the “parks and the fjords there.”

Kerry also praised Norway’s role on the global stage.

“On almost every challenge or conflict in the world today, Norway plays one of the giant outsized roles of any country on this planet,” Kerry said. “I think it’s safe to say that Norway is one of the great global citizens.”


Rep. Alan Grayson: Paul Ryan wants sick poor people to die

By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 23:05 EDT

Rep. Alan Grayson, a notably blunt Democrat from Florida, blasted House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Tuesday night.

While discussing the Republican congressman’s latest budget proposal on Current TV, Grayson accused Ryan of wishing a large swath of Americans would die.

“In one case after another, you look at his principles, you look at his vision, and they’re a nightmare for America,” he said. “He wants Americans to work until they die, he wants poor people who get sick not be able to see a doctor, not to get the care they need, not to get better, he wants them to die, and he wants an America that consists of nothing but cheap labor for his corporate patrons.”

Ryan’s budget would repeal most of Obamacare, partially privatize Medicare, and cut discretionary spending on food stamps and other programs, while lowering the corporate tax rate. Grayson claimed that Ryan also wanted to cut Social Security, citing Ryan’s self-professed admiration for the libertarian novelist Ayn Rand.

“Paul Ryan believes that Social Security is unconstitutional,” Grayson explained. “Just like anyone who follows the writings of Ayn Rand would believe. If you read the Fountianhead, if you read similar fiction — although they don’t regard it as fiction — you come to the conclusion that these are people who believe government itself, anything that does anything for people other than defend the borders, is fundamentally immoral and unconstitutional.”

Grayson made similar comments in 2009, mockingly describing the Republican’s health care plan as “die quickly.”

Click to watch:


Sen. Elizabeth Warren slams Republicans: Worry less about helping big banks

By Eric W. Dolan
Tuesday, March 12, 2013 17:37 EDT

Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts slammed Republicans on Tuesday for holding up the confirmation of Richard Cordray to be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

At a Senate Banking Committee hearing, the progressive senator suggested Republicans were using false arguments to fight the nomination of Cordray. Warren, who was a key figure in setting up the relatively new agency, questioned why Republicans believed it was wrong for the CFPB to have a single director, but was acceptable in the case of numerous other agencies like the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

“I see nothing here but a filibuster threat against Director Cordray as an attempt to weaken the consumer agency,” Warren said. “I think the delay in getting him confirmed is bad for consumers, it’s bad for small banks, bad for credit unions, for anyone trying to offer an honest product in an honest market.”

“The American people deserve a Congress that worries less about helping big banks, and more about helping regular people who have been cheated on mortgages, on credit cards, on student loans and on credit reports,” she added.

The Consumer Bureau was created by the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act to regulate financial services such as mortgages and credit cards. The agency issued new rules to restrict high-risk home loans in January and began looking into predatory private student lenders in February.

Senate Republicans previously blocked Cordray’s confirmation to the CFPB in 2011, but Cordray later became the director of the agency through a recess appointment. Republicans have called for the agency to have significantly reduced powers, claiming it currently lacks proper oversight.

Watch video, uploaded to YouTube by Sen. Warren, below:


Costco Proves Republicans Wrong By Paying a Living Wage and Watching Profits Soar

By: Jason Easley
Mar. 12th, 2013

Costco is proving Republicans and the Wal-Mart wrong by paying workers a living wage while also earning record profits.

While Wal-Mart experienced February sales that were considered, “total disaster,” Costco’s earnings for the second quarter of the year climbed 39%. The New York Times reported, “Costco Wholesale’s net income for its second quarter climbed 39 percent as it pulled in more money from membership fees, sales improved and it recorded a large tax benefit.”

Costco CEO Craig Jelinek openly supports raising the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour, “At Costco, we know that paying employees good wages makes good sense for business. We pay a starting hourly wage of $11.50 in all states where we do business, and we are still able to keep our overhead costs low. An important reason for the success of Costco’s business model is the attraction and retention of great employees. Instead of minimizing wages, we know it’s a lot more profitable in the long term to minimize employee turnover and maximize employee productivity, commitment and loyalty. We support efforts to increase the federal minimum wage.”

Costco is proof that the Republican idea that labor must be stomped on in order for our economy to prosper is wrong. It is possible for companies to earn record profits while respecting their workers and paying them a living wage. Wal-Mart embodies the conservative ideology that the country functions best when wealth is concentrated at the top. To match the Walton family’s fortune, an average Wal-Mart employee would have to work for the company for 7 million years. This model is what Republicans are advocating for the entire country, and it is failing to lead to prosperity.

Given Costco’s record profits, Wal-Mart’s blaming of the payroll tax and gas prices for their decline in sales doesn’t wash. Costco’s customers also faced higher gas prices and payroll taxes, but their sales were up six percent during the first quarter of the year.

Despite what both Wal-Mart and Republicans have been saying, companies can prosper and still have a conscience. When companies pay a living wage, workers benefit. When workers make more money, they spend more money. When people spend more money, the economy is stronger. When the economy is stronger, the nation as a whole benefits.

The economic virtuous circle that Republicans and their corporate benefactors thought they killed is alive, well, and living at Costco.
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« Reply #5075 on: Mar 14, 2013, 06:28 AM »

Curiosity rover finds evidence of drinkable water on Mars, says Nasa - video

After analysing rock samples collected by the Mars Curiosity rover, Nasa claims it has found evidence of an environment where water existed that would probably have been good enough to drink. Curiosity will remain on Mars to gather further evidence for another year and a half


Published on Mar 12, 2013

An analysis of a rock sample collected by NASA's Curiosity rover shows ancient Mars could have supported living microbes.

 Scientists identified sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon -- some of the key chemical ingredients for life -- in the powder Curiosity drilled out of a sedimentary rock near an ancient stream bed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet last month. Clues to this habitable environment come from data returned by the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) and Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instruments. The data indicate the Yellowknife Bay area the rover is exploring was the end of an ancient river system or an intermittently wet lake bed that could have provided chemical energy and other favorable conditions for microbes. The rock is made up of a fine-grained mudstone containing clay minerals, sulfate minerals and other chemicals. This ancient wet environment, unlike some others on Mars, was not harshly oxidizing, acidic or extremely salty. The patch of bedrock where Curiosity drilled for its first sample lies in an ancient network of stream channels descending from the rim of Gale Crater. The bedrock also is fine-grained mudstone and shows evidence of multiple periods of wet conditions, including nodules and veins. Curiosity's drill collected the sample at a site just a few hundred yards away from where the rover earlier found an ancient streambed in September 2012. These clay minerals are a product of the reaction of relatively fresh water with igneous minerals, such as olivine, also present in the sediment. The reaction could have taken place within the sedimentary deposit, during transport of the sediment, or in the source region of the sediment. The presence of calcium sulfate along with the clay suggests the soil is neutral or mildly alkaline. Scientists were surprised to find a mixture of oxidized, less-oxidized, and even non-oxidized chemicals, providing an energy gradient of the sort many microbes on Earth exploit to live. This partial oxidation was first hinted at when the drill cuttings were revealed to be gray rather than red. An additional drilled sample will be used to help confirm these results for several of the trace gases analyzed by the SAM instrument. Scientists plan to work with Curiosity in the 'Yellowknife Bay' area for many more weeks before beginning a long drive to Gale Crater's central mound, Mount Sharp. Investigating the stack of layers exposed on Mount Sharp, where clay minerals and sulfate minerals have been identified from orbit, may add information about the duration and diversity of habitable conditions.

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« Reply #5076 on: Mar 14, 2013, 06:40 AM »

Pope Francis elected as 266th Roman Catholic pontiff

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio takes name of Francis after accepting his election as 266th head of Roman Catholic church

John Hooper in Vatican City
The Guardian, Wednesday 13 March 2013 20.43 GMT   

The cardinals of the Roman Catholic church on Wednesday chose as their new pope a man from almost "the end of the world" – the first non-European to be elected for almost 1,300 years and the first-ever member of the Jesuit order.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, becomes Pope Francis – the first pontiff to take that name – an early indication perhaps of a reign he hopes will be marked by inspirational preaching and evangelisation.

But the cardinals' choice risked running into immediate controversy over the new pope's role in Argentina's troubled history. In his book, El Silencio, a prominent Argentinian journalist alleged that he connived in the abduction of two Jesuit priests by the military junta in the so-called "dirty war". He denies the accusation.

The new pope appeared on the balcony over the entrance to St Peter's basilica more than an hour after white smoke poured from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel, signalling that the cardinals had made their choice. Dressed in his new white robes, the bespectacled Argentinian prelate looked pensive and perhaps a little intimidated as he looked out at the sea of jubilant humanity in the square.

The former Cardinal Bergoglio was not among the front-runners. But he obtained more votes than any other candidate except former pope Benedict in the 2005 conclave, and – although his election came as a surprise – he was certainly not a rank outsider.

According to some accounts, he was not chosen eight years ago because he begged his fellow cardinals not to continue voting for him. As he uttered his first words – "buona sera" – and the cheering died away, he told the crowd that his peers had been tasked with finding a bishop of Rome. "And it seems that they went almost to the end of the world to find him. But we're here," he said with a smile.

After a prayer for his predecessor, Benedict XVI, the new pope invited the faithful in the square to "pray for the entire world". He added: "I hope that this path for the church will be one fruitful for evangelisation."

Faced with a sharp choice between those cardinals who wanted a thorough shake-up of the Vatican and those who did not, it appeared the electors in the Sistine Chapel opted for compromise. Bergoglio has a reputation for both political canniness and reforming drive. Among the tests facing the 76-year-old will be the awesome managerial demands of the job.

The fumata bianca – the white smoke signal that marks the successful conclusion of a conclave – arrived after five ballots at the end of the second day of voting. The smoke that poured out of the comignolo, the copper and steel tube on the roof of the Sistine Chapel, was greeted with cries of delight and applause from the crowd below. Soon after, the bells of St Peter's rang out, confirming that a new pope had taken over the spiritual leadership of the world's 1.2 billion baptised Catholics.

Inside the Sistine Chapel after the final vote was cast, the most junior of the cardinals, James Harvey, a former prefect of the papal household, called in the secretary of the college of cardinals, Monsignor Lorenzo Baldisseri, and the master of papal liturgical ceremonies, Monsignor Guido Marini, to witness the new pope's acceptance of one of the most daunting jobs on Earth.

The most senior of the electors, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, approached the pope-to-be and – in accordance with tradition – asked him in Latin: "Do you accept your canonical election as supreme pontiff?"

Having obtained his consent, he will have asked: "By what name do you wish to be called?" The master of ceremonies, acting as a notary, will then have summoned two of his staff to act as witnesses, and prepared the document that certifies the new pope's acceptance.

Newly elected popes are taken to be robed in the Room of Tears, its name an indication of the reluctance with which most approach the task. The last holder of the office, Benedict XVI, introduced a change in the ritual that allows the new pope to pray before he is announced to the world.

Benedict abdicated on 28 February, saying that he was no longer able to cope with the burden of his office. He was the first pontiff to resign voluntarily since Celestine V in 1294.The world's Catholics will be looking to his successor to provide not only spiritual inspiration but also firm leadership. The new pope was chosen against a background of turbulence and strife unprecedented in modern times. He takes on the leadership of a church whose faithful have been shocked by a proliferation of clerical sex abuse scandals throughout the rich world and dismayed by events in and around the Vatican.

The day for the 115 cardinal-electors began at about 6.30am local time in the Casa Santa Marta, their simple but comfortable – and highly protected – residence in the walled city state. After breakfast, they made their way to the Apostolic Palace, the home of the popes, for morning mass in the Pauline Chapel. By about 9.30am, they had settled themselves into the Sistine Chapel for prayers and the resumption of voting.

Benedict's startling decision to resign came after years of mounting tension and discreet but venomous infighting in the Roman Curia, the central administration of the Catholic church. Last year, some of the pope's correspondence, pointing to bitter rivalries and maladministration – or worse – in the Vatican was published in book form.

Benedict's butler, Paolo Gabriele, was tried and imprisoned for leaking the documents, but the journalist to whom the papers were passed has said that his source was part of a much broader network of disaffected Vatican employees and officials. Gabriele's arrest coincided with a renewed controversy over the Vatican bank, whose chairman was summarily dismissed last May.

The scandals – and a string of controversies over the pope's own declarations – distracted attention from what was expected to be the central theme of his papacy. Benedict came to the leadership of the Catholic church as the pope who would begin the process of re-evangelising an increasingly secular western world.

That too will be an important challenge for his successor. In the approach to the conclave several cardinals said they wanted a great pastor for the world's biggest Christian denomination.

No indication of how or why the new pope was chosen was expected to emerge. On Tuesday, before the start of the conclave, the cardinal-electors took an oath of secrecy, as had those Vatican employees and officials involved in the election.

Additional precautions included a sweep of the Sistine Chapel to ensure that no listening devices had been planted inside and the use of electronic jamming techniques.


Pope Francis: 13 key facts about the new pontiff

Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, lives in a small flat, takes the bus and only has one functioning lung

Guardian staff, Wednesday 13 March 2013 20.05 GMT   

What we know about Pope Francis

• He likes to travel by bus.

• He has lived for more than 50 years with one functioning lung. He had the other removed as a young man because of infection.

• He is the son of an Italian railway worker.

• He trained as a chemist.

• He is the first non-European pope in the modern era.

• He claims that adoption by homosexuals is a form of discrimination against children but believes that condoms "can be permissible" to prevent infection.

• In 2001 he washed and kissed the feet of Aids patients in a hospice.

• He speaks fluent Italian, as well as Spanish and German.

• Until now he has been living in a small flat, eschewing a formal bishop's residence.

• He told Argentinians not to travel to Rome to celebrate if he was appointed but to give their money to the poor instead.

• He is believed to have been the runner-up in the last papal conclave in 2005.

• He has co-written a book, in Spanish, called Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra (On Heaven and Earth).

• Though conservative on church doctrine, he has criticised priests who refuse to baptise babies born to single mothers.

• This article was amended on 14 March 2013 to remove a commercial reference.


The choice of Jorge Bergoglio as pope shows a decisive shift from Europe

Pope Francis represents an extraordinary leap away from the conservative and cautious nature of the last two papacies

Andrew Brown   
The Guardian, Wednesday 13 March 2013 20.51 GMT   

The choice of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to take office as Pope Francis is an extraordinary leap away from the conservative and cautious nature of the last two papacies. Although Bergoglio is described as a moderate conservative, the Jesuits have a reputation in the modern church for rigorous and independent thought, and under Pope John Paul II they were in deep disfavour for their sympathy with liberation theology in Latin America.

The election of a Latin American Jesuit would also have been unthinkable 30 years ago. The choice of Bergoglio shows a decisive shift in the church's centre of gravity away from Europe and towards the continent where most Catholics live, and where the challenges to the church are rather different to those in Europe.

The overwhelming problem in Latin America is the shortage of priests and the shrinkage of believers. Although 40% of the world's Catholic population live in the continent, it can no longer be automatically assumed that a Latin American is a Catholic.

Pentecostal Protestantism has made huge inroads, and, nowadays, secularism as well. These are problems which the church under John Paul II and Benedict XVI refused to confront head on. The choice of Bergoglio shows the question can no longer be dodged. If anyone can break the logjam around clerical celibacy, he is the man.

Although the church continues to grow in Africa, and the conclave shows that it can still hold the attention of the world when it puts on a show, the trend in most developed countries is deeply unfavourable. Partly as a result of shrinking family sizes – themselves a symptom of the way in which women ignore the teaching on contraception – Catholic church attendance in the developed world has been falling steadily in the last decade.

One in 10 adult Americans is now a lapsed Catholic. In both North and South America those who leave the Catholic church tend to become either charismatic evangelical Protestants or to abandon religion altogether. In western Europe there is no other form of Christianity picking up the slack.

The church's attitude to women, its teachings on sex, and the corrosive effect of the abuse scandals are blamed by some; others claim that doctrinal drift and dull, spiritless services are responsible for the problem.

Either way, Pope Francis faces a giant uphill struggle both to remoralise his ageing clergy and to inspire the flagging faithful while making his religion appear intellectually coherent, and morally attractive to outsiders.

In this context it is important that high-level Catholics in the Vatican have shown real interest in the evangelical Alpha course pioneered at Holy Trinity Brompton. This marries conservative doctrine with great social flexibility and an emphasis on charismatic practices like talking in tongues and the expectation of miracles. It also emphasises the role of women, though mostly as part of clergy couples. And the ordination of married men to the priesthood is the single most talked about solution to the crisis of the Catholic clergy.

The presence of priests is central to a flourishing Catholic church. Only they can celebrate the Mass which is the central rite that nourishes and holds together congregations. Although the laity can, and do ignore the moral teachings and efforts of leadership of their priests, they have to have their services. And there is a huge crisis in the priesthood in many of its historic heartlands.

Battered first by a widespread rebellion against compulsory celibacy – more than 100,000 priests were dispensed from their vows to marry in the seventies and Eighties before John Paul II made it almost impossible as part of his more general crackdown on liberalism – and then by the reputational damage of the abuse scandals, the clergy had dwindled and aged at astonishing speed.

The average age of American priests has risen from 34 to 64. The whole of England and Wales produces fewer priests a year than almost any single Anglican diocese. Seminaries have closed all over the Western world. A very high proportion of the remaining clergy are thought by qualified observers to be gay, if often celibate. In the developing world, the regulations on celibacy are widely flouted.

Yet the obvious remedy, demanded by many laity as well as some brave priests, to end compulsory celibacy for the parish clergy, would bring fresh problems in its wake and is certain to be resisted until it becomes entirely unavoidable. Nonetheless, the The election of a Jesuit is significant here. Priests in religious orders, unlike the "secular" parish clergy, take deliberate vows of celibacy. It is not offered as part of a package deal with their vocation. So they are better placed to see the effects of the discipline on those who less willingly accept it.

Although it is very difficult to imagine a wholesale release of already ordained clergy from their vows, a move to ordain already married men would make a huge amount of sense and may well be inevitable.

But this cannot happen without a thorough clearout of the conservatives in the Vatican. The Curia, as the Vatican's bureaucracy is known, has been shaken by numerous scandals in the last eight years. The jailing of Pope Benedict's own butler for leaking documents to the outside world was the most notable case. But in those documents, and in the report prepared into them there were allegations of financial corruption and of the existence of gay networks of influence. The reluctance of the Vatican bank to sign up to European money-laundering protocols means that it is currently unable to offer any cash machines inside the city state.

All these are symptoms of a wider dysfunction. The Curia is essentially a court, in which promotion is by favour of powerful barons, who themselves hold office at the will of the Pope – and who are all dismissed on his death or retirement, and have to hope for reappointment.

It operates with a remarkable combination of sloth and caution. In a world of lightning international communications, it is constantly embarrassed. Although it has managed to stamp out any open dissent from the church's more controversial doctrines, both among the bishops and in Catholic universities, it has been incapable of anything positive.

The first Jesuit pope may show that independent thought was all the time flourishing in the wider church and with it an escape from stifling centralisation.


03/13/2013 10:44 PM

White Smoke: Argentinian Bishop Becomes Pope Francis

Cardinals at the conclave in the Vatican on Wednesday voted to elect the first non-European pope in over 1,000 years. Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina will go by the name of Pope Francis.

White smoke emerged from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel at 7:07 p.m. and the bells of St. Peter's Basilica began tolling early Wednesday night, signalling a new pope had been chosen. The 115 cardinals participating in the Vatican conclave decided on a new pope on the second day and after five votes, picking Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as Benedict XVI's successor, the first non-European to be at the helm of the Catholic Church in more than 1,000 years.

The 76-year-old, the first pope from Latin America, has chosen the name Francis and will now be the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics.

The top ranking cardinal deacon, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran of France, had said earlier, "I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope."

"Brothers and sisters, buona sera," the new pontifex said as he appeared on the balcony and the crowds cheered him on. Francis thanked Benedict XVI and prayed for him.

But the new pope also shared a bit of humor on Wednesday, saying that "my brother cardinals have come almost to the ends of the earth to get him." "But here we are," he added with a modest smile. "Pray for me, we'll see each other soon." "And now let us begin this journey, the bishop and people."

Despite bad weather, thousands of people had gathered on St. Peter's Square to witness the white smoke as it emerged from the Sistine Chapel. The onlookers sang, cheered, waved flags and held crucifixes in the air.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel greeted Bergoglio's election. "I am especially pleased together with Christians in Latin America that, now, for the first time, one of their own has been chosen to lead the Catholic Church," she said. "Even far outside the Catholic form of Christianity, people expect a sense of orientation from him -- not just on questions of faith, but also when it comes to peace, justice and the integrity of Creation." Merkel said she wished Francis good health and strength in his services on behalf of faith and the well-being of humanity.

'Champion of the Poor'

Already during the last conclave in 2005, Bergoglio had emerged as the strongest challenger to Joseph Ratzinger. But with his slightly frail health, the Argentinian Jesuit hadn't been considered an obvious front-runner this time around.

The Archbishop of Buenos Aires and Primate of Argentina has generally preferred to appear as inconspicuously as possible in public, and is often referred to as a "champion of the poor." In recent years, Bergoglio often took aim at the governments of Néstor and Cristina Kirchner. He criticized corruption and poverty and also unsuccessfully fought against the codification of same-sex marriage in Argentina. The son of a railway worker who moved from Italy to Argentina, Bergoglio first gained the respect of the cardinals after leading a synode of bishops in Rome in 2001.

He succeeds Benedict XVI, who announced his resignation as pope on Feb. 11, citing age and health-related problems. He then retreated to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo.

For some, including Joseph Ratzinger's 89-year-old brother Georg, the news came as a surprise. "I have no impression of him," Georg Ratzinger told the German news agency DPA. Bergoglio, he said, "wasn't on my list." Ratzinger also said his brother had never discussed him. "His name never came up."

Check back on Thursday morning for full coverage of Pope Francis' election from Germany.


Pope Francis: the reaction back home

Jorge Bergoglio's alleged involvement with the Argentine military junta during the 70s and 80s has led to mixed responses

Jonathan Watts   
The Guardian, Wednesday 13 March 2013 22.37 GMT   

Argentina showed a dramatically mixed reaction to the news that their compatriot Jorge Mario Bergoglio will be the first pope from Latin America, with supporters celebrating a breakthrough for a humble man of the church and others unhappy about persistent allegations that he collaborated with the military junta during the 70s and 80s.

"It's incredible!" said Martha Ruiz, 60, who was weeping tears of emotion after learning that the cardinal will now be Pope Francis.

"He is a man who transmits great serenity."

But Eduardo de la Serna, coordinator of a left-wing group of priests who focus on the plight of the poor, told Radio del Plata that he was neither surprised nor pleased at the decision. "Bergoglio is a man of power and he knows how position himself among powerful people," he said. "I still have many doubts about his role regarding the Jesuits who went missing under the dictatorship."

In Buenos Aires, a large crowd gathered outside the city's cathedral waving Argentine flags and yellow banners representing the Vatican colours. "This is a great moment for the Argentine Catholic church," said one young man in the crowd. "Bergoglio is a very humble man," referring to the new Pope's habit of riding on the subway in Buenos Aires even after being anointed Cardinal.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner sent a congratulatory message and wished the new pope well in pursuing "justice, equality and fraternity". However, she is known to have had a frosty relationship with Bergoglio, clashing over same-sex marriage and other issues.

Her husband – the former president Néstor Kirchner – described the archbishop as the "true opposition," according to an article published in Clarín, the country's leading newspaper. There are reports too that contact soured several years ago after Bergoglio refused to express forgiveness for the Catholic Church's actions during the dictatorship era.

Catholics account for 70 – 89% of the 40.8 million population, though few of them are likely to have expected Bergoglio to be elected as the head of the church. His opportunity was thought to have been lost in 2005, when he was widely reported as the closest contender to Benedict XVI

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« Reply #5077 on: Mar 14, 2013, 06:48 AM »

03/14/2013 12:00 PM

The Surprise Pope: Humble and Ascetic with a Murky Past

By Barbara Hans

Few would have predicted it, but Jorge Mario Bergoglio is now pope, and the first South American and Jesuit to hold the office. Although Francis is known as an ascetic, humble intellectual with the courage to decry corruption and poverty, his past is not immaculate.

Already the first moment was telling. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the 76-year-old archbishop of Buenos Aires, stepped out on to the Benediction Loggia overlooking St. Peter's Square at 8:22 p.m. local time in Rome. And the first thing the world noticed about the new pope was what he was missing: the fir-trimmed papal mantle.

Pope Francis, the newly appointed religious leader of some 1.2 billion faithful, stood there humbly. He thanked the cardinals for choosing him, adding that they had gone "almost to the ends of the earth to get him."

Indeed, hardly anyone would have guessed that this Jesuit would be chosen. Other names had been floated in rain-soaked Rome. Some put their money on Scola, the Italian, while others thought it would be Schönborn, an Austrian. Still others figured it might be Scherer, the Brazilian.

And some concluded that if the cardinals were really courageous, it would be an African. But even if it wasn't, they still showed some audacity in choosing Bergoglio as the first person from Latin America to head of the global Catholic Church. On top of that, he is also the first person from the Jesuit Order.

Life without Luxury

With Bergoglio, they have elected an unpretentious, down-to-earth man who is close to the people. Instead of using the luxury sedan supplied to bishops, he uses public transportation. Rather than living in the bishop's residence, he has a simple apartment. He even does his own grocery shopping and cooking. And, at meetings of the cardinals, he prefers to sit in the second row rather than the first.

In 2005, Bergoglio waved his candidacy to become pope, which benefited Joseph Ratzinger, who went on to become Pope Benedict XVI. In the third round of voting, up to 40 cardinals reportedly chose Bergoglio. With roughly one-third of cardinals supporting him, Bergoglio could have theoretically blocked any other candidate. But by withdrawing from the running he ultimately allowed Ratzinger's election.

Quiet and Media-Shy

Bergoglio is thought to be quiet and media-shy, but his rare public pronouncements carry enormous weight in his home country. He avoids politics and takes on injustices such as corruption, poverty and inequality with clear statements.

But Bergoglio had hardly been identified as a favorite in recent weeks, having already failed to be selected back in 2005. His health has also been an issue. Since childhood he has struggled with lung problems, and after a fierce bout of the flu in 2005, he made a slow recovery. During the last conclave, critics said he lacked adequate passion to take on the position.

Still, Bergoglio must have been seen as a viable candidate back then, because his opponents brought forward all manner of allegations against him. Just three days after the conclave began, a lawyer pressed charges against the Buenos Aires archbishop for allegedly acting as an accomplice in the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests in 1976. Bergoglio was repeatedly accused of failing to take an appropriate position during Argentina's military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983. He denies all such charges to this day.

One of five children, Bergoglio was born on Dec. 17, 1936 in Buenos Aires, the son of Italian immigrants from Turin. He holds citizenship in both Argentina and Italy -- a fact that qualified him as a papal candidate. While his home is Latin America, Bergoglio is also at home in Europe. A man of the world church, his humility and modesty are said to be admired by other cardinals.

Time in Germany

Bergoglio studied chemical engineering before he went to seminary and joined the Jesuit order. He taught philosophy, psychology and literature courses, and became a priest in 1969, going on to lead Argentina's Jesuit province. In 1985, his doctoral studies brought him to the University of Freiburg, the reason he now speaks German. In 1998, Pope John Paul II named him archbishop of Buenos Aires, and in 2005 he became the head of Argentina's bishops' conference. He enjoys cooking, opera, Greek classics, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky and swimming.

He is known as a moderate and open theologian. Conservatives prize his role as a Jesuit, in addition to his church work with the poor and in developing countries. Bergoglio is an intellectual, but also a charismatic ascetic. He is well-read but grounded, well-travelled but deeply rooted to his home.

Far from being a theorist, he ventures out into the favelas to visit the people. He seldom seeks a large audience, but when he does, it's because he has something to say. His main concerns are globalization and the divide between rich and poor. "The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers," he reportedly told a gathering of Latin American bishops in 2007.

Conservative on Sexual Issues

Francis is conservative on questions related to sexual morals. He opposes abortion, gay marriage and contraception. In 2010 he got into a dispute with Argentina's President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The then-archbishop said that the adoption of children by gay couples would be child discrimination. The president said Bergoglio's statements were reminiscent of the "medieval times and the Inquisition."

On Catholic holy days, Bergoglio visited hospitals and prisons and washed the feet of patients and inmates. He stood up for those infected with HIV and for the baptism of children born out-of-wedlock, two stances that carried a lot of weight in a staunchly Catholic country like Argentina. In 2012 he criticized priests who refused to perform such baptisms as exhibiting a "hypocritical neo-clericalism." Bergoglio is considered to be close to the conservative and socially engaged movement Communion and Liberation.

"We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church," Bergoglio said recently, according to the National Catholic Reporter. "It's true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that's sick because it's self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former."

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« Reply #5078 on: Mar 14, 2013, 07:01 AM »

Balkans: ‘Belgrade and Pristina reach agreement’

14 March 2013

Citing EU sources, the daily reports that Serbia and Kosovo have reached agreement on the creation and powers to be given to a group of Serbian-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo.

Serbia’s relations with Kosovo are the main obstacle to the start of formal negotiations on the country’s accession to the EU.

The agreement reached on March 13 under the auspices of the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton — who was in Belgrade before travelling to Pristina on March 14 — is not yet official, notes the newspaper, because both Belgrade and Pristina have asked the Union for more time to prepare public opinion in their respective countries to accept concessions.

We learn: Board agreed Serbian municipalities

Svetomir Marjanović | 13 03. 2013th - 20:38 pm Updated News 12:56 h

Belgrade and Pristina have reached an agreement on the formation and responsibilities of the Association of Serbian municipalities. However, both sides have sought EU leaders more time to prepare for his release on the decision reached, since they apparently will not be satisfied neither Serbs nor Albanians in Kosovo, 'Blic' learns from sources close to the EU.

Our interlocutor said that "as far as the EU, the agreement between Belgrade and Pristina has been made," but some concern Union He brought Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic their statements, which were now seen, came true.

    He began meeting with Catherine Ashton Nikolic and Vucic Dacic

- Mission High predsedstavnice Catherine Ashton EU has succeeded and what we're concerned an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo on the establishment of the Community nadležnsoti Serbian municipalities in Kosovo is reached. Međuitim, and both parties are seeking more time to prepare their public of this agreement, as both sides have had to give up part of the motion that the agreement was reached. What caused concern in Brussels was the statement of the President of Serbia, Tomislav Nikolic after meeting with Catherine Ashton, the "Pristina caved" because it threatened to spoil the deal - says our source, who declined to disclose details of the agreement.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said yesterday that the EU "has not issued any ultimatum to Serbia," and denied that agreement.

- The dialogue is progress, but we are far from being resolved. I can not say I'm too optimistic. There is a perception that Belgrade will do anything for a date. This is wrong, this is not working Belgrade due date, but to find a sustainable solution to the functioning of the institutions that are recognized by both Belgrade and Pristina - Dacic said.

The best proof that the agreement reached will give Ashton, who is now in Pristina, where he will visit with K discuss their guests. If after a visit to Pristina and Belgrade, and it will be a sure sign that an agreement was reached. For each case, the Serbian government's regular meeting, which is held every Thursday at 13 pm moved to the morning hours. Agreement with Pristina is a key condition for Serbia poečtak a date for negotiations with the EU to be decided 16th April.

Ambassadors: Support towards the EU

U.S. Ambassador to Belgrade Michael Kirby has positively assessed the visit to Brussels and the national leadership said that "there are a lot of opportunities" for an agreement.
Germany supports Serbia on its path towards the EU, and the resolution of the Kosovo issue will have a positive impact and contribute to the consolidation in the region, said German Ambassador to Serbia Heinz Wilhelm.
British Ambassador Michael Davenport added that the EU can not be complete if Serbia does not become a member, and the Italian Ambassador Armando Varikija EU enlargement policy is of paramount importance.

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« Reply #5079 on: Mar 14, 2013, 07:02 AM »

Portugal: ‘Government promotes debt sale in Europe’

14 March 2013
Jornal de Negócios, 14 March 2013

The Government will start a "roadshow" next week aiming to promote trade in its national public debt and pave the way for a debt issue of 10-year bonds, to try to copy Ireland's March 13 success, in which it raised €5bn through bond sales.

No date has yet been scheduled for the bond issue and the goal is to convince investors that it is worth buying Portuguese debt.

According to the latest evaluation report prepared by the Troika (EU-ECB-IMF), visits are planned to the US, Europe and Asia, a continent where Portugal faces penetration difficulties.

A team of creditors representing the Troika, who arrived in Portugal to carry out the seventh review of the country’s compliance with its bailout conditions, have concluded their visit. The results of the trip, scheduled to last only two weeks but which in fact lasted 18 days, will be announced by Finance Minister Vitor Gaspar on March 15.
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« Reply #5080 on: Mar 14, 2013, 07:04 AM »

Spain: ‘Catalonian parliament increases majority supporting the right to decide’

14 March 2013
La Vanguardia,

A total of 104 regional MPs out of 135, 77 per cent of the Catalonian Parliament, support a dialogue with the Spanish government to agree on a legal self-determination referendum in 2014.

In January, 85 of them voted for a declaration to consider the region as “a political and judicial sovereign subject”, with the Catalan socialist party (PSC) voting against. Now the PSC, the third party in the regional parliament, voted in favour of the dialogue for a referendum. But the national division of the party, the PSOE, is at odds with the PSC on this matter, and opposes any referendum.

According to Spanish legislation, only central government has the right to call a referendum.
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« Reply #5081 on: Mar 14, 2013, 07:06 AM »

European Parliament: A loaded chamber

13 March 2013
Financial Times London

The EU parliament’s capping of bank bonuses shows it has matured as a political force.

Joshua Chaffin

Deep inside the Parlamentarium, the European parliament’s flashy, new €1m visitors centre, Eva Vanpeteghem and Elise Mais are learning about the mysteries of EU democracy. The Belgian students, both 15, are seated in a replica of the circular chamber where real-life MEPs debate and vote.

Schoolchildren are not the only ones waking up to the importance of an institution long derided as a retirement home for obsolete national politicians. Thanks to the 2009 Lisbon treaty, which dramatically expanded its powers – and the guile of some enterprising members – the European parliament now ranks as one of the most influential bodies in the EU. It has recently imposed its will on everything from fisheries to financial reform and the bloc’s €1trn budget.
Rude lesson in power

Just ask the lords of finance in the City of London, who were given a rude lesson in parliamentary power [earlier this month] when an initiative to cap bankers’ bonuses in the EU took a big step toward becoming a legal reality. MEPs not only hatched the idea but have managed to ram it through in spite of frantic opposition from the UK, which fears the restrictions could undermine the City as a global financial centre.

Like it or not, the bonus cap appears to be the shape of things to come from an increasingly muscular and assertive institution, according to analysts such as Thomas Klau, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Paris.


03/13/2013 06:24 PM

Parliament Flexes Muscles: Tough Talks Ahead for EU Budget

The European Parliament moved Wednesday to reject the seven-year budget for the EU proposed by leaders of the member states. The body, stronger under the Lisbon Treaty, is expected to use its new power to secure concessions.

The president of the European Parliament had pledged a fight to make his institution be taken more seriously, and on Wednesday he delivered. Led by Martin Schulz, members of the European Union's only democratically elected body rejected a compromise European Union budget put forward by EU governments for the seven-year financing period between 2014 and 2020. Members of the European Parliament voted 506-161 against the budget, with 23 abstaining.

In its current form, the budget proposal does not "reflect the priorities and concerns" of parliament, members said in the vote. They argued that the EU requires a modern, future-oriented, flexible and transparent budget.

"We are prepared to negotiate for a better financial framework," European Parliament President Martin Schulz said on Wednesday. "With its (vote), parliament has shown that it must be taken seriously as a negotiating partner. This is surely a good day for European democracy."

The current budget is the first to be considered since the Lisbon Treaty went into effect in December 2009. Under the new European treaty, parliament now has the right to codetermination in setting the EU's budget. Without its approval, a deal agreed to after painstaking negotiations between leaders of the EU member states on Feb. 8 cannot go into effect. Now, the European Council, the powerful body headed by the leaders of the 27 EU member states, and parliament will have to seek a compromise deal.

Under pressure from Germany and Britain, the 27 EU leaders agreed to reduce the EU's budget for the first time at a special summit in February. Although the European Commission had said €1 trillion would be needed, leaders of member states agreed only to overall commitments of €960 billion and actual payments of €908 billion.

Parliament To Seek Concessions

European Parliament President Martin Schulz had called the sum "unacceptable" and delivered on a promise to veto the budget in Strasbourg.

The parliament isn't expected to try renegotiating the level of funds made available. Members of parliament have reportedly already accepted that they will not be able to sway EU leaders on that front. Instead, they will likely seek concessions from the European Council, including funds to cover the Commission's €16-billion budget deficit for the current fiscal year.

Additionally, parliament wants the right to change the financial provisions in three and a half years if they prove to be insufficient. The parliamentarians are also calling for the EU to be equipped with its own ability to create tax revenues, and it wants the Commission to create a proposal for such a program. Finally, parliament wants the European Commission to be able to reallocate unspent money at the end of the year to other projects instead of transferring that money back to the member states as current rules stipulate. European leaders already acknowledged at the February summit that they might be prepared to accept the latter.

The demands show a newfound self-confidence on the part of parliament. With the veto power in his hands, Schulz appears determined to get something in exchange for approving the budget. The European Parliament president, who is German and a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party, views it as his mission to make sure that the institution is finally taken seriously in Europe.

Thus, it is unlikely the discussions with the representatives of six-month rotating presidency of the EU, currently headed by Ireland, which is negotiating on behalf of the other member states, will be easy. Budget talks are to continue to the end of June, but are unlikely to fail. If they do, it would mean future budgets would have to be negotiated on a year-to-year basis -- a nightmare for every country involved.

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« Reply #5082 on: Mar 14, 2013, 07:12 AM »

03/13/2013 01:31 PM

Monsieur Unpopular: Hollande's Spectacular Fall from Grace

By Mathieu von Rohr in Paris

Never before has a French president fallen in public sentiment as quickly as François Hollande. Only 10 months after entering into office, his popularity rating is plummeting. An event aimed at getting closer to the people this week didn't help.

On a recent trip by French President François Hollande to the eastern city of Dijon, everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. The visit earlier this week was intended to improve the president's miserable approval ratings and "renew direct contact with the French." Instead, Hollande found himself so clearly confronted with the wrath of the people as never before. He was visibly overwhelmed.

"Monsieur Hollande, where have your promises gone?" one young man hollered out to the president as he arrived in the working-class quarter of Les Grésilles. Two bodyguards immediately and violently carried the man out of the crowd. The image of the scene was too disastrous for the television news crews to pass up. Hollande's predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, once told a heckler to "get lost, you poor jerk!" He never lived the phrase down.

Before Hollande arrived, the police had already dispersed a group of unionists who were holding up a picture of early French Socialist leader Jean Jaurès, "to remind him that he's a Socialist." French newspaper Le Monde reported another resident was silenced after calling out to Hollande, "We're still waiting for your change, François!"

The 'President of Kisses'

After Hollande became the Socialists' candidate for president -- in the party's first-ever direct primary election -- he relished the public strolls that brought him closer to his supporters. They were scheduled at every campaign event, and Hollande was happy to take the time for them. So many elderly women wanted kisses on the cheek from him that, shortly after his election, he jokingly called himself le président des bisous, or "the president of kisses."

Since taking office 10 months ago, Hollande has experienced the fastest drop in popularity ever seen in French presidential politics. In June of last year, those who said they had confidence in him numbered between 51 and 63 percent, depending on the polling institute. That number is now 30 to 37 percent, nearing the lowest approval rating of any French president on record: Nicolas Sarkozy in May 2011, at 20 percent.

Something has changed among the people, evidenced by not just opinion polls, but also Hollande's two-day, meet-the-people trip to Dijon. A few hours after leaving behind the unhappy hecklers, Hollande asked a woman who was passing by if she wanted to take a photo with him. She answered coldly, "We see enough of you on TV."

As if that weren't enough, Hollande met another woman shortly thereafter who said to him, "Don't marry her, we don't like her in France." She was referring to Valérie Trierweiler, Hollande's long-time partner. The president fell silent in embarrassment until the woman had gone.

Unpopularity Spread across Political Spectrum

Hollande's advisors had imagined the trip differently. Instead of a few charming shots of the president shaking hands and kissing cheeks, they got a PR disaster. It didn't occur to them that this is what you get when you send a deeply unpopular president to meet everyday people without a clear message. Now Hollande's staff can at least see that there's something to the approval ratings after all -- and the French are following along on the evening news.

Hollande's biggest problem is that he's not just unpopular in one political demographic, but in many. That's true as much among parts of the Socialist Party base, which has already labeled light reforms and minimal budget cuts as betrayal, as it is among many centrists, who had expected more pragmatism from him. That's not to mention the right, which is just as incensed by Hollande's economic policies as it is by his decision to legalize same-sex marriage.

Few pundits in France are wholeheartedly defending Hollande. Even in the left-wing media, which had previously been inclined to grant him favorable coverage, commentators are now accusing him of having no vision, doing too little, speaking publicly too seldom and leaving his government muddling through.

Disapproval Has Roots in Economy

Meanwhile, Hollande is struggling to find convicing counterarguments as unemployment has risen to 11 percent, economic data looks more dismal by the week, industrial output is taking a nosedive and a recovery is nowhere to be seen. As long as the economy doesn't improve, no trip to connect with the people will be able to boost Hollande's popularity.

When Nicolas Sarkozy slid down to this low point of approval, he still took carefully choreographed trips into the public, where police had already weeded out any protesters or political opponents from the places he was to visit. But Hollande can't afford to do as Sarkazy, lest he make himself vulnerable to unfavorable comparisons with his former rival.

On the same evening in Dijon as the series of snubs and heckles, Hollande's advisors tried to correct the image. The fact that the police had forcibly removed the agitator displeased the president, he said, and next time they should show more "understanding." The next day he was back on the streets, tirelessly shaking hands in front of city hall -- so far, without incident.

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« Reply #5083 on: Mar 14, 2013, 07:20 AM »

British food banks brace for new influx of poor

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, March 14, 2013 7:27 EDT

As the first visitors arrive at St. Luke’s church in south London, pushing empty shopping trolleys and carrying plastic bags, it is clear they haven’t come to worship.

Twice a week, this place functions as a food bank serving up physical rather than spiritual sustenance to the increasing numbers of Britain’s poor.

The economic crisis has left many people on the edge, but campaigners warn the situation is going to get worse because of government plans to cut welfare payments in the coming months.

“We are giving away over half a tonne of food every week at the moment, just here in Norwood. Over Christmas we gave away three tonnes in three days,” said Elizabeth Maytom, who runs the Norwood and Brixton food bank at St. Luke’s.

With its shelves stacked high with soup, beans, milk and pasta, most of which has been donated, St. Luke’s is one of 300 food banks run in Britain by Christian charity The Trussell Trust.

More than 100 of these have been launched in the last year alone, feeding more than a quarter of a million people.

“People may have just one meal a day and this means they can have more than just bread — they get vegetables and some fruit just to help provide a more balanced diet,” said Maytom.

Although Britain is one of the richest countries in the world, the boom in food banks reflects the growing number of people struggling to balance their income with increases in rent, fuel and food costs.

Many charities fear that government plans to end the practice of increasing welfare payments each year in line with inflation will see these numbers grow.

The highly controversial proposals would see unemployment and child welfare payments go up by one percent a year until 2016, well below current inflation of 2.7 percent.

The move is part of a wider government shake-up of the welfare system intended both to save money and ensure people are better off working than staying at home on benefits.

Ministers say it will bring benefit increases more into line with wages, which have stagnated since the financial crisis.

But the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is among the critics, warning the change will have a “deeply disproportionate impact on families with children”.

The Trussell Trust’s executive chairman, Chris Mould, said millions of Britons are “only a pay cheque away from crisis”, and this was likely to increase with the government’s plans.

“What that means is the buying power of the poorest people in this country has been held below inflation, it’s going to go down each year,” he told AFP.

Benefits have historically risen in line with inflation and, without any change, would have been due to go up by 2.2 percent in April.

Thirteen million people in Britain — or 21 percent — live below the poverty line, a threshold measured at 60 percent of average income, according to official statistics.

At St. Luke’s, women bring branded plastic bags or their own shopping trolleys which they pack with tins of food, toilet paper, washing powder and boxes of tea, so that outside on the street, strangers would have no idea that they hadn’t bought the items themselves

On the day that AFP visited, a woman who didn’t want to be named waited with a cup of hot tea as enough food for three days was heaped into her bags.

After paying her weekly bills, she routinely has nothing left with which to feed her family until her next benefit payment arrives.

“If this place wasn’t here, I wouldn’t have been able to have anything for the children and my kids would have had to go without for three days,” she said.

“The money that you are getting isn’t actually covering the food that you need because the prices are going up,” she said.

“It’s hard to tell three young children,’mummy’s got no food’.”

The welfare cap will contribute nearly £2 billion (2.2 billion euros, $2.9 billion) to Britain’s recession-hit public coffers.

But ministers insist that those most in need — the disabled and those reliant on state pensions — will continue to see their payments rise in line with inflation.

According to the minister for pensions Steve Webb, it’s about making it “pay to work”.

“In difficult economic times we?ve protected the incomes of pensioners and disabled people who have little means to increase their income,” he said.

“We have also committed to helping people who rely on working age benefits and tax credits and will increase that support by one percent.”
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« Reply #5084 on: Mar 14, 2013, 07:22 AM »

Israel PM Netanyahu strikes coalition deal with rivals

Political partners to sign agreement after weeks of talks as government set to be first without ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties

Associated Press in Jerusalem, Thursday 14 March 2013 10.19 GMT   

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The three main coalition parties have agreed a deal after earlier talks stalled. Photograph: Sebastian Scheiner/AP

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has reached an agreement with rival parties to form a government that appears set to address domestic issues while putting peacemaking with the Palestinians on the back burner.

The coalition will be the first government in years without ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.

The three main coalition partners are to sign an agreement on Thursday after weeks of tough negotiations.

"It's apparently the end. Or really the beginning," the Yesh Atid leader, Yair Lapid, who is likely to serve as finance minister, wrote on his Facebook page.

Talks had stalled over several thorny issues, including the division of key cabinet portfolios and plans to reform the country's military draft. The government is expected to end a controversial system of giving automatic draft exemptions to ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students.

If all goes according to plan, the government will be sworn in by Monday, two days before Barack Obama visits Israel.

Although Netanyahu's Likud-Yisrael Beitenu bloc emerged as the biggest faction with 31 seats, he has struggled to form a coalition with the necessary 61-seat majority of 120 seats in parliament.

Netanyahu courted ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, which have been his traditional partners, but coalition members were unwilling to sit in government with them.

In recent decades, ultra-Orthodox parties have used their kingmaker status to secure budgets for their minority religious schools and seminaries. Tens of thousands of young ultra-Orthodox males are granted exemptions from military service in order to devote their lives, theoretically at least, to religious study. The benefits have sparked animosity among the wider Israeli public.

Instead of the ultra-Orthodox, Netanyahu's bloc has teamed up with two parties led by charismatic newcomers who made big gains in the election.

Yesh Atid, founded by former TV personality Yair Lapid, won 19 seats in the election on a message promising relief to Israel's struggling middle class and an end to draft exemptions.

As head of the second-largest party in parliament, Lapid will serve as finance minister, a position with great influence over the government's budget. It will also control the education ministry.

The Jewish Home, a party linked to the West Bank settler movement led by technology millionaire Naftali Bennett, will control the housing and trade ministries. Netanyahu's bloc will retain control of the powerful defence and interior ministries.

The new coalition is well positioned to take on domestic issues. Bennett and Lapid formed a close alliance during the cross-party negotiations, with near-identical positions on the need to press the ultra-Orthodox to serve in the military and enter the workforce.

For years, religious seminary students have been given exemptions from the draft and have been allowed to collect welfare stipends into adulthood while continuing their studies. The system has led to widespread poverty in the ultra-Orthodox sector and bred public resentment.
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