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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1082765 times)
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« Reply #5235 on: Mar 21, 2013, 07:48 AM »

London museum showcases singer Bowie’s career

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, March 20, 2013 13:55 EDT

Outrageous costumes and hand-scrawled lyrics are among hundreds of items going on show in a major London retrospective tracing David Bowie’s relentless self-reinventions over five decades.

Charting the British singer’s rise to fame and his reincarnations as Ziggy Stardust and other outlandish alter egos, the “David Bowie Is” exhibition has become the fastest-selling show in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s history ahead of its launch on Saturday.

The prestigious art and design museum was given unprecedented access to the 66-year-old singer’s personal archives for the show, which includes everything from baby photographs to painstaking sketches of designs for his own costumes.

“David Bowie is a true icon, more relevant to popular culture now than ever,” said the V&A’s director Martin Roth.

“His radical innovations across music, theatre, fashion and style still resound today in design and visual culture and he continues to inspire artists and designers throughout the world.”

Born David Robert Jones to modest parents, Bowie grew up in the bomb-scarred south London neighbourhood of Brixton after World War II.

The exhibition explores his early life and first forays into music with bands The Kon-rads and The King Bees — with his designs for the fledgling groups’ costumes and stage sets revealing that even at this early stage, he had an instinctive grasp of the power of image.

Hits including “Space Oddity”, “Starman” and “Heroes” follow visitors around the vast exhibition, while the costumes on display include the multi-coloured jumpsuit in which he burst onto the stage in 1972 as the gender-bending, other-worldly Ziggy Stardust.

The retrospective casts light on Bowie’s almost obsessive attention to his image, taking charge not just of his ever-changing sound, but almost every element of performance and presentation from lighting to set design.

Some costumes appear alongside Bowie’s original sketches — including a massive tubular outfit worn on a US television show in 1979. “Access into and out of to be easy,” says a note on the felt-tip drawing.

“You can’t get more multi-disciplinary than David Bowie,” said Geoffrey Marsh, one of the show’s curators.

“He’s a musician, he’s a songwriter, but he’s also fascinated with graphic design, costume design.”

Huge projections of Bowie’s live performances cover the walls in one room, while another explores the influential years he spent in Berlin in the late 1970s, recovering from drug addiction and creating his stylish Thin White Duke persona.

In a show focused on Bowie’s enduring cultural influence, there are few reminders that he is still recording.

But a bizarre puppet from the video for “Where We Are Now” — the single with which he broke a decade-long musical silence on his 66th birthday in January — makes an appearance, and visitors can listen to strains of his new album “The Next Day”.

The album rocketed to the top of the British charts this week — a sign that retirement may be some way off.

* david bowie.jpg (68.42 KB, 615x345 - viewed 73 times.)
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« Reply #5236 on: Mar 21, 2013, 07:49 AM »

Universe ages 80M years; Big Bang gets clearer

AP foreign, Thursday March 21 2013

Associated Press= PARIS (AP) — New results from a look into the split second after the Big Bang indicate the universe is 80 million years older than previously thought but the core concepts of the cosmos — how it began, what it's made of and where it's going — seem to be on the right track.

The findings released Thursday bolster a key theory called inflation, which says the universe burst from subatomic size to its now-observable expanse in a fraction of a second.

The Big Bang is the most comprehensive theory of the universe's beginning. It says the visible portion of the universe was smaller than an atom when, in a split second, it exploded, cooled and expanded rapidly, much faster than the speed of light.

The European Space Agency's Planck space probe looked back at the afterglow of the Big Bang, and those results have now added about 80 million years to the universe's age, putting it 13.81 billion years old.

The probe also found that the cosmos is expanding a bit slower than originally thought, has a little less of that mysterious dark energy than astronomers figured and a tad more normal matter. But scientists say those are small changes in calculations about the cosmos, nothing dramatic when dealing with numbers so massive.

"We've uncovered a fundamental truth of the universe," said George Esfthathiou, director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmology at the University of Cambridge who announced the Planck satellite mapping. "There's less stuff that we don't understand by a tiny amount."

The $900 million Planck space telescope was launched in 2009. It has spent 15 1/2 months mapping the sky, examining light fossils and sound echoes from the Big Bang by looking at the background radiation in the cosmos. The device is expected to keep transmitting data until late 2013, when it runs out of cooling fluid.

Officials at NASA, which also was part of the experiment, said this provided a deeper understanding of the intricate history of the universe and its complex composition.

Outside scientists said the result confirms on a universal scale what the announcement earlier this month by a different European group confirmed on a subatomic scale — that they had found the Higgs boson particle which explains mass in the universe.

"What a wonderful triumph of the mathematical approach to describing nature," said Brian Greene, a Columbia University physicist who was not part of the new research. "It's an amazing story of discovery."
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« Reply #5237 on: Mar 21, 2013, 08:17 AM »

In the USA...

CIA’s big data mission: ‘Collect everything and hang onto it forever’

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, March 21, 2013 9:26 EDT

Speaking to a crowd of technology professionals Wednesday at GigaOM’s Structure:Data conference in New York City, the Central Intelligence Agency’s chief technology officer explained that the CIA is so infatuated with big data that it tries “to collect everything and hang onto it forever.”

During his nearly half-hour talk, CIA CTO Ira Hunt said that the agency is interested in “really big data,” or storage capacity on a scale unlike anything currently existing on the planet, so they can “connect the dots” with what’s happening in real time.

“The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time,” Hunt told GigaOM’s crowd, in a quote first pulled by The Huffington Post’s Matt Sledge. “Since you can’t connect dots you don’t have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever.”

A failure in data analysis led to the so-called “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab being allowed onto an airplane, he explained, and the agency is eager to ensure another attack does not get through when there’s enough data available to know what’s going on and stop it.

“It is really very nearly within our grasp to be able to compute on all human generated information,” he added, explaining that nearly all mobile phones now contain a camera, a microphone, a light sensor, an accelerometer and GPS, among other sensors.

The prevalence of sensors has led to a whole new world of biometric information, Hunt said, listing off a variety of ways the sensors in a mobile device can be used to identify the person carrying it. He pinpointed the most effective method as gait analysis, or watching the way a person walks and creating a complex data profile based upon their movements — something that can be accomplished with a camera and software alone.

This sort of technology is “moving faster, I would argue, than you can keep up,” he said. “You should be asking the question of, what are your rights and who owns your data.”


Stall on immigration reform causes trouble on U.S. farms as growers seek workers and crops rot

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, March 21, 2013 5:49 EDT

Here’s a mess with no easy fix: American crops going unpicked — it’s backbreaking work Americans won’t touch — and poor migrants in need of work shying from it for fear of being abused.

Creating a program for temporary farm workers from Mexico and other countries to work the land, sow seeds or reap harvests is one of the touchiest aspects of the immigration reform that Congress is working on.

Some 61 percent of growers in California report shortages of laborers, especially in labor intensive crops like grapes and vegetables, said Rayne Pegg of the California Farm Bureau Federation.

So some crops are left to rot.

In the peak of the harvest season, California needs some 400,000 farmhands, and usually 70 percent of them are undocumented immigrants, Pegg said.

At the national level, half of the million workers that put fruit and vegetables on the tables of American families lack work papers, says FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

“We do rely on a foreign workforce. We really have an issue in terms of attracting domestic workers. They typically don’t want to work in agriculture. It’s out in the elements, it can be a hard job,” said Pegg.

She added: “Our concern is, what will happen over the long term if we continue to see this labor supply shortage and there’s nothing done on immigration reform. Where will our labor supply come from?”

Wendy Moore, who grows wine grapes in Lodi, northeast of San Francisco, said a shortage of workers meant a delayed harvest and thus grapes with a higher sugar content, which is not good for wineries.

So what’s the problem? Workers are scarce because deportations are on the rise and laws in some states are tough on undocumented foreigners. Thus, immigrants are wary of moving around like they used to, in search of seasonal farm work.

Secondly, fewer Mexicans are coming across because of tighter security at the border, said Pegg.

What is more, as the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States improve their standard of living, crouching down for hours on end to pick lettuce or strawberries under a punishing sun is no longer a must for them in order to get by.

For all these reasons, American growers want a visa program that will allow foreigners to come in and work the land, then go back home, Pegg said.

A similar plan does exist. But it is so expensive and so thick with red tape that growers prefer to cut corners and opt to contract undocumented workers.

Transferring this visa into an efficient program seems to be the ideal solution for growers and for ensuring food supplies in the US.

But the devil is in the details.

Mexican laborers at the California Mushroom Farm, for instance, fear that with a plan like that, new arrivals will cause them to lose benefits they have earned over the years, such as health insurance and paid vacations.

In Oxnard, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of Los Angeles, Mexican worker Reinaldo Arevalo, 61 and with bushy mustach, said a program for temporary workers would not help people like him at all.

Arevalo and fellow Mexican co-worker Alfredo Zamora had just arrived at the offices of the United Farm Workers union, where they are members, from the mushroom farm.

Along the highway are vast fields of strawberries and raspberries. All one can see of the pickers are their bent-over backs.

“The people who are here do not demand things, because they want to work,” Arevalo said, referring to undocumented immigrants. “And the people that come from outside in the future are not going to demand things either, because they want to work. So who is going to suffer? We are, the stable workers.”

“The one coming in is not going to fight for what we have,” added Zamora, who is 53.

They say the solution is to legalize the undocumented workers who are already in the country working, often earning less than than the minimum wage of eight dollars an hour and exposed to abuse and sexual harassment because of their legal status.

In 1942 the federal government implemented a program that until 1964 filled American farm fields with tens of thousands of Mexicans, who were totally at the mercy of foremen.

“With growers in charge, guestworkers’ model contracts often proved meaningless because employers had the power to repatriate workers who tried to enforce them. Workers who complained, went on strike, or sought a lawyer could be deported and replaced,” wrote Cindy Hahamovitch, author of a book entitled “No Man’s Land”, in a piece in the Miami Herald.


March 20, 2013

Current Laws May Offer Little Shield Against Drones, Senators Are Told


WASHINGTON — Targeted killings have made drones controversial, but a new class of tiny aircraft in the United States — cheap, able and ubiquitous — could engage in targeted snooping that existing laws are inadequate to address, witnesses and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee said in a hearing on Wednesday.

The drones, or unmanned aerial systems, have already helped the police find missing people and county planners measure the growth of a landfill. But they could also be used by drug dealers, pedophiles and nosy neighbors, the witnesses and a senator said.

Surveillance by government is limited by the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and snooping by corporations and individuals is covered by privacy law and common law. But these were not written with drones in mind. The issue has taken on new urgency as the Federal Aviation Administration prepares to set forth rules for drones’ commercial use and as prices for the aircraft drop. Many states are considering legislation, but Congress is only beginning to consider the problem.

“There’s very little in American privacy law that would limit the use of drones for surveillance,” said one witness, Ryan Calo, an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law. “Drones drive down the cost of surveillance considerably. We worry that the incidence of surveillance will go up.”

But Benjamin Miller, of the sheriff’s office in Mesa County, Colo., who flies a two-pound, battery-powered six-rotor helicopter drone that he placed on the table in front of him, said his department had used a drone equipped with a thermal camera to investigate arson at a historic church, which helped firefighters identify hot spots and determine which direction the fire had traveled through the building. The sheriff’s office also used a drone for Mesa County’s annual survey of the landfill where it buries its garbage (to determine how quickly it is filling up), for about $200. The usual cost was nearly $10,000, Mr. Miller said.

The sheriff’s office operates its drones under a permit from the F.A.A., which requires that the aircraft stay under 400 feet and fly only in daylight. The rules are similar to the ones for radio-controlled model airplanes, which the drones resemble, although they have refinements like sophisticated autopilots, GPS navigation systems and stabilized cameras. Use of such drones by police departments and government agencies is still extremely limited. And commercial use — that is, a company flying a drone and being paid for it — is not yet legal.

The F.A.A. is to have rules in place for commercial use, including how to prevent collisions, by September 2015. But already there are thousands of drones in the nation’s skies.

Drones could be outfitted to read license plates and recognize faces, said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “Just because the government may comply with the Constitution does not mean they should be able to constantly surveil, like Big Brother,” he said.

He warned that criminals could use drones because they were so inexpensive and capable, and that news reporters could use them in an intrusive way.

The hearing came the day after an unlikely pair on the House side, Representative Joe L. Barton, Republican of Texas, and Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, introduced a bill to limit data-gathering by drones.

They said one problem was that the F.A.A., which would eventually be the licensing agency for those drones for which pilots needed licenses, had no jurisdiction in privacy, nor much expertise in the area. Mr. Barton’s and Mr. Markey’s bill would require licensed drone pilots to say publicly what their drones were doing and how the information would be used, among other protections. It is not yet clear which drones the F.A.A. will require licenses for, although people flying many of the smallest ones are unlikely to need them.

Some experts think the threat from the government is bigger than any from private use. “If it’s my neighbor that wants to snoop on me, he can’t put me in jail,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “If Google or Amazon wants to use drone surveillance to figure out my market preferences, the worst thing that happens is I get marketed stuff I don’t need.”

Showing the public uneasiness over the new technology, one young protester at the hearing was led away by Capitol police after she stood up and declared, “Drones are responsible for the death of people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen!” Another protester held a sign that said, “1984.”

As Ms. Goitein observed, “The country can be divided into people who think this is horrifying and people who think this is neat.”


Bust to boomlet: Housing market’s turnaround stuns industry

The housing turnaround seems to have caught almost everyone in the business by surprise.

The New York Times

Work is done on a new home in Folsom, Calif., recently. Nationally, the construction industry added 48,000 jobs in February amid a growing housing demand that has caused housing shortages.


After six years of waiting on the sidelines, newly eager homebuyers across the country are discovering there are not enough houses for sale to accommodate the recent surge in demand.

“In my 27 years I’ve never seen inventories this low,” said Kurt Colgan, a broker with Lyon Real Estate in the Sacramento metropolitan area, where the share of homes on the market has plummeted by one of the largest amounts in the nation. “I’ve also never seen a market turn so quickly.”

The housing turnaround seems to have caught almost everyone in the business by surprise. As desirable as the long-awaited improvement may be, the unusually low level of homes for sale is creating widespread problems for buyers and sellers alike, leading to bidding wars and bubblelike price jumps in places that not long ago were suffering from major declines. In the Sacramento area, where the housing bust took a heavy toll, the median list price has surged 35 percent in the past year, according to Zillow.

Nationwide, prices rose 7.3 percent during 2012, according to the Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller index, ranging from a slight decline in New York to a spike of 23 percent in Phoenix. Tracking more closely with the national trend were cities such as Dallas, up 6.5 percent; Tampa, Fla., which rose 7.2 percent; and Denver, up 8.5 percent. In many areas, builders are scrambling to ramp up production but face delays because of the difficulty of finding construction workers and in obtaining permits. At the same time, homeowners often remain reluctant to sell, either because they want to wait and see how much further prices will climb or because they are afraid of being displaced in the sudden buying frenzy.

“You see a home go for sale and within a couple days, there are three, four, six offers,” said Carrie Miskawi, a mother of three who has been looking for a new home for the past six months with Colgan’s help. She and her husband decided not to put their current home on the market because they fear it will be snatched up before they have a chance to bid on a new one.

“It’s kind of a Catch-22,” Colgan said. As long as large numbers of people are hesitant to put their homes on the market because so few other homes are available, he said, there won’t be many homes available.

Nationwide, the raw number of homes for sale is at its lowest since 1999, according to the National Association of Realtors. In the Sacramento metro area, home listings were down 60 percent in January from a year earlier, compared with 23 percent for the country overall, according to Zillow.

Inventories have been whittled down largely because new construction ground to a standstill for several years. Investors large and small also scooped up most of the backlog of foreclosures and short sales; about 40 percent of all homes bought in Sacramento County in the past year were purchased by owners who live at a different address, according to county records and title data provided by Fidelity National Title Insurance.

Steady job growth has put more people back to work, and families that put off moving because they couldn’t afford it are finally ready to do so. “Distressed” sales are down and conventional sales are up.

Extraordinarily low mortgage rates don’t hurt, either. “The recovery is real,” said John Burns, chief executive of John Burns Real Estate Consulting.

For builders who survived the collapse, the tight market is a signal to get back to work.

Monthly permits for single-family homes in the Sacramento area more than doubled from January 2012 to January 2013, though are still only one-quarter of the level they reached during the bubble. Nationally, the construction industry added 48,000 jobs in February, the biggest increase since 2007.

The housing upturn looks set to continue, adding a crucial element of support to the improving economy. The government reported Tuesday that housing permits, while far below their peak, surged in February to their highest level since June 2008, an increase of nearly 34 percent from a year earlier. But it will be many months before new homes going through the approval process will be ready for residents.

The New Home Co. has ramped up building as fast as it can, said Kevin Carson, president of the company’s Northern California division. Founded in 2009 by the veterans of a major homebuilder that filed for bankruptcy during the crisis, the company plans to build 120 homes in Northern California this year, in contrast to 50 homes last year.

Construction is expected to take longer than usual, though, and expenses are rising, Carson said. That is primarily because after six years of almost no local building, skilled labor is scarce.

Many workers in the immigrant-heavy industry have left the area, returning to Mexico and other points south. Others pursued work in Texas’ energy boom. Those who stayed in the area often switched to medical-data entry, UPS delivery services or anything else that they could find. Or they filed for disability and dropped out the labor force altogether.

For builders hesitant to dive into the market too deeply, delays may be welcome, since they help buy time for prices to rise further.

“If we could build 500 houses right now, could we sell them?” asked Harry Elliott III, president of Elliott Homes, which built 250 homes last year and plans 350 this year, compared with a high of 1,400 in 2006. “Possibly, but I don’t want to sell all my lots that I’ve held onto forever and have to give them away at these prices.”


March 20, 2013

Justices Back Loggers in Water Runoff Case


WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that logging companies and forestry officials in Oregon were not required to obtain permits from the Environmental Protection Agency for storm-water runoff from logging roads.

The decision was a blow to conservationists who had used the permit process to block the silty runoff from logging, which they said choked forest streams. The ruling also suggested that at least some members of the court may be open to a fundamental re-examination of how federal courts approach determinations by administrative agencies.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 7-to-1 decision, said the agency’s conclusion that no permits were required was entitled to deference. “It is well established,” he wrote, “that an agency’s interpretation need not be the only possible reading of a regulation — or even the best one — to prevail.”

That is indeed settled law, but Justice Antonin Scalia, in a long and slashing dissent, said it was time to reconsider the idea that an agency may not only promulgate regulations but also say what they mean.

In a concurrence, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., joined by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., said the case decided Wednesday was not a proper one in which to reconsider a basic principle “going to the heart of administrative law.” But he added that Justice Scalia’s dissent amounted to an invitation for a new case squarely presenting the issue.

Justice Kennedy acknowledged that discharges from logging roads are significant in rainy Oregon, contain “large amounts of sediment” and “can harm fish and other aquatic organisms.” But he said the agency was entitled to find that permits were not required under its regulations, though they were susceptible to more than one meaning.

Oregon also regulates storm-water runoff, Justice Kennedy added, and the federal agency “could reasonably have concluded that further federal regulation in this area would be duplicative or counterproductive.”

Justice Scalia wrote that the better reading of the regulations was to require permits. An exception for natural runoff does not apply, he said, when the water flows through ditches, culverts and the like. And, he added, another part of the regulations specifically lists logging as one of the covered industries.

Just days before the case was argued in December, the agency issued a clearer interpretation saying no permits were required. State and federal officials urged the court to rule that the case was, as a consequence, moot. But all eight justices agreed that the logging companies remained subject to potential penalties under the old interpretation, keeping the case alive.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer did not participate in the two consolidated cases decided Wednesday, Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, No. 11-338, and Georgia-Pacific West v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, No. 11-347. Judge Charles R. Breyer, the justice’s brother, had sat on the appeals court panel whose decision was under review.


RNC Chair Announces GOP Plot to Infiltrate Minority Communities With Propaganda

By: Sarah Jones
Mar. 20th, 2013

Republicans are going to rebrand via the “Growth and Opportunity Project” by winning the “emotional and cultural” votes. WOO HOO!

During an interview on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown, Luke Russert asked RNC Chair Reince Priebus how the Republican Party is going to change the impression that they exist only to give tax breaks to the rich when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)’s budget is the same-old-same-old bend over for the wealthy. Priebus dug down into his we’re-so-clueless bag and retrieved some misogyny and racism as a huge surprise reply. See, the math is all good in Reince’s world. It’s those darn 47%ers who are “emotional and cultural”. (Waving hello to women and brown skinned minorities!)

But he has a plan: The big plan is to pay workers to infiltrate these minority communities in order to compete with Obama’s unpaid workers, “You have to have the resources to be able to have an effective ground operation in minority communities…. I’m looking to get in the communities by the hundreds with paid people to make the case for the Republican Party.”


Reality Kicks Republican Ass: Spending As a Percentage of GDP Has Fallen Under Obama

By: Jason Easley
Mar. 20th, 2013

The Republican talking point that Obama is on a spending spree has become so widespread that even some on the left believe it, but the truth is that federal spending as a percentage of GDP has fallen.

Jared Bernstein put together a chart using data from the CBO, which reveals that one of the Republican Party’s favorite talking points is completely wrong. Not only did President Obama’s spending spree never happen, but federal spending as a percentage of GDP has been declining since he took office.

Here is the chart:

Bernstein explained, “Well, here are the numbers, straight out of CBO. Spending went up a lot in the recession, as it always does, as automatic stabilizers like unemployment insurance and food stamps ratchet up, and the Recovery Act is in there too. But since then outlays have been flat, up less than 1% over the President’s tenure, 2009-2012 (as I said on the show) and actually falling as a share of GDP (the figure includes CBOs forecast for 2013).”

Reality hasn’t stopped “think tanks” like the American Enterprise Institute from claiming that the Obama spending binge is real. How do groups like AEI justify their claims of an Obama spending binge? They cook the books by assigning George W. Bush’s 2009 budget and spending to President Obama. (The fiscal year runs September to September, so assigning Bush’s 2009 spending decision to Obama is disingenuous at best.)

Republicans want to portray this president as a big spending liberal, when the truth is that he is spending less than the so called Republican fiscal conservative who occupied the White House before him.

If Obama had the ability to give the economy the sort of stimulus that it truly needs, this recession wouldn’t be as painful and the recovery would be more robust.

The president has done a good job with putting our federal financial books in order. Anyone who suggests otherwise either doesn’t know the facts or can’t read a chart.


Paul Ryan Lies In Order to Give The Wealthiest Americans a 15% Tax Cut

By: Rmuse
Mar. 20th, 2013

No-one likes to have pain exacted on them for an offense or a fault regardless they are guilty or not, but punishment can serve as a form of discipline when it inflicts pain to correct bad behavior and train the offender to abide by the rules. Indiscriminate punishment serves no useful purpose because it does not correct bad behavior that never existed, or train the innocent to abandon fallacious crimes, but nonetheless, there are people who seem to enjoy inflicting pain for the purpose of inflicting pain. Republicans have imposed a world of pain on the American people over the past four years, and they have never designated whether it is to train the people or correct some egregious sin leaving even semi-intelligent people to surmise they just enjoy meting out pain on the people they are elected to serve.

Republicans are wont to claim their Draconian austerity is, first and foremost, necessary to address their own deficit the Iraq war, tax cuts for the rich, and prescription plan burdened the country’s economy with, and yet they have waged a ferocious battle to cut the wealthy’s taxes more under the guise of job creation and various other baseless excuses. Republicans in the House will vote again to punish the American people with the third iteration of Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity budget that cuts spending by $4.6 trillion Ryan argues is necessary because Democrats have not given Republicans any spending cuts in exchange for $1.6 trillion in new revenue Republicans accepted with grace and dignity. Ryan is lying, as usual, to justify inflicting more pain on the American people for the sheer joy of giving the richest 1% nearly 15% in tax cuts, killing more jobs, and sending more Americans into poverty.

It is unclear where, or how, Ryan came up with the $1.6 trillion in new taxes, but the real figure is $600 billion President Obama had to fight and claw out of Republicans in the fiscal cliff deal in December by raising the tax rate 4.9% on the richest Americans. However, as long as he is going to lie, Ryan may as well tack on an extra trillion dollars of new revenue to belabor Republicans’ tired assertion that the President overtaxes the American people. The tax increase is the first new revenue the country has had since 2001 when Bush cut the wealthy’s taxes and squandered a budget surplus prior to taking the country into two unfunded and unnecessary wars. Ryan’s budget will remedy new fiscal cliff revenue by giving it back to the rich, and adding an extra 10% cut while the middle class and working poor contribute more with tax reform that eliminates tax deductions and credits for families.

The real mystery though, is how Ryan can say with a straight face that the poor Republicans have not received the spending cuts they claim will create jobs and save the economy. Ryan was a major player in reaping $2.1 trillion in cuts during the debt ceiling hostage situation in 2011, and he championed the sequestration cuts that add another $1.2 trillion as it kills close to one million jobs in the first year of a ten year austerity assault. The sequestration cuts have already garnered layoffs, pink slips, furlough days, and cutbacks nationwide as it begins eliminating middle class jobs so Republicans can boast they are creating jobs by killing jobs and taking money out of the economy their dysfunctional supporters will rally behind. However, some conservatives are not thrilled about the level of austerity and cuts in Ryan’s budget.

The American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, and other conservative belief tanks are condemning Ryan’s austerity bomb because it does not rape and pillage Medicare and Social Security; privatization and voucher scams do not inflict enough pain on seniors to count for a good pillaging. One Republican member of the House, Paul Broun, is upset Ryan is not eliminating the Departments of Energy and Education, or slashing Medicare and Social Security and said, “It fails to seriously address runaway government spending, the most pressing problem facing our nation. I cannot vote for something that would trick the American people into thinking that Congress is fixing Washington’s spending problem, when in actuality we’d just be allowing it to continue without end.” It is too bad fiscal geniuses like Broun and conservative belief tanks are unaware spending is at its lowest point since demobilization after World War II, but that knowledge would ruin the canard that spending growth is at historically high levels. Broun’s outrage represents a growing number of conservatives who believe that until the government is completely defunded and Americans really suffer, Washington will have a spending problem.

Americans can hardly take any more Republican punitive discipline just to reward the rich. The level of spending cuts they have levied on the people has already taken food and healthcare away from the least fortunate Americans to give the richest 1% more entitlements – for being rich, and the people suffered job-killing cuts that took money out of the economy and slowed GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2012. Maybe Americans could accept, and appreciate, Republicans’ severe austerity, job losses, and more poverty if Republicans would tell them what they did to deserve such severe punishment, because Americans are good people who take responsibility when they break the rules and fail to correct their bad behavior. However, without any good reasons for their harsh austerity, it appears they are just punishing the people to benefit the rich, break the government, and inflict pain for sheer enjoyment, and there is nothing the President or Democrats can do but stand firm for a trillion dollars more in deficit reduction starting with those pesky Medicare and Social Security entitlements.


John Boehner Admits President Obama Didn’t Want the Sequester Cuts

By: Sarah Jones
Mar. 21st, 2013

In an exclusive interview with Jake Tapper on CNN, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) replied to a question about the sequester by admitting that Obama ‘didn’t want the cuts.’

Watch the exchange here:

BOEHNER: And so, he (Obama) forced this process to occur. And insisted –

TAPPER: But he didn’t want the sequester cuts –

BOEHNER: Well, no, he didn’t want the cuts, but uh, uh, oh, we have the sequester as a result of his demands. And I, uh, told my colleagues in the House that the sequester will stay in effect until there’s an agreement that will include cuts and reforms that will put us on a path to balance the budget over the next ten years.

Speaker Boehner has been trying to blame President Obama for the sequester for months, but sequestration is a Republican idea (long-touted by their budget “hawks”), which was presented as a last ditch option to the Republican’s taking the country hostage over the debt ceiling.

Yet Boehner admits that the President didn’t want the sequester cuts.

Boehner admits Obama didn’t want the cuts, but then says we have the sequester because of Obama’s “demands”. No, that’s not quite how it happened either. What happened was Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling to pay for their spending. As a result, our credit was tanking and economists worried about the impact on our fragile economy. Sane people tried to reason with Republicans but there was no talking to them. Finally, someone suggested that the threat of sequester be added into the Budget Act of 2011 in order to force both sides to compromise when the time came.

The time came, and Republicans refused to compromise — or rather, Speaker Boehner couldn’t get his Tea Party caucus to compromise with the Speaker’s own proposals. House Republicans refused to raise a dime of revenue. They wanted cuts, cuts, cuts and tax cuts for the rich.

Republicans claim Obama already got his revenue, but if letting the Bush tax cuts expire long past their due date is going to count, than so too should the 2 trillion in cuts the President already gave Republicans.

But no, Republicans won’t budge. So Speaker Boehner has to blame the President for the sequester, even when confronted with the fact that the President did not want these cuts. Even now, Boehner is sticking to his hardline that the sequester will be in effect until and unless his House gets the “agreement” (aka, fold) that they are demanding of cuts and reforms with no revenue.

The President didn’t want the sequester cuts; you heard it from John Boehner himself. Yet in John Boehner’s mind, the President forced the House Republican to fail to do his job in presenting a budget that would actually get passed by the Senate (yes, that’s the way our system is set up as checks and balances against hostage taking and refusals to compromise). Boehner also must believe that Obama magically got the Tea Party to refuse to do anything Speaker Boehner wanted them to do, like agree to revenue by the side alley approach. Boehner logic: The President never wanted this, but it’s all his fault for not doing the House’s constitutionally mandated job for them.

Republicans continue to rule by a tyrannical minority and blame everyone else for the outcome of their folly. Oh, but they’re rebranding their obstruction and catering to the rich/corporations, so it doesn’t matter what they do. It matters what they tell you about what they’re doing, and they’re telling you it’s all Obama’s fault. They are powerless and impotent and can’t get the job done on their own.

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« Reply #5238 on: Mar 22, 2013, 07:34 AM »

March 21, 2013

North Korea Threatens U.S. Military Bases in Pacific


SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Thursday threatened to attack American military bases in Japan and on the Pacific island of Guam in retaliation for recent training missions by American B-52 bombers over South Korea.

While the North has threatened American forces in Guam before, the latest warning comes amid heightened tension on the peninsula after a North Korean nuclear test last month and the imposition of United Nations sanctions that have infuriated Pyongyang.

Those tensions might rise again because of another United Nations action on Thursday: Its Human Rights Council created a commission to look into allegations of human rights violations in North Korea, including the incarceration of political prisoners at labor camps and torture.

Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, has been calling for such an investigation for months, fearful that the world’s preoccupation with the North’s growing nuclear arsenal overshadowed discussions of a human rights situation she called “the worst in the whole world” in an interview with the news agency Reuters.

The commission will be somewhat limited in what it can do. It is unlikely to get access to North Korea, a police state, and it remains unclear what court would take up its findings. But Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, told Radio Australia that “collecting the evidence is the first step toward putting pressure on the international community, and whoever North Korea’s defenders are, to ultimately acquiesce in prosecution” of what he called “the terrible atrocities that are routinely committed in North Korea.”

An estimated 1 in 120 North Koreans are imprisoned in gulags, where defectors from the country say starvation, forced labor and torture are endemic.

The threats against American troops on Thursday were the latest in a stream of vitriol from the North in the wake of the United Nations sanctions. Japanese and American Pacific bases are within range of North Korea’s medium-range missiles, according to South Korean officials.

Nuclear-capable B-52 bombers that upset the North have flown missions over South Korea in the past as part of joint military exercises. But this month, the Pentagon took the rare action of announcing those missions to reaffirm the United States’ “nuclear umbrella” for South Korea and Japan at a time of rising anxiety over the North’s nuclear threats.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the Supreme Command of the North Korean People’s Army told the state-run Korean Central News Agency that “the U.S. should not forget that the Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, where B-52s take off, and naval bases in Japan proper and Okinawa, where nuclear-powered submarines are launched, are within the striking range of the D.P.R.K.’s precision strike means.”

He added, without elaborating, “Now that the U.S. started open nuclear blackmail and threat, the D.P.R.K., too, will move to take corresponding military actions,” referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

State radio also blared air-raid warnings in North Korea. Until the 1990s, air-raid drills were a popular tool for the North Korean government to highlight the perceived threat of an American invasion and to instill in its people a sense of crisis and solidarity.

One of the two joint American and South Korean military exercises that have angered North Korea ended Thursday. But Seoul and Washington remained alert over the possibility that the North might follow up on some of its vaguely worded threats to attack the allies. The North Koreans have also been angry about what they expected to be an unfavorable outcome in the Human Rights Council.

On March 11, the North’s official party paper, The Rodong Sinmun, said the council’s expected move to adopt the resolution, coupled with the United Nations sanctions, would “raise tensions and ignite a war to invade the North.” It vowed to deliver “a merciless mace-blow” on “traitors” in South Korea.

On Thursday, North Korea’s ambassador, So Se Pyong, rejected the resolution as “an instrument that serves the political purposes of the hostile forces in their attempt to discredit the image” of his country. He denied human rights abuses existed there.

Cho Tae-young, a South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman, said, “We hope that the establishment of the commission of inquiry through this resolution will contribute to the improvement of human rights in North Korea.”

The commission will include the Indonesian lawyer Marzuki Darusman, who wrote a report for the council citing the kidnapping of foreigners and the system of labor camps. He said the situation had worsened since the North’s new young leader, Kim Jong-un, took over after his father’s death in December 2011.

The European Union and Japan sponsored the resolution calling for the commission, and the United States backed it. With no Chinese or Russian vote on the 47-member council, North Korea had no country willing to oppose the inquiry.

Mr. Roth of Human Rights Watch acknowledged the difficulties facing investigators. “There is no international tribunal that has jurisdiction over North Korea,” he told Radio Australia. “Theoretically, the International Criminal Court could be brought in with a resolution from the U.N. Security Council, yet China would probably veto that at this stage.”

Choe Sang-hun reported from Seoul, and Steven Erlanger from Paris.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: March 21, 2013

An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of a United States Air Force base in Guam. It is Andersen Air Force Base, not Anderson.


March 22, 2013

South Korea Says It Misidentified Source of Cyberattack


SEOUL, South Korea — The South Korean government said on Friday that it was mistaken when it identified an Internet address in China as the source of synchronized cyberattacks that paralyzed the computer networks of banks and broadcasters.

The Korea Communications Commission, a government agency, said the Internet address actually belonged to a computer at NongHyup, one of the three banks affected by the hacking on Wednesday. It was mistaken earlier, it said, because the address, used only for the bank’s internal network, was identical to a public Internet Protocol address in China.

Such an I.P. address is useful for tracing the location of an Internet-connected computer, though experts say that that computer could be controlled by hackers operating elsewhere.

South Korean investigators have found “indications that the malicious codes were installed from abroad,” the commission said in a news release on Friday. “There are so many similarities in the ways the attacks were executed and the viruses used that we believe that there was probably a single group behind them.”

The coordinated attacks on Wednesday affected 32,000 computers and servers at the country’s two largest broadcasters, one cable channel and three banks. For hours the banks’ A.T.M.'s were shut down and account-holders could not use their debit cards.

The three banks were operating normally on Friday, but many of the broadcasters’ computers remained down.

Many in South Korea suspect that North Korea was behind the shutdowns, partly because it was suspected in earlier attacks against South Korean Web sites.

In addition, the North has recently issued a torrent of vaguely worded threats that it would retaliate against the South for staging joint military exercises with the United States and supporting the United Nations sanctions imposed against the North a nuclear test on Feb. 12.

But South Korea has not officially assigned blame. Government investigators said it would take weeks to complete their analysis. Even after a lengthy investigation, they said, it is still sometimes impossible to identity the hackers.


North Korea video depicts invasion of South and U.S. hostages

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, March 22, 2013 7:13 EDT

North Korea posted a new propaganda video on Friday, showing paratroopers descending on Seoul in an invasion scenario that it said would see thousands of US citizens living in South Korea taken hostage.

The four-minute video, titled “A Short, Three-Day War,” begins with images of a massive artillery and rocket barrage, followed by a large-scale land and air assault with North Korean troops streaming over the border.

The video was posted on the North’s official website, Uriminzokkiri, which distributes news and propaganda from the state media.

It comes at a time of escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula, with multiple threats from North Korea of an armed response to joint South Korea-US military drills and to UN sanctions imposed after its nuclear test last month.

On Thursday, the North Korean military threatened strikes on US military bases in Japan and Guam.

The video’s male narrator describes different stages of the invasion, including the destruction of forces under the US Pacific Command with “powerful weapons of mass destruction.”

“The crack stormtroops will occupy Seoul and other cities and take 150,000 US citizens as hostages,” the narrator said.

The video showed footage of paratroopers jumping from the sky superimposed over an aerial shot of the South Korean capital, with North Korean military helicopters hovering overhead.

The airborne troops would engage South Korean soldiers in the streets of Seoul, as 4,000 tanks and 3,000 armored vehicles sweep across the border and race to the capital, the narrator said.

South Korea has a large US expatriate population, as well as 28,000 US troops based in the country.

The video was the latest in a line of similarly-themed productions posted to the Uriminzokkiri channel.

An offering early last month showed New York in flames after an apparent missile attack, and another two weeks later depicted US soldiers and President Barack Obama burning in the flames of a nuclear blast.

And earlier this week, another video showed the dome of the US Capitol building in Washington exploding in a fireball.
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« Reply #5239 on: Mar 22, 2013, 07:36 AM »

March 22, 2013

Australia’s Ex-Premier Renounces Future Party Leadership


SYDNEY, Australia — A day after a failed attempt by his supporters to reinstall him, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia announced Friday that he would never again seek to lead the governing Labor Party.

“Mr. Rudd wishes to make 100 percent clear to all members of the parliamentary Labor Party, including his own supporters, that there are no circumstances under which he will return to the Labor Party leadership in the future,” a statement posted Friday on Mr. Rudd’s Web site said.

On Thursday, Mr. Rudd unexpectedly declined to challenge Prime Minister Julia Gillard in a leadership vote that one of his chief supporters had demanded. The statement said he wanted to end once and for all the speculation over potential challenges to Ms. Gillard that has roiled Australia’s governing party for months.

Repercussions from Thursday’s attempted ouster continued Friday as several Rudd supporters resigned from their posts over the affair, including Chris Bowen, a senior minister, and the Labor Party whip Joel Fitzgibbon.

Senator Kim Carr, a backer of Mr. Rudd’s who resigned Friday as human services minister, said at a news conference that he had advised Mr. Rudd not to challenge Ms. Gillard once it became clear that he lacked the numbers to defeat her. Mr. Carr is one of the few Rudd supporters to have given any public account of the discussions that preceded the vote.

‘'While the results would have been very, very close, the worst result for Labor was for there to be a narrow loss for Kevin, because it would have been the most difficult of circumstances for all of us to be able to argue,'’ he said.

Simon Crean, the former party leader who demanded the leadership vote, has denied that Mr. Rudd knew in advance about his plans. Still, he seemed shaken by the move and expressed anger that Mr. Rudd had not taken advantage of the opportunity.

‘'He should have run; there’s no question about that because I think that itself could have been an important cleansing for the party,'’ Mr. Crean told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday.

Ms. Gillard, Australia’s first female prime minister, ousted Mr. Rudd in a 2010 party coup and has led a tenuous minority government since her parliamentary majority was reduced in an election later that year. Although she beat back a leadership challenge from Mr. Rudd early in 2012, she has fallen sharply in the polls since announcing in January that federal elections would be held in September.

After his attempt to oust Ms. Gillard in 2012 failed, Mr. Rudd said that he would not seek the leadership again unless the position was vacant and he had overwhelming support from the party. But it was widely known before Thursday that his supporters had been canvassing for votes to have him reinstalled.

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« Reply #5240 on: Mar 22, 2013, 07:38 AM »

March 22, 2013

Toll Rises as Sectarian Violence in Myanmar Spreads to Nearby Villages


BANGKOK — Rioting and arson attacks spread on Friday to villages outside a city in central Myanmar where clashes between Buddhists and Muslims have left at least 20 people dead, according to residents, a member of Parliament and local journalists. A picture of chaos and anarchy emerged from the city of Meiktila, where mobs of Buddhists, some of them led by monks, have ransacked and burned Muslim neighborhoods since Wednesday.

U Aung Soe, a reporter for a local weekly journal, said he saw 15 charred bodies on the streets Friday morning. He estimated the death toll at more than 40.

Mobs of rioters attacked Muslims’ houses in villages outside Meiktila on Friday, Mr. Aung Soe said.

Security forces, which during decades of military rule brutally suppressed any signs of unrest, seemed unable or unwilling to stop the rioting, according to witnesses.

Nyan Lin, a former political prisoner, told the Mizzima news agency that the police “just stood watching the rioters, and did not take any action.”

Video footage from Meitkila posted on Friday showed harrowing scenes of what appeared to be Muslim women and men cowering as they fled the violence.

The Associated Press quoted a member of Parliament from Meiktila, U Win Htein, as saying that at least five mosques had been burned since the violence started Wednesday. Mr. Win Htein said the death toll was at least 20. Local residents were preventing authorities from putting out fires in the city, he told The A.P.

Journalists said they feared for their safety after Buddhist monks, one of them wielding a sword, forced them to hand over the memory cards in their cameras.

On Thursday, Buddhists, including monks from nearby monasteries, led a rampage through the Muslim quarter of the city of Meiktila seeking to avenge the death of a monk the day before, according to a news photographer who witnessed the fighting.

“The area was like a killing field,” said the photographer, Wunna Naing. “Even the police told me that they could not handle what they witnessed. Children were among the victims.”

Muslims and Buddhists have clashed several times in western Myanmar over the past year, but the fighting in Meiktila has raised fears that religious strife is reaching into the heartland of the country.

News agency photographs showed gruesome scenes of devastation, with homes burned to the ground, thick black clouds rising above a mosque that residents say was attacked, and a charred corpse.

Muslims residents have fled the city and gathered in a sports stadium, according to Reuters.

The clashes on Wednesday appeared to have started with a disagreement in a gold shop owned by a Muslim family.

Religious violence has shaken the government of President Thein Sein over the past year as the gradual rollback of five decades of authoritarian rule has coincided with a rise in nationalism and racial and religious hatred.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is about 90 percent Buddhist, with the rest of the population Christian, Muslim and animist.

More than 150 people, most of them Muslims, have been killed since June in Buddhist-Muslim clashes in Rakhine State, a sliver of land in western Myanmar where religious hatred runs high. Some vocal Buddhist monks have been stridently anti-Muslim after those communal clashes, which pitted Buddhists against a group of Muslims who call themselves Rohingya and are not recognized as citizens of the country.

On Thursday, a leading monk in the country, Ashin Nyanissara, called for restraint in Meiktila, saying in an interview with the Democratic Voice of Burma that “all religions should live peacefully with loving kindness and tolerance.”

Until this week, there were hopes that religious conflicts would be contained to the Rakhine region. But the clashes in Meiktila are renewing concerns that religious strife will surface in other cities in Myanmar, which are typically multiethnic, a legacy of British colonial rule.

There have been signs of rising tensions. Last month in a township on the outskirts of Yangon, the commercial capital, Buddhists attacked what they said was a mosque being built without permission.

Meiktila, a garrison city with a strong military presence, is halfway between the new capital, Naypyidaw, and the old royal city of Mandalay. Reports from residents indicated that the military units based in the city had not yet joined the police in helping to quell the violence.

The police in Meiktila, reached by telephone, declined to comment on the violence.

Two mosques and a Muslim school were burned, residents said, and many houses in the Muslim quarter were destroyed.

The authorities declared a curfew on Thursday for the second consecutive night.

Thomas Fuller reported from Bangkok, and Wai Moe from Yangon, Myanmar.

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« Reply #5241 on: Mar 22, 2013, 07:40 AM »

March 22, 2013

Chinese Leader in Russia to Promote Economic and Military Ties


MOSCOW – President Xi Jinping of China arrived here on Friday for his first trip abroad as his country’s top leader, using the visit to underline growing economic and military cooperation with Russia while the United States has been shoring up ties with its own allies across the Asia-Pacific region.

Despite a history of unease between the two neighbors, who share a 2,600 mile border, China and Russia have found increasing camaraderie in recent years in forming a bulwark against what each country, for its own reasons, often views as the liberal political juggernaut of the West.

And Mr. Xi’s visit to the Kremlin, just eight days after his installation as president, sends a clear message that China can turn to its own sources of support, to counterbalance the United States when necessary. But the trip was also intended to be more than symbolic, with plans for the signing of a deal with Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil company, worth up to $30 billion.

The Russian government rolled out a red carpet, and state television broadcast the arrival live on Friday as Mr. Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, were greeted at the airport by an honor guard. They waved and posed briefly for cameras, before being whisked downtown for the start of a busy two-day itinerary that includes meetings with President Vladimir V. Putin and other top officials as well as a visit to a Moscow university.

When Mr. Xi’s limousine arrived at the Grand Kremlin Palace it was met by a formation of uniformed guards on horseback.

Inside, he stood briefly with Mr. Putin for photographs, then shook hands with a long receiving line of Russian officials gathered in the ornate St. George’s Hall. Russian television later showed the two presidents sitting side by side in gold-trimmed arm chairs in front of their respective flags.

Mr. Putin thanked Mr. Xi for choosing Russia for his first trip abroad. Mr. Xi in turn talked about Russia and China as good friends who treat each other “with open souls.”

“China will make developing relations with Russia a priority in its foreign policy orientation,” Mr. Xi said in a written statement issued upon his arrival in Moscow, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Mr. Putin, in an interview with the Itar-Tass News Agency timed to Mr. Xi’s arrival, stressed Russia and China’s shared role on the United Nations Security Council, where the countries have occasionally joined together to veto proposals championed by the West.

“That is why the strategic partnership between us is of great importance on both a bilateral and global scale,” Mr. Putin said, adding that Russia-China relations were at an all-time high. “Today the Russian-Chinese relations are on the rise, they are the best in their centuries-long history,” he said. “They are characterized by a high degree of mutual trust, respect for each other’s interests, support in vital issues. They are a true partnership.”

Since returning to the presidency in May, Mr. Putin has distanced Russia from the West while putting a new focus on Asia, particularly relations with China — a point he stressed when Russia played host to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Vladivostok in September.

Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi are both headed to South Africa for the fifth summit meeting of the so called BRICS bloc of emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Mr. Xi was appointed Chinese president last week, concluding a leadership transition begun when he became Communist Party chief in November. And while Mr. Xi has sought to mark himself as different from his predecessor, Hu Jintao, on domestic issues, he has continued Mr. Hu’s example of wooing Russia for diplomatic support and energy supplies. Mr. Hu, too, made Russia his first foreign destination after he was appointed president, in 2003.

“The fact that I will visit Russia, our friendly neighbor, shortly after assuming presidency is a testimony to the great importance China places on its relations with Russia,” Mr. Xi told a small group of invited journalists at a briefing on Tuesday in Beijing. “The two sides have had closer strategic coordination on the world stage.”

The talks between Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin will likely touch on Syria, Iran and other international issues on which their two governments often join hands against Western demands. And the two will issue a joint declaration “enunciating positions and proposals on a series of major international and regional issues,” Xinhua reported.

Recently, both governments voiced some misgivings about the United States’ plans to deploy 14 new missile interceptors in Alaska, where 26 of the existing 30 are already in place, in response to threats from North Korea.

The deal said to be in the works with Rosneft would potentially entail a loan of $30 billion from China, which would be repaid in oil. A similar loan for $6 billion was made in 2005 and helped finance Rosneft’s purchase of a subsidiary of Yukos, once Russia’s largest oil company. Western critics said that deal made China complicit in the Russian government’s takeover of Yukos.

In 2009, there was another loan, of $25 billion, split between Rosneft and Transneft, the state-controlled pipeline company, to be repaid with about 2.5 billion barrels of oil through 2030.

Despite the increasing ties on energy and other issues, and the recent displays of goodwill, experts say the relationship is still burdened by Russian wariness and Chinese frustrations.

Some Russians worry that China’s growing economic and military strength could eventually displace their country’s influence, especially in the sparsely settled regions of the Russian Far East.

China has long sought to draw Russia’s Gazprom into agreeing to supply natural gas along a proposed pipeline from east Siberia. “Pipeline oil and gas cooperation is a good thing that benefits both sides,” the Chinese vice foreign minister, Cheng Guoping, told reporters in Beijing this week. “It suits both sides’ energy security needs and national interests.”

But disagreements over pricing have frustrated the proposed gas deal, and Mr. Putin’s spokesman said on Thursday that an agreement on that was unlikely during Mr. Xi’s visit.

For the Chinese leader, the visit appears to be as much about consolidating his stature at home and abroad as about bilateral ties. The domestic fame of Mr. Xi’s wife, a professional singer, once overshadowed his own, and popular Chinese newspapers and Web sites have dwelled as much on her planned activities as his.

Like Mr. Hu, his predecessor, Mr. Xi has called himself an admirer of Russian culture. During his news briefing this week, he reeled off the names of Russian authors whom he said he read as a youth, including Pushkin, Tolstoy and Chekhov, and he praised Mr. Putin, whom he has met before. “We found a lot in common during our talks,” Mr. Xi said.

David M. Herszenhorn reported from Moscow and Chris Buckley from Hong Kong. Andrew Roth contributed reporting from Moscow.
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« Reply #5242 on: Mar 22, 2013, 07:42 AM »

March 21, 2013

Progress Is Reported in Arms Talks With Russia


MOSCOW — Russian and American officials on Thursday reported progress in discussions about nuclear weapons reductions, in a sign that renewed cooperation may be under way just days after the United States canceled part of a Europe-based missile defense program that had infuriated the Kremlin.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the cancellation of the final stage of the Europe-based missile shield program last week as part of a plan to contain a rising threat from North Korea by shifting missile interceptors to the West Coast and Alaska.

The Pentagon said that Russia had not been a factor in the decision, but senior administration officials acknowledged that the move could ease tensions with Russian officials and potentially represent a breakthrough after months of deteriorating relations.

After meetings in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday, Rose Gottemoeller, the acting under secretary of state for arms control, and Sergei Ryabkov, a Russian deputy foreign minister, each issued positive comments, indicating that the two sides had renewed active talks on nonproliferation efforts, which had been largely stalled for months.

“Busy, but productive few days in Geneva,” Ms. Gottemoeller posted on Twitter.

Mr. Ryabkov was more expansive at a news conference Thursday upon his return to Moscow, where he announced that the dialogue had improved. “Rose Gottemoeller and I share the opinion that there is progress in the negotiations,” he said, according to Russian news agencies.

“We have planned new contacts at various levels for the coming period,” he said. “Intensity of these contacts is not declining but in fact increasing, which shows that the work is moving ahead vigorously.” But he also cautioned that no new agreements had been reached or were even yet on the table.

Russia had expressed repeated objections to the final phase of the Europe-based missile program, which the United States said was entirely directed at Iran. That phase of the project, which military experts said was based on technology that did not yet exist and might never work, was aimed at the potential interception of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Iran is generally believed to be years away from developing such missiles, although Russia has many of them, which provided a basis for the Kremlin’s complaints that the system could be used against Russia. American officials called the objections exaggerated and unrealistic.

Still, the dispute had largely brought a halt to cooperative efforts on arms reductions, including future cuts in the two countries’ nuclear arsenals, which Mr. Obama has identified as a priority for his second term.

Senior Russian officials had pressed him personally about the issue on several occasions. At one such meeting, in South Korea in March 2012, Mr. Obama was overhead on an open microphone privately telling Dmitri A. Medvedev, then the Russian president, that he would have “more flexibility” after the American presidential election.

Some United States officials seemed to have been counting on expected budget cuts at the Pentagon to force changes in the missile program and perhaps alleviate the Russian objections.

The Kremlin said last fall that it did not want to renew a longstanding joint effort to dismantle nuclear, chemical and other nonconventional weapons known as the Nunn-Lugar agreement.

The talks in Geneva were apparently aimed at potentially continuing some of those efforts. But Mr. Obama’s main priority seems to be arsenal reductions beyond what was called for in the New Start Treaty, which was agreed to in 2010. Russia had indicated that it had no interest in discussing further cuts until the missile defense issue was resolved.

The Kremlin had initially remained silent after Mr. Hagel’s announcement, as Russian officials had not been briefed ahead of time. Mr. Ryabkov, at his news conference, said that the cancellation of the final stage of the program seemed to show the United States as “making some practical efforts” to continue dialogue.
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« Reply #5243 on: Mar 22, 2013, 07:44 AM »

March 21, 2013

Bill on Crime Against Women Passes in India


NEW DELHI — India’s Parliament passed a comprehensive bill on Thursday to impose stronger penalties on men who attack women and to criminalize offenses like stalking and voyeurism.

The bill passed quickly in the upper house of Parliament on Thursday; the debate in the lower house on Tuesday was longer, lasting seven hours. President Pranab Mukherjee is expected to sign it into law shortly.

“I think this is an important moment,” said Vrinda Grover, a women’s rights advocate and lawyer. “We have taken quite a few steps forward.”

The passage of the bill comes less than three months after a New Delhi physiotherapy student was gang-raped on a moving bus and later died from her injuries. The assault drew widespread outrage and prompted protests across India, some of them violent, over the issue of women’s safety.

Many Indians, including activists and politicians, demanded during the protests and their aftermath that the government do more to protect women and impose harsher sentences on men who molest them. Reported rapes in India have risen in recent years, and northern India has witnessed a series of highly publicized gang rapes.

The new law is intended to deter and punish sexual offenders, including men who stalk and harass women, and to make the police and prosecutors more responsive. The Indian judicial system has been widely criticized as lax and insensitive in dealing with crimes against women.

The law expands the definition of rape, substantially increases the punishment for sex crimes like gang rape, makes repeat offenders subject to the death penalty, and defines as crimes actions like disrobing and voyeurism. It also imposes stricter punishment for police officers who fail to properly register complaints of sexual assault.

India’s democracy has often been faulted for being so unruly and its Parliament so dysfunctional that fundamental development issues like education and malnutrition are never adequately addressed. The fact that the rape bill passed both houses of Parliament speedily this week, despite the disruption of several unexpected adjournments caused by a defection of one of the governing Congress Party’s crucial allies, is a sign that the voices of thousands of protesters had been heard, activists said.

“It is good that India still responds as a democracy when there is pressure from citizens,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the director of Human Rights Watch in South Asia. “The terrible attack in Delhi, and the protests that followed, ensured that both the opposition and the government cooperated in ensuring that this law was enacted.”

Cabinet ministers were quick to praise the bill’s passage. “The bill is significant, as it aims to protect mothers and sisters of this country,” the minister of home affairs, Sushil Kumar Shinde, said Thursday in the upper house, according to the news agency Press Trust of India.

The law includes many of the measures suggested in January by a panel led by a former chief justice, J.S. Verma. But some critics argued that in the rush to pass the bill, some major issues were left unaddressed.

“This is a step forward, but the government could have done more homework to bring about a stronger legislation,” said Nirmala Sitharaman, the national spokeswoman for the Bharatiya Janata Party, the leading opposition bloc.

Some women’s organizations said the law fell short of offering complete protection for women from sexual harassment. “There are so many recommendations that were rejected by the government,” said Sandhya Valluripally, president of the Progressive Organization of Women, including a provision the group sought that listed child trafficking in the definition of rape.

Activists said that continued public attention and debate on the issue of gender equality were still needed. “The spectrum of change India requires is much, much broader than amendments to the criminal laws,” said Ms. Grover, the lawyer. “We need to really focus on enforcement and implementation.”

Sruthi Gottipati and Pamposh Raina contributed reporting.

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« Reply #5244 on: Mar 22, 2013, 07:53 AM »

March 22, 2013

At Memorial, Obama Urges Action Against Racism and Anti-Semitism


JERUSALEM — After rekindling the eternal flame and laying a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, a solemn President Obama spoke on Friday of a collective “obligation not just to bear witness but to act” against racism “and especially anti-Semitism” as he wrapped up his three-day visit here with a trio of symbolic pilgrimages.

“We have the choice to ignore what happens to others or to act on behalf of others,” Mr. Obama said after a tour of the museum and a brief memorial service.

“Our sons and daughters are not born to hate, they are taught to hate,” he added. “The state of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust but in the survival of a strong Jewish state of Israel the Holocaust will never happen again.”

The remarks were Mr. Obama’s only scheduled public comments in Israel in a day filled with poignant gestures. He began by laying stones on the graves of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, and Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister assassinated in 1995 while on the brink of making peace. Friday afternoon, he visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the biblical birthplace of Jesus, before heading on to Jordan.

A windstorm forced Mr. Obama to modify his travel plans to reach Bethlehem. Initially he was to fly by helicopter. Instead, he traveled in a motorcade — a change welcomed by Palestinian officials since it meant that Mr. Obama would have to pass directly by Israel’s separation barrier.

After a bold, soaring speech Thursday afternoon encouraging Israel’s younger generation to press its leaders into action on the peace process, which many analysts saw as critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of it so far, President Obama met for two hours over lunch with Mr. Netanyahu on Friday. A senior Israeli official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to do so said the two men again discussed a range of regional security issues, and that on the Palestinians, Mr. Netanyahu “stressed it’s crucial that the security component gets the attention it deserves.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, told foreign reporters on Friday that the Israeli leadership was pleased with President Obama’s call for resuming negotiations without preconditions, and said that Mr. Netanyahu was ready to do so immediately. But he acknowledged that the visit had not shifted Israel’s position or provided a new framework for action.

“We want to see a peace process where both sides are playing a part to move the process forward, we want to see a process that is a two-way street,” Mr. Regev said. “It can’t just be that one side makes demands and the other side makes concessions. That’s a one-way street.

“We’re ready,” he added. “The question is: is the Palestinian leadership?”

Noting that Secretary of State John Kerry was expected to return to Jerusalem on Saturday night for further talks, Mr. Regev said, “I think we’re going to see immediate follow-up.”

Israeli newspapers were enthusiastic on Friday about the president’s visit, saying the nation had fallen for him, but cautioning that his prescription for peace would not be easy to follow. Three newspapers used his declaration in Hebrew — “You are not alone” — as a front-page banner headline.

“The most powerful man in the world arrived in the most threatened state in the world to promise love,” columnist Ari Shavit wrote in the left-leaning Haaretz. “He gave us love every single second, in every speech and in every gesture.”

But Mr. Shavit cautioned that “one cannot ignore the naïveté of Obama’s speech.”

“The president must still prove that the peace he promises can actually be implemented,” he wrote.

Palestinians, by contrast, were mostly disappointed. The president’s scheduled provided for only brief sojourns in their territory on Thursday and Friday, prompting some to say they felt like an afterthought. Others recoiled from Mr. Obama’s frequent use of Hebrew; his suggestion that he no longer sees a settlement freeze as crucial to restarting peace talks; and from his repeated testimony to the United States’ eternal friendship with the nation they see as an enemy.

“President Obama is eating, sleeping and chatting with people in Israel while he is spending few hours with Palestinian politicians,” said Said Kamal, a shopkeeper in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank, where Mr. Obama met Thursday with President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. “This visit will result in nothing for the Palestinians.”

Mirvat Mohammad, 47, said that “America considers us as terrorists, therefore we will get nothing from this visit.” And Mohammad Haj Yassin, an architect, said that “since the last visit of the previous president, more land was confiscated, the U.S. administration did nothing about it.”

Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center, based in Washington, was one of several analysts critical of Mr. Obama’s speech for presenting “peace as a choice Israelis might make instead of an obligation they must fulfill.”

“Reading between the lines, this speech suggests that President Obama will do little more than pay lip service to an outcome he refuses to put the muscle of his office behind,” Mr. Munayyer said. “He has told Israelis that the U.S. will stand by Israel regardless of what choices it makes — even if that choice continues to be perpetual occupation. That is, to say the least, unbecoming of the leader of the free world.”

In Bethlehem Friday afternoon, Mr. Abbas accompanied President Obama to the darkened, gilded sanctuary of the famous church, under dozens of gold lamps. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, welcomed Mr. Obama to the “place where heaven and Earth meet.”

“We welcome you as a messenger of peace and reconciliation,” the patriarch said. Quoting the Beatitudes, he added, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

At Yad Vashem earlier, the president was flanked as he has been for much of the time since he landed in Israel Friday by Mr. Netanyahu and by President Shimon Peres, who presented him with Israel’s Medal of Distinction at a state dinner Thursday night. He was also accompanied by Yisrael Meir Lau, a Holocaust survivor who is chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, and Avner Shalev, the museum’s director.

They first visited the Hall of Names, a huge dome filled with photographs and dossiers describing the individuals who perished, then the Hall of Remembrance.

Wearing a white skullcap, Mr. Obama arranged the wreath of red, white and purplish-blue flowers on a stone slab covering ashes of Holocaust victims, then stayed in a low crouch for a moment, head bowed. As a cantor sang the Jewish memorial prayer, “Eyl moleh rahamim,” the president kept his head low and occasionally closed his eyes.

In his remarks, Mr. Obama noted that he had been to the Buchenwald concentration camp and to the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland, and that this was his second visit to Yad Vashem, having come as a presidential candidate in 2008.

“We can come here a thousand times and each time our hearts would break,” Mr. Obama said. “Here we see the depravity to which man can sink. We see how evil can, for a moment in time, triumph, when good people do nothing.”

But he said because the museum also tells the story of rescuers, “this accounting of horror is a source of hope.

“We always have choices, to succumb to our worst instincts” and “to be indifferent to suffering,” Mr. Obama added, “or to display empathy that is at the core of our humanity.”

Rabbi Lau, 75, told the story of his liberation from Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, by American forces, recounting the disbelief in the barracks when a chaplain entered and shouted in Yiddish, “'Jews, you are free.'”

“This is the opportunity to thank you, to thank the American people, who came finally,” Mr. Lau said. Saying that one of the liberators apologized to him decades later for coming too late, the rabbi said to President Obama, “Yesterday you promised us that we are not alone. Don’t be too late.”

Khaled Abu Aker contributed reporting from Ramallah, West Bank, and Mark Landler from Tel Aviv.


March 21, 2013

Obama Urges Young Israelis to Lead the Push for Peace


JERUSALEM — President Obama, appealing to very disparate audiences to solve one of the world’s thorniest problems, moved closer on Thursday to the Israeli government’s position on resuming long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, even as he passionately implored young Israelis to get ahead of their own leaders in the push for peace.

Addressing an enthusiastic crowd of more than 2,000, Mr. Obama offered a fervent, unsparing case for why a peace agreement was both morally just and in Israel’s self-interest. Younger Israelis, Mr. Obama said, should empathize with their Palestinian neighbors living under occupation — or, as he put it, “look at the world through their eyes.”

Hours earlier, visiting the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Mr. Obama urged the Palestinians to return to the bargaining table even if Israel did not meet their condition of halting construction of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories — a demand he, too, made at the start of his first term, but which had only a temporary, partial impact.

It was a striking mix of big-stage inspiration and closed-door compromise: with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Obama was laboring to nudge two stubborn adversaries; with a younger generation, he was going over the two men’s heads, seeking to stir popular enthusiasm for his vision of peace.

Yet it also attested to the intractable nature of Middle East peacemaking over the past decade. By not renewing his demand that Israel halt settlement construction to get a new round of talks started, Mr. Obama was, in effect, conceding that years of careful study about how to nudge the peace process forward had failed to produce tangible results.

“Speaking as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do,” Mr. Obama said, in tones reminiscent of his own political campaigns at home. “You must create the change that you want to see.”

Standing before a blue-and-white banner emblazoned with the emblem of the Israeli state — a menorah flanked by olive branches — Mr. Obama spoke of the past and the future, from the biblical story of Exodus and from Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, to Israel’s reputation as a high-tech incubator with a mania for social media.

“Israel,” he said to prolonged applause, “is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea: the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own.”

Mr. Obama’s warm reception, after a polite but formal welcome by Mr. Netanyahu, recalled a visit by the Israeli prime minister to Washington in May 2011. Mr. Netanyahu, after rebuffing a peace proposal by Mr. Obama, spoke to Congress, receiving 29 standing ovations.

This week, Mr. Obama avoided proposals but promised that his administration would do its part to advance the process. He is sending Secretary of State John Kerry back to Israel from Jordan on Saturday to meet again with Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas to discuss next steps.

The president’s new activism, on the second day of a four-day trip to the Middle East, came hours after rockets from the Palestinian enclave of Gaza hit southern Israel. He condemned the attacks, which broke a three-month cease-fire, but said that the Israelis should not use the violence as an excuse to avoid negotiations.

“If we’re going to succeed, part of what we’re going to have to do is to get out of some of the formulas and habits that have blocked progress for so long,” Mr. Obama said, as Mr. Abbas stood next to him somberly. “Both sides are going to have to think anew.”

For his part, Mr. Abbas reiterated the Palestinian demand that Israel stop settlement construction. But he did not explicitly cite that as a precondition for entering into face-to-face talks with Mr. Netanyahu. Such talks have been quiescent since 2010.

“It is the duty of the Israeli government to at least halt the activity, so we can speak of the issues,” Mr. Abbas said in Arabic, speaking through an interpreter. “The issue of settlements is clear: we never gave up our vision, whether now or previously.”

There are signs that Mr. Abbas may be ready to return to negotiations with the Israelis. A draft copy of his talking points for the session with Mr. Obama, obtained by The New York Times, suggested that he was prepared to soften his long-held demand that Mr. Netanyahu publicly halt all building of settlements in favor of private assurances.

A senior administration official declined to discuss details of the meeting between Mr. Obama and Mr. Abbas.

Mr. Obama repeated his criticism of settlement projects, particularly in the strategically sensitive area of the West Bank known as E1. If the Israeli authorities go through with plans to develop that area, it will be “very difficult to square with a two-state solution,” he said.

Still, Mr. Obama did not explicitly call for a halt to such development as a condition for peace talks to resume. The senior official said that while Mr. Obama would continue to discourage building in areas like E1, there were other measures both sides could take to smooth the way for face-to-face talks. He declined to be specific.

The rocket attacks, which hit the border town of Sderot, caused no injuries, but they offered another glimpse into hardened attitudes. “I’ve stood in Sderot, and met with children who simply want to grow up free from fear,” Mr. Obama said. Mr. Abbas, stone faced, said nothing.

In the president’s speech, which was broadcast live from the convention center and was widely viewed as the centerpiece of his first trip to Israel as president, he conceded that many Israelis had qualms about the Palestinians getting their own state.

“I recognize that there are those who are not simply skeptical about peace, but question its underlying premise,” he said. “But it is important to be open and honest with one another.”

“Politically, given the strong bipartisan support for Israel in America, the easiest thing for me to do would be to put this issue aside and express unconditional support for whatever Israel decides to do,” Mr. Obama said to scattered laughter from an audience that clearly understood the dynamics of Washington.

But Mr. Obama said that seeking peace was not only in the finest traditions of Israel, it was also in the self-interest of a plucky country with a thriving high-tech economy that could turn itself into a powerhouse if it emerged from the isolation that has resulted from decades of conflict.

Echoing a theme he first articulated in his speech to the Muslim world in 2009, Mr. Obama said the Israeli occupation of the West Bank imposed a shameful human cost.

“Put yourself in their shoes — look at the world through their eyes,” he said. “It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents, every single day.”

“Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer,” Mr. Obama said. “Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.”

With an early reference to a wildly popular Israeli television comedy, “Eretz Nehederet,” Mr. Obama got a warm reception from his audience. But he was interrupted by a heckler, later identified as Rabiyah Aid, a 24-year-old Arab-Israeli student from Haifa, who was escorted out.

Mr. Aid, who was drowned out in boos, told reporters he was protesting “against the occupation and for the liberation of Palestine.” The president turned the incident into a joke, saying, “We actually arranged for that because it made me feel at home.”

Reporting was contributed by Rick Gladstone in New York; Isabel Kershner and Jodi Rudoren from Jerusalem; Fares Akram from Gaza; Rina Castelnuovo from Sderot, Israel; and Alan Cowell from Paris.


March 21, 2013

Attempt to Win Hearts Is Tempered by a Challenge to Wary Israelis


JERUSALEM — With Hebrew phrases, testaments to Israel’s ancient roots, expressions of deep admiration and displays of empathy, President Obama has captured the hearts of many here over the past two days, appearing to erase years of skepticism and wariness overnight.

But a much more complicated sell was the tough message he delivered in a bold speech on Thursday afternoon, saying that Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state was threatened by settlement building and other activities in the Palestinian territories, and calling young people to pressure politicians to advance the peace process. As the words began to sink in, some Israelis wondered if they would be followed by more pressure from Washington.

Individual Israelis and analysts alike said Mr. Obama had hit all the right notes in his internationally televised address and throughout his first visit as president. He cracked jokes, quoted the Talmud and revered Israeli figures, pledged America’s unwavering emotional and financial support while asserting Israel’s right to defend itself, and, perhaps most important, echoed the Israeli narrative of the conflict with the Palestinians.

“Obama finally learned to speak Israeli,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, a writer and fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. He called the speech “a love song to Israel.”

“What he realized is that Israelis respond to an embrace far more than to pressure,” Mr. Halevi said. “We were able to hear it in a way that we weren’t able to hear before because he said all the right things to us.”

Limor Shiffman, who listened to the speech on her smartphone in a Jerusalem cafe, said afterward, “It’s a pity he cannot be the leader of this country.” Richard Thunder, who was among more than 100 who watched on a large screen in Tel Aviv’s Yitzhak Rabin Square, was buoyed by Mr. Obama’s “trying to connect to people as individuals.”

At the convention center where Mr. Obama spoke, the audience was made up largely of university students and left-wing peace activists who rewarded even some of his most challenging lines with ovations and whoops, but the reaction outside the hall was more muted.

Yes, he had charmed them, even earned their respect. And yet a weary and fearful nation has already heard the arguments that peace is necessary and just — and perhaps most vexing to them — possible. Many are convinced instead that their battle with the Palestinians is insoluble, and they worry that the president’s impassioned calls for a new generation to revive a moribund peace process may soon be followed with a specific diplomatic initiative that could include harsh measures.

“He puts on the best show in the world,” said Jacob Tal, 67, a businessman who watched the speech at a falafel stand, “but something here smells not good.”

“In another half year or so he’ll come and dictate terms,” Mr. Tal said.

After an election campaign in Israel and lengthy coalition negotiations that focused mostly on domestic issues, Mr. Obama’s visit returned the country’s attention to its external challenges, and it energized politicians and activists who are eager to push peace.

But the new government, sworn in just this week, is divided on the Palestinian question. It is unclear whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been politically weakened, will quickly risk testing that government’s stability.

“If the president thinks that giving a couple of good speeches in Jerusalem is going to make Israelis rebel against Prime Minister Netanyahu or make Netanyahu more pliant, he’s mistaken,” said David M. Weinberg, who helps run the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

Mr. Netanyahu issued a two-line statement after the speech — in which Mr. Obama effectively sought to bypass the prime minister in a direct appeal to the public — that ignored its main points. He agreed with Mr. Obama’s “view regarding the need to advance a peace that ensures the security of Israel’s citizens.”

Tzipi Livni, the new justice minister with a special portfolio to promote peace, embraced Mr. Obama’s speech with a statement saying that “it is our duty to implement our Zionist vision as it was voiced so eloquently in his words today.” But Naftali Bennett, a senior minister whose Jewish Home Party opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, rejected one of the president’s main tenets, asserting that “there is no occupation in our own land.”

Perhaps that is why Mr. Obama pointedly chose to not address his message to politicians, declining to speak in Parliament. The text of his remarks distributed by the White House was titled “To the People of Israel.” Mr. Obama took a similar tack in the speech he gave at Cairo University in 2009, with language tailored to win the confidence of — and to challenge — his Arab audience. That speech, also heralded as a success, served to elevate expectations that were not realized.

David Horovitz, editor of The Times of Israel, said that “the middle ground that needs to swing will need more” than what he described as “an extraordinary presidential speech,” noting that the young people that Mr. Obama hoped to move had been shaped by the violent second Palestinian intifada and threats of destruction from Iran’s leaders.

“Those are the harsh realities that intervene in Israelis’ willingness to build trust and take risks,” Mr. Horovitz said. “Israelis are emotional, but they’re also very battered.”

Lulu Monsone, a skullcap-wearing Jerusalem taxi driver, said he was initially annoyed that the visit would cost him work because of road closings. But Mr. Monsone was won over on Thursday when President Obama suggested at a news conference with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority — whose nickname is Abu Mazen — that while he opposes settlement expansion, it need not be resolved before resuming negotiations.

“Before, all the time he said you need to stop, no building,” Mr. Monsone noted. “Now you see him, he tells Abu Mazen, ‘You want to eat the dessert before you eat the soup — just come to the table and talk.’ ”

Mr. Halevi, the analyst, said he doubted President Obama had convinced Israelis that Mr. Abbas was a ready partner or that the revolutionized Arab world would soon “embrace a Jewish state.” But he said the message about the problems caused by Israel’s activities in the West Bank would resonate widely.

“Next time there’s an announcement of settlement expansion, large parts of the public will react with anger rather than indifference,” Mr. Halevi predicted. “If he thought he was going to get Israelis to believe in the possibility of an imminent agreement, that was mission impossible. But to get Israelis to understand that in the absence of peace we still have a responsibility not to change the status quo on the ground — there, I think he succeeded.”

Many people interviewed after the speech said the crucial question is: What next? Mr. Obama had promised not to bring a new peace plan with him on what he described as a listening mission, and he made only the vaguest of references to “incremental steps” that could advance the process. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to return to Jerusalem on Saturday night to begin to talk tangibles.

Rachel Cohen, a teacher, said that Mr. Obama had clearly “started something new” and was “trying harder,” but that she hoped the president would not force Israel to make risky concessions.

“He knew very well how to make friends with the Israelis,” Ms. Cohen said, “but now we want to see something serious.”

Irit Pazner Garshowitz contributed reporting from Tel Aviv.

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« Reply #5245 on: Mar 22, 2013, 07:56 AM »

March 21, 2013

U.N. to Investigate Chemical Weapons Accusations in Syria


UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations will investigate accusations that chemical weapons were used earlier this week in Aleppo Province in northern Syria, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced on Thursday.

Mr. Ban said the investigation would begin “as soon as practically possible,” with various agencies of the world body developing a plan on how to proceed. He called on all sides in Syria’s two-year-old civil war to allow “unfettered” access to the United Nations team.

Mr. Ban suggested that the investigation would concentrate solely on a rocket attack on Tuesday that killed 26 people. That attack has become the focus of a propaganda war between supporters of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and his opponents, who accuse each other of firing a missile laden with chemicals in Khan al-Assal, a key eastern area of Aleppo Province.

In a brief statement that he read to reporters, Mr. Ban said he was responding to a formal request made by the Syrian government on Wednesday for a specialized, independent mission to investigate the events in Khan al-Assal. Mr. Ban said he was aware of accusations about a second chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs, but gave no indication that they would be included in the investigation. He did not answer questions from reporters.

Western nations, including the United States, have said in the Security Council that the Aleppo accusations and the Damascus accusations, made by the opposition, should be scrutinized. However, senior American officials have said there is no confirmed indication that chemical weapons were used.

Mr. Ban called the reports of chemical weapons use “disturbing,” and said he had sent two letters to Mr. Assad since the conflict began two years ago, reminding him that any chemical weapons stockpiles his country has should be secured.

“I have repeatedly stated that use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstance would constitute an outrageous crime,” Mr. Ban said, adding that anyone who used them “must be held responsible.”

Mr. Ban said the inquiry would investigate the reports about Aleppo and “contribute to the safety and security of chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria.” He said the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization would take the lead in organizing the investigation.

Susan E. Rice, the American envoy to the United Nations, issued a statement saying that the United States welcomed the United Nations investigation, stressing that “any and all credible allegations” should be pursued.

The Syrian government should provide unfettered access to “all relevant individuals and locations,” it said. Humanitarian workers should be allowed in to treat the injured, the statement also said. It repeated previous American warnings that there would be “consequences” if the Assad government used or failed to secure chemical weapons.

The chemical weapons claims on Wednesday were immediately entangled in the longstanding sharp divisions between Russia, Syria’s most powerful remaining ally, and Western states that oppose the Damascus government. The accusations and demands for an outside investigation ignited a tense discussion in the Security Council about how to respond.

The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, told reporters that his government had requested an official inquiry to corroborate its claims that insurgents, not government forces, were behind the attack. Mr. Jaafari said he had delivered a letter to Mr. Ban’s office seeking a “specialized, independent and neutral technical mission” to investigate the use of chemical weapons by the opposition.

The opposition has denied possessing or using chemical weapons. In the Security Council debate, France said the United Nations should investigate the opposition’s accusations against the government, in Aleppo Province and in the Damascus suburbs. Russia responded by accusing the West of trying to create a diversion.

The Russian envoy, Vitaly I. Churkin, said the United States, France and others were engaged in “delaying tactics.” “Instead of launching those propaganda balloons, it is better to get our focus right,” said Mr. Churkin, adding that the Western demands echoed the demands more than a decade ago for inspections in Iraq, which failed to find any chemical weapons.

Mr. Churkin and Mr. Jaafari each suggested that the opposition faked a chemical attack by the government to provoke international intervention. The Syrian ambassador said it would not be surprising for the opposition to try to manufacture a crisis while President Obama was visiting the region.

The French envoy, Gerard Araud, sarcastically referring to Mr. Churkin’s summary of the council debate as “fascinating,” said France and its allies wanted the United Nations to investigate all possible incidents. “It is not a question of delay; it is a question of looking at all the allegations which have been tabled,” Mr. Araud said.

That position was echoed by Britain and the United States. “The facts are not clear at the moment, and this is the whole point,” said Philip Parham, Britain’s deputy permanent representative.

France and Britain sent their own letter to Mr. Ban later Thursday demanding that all chemical weapons accusations emerging from Syria be thoroughly documented, including the latest two and one from Homs in December. The United Nations can claim a mandate to investigate matters beyond those requested by the Syrian government, Security Council diplomats said.
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« Reply #5246 on: Mar 22, 2013, 08:10 AM »

Cyprus crisis: politicians race to agree details of 'plan B'

ECB ratchets up pressure as party leaders met to agree a package that would satisfy its eurozone partners and the IMF

Graeme Wearden and Howard Amos in Moscow
The Guardian, Friday 22 March 2013 00.00 GMT   

Cypriot politicians were racing to agree details of a "plan B" to rescue their economy on Thursday night, after the European Central Bank threatened to withdraw support for the country's banking sector if a bailout was not agreed by Monday.

The country's second-largest bank, Laiki, is to be restructured as part of the plan. It will avert bankrupcy and protect savers with up to €100,000, according to the country's central bank governor, Panicos Demetriades.

The move came hours after the ECB ratcheted up the pressure on Nicosia as party leaders met to agree a package that would satisfy its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund. Tensions were rising on the streets, with crowds of bank workers demonstrating near the parliament building in Nicosia following reports that its second largest lender, Laiki, would be shut down and split into a good and bad bank.

On Thursday afternoon the president, Nicos Anastasiades, said parliament would receive a bill by the end of the night, outlining the creation of a state investment fund to meet the ECB's ultimatum to raise billions of euros or face the loss of the bailout money and the collapse of its banking sector.

Another bill will pave the way for the imposition of capital controls - restrictions on taking money out of the country's banks - according to reports from Nicosia.

The ECB confirmed it would not provide emergency liquidity assistance to the island's banking sector beyond 25 March, unless a bailout had been agreed. Without its support, Cyprus's two largest banks, Bank of Cyprus and Laiki, could collapse.

There were lengthy queues at many Laiki cash machines on Thursday as banks and the domestic stock market remained closed.

The eurogroup of finance ministers were scheduled to hold a conference call from 6pm GMT on Thursday to discuss the situation in Cyprus.

Cypriot political leaders were involved in emergency talks on Thursday morning to find a way to raise the €6bn (£5.1bn) demanded by the IMF and EU in return for a €10bn bailout.

Averof Neophytou, the deputy leader of the ruling Disy party, confirmed the leaders had agreed to create the solidarity fund. Details of the scheme were not released, but it was believed the fund could use Cyprus's energy resources as collateral, or include state assets, pension funds or the property of the Church of Cyprus. A vote on the package could come as early as Thursday night.

Parliamentary speaker Yiannakis Omirou, who leads the small Edek socialist party, said the issue of taxing bank deposits had not been discussed during the meeting, suggesting a savings levy could be off the agenda.

Two days ago, the parliament rejected the plan for a 6.75% tax on savers with more than €20,000 in the bank, rising to 9.9% for those with more than €100,000.

The ECB said a continuation of its emergency liquidity assistance "could only be considered if an EU/IMF programme is in place that would ensure the solvency of the concerned banks".

Speaking after the ECB issued its ultimatum, Cyprus's central bank governor said he was confident the country would reach a deal in time. "We will have a programme of support for Cyprus by Monday," said Demetriades.

The Cypriot finance minister, Michael Sarris, has been in Moscow since Tuesday in an attempt to secure a rescue package, but hopes for a Kremlin-brokered deal appeared to be fading, as negotiations between Sarris and his Russian counterpart looked set to enter a third day with no results.

For the first time, Nicosia showed a public willingness to offer access to financial assets and gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean as part of any agreement. "Understandably, if there is to be help, it has to be connected with a number of economic activities," said Sarris ahead of discussions with Russian finance minister Anton Siluanov.

Russian officials have sought to downplay talk of large amounts of corrupt cash flowing through Cyprus, but the Mediterranean island is thought to play a key role in Russian money laundering operations.

The Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medevdev, has intensified his criticism of the idea of a compulsory levy on deposits in Cyprus, where Russian citizens are estimated to hold up to $19bn, and said the plan "looked like theft".

Medvedev interrupted a conference in Moscow to read the news from his iPad that the Cypriot parliament had decided to drop the compulsory tax proposal — and the announcement was met with applause and shouts of "hurrah!" from delegates.

Despite alarm over possible expropriation, the Cypriot appeal to Moscow has given Russia an unprecedented opportunity to exert influence in an internal European Union matter. "It's an opportunity for the Russians to make a major play," said one western banker in Moscow.

But the parameters of any deal remain unclear. State-owned gas giant Gazprom is unlikely to be interested in operating Cypriot gas fields in the context of an over-supplied European market, according to Ildar Davletshin, an oil and gas analyst at Renaissance Capital in Moscow.

Russia's three biggest state-owned banks — Sberbank, VTB and Gazprombank — have all denied they are interested in buying financial assets in Cyprus.

Cyprus has recently discovered significant offshore gas deposits, and major energy companies have shown an interest in tapping those resources.

With the Monday deadline imposed by the ECB, time is running out for Cyprus to conclude an agreement with the Kremlin, according to Dmitry Polevoy, ING Bank's chief economist in Russia. "All these deals [involving energy or banking assets] require intensive due diligence processes … and usually require much more time than Cyprus has," he said.

"But Russia is a country of surprises and nobody knows what is really at stake and whose money is at risk," he added.

Medvedev also sought to find more unorthodox benefits for Russia in Cyprus's crisis. The Kremlin should develop islands, including the Kurils and Sakhalin, off the country's far east Pacific coast as alternative offshore banking destinations, Medvedev said.

Russian sovereignty of the Kuril Islands is disputed by Japan, while Sakhalin is the site of a former Tsarist penal colony.

The implementation of such a plan would have "ruinous consequences for Russia's financial system," former finance minister Aleksei Kudrin wrote on Twitter.


Cyprus bailout crisis: panic replaces anger as bankruptcy looms

Locals speak of situation worsening 'by the hour' in descent far more rapid than Greece's

Helena Smith in Nicosia
The Guardian, Thursday 21 March 2013 20.11 GMT   

'It's worse than a war. At least in a war you know who your enemies are," said Thanassis Iracleous, standing behind a till as he discussed the escalating crisis in Cyprus. "On Friday they were our friends," railed the pharmacist, whispering the word "German" in the same breath. "The very next morning they were suddenly our enemies."

As wars go, the bespectacled Greek Cypriot is having a good one. Relatively speaking. On Thursday, six days into the island nation's worst economic debacle in decades, Iracleous was still accepting credit cards and customers were still walking through the doors of the chemist he runs in the heart of Nicosia. But it is not clear how long he will be able to keep this up.

That is more than can be said for most retailers in Cyprus, the latest frontline in the eurozone's ever bloody conflict of sovereignty and debt. With the country's solvency hanging by a thread in the wake of the Cypriot parliament's overwhelming rejection of the tough terms attached to financial rescue from the EU and IMF, panic has gradually replaced anger and the shock born of the brutal realisation that bankruptcy is no longer an abstract concept.

"Today, suppliers began demanding payments in cash," said Iracleous, shaking his head incredulously. "Almost no one is accepting credit cards or cheques any more because everyone is saying that come Tuesday the game will be over. Our banks will have closed."

Societies fending off default descend into chaos by stages. Poverty hit Greece after successive rounds of austerity. Over the course of three years of tumult and despair, helplessness followed hopelessness.

In Cyprus, the former British colony that prided itself on its spectacular economic recovery nearly 40 years after Turkey invaded and seized the island's northern third, the descent has been more dramatic for being faster still. Locals speak of a situation worsening "by the hour". In towns across the island's southern sector, the panic spawned by uncertainty was underscored on Thursday by the long queues outside banks as fearful depositors rushed to withdraw cash from ATMs. "The radios, today, were full of talk that next week Laiki may not exist," said Kypros Kyprianou, standing patiently in line outside a branch of the bank on Diogheni Akritas, one of the capital's major avenues. "I'm waiting here till I get my cash," he continued.

"On Saturday, ATMs were giving out €800. Now you can't get more than €400 and already I've been in line for over a hour because the machine is only dispensing €40 at a time."

A 38-year-old carpenter, Kyprianou is proud that all 56 of Cyprus's MPs resoundingly rejected the bailout deal which, in an unprecedented step, stipulated that ordinary depositors pay part of the bill. "We are not like the Greeks who just sign up to whatever these people [the EU and IMF] dictate," he boasted. "We can say no."

But ever since the eruption of this latest stage of the crisis, the carpenter has been out of work. "There is no liquidity. The market has dried up. I was meant to get a deposit for a big project on a house on Saturday and it just fell through," he said, "just like that."

Vassos Pratziotis, a graphic designer who like Kyprianou is now withdrawing cash on a daily basis, says what is most worrying is that nobody knows what the future will bring. "There can't not be a solution," he said, drawing on a cigarette. "The problem is we have no idea what it is going to be. I'm very afraid that Laiki will collapse because the bank is my firm's main client and for several months we haven't been paid."

Food shortages are not in evidence. But in a worrying sign on Thursday major chains reported that suppliers were beginning to reduce produce and even withhold goods if payments weren't made in cash. "Many are insisting that we pay up front," said Andriana Anisia, manager of a branch of the local supermarket co-operative Green Tree. "People are clearly panicking. Today, our milk supplies came and they were inexplicably thinner. Who knows what next week will bring?"

Britons who have retired to the island are also expressing alarm. In Nicosia many could be spotted similarly rushing to banks to cancel transfers of their pensions from the UK. "Our biggest worry is that the whole banking system is going to collapse, not just one or two banks," said one, Francis Colley. "I called my pension fund and they said they are very concerned about the situation in Cyprus. Very, very concerned."

The streets of Nicosia have fallen eerily quiet with the intensification of the showdown. Uncertainty over the financial lifeline is such that no one has much appetite for anything, locals say. "Even if you have work, your mind is somewhere else," said Pratziotis. "Everyone is numb, really, with worry."

In his pharmacy, Iracleous, like many Greek Cypriots, laid the blame squarely with Berlin. "It's very simple. It's all about money," he said. "In this case Germany wanting to control the Russian oligarchs who have invested in our banks. If they leave Cyprus, which is what Merkel wants them to do, they will have to go somewhere else. Germany will be the top of that list. What we in Cyprus have learned is that you have to be very careful of your friends."


Cyprus crisis: EU risks the unthinkable if bailout ultimatum fails

As it was never envisaged that any country would leave the euro, the effects of such an exit would be felt worldwide

Larry Elliott, economics editor, Thursday 21 March 2013 19.47 GMT   

Deadlines have been set. Ultimatums have been delivered. The EU has given Cyprus until Monday to come up with €5.8bn to part fund its own bailout or have its financial lifeline cut off by the European Central Bank.

Unthinkable less than a week ago, the possibility of the eurozone losing one of its 17 members is now being discussed. Reuters reported that a meeting of eurozone officials openly canvassed the need to impose capital controls to insulate the rest of the single-currency club in the event of Cyprus leaving.

It was never envisaged that any country would ever leave the euro. There is therefore no template for an exit strategy that would prove painful for Cyprus and have potentially wide-ranging implications not just for the rest of Europe, but for the whole global economy.

The first stage of the process would involve the EU calling Cyprus's bluff. At the moment, Cypriot banks are being supported by the European Central Bank's Emergency Liquidity Assistance, which allows them to remain open for business. The moment the ECB pulls the plug, Cyprus's banks will go bust. They have a €17bn cash shortfall, no equity and could raise only perhaps €2bn from forcing bondholders to take a haircut. The banks would shut and deposits would be worthless.

Stage two would involve the government in Nicosia re-introducing the Cypriot pound as legal tender. This would cause logistical difficulties, unless the government has stashed away piles of the old currency when it joined the euro five years ago. This seems unlikely, so the government would have to start printing new notes.

This would take time to organise and in the meantime the government would have to use euro notes re-denominated as Cypriot pounds. One way of doing this would be to over-print the notes in a distinctive way, as happened in Germany during its currency crisis in the 1920s. Nick Parsons, head of strategy at National Australia Bank said the capital controls on withdrawals from cashpoints would make this process simpler, since there would be fewer euros in circulation when the crunch came.

The government would then have to set an exchange rate for the Cypriot pound against the dollar and would probably set it at the level that existed before it entered the single currency. If the currency was allowed to float freely on the foreign exchanges, the pound would drop like a stone. If the authorities set a fixed exchange rate, the official value of the currency would bear not the slightest resemblance to its black market value. When Argentina abandoned its convertibility against the dollar in 2002, the peso depreciated by around 75% in the subsequent 15 months.

A plunging currency would lead to dearer imports, rising inflation and sharp cuts in living standards. The government would impose strict capital controls to prevent money leaving the country. It would also try to ensure that all transactions in euros ceased. Unofficially, the euro – along with other hard currencies such as the dollar – would circulate on the black market.

One additional problem would be whether contracts agreed in euros could be enforced. The concept of lex monetae means debts in euros would become debts in Cypriot pounds and settled at an exchange rate decided by the government in Nicosia.

So what are chances of this happening? Parsons says it is still unlikely but the risk is far greater than it was. He writes: "A few months ago I would have put the possibility of Cyprus leaving the euro at 1%. Today I would put it at about 30%."


Eurozone economies slow as major industry activity declines

Figures fuel concern that austerity imposed by Brussels forcing countries to cut their debts will prolong the recession

Phillip Inman and agencies
The Guardian, Thursday 21 March 2013 22.09 GMT   

The economic malaise afflicting the eurozone deepened in March after figures for activity across all major industries declined, a survey showed on Thursday.

Ahead of what could be worse figures for April as fallout from the Cyprus situation begins to bite, Markit's Flash eurozone composite Purchasing Managers' Index, seen as a reliable economic growth indicator for the bloc, fell more than expected to 46.5 in March from 47.9 in February.

The figures will fuel concerns that austerity measures imposed by Brussels that force eurozone countries to cut their debts will prolong the recession. In contrast, manufacturing in the US and China improved, which will be important for overall global growth.

"The sharp decline in the flash composite PMI in March pours cold water on hopes of an imminent end to the eurozone recession," said Martin van Vliet, economist at ING.

"If the situation surrounding Cyprus spirals out of control, the onset of recovery might well be delayed."

French businesses had their worst month in four years, likely pushing the eurozone's second-biggest economy into recession. Germany also showed signs of fatigue.

Markit's Flash US Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index rose to 54.9 this month from 54.3, and the pace of hiring in the sector increased.

A separate Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank report showed factory activity in the mid-Atlantic region grew in March.

"With manufacturing a reliable bellwether of the rest of the economy, gross domestic product will have risen at a much improved rate" over the first three months of 2013, said Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit.

The US economy grew at 0.1% in the fourth quarter of 2012, but economists are forecasting first-quarter growth of about 2%.

Another hopeful sign for the US: sales of existing homes hit a three-year high in February and prices rose.

In China, factories increased their output after a holiday dip, suggesting solid, if not spectacular, first-quarter growth in the world's second biggest economy.

The HSBC China PMI for March rose to 51.7 from 50.4, but remained below a two-year high reached at the start of the year.

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« Reply #5247 on: Mar 22, 2013, 08:17 AM »

Pope Francis feels ‘close’ to the non-religious

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, March 21, 2013 23:10 EDT

Pope Francis on Wednesday promised “friendship and respect” for all faiths at a meeting with representatives of major world religions in the Vatican in which he said he felt “close” to non-believers.

The Roman Catholic Church would “promote friendship and respect between men and women of different religions,” the pope said, a day after his formal inauguration in St Peter’s Square.

“We can do a lot for the good of people who are poor, who are weak, who suffer… and to promote reconciliation and peace,” the pope told other Christian leaders and representatives of Buddhism, Islam and Judaism in an ornate Vatican hall.

Latin America’s first pontiff said all religions should be united against “one of the most dangerous pitfalls of our time — reducing human beings to what they produce and what they consume.

“I very much appreciate your presence and I see in it a sign of mutual respect and of cooperation for the common good of humanity,” he said.

This was particularly important in a world of “divisions, confrontations and rivalries,” he said.

Francis also told Jewish leaders he wanted to continue “a fraternal dialogue” that began with the reformist Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, which removed the notion of any Jewish blame for Jesus Christ’s death in Catholic doctrine.

The 76-year-old pope also said he felt “close” to those people who “do not recognise themselves in any faith but are in a search for truth, for goodness and for beauty, which is God.”

The reference echoed a “silent blessing” that Francis made on Saturday to non-believers at a meeting with journalists from around the world.

“You are all children of God,” he said on Saturday.

Vatican expert Sandro Magister, who writes for the Italian weekly L’Espresso, said the references show “an attention to people without a religion” that was particularly significant as the Church struggles with rising secularism in many countries.

The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Church, opened Wednesday’s meeting.

Bartholomew was the first patriarch of Constantinople to attend a papal inauguration since 1054 when the eastern and western halves of Christendom split in the “Great Schism”.

In his address, Bartholomew referred to Francis’s experience as an archbishop in Argentina during that country’s devastating economic crisis.

The world economic climate “demands humanitarian action for which you already have great experience,” he said, referring to the “high, grave and difficult task” that Francis will face.

He said Christian unity was “our first and most important concern” and called on the pope to “correct worldly tendencies” in Christianity.

Francis assured Bartholomew — whom he referred to as his “brother” — of his “firm willingness to continue with the path of ecumenical dialogue”.

Magister said these assurances were very much “in line with his predecessor” Benedict XVI, who was a keen promoter of inter-religious dialogue.

Francis on Wednesday also met with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, a former leftist guerrilla fighter and atheist, who leads the country with the highest number of Catholics in the world.

The Vatican said Rousseff had invited the pope to visit Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day in July but did not say whether the pope had accepted.


March 21, 2013

‘Dirty War’ Victim Rejects Pope’s Connection to Kidnapping


CARACAS, Venezuela — A Jesuit priest whose kidnapping by the Argentine military raised questions about the actions of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, during that country’s so-called Dirty War said in a statement this week that Father Bergoglio did not initiate the detention by reporting him and another priest to the authorities.

“These are the facts: Orlando Yorio and I were not reported by Father Bergoglio,” Father Franz Jalics said in the statement posted on a German Jesuit Web site, mentioning the other priest who was kidnapped with him in 1976. The statement was dated Wednesday. “It is thus wrong to claim that our capture was initiated by Father Bergoglio.”

But the statement by Father Jalics did not address a contention by Father Yorio, who died in 2000, that Father Bergoglio had sought to undermine their work in a Buenos Aires slum, taking steps that may have left them vulnerable to the military. Father Bergoglio was head of the Jesuit order in Argentina at the time of their kidnapping.

Father Jalics wrote that the new statement was meant to clarify a previous online statement posted shortly after Francis was chosen as pope last week, in which he did not address Francis’ role in the events around the kidnapping.

Francis and many other church leaders in Argentina have been criticized for failing to speak out publicly against the military dictatorship’s campaign of human rights abuses, which lasted from 1976 to 1983. He testified in a court case stemming from the priests’ kidnapping that he had met privately with top military officers to ask for the priests’ release.

Father Jalics and Father Yorio were living among the poor in a Buenos Aires slum, an activity the dictatorship viewed as suspicious. They were kidnapped and held in a secret prison, blindfolded, and shackled hand and foot, for five months, before they were let go.

Father Yorio in 1977 wrote a detailed account of the kidnapping, in which he questioned Father Bergoglio’s actions. He wrote that Father Bergoglio made negative reports about their activities to local bishops and claimed they were in the slums without his permission.

He said Father Bergoglio urged them to leave the Jesuit order and then had them expelled from the order just days before the kidnapping. It was not possible to verify Father Yorio’s account, and experts in church procedures questioned whether the order’s rules would have allowed Father Bergoglio to expel a priest. Father Yorio’s sister, Graciela Yorio, said in an interview last week that Father Bergoglio had left the two priests “totally unprotected,” which she said made them an easier target for the military.

In his statement, Father Jalics said that false information had circulated in the church accusing the two priests of belonging to a guerrilla group fighting the government, but he did not link Father Bergoglio to that rumor campaign.

“Before, I too tended to believe that we were the victims of having been reported,” Father Jalics said in the statement. “By the late ’90s, however, it became clear to me after many conversations that this assumption was unfounded.”

Chris Cottrell and Nicholas Kulish contributed reporting from Berlin.

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« Reply #5248 on: Mar 22, 2013, 08:20 AM »

March 21, 2013

Setting Themes of Humility, a New Archbishop of Canterbury Is Installed


LONDON — At his installation as archbishop of Canterbury on Thursday, Justin Welby, a former oil executive who made an unusually rapid rise to the leadership of the Anglican Church, used the ceremony in Canterbury’s nine-century-old cathedral to set themes of simplicity, modesty and innovation that echoed the tone Pope Francis has set for his week-old papacy.

Archbishop Welby, 57, began his day with a jog around the cathedral grounds in Canterbury. Once the treasurer of a medium-size oil company, before quitting to study for ordination into the priesthood at 37, he appeared for an eve-of-installation interview with the BBC wearing a suit he bought at a British charity shop for less than $15.

At the ceremony, he seemed eager to mark his start with quiet but unmistakable gestures that affirmed the reforming approach he has embraced since being selected in November over more senior bishops for the post that makes him spiritual leader of some 80 million Anglicans worldwide.

The ceremony was attended by 2,000 invited guests, including Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince Charles and religious leaders from Britain and around the world, mostly Anglican but also from other faiths, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.

Archbishop Welby leads a community that is a small fraction of the world’s more than one billion Roman Catholics. But Anglicans and Catholics share common problems, starting with the broad drift in Western countries away from religious institutions. Religious experts say the two churches appear to have chosen as their heads men who combine strong leadership skills with a marked instinct for self-effacement, an affinity for the poor and vulnerable in society, and, believers in both denominations hope, a willingness to look anew at old problems.

Archbishop Welby’s most signal departure from tradition came at the start of the ceremony, when, following centuries of protocol, he approached the cathedral’s great oak doors and banged three times with his crosier, or staff. There waiting for him, instead of a high-ranking church official who has filled the role in the past, was a 17-year-old girl, Evangeline Kanagasooriam, who read a scripted challenge asking who he was and why he had come.

“I come knowing nothing except Jesus Christ, and him crucified, and in weakness and fear and much trembling,” the archbishop replied, expressing in words he wrote himself the anxiety and diffidence he has voiced in interviews in recent weeks about the daunting challenges facing him as the 105th occupant of the Canterbury see.

At the top of those challenges are the divisions over issues involving sexuality and gender that threatened at times to lead to a formal schism between liberal and conservative wings of the church during the 10-year tenure of his predecessor, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, who retired to become master of Magdalene College at Cambridge University. The liberals’ most powerful base is in the Episcopal Church in the United States, while the conservatives’ strongest support comes from Africa.

The symbolism of the teenage girl at the cathedral doors was pressed home by the presence of more female priests than at any previous installation ceremony at Canterbury, signs that the archbishop’s aides said reflected his intention to push for a broadening of the role of women in the church, in particularly their right to be appointed as bishops.

That practice, long established in the United States, was narrowly rejected for the church in England and Wales at a synod on the eve of Archbishop Welby’s appointment. At the time, he called the vote a “grim day” for Anglicanism. Since his appointment, he has signaled his support for an early effort to reform synod voting procedures that allowed a minority to block the move.

Although the vast majority of the clergy members attending Thursday’s ceremony were men, female priests had some of the most visible roles.

The Venerable Sheila Watson, the Archdeacon of Canterbury, formally installed the archbishop on the diocesan throne in the cathedral. Other female priests read from the Scriptures and were prominently close to the archbishop in the opening and closing processions. In an interview with Britain’s Channel 5 News before the ceremony, the archbishop said he “certainly” thought a woman would one day be archbishop, though he had “no idea” when that would be — just “when the right person turns up.”

In his brief sermon at the ceremony, the archbishop dwelt on the importance of the Scriptures in Christians’ lives, and in the church’s struggle, in the face of dwindling congregations in Britain and other Western countries, to remain relevant in an increasingly secular society.

“There is every possible reason for optimism about the future of Christian faith in our world and in this country,” he said, and added, “There can be no final justice, or security, or love, or hope in our society if it is not finally based on rootedness in Christ.”

The sermon made no direct reference to the dispute over female bishops, nor to the other divisive issue likely to press in on him, the rights of gays and lesbians in the church, and in particular, same-sex marriages, which passed an important legislative hurdle last month with an overwhelming vote of approval in the House of Commons.

In the BBC interview, the archbishop reaffirmed his commitment to Anglican teaching opposing gay and lesbian weddings in church, which led the government of Mr. Cameron to include a clause in its same-sex marriage bill explicitly protecting churches that oppose the change against future legal challenges. But on this issue, too, Archbishop Welby seemed to lean toward seeking an accommodation.

Recently, with Archbishop Welby’s backing, the Church of England resolved to permit openly gay priests in civil partnerships to become bishops provided they embraced celibacy. In the interview, he appeared to signal a willingness, at some point, to readdress the issue of gay marriage. The possibility of such marriages has met with much stronger resistance among Anglicans in England than has the ordination of women.

He told the BBC that he adhered to the traditional Anglican doctrine that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman. But he said, “You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship,” and added that he had “particular friends where I recognize that, and am deeply challenged by it.”

John F. Burns reported from London, and Alan Cowell from Paris.

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« Reply #5249 on: Mar 22, 2013, 08:24 AM »

March 21, 2013

Rainbow Becomes a Prism to View Gay Rights


WARSAW — The 30-foot-tall rainbow sculpture in downtown Savior Square here is looking somewhat the worse for wear these days, half covered in patches of artificial flowers and half bare from being set on fire. What was intended as a work of public art without an overt political message beyond the need for inclusiveness, according to the artist behind it, has instead become part of a culture war over homosexuality that has been brewing in one of Europe’s most Catholic countries.

Since its June installation in the square — a busy crossing place for trams that also has a famous church and a buzzing bar and cafe scene — the rainbow has been set on fire four times and come under attack from right-wing politicians and Web sites.

Stanislaw Pieta, a member of Parliament from the conservative Law and Justice Party, the main opposition faction in Poland, called the placement of the rainbow on a grassy circle in front of the church a “disgusting gesture, offensive to Catholics.” He added, “It’s a provocation.”

Although city officials and the artist, Julita Wojcik, say the rainbow is not a monument to gay rights, both its supporters and opponents find they can agree on what the rainbow symbolizes.

The debate over gay rights has gathered steam in Europe over the past year. France’s lower house passed a bill last month that will grant the right to marry to same-sex couples if the upper house approves it in April, as expected. Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court last month expanded adoption rights for gay couples.

Poland’s first openly gay and transgender members of Parliament were elected in 2011. But their reception, even from the most prominent members of society, has been anything but a universal embrace. Lech Walesa, the former president, revered anti-Communist opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, surprised many here when he declared that gay lawmakers should be sitting in the back rows of the Polish Parliament, “or even behind a wall.”

Dorota Chojna, 39, a volunteer who has helped repair the burned rainbow, said in a telephone interview that she felt uneasy. “As a homosexual person, I don’t feel safe in Warsaw,” she said. “I became involved in the rebuilding to oppose pervasive homophobia, among other reasons.”

Poland’s economy has thrived in recent years, avoiding the deep recessions that have plagued its neighbors in Eastern Europe as well as the stagnation that has set in among countries to the west. But like many societies in the former Soviet bloc, Poland is divided between those who have benefited from the dynamic economy and those who feel left behind by rapid change, social as well as economic.

The rainbow was not the first work of public art to receive criticism here in Poland’s capital. While the city has long featured statues of kings, saints and the beloved composer Chopin, a 50-foot artificial palm tree by the artist Joanna Rajkowska caused confusion and no small amount of consternation when it was erected in 2002. A work about the city’s lost Jewish population — referring to the warmer climate in Israel — the palm tree has slowly been accepted as part of the city’s skyline.

“If the city is to develop, it needs new symbols,” said Ms. Rajkowska, who supports the rainbow.

Known as Plac Zbawiciela in Polish, Savior Square takes its name from the 19th-century Church of the Holiest Savior, whose twin spires tower over it. But the square is also known as Plac Hipstera, or hipster square. While older residents in overcoats and berets go to Mass at the church, minor celebrities and affluent teenagers sip lattes, all within sight of the damaged arch.

The structure was first installed in front of the European Parliament in Brussels in September 2011, to honor Poland’s turn at the rotating presidency of the European Union. Ms. Wojcik, its creator, said in an interview at the Zacheta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw that the rainbow was intended as a symbol of tolerance.

“In 2011, Poland was seen as a homophobic country,” she said. “I wanted to show that we’re not closed, but open-minded.”

Ms. Wojcik brought the rainbow back to Poland last June, in time for the European soccer championships that Poland hosted with neighboring Ukraine. Then the trouble began.

Originally covered with some 16,000 artificial flowers, the rainbow quickly turned into a giant Rorschach test for residents. To some, the rainbow is just a rainbow. “I think about the happiness in life,” said Jadwiga Wilczynska, 78, smiling as she looked at the sculpture.

To Wlodzimierz Paszynski, the deputy mayor of Warsaw, “It’s a sign of unity; it evokes warm feelings.”

Ms. Wojcik, 42, said: “The rainbow is not a pro- or anti-gay declaration. It’s about tolerance, diversity, openness.” She said her goal was to strip the rainbow of all its political meaning, leaving the interpretation open and making it a bridge of mutual tolerance. She apparently did not succeed in that goal, since the one reading of the sculpture has overshadowed any others.

At least one of the four fires has been deemed an accident from New Year’s fireworks. In another fire, the perpetrator was inebriated and, according to the Warsaw police, he did not disclose his motives. The other two fires remain unsolved.

Some insist that there is no larger goal behind the attacks. “It’s just vandalism,” said Maria Klosinska, whose sister owns Charlotte, a bistro on the square.

But the critic Roman Pawlowski wrote on the Polish online news site that calling the arson “vandalism” was a euphemism. “Actually, we’re dealing with an act of terror,” he wrote.

The Rev. Dariusz Kowalczyk, a Jesuit priest, reminded readers of the Roman Catholic weekly Idziemy that rainbows have other connotations. “When we see a rainbow in the sky, we shouldn’t think about gay activists, but about Noah’s covenant with God,” he wrote.

The rainbow was meant to be a temporary fixture, but city authorities agreed to push back the date of its dismantling several times, and in February they decided to leave it there for another year. At night it becomes a jungle gym for adults, many of whom have been enjoying time in a nearby bar, who climb on top and even crawl inside the steel frame.

For a planned refurbishing, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, a publicly financed organization that sponsored the rainbow, is looking for flame-resistant materials. But some feel that for a city scarred by war and Communism, the tattered, slightly charred version of the rainbow is fitting.

“It’s a testimony of sorts,” said Marcin Malenczyk, the owner of Karma Coffee, one of the cafes on the square. “It’s good that it’s had its adventures.”

Nicholas Kulish contributed reporting from Berlin.

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