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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 628187 times)
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« Reply #5265 on: Mar 23, 2013, 06:51 AM »

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigns after Hezbollah blocks oversight of parliamentary elections

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, March 22, 2013 20:00 EDT

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced the resignation of his government on Friday in Beirut, after Hezbollah and its allies blocked the creation of a body to supervise parliamentary elections.

By News Wires

Lebanon’s prime minister has resigned due to an impasse over a new election law and parliament’s refusal to extend the tenure of the country’s police chief.

Najib Mikati said late Friday in a speech aired live on TV that he hoped his departure would be “an impetus for leaders to shoulder their responsibilities.”

After months of wrangling, the parliament has been unable to agree on a law to govern elections slated for later this year.

The Hezbollah-dominated parliament has also refused to extend the tenure of Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi, Lebanon’s police chief, whom it considers a foe.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman must accept Mikati’s resignation for it to be official.

[Lebanese PM Najib Mikati pictured above via AFP]


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« Reply #5266 on: Mar 23, 2013, 06:53 AM »

President Barack Obama: U.S. will provide Jordan with $200 million aid package for Syrian refugees

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, March 22, 2013 23:08 EDT

US President Barack Obama announced at a Friday press conference in Amman an aid package of $200 million for Jordan to help the kingdom care for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

By News Wires

President Barack Obama says his administration is working with Congress to provide Jordan with an additional $200 million in aid this year.

Jordan’s economic troubles have been made worse by the influx of more than 450,000 refugees fleeing the civil war across the border in neighboring Syria.

The Syrians are crowding refugee camps in Jordan and overwhelming aid agencies run by the important U.S. ally in the Middle East.

The United States already is the largest single donor of humanitarian aid for the Syrian people.

Obama said Friday that the extra money, if approved by Congress, will help provide more humanitarian assistance and basic services.

He made the announcement during a news conference in Amman, Jordan, with King Abdullah II.
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« Reply #5267 on: Mar 23, 2013, 06:57 AM »

Police force activists out of Indian museum to be razed for Olympic stadium

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, March 22, 2013 15:53 EDT

Police on Friday forcibly ejected some 30 indigenous activists and supporters from Rio’s former Indian Museum located next to the Maracana stadium, the venue for the 2014 World Cup final.

As the city’s shock police battalion carried out the assault, supporters of the activists who were outside the building tried to intervene but were dispersed with tear gas.

Demonstrators chanted “murderers, fascists,” as the operation took place.

The planned demolition is at the center of a months-long legal tussle, with authorities saying they will raze the abandoned colonial-style building at the request of football’s world governing body as part of an urban renewal program.

But the agency in charge of protecting the city’s cultural heritage and the Rio’s prosecutor’s office are opposed.

The Maracana sport complex is getting a thorough facelift for the World Cup and the 2016 summer Olympics.

“We do not want public space to be turned over to the private sector. We don’t want a shopping mall near Maracana, we want a cultural center,” said one activist.

Police carried out the operation soon after midday after hours of negotiations between indigenous people and representatives of Rio de Janeiro state.

More than 250 police faced off against bare-chested native militants donning feathered headgear.

Earlier, some of the activists agreed to leave the building to go to a central Rio hotel provided by authorities.

Twenty-three indigenous families had since 2006 been living in shacks around the dilapidated museum building, which they want to turn it into Rio’s first native academic institution where ancestral skills would be taught.

The building housed the first Indian Museum from 1953 until 1977 when it was transferred to the Botafogo district.

The empty edifice is now owned by the agriculture ministry.

In January, Rio state Governor Sergio Cabral was forced to suspend the demolition of the edifice, which is to be converted into stores for the Maracana complex.

The governor pledged to build a native cultural center in another neighborhood but the indigenous community resisted, fearing this would never materialize.

The activists argued that the former museum evokes the memory of the Maracanas, one of the original local native tribes.

The indigenous community represents less than one percent of Brazil’s 194-million-strong population and occupies 12 percent of the national territory, mostly in the Amazon.

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« Reply #5268 on: Mar 23, 2013, 06:59 AM »

March 22, 2013

New Leader Taps Mexican Discontent to Press Agenda of Change

By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
IHT

MEXICO CITY — Few topics get Mexicans more worked up than their country’s cellphone service, especially that provided by the dominant carrier, Telcel.

“Their rates are really high, and then there’s no signal sometimes,” said Armando Gómez Fuentes, 42. “The signal goes away really quickly. It’s a mess.”

But there he stood recently at a Telcel store, waiting to buy a new phone, resigned to the dominance of the carrier, which controls 70 percent of the Mexican market, and doubtful that the country’s smaller rivals could do any better.

It is that well of popular frustration — over poor cellphone service, limited programming on television, flagging schools — that President Enrique Peña Nieto has tapped in a series of attention-getting moves that he promises will “transform Mexico” and accelerate growth in an economy that has expanded too slowly to lift the country out of the developing world.

He has promised to bring competition and more government oversight to the telecommunications market, taking aim at the monopoly-like control by one of the richest men in the world, Carlos Slim Helú. Also in the president’s sights is the giant media company Televisa, which dominates broadcasting through four networks and would face renewed competition under a proposal that could lead to the creation of two new channels. And his government has jailed the boss of the teachers’ union, the largest in Latin America, on accusations of embezzlement as part of a sweeping move to wrest full control of the schools from it.

It remains to be seen how any of the changes will turn out; Mexico has a long tradition of bold, finely shaped laws that are ultimately watered down or simply not enforced. The telecommunications proposal passed one chamber of Congress late Thursday and is now headed to the Senate.

But it seems clear that Mr. Peña Nieto has banked substantial political capital and bolstered his popularity, which may add momentum to thornier changes he plans, including opening up the state oil monopoly, long a source of national pride, to private investment.

The teachers’ union, Mr. Slim, Televisa — the targets, in the minds of many Mexicans, are hard to cheer for.

“He is trying to gain credibility and popularity,” said Helena Varela Guinot, a political scientist at the Ibero-American University in Mexico City. “He is saying, ‘I am a president that gets results, this is a government that is efficient, takes risks and goes after the big problems,’ although it is not clear in reality if his reforms will achieve the desired results.”

Those who remember the autocratic ways of Mr. Peña Nieto’s party, which governed Mexico for more than 70 years but was then ousted from power for 12, see a presidential power play that may yet deliver results, but with less space for those who disagree.

“His goal is to reshape the power of the presidency,” said Sergio Aguayo, a political analyst at the Colegio de México. “Not to the level it used to be, because that is impossible. But he is a true believer that Mexico needs a ‘presidentialist’ system.”

Some analysts see in his priorities a clear sign that he does not want his tenure defined by the country’s security problems, with thousands killed or missing in a war against drug and organized crime groups. Mr. Peña Nieto has argued that improving the economy and education in the long run will bring down the violence, and he has said little about the day-to-day mayhem that afflicts many parts of the country.

That may simply reflect the concerns of Mexicans, who rank the economy as a greater concern than crime.

“The same issues identified now are the same issues identified in the previous three presidential elections as top concerns: poverty, underemployment and economic growth,” said Roderic Ai Camp, a Mexico scholar at Claremont McKenna College in California who has written an analysis of Mr. Peña Nieto’s cabinet.

Still, the new president now faces the challenge of turning proposals into laws and, more important, carrying them out.

Mr. Peña Nieto recently persuaded his party, the PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party, at its annual gathering to lift its historic opposition to private investment in the oil industry and to consider the idea of tax levies on food and medicine, which the government is considering to raise revenue.

Earlier, he negotiated a “Pact for Mexico” with opposition parties to help speed overhaul efforts and avert the congressional gridlock, often led by his own party, that has thwarted previous administrations.

Mr. Slim, who owns about 8 percent of The New York Times Company, has publicly praised the president’s proposal and has said he welcomes competition. His business has been diversifying anyway, and the proposal would let him keep 50 percent of the market, while giving him something he has long sought: the possibility of entering the television market.

On Thursday, the International Olympic Committee awarded one of Mr. Slim’s companies, América Móvil, the Latin American broadcast rights to the 2014 Winter Games and the 2016 Summer Games “on all media platforms,” the company said in a statement.

Televisa, too, has said it officially welcomes the plan, which could allow it to expand its stake in the cellphone market through its partnership with a Slim rival, Iusacell.

Analysts have also questioned whether any serious competitor will emerge to threaten Televisa’s lock hold on soap operas and other popular programming.

“The reform is not bad, but neither is it a panacea,” Gerardo Esquivel, an economist at the Colegio de México, wrote on his blog in analyzing the plan.

Karla Zabludovsky contributed reporting.


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« Reply #5269 on: Mar 23, 2013, 07:02 AM »

March 22, 2013

Pope Appeals for More Interreligious Dialogue

By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
IHT

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis appealed for more intense dialogue with Islam on Friday, while calling on church leaders to renew diplomatic discourse with countries that do not have official ties with the Holy See, like China.

The new pope addressed ambassadors from the 180 countries accredited with the Holy See, urging them to share his objectives: fighting poverty, building peace and establishing “true links of friendship between all people,” by building bridges between them.

To this aim, promoting interreligious dialogue, particularly with Islam, is critical, he said, adding that he was grateful that “so many civil and religious leaders from the Islamic world” had attended his installation Mass on Tuesday.

During Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy, relations between the Vatican and Islam were strained by remarks he made in a 2006 speech that were interpreted as critical of Islam, prompting widespread protests in the Muslim world.

The Vatican apologized, explaining that the remarks had been misinterpreted, but the incident weighed on the papacy.

Then, in 2011, Al Azhar University in Cairo, the center of Islamic learning, froze relations with the Vatican in protest after the pope called for greater protection of Egypt’s Coptic Christians after a church bombing in Alexandria.

But the Vatican said Friday that Sheik Ahmed el-Tayyib, Al Azhar’s chief imam, had sent a message congratulating Francis for his election. As he has done on other public occasions, the pope on Friday drew attention to his decision to choose the name of Francis of Assisi, a “familiar figure” around the world, known for helping the poor, caring for those who suffer, protecting the environment from greedy exploitation and setting an example “to make society more humane and more just,” he said.

Francis of Assisi, the pope said, also “tells us we should work to build peace,” which can come about only by overcoming a relativistic view of the world, “which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of all peoples.”

The title of pontiff, he said, means builder of bridges. “My wish is that the dialogue between us should help to build bridges connecting all people, in such a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister to be welcomed and embraced,” he said.

The pope also said it was crucial “to intensify outreach to nonbelievers, so that the differences which divide and hurt us may never prevail.” And he expressed a hope that dialogue would pick up with countries that do not have diplomatic ties with the Holy See.

The Vatican and China have not had formal ties since 1951, and relations have been strained in recent years over the ordination of bishops named by the Beijing government without Vatican consent.

This week, a Chinese spokesman sent a message of congratulations for Francis’ election, but demanded that the Vatican sever its ties with Taiwan as a necessary prelude to formal diplomatic relations.

In the Sala Regia, a ceremonial hall in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican, the pope said he was reaching out to the rest of the world through the ambassadors, as well as representatives from the European Union, the Sovereign Order of the Knights of Malta and emissaries from the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“Fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges: these, as it were, are the reference points for a journey that I want to invite each of the countries here represented to take up,” he said.

*********

March 22, 2013

With New Pope, Spotlight Returns to a Mild but Rebellious Priest

By NICHOLAS KULISH
IHT

VIENNA

WITH his gentle mien and deep blue eyes, the Rev. Helmut Schüller does not seem even remotely disobedient in person. He has the calm, reliable presence of the best parish priests whether in his vestments or, as on a recent afternoon, in street clothes.

But as one of the organizers behind a group of more than 400 priests and deacons who in 2011 issued an “Appeal to Disobedience,” Father Schüller, 60, has developed a reputation as one of the leading rebels within the Austrian church. That is no small feat in this small Alpine nation, which might well be the unruliest country in the Catholic world, a laboratory of liberal ideas and reform initiatives.

Among the seven points in the appeal, the group said it would “take every opportunity to speak up publicly for the admission of women and married people to the priesthood.” The group was rebuked by Pope Benedict XVI in a sermon last year, and Father Schüller was formally stripped of the honorific “monsignor” a few months later.

But unlike many priests who have found themselves in deep disagreement with the Vatican, he prefers to continue working from within the ranks of the priesthood. Once the vicar general of the archdiocese of Vienna, Father Schüller now works as a regular parish priest in Probstdorf, about half an hour’s drive east of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna’s old town.

The Preachers’ Initiative began, Father Schüller said, with a small group of priests, talking about the problems faced by their parishes, about the lack of successors to take their places, and about the fusing of congregations in response to declining numbers of priests and parishioners.

He almost seemed weary when the subject turned to ending mandatory celibacy, as though the news media always wanted to talk about sex when less lurid topics like the liturgy, ecumenism and allowing lay people to preach in parishes without enough priests were equally pressing.

“The church is built on the congregation,” Father Schüller said. “You can’t reduce the churchgoer to a consumer, receiving a service.”

THE election of the first pope from Latin America last week was greeted with excitement, a sign of change and tangible evidence that the global church had become a reality. While Pope Francis may plan to concentrate the efforts of his papacy on the fast-growing regions and the problems that preoccupy the poorer parishioners there, he will more than likely have to deal with new challenges from the dissenters in his own backyard, like Father Schüller.

Calls for a larger role for laypeople in church decision making, women in the priesthood and an end to mandatory celibacy for priests have grown in liberal corners of Europe and the United States. Pope Francis will have to deal with the divergent demands of a world church.

“In countries with extreme hunger and violence, where children are stolen, these questions are not paramount,” said Hans Peter Hurka, chairman of the lay initiative We Are Church in Austria. “But as soon as those needs can be met these questions come very, very quickly.” But he cautioned against the attention that has focused on Father Schüller. “It’s not just about one person,” Mr. Hurka said.

Experts trace the roots of Austria’s dissent as far back as the Reformation, which swept across Austrian territories only to be brutally repressed by the Habsburgs under the Counter-Reformation, turning the country Catholic again but leaving lingering resentment and distrust of church hierarchy and diktats. “We’ll make you Catholic again,” is an old expression still occasionally used for putting someone back in line.

Helmut Schüller felt the call of the church from an early age, perhaps influenced by his birthday on Christmas Eve. Born and raised here in Vienna, he was enchanted by the otherworldly quality, the sounds of the organ and the mellifluous prayers. He became an altar boy.

Under the beloved Cardinal Franz König, many Austrians were particularly enthusiastic about the changes under the Second Vatican Council. After decades of retrenchment, it is hard to remember the burst of fresh ideas that accompanied the council, which took place from 1962 to 1965, and the years immediately following.

AMONG the students who decided to enter the priesthood during this era of intellectual ferment was Father Schüller. The church was an intellectually stimulating place at the time, with debates not just on theological matters but about the future of the church and the questions of social justice raised by the movement known as liberation theology.

He was ordained in 1977, still expecting the reforms and modernizations in the church to continue. The following year the church would have three popes, following the back-to-back deaths of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul I, who was succeeded by Poland’s Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who took the name John Paul II. “At the beginning I was fascinated,” Father Schüller said of John Paul II. “The great subject of Eastern Europe was the focal point.”

In addition to the new emphasis on the states behind the Iron Curtain, other shifts became apparent. There was a backlash against liberation theology and a move away from the spirit of reform embodied by the Second Vatican Council. The expectations of a modernized church were met instead by a traditionalist countermovement. The Vatican sent extremely conservative bishops to Austria, including Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër as the replacement for Cardinal König, creating significant discord.

Father Schüller occupied himself during these years working with youth and with the Catholic charity Caritas, where he happily spent roughly a decade, becoming the country director in 1991.

Even his role at the charity was not without controversy. He was outspoken in his support of migrants and asylum seekers and for his trouble was one of a group of prominent Austrians who received letter bombs in the mail.

THE spark that turned discontent into organized opposition came in 1995, when Cardinal Groër was accused of sexually abusing seminarians. Cardinal Groër never admitted guilt or faced charges, but thousands of Austrians left the church as a result of the affair. The abuse accusations against Cardinal Groër also led to the founding of We Are Church, which collected more than half a million signatures in a petition for a referendum on change in the church.

“Since 1995 the church in Austria has never quite found peace again,” said Heiner Boberski, a religion correspondent for the newspaper Wiener Zeitung and author of books about the Vatican.

In this moment of upheaval, Christoph Schönborn succeeded the disgraced Cardinal Groër as archbishop of Vienna. He asked Father Schüller to take over as his vicar general, a kind of chief operating officer for the diocese. Father Schüller had developed a reputation as a strong manager at the head of the charity and would have preferred to stay there for his entire career, but answered the call when it came.

The following year, in 1996, Father Schüller became the head of a new group handling allegations of abuse. He described the process of learning more about child abuse as significant for his overall understanding of the church, almost an awakening. His confrontation with sexual abuse also began to crystallize certain ideas about the centralized power of the church that had never found an outlet before.

“It’s not just sexual abuse, but a systematic abuse of power,” Father Schüller said. “It threw a harsh light on the system.”

Cardinal Schönborn abruptly fired Father Schüller as vicar general in 1999. The day-to-day problems of his parish church increasingly shaped Father Schüller’s thinking. In April 2006 he co-founded the Preachers’ Initiative, calling for church reforms.

“He’s very open to new ideas from us,” said Maria Tödling-Weiss, 42, who works with Father Schüller on the church board in Probstdorf. “He always says, ‘Let’s give it a try.’”

“It’s about church from below,” he says, lifting his palms upward from the table, a gesture quite literally uplifting, “or church from above.” At that he presses downward. There is no question on which side he comes down.



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« Reply #5270 on: Mar 23, 2013, 07:13 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
03/22/2013 04:27 PM

Mapping the Internet: A Hacker's Secret Internet Census

By Christian Stöcker and Judith Horchert

Just how big is the Internet? An anonymous hacker claims to have answered the question via effective but illegal means. The result is a fascinating reflection of online usage around the world.

Somewhere on this planet there is a hacker whose emotions are likely shifting between pride and fear. Pride, because he managed to do what no one else has managed. And fear, because it was illegal in almost every country in the world.

This person measured the Internet -- the entire public network as it appeared in 2012. To achieve this Herculean task, the hacker illegally used a tool that utilized others' computers across the globe.

The anonymous person simply wanted to find out how many devices that were online could be opened with the standard password "root," he writes in a kind of research report on the project, entitled "Internet Census 2012." The result was the discovery that there are hundreds of thousands of devices secured only with the most common standard password, or without any password at all.

One of the largest groups of devices he found were routers, an issue we recommend that readers address immediately. Routers received by Internet providers are likely to have one of a few standard administrator passwords, including "root" or "admin." The router producers assume that users will change these passwords when they install them, but this rarely happens.

"As could be seen from the sample data, insecure devices are located basically everywhere on the Internet," the hacker writes. He found over a million devices that were accessible worldwide, the "vast majority of them consumer routers or set-top boxes." But there were also other types of devices, including "industrial control systems" and "physical door security systems." The security risks that the hacker's work exposes are dizzying.

Obviously Illegal

To clear up any confusion, this was not about wireless local area network (WLAN) passwords, which users presumably configure with their own passwords or those provided on the back of the router. The focus was on the standard administrator passwords with which one can access the router itself. This router interface for administrators is not supposed to be accessible from the Internet -- but that often appears not to be the case, according to the hacker's research.

When the hacker's scanning bot found a router or other device with an open door and favorable conditions, it would upload a copy of itself, and from there, conduct further scans on other devices, thus growing exponentially larger. After just one day, the hacker writes that he had some 100,000 devices under his control -- the nucleus of his "Carna Botnet," named after the Roman goddess of internal organs and health, who was later associated with doorsteps and hinges.

In total, the Carna Botnet utilized some 420,000 devices to conduct a swift Internet census as the routers that had been taken over pinged IP addresses and waited for answers. If a device answered, it was included in the count. Deploying this kind of botnet -- defined as a group of Internet-connected programs that communicate with each other -- is obviously illegal. Botnets are often used to send spam or carry out denial of service attacks.

But Carna was used only for counting, and the 420,000 devices were not available all at once. Each time one was shut down and restarted, the Carna Botnet flushed itself from the hardware and had to be reinstalled during the next scan.

A Message for Law Enforcement

The hacker wanted to ensure that his illegal research project did as little damage as possible. "We had no interest in interfering with default device operation so we did not change passwords and did not make any permanent changes," he writes. "After a reboot the device was back in its original state including weak or no password with none of our binaries or data stored on the device anymore." The botnet also uploaded a file to each device with information on the project and a contact email address "to provide feedback for security researchers, ISPs and law enforcement who may notice the project."

The planted software was created to be undetectable and use as few resources as possible. "We did this in the least invasive way possible and with the maximum respect to the privacy of the regular device users," the hacker writes.

The hacker also says that he removed a criminal botnet called Aidra from many of the devices that Carna took over. Carna blocked Aidra from all of the devices that it was present on -- but only until the next restart.

Laying Internet Security Failures Bare

But owners of the devices tapped into by Carna may not regard the project as harmless, even if the hacker's intentions appear to be so. He put the entire data set created by his Internet census online, inviting IT security researchers, intelligence agencies and organized criminals alike to interpret it, though the billions of data points will probably take months to yield more exact findings. But certain data sets include information about which software is running on scanned devices, and which ports react in which way to certain kinds of contact attempts. This could save spies and criminals looking for weak points a lot of work.

At the same time, the Carna hacker's daring exploit makes it painfully clear just how enormously unsafe the Internet is at many points, and could encourage change.

So what were the actual results of the Internet census? How many IP addresses were there in 2012? "That depends on how you count," the hacker writes. Some 450 million were "in use and reachable" during his scans. Then there were the firewalled IPs and those with reverse DNS records (which means there are domain names associated with them). In total, this equalled some 1.3 billion IP addresses in use.

The number is in accord with what renowned security expert HD Moore, the CEO at vulnerability testing company Rapid7, legally came up with last year. Moore told IT news site ArsTechnica that the Carna project's findings appear to be "pretty accurate."

The last large Internet census, the "Internet Protocol Version 4 Census" (IPv4) in 2006, revealed some 187 million visible IP addresses. In other words, the Internet is growing rapidly, even if these numbers are a bit hazy.

The Last Snapshot?

It's important to note that these numbers do not indicate the number of computers that are online. Behind every IP address there are several, sometimes dozens or even hundreds of devices. The data also reveals nothing about the size of these intranets. Carna could only see the access computers on the public Internet.

The Internet Protocol version 4 is still valid, and routes Internet traffic to some 4.3 billion addresses, of which a number are reserved for special uses. Carna's creator estimates that some 2.3 billion IP addresses are inactive under IPv4, as they were before. The introduction of IPv4's replacement, IPv6, has already long been underway, however. The latest IP version will increase the number of addresses so radically -- encompassing some 340 sextillion (a sextillion has 36 zeros) -- that similar scans will hardly be possible. That means the illegal Carna scan is probably the last snapshot of the IPv4 Internet.

So why did the Carna hacker do it? "I saw the chance to really work on an Internet scale, command hundreds of thousands of devices with a click of my mouse, portscan and map the whole Internet in a way nobody had done before, basically have fun with computers and the Internet in a way very few people ever will," he writes.


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« Reply #5271 on: Mar 23, 2013, 07:29 AM »

In the USA...

March 23, 2013 07:30 AM

Bernie Sanders Leads Senate in Vote to Block Cuts for Social Security and Disabled Vets

By Diane Sweet
RawStory

We should thank our lucky stars that we have Bernie Sanders in the Senate. The Senate on Friday evening voted to block cuts in benefits for Social Security and disabled veterans.

The amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) put the Senate on record against changing how cost-of-living increases are calculated in a way that would result in significant cuts.

“The time has come for the Senate to send a very loud and clear message to the American people: We will not balance the budget on the backs of disabled veterans who have lost their arms, their legs and their eyesight defending our country. We will not balance the budget on the backs of the men and women who have already sacrificed for us in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor on the widows who have lost their husbands in Iraq and Afghanistan defending our country,” Sanders said.

The amendment opposed switching from the current method of measuring inflation to a so-called chained consumer price index. President Barack Obama favors a chained CPI as part of what the White House calls a “grand bargain” that Obama hopes to reach with congressional Republicans.

The proposed change would affect more than 3.2 million disabled veterans receiving disability compensation benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 would have their benefits reduced by $1,425 at age 45, $2,341 at age 55 and $3,231 at age 65. Benefits for more than 350,000 surviving spouses and children who have lost a loved one in battle also would be cut. Dependency Indemnity Compensation benefits already average less than $17,000 a year.

More than 55 million retirees, widows, orphans and disabled Americans receiving Social Security also would be affected by the switch to a chained CPI. That figure includes 9 million veterans with an average yearly benefit of about $15,500. A veteran with average earnings retiring at age 65 would get nearly a $600 benefit cut at age 75 and a $1,000 cut at age 85. By age 95, when Social Security benefits are probably needed the most, that veteran would face a cut of $1,400 – a reduction of 9.2 percent.

A chained CPI would cut Social Security benefits for average senior citizens who are 65 by more than $650 a year by the time they are 75 years old, and by more than $1,000 once they reach 85.

Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=vGik2JFc8V8


**********

Texas takes step toward secession with Rick Perry’s plan to hoard gold

By David Edwards
RawStory
Friday, March 22, 2013 9:21 EDT

Giovanni has filed a bill to establish a Texas Bullion Depository to store the $1 billion worth of gold bars that are owned by University of Texas Investment Management Co. (UTIMCO), which are currently being housed by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Speaking to conservative radio host Glenn Beck on Tuesday, Perry said that lawmakers were in the process of “bringing gold that belongs to the state of Texas back into the state.” Beck has been a longtime paid spokesperson for the precious metal seller Goldline, which agreed to refund up to $4.5 million to former customers last year after being sued for marking up gold more than 50 percent.

“If we own it, I will suggest to you that that’s not someone else’s determination whether we can take possession of it back or not,” Perry told Beck.

Former Rep. Ron Paul on Thursday explained to The Texas Tribune that the gold would be safer in the hands of Texans.

“If you think gold is a hedge, or a protection, you always want it as close to the individual and the entity as possible,” Paul said. “Texas is better served if it knows exactly where the gold is rather than depending on the security of the Federal Reserve.”

For his part, Capriglione said that he had gotten the idea while attending a tea party rally with Perry in Tarrant County earlier this year.

“Something on the scorecards of a lot of these businesses in deciding whether they want to come to Texas is stability and gold as being one of those items,” Capriglione insisted. “I think it’s been in his consciousness for a while in trying to get some sort of depository in the state of Texas.”

“We don’t want just the certificates. We want our gold. And if you’re the state of Texas, you should be able to get your gold.”

Tangent Capital Partners senior managing director Jim Rickards speculated to Yahoo Finance on Thursday that creating a “Fort Knox of Texas” could be a step in Texas creating its own currency and eventually moving to secede.

“This bill contains a provision that says to the federal government that you, the federal government, purport to confiscate this Texas gold, we, the state of Texas, consider that to be null and void,” Rickards pointed out. “And under the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution, they have that power.”

Earlier this year, more than 100,000 people signed a petition on the White House website calling on President Barack Obama’s administration to allow the state to secede.

White House Office of Public Engagement Director Jon Carson responded by noting that the Supreme Court in 1869 that states do not have a right to secede.

Carson noted that the Founding Fathers established a Constitution and “enshrined in that document the right to change our national government through the power of the ballot — a right that generations of Americans have fought to secure for all. But they did not provide a right to walk away from it.”

In a 2009 interview, Perry had joked that Texas was “thinking about” becoming an independent republic, but he dismissed the call to secede last year.

************

Officer testifies stop-and-frisk program motivated by quotas and race

By Ryan Devereaux, The Guardian
Friday, March 22, 2013 13:29 EDT

Officer secretly recorded conversation with his supervisor in which he is apparently told to target ‘male blacks 14 to 21′

The New York police department’s controversial stop-and-frisk program is being driven by a high-pressure quota system imposed upon lower-ranking officers by their supervisors, two NYPD officers testified in court this week.

The claims were made as part of a landmark class action lawsuit that began Monday. The suit seeks to prove that the nation’s largest police department has demonstrated a widespread and systemic pattern of unconstitutional stops that disproportionately target minorities.

Lawyers for the city have dismissed allegations of quotas and scrutinized the credibility of the suit’s plaintiffs, including their allegations of racial bias on the part of the department.

“The quota allegations are a sideshow,” city attorney Heidi Grossman said in opening statements Monday. “Crime drives where police officers go,” she added. “Not race.”

The trial represents a historic challenge to the legacies of NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly and mayor Michael Bloomberg, who have both vocally supported stop-and-frisk.

The NYPD has stopped approximately 5 million people over the last decade. According to department data, the vast of majority of those stopped are African American or Latino, many of them young men. In recent years nearly nine out of 10 of those stopped by police have walked away from the stops without a summons or arrest.

Darius Charney, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in opening statements that the trial is about more than numbers. “It’s about people,” he said. The NYPD has “laid siege to black and Latino communities” through “arbitrary, unnecessary and unconstitutional harassment”, Charney added.

Supporters of stop-and-frisk, including Bloomberg and Kelly, maintain that it is an essential tool that save lives and removes guns from the streets. Without stop-and-frisk, New York City would descend into violence not seen in decades, they argue. Young men of color – the group most frequently cited as victims of the program – would bear the brunt of violent crime, they say.

Both the mayor and the commissioner – as well as the city itself and several named and unnamed officers – are the defendants in the suit.

By law, the NYPD is permitted to stop a person if it has a reasonable suspicion to believe the person is about to commit a crime, is in the process of committing a crime, or has just finished committing a crime. An officer can frisk a person – patting them outside the clothing – if they have reason to believe the person is an armed threat. An officer can search someone – reach inside clothing – if they have encountered an object they have reason to believe is a weapon.

These conditions regularly go unmet, stop-and-frisk critics argue. They say the program has produced a sense of second-class citizenship in minority communities in which individuals – particularly young men – are routinely subjected to illegal and degrading stops.
‘We were handcuffing kids for no reason’

The trial began Monday with two packed courtrooms; one where the actual proceedings are taking place and one for the overflow of spectators, activists and politicians. The first four witness were each African American men who described stops they had experienced. City attorneys worked to expose inconsistencies between the witnesses testimonies and depositions, prove bias against the police department and discredit their claims of racial profiling.

By mid-week lawyers for the plaintiffs shifted focus from the experience of street stops to the internal NYPD incentive structure that allegedly motivates them.

Officer Adhyl Polanco began his testimony Tuesday by saying “there’s a difference between” the department’s policies on paper and “what goes on out there”, on the city’s streets.

Polanco testified that in 2009, officers in his Bronx precinct were expected to issue 20 summons and make one arrest per month. If they did not they would risk denied vacation, being separated from longtime partners, undesirable assignments and other consequences.

Polcano claimed it was not uncommon for patrol officers who were not making quotas to be forced to “drive the sergeant” or “drive the supervisor”, which meant driving around with a senior officer who would find individuals for the patrol officer to arrest or issue a summons to, at times for infractions the junior officer did not observe.

“We were handcuffing kids for no reason,” Polanco said. Claiming he was increasingly disturbed by what he was witnessing in his precinct, Polcanco began secretly recording his roll call meetings.

In one recording played for the court, a man Polanco claimed was a NYPD captain told officers: “the summons is a money–generating machine for the city.”

Bronx police officer Pedro Serrano also secretly recorded comments made by supervisors at the same Bronx precinct. His recordings were also played for the court this week.

On a track played Thursday, Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack was heard telling Serrano he needed to stop “the right people, the right time, the right location”. When asked what he believed McCormack meant Serrano told the court: “he meant blacks and Hispanics.”

Later in the tape McCormack says: “I have no problem telling you this … male blacks. And I told you at roll call, and I have no problem [to] tell you this, male blacks 14 to 21.”

Serrano claims his attempts to raise concerns about stop and frisk and the existence of quotas have been met with retaliation, including fellow officers vandalizing his locker with stickers of rats.

He choked up on the witness stand Thursday, as he described his reason for joining the suit.

“As a Hispanic living in the Bronx, I have been stopped many times,” Serrano said. “I just want to do the right thing.”

© 2013 Guardian News and Media

*********

March 23, 2013

Senate Passes $3.7 Trillion Budget, Its First in 4 Years

By JONATHAN WEISMAN
NYT

WASHINGTON — After a grueling, all-night debate that ended close to 5 a.m., the Senate on Saturday adopted its first budget in four years, a $3.7 trillion blueprint for 2014 that would fast-track passage of tax increases, trim spending gingerly and leave the government still deeply in the debt a decade from now.

The 50-to-49 vote sets up contentious — and potentially fruitless — negotiations with the Republican-dominated House in April to reconcile two vastly different plans for dealing with the nation’s economic and budgetary problems. No Republicans voted for the Senate plan on Saturday, and four Democrats — Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mark Begich of Alaska and Max Baucus of Montana — also opposed it. All four are red-state Democrats up for re-election in 2014.

“The Senate has passed a budget,” Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the Senate Budget Committee chairwoman, declared at 4:56 a.m.

The House plan ostensibly brings the government’s taxes and spending into balance by 2023 with cuts to domestic spending even below the automatic “sequestration” levels now roiling federal programs and it orders significant changes to Medicare and the tax code.

The Senate plan, in contrast, includes $100 billion in upfront infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy and calls for special fast-track rules to overhaul the tax code and raise $975 billion over 10 years through legislation that could not be filibustered. Even with that tax increase and prescribed spending cuts, the Senate plan would leave the government with a $566 billion deficit in 10 years, and $5.2 trillion in additional debt over that time.

“The first priority of the Senate budget is creating jobs and economic growth from the middle out, not the top down,” Ms. Murray, the chairwoman of the Budget Committee, said. “With an unemployment rate than remains stubbornly high, and a middle class that has seen their wages stagnate for far too long, we simply cannot afford any threats to our fragile recovery.”

Republicans were dismissive of the Democrats’ priorities.

“Honest people can disagree on policy, but where there can be no honest disagreement is the need to change our nation’s debt course,” said Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Budget Committee’s ranking Republican. “The singular truth that no one can escape is that the House budget changes our debt course while the Senate budget does not.”

Passage of the competing plans does advance a more orderly process after nearly three years of crises and brinkmanship. If House and Senate negotiators can agree on a framework for overhauling the tax code and entitlement programs like Medicare, their committees could go to work on detailed legislation, possibly under special rules that protect the bills from a Senate filibuster.

If the negotiations prove fruitless, the next budget crisis looms this summer when Congress must again raise the government’s statutory borrowing limit or risk defaulting on the federal debt. House Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio on Thursday revived a rule — breached in January — that any increase in the debt ceiling must be accompanied by equivalent spending cuts.

Final passage of the Senate budget was upstaged by the process that got the senators to it, a record-breaking marathon known since 1977 as the budget “vote-a-rama.” More than 500 amendments were filed, and 70 were voted on. They were advisory only, but they put the Senate on record backing a dizzying variety of subjects, from limiting the regulation of sage grouse and preventing the United Nations from infringing on Americans’ right to bear arms, to repealing a tax on medical devices that helps finance the president’s health care law and building the Keystone XL pipeline through the Midwest.

By 4 a.m., the senators were sitting quietly in their seats, plowing through amendments like sleepy schoolchildren, breaking only to give the Senate pages a standing ovation and to grumble when a senator demanded a roll-call vote if a voice vote would suffice. As the senators recorded their final votes, they hastily headed out of the Capitol for a two-week spring recess.

It was the 32nd all-night Senate session since 1915, and the first since an Iraq War debate in 2007 stretched from 10 a.m. to 5:09 the following morning, according to the Senate Historical Office.

But the sleepy bonhomie did not bridge the budgetary divide between the parties. Senate Republicans and Democrats could not even agree on what was in the Senate budget. Ms. Murray said the plan matched its $975 billion in revenue increases with equivalent cuts and interest savings. But Republicans said it did not, since the proposal reversed $1 trillion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, but did not count that against the spending cuts.

Those differences did not lend themselves to much optimism going forward.

“The only good news is that the fiscal path the Democrats laid out in their budget resolution won’t become law,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.

********

March 22, 2013

Tight Deadlines and Lagging Funds Bedevil Obama Health Care Law

By ROBERT PEAR
NYT

WASHINGTON — It was another turbulent week for President Obama’s health care law. Congress rejected a White House request for nearly $1 billion to carry out the law, even as federal responsibilities increased to include the supervision of insurance markets in more than half the states. Then, on Friday, Republican attacks on the law continued in the Senate, where Democrats beat back Republican proposals to repeal the law and many of its tax increases.

Federal officials are racing to set up insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, in 33 states — more than they ever expected.

Enrollment begins in six months, and the amount of work to be done is staggering, officials say.

Mr. Obama scored his biggest legislative achievement exactly three years ago when he signed the Affordable Care Act. But this week the administration cautioned officials to be careful about suggesting that the law would drive down costs.

After extensive research, the administration said it was unwise to tell consumers that they could get “health insurance that fits your budget.” That message, it said, is “seen as highly motivational, but not as believable.”

Millions of people have benefited from the law, gaining access to cancer screenings and other free preventive services, discounts on prescription drugs and coverage for sick children.

But many Americans are unaware of the law’s provisions.

Supporters of the law, including some who worked full-time to secure its passage, say President Obama has done little to trumpet its benefits, educate the public or answer the critics.

“The president’s legacy rests on this thing, but the administration has not done a good job of explaining the law or what people should expect,” said Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel, who worked on health policy at the White House from 2009 to 2011.

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, highlighted the benefits on her blog and in Twitter messages this week.

Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the House Democratic whip, said the law had helped slow the growth of health costs and was “having a very positive impact on millions of lives.”

But in its latest poll, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that two-thirds of the uninsured said they did not have enough information to understand how the law would affect them. Public opinion remains deeply divided, with 40 percent of Americans having an unfavorable view of the law and 37 percent holding a favorable view.

The administration says 41 million people may be eligible for new insurance options. Of that number, 28 million live in states where the federal government will be running the exchanges, by itself or in partnership with state officials. One-fifth of those eligible have not graduated from high school.

Congress turned down a request from the administration for an additional $949 million to set up the exchanges and help people enroll. Republicans opposed the request, and Democrats did not push for it.

Federal officials face a series of tight deadlines. By April 30, insurers are supposed to file applications describing the benefits and costs of the products they want to sell. Virtually every product offered to individuals, families and small businesses will be new or revised to comply with federal standards.

The federal government and the states will review the proposals to make sure that the rates are justified, and that each health plan has enough doctors and hospitals to serve its customers.

In June, the federal government plans to establish a telephone call center to assist consumers. Millions of people will seek tax credits to help them pay premiums. The federal government is creating a computer network to help verify income and citizenship. The network is designed to allow each state to exchange data with the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the Social Security Administration and other agencies.

By early September, the federal government and states plan to certify health plans approved for sale to the public. On Oct. 1, consumers can enroll. Coverage starts in January, when most Americans will be required to have insurance. “We are on track and on schedule,” said Gary M. Cohen, the federal official in charge of the operation. But Democratic senators express growing concern that the federal government, like some states, may not be ready.

“The administration needs to step up its game,” said Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Finance Committee.

In November, it appeared that Republican leaders might accept the Affordable Care Act as the law of the land. But Representative Michael C. Burgess, Republican of Texas, said opposition hardened after Republicans saw “the many pages of regulation proceeding in a torrent from federal agencies since the election.”

Representative Tom Price, Republican of Georgia, predicted that the law would “crumble of its own weight.”

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, strongly supports the law, but said: “There are huge challenges ahead. The one I am most concerned about is affordability.” Mr. Wyden worries that many workers will be unable to afford family coverage offered on the job and ineligible for subsidies offered in the exchange.

States remain the primary regulators of health insurance.

However, most states have not incorporated the new federal standards into state law, according to a survey by the Health Policy Institute of Georgetown University, and officials in 22 states said that as a result they had little or no power to enforce the federal standards.

**********

John Boehner: The Corporate Dummy Who Mouths The Message Of His Masters

By: Adalia Woodbury
Mar. 22nd, 2013
PoliticusUSA

John Boehner’s one trick pony show got old along time ago.  Anytime there is any discussion about finances, Republicans always chant the same mantra. Unless we get savage cuts, we’re going to hold our breath and stomp our feet.  It’s an act that has been brought back over and over again, despite bad reviews and audiences walking out of the show.

This time Boehner wants to hold our credit rating hostage in the name of destroying programs that a majority of Americans, including Republicans, hold dear.  It shouldn’t come as any surprise considering that Republicans did the exact same thing during previous debt ceiling debates.  The tactic remains the same. The only difference is the increasingly draconian demands.  In Boehner’s words, “Dollar for dollar is the plan,”

In other words, for each dollar it takes to service the debt that Republicans built with unpaid wars and relieving the privileged from their civic responsibility of paying their fair share of taxes,  Boehner wants cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Since abandoning the lie about a “debt crisis” Boehner has latched on to the new/old right wing catch phrase, “entitlement crisis,” like the good corporate dummy that he is.

Boehner went on to say,

    “The president has been clear that he’s not going to address our entitlement crisis unless we’re willing to raise taxes. I think the tax issue has been resolved,” said Boehner. “So at this point then, I don’t know how we’re going to go forward.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Boehner and his corporate ventriloquists fail to understand that the tax issue was not resolved to the satisfaction of the American people.  The November election, along with subsequent polls show that most Americans favor the sort of balanced approach to the debt proposed by President Obama.  In other words, the people that Boehner is supposed to work for want the rich to pay their fair share of taxes.  Moreover, his continued demands to gut Social Security, block grant Medicaid and couponize Medicare were resolved – in November 2012. America said no.  It isn’t as if Boehner doesn’t care about that. However, it illustrates that Boehner remains unclear on the concept that Republicans should disregard voters at their own peril.

They also fails to understand the story about the boy who cried wolf.  First, Boehner trotted out the fictional debt crisis and tried to blame Obama for the sequester that Republicans wanted. It took some time, but truth did triumph and force Boehner to admit in various interviews that he lied. It isn’t as if his corporate ventriloquists worry about things like credibility because their credibility isn’t at stake.  As soon as their dummy’s credibility is compromised to the point of laughability, they’ll simply buy a new puppet, and they’ll keep buying as many new puppets as it takes.

That explains why Boehner continues to belabor the idea that we are in some sort of crisis to justify continued attacks on government programs that benefit most of America.  At the same time, the manufactured crisis isn’t severe enough for the privileged to share in the sacrifice.

This time, as was the case the last time Republicans stomped their feet, lied and tried to blackmail the President into submission to their rejected and failed ideas, our credit rating is at stake. But don’t you worry.  John Boehner would never put our credit rating at risk. It’s the same thing that he and other House Republicans said last year and the year before that.  They hope you won’t remember that the debt in question is money already spent and more precisely already spent by Republicans.

Chances are international creditors recognize that Boehner is crying wolf, but that’s not the point.

Republican antics do little to instill confidence that we are capable of governing ourselves.  But then, that plays into their overall theme that corporations should run America because government is so hopelessly dysfunctional.

This is reinforced by the fact that Republican lawmakers are corporate dummies masquerading as political leaders.  In reality, Boehner and McConnell are corporate ventriloquist dummies in the same vein as Wayne Lapierre.  They appear, for all the world to see, as buffoons far removed from the Americans they pretend to represent.  More so, when they stand for a given position one minute and completely reverse themselves minutes or hours later.

In reality, they are nothing more than dummies mouthing the message their corporate ventriloquists tell them to say.  They dare not think for themselves, or adopt policies that are more in tune with America’s mainstream because they fear what happens to dummies that fail to perform to their corporate owner’s whims.

This far from absolves Republican lawmakers.  Rather it reinforces the idea that the GOP’s problems are far more than outreach deep. Just as Americans reject the idea that corporations are people, we don’t want puppets masquerading as lawmakers.

***********

McCain Shoots Boehner’s Argument Out of the Water by Urging GOP to Raise Revenue

By: Sarah Jones
Mar. 22nd, 201
PoliticusUSA

Stop the presses. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) praised President Obama for reaching across the aisle and said Republicans should compromise on the budget by increasing tax revenues. McCain praised the President for changing “significantly” from his first term, by reaching out to Republicans for a compromise on the Grand Bargain.

In an interview on Political Capital With Al Hunt airing this weekend on Bloomberg Television, McCain said, “I’m open — have always been open — to closing loopholes, eliminating special deals for special interests. If you call that, ‘raising revenues,’ I’ve been guilty all my political career” of trying to cut special-interest loopholes.”

Watch here via Bloomberg TV:

Closing loopholes is a way Republicans can agree to raise revenue without appearing to be raising taxes. It’s can be seen as political cover for Republicans who signed the Norquist pledge; however, House Republicans balked at Boehner’s attempt to slide hidden revenues into the Grand Bargain in 2011.

This puts McCain at odds with the line House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is trying to sell the public, that Obama won’t compromise (translation: Obama won’t cave to Republican demands like Boehner has to).

The truth is that it’s absurd to try to balance the budget with cuts alone (would you try to get out of debt by quitting your job and refusing to raise any revenue to pay your bills, thinking you’ll just cut your expenses down until you can roll along on the lowest income since Eisenhower?), but this Republican led House will stop at nothing in order to attack the social programs of The New Deal. Obviously they aren’t too worried about actual spending, or they would agree to make cuts to the defense budget. Instead, they take aim at Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, etc.

Boehner doesn’t care that his House created sequester will leave veterans homeless; he can’t afford to care. Boehner can’t get the House Republicans to even consider compromise, and he’s not about to open himself to further embarrassment by allowing a vote on a sequester replacement.

Jason Easley explained the real reason we have no sequester replacement:

    In May, 16 Republicans voted against their own party’s sequester replacement bill. The number of Republican defections jumped to 21 when the Republican sequester replacement option was passed again in December. Republicans currently have a 17 vote majority in the House, so the odds are that Van Hollen’s bill would pass if it came to the floor for a vote.

In Boehner’s eyes, better to let the country tank than to allow a vote on a Democratic plan that might pass.

President Obama has proposed a balanced budget that is much more fair than the Paul Ryan budget passed by the House yesterday. Obama already gave Republicans 2 trillion in cuts, and in his plan he balances spending cuts with increased revenues so that the poor do not have to bear the entire burden of the balanced budget.

McCain took on the intransigence of his party, “I am more than willing to give the president of the United States the opportunity to sit down and work with us… And we may have to make some concessions on our side…. Why are we doing all these things that only benefit the special interests who still have enormous influence here? Republicans have betrayed our base by allowing this kind of pork-barrel and earmark spending to go on.”

McCain has always had his own opaque ideas about principles, and watching from the outside it’s hard to tell what causes him to jerk from one side to another. But in this case, McCain has always had a hatred for pork. McCain clearly can’t understand why his party is refusing to compromise, but then, McCain must still believe in what his party allegedly stands for instead of admitting that it has become nothing but a corporate shill.



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Cyprus president lands in Brussels for crisis talks

Nicos Anastasiades to meet governments and IMF for talks that could lead to Cyprus becoming first to leave single currency

Ian Traynor and Dan Milmo   
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 24 March 2013 10.59 GMT   

The Cypriot president is expected in a snow-bound Brussels later on Sunday for a showdown with European governments and the International Monetary Fund that is likely to determine whether the island, teetering on the brink of insolvency, becomes the first country to be kicked out of Europe's single currency.

Nicos Anastasiades is to see Christine Lagarde of the IMF and Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, as well as the presidents of the European commission and European council, Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy, who have cancelled an EU-Japan summit to return to Brussels because of the Cyprus emergency.

Anastasiades is expected to unveil new proposals to hit wealthy Cyprus banking clients with heavy levies on their deposits in order to come up with about one-third of the €17bn bailout the country needs.

A week ago he insisted on minimising the levy to less than 10% to prevent foreign investors, mainly Russians and British, pulling their money out of Cyprus. Now he is being forced to double that levy to 20%, according to reports from Nicosia late on Saturday, while sparing all savers with less than €100,000.

With the stakes never so high for Cyprus, the European Central Bank is threatening to pull the plug on short-term funds propping up the Cypriot financial sector on Monday unless a last-minute deal is struck that satisfies the island's increasingly hawkish eurozone creditors, led by Germany.

The eurozone's biggest economy is determined that the island deflates a bloated financial sector that exceeds the size of the Cypriot economy by a factor of eight.

"It is well-known that I won't allow myself to be blackmailed, by no one or nothing," said the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble. "I'm aware of my responsibility for the stability of the euro. If we take the wrong decisions, we'll be doing the euro a great misservice," he told a German Sunday newspaper.

Anastasiades's meetings in Brussels will be followed by an emergency meeting of eurozone finance ministers in the eurogroup on Sunday evening. It will also be attended by Lagarde, the European commissioner Olli Rehn and top officials from the European Central Bank – which will be the crucial venue for striking a deal.

In talks on Saturday in Nicosia with the "troika" of EU, ECB and IMF officials, according to Reuters, Anastasiades conceded a much bigger confiscation of wealthy depositors' cash. Anyone with more than €100,000 in Bank of Cyprus, the country's biggest bank, would lose 20%, while similar deposits in other banks would be hit by a 4% levy.

The proposed deal would still need to pass the Cypriot parliament, which last Tuesday unanimously rejected an agreement to tax savers. The parliament is expected to convene quickly if the Cypriots and the eurogroup reach agreement on Sunday evening.

"There are only hard choices left," said Rehn.

"We are undertaking great efforts. I hope we have a solution soon," Anastasiades tweeted.

Schäuble said Cyprus could not avoid very tough times. "But that is not because of European stubbornness, but because of a business model that no longer functions," he said.

The eurozone's terms for an agreement could not be changed, he added, also insisting that depositors with savings under €100,000 had to be spared.

A senior policymaker at the ECB also served Cyprus notice that it would be given little leeway in the crucial talks by predicting that the island's financial woes would not tip its eurozone peers into economic crisis.

Ewald Nowotny, the head of Austria's central bank, echoed the view of his German counterparts in an interview this weekend, warning that the Cypriot economic model – with its reliance on offshore banking and Russian money – was unsustainable.

"This system is certainly no longer able to continue," said Nowotny.

Speaking in an interview with the Austrian newspaper Österreich, Nowotny indicated that failure to agree a deal by Monday's deadline – when the ECB has threatened to cut off financial assistance to Cyprus – would not trigger a systemic crisis across the eurozone.

"We see clear signs of improvement in Spain, Portugal and Ireland. I see no massive economic problems in Italy as well, so I do not believe that it will come to contagion," he said, reiterating that Cyprus accounts for only 0.2% of eurozone GDP. Nowotny also ruled out the prospect of the Cypriot depositors' haircut being implemented on Austrian savers. "Austrian savers' money is absolutely safe," he said.

The original rescue deal for Cyprus collapsed last week when legislators rejected proposals that included a levy of 6.75% on all deposits below €100,000. Observers have warned that the haircut has damaged public trust in the euro project, because deposits under €100,000 are protected across the European Union.

Cypriot banks hold €68bn in deposits, including €38bn in accounts of more than €100,000. With so much of the Cypriot banking system predicated on deposits rather than wholesale debt funding, officials at the IMF, the ECB and the EU have told the Cypriot government that depositors must carry some of the pain of a bailout, or risk their savings being wiped out altogether.

*********

Cyprus bailout: Kremlin 'could punish Europe' in reprisal for bank levy

Fears mount that Russia could act against European companies if charge on deposits hits €30bn Russian investments

Helena Smith in Nicosia, Simon Goodley and Toby Helm   
The Observer, Saturday 23 March 2013 19.20 GMT

Fears are growing of Russian reprisals against European businesses as EU authorities desperately seek a deal to save the Cypriot economy by imposing a 25% levy on bank deposits of more than €100,000.

As the island scrambled to put together a rescue programme, its finance minister, Michalis Sarris, said "significant progress" had been made on the latest levy plan in talks with officials from the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The government in Nicosia faces a deadline of Monday to reach an agreement or the European Central Bank says it will cut off emergency cash to the island, spelling the likely financial collapse of its banking system and a potential exit from the European single currency.

However, with Russian investors having an estimated €30bn (£26bn) deposited in banks on the island, the growing optimism about a deal was accompanied by fears of retaliation from Moscow. Alexander Nekrassov, a former Kremlin adviser, said: "If it is the case that there will be a 25% levy on deposits greater than €100,000 then some Russians will suffer very badly.

"Then, of course, Moscow will be looking for ways to punish the EU. There are a number of large German companies operating in Russia. You could possibly look at freezing assets or taxing assets. The Kremlin is adopting a wait and see policy."

Nekrassov rejected suggestions that Russia might hit back by cutting off gas supplies, a tactic the country used in 2009 after the collapse of talks with Ukraine to end a row over unpaid bills and energy pricing.

"Gas is no longer a weapon," Nekrassov said. "When Russia did that before, it realised that the foreign energy lobby reacted and efforts to find alternative sources were increased. If Russia kept threatening, it knows that nobody would be buying its gas in 20 years' time."

Mike Ingram, an analyst at City broker BGC Partners, said: "In Russia, historically, if they want an asset they just grab it. If they want cash out of a [EU] business [in Russia] they just create a tax bill or raid offices and make your life unpleasant. They could also make life difficult diplomatically on issues such as Syria. They might also rattle a few sabres over deployment of the missile defence system."

In a week of high-stakes brinkmanship, the EU, ECB and IMF – the so-called "troika" behind the rescue of five southern European countries – had refused to budge on its insistence that Cyprus raise €5.8bn of its own revenues to qualify for the bailout aid.

The latest levy plan reflected Nicosia's fast-dwindling options.

Last week Cypriot MPs overwhelmingly rejected a similar levy proposal – even after it was adjusted to remove any charge on savings below €20,000 – triggering a week of tumult as Nicosia tried and failed to win financial support from Russia instead.

The tax on savings is unprecedented in Europe's handling of a debt crisis that has spread from Greece to Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy. The crisis has reignited uncertainty about the future of the eurozone just as many EU leaders began to believe the worst was over for the single currency.

On Saturday, uncertainty shrouding the island turned from unease on the streets, where people have rushed en masse to withdraw money from cash machines, to scenes of panic-buying.

The inept handling of the crisis by politicians has exacerbated a dark mood with many Cypriots fearing that they stand to lose life savings following the government's decision to also raise funds by restructuring Laiki, the island's second biggest bank.

Marios Panayides, 65, a protester outside the Cypriot parliament said: "Our so-called friends and partners sold us out. They have completely abandoned us on the edge of an abyss."

Retailers, facing cash-on-delivery demands from suppliers, warned stocks were running low. "At the moment, supplies will last another two or three days," said Adamos Hadijadamou, head of Cyprus's Association of Supermarkets. "We'll have a problem if this is not resolved by next week."

Cypriots fear the damage the levy would do to the country's offshore banking industry. Much of the Cypriot banks' capital was wiped out by the collapse of investments in Greece, the epicentre of the euro zone debt crisis.

***********

Cyprus faces new savings levy as eurozone ministers discuss new deal

Proposal to tax accounts with €100,000 or more mooted as European finance chiefs try and thrash out new bailout package

Jo Adetunji and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 23 March 2013 13.07 GMT   

Savers in Cyprus could face losing one-quarter of their bank deposits under new proposals being discussed by the government as ministers flew to Brussels to salvage a European bailout.

The new bank levy would only apply to people with more than €100,000 (£85,260) in their accounts, according to the finance minister, Michael Sarris, who also said that significant progress had been made in talks with European officials.

President Nicos Anastasiades travelled to Brussels to work out an alternative plan to raise funds that would allow the country to qualify for an international bailout. Cyprus must raise €5.8bn (£4.9bn) before Monday to qualify for the €10bn EU bailout it needs to prevent the collapse of its banks and a potential departure from the eurozone.

The idea of raising money through a one-off levy on bank deposits was criticised in Cyprus, Russia and elsewhere and was unanimously rejected by the Cypriot parliament earlier this week, but is being reconsidered after negotiations with Russia to find alternative finance did not achieve a result.

On Friday, the Cypriot parliament passed nine bills, including three that would see ailing banks restructured, starting with Laiki, Cyprus's second-largest bank, a "national solidarity fund" and capital controls that would prevent large withdrawals from the country. A decision on the controversial bank savings levy and how it would be applied is due on Saturday.

Other Cypriot politcians discussed a smaller bank levy of 1% which would be aplied to all accounts. The debate is divided between those that want the levy to be borne only by the wealthy which includes a high percentage of Russians who hold €30bn in Cypriot banks.

Eurozone ministers are scheduled to meet on Sunday to decided how to help Cyprus avoid economic chaos. The European Central Bank has threatened to cut off funding from Monday and the banks face a run of investors withdrawing money when they re-open.

The Cypriot parliament will meet after the meeting of the eurozone ministers on Sunday evening.

George Vassiliou, the former president of Cyprus, told the Guardian on Friday that it was imperative that the banking system was not allowed to collapse.

"We have developed a unique service sector based on confidence in the banking system. If that confidence is lost then you have nothing left. Everything that has been created will be destroyed with formidable repercussions."

Banks in Cyprus have been closed since Monday and many businesses have been accepting only cash payments. The Foreign Office has advised Britons travelling to Cyprus to take enough euros to cover the cost of their trip and to guard their cash carefully.

***********

Cyprus crisis: Germans tire of paying bill for eurozone's financial failures

With an election looming, Angela Merkel is keen not to give the impression that the country is being taken advantage of

Kate Connolly in Berlin
The Observer, Saturday 23 March 2013 22.20 GMT   

"It always comes down to the Germans!" clamoured the tabloid Bild this week in a headline that summed up the frustrations of much of the country as, yet again, Berlin was confronted with accusations that it had let down a fellow eurozone member – this time tiny Cyprus.

Germans readily accept that they have a weightier responsibility towards the rest of Europe than any other EU member, but there is a growing sense of resentment that they are increasingly taking the blame for other EU members' woes.

"There would be no rescue package without German guarantees, but it's precisely us Germans who are confronted with criticism – indeed, bare-faced hatred," said Hugo Müller-Vogg, a leading commentator at Germany's best-selling redtop, arguing that Germans had been made the "scapegoats" of Europe.

Vogg listed the insults that he said Germans had faced in recent days as the crisis over the Cypriot bailout grew, including "the chancellor vilified with a Hitler moustache" on campaign posters in Nicosia and "German flags being ripped down" from the German embassy. "We Germans are guilty for all the misery," he wearily paraphrased.

Germans know the rest of Europe is well aware of their country's strong, history-driven sense of obligation towards the EU. But there has been a feeling growing for some time in Berlin that others are taking advantage. The consequent sentiment is summed up by Vogg. "If it wasn't for the future of Europe, there would only be one suitable answer: lie in your own muck."

With an election looming for Angela Merkel in less than six months, much is at stake. If she is seen to give precedence to rich Russians and Britons who park monies in Cypriot bank accounts to enjoy the country's higher interest rates and favourable tax conditions, her electorate, which has faced wage and interest-rate freezes as well as rising living costs, may never let her forget it.

The German lobby group Tax Madness (Steuer Wahnsinn) has expressed its dismay that "Russian oligarchs and mafiosi" could be the ones who benefit most from an EU bailout. "They've parked their laundered money in Cypriot banks … can it be the case that our tax money is used to save their billions?" it asked.

While it warned at the same time of the potential "domino effect" should Europe not agree to a Cypriot bailout, others, such as Frank Schäffler, a member of the Free Democratic party (FDP), Merkel's junior coalition partner, warned that if Germany continues to show "solidarity", the rescue efforts will never come to an end. "I refuse to countenance the perverse term 'solidarity in Europe'," Schäffler said in an interview with the business daily Handelsblatt.

"If things go on as they are, we'll soon be bailing out Andorra and San Marino because they have such close economic ties with other crisis countries such as Italy and Spain."





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« Reply #5273 on: Mar 24, 2013, 07:03 AM »


IHT Rendezvous
March 23, 2013, 7:50 am

Poverty Blamed for Bulgaria’s Suicide Wave

By HARVEY MORRIS

LONDON – Bulgaria’s caretaker government will launch a plan on Monday to try to tackle an epidemic of suicides that is afflicting the impoverished eastern European nation.

In the past month, six men have set themselves alight in apparent protests against the country’s economic plight.

There are also daily reports of people hanging themselves, jumping from bridges and high buildings and throwing themselves under trains, according to the Sofia News Agency, a Bulgarian wire service.

The latest victim of self-immolation succumbed to severe burns on Friday, two days after dousing himself with gasoline on a village soccer field in northern Bulgaria.

Before he died, Todor Yovchev, 40, reportedly told doctors, “I‘m jobless and cannot feed my child.”

The first of the protest suicides coincided with demonstrations last month against rising electricity prices, corruption and worsening living standards, which forced the resignation of the center-right government led by Prime Minister Boiko Borisov.

A 36-year-old man who set himself alight in the Black Sea city of Varna, hours before the government quit, has emerged as a symbol of the protest movement.

Plamen Goranov, a photographer and rock climber, has been compared to Jan Palach, the Czech student who set himself alight in the center of Prague in 1969 in protest of the Soviet invasion of his country.

Mr. Goranov, who lingered for 12 days before dying of his wounds, had told 30,000 demonstrators in Varna that corrupt local officials linked to organized crime were responsible for the country’s plight.

The self-immolations also recall the protests of Buddhist monks during the Vietnam War and, more recently, the suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor whose death in December 2010 is regarded as the catalyst for the Arab Awakening.

Other, more anonymous suicides in Bulgaria have been linked to economic desperation in a country where the average monthly wage is just $480, the lowest in the European Union, which Bulgaria joined in 2007.

Demonstrations, which were violently suppressed last month, have resumed, despite the interim government’s promise to take steps to improve the incomes of pensioners and of the one-in-four Bulgarians who live below the poverty line.

Patriarch Neofit, the newly enthroned head of the country’s Orthodox Church, has decried the wave of suicides and told Bulgarians, “Do not take your life under any circumstances. There are other ways to solve problems than through monstrous death.”

However, as my colleague Matthew Brunwasser reported from Sofia this month, the Church’s authority is overshadowed by its past links to the old Soviet-era regime and its continuing alleged links to corruption.

The interim government, for its part, has announced a strategy to identify people at risk. Experts will provide people with information on how to identify symptoms of depression in their relatives and will seek to contact those who are most severely depressed.

Miroslav Nenkov, deputy health minister in the technocratic government that is running the country until elections in May, cautioned that the suicide prevention campaign should not be expected to yield immediate results.

Others were also skeptical about the impact of appeals from the government and the Church.

Danail Danov, a Sofia university lecturer, told Voice of Russia radio, “I’m not sure how this will go down because the number of desperate people in the country is really high, which is pushing people towards these extreme acts.”


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« Reply #5274 on: Mar 24, 2013, 07:07 AM »

Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky confirmed dead in London at age 67

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, March 23, 2013 15:29 EDT

In the wild world of Russian oligarchs, Boris Berezovsky was among the wildest, gloating over the semi-legal schemes that made him a billionaire in the 1990s and vowing to overthrow the Kremlin from exile in London.

Berezovsky’s career traced the arc of Russian society from the dawn of free enterprise in the Soviet Union’s dying days to the oligarch-dominated 1990s, followed by the return of state control in the first decade of the new millenium.

It was then that the man who rose to become the Kremlin’s “grey cardinal” under Boris Yeltsin had a change of fortune.

Vladimir Putin began his presidency in 2000 by warning that the heyday of super-rich powerbrokers was over.

Berezovsky, who had backed Putin’s candidacy before realising his mistake, quickly saw the writing on the wall and fled into exile in November 2000, just in time to escape arrest on fraud charges.

In London, he became the Kremlin’s greatest nemesis, mockingly defying years of attempts to extradite him. He emerged from an extradition hearing in 2003 wearing a Putin mask, and told journalists: “Call me Vladimir Vladimirovich.”

He then spent years supporting the Moscow opposition against Putin, although his name had been discredited among many Russians, and those who received his funding attempted to hide any links to his name.

As his fortunes dried up on a lavish lifestyle and a posse of bodyguards, one of Berezovsky’s final acts was to wage an extraordinary legal battle in London in 2012 against fellow oligarch Roman Abramovich which exposed the dirty secrets of Russia’s big business in the first post-Soviet years.

Berezovsky lost the suit and with it the reported hundreds of millions of dollars he spent on his legal team. He spent the final months of his life selling his old houses and even paintings, including a famous Andy Warhol print called Red Lenin.

Born January 23, 1946, in Moscow, Berezovsky graduated from a Moscow forestry institute in 1968. For nearly two decades he led a quiet academic career that gave little sign of the meteoric rise that would follow.

When perestroika reforms in the late 1980s brought a modest tolerance for free enterprise, Berezovsky leapt at the opportunity, becoming a car dealer for state auto giant AvtoVAZ.

Within a matter of years, he was a multi-millionaire through what the government later alleged was a dirty scheme — and, in the era of “wild capitalism,” also a target. In 1995 he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt that decapitated his driver.

He seized on the Western-style media obsession that flooded into the new Russia, building a news empire that included shares in two national television networks and several respected newspapers.

His media might was key in 1996, when he banded a group of oligarchs together to lift Boris Yeltsin from single-digit approval ratings to victory in his re-election campaign against Communist Gennady Zyuganov in a matter of a few weeks.

“It is no secret that Russian businessmen played the decisive role in President Yeltsin’s victory,” Berezovsky later told Forbes magazine. “It was a battle for our blood interests.”

In return, Yeltsin granted them huge swathes of national industries at a fraction of their value, ballooning their wealth and spawning a popular hatred among many Russians that endures to this day.

Berezovsky reaped political rewards as well. Yeltsin named him deputy head of the powerful Security Council and chief negotiator with Chechnya shortly after it had won independence from Moscow in a brutal war.

He used his new political connections to expand into the lucrative energy business, and owned 80 percent of oil company Sibneft by the late 1990s.

But his most significant political move was the one that inadvertently sealed his fate: helping Yeltsin choose then-secret services chief Putin as Russia’s second president.

Berezovsky quickly became a key target of Putin’s crackdown on the oligarchs’ political independence. He fled the country and fired back with his entire media arsenal, painting the new president as a budding dictator.

In return, the state stripped him of his television holdings and tried for years to win his extradition from Britain — even after he won political asylum in 2003.

Prosecutors first charged he had defrauded the state of billions of dollars via his car dealing business.

Graver accusations followed after he told AFP in a January 2006 interview that he was spending his billions on “preparing to take power by force in Russia,” a shadowy threat he repeated in later years.

He also became the centre of a circle of anti-Putin exiles in London, including Chechen rebel envoy Akhmed Zakayev and former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko, whose poisoning death Berezovsky blamed on Putin.

But whatever coup plans he may have set in motion, his dream of returning to the halls of Kremlin power was no more successful than the Kremlin’s hope to see him in a jail cell.

Post-Soviet Russia’s ultimate insider ended his days on the outside.

************

Boris Berezovsky: a tale of revenge, betrayal and feuds with Putin

After Boris Berezovsky fell out with his one-time protege Vladimir Putin he dramatically fled to London in 2000

Luke Harding   
The Observer, Saturday 23 March 2013 22.36 GMT

Boris Berezovsky had always believed in British justice. It was, after all, a British judge who had granted him asylum, after Berezovsky fell out with his one-time protege Vladimir Putin and fled in 2000 to London. The move infuriated the Kremlin. Since then, the oligarch has notched up several other high court victories – libel actions against Forbes magazine and Russian TV, a couple of successful civil suits.

And so when Berezovsky decided to sue Roman Abramovich for $5bn – in what was the biggest private litigation battle ever – he assumed he would win. Berezovsky believed the high court would accept his insider's account of Russia's colourful post-communist history: that he and Abramovich had gone into business together in the Boris Yeltsin-driven 1990s. And that the Chelsea FC owner had later shafted him over Sibneft, the oil firm they co-founded.

Last August, however, Mrs Justice Gloster, who presided over their high court battle, came to a different conclusion. Her verdict was devastating for Berezovsky. In withering terms, she dismissed Berezovsky's case. She described him as "dishonest" and "deluded". Her thinking was remorseless: "On my analysis of the entirety of the evidence, I found Mr Berezovsky an unimpressive, and inherently unreliable, witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes."

For observers, who had watched this riveting case unfold, with the whiff of billions enveloping London's Rolls building like a tantalising perfume, it was perhaps not that surprising. Under cross-examination from Abramovich's barrister Jonathan Sumption QC, Berezovsky had imploded. His decision to give evidence in idiosyncratic English was a mistake. (Abramovich spoke in Russian.)

Minutes later, Berezovsky staggered outside, where he announced that he was "absolutely amazed". Smiling wanly, he noted that Putin, the man he blamed for poisoning his friend Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 in a cold war-style radioactive plot, might have written the judgment. He said he didn't regret bringing the case and observed: "Life is life," before speeding off in a black Merecedes.

In the following months, according to friends, Berezovsky fell into a deep depression. Once a man of relentless energy, he rarely saw his circle of anti-Kremlin activists and fellow Russian exiles. The few who met him described him as vacant, often confused, and uncharacteristically regretful of past errors. Some claimed that he had gone to Israel; others said he was lying low at his luxury home in Wentworth, Surrey.

"We will learn later what exactly happened. But in recent months Boris was depressed. There was no secret about that. One day he was cheerful, the next down," Berezovsky's close friend Alex Goldfarb told the Observer. Goldfarb added: "The court case was a massive blow to him personally, politically and financially. He was depressed. We were concerned about him."

Whatever the truth of Berezovsky's mental state, there is no doubt the high court case ruined him financially. Defeat left him with costs estimated at £100m. Berezovsky – a one-time professor of mathematics, who applied his intellect to business and became very rich indeed – was practically bankrupt. He was forced to sell his Surrey home. He shut down his political foundation, which for more than a decade had waged a bitter campaign-from-over-the-seas against Putin and his KGB-led regime.

So broke was Berezovsky that he could no longer afford to pay for lawyers acting for Litvinenko's widow Marina. The inquest into Litvinenko's murder – carried out, according to Berezovsky, by two former KGB agents sent by Putin – will take place this October. It may confirm Berezovsky's conviction that Litvinenko was the victim of a Russian state-sponsored assassination, carried out with nuclear polonium on London streets.

The Kremlin has watched Berezovsky's dramatic fall with unconcealed glee. Dmitry Peskov, Putin's press spokesman, claimed that Berezovsky had written to Russia's president two months ago, begging to come back to the motherland and apologising for "previous mistakes".

But investigators in Russia had opened dozens of criminal cases against Berezovsky. Any return to Russia would have meant a prison cell in Siberia.

For his part, Putin was furious when Britain granted Berezovsky political asylum in 2003, turning down his request for extradition. Putin interpreted the UK court ruling as a personal snub from Tony Blair – apparently incapable of understanding that British politicians, unlike their Russian counterparts, couldn't simply hand down verdicts to tame judges. The government's failure to accommodate Moscow's strident extradition requests caused the much-publicised froideur in UK-Russian relations, well before Litvinenko was murdered.

Having failed to winkle Berezovsky out of London, the Kremlin pursued his money – going after his assets in Brazil, France (a stunning seaside villa in Cap D'Antibes), and other jurisdictions.

"Putin will personally rejoice at the news [of Berezovsky's death]," Goldfarb said. "He's a vindictive little man. Politically, they [Russia's ruling elite] will have to find someone else to be the bogeyman, and to play the role of Trotsky."

Goldfarb said the obvious candidate – the oligarch Mikhail Khodorskovsky – wasn't suitable since he has been in prison since challenging Putin a decade ago. Berezovsky has left a vacancy.

Berezovsky's fatal flaw was simple: he misread Putin. Born in 1946 in Moscow to a Jewish civil engineer father, Berezovsky showed an early talent for mathematics. He received a doctorate in applied mathematics, worked as an engineer and rose in the Soviet Union's Academy of Sciences. He was quick to grasp the opportunities to make money offered by perestroika, rapidly followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the new world of capitalism.

Together with his commercial partner, Badri Patarkatsishvili, Berezovsky went into the car business in 1989, selling Soviet-made models. By 1994, he had grown sufficiently rich that someone tried to murder him – planting a bomb under his car which killed his driver.

But Berezovsky's ambitions were also political. In 1994, he acquired the television channel ORT, then used it as a potent weapon to secure Boris Yeltsin's election in 1996 against the communists.

Berezovsky's courting of Yeltsin has become the stuff of legend. He published the president's memoirs, befriended Yeltsin's daughter Tatayana, and helped to bankroll his re-election campaign. By the mid-1990s Berezovsky was a figure of huge influence in the Yeltsin court – a fact many resented. He played a key role in ending the first 1994-1996 Chechen war and took on a public role as chair of Russia's security council.

"Berezovsky was one of the most influential people in the transition of Russia from what it was under communism to what it is now, in every respect, both good and bad," Goldfarb said. "He helped Yeltsin win re-election over the communists. And he helped to stop the Chechen war which was a major accomplishment. But he then made the major mistake in his life: he brought in Putin."

Berezovsky first met Putin in the early 1990s, when the KGB spy was working for St Petersburg's mayor. The two socialised and even skied together in Switzerland. By the late 1990s, Putin had become head of the FSB, the KGB's successor agency. Yeltsin's entourage was seeking a successor to the ailing president. They dispatched Berezovsky to offer the job to Putin – who became prime minister in the summer of 1999, succeeding Yeltsin as acting president six months later.

Berezovsky had reckoned that his friend would be a pliable successor – and that he, the ultimate Kremlin insider, would continue to pull the strings. Quickly, however, it became apparent that Putin had his own vision of Russia: a less democratic place, in which the country's spy agencies would play a vanguard role, and with Putin in charge. The two clashed; Putin seized Berezovky's ORT TV station; and Berezovsky decamped to London. Their feud was nasty and would lead ultimately to Berezovsky's death at the age of 67 in exile.

And what will posterity say? Goldfarb suggested: "Berezovsky was on the right side of history. He was quick to recognise his mistake and start criticising Putin. He was most consistent in his opposition to Putin's regime."

He added: "When this aberration that is plaguing Russia is finally over, Berezovsky will be vindicated."


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« Reply #5275 on: Mar 24, 2013, 07:14 AM »


French are 'taught to be gloomy by their culture'

Research finds that despite high standard of living happiness is elusive

Jamie Doward and Hussein Kesvani
The Observer, Sunday 24 March 2013   

France, once famous for its joie de vivre, is suffering from existential gloom – and the French have only themselves to blame for their malaise, according to a study to be presented in London next month. Research by a French academic to be delivered to the Royal Economic Society suggests that the country's citizens are "taught" to be miserable by elements of their own culture.

Claudia Senik, a professor at the Paris School of Economics, argues that her country's education system and its cultural "mentality" make the French far less happy than their wealth and lifestyle suggest they should be.

The French enjoy a high standard of living, Senik notes. The country has a generous welfare state, plus universal and free access to healthcare, hospitals, public schools and universities. It also has a 35-hour working week and many foreigners aspire to make it their home – 150,000 Britons have chosen to live there.

Yet the French are gloomy. A recent WIN-Gallup poll found that their expectations for the coming year ranked lower than those in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The World Health Organisation notes that the suicide rate in France is much higher than in any of the "old European countries", with the exception of Finland. Suicide is the second biggest cause of mortality among 15-to-44-year-olds after road accidents, and the primary cause among 30-to-39-year-olds.

Senik claims that the "French paradox" – the fact that the country's general prosperity does not appear to translate into the happiness of its citizens – can be explained by "mental attitudes that are acquired in school or other socialisation instances, especially during youth".

She reached the conclusion after analysing data on life satisfaction, drawn from the European Social Survey, which indicates that French people are less happy than other Europeans on average. Crucially, however, Senik finds that French people who live in other countries report lower happiness levels than the natives, while immigrants who move to France are more happy than the indigenous population. The longer immigrants live in France and become part of its society, the less happy they claim to be.

"This suggests that there is something in the culture that makes French people miserable," claims Senik.

A low level of life satisfaction among the French has been documented extensively as far back as the 1970s. One theory – that language could be a factor – appears to have been discounted by Senik. She finds that French-speakers in Switzerland or Canada are as happy as people from other communities.

Senik concludes that, if the French are to rediscover their sense of gaiety, their education system must play an important role in transforming its citizens' attitudes at an early age. "Happiness policies should take into account the irreducible influence of psychological and cultural factors," Senik writes. "As those are – at least partly – acquired in school and other early socialisation instances, this points to some new aspects of public policy, such as considering the qualitative aspects of the education system."

Senik's paper provoked a frenzied debate on the blogosphere and, perhaps inevitably, a large dose of introspection among her fellow citizens when it was published in France in her native language. Many saw Senik's paper as providing further evidence of France's decline. "I know countries incredibly poorer than ours and yet I can assure you that their population feels less unhappy than the majority of French, and yet they take it on the chin," one blogger said.

"In many poor countries, people are happy with what they have," another added. "We are nay-sayers, chronic complainers. This is not good for morale, for sure."


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« Reply #5276 on: Mar 24, 2013, 07:19 AM »


March 23, 2013

Behind Image of Seamless Transition, Vatican Navigates Uncharted Waters

By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
IHT

VATICAN CITY — Sharing lunch is rarely historic, except perhaps when the two people eating are a pope and his predecessor.

On Saturday, the pope emeritus, Benedict XVI — who broke church tradition by resigning rather than dying in office — ate with Pope Francis at Castel Gandolfo, the hilltop villa where Benedict is living, while reporters waited outside for any scraps of news about how the meeting went.

Vatican officials gave no word about what the past and present leaders of the Roman Catholic Church discussed, and even rebuffed questions about what they ate. They did, however, paint a picture of a seamless transition: when Benedict offered his successor the “place of honor” during shared prayers, the Vatican said, Francis demurred, suggesting that they kneel side by side as “brothers.” Their first embrace, a spokesman said, was “wonderful.” Both wore white, the traditional color of the pope’s vestments.

But the reality of a pope and an emeritus pope living in his shadow will probably be more complicated, a fact driven home with the recent publication in an Italian gossip magazine of paparazzi-style photos of the 85-year-old Benedict strolling with his personal secretary through the private gardens of his temporary home at Castel Gandolfo.

The photographs were a vivid reminder of the uncharted territory the Vatican has entered, and the potential trouble it could bring.

Virtually every day highlights the strangeness of the circumstances and raises new questions about what the relationship between the two men will be, especially when Benedict moves back to a residence at the Vatican that is being renovated.

One Italian newspaper called the lunch on Saturday “a rehearsal for cohabitation.”

The last time two popes could even have met, other than in encounters before one of them became pope, was hundreds of years ago, the last time that one resigned.

During this transition, the new pope, the cardinals and the Vatican have gone out of their way to express affection and gratitude toward the pope emeritus. But each time they do, it does more to deepen the complexity of the relationship than to clarify it.

Francis telephoned Benedict immediately after his election on March 13, before appearing on the balcony at St. Peter’s Square, where the new pope publicly asked the crowd to join him in praying for “our bishop emeritus.” On Tuesday, after the installation ceremony on the feast day of St. Joseph, Francis called Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, to wish him a happy name day.

There has been an unexpected amount of attention lavished on a man who had pledged to live out his days “hidden from the world.” As Francis’ papacy lengthens, the reasons for Benedict’s eventual seclusion inside the Vatican become clearer.

It is, Vatican experts said, a solution that not only provides a secure environment for Benedict, but also effectively avoids setting up a power center rivaling the Vatican. And it discourages any following that could coalesce around the pope emeritus in a church mindful of painful schisms that have shaken it at important moments in its history.

Now that resignation from the papacy has been resuscitated as an option after 600 years, the Vatican is no doubt concerned about setting precedents, said Alberto Melloni, the director of the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies in Bologna.

“You couldn’t have the pope in a German convent where he could become a pole of attraction for those faithful reluctant to accept his resignation,” Mr. Melloni said.

In a few weeks, Benedict will move into a nondescript convent not far from the sumptuous apostolic palace where he lived as the leader of the church.

Already, canonical experts have raised questions about the correctness of Benedict’s adopting the title of “pope emeritus.” Writing in La Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit magazine, the Rev. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a former rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, argued that a more appropriate title would be “bishop emeritus of Rome, like any other diocesan bishop who steps down.”

The Vatican has played down the novel accommodation. To have the pope emeritus “present, near, discreet” will provide a “great enrichment” for the new pope, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told reporters recently.

But having a former pope hovering in the background has proved to be disconcerting to some, not least the pontifical staff. The potential for divided loyalties has already provided fodder for the Italian news media.

Benedict’s personal first secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, has been living at Castel Gandolfo with his old boss. But he is also the prefect of the pontifical household, and he has been a discreet fixture at Francis’ first public outings, including Saturday’s lunch. He has now been described in the Italian news media as the “ferryman” between the two pontificates.

Writing in La Stampa, the Vatican correspondent Giacomo Galeazzi described Archbishop Gänswein as tearful and distraught when the seals placed on the doors of the papal apartment when Benedict resigned were removed, opening it to his successor.

“Once inside, the memories must have overwhelmed him,” Mr. Galeazzi wrote.

Benedict’s higher-than-anticipated profile has perplexed some. “It is baffling that the pope should appear in public as he did before; it’s incomprehensible,” said Massimo Franco, a commentator for the newspaper Corriere della Sera, after the photographs appeared in the gossip magazine Chi.

“I understand that it will be difficult to regulate, but the Vatican will have to establish some rules,” Mr. Franco said.

The Vatican has rejected any prospect of meddling by Benedict. But concern remains among some cardinals, Vatican officials and church experts.

“There is a duality, and even if the old pope says he will retire from the world, he will be an awkward presence,” said Roberto Rusconi, a church historian at Third University of Rome.

But he dismissed the possibility of a new schism like the one that occurred with the death of Pope Gregory XI in 1378. Afterward, one pope lived in Avignon, France, and another in Rome. Such divides were fomented by secular rulers, he said, with the dueling popes each claiming legitimacy.

Even so, he said, better to keep Benedict inside the Vatican — in its own way a prison of sorts, like any cloistered convent — because not everyone might resist asking the old pope’s opinion. Professor Rusconi added, “That just can’t happen.”

Benedict’s decision to remain secluded in the Vatican was also dictated by a desire to preserve his privacy in a modern media age of unquenchable appetite, he said.

“Just think of what Kate Middleton goes through every day,” Professor Rusconi said of Prince William’s pregnant wife. “Everywhere the pope would go, he would be assailed by journalists; he’d have no defense,” as the pictures of the pope emeritus in Castel Gandolfo showed, he said.

On Saturday, Father Lombardi’s recounting of the meeting between Francis and Benedict appeared to try to address lingering concerns.

Although Father Lombardi said he could not release much information of what he called “a private encounter,” he did offer this guess at what happened. Francis, he said, was likely to have thanked the former pope for his pontificate and Benedict would have renewed his unconditional obedience to the new pope.

**********

Pope Francis celebrates first Palm Sunday

Pontiff urges crowd of thousands in St Peter's Square to lead simple lives as he marks start of Holy Week

Associated Press in Rome
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 24 March 2013 11.00 GMT   

Pope Francis has celebrated his first Palm Sunday mass in St Peter's Square, encouraging people to be humble and young at heart, as tens of thousands joyfully waved olive branches and palm fronds.

The square overflowed with 250,000 pilgrims, tourists and Romans eager to join the new pope at the start of solemn Holy Week ceremonies, which lead up to Easter, Christianity's most important day.

Keeping with his spontaneous style, the first pope from Latin America broke away several times from the text of his prepared homily to encourage the faithful to lead simple lives.

Palm Sunday recalls Jesus's entry into Jerusalem but the Gospel also recounts how he was betrayed by one of his apostles and ultimately sentenced to death on a cross.

Recalling the triumphant welcome into Jerusalem, Francis said Jesus "awakened so many hopes in the heart, above all among humble, simple, poor, forgotten people, those who don't matter in the eyes of the world".

Francis then told an off-the-cuff story from his childhood in Argentina. "My grandmother used to say, 'children, burial shrouds don't have pockets'" the pope said, in a variation of "you can't take it with you".

Since his election on 13 March, Francis has put the downtrodden and poor at the centre of his mission as pope, keeping with the priorities of his Jesuit tradition. His name – the first time a pope has called himself Francis – is inspired by St Francis of Assisi, who renounced a life of high living for austere poverty and simplicity to preach Jesus's message to the poor.

Francis wore bright red robes over a white cassock as he presided over the mass at an altar sheltered by a white canopy on the steps of St Peter's Basilica.

Cardinals, many of them among the electors who chose him to be pope, sat on chairs during the ceremony held under hazy skies on a breezy day.

In his homily, Francis said Christian joy "isn't born from possessing a lot of things but from having met" Jesus. That same joy should keep people young, he said. "From seven to 70, the heart doesn't age" if one is inspired by Christian joy, said the 76-year-old pontiff.

Francis said he was looking forward to welcoming young people to Rio de Janeiro in July for the Catholic Church's World Youth Day. So far, that is the first foreign trip on the calendar of Francis's new papacy.

The faithful knelt on hard cobblestones paving the square, and Francis knelt on a wooden kneeler at the point in the Gospel that recounts the moment of Jesus's death.



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« Reply #5277 on: Mar 24, 2013, 07:21 AM »


Survivor recalls Dachau, where SS terror began 80 years ago

Max Mannheimer has made it his duty to tell Germans what went on behind the walls of the Nazis' first concentration camp

Kate Connolly   
The Observer, Sunday 24 March 2013   

Max Mannheimer will never forget the words of his block leader when he entered the gates of Dachau concentration camp on 6 August 1944. "You're veterans at this by now," said the prisoner, a communist. "You know that the most important thing is not to draw attention to yourselves if you want to survive."

Behind Max, then aged 24, and his younger brother Edgar had lain a long and gruelling trudge through Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Theresienstadt, and the Warsaw ghetto, during which the siblings had lost their entire family, most of them in Auschwitz, simply for being Jewish.

In Dachau, Mannheimer was assigned the prisoner number 87098. "It was the last camp number I would ever have," the 93-year-old said. "But I took the block leader's message on board: 'You've got this far, just keep your head down, as the SS will pounce on you for the smallest violation'." He was liberated nine months later by US troops from a Dachau sub-camp, where one of his last jobs had been to cart the corpses of prisoners into the mortuary. Stricken with typhus, he had been reduced to skin and bones, weighing just 47kg. "I was a skeleton," he said. "I cried with both joy and despair."

Mannheimer returned to the camp with the smattering of fellow survivors still able to make the journey, to mark the 80th anniversary of the first and one of the most notorious of the Nazi camps. In a memorial service they remembered the estimated 41,000 victims, mostly Jews, who perished in the main camp and its many satellite sites.

On 22 March 1933, just weeks after Adolf Hitler came to power, the first political prisoners were interned in Dachau. The world was informed of the fact by the SS chief, Heinrich Himmler, who, as the Manchester Guardian reported, called a press conference in Munich to say that it would be used to keep in custody "communists, Marxists and Reichsbanner leaders who endangered the security of the state".

Five days later the Observer's correspondent in Munich, quoting a local eyewitness, reported that "preparations are going on apace with the new concentration camp in the neighbourhood of Dachau, a village not far from here".

The location, near Munich, was chosen because of the derelict first world war munitions factory on the site, most of the machinery from which had been destroyed under the terms of the Versailles treaty. The Observer reported: "One hundred and forty prisoners are now there, but after alterations have been made there are to be 2,500." Its inmates would sleep on straw, it remarked.

Dachau's establishment was something of an experiment, the first "branch" of the Nazi network that would eventually cover a large swath of Europe; that a recent US study included as many as 42,400 camps and ghettos in a network that claimed the lives of between 15 and 20 million people.

While there were widespread denials by ordinary Germans that they had known about the existence of internment and death camps, Mannheimer said the Nazis had published the facts themselves. "The population of Dachau and the whole of Germany knew through newspaper articles that the concentration camp existed."

Not only did the Nazi publication, the Völkischer Beobachter, deliver the news, but also the Münchner Neueste Nachrichten (MNN), which reported matter of factly: "On Wednesday the first concentration camp was opened. It has the holding capacity for 5,000 people." What few knew, Mannheimer insists, is what went on behind its highly fortified walls. "They did not know about the torture and medical experiments that happened here," he believes.

He witnessed the punishments meted out by SS guards – Dachau was used as a school for torture techniques – as well as the widespread medical experimentation carried out by doctors of tropical medicine, aviation experts and creators of poisonous gases. "Dachau was the nucleus of National Socialist terror," said historian Wolfgang Benz.

Details of some of the atrocities must have begun leaking out to local people early on, if a report on 18 August 1933 from the Manchester Guardian's correspondent is anything to go by. The Bavarians, it said, had a "new prayer", which ran: "Dear Lord, O make me dumb,/ Lest to Dachau camp I come!"

Work to convert the buildings of the former munitions factory into what would become the blueprint for all concentration camps had begun on the night of 13 March, when light and water supplies were installed. At 10am on 22 March, the first 50 prisoners, who had been rounded up in Bavaria two weeks before and held in a workhouse, were brought to Dachau by lorry. It arrived around midday to be greeted by a small gathering of onlookers, according to a report in the MNN.

Prisoner number one was a law clerk called Claus Bastian, the founder of a Marxist students' club. Around 209,000 people, including political prisoners, Jews, gypsies and Jehovah's Witnesses would follow him through the camp's gates during its 12 years' existence.

Mannheimer remained deeply traumatised by his experiences for nearly 40 years, a situation not helped by the fact that in Germany – "the land of the perpetrators", as he calls it, where he reluctantly chose to settle near Munich with his new German wife – "no one wanted to know anything about former concentration camp prisoners; there were no discussions about the Nazi era".

For years he suffered from panic attacks, depression and "survivor's guilt". Then in the 1980s he started telling his story to German schoolchildren and leading tours of Dachau.

"At the start I had to take pills to calm my nerves," he said, "because all my fears, the indignities I'd suffered, the pain, came to the fore again. I could not enter the crematorium." Now, despite his age, he holds several tours and talks a week.

"I have no intention of lecturing people on the sins of their fathers and grandfathers," he says. "I don't see myself as a judge; I am simply an eyewitness and want to enlighten them. No one is better placed to do that than someone who has personally experienced the camps."


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« Reply #5278 on: Mar 24, 2013, 07:24 AM »

Baghdad inaugurated as ‘Arab Capital of Culture’ for 2013

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, March 23, 2013 19:30 EDT

Baghdad was inaugurated as the 2013 Arab Capital of Culture on Saturday, the latest in a series of steps which officials hope will put Iraq back on the map after decades of conflict.

The ceremony marking the event was held under a massive tent in the Iraqi capital’s Zawraa Park, and featured a choir singing songs and a performance by renowned Iraqi musician Naseer Shamma, as well as speeches by senior Iraqi politicians and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.

The events surrounding the Arab Capital of Culture will include music and dance performances, photography exhibitions, as well as folk arts and crafts shows.

“Baghdad, which was a source of knowledge for the entire world, is rising again today thanks to the efforts of Iraqis and their Arab brothers,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in a speech.

It is the latest in a series of efforts by Iraq to raise its global profile after three decades of war and sanctions which led to its international isolation, economically as well as culturally.

The city hosted the Arab League summit in 2012, and later that year was the site of talks between global powers and Iran on the Islamic Republic’s controversial nuclear programme.

It is also scheduled to host football’s Gulf Cup in 2015.

Iraq’s efforts have not gone off without a hitch, however.

It had been scheduled to host the Gulf Cup this year but it was delayed, and ambitious plans for the Shiite shrine city of Najaf to take over as the 2012 Islamic Capital of Culture were shelved as several projects failed to get off the ground or were postponed indefinitely amid accusations of corruption.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #5279 on: Mar 24, 2013, 07:25 AM »

March 24, 2013

In Baghdad, Kerry Wants Iraq to Help Stop Arms Shipments to Syria

By MICHAEL R. GORDON
IHT

BAGHDAD — Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad on Sunday and is expected to tell Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki that Iraq must take steps to stop the shipment of Iranian arms to Syria if it wants to participate in broader discussions about that country’s future after President Bashar al-Assad of Syria leaves, a senior State Department official traveling with Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Kerry’s visit marks the first by an American secretary of state since Hillary Rodham Clinton went to Iraq in 2009 and comes amid growing concern over Iraq’s role on the Syria crisis.

Flights of Iranian arms to Syria through Iraqi airspace, which the senior State Department official said are occurring on nearly a daily basis, come at a critical time for Mr. Assad, whose government is facing increasing pressure from rebel fighters.

The air corridor over Iraq has emerged as a main supply route for weapons, including rockets, antitank missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, as well as Iranian personnel, according to American intelligence officials. There are supply lines on the ground as well.

Iran has as an enormous stake in Syria, which is its staunchest Arab ally and has provided a channel for Iran’s support to the Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah.

And the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government led by Mr. Maliki sees a stake in Syria as well. Fearful that Mr. Assad’s overthrow would lead to Sunni control of neighboring Syria and embolden Iraqi Sunnis, Mr. Maliki has been tolerating the Iranian flights.

American officials have repeatedly insisted that the Iraqis demand that the Iranian flights must land so they can be inspected. But the Iraqis have only carried out two inspections since July, the State Department official said. One inspection was of an Iranian flight that was on its way back to Tehran after delivering its cargo in Syria. Iran has insisted that the flights are merely carrying humanitarian aid.

Iraq has yet to develop an Air Force and since American forces left in 2011 United States warplanes no longer patrol Iraq’s skies.

The Iranian flights pose a major challenge for American strategy on Syria. Mr. Kerry has repeatedly said that the Obama administration wants to change Mr. Assad's “calculation” that he can prevail militarily and persuade him to relinquish power and agree to a political transition. But Robert Ford, the senior State Department official on Syria policy, told Congress last week that Iranian and Russian military assistance has fortified Mr. Assad's belief that he can win militarily.

As a senator, Mr. Kerry suggested that the United States should consider linking its support for Iraq with Mr. Maliki’s willingness to order the inspection of the Iranian flights. "If so many people have entreated the government to stop and that doesn’t seem to be having an impact,” Mr. Kerry said in September when he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, “that sort of alarms me a little bit and seems to send a signal to me maybe we should make some of our assistance or some of our support contingent on some kind of appropriate response.”

But as a secretary of state Mr. Kerry has adopted a less confrontational approach. A senior official said that Mr. Kerry would deliver the message to Mr. Maliki that “you can't be supporting Assad in the way that you are” if Iraq wants to have a role in the broader multinational discussion of Syria's future.

On Iraq’s fraught political scene, Mr. Kerry plans to take several steps to encourage Shia, Sunni and Kurdish leaders to cooperate, the official said. He is expected to ask Mr. Maliki to revisit the decision to postpone provincial elections in the two Sunni provinces of Anbar and Nineveh. That decision, which the Iraqi government asserts was made for security reasons, would deprive citizens to vote in these heavily Sunni regions. The provincial elections had been scheduled for April and are to take place in the rest of the country.

Mr. Kerry also intends to asks Sunni leaders to rescind their boycott of participation in the Iraqi cabinet. In addition to meeting with Mr. Maliki, Mr. Kerry plans to meet with Osama al-Nujaifi, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament and a Sunni. He is also expected to speak by telephone with Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdish Regional Government, who is in Erbil.

A leading Sunni, Rafi al-Essawi, recently resigned his post as finance minister to protest Mr. Maliki’s reluctance to share power with Sunni leaders. A warrant has been issued for his arrest and he has reportedly sought refuge with Sunni tribes in Anbar. When the United States had troops in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, the top American commander, wrote Mr. Maliki stating that there were no basis for claims that Mr. Essawi was linked to terrorists.

A senior State Department official traveling with the secretary y suggested that Mr. Kerry would take a more restrained approach. The official said that Mr. Kerry would ask Mr. Maliki's what action by Essawi “has warranted this arrest warrant” and stress that Iraq should abide by the rule of law.

The trip comes as American influence in the country has begun to recede. The former defense secretary Leon E. Panetta told the United States Special Inspector General on Iraq Reconstruction that the withdrawal of American forces in 2011 has limited American influence over Mr. Maliki, according to a report issued this month by the inspector general

Ryan Crocker, the former American ambassador in Baghdad has urged the Obama administration to step up its engagement with Iraqi leaders. “What it is time for,” Mr. Crocker told a conference at the Carnegie Endowment on International Peace last week, is “sustained engagement.”

Aides to Mr. Kerry said that is one purpose of his trip.
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