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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 1071489 times)
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« Reply #5445 on: Mar 31, 2013, 08:14 AM »


“Alleged Neurological Injury” — one for each worker in the Conover plant sickened in the first three months of the year. Each missed more than 40 days of work because of the glue fumes, which were especially intense after the company moved the work stations closer together.

Thousands of additional pages of court and government documents, as well as interviews with more than two dozen current and former employees — some speaking on the condition of anonymity — present a fuller view of the conditions in the plant and how things got that way.

By 2005, Efrain Robles Avila was using a walker because he could no longer stand on his own, according to medical records. Victor Gonzales, a father of three, needed help putting on his clothes because he had lost control of his hands. Laura Garcia, who had worked for Royale for less than a year, complained of a cold numbness running from her waist to her toes. “It was like your legs didn’t receive the signal when you had to walk,” she said in court documents.

The numbness was dangerous. One worker recounted meeting a neighbor who asked why she was wearing a single red shoe. Only then did the worker realize her foot was bleeding profusely from a two-inch gash.

Inside the plant, workers improvised. Some stood on scrap pieces of foam to cushion their feet and ease the stinging sensation creeping up their legs. One, Sonia Richards, arrived with her own respirator, but a manager told her to put it away, saying it was spooking other workers. In whispers, new employees were warned to visit the bathroom whenever the fog grew thick.

“If you don’t clear your head,” a worker recalled being told, “it will clear you.”

Royale is among the industry’s most dangerous businesses, according to OSHA data. Federal officials found that it had exposed workers to dangerous levels of nPB at least a dozen times, more often than any other company. Since 2002, nearly three dozen Royale workers have been found to be breathing dangerous levels of glue fumes, federal records show.

Current and former employees say the number of workers sickened is most likely double that, since OSHA visited only periodically and turnover was high.

Some buyers of Royale cushions said they knew generally of the dangers of nPB, but expected their suppliers to take all required precautions. Lisa Hanly, vice president of Furniture Brands, which handles Broyhill and other well-known furniture, said, “Our goal is to produce high-quality product, which meets all legal and safety requirements, at an affordable price.” She said the company’s inspections focused on suppliers overseas, where regulations are weaker than in the United States. Other companies that buy from Royale declined to comment.

Royale workers became regular visitors at local health clinics, including the Clinic for People Without Health Insurance, then run by Dr. Ben Wofford.

Looking like “upright cadavers,” Dr. Wofford said, cushion workers arrived unable to stand on their own, supported under their arms by family members. They had showered and changed out of their work clothes, he said, but their breath still carried an odor he remembered from his boyhood days putting together model airplanes.

He had watched for years as his patients’ suffering worsened with the bottoming out of the state’s tobacco, textile and furniture industries. When people are out of work, he explained in an interview in his office above the pharmacy in Newton, N.C., a diabetic ulcer that would normally cost a toe takes a leg. Their nonfatal hernia bleeds them to death.

“You kill jobs,” Dr. Wofford said, “you kill patients.”

Reluctantly, he wrote a letter in 2005 alerting OSHA about problems at Royale. One worker was in especially bad shape, he wrote: “Indeed he may die as a result of his exposure.”

But Dr. Wofford also urged OSHA not to overreact. “I would hate to see this plant’s multiple shortcomings result in its being shut down,” he wrote, warning of jobs that could be lost. “Many are my patients and are already in dire straits economically.”

Referring to one woman who was the sole support for herself and three children, he wrote, “She too is unlikely to find work if the effects of the neurotoxin are irreversible, as my neurological consultant thinks they may be.”

Over the years, officials with Royale, which employs about 100 workers and had around $7.5 million in sales in 2011, have repeatedly said they have done all they can to make their three plants safe. They frequently took steps to improve the air in their plants, but their actions were also sometimes counterproductive — after improving ventilation, they failed to change filters, for example, or covered vents with plastic in the winter to keep out cold air, according to OSHA documents.

In a recent interview, Mr. Isenhour, Royale’s safety director, said the company never meant to harm anyone and initially did not realize the hazards of nPB. Royale has continued using nPB glues, he added, because alternatives are ineffective or risky.

Glues that use acetone, for example, are popular but highly flammable, he said. Converting the Royale plant to meet federal rules on fire safety would entail replacing the glue-spraying booths with metal walls, installing sprinklers and explosion-proof lighting and retraining workers, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, he added.

In 2005, when seven workers became seriously ill at one plant, Mr. Isenhour said, Royale had to lay off 40 people, close the facility and spend $50,000 to move operations to another site and upgrade the ventilation there. OSHA found high levels of fumes in subsequent years because no one informed the company that fans and filters needed cleaning for ventilation to work properly, he said.

If the company switched to a more expensive glue, he said, he would have to raise the price of each cushion, and the furniture makers Royale supplies would contract with Chinese competitors instead.

“We are trying to keep jobs in America,” he said. “But that’s expensive.”

Both government officials and employers weigh the costs and benefits of protective measures. Many studies show that investing in workplace safety saves money in the long run, but economists say that does not prove true in every case. This, of course, raises the most difficult calculus of all: comparing the worth of a dangerous job versus no job at all. How should companies and regulators put a dollar value on workers’ quality of life — indeed, on their very lives?

To date, Royale has paid nearly a half-million dollars — in court settlements, required upgrades and less than $20,000 in OSHA fines related to glue fumes. Those costs — and the harm to workers — accumulated in slow motion. Cushion making is a boom-bust business, subject to the swings of big orders from furniture companies. Royale and others in the industry frequently use transient, nonunion and illegal immigrant laborers, according to workers and court documents, who are less likely to report hazards and document symptoms.

As fast as workers were getting sick, managers found replacements.

“Folks was limping in and getting worse,” said Dewaun Teague, a former Royale manager. “Then they would be let go, and we would hire more.”

Mr. Teague said Royale was a good company to work for in many ways. The owner, Clyde Goble, looked you in the eye when he shook your hand and remembered your children’s birthdays, Mr. Teague said, adding, “This was family.”

Complain. Inspect. Repeat.

After receiving an anonymous complaint about glue fumes, Beverly Stone, an OSHA inspector, visited a Royale foam cushion plant in Taylorsville in May 2011. She toured the facility, tested the air and then filed a lengthy report.

“Ventilation did not appear to be working properly,” it said, adding that at least 16 workers were breathing dangerous levels of glue fumes.

Worrisome enough on their own, Ms. Stone’s findings were even more alarming because they were so similar to what OSHA documented in 1996, 2000, 2002 and 2005.

Again and again, Royale workers got sick and contacted OSHA. Inspectors came and went. Little changed.

Company officials were told to ventilate to the outside. They bought pedestal fans instead, and when OSHA inspectors returned, they found the fans turned off or malfunctioning. OSHA demanded respirators that would have cost the company $18. Managers instead handed out 90-cent dust masks — the type inspectors had told them were useless in blocking vapors.

The agency advised the company to stop using nPB-based glues. And yet, each time inspectors showed up, they found more workers exposed to the chemical and at levels higher than what the glue companies were saying was safe.

Back and forth it went, as workers fell victim not just to toxic air but also to a federal agency’s inability to enforce its requirements.

While agency inspectors consistently showed up within a day of receiving worker complaints, records show, they often did with one hand what they undid with the other. Sometimes they failed to levy fines because they did not believe they had the authority. Other times they undermined their own leverage by slashing the size of penalties in hopes of promoting cooperation from the company.

After each visit, the agency suggested abatements but never did follow-up air tests and appeared again only when sick workers complained.

For its part, the company shuffled workers among its three plants in the frustrated hope that one of the sites might have better air flow. But the constant movement of these workers from plant to plant also made repeat problems look to regulators like isolated cases.

In early 2011, when Royale officials realized that they could not fix the ventilation at the Taylorsville plant where Ms. Farley worked, they moved her and a half-dozen other workers to the other Taylorsville site. Ms. Farley’s symptoms grew worse there; the ventilation problems had been identified by OSHA in 2002 but never corrected.

If inspections are supposed to force companies to rectify problems and avoid future ones, that 2002 inspection was a failure. “Not able to require the employer to implement engineering controls,” the OSHA official wrote at the time, adding that the agency could not levy fines or mandate respirators because there was no federal safety standard involving nPB.

That was a legal judgment call, one that many workplace safety experts say illustrates OSHA’s unwillingness to exert its full authority. Though the agency has the legal means to force companies to protect workers better from certain chemicals even when there is no specific exposure level established by the agency as safe, OSHA rarely invokes this power for fear of sapping limited resources if the matter ends up in court.

“We do the best we can,” said Kevin Beauregard, an assistant deputy OSHA commissioner in North Carolina, which is among 25 states deputized by the federal government to oversee worker safety programs. He said that before his office could act in such instances, it must first prove that workers were exposed to a substance whose hazards were recognized in the industry and that the exposure was avoidable.

OSHA also rates health hazards as a lower priority than safety threats. In 1996, for instance, inspectors discovered that a machine part hit a Royale worker in the groin. The agency threatened to fine the company a total of $120,000, adding $5,000 to the fine for each day that the company failed to repair the machine. But when nPB levels remained high during five visits between 2002 and 2011, the agency never increased the penalties. The proposed total for all of Royale’s health-related fines was $20,800, an amount the agency later lowered.

Partly, the emphasis on safety enforcement is a numbers game. OSHA’s performance is often measured by lawmakers, advocacy groups and the news media based on how many inspections it does in a year; an inspector can do five times as many safety inspections in the time it typically takes to do one focused on health, where the issues may be less clear-cut. And the agency tends to face less public pressure about health enforcement, because the harm done by these sorts of hazards typically does not show up for years.

Furthermore, while the number of inspectors has grown under the Obama administration, OSHA still has just 2,400 responsible for overseeing roughly eight million work sites — roughly one inspector per 60,000 workers, a ratio that has not changed since 1970. The federal budget for protecting workers is less than half of that set aside for protecting fish and wildlife.

Mr. Michaels, whose tenure leading OSHA since December 2009 has been characterized by more aggressive enforcement than that of his most recent predecessors, cites a deeper problem: the small amount that OSHA can levy in fines. The maximum penalty for a violation that causes a “substantial probability of death — or serious physical harm” is $7,000. The highest fine for a willful and repeated violation is $70,000.

This, Mr. Michaels said, pales in comparison with fines of up to $130,000 that the Department of Agriculture can levy if a dairy company refuses to pay fees that help the federal government advertise milk products, or the $325,000 that the Federal Communications Commission can fine a TV or radio station for indecent content.

“If the cost of compliance to our rules outweighs the penalties for breaking them, companies just take a ‘catch me if you can’ approach to worker safety and health,” he said. And serious violations of the rules should not be misdemeanors, he said, but felonies, much like insider trading, tax crimes and antitrust violations.

But Jeff Ruch, the director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a public health advocacy organization, said that, on average, OSHA now conducts health inspections and collects air samples less than half as often as it did under the Reagan administration.

“You can’t hit someone with a fine,” Mr. Ruch said, “if you aren’t on site looking to find the violations.”

Hard Calculus

As her truck crawled down a bumpy dirt road, Ms. Farley said she needed to go slowly because she could not afford to replace her duct-taped bumper if it fell off. Between money from breeding her four Rottweilers, food stamp assistance and the occasional help from her ex-husband or the local food bank, her finances leave little room for error.

She stopped in a field dotted with narrow white trailers to pick up Cosondra Little, another former Royale worker, who limped as she approached. Ms. Little lives with her 24-year-old daughter, SoSonia, who is unemployed. What fresh tomatoes, collard greens and other vegetables the two eat come mostly from scavenging on nearby fields when farmers allow it. This has been the case, Ms. Little said, ever since she lost her job at the cushion plant in May 2003.

“My feet started to throw a fit,” she said. First went her health insurance, then money for SoSonia’s college tuition, then their savings, and finally the car.

“You try getting a job around here without a car,” Ms. Little said, riding along a wooded stretch of Highway 16 just south of Taylorsville.

Soon the two women arrived at Martha Cardenas’s house, where they were joined by two others, one a former cushion maker, the other a current one. They had gathered to explain that Royale is not unique.

After small talk about Ms. Cardenas’s empanadas, the women stacked their medical records on the table. Different plants, different doctors, same glue. Broken lives reduced to physicians’ scribbles. “Staggered gait,” “numb hands and feet,” “spinal pain.”

Usually the same medical advice, too: find a different job; stop working with the glue. It “has been clearly documented as a cause of” nerve damage, Ms. Little’s doctor wrote to her boss about nPB.

But other jobs are hard to come by. And that is why everyone has wanted to keep Royale in business. “Now none of us are working,” Ms. Farley said. In Dr. Wofford’s hesitant whistle-blower letter to OSHA, in a $50,000 loan that county officials gave to Royale, in OSHA’s formula for lowering fines, there were vexing calculations seeking to strike the right balance between protecting jobs and safeguarding those holding them.

In Ms. Cardenas’s house, the women were doing some math of their own. One tried to tally how many hours she had spent in the unemployment office. Another added up her credit card debt and counted her doctors’ visits. But mostly the women listed the subtler costs of their injuries, like the pounds gained from immobility or the addiction concerns with pain pills.

As the women stood up to leave, several grabbed the wall for balance. Ms. Farley added a parting thought.

“And all the while everyone thinks you’re just faking,” she said. The women agree that this is the worst part.


March 30, 2013

Anger Over Plan to Sell Site of Wounded Knee Massacre


WOUNDED KNEE, S.D. — Ever since American soldiers massacred men, women and children here more than a century ago in the last major bloodshed of the American Indian wars, this haunted patch of rolling hills and ponderosa pines has embodied the combustible relationship between Indians and the United States government.

It was here that a group of Indian activists aired their grievances against the government with a forceful takeover in 1973 that resulted in protests, a bloody standoff with federal agents and deep divisions among the Indian people.

And now the massacre site, which passed into non-Indian hands generations ago, is up for sale, once again dragging Wounded Knee to the center of the Indian people’s bitter struggle against perceived injustice — as well as sowing rifts within the tribe over whether it would be proper, should the tribe get the land, to develop it in a way that brings some money to the destitute region.

James A. Czywczynski of Rapid City is asking $3.9 million for the 40-acre plot he owns here, far more than the $7,000 that the deeply impoverished Oglala Sioux say the land is worth. Mr. Czywczynski insists that his price fairly accounts for the land’s sentimental and historical value, an attitude that the people here see as disrespect.

“That historical value means something to us, not him,” said Garfield Steele, a member of the tribal council who represents Wounded Knee. “We see that greed around here all the time with non-Indians. To me, you can’t put a price on the lives that were taken there.”

Land disputes strike an emotional chord for American Indians, given the United States’ long history of neglected promises and broken treaties. The clash over Wounded Knee is raising the moral, legal and social quandaries that have burdened generations of American Indians.

Should they even have to buy land that they believe was stolen from them? Should the land be developed or preserved as sacred? Should the tribe, whose people are among the poorest in America, capitalize on what happened here?

Just last year, the Great Sioux Nation found itself in a similar struggle to preserve sacred ground. Pe’ Sla, a vast swath of Black Hills prairie land that they believe was the site of an epic battle between good and evil, was put up for sale by a non-Indian. Several Sioux bands, fearing that the land could be desecrated by commercial development, raised $9 million to buy the 1,942 acres.

The outlook for acquiring the Wounded Knee parcel, which sits on the Pine Ridge Reservation, is not as bright. The burden for buying the land will probably fall to the Oglala Sioux tribe, which is at least $60 million in debt, according to its treasurer, Mason Big Crow, and would need to borrow money to meet Mr. Czywczynski’s asking price.

The massacre on Dec. 29, 1890, was said to have started when a shot rang out as soldiers of the United States Seventh Cavalry searched Chief Big Foot’s band, which it had arrested and detained here. (Some Indians hypothesize that the massacre was retribution for the routing of Gen. George Custer and his troops at Little Bighorn 14 years earlier.) Estimates of the death toll vary from 150 to more than 300, with some of the bodies recovered on the land Mr. Czywczynski owns.

The land is believed to have gotten into non-Indian hands sometime after a process of allotment began in the late 1800s in which the federal government divided land among the Indians and gave some parcels to non-Indians. Mr. Czywczynski bought the land in 1968, lived there and ran the trading post and museum. He moved away in 1973, after the violent occupation of Wounded Knee by an organization known as the American Indian Movement left much of the town destroyed, including the trading post and his home. Mr. Czywczynski said he had been trying to sell the land to the Oglala Sioux for about three decades, and he blamed the tribe’s internal disorder for his inability to do so.

“They never could agree on anything,” he said. “They either did not have the money; some wanted it, some didn’t want it; it was too high, too low. I’ve come to the conclusion now, at my age, I’m 74 years old, I’m going to sell the property.”

If the tribe does not buy it by May 1, Mr. Czywczynski said, he will put it up for auction on the open market.

The Oglala Sioux president, Bryan V. Brewer, said, “I don’t think we should buy something back that we own.” He added that he would leave it up to the descendants of the massacre to plan a way forward.

But that promises to be tricky. There is considerable disagreement over whether the tribe should profit from Wounded Knee through, for instance, developing tourist attractions.

“Whenever we discuss this Wounded Knee massacre topic, it takes us into a deep, deep psychological state because we have to relive the whole horror,” said Nathan Blindman, 56, one of whose ancestors survived the massacre. “Anything that might indicate that as descendants we’re profiting from our ancestors’ tragedy, we can’t ever do that.”

Phyllis Hollow Horn, 56, whose great-grandmother and great-aunt were among the survivors, said she would be open to an educational memorial, but was hesitant about seeing the tribe profit.

“How and who should do that is a whole big question,” she said. “Ultimately, that’s a decision the descendants have to make.”

But many find that unyielding traditionalism hard to swallow, given the hardship on the reservation. Shannon County, which encompasses most of Pine Ridge, has the highest percentage of people living below poverty in the nation at 53.5 percent, according to census data compiled by Social Explorer. Nearly three-quarters of the people in the county are either unemployed or not in the work force.

Proponents of commercialism at Wounded Knee note that community members already profit at the site, selling crafts to tourists in the area. This frequently leads to turf battles, and some have suggested building a market to bring order to the trade.

Garry Rowland, a Wounded Knee native, runs a one-room visitor center that he built next to the mass grave where most of the massacre victims were buried. Some residents have criticized his center, calling it unofficial and accusing him of profiting on the blood of their ancestors.

But Mr. Rowland said that his great-great-grandfather Chief Fire Lightning owned the land before the massacre and that his family should decide what should be done. (Ms. Hollow Horn disputed that Fire Lightning owned the land or that he was a chief.)

“We don’t charge admission to our museum,” said Mr. Rowland, who participated in the 1973 takeover, hangs the American flag upside down and proudly wears an F.B.I. cap that he says stands for “full-blooded Indian.” “We’re just trying to preserve what history took place here. We tell the truth of what happened.”

Some have advocated for development like a gas station and a general store to save on the roughly 20-minute drive to Pine Ridge for basic amenities. They also say that building a motel would help attract visitors.

While she respects the lives lost in the massacre, Lillian Red Star Fire Thunder, a 79-year-old Wounded Knee resident, said she disagreed with those who “make it sound like it’s taboo” to develop the land.

“That was yesterday; tomorrow is going to be tomorrow,” she said. “They should think about the future for the children, the families.”


Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Sarah Palin, the GOP’s New, Kinda New and Old Voices

By: Dennis S
Mar. 30th, 2013

Congressional Republican redistributors of wealth continue to protect the pen of porcine wealth-gatherers as they cement their role in the Tea Party (actually, whoever directs the party) jihad against Democrats and moderates.

If Republicans have ever told the truth about anything, it’s the fact that there has been a massive redistribution of wealth. When you have the Walmart Walton heirs owning more wealth (assets minus liabilities) than the bottom 41.5% of the population, or nearly 49 million people; that’s redistribution. And those numbers don’t even including wages.

Taking all money stats into consideration, a massive quantity of America’s wealth is concentrated in the top 1-2% of the population. Of course Republicans would have you believe it’s the rich who are being robbed of their wealth. Provide me one example where the poor and middle-class have outstripped the top 2% in wealth building over the last few decades. In fact, Federal Reserve figures reveal that from 2007-2010 the average family lost 39% of their wealth. Again, the Bush administration’s housing bubble, economic and tax policies and rampant corruption being the primary reasons.

One could say that our current situation is analogous to the old English fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk” (some people still prefer “Jack the Giant Killer”). In the fairy tale, Jack’s cow stopped giving milk. Today’s Republicans want to render the administration’s cow incapable of producing the milk of human kindness and decency. They’ve accomplished this as millions of people most in need of fiscal nourishment have lost their jobs as a result of George W. Bush policies and the refusal of Congressional Republicans to approve meaningful jobs bills, alternate energy development and infrastructure projects.

But the extremists would be well served to read the rest of the tale. Jack’s mom wants to sell the dry cow for a few pounds so she sends Jack off to the village. An old man (maybe an old black man with big ears?) gives Jack some beans in exchange for the cow. Jack’s pissed-off mother tosses the beans out the window. Overnight, a giant beanstalk grows and towers its way skyward. Jack climbs it to the house of a giant (a modern-day M(B)illionaire and his wife). We’ll call the giant ‘PBR’ for “Protected by Republicans.” When Jack arrives at PBR’s crib, the greedy bastard is counting his money and “Fee-fi-fo-fumming.” Jack manages to escape with a bag of gold, just like the right thinks the poor on food stamps are “stealing” taxpayer’s gold.

On his next trip, Jack pilfers that golden egg-laying hen after which he makes a final B & E, snatching a magical harp that plays itself. By this time, PBR is on to Jack and gives chase. Jack chops down the beanstalk in the nick of time and PBR dies (symbolically of course). In the end Jack and his now blissful mum are living comfortably on money PBR wouldn’t have needed anyway, had he lived.

“Dennis. Dennis! Wake up!” “Wha?” Huh?” “Wake up darling; you’ve been yelling something about ‘cut it down, cut it down.” Seems I had nodded off in front of the computer and dreamed about “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Such a happy ending. I should have known I was asleep. There are no bags or eggs of gold or magical harps in the 113th Congress or anywhere in America these days.

The giants of Congress fight every initiative to help the poor and do everything the super-rich tell them to do. We’re talking health care, jobs, public education, protecting the environment, closing tax loopholes, supporting women’s issues and passing responsible gun legislation to mention a few examples. The formula is simple; if the legislation doesn’t add millions to the bottom lines of millionaires and billionaires, it dies.

Progressives and moderates thought that maybe the boffo Obama second-term presidential victory, the continued Democratic majority in the Senate and the fact that Republicans are disdained at the polls by virtually every minority, might inject a sense of reality and bipartisanship into the political veins of the Republican Party leadership. Instead, we are greeted with the emergence of a couple new wackjobs and the resurgence of a heretofore roundly rejected Alaskan wacko.

I speak; of course, of a young man who has accomplished a feat of such enormity that no one thought it possible. Yes, Tea Party Senator Rand Paul is nutty squared compared to his father, Ron. And he’s the new L’enfant terrible of the extremist right. Slobbered over and possibly coveted as a 2016 president candidate by the attendees of Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Paul garnered a narrow win in CPAC’s much-hyped but essentially irrelevant presidential straw poll. The senior Paul, Ron, won it twice. If you were to follow Rand Paul’s budget game plan you’d be going to the nearest stream for water.

The second voice is brand new. Texan, Ted Cruz is a freshman Senator who somehow gets people to listen to his philosophical sludge. Cruz has emerged as another Tea Party spokesman. This Canadian born “man of the people” matriculated through Princeton, Harvard and Harvard Law. The New York Times reported that this is the guy who pulled out a reference to climate change in a routine resolution commemorating “International Women’s Day.”

Cruz is owned (gun) lock, (gun) stock and (gun) barrel by big-time arms and NRA interests and has threatened to filibuster “any additional gun restrictions.” Rand Paul has joined him in the effort. Then there is the re-emergence of “Mama Grizzly” Sarah Palin. From the CPAC podium, she clawed away at the president for his “lack of leadership.” She also growled about certain consultants who keep losing elections while making millions. Just like Sarah who keeps losing media gigs while making millions.

And how about that Christian right? Travel with me to the Inquisition epoch of the 13th century and beyond. If you didn’t adhere to Church authority, you were a heretic. One of the sentences for daring to ask even one challenging question was poena confusibilis, Latin for “humiliating punishment.” The ‘guilty’ party was forced to wear crosses on his/her front and back, making the victim a target to be mocked and well, humiliated. That’s what the modern-day evangelicals are doing to our president. Since he disagrees with E-vans on the role of women’s reproductive rights, separation of church and state (in lockstep with Jefferson, Madison and Washington), and damn near everything else, they hate his guts.

But you can be passionate about and committed to both government and Christianity; just keep them separate. Washington embraced a treaty with Tripoli that stated, “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Jefferson and Madison both spoke eloquently in favor of separation.

A few more reasons to vote pure Democratic in 2014 and 2016

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« Last Edit: Mar 31, 2013, 08:24 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #5446 on: Apr 01, 2013, 06:11 AM »

New U.S. strategy could push North Korea over the edge

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, March 31, 2013 18:28

AFP – Soaring tensions on the Korean peninsula have seen dire North Korean threats met with an unusually assertive US response that analysts warn could take a familiar game into dangerous territory.

By publicly highlighting its recent deployment of nuclear-capable B-52 and stealth bombers over South Korea, Washington has, at times, almost appeared to be purposefully goading an already apoplectic Pyongyang.

“There certainly seems to be an element of ‘let’s show we’re taking the gloves off this time’ about the US stance,” said Paul Carroll, program director at the Ploughshares Fund, a US-based security policy think-tank.

And the North has responded in kind, declaring on Saturday that it was now in a “state of war” with South Korea.

Security crises on the Korean peninsula have come and gone over the decades and have tended to follow a similar pattern of white-knuckle brinkmanship that threatens but finally pulls back from catastrophic conflict.

North Korea’s founding leader Kim Il-Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong-Il were both considered skilled practitioners of this high-stakes game of who-blinks-first diplomacy.

And they ensured Pyongyang had enough form to lend its threats credibility, having engineered provocations that ranged from blowing up a South Korean civilian airliner in 1987 to shelling a South Korean island in 2010.

The current crisis, with Pyongyang lashing out at a combination of UN sanctions and South Korea-US military exercises, diverges from precedent in terms of the context and the main characters involved.

It follows the two landmark events that triggered the UN sanctions and re-drew the strategic balance on the peninsula: The North’s successful long-range rocket launch in December and its third — and largest — nuclear test in February.

Both may have emboldened North Korea to overplay its hand, while at the same time prompting Washington to decide there was already too much at stake to consider folding.

“Rhetorical salvoes are one thing, while rocket launches and nuclear tests are quite another,” said Carroll.

In addition, both North and South Korea have new, untested leaders with a strong domestic motivation to prove their mettle in any showdown.

Bruce Klingner, a Korea expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, believes the danger of “miscalculation” is especially high from North Korea’s young supremo Kim Jong-Un.

Kim was not only emboldened by the successful rocket and nuclear tests, but “also by the knowledge that Seoul and Washington have never struck back in any significant way after previous deadly attacks”.

This time around, however, South Korea has signalled it would respond with interest, and the message sent by the B-52 and stealth bomber flights is that it has the US firmly in its corner.

Peter Hayes, who heads the Nautilus Institute, an Asia-focused think tank, points out that the B-52 deployment carried a particular — and potentially dangerous — resonance.

After a bloody border incident in 1976 left two American soldiers dead, the United States spent weeks sending flights of B-52 bombers up the Korean peninsula, veering off just before they entered the North’s air space.

Then US secretary of state Henry Kissinger commented that he had “never seen the North Koreans so scared”.

Hayes warned that replaying the B-52 threat could prove to be “strategically stupid” by reviving the North’s historic and deep-rooted fear of a US nuclear strike.

“The B-52 deployment also declares loudly and clearly that they have forced the US to play the game of nuclear war with North Korea,” Hayes said.

“It tells them it has reached the hallowed status of a nuclear-armed state that matters enough to force a simulated nuclear-military response,” he added.

The possible end-game scenarios to the current crisis are numerous, but none point to an obvious path for defusing the situation peacefully.

Most analysts rule out the prospect of a full-scale war on the grounds that North Korea knows it would lose, just as it knows that launching any sort of nuclear strike would be suicidal.

But after threatening everything from an artillery assault to nuclear armageddon, there is also a sense that Kim Jong-Un has pushed himself into a corner and must do something to avoid a damaging loss of face and credibility.

A provocative missile test fired into the sea over Japan is one option with a relatively low risk of further escalation.

Several analysts had originally predicted a limited artillery strike similar to the 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong island, but the US and South Korean vows of a tough response have called into question just how “limited” such a move would prove to be.

Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea studies with the Council on Foreign Relations, suggested that the United States, having delivered its message loud and clear, should now provide Kim with a way out.

“There is a need for the United States and South Korea to offer some clear diplomatic gestures of reassurance toward the North that can help the North Koreans climb down, calm down, and change course,” Snyder said.


Bomb test secrecy stirs suspicions on North Korea’s advanced nuclear capabilities: Washington Post

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 1, 2013 0:39  

North Korea likely took meticulous steps to conceal any residue from its February nuclear weapon test, fueling suspicions that it is using a new bomb design with highly enriched uranium at its core, The Washington Post reported Sunday.

Citing unnamed US officials and weapons experts, the newspaper said the effects of the February 12 explosion were remarkably well contained, with few radioactive traces escaping into the atmosphere.

The US government anticipated the nuclear test, North Korea’s third, and monitored it closely for clues about the composition of the bomb, the report said.

But in the days following the detonation, US and South Korean sensors failed to detect even a trace of the usual radioactive gases in any of the 120 monitoring stations along the border and downwind from the test site, the paper said.

A Japanese aircraft recorded a brief spike of one radioactive isotope, xenon-133, but it was seen as inconclusive, The Post said.

According to the paper, the absence of physical data could suggest a deliberate attempt by North Korea to prevent the release of telltale gases, presumably by burying the test chamber deep underground.

In its first two nuclear tests, North Korea was thought to have used plutonium extracted from a stockpile of fissile material that the country developed in the late 1990s, the report said.

A successful test of a uranium-based bomb would confirm that Pyongyang has achieved a second pathway to nuclear weapons, using its plentiful supply of natural uranium and new enrichment technology, The Post said.

A device using highly enriched uranium would also deepen worries about cooperation between North Korea and Iran, the paper said. Iran has been concentrating on uranium enrichment.

The United States is concerned about last year’s agreement between North Korea and Iran pledging technical and scientific cooperation, The Post said.

The pact was signed in Tehran in September at a ceremony attended by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Fereydoun Abbasi, the head of Iran’s nuclear program.


South Korea warns it will retaliate if North attacks

South Korean president Park Geun-hye promises robust response to 'sudden and unexpected provocations' by North

Justin McCurry in Seoul, Monday 1 April 2013 12.22 BST   

South Korea has said it will strike back with immediate and overwhelming force if North Korea launches an attack on its territory, days after Pyongyang said it had entered a "state of war" with its neighbour.

"If there is any provocation against South Korea and its people, there should be a strong response in initial combat, regardless of the political considerations," the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, told senior military officials on Monday.

Park said that as commander of the armed forces she would trust the military to respond to any "sudden and unexpected provocations" by the North.

Last week North Korea threatened to attack the South and its main ally, the US, in retaliation for UN sanctions introduced after the regime conducted a nuclear weapons test in February. Pyongyang is also angered by joint US-South Korea defence drills, which are continuing until the end of the month.

"[North Korea] will achieve nothing by threats or provocations, which will only further isolate North Korea and undermine international efforts to ensure peace and stability in Northeast Asia," the US military command in South Korea said in a statement.

On Sunday the US sent F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets from a base in Japan to take part in the drills. Last week two US B-2 stealth bombers took part in the dummy bombing of an uninhabited South Korean island, prompting a furious response from the North.

Officials in Washington are confident that the North is unable to mount nuclear warheads on missiles, and that it does not possess even conventional missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.

The stream of belligerent rhetoric from Pyongyang has been attributed to attempts by the North's 30-year-old leader, Kim Jong-un, to cement his grip on power and to win aid and political concessions from the US, including an agreement not to launch a pre-emptive strike against the isolated state.

North and South Korean remain technically at war because their 1950-1953 civil war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. A full-scale war is unlikely but there is clear concern in Seoul about the more realistic threat of a small-scale attack on the South Korean military or a group of islands near the countries' disputed maritime border in the Yellow Sea.

The government recently changed its rules of engagement to allow its forces to respond immediately to any provocation rather than wait for official approval for a counter-attack. It has vowed to target Kim Jong-un and destroy some of the myriad statues of the ruling Kim dynasty in the event of a conflict.

The tougher language coming out of the presidential Blue House is seen as an attempt by Park, who has taken a more conciliatory line towards the North since taking office this year, to steer a delicate course between rapprochement and pressure.

Her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, was criticised for what many saw as his slow and inadequate response to Pyongyang's provocations in 2010, when the North torpedoed a naval ship and shelled the frontline island of Yeonpyeong, killing 50 South Koreans.

On Sunday the most powerful arm of North Korea's ruling party said the state would continue to develop nuclear weapons, and denied that the country was using its nuclear arsenal to win concessions and aid from Washington.

In a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency, the central committee of the Korean Workers' party said the nuclear programme would be accompanied by economic development.

"The enemies are using both blackmail, telling us that we cannot achieve economic development unless we give up nuclear weapons, and appeasement, saying that they will help us live well if we choose a different path," Kim was quoted as saying.

Today Kim suggested he may be about to launch an overhaul of the country's battered economy with the appointment of Pak Pong-ju, a former prime minister who is thought to favour a Chinese-style opening up of the economy, as standing member of the party's political bureau.

Pak was behind changes in 2002 designed to stabilise consumer prices and, significantly, grant more freedom to private enterprise.

He fell out of favour for several years after his reforms caused social upheaval, but appears to have been welcomed back into the party's inner circle.

As a member of the politburo, whose role has been strengthened by Kim Jong-un, he will be one of 10 officials who effectively run the country's domestic affairs.

Pak is reportedly close to Kim's uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who is widely believed to be the regime's second in command.

"Pak being named to fill the vacancy in the Politburo could be a sign that the North is interested in achieving economic growth," Lim Eul-chul, a research professor at Kyungnam University, told Yonhap news agency.

One of the regime's few sources of hard currency is the Kaesong industrial region, a joint project located six miles north of the border that draws on investment from about 120 South Korean companies and employs workers from both countries.

At the weekend North Korea threatened to close the complex, a move that would mark a potentially dangerous deterioration in cross-border ties. Aside from its importance as a symbol of inter-Korean co-operation since it opened in 2005, Kaesong plays a key role in the impoverished North's economy.

About 200,000 North Korean workers and their families reportedly derive income from the complex, which also earns the country about $100m a year in profits.

The zone was operating normally on Monday, despite Pyongyang's threats to close it down. Sudden closure could leave hundreds of South Korean workers, who cross into the North daily, stranded on the wrong side of the heavily fortified border separating the two countries.

"I have no idea about what it will be like when I go to the North Korean side. It seems OK to be here, but we will be living there in a tense situation for a week," Kim Won-soo, a manager at the complex, told Associated Press before he left for work from the South Korean city of Paju on Monday morning.

The Hankyoreh, a left-leaning South Korean newspaper, agreed that Kaesong's closure would heighten the risk of conflict on the peninsula.

"The North of course justifies its threats on the pretext of the ongoing [US-South Korea] combined military exercises. Even so, it was a huge mistake to threaten to shut down the Kaesong industrial complex, which has served as a safety valve keeping the worst-case scenario from actually happening," it said in an editorial on Monday.


Seoul remains calm despite North Korea's sabre-rattling

Residents of South Korean capital go about their business as usual, dismissing Pyongyang's stream of threats as deja vu

Justin McCurry in Seoul
The Guardian, Monday 1 April 2013   

Judging by the mood among people in the South Korean capital on Sunday, the message has yet to get through that their country is in a state of war with its belligerent neighbour.

Groups of tourists and young couples filled the streets of Seoul near the cavernous glass edifice of city hall, relishing the warmth of the early spring sunshine after another bitterly cold Korean winter. Shoppers swarmed into the Lotte department store, snapping up early-evening discounts in the basement food hall, while TV channels served up an eclectic mix of baseball, period drama and news of a spiralling crisis over government appointees surrounding the new president, Park Geun-hye.

Little, if anything, was said about North Korea, which has directed a flurry of furious threats at the South and the US in recent weeks, culminating in the release of a mildly comedic photograph of the regime's 30-year-old leader, Kim Jong-un, seated with his generals in front of a map pinpointing envisioned US targets for a nuclear strike.

"Kim Jong-un is crazy," said Josiah Jung, a 22-year-old student. "He runs a poor, hungry country … his threats are just talk designed to get food and money. But if North Korea bombs any part of South Korea, like it did in 2010, this time we should respond with an all-out attack."

While experts believe the North is a long way off building a functioning nuclear weapon, let alone one that can reach the US mainland, Pyongyang gave notice on Sunday that it would push ahead with the development of weapons of mass destruction. In a statement released by the official KCNA news agency, the central committee of the ruling Korean Workers' party slammed charges that the North was using its nuclear programme to win aid and diplomatic concessions.

Nuclear weapons "are neither a political bargaining chip nor a thing for economic dealings to be presented to the place of dialogue or be put on the table of negotiations aimed at forcing [Pyongyang] to disarm itself," the party' top decision-making body said.

North Korea's "nuclear armed forces" it added, "represent the nation's life, which can never be abandoned as long as the imperialists and nuclear threats exist on earth".

The announcement comes amid frequent threats to attack South Korea and its allies, the US and Japan.

On Saturday, the regime said it had entered a "state of war" with Seoul and would "settle accounts with the US" after two of its stealth bombers took part in a training mission over an uninhabited South Korean island. Pyongyang said it would retaliate against any provocations by the US or the South "without prior notice".

In response, the unification ministry in Seoul, which is responsible for cross-border relations, said: "North Korea's statement is not a new threat but is the continuation of provocative threats."

Most analysts believe North Korea, now ruled by a third generation of the Kim dynasty, is reverting to a trusted diplomatic strategy of using threats to win concessions on aid and, ultimately, a peace treaty with the US.

The regime, so the received wisdom goes, has neither the capability nor the political will to make good on its threats. It knows that an attack on the US or its overseas assets would invite swift, powerful retaliation against Pyongyang and prompt the collapse of the regime.

That view is shared by many South Koreans, even those too young to remember similar provocations by Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il. "This has been going on since the 1950s and 60s," said Lee Jang-won, a 29-year-old employee of a solar power firm who recently completed his national service.

"I don't think North Korea will do anything major, despite what it says. Kim Jong-un has too much to lose."

Kim burnished his credentials as the North's "supreme commander" with a successful rocket launch last December and a nuclear test last month, but he is still building his reputation at home. The North Korean economy is in ruins after years of international sanctions, and the state can no longer provide for its people, 24 million of whom face regular food shortages, the UN says.

The North's statement said its nuclear programme would be accompanied by economic development through more foreign trade and investment and a focus on agriculture, light industry and a "self-reliant nuclear power industry".

"Even dictatorships respond to public opinion and public pressure," said John Delury, a North Korea analyst at of Yonsei University in Seoul. "He's expected to pay attention to, and make improvements in, the common people's standard of living. They've put that promise out in their domestic propaganda."

While threats of a nuclear strike or other major attacks are being dismissed as bluster, the possibility of a more localised conflict is a growing concern.

In November 2010, the North shelled Yeonpyeong, a South Korean island near the countries' disputed Yellow Sea border, killing two civilians and two soldiers. Earlier the same year, a torpedo attack blamed on the North sank a South Korean naval ship, killing 46 sailors.

Seoul did not take action, but promised fierce retaliation if attacked again, raising fears that a naval clash or isolated shelling in the coming days or weeks could quickly spiral out of control.

Scott Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea studies with the US Council on Foreign Relations thinktank, said the US should now help Kim Jong-un find a way to lower the diplomatic temperature. "There is a need for the US and South Korea to offer some clear diplomatic gestures of reassurance toward the North that can help the North Koreans climb down, calm down and change course," Snyder told AFP.

For now, cool heads prevail in Seoul's presidential Blue House. Park, a conservative who took office less than two months ago, has spoken of engagement with the North – a departure from the hardline stance of her predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, who cut free-flowing aid and took inter-Korean relations to their lowest point in years.

Park reportedly wants to begin the process by offering humanitarian aid, followed by huge investment in North Korea's social and economic infrastructure, but only if Pyongyang abandons its nuclear weapons programme in return.

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« Last Edit: Apr 01, 2013, 06:23 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #5447 on: Apr 01, 2013, 06:20 AM »

Extra! Extra! New daily papers arrive as Myanmar lifts press monopoly

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, April 1, 2013 7:40 

Privately owned daily newspapers hit Myanmar’s streets for the first time in decades on Monday under new freedoms that represent a revolution for a media shackled under military rule.

Four Burmese-language titles — The Voice, The Golden Fresh Land, The Union and The Standard Time — made the transition from weekly as new rules came into effect that swept away state media’s long monopoly on daily printing.

“We prepared for about six months to become a daily newspaper. We wanted to be part of this historical milestone,” Aung Soe, an editor of The Voice, told AFP.

News stands in Yangon reported an early morning rush by readers eager to witness the latest sweeping change in the country also known as Burma.

“The Voice daily sold out soon after it arrived even though I ordered double the amount than other newspapers. People are keen to read private daily newspapers for the first time,” said newspaper seller Phyu Phyu.

Myanmar’s public has become accustomed to an increasingly boisterous media since the country’s quasi-civilian government relaxed its grip on the press after coming to power in 2011.

The country’s military rulers seized control of private daily papers in 1964, according to veteran journalist Thiha Saw of Open News weekly.

Under junta rule, even an implied mention of the democracy movement and its figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi could have landed reporters in prison, but the Nobel laureate is now in parliament and regularly appears in the papers.

Draconian pre-publication censorship was officially scrapped in August, but private weeklies had already started pushing the boundaries of their freedom with reports on sensitive issues and news updates posted daily on social media.

A total of 16 weekly news journals were allowed to become dailies under the new rules, including Suu Kyi’s party paper, but logistical challenges mean some were not able to make the move immediately.

Among the front pages of the new dailies on Monday, the fragrantly titled Golden Fresh Land — also a sell-out at many news stands — covered an upcoming Suu Kyi trip to Japan and President Thein Sein’s address to the nation about recent Buddhist-Muslim unrest.

The Union, which is close to the ruling party, focused on news from the capital Naypyidaw.

The Voice printed an update on the situation in western Rakhine state — the scene of deadly communal strife last year — and a report on a weekend concert by Danish band Michael Learns to Rock in Yangon.

Myanmar jumped to 151st out of 179 in Reporters Without Borders’ 2013 World Press Freedom Index because of “dramatic changes” that included scrapping its harsh pre-publication scrutiny regime — until last year imposed on everything from newspapers to fairytales.

Observers hope that a new media law being drafted by an interim press council will define the limits of press freedoms and replace harsh junta-imposed legislation.

But reform has been mired in controversy in recent weeks, after authorities revealed they had written their own proposal, stoking fears that government is unwilling to fully relinquish control of the press.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #5448 on: Apr 01, 2013, 06:26 AM »

India court ruling could deprive developing nations of patented drugs

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, March 31, 2013 17:18 EDT

AFP – India’s top court is set to rule Monday on a patent challenge by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis that activists say threatens access to cheap generic versions of life-saving drugs in poor nations.

Generic drug firms in India — long known as the “pharmacy to the developing world” — have been a major supplier of copycat medicines to treat diseases such as cancer, TB and AIDS for those who cannot afford expensive branded versions.

A Novartis win in the Supreme Court would “be dire for people in the developing world who depend on generic drugs made in this country. It could seriously curb access”, said Leena Menghaney, a lawyer with medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

The landmark challenge — watched closely by global pharmaceutical firms — involves an updated version of Novartis’ blockbuster cancer drug Glivec, for which the company is seeking patent protection.

India’s patent office has refused protection, asserting that the amended form of Glivec was not vastly different from the earlier version.

The challenge strikes at the heart of India’s patent act, which restricts pharmaceutical companies from seeking fresh patents for making only small modifications to existing drugs — an industry practice known as “evergreening”.

Novartis says the updated form of Glivec merits a patent, arguing that it is a significant improvement from the earlier version because it is more easily absorbed by the body.

But critics such as MSF describe the changes in Glivec — often hailed as a “silver bullet” for its breakthrough in treating a deadly form of leukaemia — as “an obvious, routine modification”.

A Novartis win would “set a dangerous precedent, severely weakening India’s legal norms against ‘evergreening’,” Menghaney said.

“You could have drug companies claiming one new drug and then patenting it over and over again for routine improvements,” she told AFP.

The Novartis case is the most high-profile of several drug patent battles being waged in the country and is seen as having far-reaching implications in defining the extent of patent protection in India.

It is being watched closely by other global drug firms hoping to sell branded medicines in the country of 1.2 billion, whose growing affluence has created a highly lucrative market.

The companies say they cannot afford to be absent from India where the pharmaceutical market is expected to touch $74 billion in sales by 2020 from $11 billion in 2011, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study.

India’s powerhouse copycat drugs industry, which supplies one-fifth of the world’s generics, grew rapidly largely because the country did not issue drug patents until 2005 when it began complying with World Trade Organisation rules.

India currently allows patents for inventions after 1995 or for an updated drug which displays greater therapeutic efficacy.

The cost difference between generic and brand name drugs is crucial for poor people around the world, MSF said, noting that generics from India have pushed down prices for older anti-AIDS drugs by up to 99 percent.

The Glivec generic version costs 4,000 rupees a month ($73) compared to $4,000 for the branded product, said MSF.

Glivec is one of Novartis’s biggest-earning drugs, with global sales of $4.7 billion in 2011. But only a fraction of those sales are in India.

Novartis and other global drugmakers say India’s generics industry reduces incentives to produce cutting-edge medicines. They believe the ruling will be crucial in bringing more clarity to India’s patent law.

“Looking at recent cases, the mood in India makes it more likely we would have a more negative (court) response,” Paul Herrling, Novartis corporate research head, said last week.

Last year, an Indian court threw out a patent infringement case launched against Cipla by Swiss drugmaker F. Hoffmann-La Roche over the Mumbai firm’s version of a lung-cancer drug, ruling it had a different molecular makeup.

Also in 2012, an Indian drugmaker was allowed to produce a vastly cheaper version of a kidney and liver cancer drug made by Bayer Corp.
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« Reply #5449 on: Apr 01, 2013, 06:29 AM »

April 1, 2013

India Study Says Sex Attacks Scared Off Tourists


NEW DELHI (AP) — The rape and murder of a young woman in New Delhi in December followed by two attacks on foreign female travelers has altered how tourists view India and led to a sharp fall in the numbers of foreign tourists, especially women, a study said.

In the three months since that attack, the number of foreigners travelling to India has dropped by 25 percent, according to the study by the New Delhi-based Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry. The number of women tourists has dropped by 35 percent, the study released late Sunday said.

The gang rape of the 23-year-old university student on a bus in the heart of the Indian capital shocked a country often inured to such sexual violence. It brought hundreds of thousands of angry citizens out in the streets to demand more safety for women and harsher laws to deter the perpetrators of such acts.

The study surveyed 1,200 tour operators from across the country who said that "concerns about the safety of female travelers" had impacted how foreign travelers viewed India.

Since the December gang rape there have been two widely publicized incidents where foreign female travelers have been attacked.

Last month a Swiss woman was gang raped in central India as she and her husband camped in a remote forest. In the second incident a young British woman says she was forced to jump out of the window of her hotel room to avoid a sexual attack in Agra, the city that is home to the Taj Mahal.

According to the study, the three incidents have hurt tourism and nearly 72 percent of the tour operators said cancelations of holiday bookings came mostly from women tourists, most of them from Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia.

The study said that travelers planning trips to India had instead opted for other Asian countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The winter months from November to March mark the peak tourist season in India.

According to India's Tourism Ministry, 6.6 million foreign tourists visited India in 2012, earning the country $17.74 billion in foreign exchange.
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« Reply #5450 on: Apr 01, 2013, 06:32 AM »

Make or break time for Afghan forces as Nato prepares to take step back

'We will not let them fail,' says British commander, before local troops take lead role in fighting Taliban insurgency

Nick Hopkins in Lashkar Gah
The Guardian, Sunday 31 March 2013 17.00 BST   

British commanders have warned that the war against the Taliban is entering its most critical phase as Afghanistan's security forces prepare to fight the insurgency on their own for the first time without Nato troops alongside them on the frontline.

President Hamid Karzai is expected to announce that the Afghan army and police will shortly take the lead in combat operations across the whole of Afghanistan, and senior officers interviewed by the Guardian said the next six months – known as the "fighting season" – would show if the bold strategy had paid off.

In Helmand, where British forces have been based since 2006, commanders believe the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will be able to cope.

But they also insisted that UK combat troops would remain on standby until the end of 2014 to help "in extremis" – and that the ANSF had to try to reduce the number of casualties it has sustained.

Brigadier Bob Bruce, the commander of Task Force Helmand, denied the approach was a gamble, and said it was the right time for UK forces to step back to allow the Afghans to gain confidence before Nato combat troops withdraw next year.

"This is their problem. This is their insurgency. We know for a fact there is no military solution to the insurgency; there is no way the military is going to win a counter-insurgency [war] because it is essentially a political issue. It is a battle of offers: the offer the government makes to the people and the offer the insurgents make to the people."

Bruce admitted the campaign was "at a very challenging stage".

"It is a period of some uncertainties but we reduce the risk by retaining combat capability right to the end, to the end of 2014. We will have the capability to do so, at a reducing scale. We are here to support them if they really struggle."

"I am not interested in gambles. People's lives are at stake. This is a plan at the end of a long campaign. It is a plan that has some risk, but that has been carefully mitigated. I know they are good enough. They are genuinely very capable now."

Bruce said the ANSF was a new and developing force and it needed to be weaned off the support of Nato's International Security and Assistance Force (Isaf). In recent weeks, the Afghans had asked for help on low-level operations but the UK had refused.

"They are finding their feet and they are doing this in contact with a pretty ruthless and determined enemy. They have had a pretty hard fight, as have we. Confidence comes when you have overcome a challenge and this summer will be their biggest challenge yet."

He added: "We will not let them fail. When they really need us, we will intervene."

Lieutenant General Nick Carter, the most senior British officer in Afghanistan, and deputy commander of all Nato forces, said people should not be surprised if UK troops were called into action between now and the end of next year, when Nato formally ends 13 years of operations.

"We want the Afghans to manage this on their own but we do still need to be prepared to support them in the event of this fighting season becoming very intensive.

And that is why it is important that we still have combat power available.

"People should not be surprised if there is a setback that needs to be dealt with, because Afghanistan is still a very difficult place and there is a good deal more work to be done."

Carter admitted the ANSF were taking too many casualties – 1,100 deaths in six months last year, a rate he described as "unsustainable".

He said the high numbers were "indicative of the challenges" still facing the Afghans, and warned it would damage confidence unless it could be brought down.

"Most of their casualties are caused by IEDs [improvised explosive devices]. Their counter-IED capability is developing and they find more IEDs than we do, but they need greater capacity.

"The top of the Afghan army and Afghan MoD [defence ministry] need to recognise they have to drive a culture down through the army, to get leaders to acknowledge that the casualty rates are unsustainable And they have to do something about it," he said.

Carter also took issue with those who used a phrase coined by the Americans, "Afghan good enough", as the benchmark for success. It was first coined by the Americans and has been adopted by politicians and thinkers on both sides of the Atlantic.

"I have never liked that phrase because it is patronising," he said.

"My sense is that Afghanistan has reached a point of progression. Progress now needs to be maintained over the next 10–20 years and we need to help stimulate this mood and this momentum.

"As you travel in that direction you will obviously have speed bumps, and we are not going to solve many of the problems overnight but provided you get some development in civil society terms that becomes irreversible, and I think we are not far away from that point. You can park thoughts like being 'good enough', and you can see Afghanistan being pointed in a direction that is progressive and meets people's expectations."

Nic Hailey, acting UK ambassador in Kabul, said it was "inevitable" that parts of Afghanistan would not be under ANSF control by the end of 2014. He warned that the Taliban were divided internally about whether to enter the political process before next year's presidential elections.

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« Reply #5451 on: Apr 01, 2013, 06:34 AM »

Iraq rocked by deadly blast in Tikrit

Nine killed including seven police officers as insurgents blow up oil tanker packed with explosives inside government compound

Reuters, Monday 1 April 2013 11.33 BST   

At least nine people have been killed and 17 wounded after insurgents detonated an oil tanker packed with explosives inside a government compound in the Iraqi city of Tikrit, police said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Sunni Muslim insurgents linked to al-Qaida have been increasing their efforts this year to undermine Iraq's Shia-led government and foment inter-communal conflict.

The attack took place in central Tikrit, 150km (95 miles) north of Baghdad, 15 minutes after insurgents dhad driven the tanker inside a compound housing governmental administrative offices. It killed nine people, including seven police officers.

Police at the scene said guards may not have suspected the tanker because fuel trucks arrive every morning to deliver gas and oil.

"The tank was stopped just behind the police administration building and partially damaged it. I was injured in my face and stomach because of glass," Captain Mohammed Salih said.

Intensifying violence has accompanied the political crisis in Iraq, where a power-sharing government among Shia, Sunni and ethnic Kurdish blocks has been all but paralysed since US troops left more than a year ago.

The prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia, is also facing months of protests in the country's Sunni heartland, which shares a border with Syria. Many Iraqi Sunnis feel their minority sect has been sidelined by Maliki's government.

Security experts say al-Qaida-linked militants have been regrouping in the western province of Anbar and crossing into Syria to fight alongside mainly Sunni rebels against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Shia Iran.

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« Reply #5452 on: Apr 01, 2013, 06:36 AM »

March 31, 2013

Painful Payment for Afghan Debt: A Daughter, 6


KABUL, Afghanistan — As the shadows lengthened around her family’s hut here in one of Kabul’s sprawling refugee camps, a slight 6-year-old girl ran in to where her father huddled with a group of elders near a rusty wood stove. Her father, Taj Mohammad, looked away, his face glum.

“She does not know what is going to happen,” he said softly.

If, as seems likely, Mr. Mohammad cannot repay his debt to a fellow camp resident a year from now, his daughter Naghma, a smiling, slender child with a tiny gold stud in her nose, will be forced to leave her family’s home forever to be married to the lender’s 17-year-old son.

The arrangement effectively values her life at $2,500. That is the amount Mr. Mohammad borrowed over the course of a year to pay for hospital treatment for his wife and medical care for some of his nine children — including Janan, 3, who later froze to death in bitter winter weather because the family could not afford enough firewood to stay warm.

“They said, ‘Pay back our money,’ and I didn’t have any money, so I had to give my girl,” Mr. Mohammad said. “I was thankful to them at the time, so it was my decision, but the elders also demanded that I do this.”

The story of how Mr. Mohammad, a refugee from the fighting in Helmand Province who in better days made a living as a singer and a musician, came to trade his daughter is in part a saga of terrible choices faced by some of the poorest Afghan families. But it is also a story of the way the war has eroded the social bonds and community safety nets that underpinned hundreds of thousands of rural Afghans’ lives.

Women and girls have been among the chief victims — not least because the Afghan government makes little attempt in the camps to enforce laws protecting women and children, said advocates for the camp residents.

Aid groups have been able to provide a few programs for women and children in the ever-growing camps, including schooling that for many girls here is a first. But those programs are being cut as international aid has dwindled here ahead of the Western military withdrawal. And the Afghan government has not offered much support, in part because most officials hope the refugees will leave Kabul and return home.

Most of the refugees in this camp are from rural southern Afghanistan, and they remain bound by the tribal codes and elder councils, known as jirgas, that resolved disputes in their home villages.

Few, however, still have the support of a broader network of kinsmen to fall back on in hard times as they would have at home. Out of context, the already rigid Pashtun codes have become something even harsher.

“This kind of thing never happened at home in Helmand,” said Mr. Mohammad’s mother as she sat in the back of the smoky room. Watching her granddaughter, as she laughed and smiled with her teacher, Najibullah, who also acts as a camp social worker and was visiting the family, she added, “I never remember a girl being given away to pay for a loan.”

From the point of view of those who participated in the jirga, the resolution was a good one, said Tawous Khan, an elder who led it and is one of the two main camp representatives. “You see, Taj Mohammad had to give his daughter. There was no other way,” he said. “And, it solved the problem.”

Some Afghan women’s advocates who heard about the little girl’s plight from news media reports were outraged and said they had asked the Interior Ministry to intervene, since child marriage is a violation of Afghan law and it is also unlawful to sell a woman. But nothing happened, said Wazhma Frogh, the executive director of the Research Institute for Women, Peace and Security.

“There has to be some sort of intervention,” Ms. Frogh said, “otherwise others will think this behavior is all right and it will increase.”

The Camps

The dark, cramped room where Mr. Mohammad lives with his wife and his eight children is typical of the shelters in the Charahi Qambar camp, which houses 900 refugee families from war-torn areas, mostly in southern Afghanistan.

The camp is the largest in the capital area, but just one of 52 such “informal settlements” in the province, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Abjectly poor, the people in the camps came with little more than a handful of household belongings. Seeking safety and aid, they instead found themselves unwelcome in a city already overcrowded with returning refugees from Pakistan and Iran.

For years Charahi Qambar did not even have wells for water because the government was reluctant to let aid groups dig them, said Mohammad Yousef, an engineer and the director of Aschiana, an Afghan aid group that works in nine camps around the country as well as with street children.

The refugees’ skills as farmers and small village workmen were of little use here since they had neither land nor houses. Penniless, they gravitated to others from the same area, and the camps grew up.

Mr. Mohammad, like most men in the camps, looks for work almost every morning as an unskilled laborer, which pays about $6 a day — not even enough to buy the staples that his family subsists on: green tea, bread and, when they can afford them, potatoes. Meat and sugar are the rarest of luxuries.

Many days, no one hires the camp men at all, put off by their tattered clothes, blanketlike wraps and full beards. “People know where we are from and think we are Taliban,” Mr. Mohammad said.

After four years in the camp, he is thinking now of going back to Helmand as a migrant laborer for the opium poppy harvest so that he can earn enough to feed his family and save a little for next winter’s firewood.

“It is too cold, and we wish we had more to eat,” said Rahmatullah, one of 18 deputy camp representatives and one of the few who spoke against the jirga’s decision to have Mr. Mohammad give his daughter to pay off the debt.

Rahmatullah, who uses just one name, did note a positive difference in camp life, however, adding, “We do have one thing here — we have education.”

Education was unheard-of for most camp residents at home in Helmand, and Rahmatullah, like many camp residents, said that at first he was suspicious of it. Shortly after arriving in the camp four years ago, he was shocked to see young girls walking on the street.

He was even more amazed when another camp resident explained that the girls were going to school.

“I did not know that girls could go to school, because in my village only a very few girls were taught anything and it was always at home,” he said. “I thought, ‘Maybe these are the daughters of a general,’ because where I come from women do not leave their homes, not even to bring water.”

“I talked to my wife, and we allowed our girls to go to the camp school, and now they are in the regular Kabul school,” he said.

His daughters were lucky. The schools in the camp were run by Aschiana, which gives a healthful lunch to every child enrolled — 800 in the Charahi Qambar camp alone. They try to bring the children up to a level where they can keep up in the regular Kabul schools.

However, that program has just ended because the European Union, amid financial woes, is not renewing its programs for social protection. Instead, it is focusing its aid spending on the Afghan government’s priorities, ratified at last year’s international aid meeting in Tokyo, which do not include child protection, Alfred Grannas, the European Union’s chargé d’affaires in Afghanistan, said in an e-mail.

The World of Women

Like most dwellings in the camp, Mr. Mohammad’s hut has a tarpaulin roof, lightly reinforced with wood, an unheated entry room, and an inner room with a stove. A small, grimy window lets in a faint patch of light, and piled around the room’s edges are the family’s few possessions: blankets, old clothes, a few battered pots and pans, and 10 bird cages for the quails he trains to sing in hopes of selling them for extra money.

For his wife, a beautiful young woman who sat huddled in the shadows, a black veil drawn across her face as her husband discussed their daughter’s fate, there is little to look forward to day to day. Back in their village in Helmand, even poor families have walled compounds and sometimes land where a woman can go outdoors.

In the camps, though, the huts are crammed together, with narrow mud pathways barely more than foot wide between them.

“There’s no privacy in the camps, and for women it is like they are in a prison,” said Mr. Yousef, the Aschiana director. “They are constantly under emotional stress.”

Like many Afghan women, Mr. Mohammad’s wife, Guldasta, let her husband speak for her — at first. He explained that she was too upset about what was happening to her daughter to talk about the situation.

But then in a quiet moment, she turned, lifting her veil to reveal part of her face and said clearly: “I am not happy with this decision; it was not what I wanted for her.”

“I would have been happy to let her grow up with us,” she said.

The family’s case is a kind of dark distortion of the Afghan tradition of the groom’s family paying a “bride price” to the family of the wife-to-be. The practice is common particularly in Pashtun areas, but it exists among other ethnic groups as well and can involve thousands of dollars. In this case, the boy who is receiving Naghma as a wife, instead of paying for her, will get her in exchange for the debt’s forgiveness.

Because Naghma, whose name means melody, was not chosen by the groom, she will most likely be treated more like a family servant than a spouse — and at worst as a captive slave. Her presence may help the groom attract a more desirable second wife because the family, although poor, will have someone working for it, insulating the chosen wife from some of the hardest tasks.

Anthropologists say this kind of use of women as property intensified after the fall of the Taliban, said Deniz Kandiyoti, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

The most recent anthropological studies of the phenomenon were of indebted drug traffickers who sold their daughters or sisters to settle debts, she said. These are essentially distress sales. And unlike the norm for marriage exchanges before the past three decades of war, the women in some cases have become salable property — stripped of the traditional forms of status and respect, she said.


Almost from the moment he agreed to the deal, Mr. Mohammad began to regret it and think about all that could go wrong. “If, God forbid, they mistreat my daughter, then I would have to kill someone in their family,” he said as he stood at the edge of the camp in a muddy lot in the cold winter dusk.

“You know she is very little, we call her ‘Peshaka,’ ” he said, using the Pashto word for kitten. “She is a very lovely girl. Everybody in our family loves her, and even if she fights with her older brothers, we don’t say anything, we give her all possible happiness.”

He added: “I believe that when she goes to that house, she will die soon. She will not receive all the love she receives from us, and I am afraid she will lose her life. A 6-year-old girl doesn’t know about having a mother-in-law, a father-in-law, or having a husband or being a wife,” he said.

Adding to their fears, the mother of the boy that Naghma will marry came to Mr. Mohammad’s home to ask his wife to stop sending the girl to school, he said.

“You know, my daughter loves going to school, and she wants to study more and more. But the boy she is marrying, he sent his mother yesterday to tell my wife, ‘Look, this is dishonoring us to have my son’s future wife go to school,’ ” he said.

“I cannot tell them what to do,” he added, looking down at his boots. “This is their wife, their property.”

* KABUL-2-articleLarge.jpg (69.05 KB, 600x400 - viewed 85 times.)
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« Reply #5453 on: Apr 01, 2013, 06:39 AM »

Russians Selectively Blocking Internet

Published: March 31, 2013

MOSCOW — The Russian government in recent weeks has been making use of a new law that gives it the power to block Internet content that it deems illegal or harmful to children.

The country’s communications regulators have required Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to remove material that the officials determined was objectionable, with only YouTube, owned by Google, resisting. The video-sharing site complied with a Russian agency’s order to block a video that officials said promoted suicide. But YouTube filed a lawsuit in Russian court in February saying the video, showing how to make a fake wound with makeup materials and a razor blade, was intended for entertainment and should not be restricted.

Supporters of the law, which took effect in November, say it is a narrowly focused way of controlling child pornography and content that promotes drug use and suicide.

But opposition leaders have railed against the law as a crack in the doorway to broader Internet censorship. They say they worry that social networks, which have been used to arrange protests against President Vladimir V. Putin, will be stifled.

The child protection law, they say, builds a system for government officials to demand that companies selectively block individual postings, so that contentious material can be removed without resorting to a countrywide ban on, for example, Facebook or YouTube, which would reflect poorly on Russia’s image abroad and anger Internet users at home.

So far at least, the Russians have been mostly singling out not political content but genuinely distressing material posted by Russian-speaking users.

On Friday, Facebook took down a page globally that was connected to suicide after it was flagged by the Russian regulatory agency, called the Federal Service for Supervision in Telecommunications, Information Technology and Mass Communications, known by its acronym Roskomnadzor. A spokesman for the agency had told Facebook it had until Sunday to comply or risk being blocked in Russia.

For Facebook, the response turned out to be an easy decision. Everybody concerned — the company, the government and opposition figures — agreed the suicide-themed user group was not a friendly page. The group, called “Club Suicid,” was deemed serious enough not to be sheltered by Facebook’s criteria for “controversial humor.”

“We reviewed the content and it was removed because it violated our terms of use,” the company said in a statement.

Facebook says it also complies with local legislation to ban content in certain countries, though that was not the reason for removing the page in this case.

“Notable examples of where most services, including ours, will I.P.-restrict access for certain counties are in Germany” and in France, where it blocks content related to Holocaust denial, and in Turkey, where content defaming the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, is blocked, Facebook said in its statement.

The spokesman for the Roskomnadzor agency, Vladimir Pikov, said that a separate government agency, Rospotrebnadzor, a consumer-protection organization intended to ensure the safety of food and consumer goods, had made a determination that the Facebook post promoted suicide, and was thus a public health threat.

Twitter, the microblogging site, in March began complying with Russian requests to remove posts — two because they appeared to be related to an attempt to deal in illegal drugs and three posts for “promoting suicidal thoughts,” according to a statement issued March 15 by Roskomnadzor. Twitter has been “actively engaged in cooperation,” the statement said.

Izvestia, a Russian newspaper, reported that Twitter and the Russian agencies’ officials had been in negotiations since November to create a mechanism for selectively blocking Twitter posts inside Russia.

Anton Nosik, a blogger and journalist in Russia, called the law in a telephone interview “absurd, harmful and absolutely unnecessary.” But, he said, so long as regulators focus on genuinely macabre material like sites visited by people fascinated by suicide, he is not overly concerned about a crackdown on the videos and Web pages in the Russian blogosphere. “The track record of the authorities shows they are not going to enforce it strictly.”
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« Reply #5454 on: Apr 01, 2013, 06:40 AM »

March 31, 2013

As Banks in Cyprus Falter, Other Tax Havens Step In


LIMASSOL, Cyprus — Bloodied by a harsh bailout deal that drives a stake through the heart of this Mediterranean country’s oversize financial industry, Cyprus now faces a further blow to its role as an offshore tax haven: the vultures from competing territories are circling.

With a flood of e-mails and phone calls in recent days to lawyers and accountants here who make a living from helping wealthy Russians and others avoid taxes, competitors in alternative financial centers across Europe and beyond are promoting their own skills at keeping money hidden and safe.

“We are aware of the economic problems facing Cyprus at the moment,” read one such message from a law firm in Malta, also a euro zone member. “We would like to propose an avenue of action for your consideration: offering corporate relocation to Malta,” continued the business pitch, trumpeting Malta’s low taxes and “flexible yet robust regime” for financial services.

Similar unsolicited offers have originated in well-known havens like Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Cayman Islands, as well as in a host of other locations, including Dubai and Singapore. Even the northern part of Cyprus, controlled by Turkish Cypriots, has joined the feeding frenzy, promoting its own banks as a stable alternative to those run by Greek Cypriots in the crisis-racked southern part of the divided island.

Particularly successful at luring Russians, Cyprus has built up a large infrastructure of lawyers, accountants and other professionals schooled in the arts of tax avoidance. Its corporate registry now has 320,000 registered companies, a staggering number for a country with only 860,000 people. Most are shells set up for foreign companies and wealthy individuals seeking to avoid taxes.

“We have been thrown to the wolves, and now the wolves have responded,” said Nicholas Papadopoulos, head of the financial and budgetary affairs committee in Parliament.

Bitterly critical of last week’s bailout deal — which is forcing Cyprus to shrink its banking and financial industry drastically and stick the largest bank depositors with much of the bill — Mr. Papadopoulos said the European Union was “punishing a whole country just to hit Russians.”

Even if new controls in Cyprus make it impossible to move much capital elsewhere for the moment, rival havens are nonetheless intent on luring foreign-owned businesses that have been incorporated in Cyprus and might be happy to relocate.

Mounting a counteroffensive is the Cyprus Fiduciary Association, an industry lobbying group.

“The banking sector is finished, but the service industry can survive,” said the group’s secretary, Andreas Marangos, a Limassol lawyer. Russians who now use Cyprus will open bank accounts elsewhere but might stick around for other offshore services, he said.

The rush by rival havens could pose economic troubles as Cyprus struggles to keep afloat a financial industry that employs tens of thousands of people. Cypriot unemployment, already at 15 percent, is expected to soar as the finance sector and the overall economy contract, aggravating a crisis that the bailout was intended to solve. Along with shipping, the financial industry is especially crucial here in Limassol, a port city popular with wealthy Russians looking for sun and a safe place to put their money.

Cyprus, although only a relatively small player in a global network of low-tax financial centers, has made serving tax-averse foreigners a central pillar of its economy. A small sunny island whose main economic engine used to be potato farming, Cyprus shifted to a finance-centered model after Turkish troops took control of the northern part of the island in 1974.

While Cyprus and its rivals dislike being described as “tax havens” and prefer to be known as “offshore financial centers,” those now picking at Cyprus’ carcass trumpet their ability to keep money beyond the reach of tax authorities. A Swiss company, the Gonthier Group, last week sent e-mails to Cyprus firms working with foreigners, suggesting they offer their clients a Swiss alternative, namely an investment “vehicle which is extremely low-profile, not classified as a bank account or trust and thus very much under the radar of national fiscal authorities.”

Tilly Schneeberger Gonthier, a principal of the Montreux-based company, said on Sunday by telephone that her pitch was “absolutely not” an invitation to evade taxes, but merely an offer of a secure alternative to Cyprus-based investment vehicles. She denied wanting to hurt the Cypriot financial services industry.

“We are trying to help them,” Ms. Gonthier said. “They have a lot of unhappy clients.”

She said that nobody in Cyprus had yet taken up her offer, but added: “This doesn’t happen very fast. It takes time.”

Mr. Papadopoulos, the parliamentary finance committee head, said he did not begrudge competitors in other locations trying to lure away clients rattled by his own country’s troubles. “This is a zero-sum game,” he said.

Echoing a widespread view here, he complained that Cyprus had been unfairly singled out as a haven for shady money by the European Union even as others, including fellow members of the 27-nation bloc, provide much the same services.

“We have made mistakes, but the whole point of seeking help from the European Union was to get fair treatment,” he said, referring to Cyprus’s request for a 10 billion euro lifeline from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund.

A central demand of a bailout package announced early last Monday in Brussels, the headquarters of the union’s bureaucratic apparatus, is that Cyprus dismantle its finance-dominated economic model.

Cypriot banks gorged for years on deposits from overseas, especially Russia, and spewed out loans at such a rate that the banking sector ended up dwarfing the rest of the economy. Its total assets — now mostly loans of uncertain worth — grew to be eight times larger than the whole country’s economic output.

But this imbalance is no worse than that in Malta, where the banking sector is also about eight times gross domestic product. And it is far less severe than in Luxembourg, where banking assets are more than 22 times G.D.P. Both Malta and Luxembourg, each a member of the European Union, last week loudly insisted they were very different from Cyprus — while their own financial service providers rushed to court Cyprus’s clients.

How much success those countries have had at getting Russians and others to decamp is still unclear, although many lawyers here acknowledge that they have already helped a number of foreign clients open new bank accounts outside Cyprus. The country’s own banks, closed for nearly two weeks to prevent depositors from withdrawing all their cash, reopened last week but are now caught up in a web of capital controls that make most normal transactions all but impossible.

Vasilis Zertalis, the chief executive of Prospectacy, a Nicosia corporate services company, said he understood that foreigners with companies and investment vehicles registered in Cyprus now needed to find banks elsewhere. But he is outraged by the efforts of rival centers to profit from Cyprus’s pain.

“When somebody is down, you should not try to push them further and give them a final blow,” said Mr. Zertalis. “I believe in capitalism, but there should be certain ethics.”

As authorities last week unveiled plans to shut down Cyprus’s second biggest bank, Laiki, and worked out a strategy to preserve the Bank of Cyprus, the country’s biggest, by effectively confiscating 60 percent or more of deposits over 100,000 euros, a financial services company in the Cayman Islands made a transparent grab for business.

“Given the inherent pressure banks will be placed under in Cyprus, your firm may see a need to consider other jurisdictions when consulting clients,” Bateman Financial said in an e-mail to Mr. Zertalis and other Cypriots in the same line of work. “The Cayman Islands can offer the stability that is currently desired.”


Cyprus bets on casinos to help boost economy after savings raid

President braves wrath of Orthodox church by including plan to lift ban on gambling among his initiatives to rescue economy

Juliette Garside   
The Guardian, Sunday 31 March 2013 19.52 BST   

Cyprus is to lift a ban on casinos as part of measures to counter the economic shock of a much larger than expected 60% raid on the savings of the island's most wealthy depositors.

President Nicos Anastasiades outlined a 12-point plan to rescue the troubled economy before travelling to Athens, where he was reported to be meeting the Greek prime minister to petition for €2bn in aid, despite Greece's own economic collapse.

The Cypriot bailout is the first eurozone rescue package to punish savers by forcing them to hand over a slice of their savings in broken banks. The sums are far higher than original estimates that Bank of Cyprus depositors would take a 30% or 40% hit. The conditions were imposed when Cyprus was told to find €5.8bn as a condition of a €10bn loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Anastasiades has braved the wrath of the influential Orthodox church by declaring that he will allow casinos to operate in Cyprus. Gambling has until now been legal only on the northern, Turkish side of the island.

The president's other initiatives, outlined in an interview with the newspaper Fileleftheros Sunday, include tax exemptions on business profits reinvested in Cyprus and encouraging homeowners to reduce rents.

Anastasiades, who came to power after elections in February, was understood to be holding talks with the Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, who backed demands from the European troika that Cyprus pay for its bailout with a raid on bank deposits.

To persuade Greece to hand over some of its own €48bn rescue loan, he planned to meet also with Samaras's coalition partner Evangelos Venizelos, as well as opposition party leaders and Greek president Karolos Papoulias.

Bank of Cyprus customers with deposits of more than €100,000 learned at the weekend that 37.5% of any money they hold over that threshold will be converted into shares in the country's largest bank, which are currently almost worthless. A further 22.5% of their savings will be put into a fund that earns no interest and could be confiscated should the bank need further funds.

The remaining 40% of large deposits at the Bank of Cyprus will be "temporarily frozen for liquidity reasons", but continue to accrue existing levels of interest, plus another 10%, the central bank said.

The savings converted to bank shares would theoretically allow depositors to recover their losses. But the stock now holds little value and may never regain a value equal to the depositors' losses.

Businesses have been particularly affected by the measures. Fast-growing digital company Viber is headquartered in Cyprus and offers a service similar to Skype, designed for mobile phones. Its CEO, Talmon Marco, said he was considering leaving the island. "This is an extremely poor decision. We are considering all options at the moment," he added.

Cyprus' finance minister Michalis Sarris said the measures were taken to put the Bank of Cyprus on a solid footing.

"We suffered a serious blow without doubt … but we now have a bank which is reformed and ready to assume its role in the Cypriot economy," the state-run Cyprus News Agency quoted him as saying.

Observers have accused some of the 17 European countries that use the euro of wanting to see the end of Cyprus as an international financial services centre. They have also been accused of trying to send a message that European taxpayers will no longer shoulder the burden of bailing out problem banks.

But Germanfinance minister Wolfgang Schäeuble challenged that notion, insisting in an interview with the Bild newspaper published on Saturday that "Cyprus is and remains a special, isolated case", and doesn't point the way for future European rescue programs.
Recovery gambles

The Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades, will introduce 12 measures to relieve the crisis, to be implemented over the next six months. In a plan reminiscent of Spain's project to create a EuroVegas gambling resort on farmland near Madrid, Cyprus wants to put forward legislation to allow its own casinos. This would be a public policy reversal for the island, which only last year banned online casinos and exchange betting.

Other measures include: forcing the housing department of housing to license development projects within at least 30 days; exempting company profits reinvested in Cyprus from tax; encouraging banks to lend for longer terms at lower rates; compelling businesses to ensure at least 70% of staff are Cypriot; finding ways to cut the cost of electricity; and nudging landlords to reduce rates with the threat of urgent interim measures if they do not respond.

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« Reply #5455 on: Apr 01, 2013, 06:49 AM »

Is Germany too powerful for Europe?

Twenty years ago, Germany's economy was stagnating. Today, as the eurozone crisis deepens, this giant is keeping Europe afloat. But what does it want in return? Stuart Jeffries talks to German sociologist Ulrich Beck, who believes that his country has become a political monster

Stuart Jeffries   
The Guardian, Sunday 31 March 2013 19.00 BST   

In his novel Fatherland, Robert Harris envisaged a hellish scenario – Hitler won the second world war. Decades later, the Greater German Reich extends from the Rhine to the Caspian Sea. The rest of Europe, though notionally consisting of independent states, is really under the Nazi jackboot.

Sound familiar? Of course not. That nightmare never came to pass. Happily, Germany does not rule Europe. Or does it? Munich-based sociologist Ulrich Beck argues in his new book that the eurozone catastrophe has given birth to a political monster: a German Europe. When, on 1 July this year, Croatia becomes a member, the European Union will contain 500 million people and be the largest market and trading bloc in the world.

"The new German power in Europe is not based as in former times on force," writes Beck in German Europe. Which is a consolation. "It has no need of weapons to impose its will on other states," he says. "It has no need to invade, and yet is ubiquitous."

His homeland's latest iron chancellor Angela Merkel rules Europe, imposing German values on feebler client nations, bailing out southern Europeans with their oversized public sectors, rampant tax evasion and long lunches. "In the countries most harshly affected by the crisis, many people think they are losers because the austerity policy pursued jointly by Berlin and Brussels deprives them of their means of livelihood – and also of their human dignity," argues Beck.

Other Germans, naturally, don't see it quite that way. The official line from the German embassy in London is that Germany is helping other European economies to become globally competitive and more able to take on emerging markets. "Germany was among the first to have started this endeavour and therefore might temporarily be a little ahead of others," says spokesman Norman Walter. "Our main political drive over the last few years has been to increase competitiveness in all eurozone and EU member states."

To get a different perspective on German domination of Europe, I consult a standup comic: Henning Wehn, a German comedian who is tired of being called an oxymoron by Britons, and is in the middle of a UK tour. The blurb for his show goes: "According to Henning, there's no shortcut to success, hard work will eventually pay off and there is no shame in paying tax." How this transmutes into comedy is anybody's guess, but it seems to suggest that Wehn believes slacker Europe needs a German economics lesson. "Well, economically Germany is mainly dominant because it is the country with most people," says Wehn. "It also has several things that explain its economic success and from which others can learn – our system of apprenticeships, our building societies that help entrepreneurs. When David Cameron spoke about strivers and skivers, that reminded me of a Swabian saying: 'Schaffe, schaffe, Häusle baue!' It means: "Work, work, build your little house!' That sort of striving is deep in German identity."
Economic powerhouse … Frankfurt’s financial district, where the ECB’s HQ is located. Economic powerhouse … Frankfurt’s financial district, where the ECB’s HQ is located. Photograph: Odd Andersen

The worry is that Germany thinks of itself as a nation of strivers bankrolling a continent of skivers. "German money [is being] thrown away on the bankrupt Greeks," ran a headline in the tabloid Bild, while Focus magazine had a cover image of the Venus de Milo giving the finger to the world. "If Ireland and Greece sank into the sea tomorrow, Germany would be quietly relieved," says Simon Winder, publishing director at Penguin and author of Germania: A Personal History of Germans Ancient and Modern. "Germany today reminds me of the British Empire, burdened with non-lucrative colonies that it has to defend when all it's really bothered about is India. The problem for Germany is that it has no India just, as it were, lots of Sierra Leones."

The latest euro crisis over Cyprus bears out Beck's analysis. According to Newsnight's Paul Mason, the Germans want to "avoid creating a moral hazard, rewarding a country that has sold itself as a rule-free playground for Russians who want to keep their money". For German politicians, and not just those of Merkel's ruling Christian Democratic Union, that irresponsible nonsense can't go on for ever: it's time for Cyprus to wake up and smell the austerity. Beck argues that Germany is teaching Cyprus a moral lesson, namely that, as he puts it: "Suffering purifies. The road through hell, the road through austerity, leads to the heaven of economic recovery." It's a very German lesson, borne of the philosophies of Martin Luther and Max Weber and based on the protestant work ethic. That doesn't play too well in Nicosia: hence all those "Merkel – Kaput" banners waved by soon-to-be redundant employees of Cyprus's Popular Bank.

But what are the Germans getting out of teaching allegedly slacker Europeans how to run their economies? For Beck, Germany's European dominance has given the nation a new sense of identity after decades of Nazi guilt, and provides liberation from what he calls the "never again syndrome" – never again a Holocaust, never again fascism, never again militarism. After the second world war and the Holocaust, he argues, Germany was in ruins morally and economically. Now, in both senses, it is back.

The origins of German economic dominance predate our current crisis. More than 20 years ago, Germany made a sacrifice for Europe at Maastricht when it agreed to put the deutschmark to the sword so that another currency could be born. "The tragedy for the Germans is that they viewed the euro as their great, healing gift to the rest of Europe, an act of self-denial in which they cashed in their totemic deutschmark for the continent's greater good," says Winder. Since the fall of Hitler, it has been Germany's self-imposed obligation to help build a Europe where the petty nationalisms that had ruined the continent in two world wars could be definitively overcome.
The prudent housewife … Angela Merkel sits before an EU flag on a visit to a Berlin school, 2011. The prudent housewife … Angela Merkel sits before an EU flag on a visit to a Berlin school, 2011. Photograph: Sean Gallup

It's all about Vergangenheitsbewältigung, which means (roughly) the struggle to come to terms with the past – and, in particular, a Nazi past. (Maybe Britain will some time undergo its own Vergangenheitsbewältigung for its imperial shame, but that's another story.) "The Germans no longer wish to be thought of as racists and warmongers," Beck says. "They would prefer to become the schoolmasters and moral enlighteners of Europe." It's a moot question whether the rest of Europe wants to be on the receiving end of German enlightenment. "Germany's chorus of I-want-to-teach-the-world-to-sing doesn't play too well in Tring or Extramadura," says Winder.

But that's the Teutonic song: two decades ago, Germany after reunification was once as Greece is today, with a stagnating economy and five million unemployed. But, thanks to neoliberal austerity and taking on the Protestant notion that "suffering purifies", the Germans were able to realise a jobs miracle. Now, Beck argues, German reunification is being used as the template for German crisis management in Europe. As head of the continent's strongest economic power, Merkel is in a position to dictate the terms under which struggling eurozone nations can apply for further credit, eroding the democratic autonomy of the Greek, Italian and Spanish parliaments. Beck calls her Merkiavelli – after Machiavelli – to highlight the political nous with which she has run rings around other leaders.

He suggests that she is the uncrowned queen of Europe. Queen Merkiavelli the First of Europe, perhaps, demands that Germany's new colonies save in the interests of stability – a formula based on the good housekeeping practices of a woman who sometimes casts herself as a sensible Swabian housewife. Beck's chancellor sounds like Margaret Thatcher, who also prudently approached the balancing of government accounts as though they were a household budget. "There is one important difference," Beck says. "Thatcher was doing to Britain something the British electorate had voted for. What Merkel is doing to Europe has no democratic mandate."

Viewed thus, Germans are power-crazed anti-democrats using economic crisis to stage a furtive putsch on a supine continent. Aren't we witnessing a German power grab? "Heavens, no. They have no imperial bone left in their body," argues Winder. "They are colonists, but incredibly reluctant ones. There is no smoke-filled room filled with sausage-eating Germans who want to dominate Europe. There is no conspiracy."

"I think that's an incredibly silly point to make," says Wehn. "German dominance in Europe is not anti-democratic. There are parts of Europe that are economically ahead of other parts. It's just the same in Britain: London is economically ahead of the north-east of England. So should London leave sterling? That's obviously a silly answer. The same is true in Europe. There are fishing villages in Greece that are going to be economically negligible, while Germany is dominant. Does that mean we should leave the euro? No! A strong Europe needs a strong Germany."
Cultural export … German comedian Henning Wehn. Cultural export … German comedian Henning Wehn.

There is, though, a paradox in Germany's European domination. It is economically supreme, but culturally negligible. Some of us are enjoying the Wagner bicentenary, but it can hardly be argued that his music indicates the virility of German cultural exports in the new millennium. Nobody is wearing lederhosen in Glasgow or Warsaw. Next to nobody is learning German as a foreign language. Your next box set might well be in Danish but nobody's will be in German. Fatih Akin, Christian Petzold, Hans-Christian Schmid and Ulrich Köhler have one thing in common: few have heard of these alleged icons of German new wave cinema outside Germany. Yes, the Tate's website did crash briefly when it was announced that tickets were available for the Kraftwerk gig at the Turbine Hall, but that's the exception that proves the rule.

"They're living on empty, culturally," says Winder. "There's no German novel I'm looking forward to, and no German film. But it's the same throughout Europe. Europe is culturally null. Britain is the cultural dynamo of Europe by a million miles."

Why is Germany failing to export its cultural goods with the success of, say, its car, machine tool or optics industries? "There's one simple reason," replies Wehn. "Bismarck didn't believe in colonies." What Wehn means by that is that the 19th-century German chancellor, who presided over a vast and recently unified people, decided not to emulate Britain, Spain and France in their imperial land grabs. As a result, German never became a global language; English became the world's most widely spoken tongue. "The English language is dominant because of Hollywood and that helps British culture," says Wehn. In a recent survey by Monocle magazine, Britain was found to be the world's leader in what's called "soft power" – a country's ability to make friends and influence people not through military might but through culture, education, language and values. "In short, the things that make people love us rather than fear us," says John Worne, the British council's director of strategy.

Germany, by contrast, is feared for its economic dominance. At the same time it seems culturally insular. What a shame we don't get more German culture here. After all, the British and Germans are, one world cup and two world wars notwithstanding, simpatico. Germanophile 19th-century historian Thomas Carlyle wrote of Germany "speaking the same old Saxon tongue and thinking in the same old Saxon spirit with ourselves", while George Orwell wrote that during the first world war "the English working class were in contact with foreigners to an extent that is rarely possible. The sole result was that they brought back a hatred of all Europeans, except the Germans, whose courage they admired."

Norman Walter at the German embassy argues that the case for his homeland's cultural nullity is weak. "Well, we're not exactly world champions – but we aren't that bad either." Ingeniously, he quotes back at me a string of Guardian arts stories that seem to suggest German culture thrives here. Last year's gig by heavy-metal band Rammstein in 2012 sold out within minutes and Dave Simpson's five-star review described it as "the rock show of the year". Judith Mackrell argued that Tanztheater Wuppertal's London retrospective World Cities was "revelatory". Similarly, the Economist noted that "British enthusiasm for modern German culture is quietly growing" and that "a new breed of artists is changing British tastes in German culture". And today there's Kurt Schwitters at Tate Britain, Rosemarie Trockel at the Serpentine Gallery. Nobody even mentions the great German art on show at the Northern Renaissance exhibition at the Queen's Gallery, but they really should.

Yes, but visual art and music are the most readily exportable cultural products. Hardly any German literature makes it into the bestseller lists here. In Germany now, the bestseller lists are dominated by Timur Vermes's novel Er is wieder da (He's back), which is about Hitler. The führer awakes in Berlin in the summer of 2011, having fallen asleep in 1945. Hitler becomes a media celebrity before entering politics where he campaigns against dog muck and speeding. The book has sold more than 400,000 copies in Germany, but is as yet untranslated here. A shame: it's a popular account of German Vergangenheitsbewältigung that deserves to be read in Britain. Maybe more Britons should learn German.

And what about German TV? Why, I ask Wehn, are there no German TV series filling BBC4's 9pm Saturday night Euro-drama subtitle-a-rama slot? He contends that we aren't missing much, apart from a cop show called Derrick, which finished broadcasting 15 years ago. But why is there no German rival to Denmark's The Killing, Sweden's Wallander, Italy's Inspector Montalbano or France's Spiral? "In Germany there's no incentive to sell TV content abroad. The BBC makes a lot of money from selling foreign rights, which explains why so much of its content is shown overseas. In Germany, the contracts aren't like that – and the domestic market is huge so there's no incentive."

What does a German Europe mean for the economically bumbling yet allegedly cultural dynamic Britain? "It is drifting into irrelevance," replies Beck. "There is already a two-speed Europe, with a pioneer Europe in the eurozone that the rest of Europe, especially Britain, doesn't really take part in decisions about. Cameron doesn't realise there's a shifting power base in Europe but instead focuses on withdrawal from Europe." Folly, he argues. "Europe isn't across the Channel. For the first time every European citizen existentially depends on Europe." But that too is a German perspective: Britons have rarely gone for continental things such as existentialism, still less a cosmopolitan transcontinental menage.

Unsurprisingly, as a good German committed to the end of petty nationalisms, Beck counsels more powers to the European Union to bring the undemocratic reign of Queen Merkiavelli to an end. In the past, budgetary credits were tied to austerity and neo-liberal reform: in the future, Beck argues, they should be linked to a readiness to support a new, continent-wide social contract set up to defend job security, extend freedom and promote democracy.

Good luck with all that, Professor, I say. "It may well sound hopelessly utopian and naive," he replies, "but why not be utopian and naive? Look at the alternative." Maybe only Germans, thanks to the darkness of their 20th-century past, have such sunny hopes for this benighted continent. It's a different kind of German Europe from the one Beck indicts and one that nobody need fear: not one premised on Teutonic austerity, but filled with a European idealism you get hardly anywhere else on this cynical continent, least of all in Britain.

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« Reply #5456 on: Apr 01, 2013, 06:56 AM »

The Frankfurt school, part 1: why did Anders Breivik fear them?

The Frankfurt school united Marx and Freud to become the most influential thinkers of the 20th century left. The respectable right are suspicious, and the far right loathes them

Peter Thompson, Monday 25 March 2013 08.00 BST

When Anders Breivik launched his murderous attack in Norway in July 2011, he left behind a rambling manifesto which attacked not only what he saw as Europe's Islamicisation but also its undermining by the cultural Marxism of the Frankfurt school. So what is the Frankfurt school? Has its influence has been as deep as Breivik feared and many of the rest of us have hoped?

Many will have heard of the most prominent names from that tradition: Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse and Max Horkheimer, but its reach goes much further, taking in many of the 20th century's most important continental philosophers and socio-political developments.

The Frankfurt school was officially called the Institute for Social Research and was attached to the University of Frankfurt but functioned as an independent group of Marxist intellectuals who sought, under the leadership of Felix Weil, to expand Marxist thought beyond what had become a somewhat dogmatic and reductionist tradition increasingly dominated by both Stalinism and social democracy. Most famously they sought to marry up a combination of Marxist social analysis with Freudian psychoanalytical theories, searching for the roots of what made people tick in modern consumer capitalist society as well as what made people turn to fascism in the 1930s.

The Frankfurt school went back to Marx's early theoretical works from the 1840s and tapped into his more humanist impulses found in the German-French Annals and in his correspondence with Arnold Ruge. It is in these early writings that we find many of Marx's most important writings on the role of religion in history and society. His ideas about the way materialism worked in the world were still being formulated and he had not yet become the economic theoretician he was later known as. It is not that Marx left ideas of religion behind after these early years, but he felt he had dealt with them properly and could move on to more tangible affairs. In a letter to Arnold Ruge in 1842 he wrote:

    "Our motto must be: reform of consciousness not through dogmas, but by analysing the mystical consciousness that is unintelligible to itself, whether it manifests itself in a religious or a political form. It will then become evident that the world has long dreamed of possessing something of which it has only to be conscious in order to possess it in reality. It will become evident that it is not a question of drawing a great mental dividing line between past and future, but of realising the thoughts of the past. Lastly, it will become evident that mankind is not beginning a new work, but is consciously carrying into effect its old work."

But the idea that what was required was a reform of consciousness which had become unintelligible to itself is the central working principle of the Frankfurt school. Religious thought, which Marx saw as a part of false consciousness, was to be combated not by a full frontal attack in some sort of Dawkins-like crusade, but by removing the social conditions that created it. Marx was, therefore, not an atheist. Indeed he said of the term atheism that it "reminds one of children, assuring everyone who is ready to listen to them that they are not afraid of the bogey man". But the Frankfurt school did not believe that this reform of consciousness could come about simply by changing the socio-economic base of capitalist society. Religion was, for them, not only the opium of the people, but also a repository of hope that had become unintelligible to itself.

Freud comes into the equation here because these critical theorists thought that his categories of id, superego and ego, which were constantly interacting as the basis of the human psyche, fitted well with the Marxist dialectic of historical struggle and resolution. If societies moved forward historically as the result of class struggle, then individuals were constantly dealing with a struggle between the reality of the world around them and what they thought about that world. Paradoxically, the Frankfurt school saw this as necessary because of the relative success of capitalism rather than its imminent collapse, as the more dogmatic Marxists proclaimed (and indeed continue to proclaim). How was it, they argued, that the great mass of people could be sucked into complicity with their own exploitation? With the emergence of fascism in the 1920s and 30s the question became even more urgent. What led educated people to throw their lot in with the barbarism of fascism? This, for them, was the ultimate in false consciousness. One of the most influential works of the Frankfurt school to deal with this phenomenon was The Authoritarian Personality, a work that purported to be a study of prejudice and that documented the ways in which people, as individuals, were motivated to think and act as they do in a social context, to form in-groups and to exclude others to the point of genocidal extermination.

Paradoxically it is that great enemy of the Frankfurt school, Breivik, who is the perfect example of the authoritarian personality Adorno wrote about: obsessed with the apparent decline of traditional standards, unable to cope with change, trapped in a hatred of all those not deemed part of the in-group and prepared to take action to "defend" tradition against degeneracy. More worryingly, especially set against the rise of groups like Golden Dawn in Greece and widespread trends towards the fear of Islam in mainstream society, Adorno maintained that "personality patterns that have been dismissed as 'pathological' because they were not in keeping with the most common manifest trends or the most dominant ideals within a society, have, on closer investigation, turned out to be but exaggerations of what was almost universal below the surface in that society. What is 'pathological' today may, with changing social conditions, become the dominant trend of tomorrow."


The Frankfurt School, part 2: Negative dialectics

Unlike Hegel and Marx, Theodor Adorno rejected the idea the outcome of the dialectic will always be positive, and preordained

Peter Thompson, Monday 1 April 2013 09.00 BST   

Already in the comments about the first instalment of this series, a problem of traditions has emerged. For a predominantly Anglo-Saxon audience, raised in the empirical and positivist tradition, understanding a group of thinkers schooled in speculative Hegelianism and Marxist dialectics is always going to require a leap of faith. This is also compounded by the fact that the largely monoglot Anglo-Saxon tradition has to work with translations of these thinkers, which are not always the best that can be achieved.

For example, terms such as Wissenschaft and Geist traditionally get translated into "science" and "spirit", apparently irreconcilable opposites, whereas in philosophical terms the difference between the two is much less marked. In fact, you might argue that in the original German they could both be translated as "knowledge", albeit different types of knowledge bounded by speculation. When it comes to the Frankfurt school, the Anglo-Saxon tradition is confronted with all of its worst nightmares in one torrid night of speculative muscle flexing.

Theodor Adorno opens his treatise on negative dialectics with the statement that "[it] is a phrase that flouts tradition. As early as Plato, dialectics meant to achieve something positive by means of negation; the thought figure of the 'negation of the negation' later became the succinct term. This book seeks to free dialectics from such affirmative traits without reducing its determinacy." In other words, he asks us to reject the idea that the outcome of the dialectic will always be positive but that we do so without leaving the dialectic behind as an explanatory model. We simply have to make it an open rather than a closed process.

In Hegel the dialectic is widely seen as the means by which, through contradiction and tension, human history represents the unfolding of human freedom as the expression of the Weltgeist, or world spirit. Each age has its own zeitgeist (a sort of temporal appearance on Earth as the expression of the absolute – Christ as God come to Earth, if you like) but each of those ages is linked and taken up into (aufgehoben) the next succeeding one. Thus history is not just "one fucking thing after another", as Alan Bennett has it, but a gradual accretion through contradiction of the necessary stages for the fulfilment of the absolute. As Ernst Bloch pointed out, werden, or "becoming", was Hegel's password and history was simply the process of becoming. The dialectic was thus the way to understand an old idea first put forward by Heraclitus that everything is constantly in flux, or panta rhei, that the basic condition of the world is change and not stability. But change towards what?

In Hegel it is the absolute and in Hegel's most famous follower, Marx, it becomes the liberation of humanity in some form of communist society achieved by the conscious action of the proletariat in overcoming the final dialectical hurdle by abolishing the ruling class and thereby, logically, itself. The Marxist dialectic replaces the idealist Geist of a period working in mysterious ways with the concrete materialist class struggle as the engine of history, constantly present and constituting history as such.

As early as the end of the 19th century, this Marxist analysis had become "Hegelianised" in the sense that it was increasingly presented as an automatic and inevitable fulfilment of a preordained path. Adorno criticised Hegel for giving rise to this by presenting a positive and affirmative dialectic in which "everything that is real is rational", in that everything that comes about must contribute in some way to the workings of the absolute. To use a technical term, this means that in Hegel there is an "identity of identity and non-identity". In more ordinary language, Hegel is arguing that existence as a whole constitutes a unity of all opposites, in which everything has its place and that the tension between these opposites gradually resolves itself into pre-existing whole.

Negative dialectics turns this on its head and says that there is a "non-identity of identity and non-identity" or that existence is incomplete, that it has a hole in it where the whole should be, that history is not the simple unfolding of some preordained noumenal realm and that existence is therefore "ontologically incomplete". It is here that we find the link between Marx and Freud because, where Marx talks about the objective material factors at work in history that condition our consciousness (being determines consciousness) even though we are not necessarily conscious of them, Freud argues that it is our objective unconscious being, of which we are equally unaware, that determines our conscious thoughts. The latent content of our dreams is therefore equated with the latent but as yet unrealised possibilities in human history (see Marx's letter to Ruge in my previous column).

Adorno's negative dialectics are designed to open up these as yet unrealised possibilities at both the micro and the macro level, at the level of individual as well as collective psychology in order to overcome both individual and social suffering. It is the very contradiction between what is and what might be that allows us to overstep the boundaries with which we are constantly presented in order to create our endpoint, rather than simply sleepwalk towards it. This means that we move from necessity to contingency. In negative dialectics there is no necessity for things to turn out in a certain way, and the future-orientated teleology that Adorno claimed Hegel followed is replaced with retrospective teleology in which we can only see that what has happened to get us to where we are had to happen to get us there, but that there was no necessity for it happen in that way. Human beings are a product of evolution but evolution is not there to create human beings. Walter Benjamin famously expressed this as the angel of history moving backwards into the future with the debris of history piling up around his feet. Negative dialectics are, in the end then, open dialectics conditioned by contingent events and not by a pre-given endpoint.

Next week I will look at how this works out in terms of an attempt to break out of the snow globe of western consumer capitalism. If you want to do some reading in preparation I would suggest the Dialectic of Enlightenment.

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« Reply #5457 on: Apr 01, 2013, 06:58 AM »

March 31, 2013

Ancient Kingdoms in Land of War


KHARTOUM, Sudan — Every winter they come and go, like birds migrating south. Most of them nest in downtown Khartoum’s old Acropole Hotel, but they’re not here to rest. They’re here to work in Sudan’s blistering deserts, and the past few years have yielded outstanding results.

For many people around the world, Sudan conjures images of war, instability, drought and poverty. All of those things exist here, often in tragic abundance. But lost in the narrative are the stories of the ancient kingdoms of Kush and Nubia that once rivaled Egypt, Greece and Rome.

Lost to many, that is, but not to the archaeologists who have been coming here for years, sometimes decades, to help unearth that history.

“Sudan is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa that has real archaeology and local teams working,” said Claude Rilly, the director of the French Archaeological Unit in Sudan.

Though its historical importance has long been overshadowed by Egypt, its neighbor to the north, Sudan’s archaeological record is pivotal to understanding the history of Africa itself, experts say, and a wave of new discoveries may be adding crucial new information.

“The history of Sudan can play a role for Africa that Greece played for the history of Europe,” Mr. Rilly said enthusiastically. “People have been living here for 5,000 years” along the Nile, he added. “It is difficult not to find something.”

One overlooked fact is that Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt, in places like Nuri and Bijrawiyah, though they are smaller and not as old. In the town of Sedeinga in northern Sudan, for instance, Mr. Rilly and others excavated 35 small pyramids in the past few years, a discovery that points to what he called an ancient “democratization of pyramids.”

“Anyone who could afford it built one,” he said. “It was for social distinction.”

The pyramids at Sedeinga are built close together. Made of mud brick, they range in height from under three feet for children to as high as 32 feet for nobles.

Not far from Sedeinga is the town of Dukki Gel, where a Swiss archaeologist, Charles Bonnet, has been working in the area for 44 years. He focuses on the ancient civilization of Kerma — so much so that his friends call him Charles “Kerma” Bonnet — which flourished around 1500 B.C. Mr. Bonnet’s colleagues say that his research has greatly added to the understanding of 1,000 years of Sudan’s ancient history.

“I discovered a Nubian city in Dukki Gel with original African architecture from around 1500 B.C., and in a cache we found 40 pieces of seven monumental statues of black pharaohs,” Mr. Bonnet said. In late 2012, he found what he believes are the city’s walls.

At the height of its military power around 750 B.C., the ancient kingdom of Kush in northern Sudan ruled over Egypt and Palestine, inaugurating what historians call the rule of the 25th dynasty and the black pharaohs.

In the heartland of the Kush kingdom, Richard Lobban Jr., an American archaeologist who has been visiting Sudan since 1970, works mostly in the area of the Island of Meroe, which was added to Unesco’s World Heritage sites in 2011. Along with colleagues from Russia and Italy, Mr. Lobban uncovered an ancient and previously unknown Merotic temple in late 2011.

“The orientation of the temple has the sun directly pouring into the temple twice a year,” said Mr. Lobban, suggesting that it was dedicated to the ancient Egyptian sun god Amun.

Ancient Meroe, known today as Bijrawiyah, was a second capital in the kingdom of Kush from around 300 B.C. to 350 A.D. It was a major center for iron smelting, earning it the nickname “the Birmingham of Africa” by historians. Meroe was often ruled by queens, known by the title “kandake,” and boasts scores of pyramids similar in shape to the one exhibited on a one-dollar bill.

“We hope to excavate further and deeper and find still more of the missing pieces of this ancient puzzle,” Mr. Lobban said.

As fruitful as it may be, archaeology in Sudan faces many challenges, including the difficulty of protecting sites from development projects. There has even been a literal gold rush, in which many young Sudanese head to the desert in search of gold but occasionally find artifacts instead, leading to a rise in illegal trade in relics.

“Someone was arrested recently for trying to smuggle a statue,” says Abdel-Rahman Ali, director general of the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums.

Financing archaeological efforts has also been low on the list of priorities for the Sudanese government, but in February the government signed a $135 million agreement with Qatar that would provide money for 27 archaeological missions, the renovation of the Sudan National Museum and the development of tourism projects.

“Archaeology in Sudan is getting ready for a boom,” says Geoff Emberling, an archaeologist from the University of Michigan, who has been working in the town of El Kurru.

The impact of new archaeological discoveries has generated interest beyond the ring of specialists.

Since South Sudan split off from Sudan in 2011, Sudan’s economy has been hard hit because most of the oil is in the south. In January 2012, South Sudan shut off production in a dispute with Sudan. An agreement between both countries now promises to send the oil through the north for a fee, but some in Sudan have been searching for new sources of hard currency, including tourism.

Sohaib Elbadawi is a member of Sudan Archaeological Society and heads a private group working on establishing a five-star resort near the ancient site of Jebel Barkal.

Showing a model of the project in his office in downtown Khartoum, Mr. Elbadawi said that foreigners told him, “ ‘You have a history, but you don’t know how to market yourself.’ ”“There are voices rising in Sudan that tourism should be a source of income for the country after separation,” Mr. Elbadawi added optimistically.

Sudanese archaeologists are also conscious of current opportunities.

“We have been working to illuminate Sudanese heritage through exhibitions held abroad, such as in France and Germany, and we are planning for exhibitions in Qatar, Japan and Korea,” said Mr. Ali of the National Corporation for Antiquities.

Of course, it will take years for Sudan to turn itself into a tourism attraction, if it ever can. The lack of fully developed infrastructure and facilities, United States sanctions that bar the use of major credit cards, a maddening bureaucracy and, above all, political instability stand in the way.

But archaeologically speaking, the bounty is evident.

“This is a land of great history indeed,” said Mr. Lobban.

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« Reply #5458 on: Apr 01, 2013, 07:00 AM »

March 31, 2013

Islamist Fighters Slip Back Into Timbuktu and Are Repelled by French and Malians


PARIS — A small band of radical Islamist fighters battled French and Malian soldiers for hours in a firefight in Timbuktu on Sunday after infiltrating the Malian city overnight, Malian officials and witnesses said.

The fighting, which was preceded by a suicide attack at a military checkpoint on Saturday night, was the first such violence to reach downtown Timbuktu since January, when French forces arrived and forced out the jihadists who had seized the city in 2012. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

“It started after a suicide car bombing” about 10 p.m. on Saturday, Capt. Modibo Naman Traoré of the Malian Army told Reuters. That attack, he said, “served to distract the military and allow a group of jihadists to infiltrate the city by night.”

The attackers appeared to number perhaps 10 or 15, said the French military spokesman, Col. Thierry Burkhard. He said “a half-dozen” were confirmed killed. One French soldier was wounded and evacuated by helicopter for medical treatment, Colonel Burkhard said. A handful of Malian soldiers were wounded, according to news media reports.

After the suicide attack, fighters arriving on foot were able to “skirt” the checkpoint, said the mayor, Ousmane Hallé. By Sunday, the fighters had reached the city center, Mr. Hallé said by telephone.

“They had said Timbuktu was secured,” the mayor lamented. The fighting had ceased by about 3 p.m. on Sunday, he said, though military aircraft, presumably French, continued to circle in the skies above Timbuktu. Two patrols of French fighter aircraft had been sent to Timbuktu, according to Colonel Burkhard, the military spokesman, but they did not fire any munitions.

Since jihadist fighters were driven out of Timbuktu in January, French and Malian forces have clashed regularly with Islamist fighters a few hundred miles east, in and around Gao, the other major population center of the Malian north. Timbuktu, by contrast, has largely been spared violence.

Fighters mounted a similar attack on the city 10 days ago, however, in which several Islamist fighters and a Malian soldier were killed, Malian and French officials said. That attack began with a suicide bombing and reportedly involved as many as 30 Islamist fighters. It was put down by French and Malian soldiers, supported by French combat aircraft, and the attackers did not reach the city center.

The jihadist group that maintained control of Gao until earlier this year, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, claimed responsibility for that attack, Agence France-Presse reported. France reinforced its military presence in Timbuktu in response to that attack.

France intervened militarily in Mali in January after Islamist fighters began a southward offensive, prompting an urgent plea for assistance by the interim president, Dioncounda Traoré. About 4,000 French troops are deployed there, along with 4,800 Malian soldiers and 6,300 troops from several other African nations. French military operations have been concentrated mostly in the craggy desert mountains of the Adrar des Ifoghas, in the far north, a redoubt for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Joined by Chadian forces, the French have reportedly killed several hundred jihadist fighters in the area, including a top Qaeda commander known as Abu Zeid, whose death has been confirmed by French and Chadian authorities. French officials have said that combat operations in the Adrar des Ifoghas are largely complete.

“We have reached our objectives,” President François Hollande of France said in a television interview last week, pledging that a withdrawal of French troops will begin at the end of April.

French forces are to number 2,000 by July, when presidential and legislative elections are scheduled in Mali, and about 1,000 by the end of the year, Mr. Hollande said.

But the elections will be contingent upon the security conditions in the country, and many analysts and diplomats are doubtful that they will be held as scheduled.

On Saturday, Mr. Traoré announced the formation of a government commission for “dialogue and reconciliation,” whose task is to ease tensions between the military and the government and between the government and the populations of the north, which have long complained of neglect by Bamako.

It is also charged with reconciling the government and ethnic Tuareg separatist fighters, who drove the Malian Army out of northern Mali last year, before Islamist fighters overran the territory and seized control.

Tuareg militias still operate alongside French and African forces in the north, despite strained relations with the Malian Army and the government in Bamako. The National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad — the name used by Tuareg separatists to designate the Malian north — has accused Malian soldiers of widespread abuse of Tuareg civilians.
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« Reply #5459 on: Apr 01, 2013, 07:01 AM »

April 1, 2013

Syrian Official Says Historic Synagogue Looted


DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — A historic Jewish synagogue in Damascus has been damaged and looted as clashes have consumed the surrounding neighborhood, a Syrian official and an anti-government activist said Monday.

Damage to the synagogue, believed to be hundreds of years old, is the latest example of Syria's rich cultural heritage falling victim to the civil war between the regime of President Bashar Assad and rebels seeking his ouster.

The synagogue, built in honor of the prophet Elijah, has long been considered an important pilgrimage site.

Maamoun Abdul-Karim, head of the Antiquities and Museums Department of the Syrian Culture Ministry, said objects from the Jobar Synagogue were stolen last year, but that officials haven't been able to visit the building for months because rebels control the area.

Rebel forces established footholds in a number of Damascus suburbs and last year pushed into Jobar, a neighborhood on the city's northeast corner. Since then, they have been clashing with government troops.

Abdul-Karim said there was no way for the government to protect all of Syria's historical sites because there are thousands of them across the country. He called the looting "a crime" and "a big loss for us."

"It's the heritage of the homeland regardless of religion, whether it's Jewish, Muslim or Christian," he told The Associated Press by phone. "It's the Syrian mosaic and the heritage of the people."

An activist video posted online on March 1 showed a simple metal door on the building with a pile of rubble in front of it. One wall had a hole in it and part of a short wall around the roof was missing. It showed two plaques near the door. One, in English, read: "Shrine and synagogue of prophet and Eliahou Hanabi, 720 B.C."

A second video posted on March 10 showed the building's door ajar and damage to what appeared to be adjoining buildings, including shattered windows and hole in a ceiling. It was not clear if the synagogue's main sanctuary had been damaged.

The videos appeared authentic and corresponded to other reporting by the AP.

An anti-government activist in Jobar reached via Skype on Monday said the synagogue had been looted continuously during recent months and was damaged by shelling conducted by regime forces.

He said he visited the facility in early March and found damage to adjoining buildings but not to the main sanctuary.

"There had been lots of theft," he said. "I don't know what was there originally, but we know there were lots of old books and artifacts that are not there anymore," said the activist, who goes by the name Abu Hassaan al-Damishqi.

Like many rebels, he spoke on condition that he would be identified only by that nickname, by which he is widely known among his comrades, fearing that publication of his real name could endanger his family.

He said local rebels thought government forces had looted the site, although he acknowledged that the looting also could have been the work of thieves taking advantage of a lack of security.

"This is the history of the city, and it doesn't matter if you are a Muslim or not," he said. "This is the history of our country so we all want to protect it."


Hubbard reported from Beirut.
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