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« Reply #6555 on: May 24, 2013, 06:51 AM »

Czech Republic: ‘The mysterious Prague labyrinth’

Lidové noviny ,
24 May 2013

For the first time in 22 years, the conservative Civic Democratic Party (ODS) has lost control of Prague. On May 23, the municipal council dismissed Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda and two representatives of his party, while two others resigned.

Svoboda, who was renowned for his pledge to fight corruption in the city, was let down by the centre-right TOP 09 party, with which he had formed a coalition. Is it a “betrayal” by TOP 09, who, with the help of the social democrats and a communist, liquidated a functioning coalition, or is it the result of conflicts within the ODS, wonders Lidové noviny.

The daily remarks that “the affair has also had an impact on the [national] centre-right coalition government.” Prime Minister Petr Nečas has claimed that his partner, vice-president of TOP 09 and Minister of Finance Finances Miroslav Kalousek is responsible for the “Prague crisis”.
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« Reply #6556 on: May 24, 2013, 07:03 AM »

Afghan mine delays at ancient site delight archaeologists

Renegotiation of contract with Chinese company mean more time for dig at former Buddhist settlement

Emma Graham-Harrison in Mes Aynak
The Guardian, Thursday 23 May 2013 16.39 BST   

The forts and temples of the ancient Buddhist town at Mes Aynak in Afghanistan throng with the biggest crowds they have seen in more than 14 centuries. Nearby, rows of sheet metal housing built for Chinese miners are almost empty.

Hundreds of archaeologists are working at the site to excavate gilded statues of the Buddha, elaborate stupas that rise from ornately carved floors and delicate frescoes protected by centuries of mud and forgetfulness. The rich vein of copper that once funded Mes Aynak's creation is now likely to bring about its destruction: a Chinese state-owned mining company paid $3bn (£1.9bn) for the extraction rights, and the site will eventually become the world's biggest copper mine.

But while the fevered excavations are a thrilling sight for those racing to save the last traces of Mes Aynak, the lack of activity in the mining camp is alarming financial mandarins in Kabul, who are counting on mining revenue to make up for slowing streams of western aid.

This year was supposed to see production of the first copper from the site since Afghanistan embraced Islam, the first gush of ore eventually forecast to bring $300m to the government each year, and a $1bn annual boost to the still feeble Afghan economy.

Instead, the only excavation on the site is of archaeological treasures and even the most optimistic officials and analysts admit it will be two years before Mes Aynak copper is trucked off to a Pakistani port.

However, others think 2016 or 2017 are more realistic, after a series of setbacks. The Chinese camp was evacuated last summer after a Taliban rocket attack and shows no signs of being restaffed, the ministry of mines wants to renegotiate the multibillion-dollar contract for the site, and the archaeological dig that must be completed before mining starts is still in full swing.

"Don't worry, you will have at least until 2014," one of the few Chinese miners who stayed on told archaeologists earlier this year. Others from China Metallurgical Group (MCC), the company with a majority stake in the mine, had a similar message. "The cultural artefacts are the most important thing," they told surprised workers on an impromptu tour of the dig site.

Nearby, mining equipment sits idle, and many of the watchtowers ringing the core of the mine are empty at midday, although there is an outer circle of guards from a special resources protection unit.
Mes Aynak in Afghanistan

Such concern for another country's cultural heritage, unusual for a hard-nosed Chinese natural resources company, comes as Afghanistan braces itself for huge political and security upheaval in 2014. The last Nato troops will leave by the end of the year, and the country must hold a presidential election to replace Hamid Karzai, who has ruled for more than a decade but is barred by the constitution from standing again.

Any company looking at a decades-long project might prefer to wait for more clarity on who will rule the country, and how secure it will be, before starting work in earnest, although MCC did not respond to requests for comment on its plans for Mes Aynak.

The Afghan government may also be willing to swallow some delays as it looks to renegotiate a contract that has been shadowed by corruption allegations since it was signed off six years ago. The minister who agreed it resigned shortly after reports surfaced that he had pocketed a $30m bribe from MCC, which he strongly denied. .

"We have requested for the renegotiation [of the contract]," said the current minister of mines, Wahidullah Shahrani, who has led a high-profile campaign to modernise the ministry and make its bidding process professional and transparent.

He declined to go into details on what changes he was seeking, saying only that the contract was several years old. "When it comes to these types of big projects, there could be a need for some type of what we call correction measures to be taken. But as of now we have not launched any formal renegotiation with them," he said, in an office lined with samples of the country's many valuable rocks, from lapis lazuli to iron ore.

The Chinese company was due to submit a new work schedule at the end of April, Shahrani said, and if work goes smoothly he believes production could start by 2015.

The cash is certainly needed, with World Bank forecasts for a $7bn hole in Afghanistan's annual budget after 2014, and the wider economy also suffering as US and Nato contracts dry up.

"When Aynak reaches full production the revenues to the government would be at least $300m … although it depends on fluctuations in the international copper market," Shahrani said. "In terms of its contribution to the national economy, the indirect contribution, it would be around $1bn."

But mining experts say that even if preparation work were to start in earnest this June, when the archaeologists' permission to dig ends, production is unlikely before 2016, given the preparation work usually needed for big mining projects.

"Big mines take on average between three to five years to build and construct," said a World Bank mining specialist, Michael Stanley, who declined to comment directly on Mes Aynak.

However, as long as the project is not called off, the wider Afghan economy will benefit from trucking, construction and any other work MCC contracts out, long before copper sales bring the government cash to balance its books.

"What everyone tends to forget is that the construction period for a mine, in terms of economic stimulus, is as important or more for the local economy than the production period," Stanley said.

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« Reply #6557 on: May 24, 2013, 07:05 AM »

North Korea agrees to return to nuclear talks under pressure from China

Pyongyang's special envoy makes concession on nuclear disarmament to ease tensions between communist allies

Associated Press in Beijing, Friday 24 May 2013 07.07 BST   

North Korea has offered to renew nuclear disarmament talks, Chinese state media have reported.

At a meeting on Thursday between vice-marshal Choe Ryong Hae and Liu Yunshan, a senior figure in the Chinese Communist party, North Korea heeded China's wishes after months of rising friction between the allies, according to reports

Pynongyang's special envoy praised China's work on behalf of peace and stability and its "great efforts to return [Korean] peninsular issues to the channel of dialogue and negotiation," China Central Television reported. It quoted Choe as saying North Korea "is willing to accept the suggestion of the Chinese side and launch dialogue with all relevant parties".

The North's official Korean Central News Agency made no mention of the concession and instead quoted Choe as saying Pyongyang was committed to maintaining friendly ties with Beijing.

Choe's fence-mending visit to China is the first high-level, face-to-face contact between the two governments in six months, an unusual gap during which Pyongyang conducted rocket launches and nuclear tests and other sabre-rattling.

The moves angered Beijing, which felt its interests in regional stability were not being taken account of. It showed its displeasure by joining with the US to back UN sanctions and cut off dealings with North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank.

China's North Korea watchers said the leadership in Beijing would not have accepted Choe's visit without a promise from Pyongyang that it was prepared to return to diplomacy.

"The relationship is rocky so they will try to mend the relationship," said Cui Yingjiu, a retired professor of Korean at Peking University. "Second, they also want to improve relations with the US and need China to be their intermediary."

CCTV said Liu, the Communist party's fifth-ranked leader, called at the meeting for "practical steps to alleviate the tense situation" and an early return to six-nation Korean denuclearisation talks involving the US, South Korea, Japan and Russia as well as North Korea and China.

Pyongyang sent Choe to Beijing as a special envoy for the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. As such, North Korea watchers said he was expected to hold talks with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping. His comments on Thursday will most likely be seen by Beijing as setting the correct tone of deference for such a meeting.

Xi was in south-west China's Sichuan province inspecting recovery efforts from last month's earthquake.

Awaiting Xi's return, Choe spent part of Thursday touring an industrial park in southern Beijing, accompanied by a Communist party functionary. The Chinese government has in the past used such tours to try to persuade North Korea to adopt China's model of economic reform accompanied by rigid one-party rule.

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« Reply #6558 on: May 24, 2013, 07:08 AM »

Philippines cemetery provides Manila's poor a place to live among the dead

Thousands of families have made city graveyard their home as authorities grapple with rising population and housing shortage

Kate Hodal in Manila, Thursday 23 May 2013 16.21 BST   

Every morning, Alberto Lagarda Evangelista, 71, leaves the two-storey, lemon-yellow home he has lived in for the past decade and walks to work at the cemetery next door. As a caretaker of about 20 graves, Evangelista earns just 20,000 pesos (£315) a year, a sum so small that he must share his house with seven other people – all of whom are dead.

Evangelista lives and works in the Cementerio del Norte, a sprawling, 54-hectare green space in north Manila that is also home to some 1,000 other families. Here in the Philippines' largest public graveyard, century-old tombs have been converted into stalls selling sachets of shampoo and instant noodles, clothes lines are strung between crosses and car batteries power radios, karaoke machines and television sets. Evangelista's home is a mausoleum housing eight graves. The breezy second storey where the owners pay their annual respects to the dead doubles as his bedroom. "Just look at my view," he says, pointing his cigarette out towards the grave-studded horizon.

Today, the shady lanes are busy with the sundry activities of any normal neighbourhood: a group of boys plays basketball; adults while away the afternoon heat with sodas and playing cards; couples canoodle atop the graves that double as their beds; and women prepare chicken adobo in their mausoleum cafes.

The cemetery's inhabitants rank among the poorest of the poor in Manila, a capital where roughly 43% of the city's 13 million residents live in informal settlements like this one, according to a 2011 Asian Development Bank report. This Roman Catholic country has one of Asia's fastest growing populations and a massive housing shortage – meaning that the urban poor must usually find, build or cobble together housing anywhere there is space: under bridges, along highways, in alleys, perched atop flood channels, or even among the dead.

No one knows exactly when the cemetery became a living village. But many of Manila North's 6,000-odd residents were born here and expect to spend their whole lives here. Gravedigger Steve Esbacos, 52, a muscular man with blue-rimmed eyes, was born and raised in the same mausoleum where he now raises his own four children. "Sometimes I don't like living here, because it's dirty and it smells bad," he says, before admitting that he's never wanted to live anywhere else. "My father is buried just over there and I don't know where else I'd go."

Ramil and Josephine Raviz run a stall selling instant noodles and peanuts to residents and mourners. They earn enough money to send their 10-year-old daughter to school, and say they prefer life here to the possibilities "outside" the cemetery's four walls.

"When I first came to Norte 30 years ago, there weren't so many families here – it was quiet and peaceful and safe, very different to the outside slums in Manila," says Ramil, 46, in his mausoleum housing a fan, fridge, rocking chair, microwave, blankets and mattresses, and six graves. "But once people realised they could work here and live here for free, they moved in."

The cemetery hasn't retained that peaceful aura. Robberies and muggings are common, residents admit, with gangs said to be working different corners of the sprawling greenery. Youth unemployment is high and alcohol cheap. City authorities have repeatedly threatened to evict those living here. But grave-dwellers have found a way to stay on despite the pressure, using ad-hoc "deeds" from the families whose graves they maintain, allowing them to live and work on-site.

The issue is not so much people living in the cemetery – where quarters can be more spacious and cleaner than in a shanty on one of the city's easily flooded riverways – but the fact that Manila is not properly addressing the needs of the urban poor, says Father Norberto Carcellar, director of Philippine Action for Community-Led Shelter Initiatives. "Poor people can pay as much as four times [the normal rates] for electricity and water in their shanties because mafia syndicates take over and they have no choice but to pay [the higher rates]," he says.

"These people are 'invisible' – they can be evicted at any time, they face floods, they live on the periphery and the government generally likes to send them very far away to other provinces [to deal with the problem]."

Under a $1.2bn (£800m) government mandate to clean up Manila, that may soon change. Recent official figures show 104,000 families live in danger areas such as graveyards and riverbeds, and the city aims to move 550,000 of the most vulnerable residents to safer destinations. Some will be residents of Manila North, yet no one in the cemetery seems ready – or willing – to go.

"I often think, what would have happened if I had finished school," Evangelista says quietly as he navigates the steep ladder from his open-air verandah back downstairs into the main mausoleum. "I only made it to third grade. Maybe I would have had a better job to live somewhere else." As he knocks on the solid mausoleum walls, he says: "This is the best house I've lived in; the strongest, safest, with the best view."

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« Reply #6559 on: May 24, 2013, 07:10 AM »

Two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict slipping away, says Hague

British foreign secretary says there is no 'plan B' and warns of consequences of failure of US mission to revive peace process

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem, Friday 24 May 2013 12.58 BST   

The British foreign secretary, William Hague, has warned of the risks of failure of the US-sponsored mission to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, suggesting that it was the last attempt possible at reaching a two-state solution to the conflict and there was no realistic "plan B".

On the second day of his brief trip to Jerusalem and Ramallah, Hague told reporters that the consequences of failure would be very severe, and the chances of a Palestinian state were slipping away.

The US secretary of state John Kerry's drive to restart talks was "a moment of opportunity that won't easily come round again," Hague said. He later repeated the point: "If this doesn't work, there is not going to be another moment in American diplomacy that is more committed and energetic to bring about negotiations. So it's very important – in weeks, not months – to make the most of this opportunity."

Three times during a 20-minute press conference, Hague said "bold leadership" was required on both sides for Kerry's mission to succeed. Many western diplomats are sceptical about the Israelis' frequently stated commitment to resume talks, given their unwillingness to curb the expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which are seen as an impediment to peace talks by most of the international community.

"The two-state solution is slipping away, it doesn't have much longer to go. We never like to say it's the last attempt at anything, but we're getting near the last attempt at this," Hague said. "It is vital for all sides to make the necessary compromises for negotiations towards [a two-state solution] to succeed."

Hague was reluctant to be drawn on what diplomatic alternatives there were in the event of Kerry's failure to bring the two sides back to negotiations. "I don't think it's helpful to speculate publicly about plan Bs, except to say there isn't any plan B that comes anywhere near to plan A. There isn't a plan B that resolves the problem."

Kerry has produced no tangible results so far, despite four visits to Jerusalem and Ramallah in two months as well as numerous high-level meetings elsewhere. Progress was hard to measure, Hague said, but he added: "I don't think we're in a position to say that necessary compromises have already been made, but I think minds are being concentrated. But unless the bold leadership is there to make the most of this opportunity, then we face a truly bleak situation in the Middle East."

He said both the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, were "intensively engaged" with the Kerry mission, but faced immense pressures. "We're getting nearer to everyone having to decide if they're really serious about this. That moment is quite close."

Israel had lost support in Britain and Europe as a result of its settlement activity, Hague said. However, "boycotts and delegitimisation" were not the answer.

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« Reply #6560 on: May 24, 2013, 07:13 AM »

Yemen welcomes U.S. decision on Guantanamo prisoner transfers

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, May 23, 2013 17:00 EDT

Yemen said Thursday it welcomed President Barack Obama’s decision to lift a moratorium on transferring prisoners from Guantanamo to Yemen.

“The government of Yemen (GOY) welcomes President Obama’s remarks and actions today. In particular, Yemen welcomes the administration’s decision to lift the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen,” Mohammed Albasha, the spokesman for Yemen’s embassy in Washington, said.

Obama announced the decision in a major speech outlining a new bid to close the “war on terror” prison in Guantanamo, saying history will “cast a harsh judgment” on the detention program and those who failed to end it.

He said he would lift a moratorium in place on transfers of Yemeni detainees to their homeland, name a new envoy to handle the transfers, and ordered the Pentagon to designate a site in the US for military trials of the detainees.

Yemen said it would “take all necessary steps to ensure the safe return of its detainees and will continue working towards their gradual rehabilitation and integration back into society.

“Yemen’s partnership with the United States is strong, and GOY values the ongoing cooperation to tackle mutual threats and promote the unity, stability, and prosperity of the nation,” the embassy statement said.

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« Reply #6561 on: May 24, 2013, 07:17 AM »

Syria agrees to take part in peace conference, Russia claims

• Russia criticises attempts to undermine Geneva conference
• Opposition leader outlines transition plan
• Cannibal rebel appears in battle for Qusair

Matthew Weaver, Friday 24 May 2013 08.51 BST        

Welcome to Middle East Live.

Here's a roundup of the main developments:


• Russia's foreign ministry says the Syrian government has agreed in principle to attend next month's Peace Conference in Geneva. The ministry also criticised what it claimed were attempts to undermine the initiative.

• Under international pressure to swiftly resolve internal divisions, the Syrian National Coalition has began talks in Istanbul to elect a coherent leadership and decide on whether to attend next month's peace conference. Coalition spokesman Khaled Saleh said the 60-member body supports "any conference that helps transition the situation into an elective government away from the dictatorship" but would not go to Geneva without indications that President Bashar al-Assad is on his way out.

• The outgoing leader of Syria's main opposition coalition Moaz al-Khatib has put forward a detailed plan for the transition of power in Syria, the BBC reports. The proposal stipulates that President Bashar al-Assad must leave office, a demand likely to be rejected by Mr Assad and his key backer, Russia. It also calls for Assad and his family to be given a safe exit if he stands down.

• Syrian rebel forces defending the town of Qusair near the Lebanese border have been joined by the rebel commander who appeared in horrific video earlier this month eating the heart or liver of a government soldier, the Times reports. Abu Sakkar, a founder of the Farouq Brigade in nearby Homs, has appeared in at least two videos in the past four days posted by the rebel Qusayr Media Centre from inside the town. Weapons blogger Eliot Higgins, or Brown Moses, also notes Sakkar's appearance in this video (second from left).

• Is Bashar al-Assad winning the war? asks the Daily Telegraph.

    Even before the current battle for Qusair on the Lebanese border, he was making small but strategic gains around Damascus, and in the centre of the country.

    Assad has reopened the road to Deraa and Jordan, and brought to a halt the sweeping rebel gains in the north, which began last July with the seizure of half of Aleppo and culminated when the opposition, led by the al-Qaeda offshoot Jabhat al-Nusra, swept to the Iraqi border in March.

    The German intelligence agency BND, which last year was predicting the regime's imminent collapse, believes Mr Assad could regain the entire south by the end of the year, according to a report leaked to Der Spiegel. Other Western powers appear to think in similar terms.

    The regime may not have regained much territory, but it has taken supply lines, allowing it to hit back at will.

• France said on Thursday it hoped an initiative could be agreed by the end of June to put the armed wing of Hezbollah on the EU's list of terrorist organisations on grounds the group is importing Syria's war into Lebanon. Paris has traditionally been cautious about backing steps to sanction Hezbollah, fearing it could destabilise Lebanon and put UN peacekeepers at risk, but in recent weeks has said it would consider all options.

• The Syrian opposition has defended its attempt to stamp out rebel atrocities through the use of simple cartoons outlining the dos and don’ts of modern warfare. The “Fighter, not Killer” campaign, which involves TV and YouTube ads, and a comic strip booklet, covers the main human rights violations currently causing most concern in Syria: the use of human shields, child soldiers, chemical weapons and sexual violence.

• The New Scientist has mapped violence in Syria, illustrating how the conflict has evolved in scale and severity since hostilities began in early 2011. Using GIS it plots events in hexagonal tiles, with each shape shaded according to the number of events taking place within its boundaries in a given period of time.


• The UN has warned that trades by the commodity companies Glencore and Trafigura could have breached international sanctions by supplying a company linked to Iran's nuclear programme. Glencore, which is run by the multi-billionaire Ivan Glasenberg, has admitted that some of its aluminium oxide ended up in the hands of the Iranian Aluminium Company, which has provided aluminium to the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran.
Israel and the Palestinian territories

• The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has acknowledged years of disappointment over the Israeli-Palestinian peace process at the start of his fourth recent visit to the area, but added that he hoped to confound sceptics and cynics. Kerry met the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and won strong support for his peace mission from the British foreign secretary, William Hague, who is also visiting the Middle East.
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« Reply #6562 on: May 24, 2013, 07:20 AM »

Venezuela toilet paper shortage sends ordinary lives around the bend

Scarcity of toilet rolls seen as part of 'general malaise' in which Venezuelans have to use guile during shortage in many staples

Virginia Lopez in Caracas, Thursday 23 May 2013 13.01 BST   

When Mercedes Aquino, a 48-year-old nurse working in an affluent neighbourhood of Caracas, heard from a patient that a corner shop had received a shipment of toilet paper, she dropped everything and ran to the store.

She also did what most people here do every time butter, milk, sugar, oil or cornflour make a rare appearance on supermarket shelves – she spread the word.

"By the time I got there, the line outside was a block long. By the time I left it had doubled," Aquino said, as a guard outside the upscale shop stamped her hand with the mark used to prevent people returning to buy more than the two packages allotted.

For the past four months Venezuelans have had to struggle to find basic food staples. Toilet paper is the latest item to join the list of unobtainable goods – last week the government announced it was organising an emergency shipment to boost supplies – but it has heightened the sense of urgency and indignation felt by many.

"What am I supposed to substitute [toilet paper] with? It's hard to live without it," Aquino said. Like many people here, she will try to stock up. "I phoned my son and told him to come, but not everyone can walk out of their job and cross the city to stand in line for hours," she added.

It's not the first wave of shortages to hit the oil-rich nation in the last decade. There were shortages in 2003 after the then president, Hugo Chávez, imposed currency controls to prevent capital flowing rapidly out of Venezuela amid widespread distrust in the private sector following a series of land expropriations and corporate nationalisations. In 2007 milk all but disappeared from supermarket shelves.

This time, however, shortages have been coupled with power cuts, making daily life a growing challenge that many predict will only get worse.

"Food shortages appear like the problem, but they are really just a symptom of the graver ill," said Angel Alayon, an economist and editor of the news magazine ProDavinci. "This is the cumulative effect of a decade of economic controls – both currency and price controls that drove the productive sector to the ground."

President Nicolás Maduro, who was elected last month by a 1.5% margin in a still-disputed poll, has blamed food shortages and power cuts on his political enemies, saying they are part of broader sabotage aimed at creating discontent.

Maduro has accused businesses of hoarding products to force the government to lift price controls designed to make goods affordable for the poor. The corporate sector insists scarcity is the result of ill-managed state-run companies producing at less than half their capacity.

Last week Maduro signed deals with Argentina, Brazil and China designed to boost agricultural collaboration. The minister of commerce, Alejandro Fleming, announced that a shipment of 50m toilet rolls was on its way. But in a country of 25 million people the move was more gesture than long-term solution.

For Alayon, scarcity obeys simple market rules. After almost two years of regulated pricing in a country with mounting inflation, no company can afford to produce at a loss, and even a turn to more market-friendly policies will take a while to jump-start the economy.

Ordinary citizens cope with the shortages with strategies that include anything from substituting molasses for sugar, skipping milk in their coffee – or simply learning to ration how much paper they use.

"I'll have to use four squares instead of wrapping my hand as if in a cast", says Herman Roo, a 42-year-old engineer in Caracas – which in comparison to the rest of the country has been relatively free from shortages.

For those living in the countryside, food scarcity has been compounded by crumbling roads and daily power cuts.

For Rosa Arawatamay in Puerto Piritu, a small coastal town in eastern Venezuela, rationing, substituting or even forfeiting certain foods is not as wearing as knowing she will have to spend a whole day hunting down a grocery list she hardly ever completes: "I have to take a bus from town to town in hope I will find everything. What used to take an hour now takes a day."

But Arawatamay counts herself lucky. Her neighbour, she said, makes a living from selling homemade ice-cream and cakes. When sugar, butter and flour go missing it is not simply dessert at stake, but her livelihood. "And if power is cut, her food often spoils," said Arawatamay.

Venezuelans have also resorted to bribery and a parallel market where they pay up to four times as much as the market price.

For many, these street-savvy tricks only add to a generalised sense of mounting indignation.

"I've paid cashiers at supermarkets so they text me whenever they know milk is coming. I'm embarrassed at the extent I've gone to, but when it comes to my kids' milk, I do what I can," said Ana Ferreras, a 44-year-old lawyer.

In Maracaibo, Venezuela's second largest city and once home to a booming oil industry, the local government has asked people to curb their consumption of electricity or risk a fine. Additionally, what were once programmed power cutoffs now occur arbitrarily.

"I don't mind turning off the [air conditioner]. The trouble is being caught in an lift because the power has gone out," says Alcira Villasmil, a 44-year-old office manager. "We are living through things one would only read about happening in Africa – and it's very frustrating."

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« Reply #6563 on: May 24, 2013, 07:23 AM »

Scientists: Frog and toad declines signal of ‘collapse of the world’s ecosystems’

By David Ferguson
Thursday, May 23, 2013 13:33 EDT

A study released Wednesday said that North American frogs, toads and other amphibious animals are disappearing so quickly that they are on track to be extinct from their natural habitats by 2033. According to the Denver Post, the study — which was conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey — said that these types of animal populations are disappearing at a rate of 3.7 percent per year, although certain threatened species are expected to be extinct from their natural habitats within 6 years.

The researchers found that amphibian species are even rapidly declining in protected areas. Biologist Erin Muths of Ft. Collins, Colorado told the Post, “Even in what we consider pristine areas, we are seeing amphibian decline. If anything is doing poorly in an area we think is protected, that says something about our level of protection and about what may be happening outside those areas.”

The USGS study did not delve into the causes of the species’ shrinking numbers, but a report published by Oregon State University in 2011 titled “Catastrophic amphibian declines have multiple causes, no simple solution” said that a plethora of factors could be to blame.

“The amphibian declines are linked to natural forces such as competition, predation, reproduction and disease, as well as human-induced stresses such as habitat destruction, environmental contamination, invasive species and climate change,” reads the report.

OSU zoologist Andrew Blaustein said, “With a permeable skin and exposure to both aquatic and terrestrial problems, amphibians face a double whammy. Because of this, mammals, fish and birds have not experienced population impacts as severely as amphibians – at least, not yet.”

Amphibians play an important role in ecosystems, keeping insect populations in check and serving as prey animals to birds, snakes and other animals higher up in the food chain. Study co-author Stephen Corn told the Post, “Amphibians are going, but a lot of other species are going, too. Snakes are declining. Mammals are declining. We’re seeing bird declines. Amphibians are probably declining at a faster rate than other groups, and they may be a little more sensitive.”

Amphibious species, said Corn, “are a good example of the collapse of the world’s ecosystems that we seem to be seeing right now. We’re seeing a lot of species in a lot of places declining at the same time.”

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« Reply #6564 on: May 24, 2013, 07:43 AM »

In the USA...

May 23, 2013

Pivoting From a War Footing, Obama Acts to Curtail Drones


WASHINGTON — Nearly a dozen years after the hijackings that transformed America, President Obama said Thursday that it was time to narrow the scope of the grinding battle against terrorists and begin the transition to a day when the country will no longer be on a war footing.

Declaring that “America is at a crossroads,” the president called for redefining what has been a global war into a more targeted assault on terrorist groups threatening the United States. As part of a realignment of counterterrorism policy, he said he would curtail the use of drones, recommit to closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and seek new limits on his own war power.

In a much-anticipated speech at the National Defense University, Mr. Obama sought to turn the page on the era that began on Sept. 11, 2001, when the imperative of preventing terrorist attacks became both the priority and the preoccupation. Instead, the president suggested that the United States had returned to the state of affairs that existed before Al Qaeda toppled the World Trade Center, when terrorism was a persistent but not existential danger. With Al Qaeda’s core now “on the path to defeat,” he argued, the nation must adapt.

“Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,” Mr. Obama said. “But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. It’s what our democracy demands.”

The president’s speech reignited a debate over how to respond to the threat of terrorism that has polarized the capital for years. Republicans contended that Mr. Obama was declaring victory prematurely and underestimating an enduring danger, while liberals complained that he had not gone far enough in ending what they see as the excesses of the Bush era.

The precise ramifications of his shift were less clear than the lines of argument, however, because the new policy guidance he signed remains classified, and other changes he embraced require Congressional approval. Mr. Obama, for instance, did not directly mention in his speech that his new order would shift responsibility for drones more toward the military and away from the Central Intelligence Agency.

But the combination of his words and deeds foreshadowed the course he hopes to take in the remaining three and a half years of his presidency so that he leaves his successor a profoundly different national security landscape than the one he inherited in 2009. While President George W. Bush saw the fight against terrorism as the defining mission of his presidency, Mr. Obama has always viewed it as one priority among many at a time of wrenching economic and domestic challenges.

“Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror,’ ” he said, using Mr. Bush’s term, “but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.”

“Neither I, nor any president, can promise the total defeat of terror,” he added. “We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. But what we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.”

Some Republicans expressed alarm about Mr. Obama’s shift, saying it was a mistake to go back to the days when terrorism was seen as a manageable law enforcement problem rather than a dire threat.

“The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Rather than continuing successful counterterrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit.”

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said he still agreed with Mr. Obama about closing the Guantánamo prison, but he called the president’s assertion that Al Qaeda was on the run “a degree of unreality that to me is really incredible.” Mr. McCain said the president had been too passive in the Arab world, particularly in Syria’s civil war. “American leadership is absent in the Middle East,” he said.

The liberal discontent with Mr. Obama was on display even before his speech ended. Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of the antiwar group Code Pink, who was in the audience, shouted at the president to release prisoners from Guantánamo, halt C.I.A. drone strikes and apologize to Muslims for killing so many of them.

“Abide by the rule of law!” she yelled as security personnel removed her from the auditorium. “You’re a constitutional lawyer!”

Col. Morris D. Davis, a former chief prosecutor at Guantánamo who has become a leading critic of the prison, waited until after the speech to express disappointment that Mr. Obama was not more proactive. “It’s great rhetoric,” he said. “But now is the reality going to live up to the rhetoric?”

Still, some counterterrorism experts saw it as the natural evolution of the conflict after more than a decade. “This is both a promise to an end to the war on terror, while being a further declaration of war, constrained and proportional in its scope,” said Juan Carlos Zarate, a counterterrorism adviser to Mr. Bush.

The new classified policy guidance imposes tougher standards for when drone strikes can be authorized, limiting them to targets who pose “a continuing, imminent threat to Americans” and cannot feasibly be captured, according to government officials. The guidance also begins a process of phasing the C.I.A. out of the drone war and shifting operations to the Pentagon.

The guidance expresses the principle that the military should be in the lead and responsible for taking direct action even outside traditional war zones like Afghanistan, officials said. But Pakistan, where the C.I.A. has waged a robust campaign of air assaults on terrorism suspects in the tribal areas, will be grandfathered in for a transition period and remain under C.I.A. control.

That exception will be reviewed every six months as the government decides whether Al Qaeda has been neutralized enough in Pakistan and whether troops in Afghanistan can be protected. Officials said they anticipated that the eventual transfer of the C.I.A. drone program in Pakistan to the military would probably coincide with the withdrawal of combat units from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

Even as he envisions scaling back the targeted killing, Mr. Obama embraced ideas to limit his own authority. He expressed openness to the idea of a secret court to oversee drone strikes, much like the intelligence court that authorizes secret wiretaps, or instead perhaps some sort of independent body within the executive branch. He did not outline a specific proposal, leaving it to Congress to consider something along those lines.

He also called on Congress to “refine and ultimately repeal” the authorization of force it passed in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Aides said he wanted it limited more clearly to combating Al Qaeda and affiliated groups so it could not be used to justify action against other terrorist or extremist organizations.

In renewing his vow to close the Guantánamo prison, Mr. Obama highlighted one of his most prominent unkept promises from the 2008 presidential campaign. He came into office vowing to shutter the prison, which has become a symbol around the world of American excesses, within a year, but Congress moved to block him, and then he largely dropped the effort.

With 166 detainees still at the prison, Mr. Obama said he would reduce the population even without action by Congress. About half of the detainees have been cleared for return to their home countries, mostly Yemen. Mr. Obama said he was lifting a moratorium he imposed on sending detainees to Yemen, where a new president has inspired more faith in the White House that he would not allow recidivism.

The policy changes have been in the works for months as Mr. Obama has sought to reorient his national security strategy. The speech was his most comprehensive public discussion of counterterrorism since he took office, and at times he was almost ruminative, articulating both sides of the argument and weighing trade-offs out loud in a way presidents rarely do.

He said that the United States remained in danger from terrorists, as the attacks in Boston and Benghazi, Libya, have demonstrated, but that the nature of the threat “has shifted and evolved.” He noted that terrorists, including some radicalized at home, had carried out attacks, but less ambitious than the ones on Sept. 11.

“We have to take these threats seriously and do all that we can to confront them,” he said. “But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11.”

Eric Schmitt and Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.

Click to watch this very important speech:


Yet more evidence of the utterly corrupt U.S. Corporate Media ...

The Media Refuses to Challenge John Boehner’s ‘Obama Scandals’ BS

By: Sarah Jones
May. 23rd, 2013

Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) carefully started off Thursday’s press conference by instructing reporters that Republicans’ number one priorities are jobs and economic growth… but IRS scandal!

The media refused to challenge the Speaker on the facts that have come to light over the past week, many of which threw cold water on Republicans’ various claims regarding the “Obama scandals”.

Boehner skipped over the specifics for jobs, throwing the Keystone Pipeline out as one of their jobs plans (even though a State Department draft environmental impact statement found it will only create 35 permanent jobs). Then he quickly launched into Operation Heritage Institute Get Barack Obama, saying of the IRS scandal, “This White House — The lights are on, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone home.”

Luckily for the Speaker, he doesn’t need facts to indict. Boehner assured the press that the IRS has been systematically destroying Americans rights for two years, but we can’t get a straight answer from this administration. Are you getting the Nixonian references or should I put it in bold around Obama’s name just in case you missed it? Since there is no real evidence suggesting Obama had anything to do with any of these scandals, we might need to repeat the Nixon theme a LOT in order to smear via suggestion.

What the American people are seeing in this administration, the Speaker repeated again this week, is an “arrogance in power.” Nixon! Nixon, because suggesting there is an atmosphere of “intimidation” and “arrogance” is the best they can do. Notice that those are feelings, and not facts, and they serve to both silence critics and smear the target, who is now caught unable to aggressively fight back because — “arrogance”.

Asked about disagreements on aid for Oklahoma, Boehner tried to avoid the topic by sidestepping into a “we have programs in place to help people in need” beginning, but in order to kill the notion that aid should be given, he was sure to add that “Washington has a spending problem…”

I’m happy to report that Boehner did revert back to debt fear-mongering (in spite of the actual numbers improving), as I feared he’s forgotten about his alleged mission amidst the manufacturing of scandals against the President.

Boehner was reminded that last week he said someone should go to jail over the IRS scandal. The press was very helpful in pushing the Republican narrative forward, noting that we have to get these people in the IRS to talk somehow (that’s a NO to your right to plead the fifth, apparently) if he wants to send them to jail. Boehner backtracked by noting that the DOJ has opened a criminal investigation into the IRS “scandal” of asking nonprofits for proof that they aren’t overly involved in politics. Currently, this “scandal” looks more like incompetence and bad target words, but unlike Republicans, we reserve final judgment until the facts are uncovered at great expense to us all, because it’s not as if Republicans should be doing any actual legislating.

No one asked Boehner about the news that a Capitol Hill Republican leaked doctored Benghazi emails to the press.

No one asked Boehner about the fact that Darrell Issa (R-CA/Obama Hunter) was told of the IRS investigation last year, while Republicans keep claiming no one told them anything and asking why Congress was not informed.

No one asked Boehner about the fact that the only person who changed Benghazi talking points was Republican hero General David Peteraeus. No one asked him if he might want to clear the record of his previous allegations against President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

No one asked why Republicans have not passed one single jobs bill, but instead keep trying to pass off this as their jobs bill (“this” translates to killing ObamaCare, subsiding big oil more, cutting taxes for corporations and rich people, etc), even though nonpartisan economists agree that their list will not create jobs in the short term and we need jobs created in the short term.

The Republican public relations “presser” is now concluded.

Expect this to go on throughout the summer, packaged and sold with relentless cable fervor ala Nancy Grace, as your media tries to survive the summer slump.

Polls show that all Americans care about right now is the economy. Obama’s approval rating is going up because the economy is getting better, even as Republicans and the press try to burn him at the stake for floating after they accused him of being a witch.

Meanwhile, real Americans still want to know: WHERE ARE THE JOBS.


In Order to Sell ‘Obama’s Watergate’, RNC Chair Dismisses the Constitution

By: Sarah Jones
May. 23rd, 2013

Republicans have to hit the cray-cray wall at some point very soon.

On MSNBC’s Morning Joe Thursday morning, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus made a total fool of himself by ricocheting from suggesting an Obama impeachment should only come after the evidence, and then, sans evidence, claiming that Obama was in the middle of the IRS “scandal”. Priebus was called out by panelist John Heilemann, who demanded to know why Priebus would make such an assertion without any evidence.

Priebus tried to claim that Bush and Reagan administration appointee Lois Lerner pleading the fifth is all we need to know before indicting Obama. That irritated Heilemann even more, as he apparently knows his history.

Reince Priebus: I think that the Republicans and Democrats too now. They are involved in investigating this. I think you have to connect the dots. I think Daryl Issa is doing a pretty good job to figure out what the truth is. I don’t think that Lois Lerner did herself a scandal with any favors by pleading the fifth amendment yesterday which whether you agree with it as a basis of law or not, implies some criminal aspects of this investigation.

John Heilemann: That is not –

Reince Priebus: I get it, John but when you plead the fifth after you claim that –

John Heilemann: It doesn’t –

Reince Priebus: I didn’t understand.

John Heilemann: Just to be clear.

Reince Priebus: You don’t need to plead the fifth if you’ve done nothing wrong and come forward.

John Heilemann: That is not true. Not what the Fifth Amendment says.

Reince Priebus: I know it’s not.

John Heilemann: You’re asserting the opposite.

Reince Priebus: No. Because if you have an administration that says they have done nothing wrong and this is just a bunch of low level people in Cincinnati, and then you have Lois Lerner come forward and plead the fifth I think it raises questions and that is the only point.

Let us help the Republican chairman. The right against self-incrimination is spelled out in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, pleading the fifth may not be taken into consideration when deciding if a defendant is guilty: “When a defendant pleads the Fifth, jurors are not permitted to take the refusal to testify into consideration when deciding whether a defendant is guilty. In the 2001 case Ohio v. Reiner, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “a witness may have a reasonable fear of prosecution and yet be innocent of any wrongdoing. The [Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination] serves to protect the innocent who otherwise might be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances.” This case beefed up an earlier ruling that prosecutors can’t ask a jury to draw an inference of guilt from a defendant’s refusal to testify in his own defense.”

According to Priebus, police around the country can now use a suspect’s silence as proof of guilt. Heck, why don’t we just revert back to 17th century England.

Priebus followed that fail up with assertions that the IRS ‘scandal’ is Obama’s Watergate (maybe it will stick this time, unlike the other 15 times Republicans have tried). He said “You don’t call for impeachment until you have the facts” and then proceeded to indict Obama on non-facts, claiming Obama was in the “middle” of it all. Pressed on this, Preibus claimed the White House admitted they were in the middle of it. That wasn’t true either, but Obama’s “guerrilla warfare” needs to be stopped! Obama is “out of control” (notice the lack of evidence, and the wild, unsupported accusations).

Of course, there is not a shred of evidence that President Obama even knew about what two staffers in Cincinnati were allegedly doing (this entire narrative was leaked to the press by Congressional Republican aides and “someone” in the IRS, but has been vehemently denied by IRS officials).

Even if Republicans had established that the President knew (and they have NOT), they have no smoking gun that he ordered the IRS to do this in order to seek revenge on his political opponents, and that is what Nixon did. Also, of rather large import, there was indisputable evidence in Nixon’s case.

Using keywords to flag certain nonprofits, some of whom were actually doing illegal activities in aiding the GOP, for review is not even on the same planet as a President using a governmental agency to exact revenge on his enemies.

These facts got Heilemann worked up, and he hollered at Preibus that his Watergate charge was “… an assertion that’s not actually borne out by any of the facts!”

This caused Preibus to trip over himself, babbling about how Obama was in the “middle of all of this”, again, without a shred of proof.

According to Priebus’ logic, Speaker John Boehner, who is from Ohio, needs to be impeached as well: If the President is supposed to have known about what was allegedly going on in an office with two workers in Cincinnati, Ohio, then surely the Speaker, who is from there, should have known even before the President.

After all, as the Speaker keeps telling us, his job is oversight of the government.

Alert: There will be no more Constitutional freedoms, in order that Republicans are allowed to persecute this President without evidence. You are on notice: In order to protect Dark Money from being asked questions by the IRS, you no longer have the right to plead the fifth without it automatically inferring your criminal guilt. No trial necessary.


House Republicans Pass Unconstitutional Bill Hijacking Obama’s Power Over Keystone XL

By: Rmuse
May. 24th, 2013

As America continues making the transition from a representative democracy to a corporate-controlled fascist state, it is becoming more difficult to have any faith that the minority party in power has any regard whatsoever for this nation or its people, but that is to be expected from Republicans whose raison d’être is empowering corporations. There are few areas of government and policy Republicans have not ceded to their corporate handlers, but none is as blatant and damaging as allowing the corporate oil industry to dictate energy and environmental policy that is having acutely deleterious effects on the people and health of the environment. Part of the problem is a corporate-controlled press that advances the oil industry agenda without opposition, and part is allowing oil industry sycophants to serve in Congress that emboldened them to stage a coup d’état to seize power from the President and warn him to toe the oil industry line or else. A major share of the blame lies solely with the Founding Fathers and their pathetic Constitution that has failed miserably to protect the people from corporate oligarchs even when they are from a foreign nation.

Two events over the past two days inform that Republicans are employed by a foreign nation’s prime minister and one of its corporations that promises to enrich the GOP’s primary campaign donors’ bottom line regardless the existential threat to the environment and the health and welfare of the American people. On Wednesday, House Republicans took the unprecedented, but not wholly unexpected, step to wrest power from the President of the United States by passing a bill that circumvents the President’s executive power and approved the environment-killing Keystone XL pipeline at the direct order of a foreign corporation and Canada’s prime minister. The Harper government has exerted its formidable power over Republicans to subvert the Constitution to advance a Canadian corporation’s intent to pump 830,000 barrels per day of tar sand bitumen to American refineries en route to South America, China, and Europe.

Following the Republican practice of blatant lying to enrich and empower corporate control of energy policy, TransCanada spokesman, Shawn Howard, said, “We appreciate the continued support from many members of Congress, who understand the importance of Keystone XL to the American economy,” and that “Keystone XL will be the safest oil pipeline, and it will help make America less reliant on more expensive oil from countries that do not share its interests and values.” TransCanada has reported that the KeystoneXL pipeline will regularly spill tar sand bitumen on American soil, as well as touted contracts already in place to sell every drop of refined tar sand on the foreign export market. Americans will never see or use any of the refined tar, but they will pay more for gas as TransCanada predicted the pipeline will increase the price of fuel at the pump by at least 20-cents per gallon. In fact, the pipeline is so hazardous to the environment that the Canadian government will not allow TransCanada to build the pipeline over Canadian soil to West coast refineries, so they charged Republicans to ignore the Constitution and pass a bill to approve the pipeline’s construction regardless it is the purview of the President of the United States.

Yesterday, a group of Senate Republicans sent a stern warning to President Obama to approve the pipeline forthwith, and forbade him from including any measures to address climate change the pipeline is certain to exacerbate on a massive scale. Two dozen Senate Republicans cautioned the President that he had better not link one single climate change policy to approval of the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, and that he dare not “tether its fate to wholly unrelated and economically disastrous new regulatory policies.” Every climate scientist on the planet has warned that developing Canada’s tar sands will increase CO2 emissions to a point it will be “game over for the climate” in spite of the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil report to the State Department that building the pipeline is an environmentally sound endeavor with “manageable” consequences to the environment. Two weeks ago, carbon dioxide (CO2) reached the 400ppm milestone for the first time in at least 800,000 years according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and  climate scientists agree the evidence is conclusive the strong growth of CO2 emissions is from burning coal, oil, and natural gas. 400 ppm is 50 ppm over the threshold scientists claim demands immediate steps to curb fossil fuel emissions or it is game over for the climate; Republicans and their corporate masters could not care less.

The real issue is not just the devastation inherent in pumping tar bitumen through the pipeline, or that the climate is going to be decimated to expand Canada’s tar industry, but that Republicans have no regard for anything but corporate interests; even  a corporation’s interests. It is true they successfully put the oil industry in charge of energy policy, but they have also given corporations power to dictate policy on every issue affecting the American people and there is little anyone can, or will, do to stop the corporate takeover. The media is wholly owned and operated by corporations pushing agendas hostile to democracy and the American people, and Republicans dutifully enact laws written by corporations through the American Legislative Exchange Council. The recent Senate vote on background checks prior to gun purchases is the perfect example of Republicans giving corporate interests power to subvert the will of 91% of the population to maintain their profits, and it was a portent of democracy’s end and corporate control of government.

The Founding Fathers could have prevented America’s spiral into corporate fascism, but they likely never imagined Americans would sit idly by and allow their elected representatives to cede the government to corporations. Perhaps the Constitution’s framers believed a free press would inform the people of the impending corporate coup d’état, but corporations own the media and successfully concealed democracy’s demise. It is prescient that the media has never informed the people that Keystone is dangerous and will not provide any oil for Americans, and they will be as guilty as Republicans and the oil industry for climate Armageddon as well as America’s continued slide into corporate oligarchy. It is apropos the corporate oil industry and Republicans will be the undoing of the climate,  because long before they despoil the climate and environment that will make Earth uninhabitable, their effort to destroy American democracy will have reached fruition.


House Republicans Destroy the GOP by Voting to Raise Student Loan Interest Rates

By: Jason Easley
May. 23rd, 2013

By a vote of 221-198, House Republicans continued to destroy their party by passing a bill that would raise student loan rates.

Nine Republicans voted against the bill, and two Democrats voted for it. House Republicans tried to disguise their plan to raise student loan interest rates as saving the student loan program by making it a part of the “free market.” What House Republicans passed is a variable rate scheme where a student’s loan rate would be reset every year, so that the loan rate the student paid as a freshman would likely increase each year until they graduated.

The Washington Post reported that the bill would cause the interest rate on a Stafford Loan to double, “Students who max out their subsidized Stafford loans over four years would pay $8,331 in interest payments under the Republican bill, and $3,450 if rates were kept at 3.4 percent. If rates were allowed to double in July, that amount would be $7,284 over the typical 10-year window to repay the maximum $19,000.”

The point of this bill wasn’t to save the student loan program, but to kill it. The Republican goal is to turn student loans back over to the banks. By turning student loans into variable rate loans, House Republicans are laying the groundwork for the big banks to make huge profits off of students should they get their hands on student loans again.

President Obama has already threatened to veto the bill, but Senate Democrats should bury it before it ever has the chance to hit his desk.

Votes like this one are what is destroying the Republican Party.

Republicans can’t be serious about courting young voters and their parents while passing legislation that makes a college education less affordable, or in the worst case scenario unobtainable for many Americans.

The contrast is obvious. President Obama and the Democrats frequently discuss ways to make higher education more available and affordable as Republicans vote to impose economic barriers of exclusion that would only aid their corporate benefactors.

The message from House Republicans to the middle class is clear. The American Dream is dead for you. Forget about advancing through education. Shoot for being a manager at Wal-Mart, because in our America you have to pay to play.

That mentality makes for a terrible campaign slogan, and it’s why disapproval of the Republican Party has reached 59%.

House Republicans are offering most Americans a message of rejection and alienation. In short, they are the self destruct button that keeps blowing up their party.


Bernie Sanders Calls Out the Corporate Controlled Senate For Rejecting GMO Labels

By: Jason Easley
May. 23rd, 2013

After the Senate rejected an amendment that would have let states require labels on food or beverages made with genetically modified ingredients, Sen. Bernie Sanders called them out.

After seeing his amendment rejected by a vote of 29-71, Sen. Sanders (I-VT) said, “An overwhelming majority of Americans favor GMO labeling but virtually all of the major biotech and food corporations in the country oppose it. Today’s vote is a step forward on an important issue that we are going to continue to work on. The people of Vermont and the people of America have a right to know what’s in the food that they eat.”

The amendment, which was co-sponsored by Democratic Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), would have given states the clear authority to require the labeling of foods produced through genetic engineering. The troubling thing for liberals and progressives is that more Democrats voted against the bill (28) than voted for it (24). (Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was the lone Republican to vote for the amendment, because Republicans as a general rule believe that actually knowing what is in your food is big government.) Usual progressive voices Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown voted against the amendment, while corporate Democrat Chuck Schumer voted for it.

It is common sense that people have the right to know what they are putting in their bodies. This isn’t about telling anyone what to eat, but offering people the freedom and information that will allow them to know more about what they are eating. The number of no votes for the Sanders amendment on the Democratic side illustrates how much the Senate has been infected with the corporate agenda.

If GMOs are so harmless, why do the biotech and food corporations oppose labeling them?

Sen. Sanders saw progress in this vote, but real progress will come when the Democratic caucus stops subscribing to the corporate agenda on GMOs, and supports giving the American people access to the truth about what is in their food. China, which used lead paint in children’s toys, requires GMO labeling, but the land of the free and home of the brave does not.

Until we get the corporate money out of politics Americans will never be what they eat, because they’ll have no idea what’s in their food.
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« Reply #6565 on: May 25, 2013, 06:38 AM »

Swedish police try to restore order in Stockholm after week of rioting

Reinforcements brought in after disturbances show Sweden is not immune to tensions festering in deprived communities

Anthony Lane in Stockholm and agencies, Friday 24 May 2013 17.39 BST   

Police reinforcements have poured into the capital from provincial districts as Stockholm sought to put an end to a week of rioting, the worst to hit Sweden for years.

Disturbances have spread to 23 suburbs, dozens of cars have been set alight and around 30 people have been detained in connection with the riots, which were touched off on Sunday after police shot dead a man, believed to be Portuguese, who was reportedly wielding a knife.

Although a city police spokesman claimed the situation was at last calming down, further reinforcements arrived on Friday night from Skane, several hundred miles away to the south, as well as from Vastra Gotaland.

On Thursday night, two schools, a police station and 15 cars were set alight. The previous night around 70 cars were reportedly burned.

Few citizens in the city's suburbs appeared to believe that police would be able to prevent the disturbances from continuing after the end of the school week, but there was cautious optimism in the city that the worst of the rioting was over.

"It feels like things have been calmer tonight, at least that's our impression," said police spokeswoman Towe Hägg. "There are a lot of volunteers out on night patrols and that might have helped," she added. Local community leaders were hailed as "heroes" by the prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, for stepping in to help police restore order.

The riots have served as a sharp reminder that despite regular praise for its 'Nordic model' of progressive politics, relatively low unemployment and a generous social safety net, Sweden is not immune to the tension that festers in deprived communities.

The riots began on Sunday in the neighbourhood of Husby, 14km north-west of Stockholm's city centre, a week after police shot a 69-year-old man who was reportedly roaming the area with a machete. According to Stockholm police, the man retreated to an apartment that was stormed by officers who were concerned for the welfare of a female inhabitant. An attempt to disarm the man with a flash grenade was unsuccessful and he was then shot by the police. The incident resulted in groups of young local men setting fire to about 100 vehicles.

Husby was calm on Friday, with children making their way home from school only showing the most cursory interest in burnt-out wrecks under the bridge next to their school.

Although the smashed windows of shops, two schools and the local library had yet to be replaced, locals of the 12,000-strong neighbourhood, which has an 80% immigrant population, said there had been no problems since 20 members of the local Islamic centre went around Husby to talk to the youths involved in the original disturbances.

"They told them that it had to stop and that they were scaring people," said Abdul, a nurse in the local hospital after Friday prayers at the mosque.

"At the moment it's very hard to get jobs – not just here but for everyone in Sweden," said the Moroccan immigrant who had lived in Husby for 11 years. Having registered growth of 6.1% and 3.9% in 2010 and 2011 respectively, the Swedish economy slowed to just 0.8% last year, largely as a result of faltering exports to the eurozone. Residents born outside Sweden represent 15% of the country's 9.5 million population, but account for 35% of those registered as unemployed.

Many of the riots have occurred in cramped neighbourhoods with tall, run-down housing blocks, which were quickly constructed as part of Sweden's "million homes" project in the 1960s and 1970s when Stockholm was in the grip of one of its periodic housing crises. Long-since abandoned by almost all of their original inhabitants, they are often the only source of available housing for migrants and asylum-seekers from war-torn countries.

Sweden's relaxed immigration policy and generous asylum system has resulted in exceptionally high immigration levels over the last decade. In 2012, 82,000 non-Swedes migrated to the country – 44,000 of them were asylum-seekers. The country's migration board expects to receive 54,000 asylum seekers in 2013, including around 20,000 Somalis.

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« Reply #6566 on: May 25, 2013, 06:42 AM »

Catholic archdiocese in Madrid reportedly training 8 new exorcists to meet parishioner demand

By Megan Carpentier
Friday, May 24, 2013 13:40 EDT

Catholics in and around Madrid concerned that they or their loved ones are suffering from demonic possession may be about to get some much needed assistance from the archdiocese. A spokeswoman confirmed to the Associated Press that the Church in considering training more priests in the exorcism rites to counter increasing demand for its one trained priest’s time.

The spokewoman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the AP, “The devil exists. That’s a fact.”

News of the exorcists-in-training was first reported by the Spanish-language Catholic site Religion en libertad, which claims there are eight priests currently in training to learn how to perform exorcisms based on the De Exorcismus et supplicationibus quibusdam, approved by Pope John Paul II in 1998, which replaced the exorcism rites first published in 1614. Catholic World News described the new rite in 1999:

    The liturgical ritual itself is centered on supplicatory prayers, asking for God’s help, and “imperative” prayers addressed directly to the Devil, commanding him to depart. The prayers are to be said as the exorcist lays his hand on the individual, and are part of an overall ritual which includes specific blessings and sprinklings with holy water. The ritual also includes the litany of the saints, the reading of the Psalms and the Gospel, and a proclamation of faith which may be either the familiar Creed or a simple question-and-answer (“Do you renounce Satan? I do.”). The ritual concludes with the kissing of the Cross, and the final prayer, proclaiming the triumph of Christ and his Church.

ReL’s Álex Rosal reports that the eight candidates are additionally studying the 1614 rites as well as the so-called Roman Ritual of 1952, which served as a bridge between the older rites and the final liturgical version issued in 1998. Candidates are also said to be reading the books of Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist and a controversial figure in his own right.

Rosal further reports that there are eight candidates to correspond to each of the eight dioceses, and decisions may be made with the input of local psychiatrists to rule out mental illness and drug abuse before beginning an exorcism.

Spanish website The Local reports that there are only 18 registered exorcists in Spain, the most famous and active of which is, according to exorcism expert and author José María Zavala, Father Salvador Hernández Ramón, who reportedly studied under Amorth in Rome. The training itself is reportedly being led by Bishop Cesar Franco.

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« Reply #6567 on: May 25, 2013, 06:50 AM »

Vladimir Putin's goal is to destroy Russian civil society

For demanding fair elections and respect for the constitution, Russians are being treated as spies and traitors

Lyudmila Alexeeva   
The Guardian, Friday 24 May 2013 21.30 BST   

I have been active in the human rights scene here since the dark days of the Soviet Union. As I look across today's Russia, I have every reason to believe that at the very top, the Kremlin has decided to destroy my country's civil society for daring to raise its head in protest against government repression and to demand fair elections and respect for the constitution.

From the end of the 80s to the middle of this century's first decade, a lively and active civil society formed in Russia. Today, it is an obstacle in the path of President Putin and his circle, who aim to form a harshly authoritarian, perhaps even totalitarian, regime.

It is precisely to destroy civil society – and primarily the human rights groups that form its backbone – that a series of repressive laws were adopted in 2012 by Russia's Duma, elected fraudulently and obedient to Putin. One of these laws requires that NGOs which receive funding from abroad and "engage in politics" voluntarily register as "foreign agents". This demand is the equivalent of Nazi Germany's demand that Jews don a yellow star.

This law is directed against human rights organisations that have to receive financing from foreign donors in order to maintain their independence – since neither the Russian government nor big business will support organisations whose goal is to protect citizens from violations of their rights by the state.

The foreign agents' law should not apply to human rights NGOs, as they do not engage in politics. However, the law defines the term "politics" as including "influencing the formation of public opinion" – and, of course, human rights NGOs do exactly that. For violating this law, NGOs face closure and fines of up to 500,000 rubles (£11,000), while their leaders face fines of up to 300,000 rubles and up to two years' imprisonment.

If the law demanded that NGOs register as organisations receiving foreign grants, all of us would register, as this would reflect the truth. But we cannot register as foreign agents. In Russia, "foreign agent" means "traitor", "spy". We are not agents of foreign governments or private foundations, as we do not carry out their instructions. To register as their agents would mean sacrificing our reputation.

Because not a single NGO registered as a foreign agent, several weeks ago the authorities began a mass wave of inspections across the country led by the state prosecutor, the ministry of justice and the tax authorities. We are aware of about 500 NGOs that have undergone such inspections – there are probably many more.

By law, the prosecutor has the right to conduct inspections only where there is evidence that a given organisation has, or is planning to, violate the law. The simultaneous inspection of hundreds of NGOs is a clearly illegal action by the prosecutor, whose mission is to ensure the law is obeyed.

Several dozen of the inspected NGOs have now received instructions stating that they are required to register as foreign agents. Golos, which organised election observers who uncovered massive falsifications during the parliamentary and presidential elections of 2011-2012, was the first to be sanctioned by the courts, receiving a fine of 300,000 rubles. All of these organisations are on the verge of being closed down.

The Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia's oldest human rights organisation, awaits this fate by the end of May, as do others. It is absolutely clear that Vladimir Putin's goal, as he begins his third term in office, is to destroy all independent civic activity. It is clear he fears that otherwise he will not succeed in retaining his office, let alone strengthening his authoritarian regime.


Russian rights group Memorial loses court challenge over raids on offices

Moscow court says raids by prosecutors were legal after hearing claims that group received millions of dollars from abroad

Alexander Winning in Moscow, Friday 24 May 2013 14.43 BST   

A Moscow court has rejected two appeals by one of Russia's oldest human rights groups over raids by prosecutors on its head offices at the height of a crackdown on critics of the Kremlin in March.

The raids on Memorial, which coincided with searches at hundreds of international and Russian non-governmental organisations (NGOs), were widely condemned by foreign governments and local activists. The Kremlin has painted the checks as a means of weeding out "foreign agents".

In its ruling on Friday, the Zamoskvoretsky district court deemed the raids legal, rejecting Memorial's claims that they were excessive and groundless.

Memorial, which runs a human rights organisation and research centre documenting Soviet-era political repression, has exposed rights abuses by Russian officials in the turbulent North Caucasus and criticised the detention of anti-Kremlin protesters at an opposition rally that turned violent a year ago.

Judicial officials, tax inspectors and journalists from a state-run TV channel accompanied prosecutors in the March raids, which came weeks after Vladimir Putin told senior FSB officers to check whether foreign-funded NGOs engaging in "political activity" had registered as foreign agents, in keeping with a law that came into force in November. Memorial's head office and its nearby Moscow branch located were both searched.

In comments harking back to the cold war, prosecutors told the court on Friday that Memorial received millions of dollars of funding from abroad to "influence public opinion in the country". In particular, prosecutors accused Memorial of receiving more than 92m roubles (£1.94m) between 2010 and 2011 from foreign donors including the US Ford Foundation.

Yan Rachinsky, a board member at Memorial, said the presiding judge even smiled at prosecutors' inability to formulate their arguments in court. Memorial would appeal against the ruling in Russia's constitutional court and the European court of human rights, he added.

Memorial, along with international rights groups such as Amnesty International, says it will refuse to adopt the foreign agent label. Russian authorities, who have cast foreign-backed organisations as political tools wielded by external enemies, have been unable to force any NGOs to adopt the unflattering label thus far.

Pavel Chikov, a member of Putin's human rights council and head of a legal group that provides assistance to civic and political activists, said that the Kremlin's crackdown on the NGO sector reflected a wider aim to silence government critics.

Another NGO targeted in the raids, the election monitor Golos, has been fined roughly $10,000 (£6,600) and fears closure. Golos reported widespread vote-rigging during parliamentary elections in 2011 and the presidential election that gave Putin a new six-year term last year.

"The last three months have seen unprecedented efforts to isolate Russia from the west and shield authorities from criticism," he said. "NGOs are currently spending all their energy working out how to defend themselves. Many activists are losing hope."

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« Last Edit: May 25, 2013, 07:05 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #6568 on: May 25, 2013, 06:55 AM »

Croatian president urges Britain to remain in the EU

Ivo Josipovic says British exit would have negative impact on trade bloc, as Croatia prepares to become 28th member state

Julian Borger, Friday 24 May 2013 17.07 BST   

The president of the EU's newest member, Croatia, has urged Britain not to leave but instead to help reform Europe from the inside.

"The reason for us to enter is the same as yours is to stay," Ivo Josipovic told the Guardian during a visit to London before Croatia's formal accession on 1 July, when it will become the 28th member state. "It is a great opportunity. I always ask the critics what Greece would look like without the EU. I am a Euro-optimistic."

Josipovic said his meeting with David Cameron on Thursday left him convinced that Britain would not abandon the EU. "Looking at situation here, I don't think its going to happen. I heard the prime minister … and I read about the plans of your government. It's not anti-European," the Croatian president said.

He added a British exit "would be negative for Europe and for Croatia as well, because UK is an important country with an important economy, with important resources of all kind: the democratic tradition, historical, cultural. So definitely a break with the EU would not be a good thing … I would not like to see it."

Since Croatia applied for EU membership in 2003, the fortunes of both have fluctuated and are experiencing a downturn. Croatia is in recession with an unemployment rate of over 18% and, in the short term at least, membership could worsen the economic situation.

Croatia will erect a tariff wall between it and some of its major Balkan markets to the east. It will mean that many tourists, Russian and Turkish for example, will require a visa to spend their holidays on the Croatian coast, and it could accelerate a brain drain if the nation's best and brightest seek work across Europe.

However, Josipovic argued that EU trade and investment would outweigh the downsides to membership, and he pledged to do more to make it easier for European firms to invest in Croatia.

"It is complicated to come to do business – complicated because of the old mentality and the wish to put everything under norms. But the government is doing its best to change these things," he said. "There are obstacles but day by day we are making it easier."

Josipovic indicated that Croatia would side with the UK in seeking to focus the EU on its basic functions: maintaining a common market, promoting democracy and peace, while cutting back on what he saw as excessive Brussels bureaucracy.

He also said Croatia would be in favour of lifting the arms embargo on Syria "because in our history we were under aggression and couldn't obtain weapons. So equal chances should be provided to both sides."

Croatia has been criticised for the fact that there have been no convictions for the war crimes committed in 1995, when hundreds of Serb civilians were killed during and after Croatia's Operation Storm offensive.

Josipovic argued that investigators faced obstacles looking into crimes committed nearly 20 years ago, especially as previous nationalist governments had been reluctant to prosecute. But he added that the prosecutors would not give up.

"The war crimes investigations will never be suspended. There are no time limits," he said, adding that none of those responsible for the war crimes "will sleep peacefully".

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« Reply #6569 on: May 25, 2013, 07:10 AM »

May 24, 2013

Public Rapes Outrage Brazil, Testing Ideas of Image and Class


RIO DE JANEIRO — The attacks have stunned this city. In one, an assailant held a gun to the head of a 30-year-old woman while raping her in front of passengers on a bus as the driver proceeded down a main avenue. In another, a 14-year-old girl from a hillside slum was raped on one of Rio’s most famous stretches of beach.

In yet another case, men abducted and raped a working-class woman in a transit van as it wended through densely populated areas. The police failed to investigate, and a week later the same men raped a 21-year-old American student in the same van, pummeling her face and beating her male companion with a metal bar.

“Unfortunately, it had to happen to her before anyone would help me,” said the Brazilian woman raped in the transit van. “I was like, ‘Could this have been avoided if they had paid attention to my case?’ ”

A recent wave of rapes in Rio — some captured on video cameras — have cast a spotlight on the unresolved contradictions of a nation that is coming of age as a world power. Brazil has a woman as president, a woman as a powerful police commander and a woman as the head of its national oil company — and yet, it was not until an American was raped that the authorities got fully involved and arrested suspects in the case.

In some ways, Brazil’s experience echoes recent events in India and Egypt, where horrific attacks have prompted outrage and soul searching, revealing deep fissures in each society. In Brazil, it has unleashed a debate about whether the authorities are more concerned about defending the privileged and Rio’s international image than about protecting women at large.

In India, the recent death of a student, who was gang-raped as her male companion was beaten on a bus under similar circumstances, has highlighted a prevailing view that women, no matter how much progress they make, are still fair game, unprotected by an ineffectual government.

And in Egypt, where the collapse of the old police state has led to an outbreak of sexual assaults in Tahrir Square in Cairo, some newly emboldened conservative Islamists publicly blame the women, saying they put themselves in harm’s way.

It is perhaps paradoxical that the issue has popped up so forcefully in Brazil, a country that has gone to great lengths to protect and promote women’s rights. There are special cars for women to ride on trains to avoid being groped, as in parts of India. There are special police stations here staffed largely by women. And there is a general view that holds women as equal, fully capable of excelling in even the most powerful posts.

“We’re living a schizophrenic situation, in which important advances have been made in women reaching positions of influence in our society,” said Rogéria Peixinho, a director of the Brazilian Women’s Network, a rights group here. “At the same time, the situation for many women who are poor remains atrocious.”

Indeed, the public discussion about the string of sexual assaults in Rio was relatively muted before the American student was attacked in late March after boarding a transit van in Copacabana, a beachfront district frequented by tourists. The reason, some experts argue, was that the earlier victims were largely poor or working class, reflecting one of Brazil’s enduring struggles: extreme class divisions in society.

“For a large part of the political leadership, these rapes only get to be a concern if they affect someone rich or damage Brazil’s image abroad,” said Malu Fontes, a newspaper columnist who criticized the lack of attention paid to rapes of poor women in Rio, which is preparing to hold the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“We like to believe in Brazil that we live in a peaceful, happy place, when the truth of our existence is far more complicated,” she said. “It’s like we’re Narcissus gazing into a pool of sewage.”

Rio’s public security officials acknowledge that they have faced a sharp increase in the number of reported rape cases, which surged 24 percent last year to 1,972 in the city. But they argue that the increase has taken place nationally, reflecting a change in legislation in 2009 to broaden the definition of rape to include oral and anal penetration, as well as efforts to make it easier for women to file rape complaints.

Brazil has made strides in its efforts to reduce violence against women. As early as the 1980s, it helped pioneer the creation of police stations with female officers to help victims register domestic violence, sexual assaults and other gender-related crimes. And in 2006, legislation was enacted nationwide intended to establish special courts for prosecuting acts of domestic violence with stricter sentences.

But while Rio’s authorities have succeeded in lowering rates of certain violent crimes, like homicides, the recent rapes have focused new attention on the dangers of riding Rio’s buses and vans, an essential part of life for many residents.

In the days after the rape of the American student, Mayor Eduardo Paes announced a ban on transit vans, which are privately owned and sometimes operating without permits, in Rio’s prosperous South Zone. The ban prompted criticism that the mayor was giving priority to the safety of wealthy seaside areas over grittier parts of the city where the vans are still allowed to operate.

A spokesman for Mr. Paes countered that the ban was not related to the rapes, but part of a broader public transportation plan under consideration for months. The spokesman added that the mayor had also forbidden vans to tint their windows, in an effort to prevent crimes within the vehicles.

Officials in the state of Rio de Janeiro said that rapes in buses, vans or subway cars accounted for less than 1 percent of all cases in recent years. “There are no signs of an epidemic of rapes within public transportation,” said Pedro Dantas, a spokesman for Rio’s public safety department.

Still, the string of cases in Rio, including the rape of a 12-year-old girl on a bus last year, are part of a larger pattern of attacks and harassment aboard transit vehicles in several cities, including two rapes this month around the capital, Brasília. In the city of Curitiba, lawmakers are reviewing a bill that would introduce women’s-only buses.

Eleonora Menicucci, Brazil’s minister for women’s affairs, noted that no nation was immune to shocking crimes against women, pointing to the abduction and long imprisonment of three women in Cleveland.

But she said Brazil had worked hard to encourage women to come forward to report rapes, and she contended that perpetrators would be prosecuted regardless of the backgrounds of the assailants or the victims. She cited a case in the city of Queimadas, where six men from relatively privileged circumstances were swiftly arrested, tried and convicted last year in the gang rape of five women, two of whom were killed after recognizing their assailants.

But critics remain skeptical, arguing that the main reason the rape of the 14-year-old girl from a slum drew public attention was that it occurred on the beach in front of Leblon, one of Rio’s most exclusive neighborhoods.

Sérgio Cabral, Rio’s governor, called the assault on the American student an “atrocity” but emphasized that he did not expect it to affect the image of Rio, which he was said was experiencing a “forceful moment with big events and investments.”

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