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« Reply #6600 on: May 27, 2013, 07:42 AM »


Farc peace talks: Colombia unveils major breakthrough

Agreement on land rights signals 'radical transformation' of countryside and end to half-century of war

Sibylla Brodzinsky in Bogotá
guardian.co.uk, Monday 27 May 2013 13.57 BST   

The Colombian government and leftist Farc rebels have announced a major breakthrough in peace talks aimed at ending nearly half a century of conflict, heralding a "radical transformation" of the war-ravaged countryside.

The two sides said in a joint communiqué that they had reached an agreement on land and rural development issues, the first point in a peace process launched six months ago.

The lead government negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, said the agreement would represent "a historic change, a rebirth of the Colombian countryside".

Land rights and distribution are at the heart of the conflict in Colombia, which saw Farc rise up against the state in the mid-1960s claiming to fight on behalf of the country's peasants. Today 52% of farms are in the hands of just over 1% of landowners, according to the UN Development Programme, giving Colombia one of the most unequal land distributions in the world.

According to official figures, only 22% of potential arable land is cultivated and 6.5m hectares of land was stolen, abandoned or forcibly changed hands in other ways between 1985 and 2008 as a result of the conflict.

Sunday's agreement "seeks to reverse the causes of the conflict" and would be the "start of radical transformations in Colombia's rural and agrarian reality", according to the statement read in Havana, where the negotiations have been taking place since November.

As part of the deal, Colombia would create a land bank through which farmland would be redistributed. Farmers would receive loans, technical assistance and marketing advice as well as legal and police protection.

Specific points of the agreement – such as how many hectares of land would be available for redistribution under the accord – were not made public. However, De la Calle said legal landowners had nothing to fear.

The vagueness of the announcement has triggered opponents of the government to question the process. Rafael Guarín, a critic of the peace talks and of the government of Juan Manuel Santos, tweeted: "What did Santos give in exchange for the Farc's 'yes' on rural and territorial issues?".

Farc has said it wants to see 9m hectares of land set aside for "peasant reserve zones" that would enjoy some autonomy from national government control. The government rejected the idea of autonomous zones but said they could be the focus areas of rural development programmes.

The government and rebel negotiators stressed they would enter into effect only if an overall peace accord was reached.

The chief Farc negotiator, Iván Márquez, said several issues surrounding land reform remained unresolved but the agreement was most likely announced to show some progress in the talks, about which many Colombians remain sceptical.

If the land issue was difficult because of the technical nature of the subject and the historical context, the next items on the agenda may be even more complicated politically. When the talks reconvene on 11 June, negotiators will begin to tackle the problem of how Farc can make the transition from an 8,000-strong guerrilla army to a legitimate political movement.

Farc tried this before with disastrous results. As part of a previous peace process in the mid-1980s it created the Patriotic Union party to participate in electoral politics while the rebels remained in arms.

But as many as 3,000 of party its members, including two presidential candidates, were murdered in the process. On the other hand, a majority of Colombians find it unpalatable to see rebel leaders sitting in Congress. Two-thirds of Colombians polled in April said they would not accept Farc leaders participating in politics if the group demobilised.

Other items on the agenda include the drug trade – a major source of funding for the rebels – reparation of victims, demobilisation, and implementation of a final accord. Santos, who faces re-election in May 2014, has said he wants to see a final peace deal ready by November.

Despite the tight deadline, De la Calle is optimistic. "Today we have a real opportunity to achieve through dialogue," he said.


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« Reply #6601 on: May 27, 2013, 07:55 AM »


Sweden punishes its rioters and its police very differently

The Stockholm riots were inevitable given that Sweden is riven with injustice, not least in how it handles police brutality

Jallow Momodou   
guardian.co.uk, Monday 27 May 2013 14.40 BST   

The riots that have raged in the suburbs of Stockholm for the past week were triggered by an incident in Husby, north of Stockholm, last Monday evening, when the police brutally shot and killed a man in his own house and in front his wife. According to the police, the man had been wielding a knife and threatening them.

Shortly after the incident, the police released a statement saying that the man was seriously injured and had been taken to hospital for treatment. This version of events didn't survive for long, however: witnesses had seen the man's corpse being picked up from his apartment several hours after the press release was published. In light of this new information, the police then withdrew their previous press release and made an attempt to rectify the situation.

The incident might have worked as a trigger for the riots that followed, but it was certainly not an isolated instance of police brutality in contemporary Swedish society. The recent debate on the controversial government-initiated Reva project – an attempt to accelerate the deportation of illegal immigrants – has exposed the brutal and illegal methods used by law enforcement agencies, mainly against non-white Swedes.

Harassment and racial profiling of non-white Swedes has become increasingly normal police work. Only last week, a Swede of African origin was refused entry at a local club in Malmö for the simple reason that he was wearing traditional African clothes. The police picked him up soon after – in the process of his arrest, he broke his arm and was locked up in a cell for almost six hours without being able to seek medical help.

There are many more examples of the law enforcement agencies using excessive violence against socially excluded groups and enjoying impunity. Police investigations into such cases have often ended with officers being let off the hook, creating a sense of frustration for victims of police brutality.

The entire media and political discourse has been focused on the degree of violence and destruction that has been caused by the young men involved in the Stockholm riots, making several attempts to construct a behavioural pattern totally foreign to Swedish society. I am confident that most of us – immigrant or not – agree without reservation that the use of violence in the pursuit for justice and socio-economic change is unacceptable, and the perpetrators of such crimes should be brought to face justice.

However, the same kind of justice must be applied to law enforcement agencies when they use illegal methods in their line of work. The law should apply to everyone, regardless of your position in society. Currently, this is far from evident for the law enforcement agencies in Sweden today.

The recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report has shown how Sweden has transformed itself into one of the countries with the highest growing income inequality in the OECD region. This change predominantly affects immigrants and Swedes with immigrant backgrounds. Many of these young people live in segregated suburbs with a high unemployment rate. Many youth activity centres, clinics and schools have been closed down and local youth initiatives such as Megafonen (the Megaphone) and Pantrarna (the Panthers) have been criticised for their determination to articulate what they perceive as the real problem.

In any society that is built on structures of injustice, where the law applies to some but not all, where certain groups are more likely to be affected by income inequalities than others, there will always be a risk of riots and social disobedience. Until an independent body is put in charge of investigating police conduct, the state's ability to protect its people will continue to be questioned. This is why it is essential for the government to create an environment in which everyone can fulfil their potential regardless of their background or social status. After all, it is the responsibility of the government to protect the wellbeing of its people.

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

Sweden: reading the riots

Sweden's centre-right coalition leaders should resist the temptation of undoing decades of enlightened social policy

Editorial
The Guardian, Sunday 26 May 2013 22.18 BST   
   
Reading the Riots – the Guardian's study of four nights of looting and arson which left five dead and 2,000 arrested in London and other UK cities two years ago – was an extensive exercise in data journalism, with 1.3m words of first-person accounts collected. The study found that widespread anger at the way police engage with communities was a significant cause. Gangs were not at the heart of the summer riots, as David Cameron had claimed at the time. Much of the looting was down to simple opportunism.

So, when another European country is hit by a week of rioting, as Sweden has been, it should not come as a surprise that there is not so much a rush to judgment as a stampede. With more than a little schadenfreude, Sweden's reputation for equality, its relaxed immigration policy and generous asylum system have all been placed in the dock. The "Nordic model" of progressive politics, low unemployment and a generous social safety net appears to have been singed in the flames.

Modern Sweden is certainly under pressure, and not just from those who think it is fun to throw rocks at firemen and set cars, schools and police stations ablaze. About £14bn of tax cuts have been introduced since 2006, inevitably squeezing the welfare state. Homelessness has quadrupled. A Save the Children report in 2010 found that 12% of children in Sweden were living in poverty, and children from immigrant families or with a lone parent were the most vulnerable. The OECD said that inequality is growing faster in Sweden than in any other developed nation. Inequality drives segregation, particularly for immigrants. The unemployment rate for Swedish-born people is one-third of that for immigrants. Those born outside Sweden are 15% of the country's population but 35% of its unemployed.

Shaken by the success of the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, who in 2010 got enough votes to enter parliament for the first time, Fredrik Reinfeldt's governing centre-right Moderate party has been banging the immigration drum. In February, migration minister Tobias Billström said that current immigration levels were unsustainable.

Sweden's centre-right coalition leaders should resist the temptation of undoing decades of enlightened social policy. Instead they should ask themselves some humbler, lower-order questions about how the riots in Husby spread to cities around the country. Why did relations between the immigrant population and the police break down to the extent they have? What worked for the asylum seekers of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s that has stopped working now for Somalis and north Africans? These need to be openly debated and honestly answered. Sweden needs to read its own riots with care.



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« Reply #6602 on: May 27, 2013, 07:56 AM »

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05/27/2013 11:24 AM

Austerity About-Face: German Government to Gamble on Stimulus

By Sven Böll and Christian Reiermann

With the euro crisis refusing to relent, the German government is backing away from its austerity mandates and planning to spend billions to stimulate ailing economies in Southern European. But can the program succeed?

Wolfgang Schäuble sounded almost like a new convert extolling the wonders of heaven as he raved about his latest conclusions on the subject of saving the euro. "We need more investment, and we need more programs," the German finance minister announced after a meeting with Vitor Gaspar, his Portuguese counterpart.

The role he was slipping into last Wednesday was new for Schäuble. The man who had persistently maintained his image as an austerity commissioner is suddenly a champion of growth. If Germany couldn't manage to trigger an economic recovery, "our success story would not be complete," he said. And as if to convince even the die-hard skeptics, he added: "The German government is always prepared to help."

After three years of crisis policy, it was an impression shared by very few people in countries like Portugal, Spain and Greece. They are more likely to associate Schäuble and his boss, Chancellor Angela Merkel, with austerity mandates ushering in hardship, deprivation and unemployment.

But a new way of thinking has recently taken hold in the German capital. In light of record new unemployment figures among young people, even the intransigent Germans now realize that action is needed. "If we don't act now, we risk losing an entire generation in Southern Europe," say people close to Schäuble.

Berlin is making an about-face, even though it aims to stick to its current austerity policy. The German government has stressed budget consolidation and structural reform since 2010, when Greece was on the verge of bankruptcy. Berlin has been arguing that this is the only way to instill confidence among investors in the battered debt-ridden countries and help their ailing economies recover.

But now, several rounds of cuts later, the politicians who had set out to save the euro must now look on as the economies of ailing Southern European countries are once again slumping while unemployment is on the rise.

To come to grips with the problem, Merkel and Schäuble are willing to abandon ironclad tenets of their current bailout philosophy. In the future, they intend to provide direct assistance to select crisis-ridden countries instead of waiting for other countries to join in or for the European Commission to take the lead. To do so, they are even willing to send more money from Germany to the troubled regions and incorporate new guarantees into the federal budget. "We want to show that we're not just the world's best savers," says a Schäuble confidant.

Worries about Image and Elections

The government's change of heart isn't just a sign of selflessness and compassion. More than ever, the chancellor and the finance minister are worried that Berlin's tightfisted, heartless, austerity-obsessed image could solidify throughout Europe and do irreparable political damage. An exporting nation that sells two-thirds of its exports to other European countries cannot be unconcerned about its image abroad, they reason, especially when its government fears that constant criticism from the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party, claiming that it is acting as the gravedigger of the euro and dividing the EU, could hurt it in the upcoming election campaign.

Merkel and Schäuble hope that their initiative could help Merkel's coalition government of their center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the business-friendly Free Democratic Party close its open flank. This time, instead of just acting in concert, cabinet ministers with the three coalition partners are actively cooperating.

Last Tuesday, Schäuble sent a letter to Economics Minister Philipp Rösler in which he proposed that the coalition partners act together. "I believe that we should also offer bilateral German aid," he wrote, noting that he hoped that this approach would result in "significant faster-acting support with visible and psychologically effective results within a foreseeable time period."

Schäuble needs Rösler's cooperation because the finance and economics ministries are jointly responsible for the government-owned KfW development bank. The Frankfurt-based institution is to play a key role in the German growth concept that experts from both ministries have started drafting for Spain. Spanish companies suffer from the fact that the country's banks are currently lending at only relatively high interest rates. But since it is owned by the German government, the KfW can borrow money at rates almost as low as the government itself. Under the Berlin plan, the KfW would pass on part of this benefit to the ailing Spanish economy.

Sharing the Benefits of Low Interest

This is how the plan is supposed to work: First, the KfW would issue a so-called global loan to its Spanish sister bank, the ICO. These funds would then enable the Spanish development bank to offer lower-interest loans to domestic companies. As a result, Spanish companies would be able to benefit from low interest rates available in Germany.

Under the plans, Germany could also invest in a €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) venture capital fund that could be used to support new business activities. Madrid hopes that the program will generate a total of €3.2 billion in new investment.

The agreements with Spain are intended to serve as a blueprint for similar aid to Portugal and possibly even Greece. How high the payments to these countries will be has yet to be determined. "It will be nothing to sneeze at," say Finance Ministry officials. The German government envisions spending a total in the single-digit billions on the program. Schäuble plans to fill in the budget committee in the German parliament, the Bundestag, next week.

This is necessary because the KfW is supposed to serve as an agent of the federal government rather than act on its own account. For this reason, the federal government will back up the KfW program with guarantees, which require parliamentary approval.

In his letter to Rösler, Schäuble also suggests that Berlin should advocate an easing of the guidelines for aid to crisis-ridden countries. He notes that Germany already acquired valuable experience in this regard during the difficult post-reunification period when it was developing the areas that once belonged to communist East Germany. "I think the situation in some EU member states is certainly comparable to Germany's situation at the time," Schäuble writes, and he urges Rösler to promote the plan at the EU Competitiveness Council meeting on Wednesday.

If Rösler is successful, some €800 million in funding could be released that was already made available for aid to Portugal but is still being blocked owing to competition-related concerns.

A Mini Marshall Plan?

The fact that the finance minister and the chancellor are suddenly willing to do things that have been off-limits until now also has something to do with an internal Chancellery dossier from mid-May. The government headquarters had asked the ministries to take stock of the EU growth pact that was approved in June 2012 to support the austerity programs. The results were, in fact, supposed to demonstrate how well the German bailout strategy was working. But the officials' conclusions shocked even calculated optimists. In their report, they painstakingly documented that debt-ridden countries, especially those that have not taken advantage of EU bailout programs, have hardly made any progress in terms of needed reforms.

Since they had no other successes to report in their study, the authors listed items like the expansion of store hours in Italy. They also wrote, on a positive note, that France has begun preparations to open up competition within its railroad network beginning in 2019. And Spain was given credit for relaxing its residency regulations for investors.

The report's assessment of reforms in countries such as Greece and Portugal was more positive. But, as the authors soberly noted, it will take time for significant changes to take hold within the real economy. In light of the disastrous economic situation in many countries, the authors added an urgent warning: "For this reason, an additional challenge, in terms of the success of the pact, is to make a visible contribution to overcoming pressing short-term problems." In other words, they argued, the effects of the growth pact must be "felt within the population as quickly as possible."

Schäuble's new program is meant to achieve this. Similarities with the Marshall Plan -- that is, the billions the United States spent to help a devastated Europe get back on its feet after World War II -- are certainly not unintended. But, given its size, the current German plan could be characterized as something akin to a mini-Marshall Plan.

Still, it is hardly to be expected that the new programs will achieve similar results. At the moment, it is purely a German effort, and plans to get other countries on board are still little more than wishful thinking. Countries such as the Netherlands, previously considered to number among possible donor nations, have since been sucked into the crisis themselves.

Slim Chances of Success

Indeed, Berlin faces a dilemma. Europe lacks the money for massive economic stimulus programs, and so far the German government has insisted that incurring new debt isn't the way to solve Europe's debt crisis.

In addition, Germany will elect a new parliament in less than four months, after elections in September. With her administration facing pressure from the anti-euro party Alternative for Germany, and despite her offers to help Southern European countries, Merkel doesn't want to be accused of throwing even more good German money after bad. To avoid this, the goal in Berlin is to achieve the greatest possible results while spending as little as possible.

All it takes is a look at previous European initiatives to conclude that this feat cannot be accomplished. The Eurocrats are exceedingly proud of the fact that an additional €6 billion has been set aside for the coming budget period, between 2014 and 2020, to fight youth unemployment. But owing to the complicated structure of the funding, the money will only be disbursed slowly. According to internal European Commission estimates, only about €3.5 billion of the total will actually be spent by 2020.

It also remains completely unclear what the effect of the greatly hyped €10 billion capital increase at the European Investment Bank (EIB) will be. The EIB intends to issue about €60 billion in new loans by the end of 2015 and hopes to thereby stimulate a total of €180 billon in investments.

But the economic stimulus program threatens to fall flat. So far, the EIB has shown little inclination to distribute the billions exclusively where they are more urgently needed: in Southern Europe. And, as EIB President Werner Hoyer has implied at every opportunity, the bank is determined to keep its top rating so that it can continue to finance itself at low rates.

Ironically, the Finance Ministry in Berlin backs Hoyer's stance. An internal Finance Ministry memo reads: "To preserve the portfolio quality and the AAA rating, the federal government is in favor of having the EIB continue to promote projects in AAA countries while implementing the anti-crisis program."

Likewise, even if there are well-meaning decisions and sufficient funds for programs, implementation remains a problem. Government administrations in Southern Europe are still too slow, the EU bureaucracy in Brussels is still slowing things down, and governments are still dragging their feet on promised reforms.

Instead, these governments are pressuring Brussels and the Germans, as the negotiators from Berlin for the European Council meeting in June are currently experiencing. While the federal government continues to insist that the crisis-ridden countries clean up their economies and government finances in the long term, the countries themselves want short-term relief. More than anything, what they mean by this is: a lot of money for new economic stimulus programs.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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« Reply #6603 on: May 27, 2013, 07:57 AM »

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05/27/2013 12:23 PM

Lessons from Woolwich: The Dangers of Britain's Islamist Underground

By Christoph Scheuermann

Where did the hatred that led to the murder of a soldier in Woolwich come from? Radical hate preacher Anjem Choudary knew one of the assailants and says he is proud of having "a big influence" on his life. The attack demonstrates how difficult it is to prevent Islamist violence in Britain.

Anjem Choudary grabs a can of Red Bull before he talks about the man with the blood-soaked hands and a meat cleaver -- a man who is an acquaintance of his. Choudary doesn't call what happened in London last week murder, but rather "the operation on Wednesday."

Wearing a dark robe and sporting a beard that grows down to his chest, Choudary sits down at a table in a café in the northeastern part of the city. The press generally portrays him as a hate monger. In the mid-1990s, he founded the now-banned Islamist organization al-Muhajiroun, in which Michael Adebolajo later participated on a regular basis -- the same man with the meat cleaver who hacked a British soldier to death so savagely, and so publicly, that an entire country seemed briefly in shock.

Choudary and Adebolajo know each other well. Between 2005 and 2011, Adebolajo often attended demonstrations organized by Choudary. Usually they protested the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the "crusade of the infidels" against the Muslims, as they called it. In video footage shot by the BBC in 2007, Choudary and Adebolajo can be seen together at a protest in front of a London police station. Choudary is barking into a megaphone. Adebolajo is clad in a white robe and has a serious expression on his face.

Over a period of five years, the two men regularly met, and Adebolajo occasionally listened to Choudary's sermons. He was "a pleasant, quiet guy" when he first met him, says Choudary, who adds that he was surprised to see him again on TV last Wednesday.

On the televised images, the erstwhile pleasant and quiet Michael Adebolajo, 28 -- together with his friend Michael Adebowale, 22 -- is standing on a street in the South East London neighborhood of Woolwich on a dreary Wednesday afternoon and wielding a meat cleaver and a kitchen knife. His hands are covered in blood. Passersby are standing nearby and filming him with their mobile phones. On the street behind him lies the lifeless body of soldier Lee Rigby, 25, an infantryman and drummer who performed ceremonial guard duties at Buckingham Palace. "The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day," Adebolajo shouts into the camera, adding: "The British soldier is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

Typical British Names

A few minutes later, when the first police car arrived at the scene of the murder, the two attackers rushed toward the vehicle. Police fired eight shots. Adebolajo and Adebowale are being treated for gunshot wounds at separate hospitals. Their condition is reportedly stable.

British intelligence agencies and police have launched an intensive investigation of the attack. They are determined to find out whether it was a professionally planned or spontaneous act; whether the two men are members of a terrorist network or whether they acted on their own; how they became radicalized, and by whom. The brutal murder raises the very same questions that were asked of the two bombers who attacked the Boston Marathon on April 15: How can it be that two young men who grew up in the UK could come to feel such hate?

Adebolajo's life doesn't look as if it would lead to this murder. His family comes from Nigeria. Adebolajo's father works as a mental health nurse; his mother is a housewife. Both parents are devout Christians. The son has a British passport, and most of his Facebook contacts have typical British names. He studied at Greenwich University, where he met Adebowale, whose family also comes from Nigeria and who also has a British passport. Both men converted to Islam.

British intelligence agencies are searching homes across the country, securing evidence and questioning friends and relatives of both killers. At the same time, though, a number of errors and shortcomings have come to light. Britain's domestic intelligence service, MI5, has apparently known for years that Adebolajo and his presumed accomplice are radical Islamists. In 2010, one of the two men even wanted to travel to Somalia, probably to join the Islamist al-Shabaab militias, and was even arrested by Kenyan authorities. The British authorities were apparently aware of the incident, but evidently did not consider the two men to be a serious threat.

A man with a meat cleaver: It's an image that the British are not likely to forget anytime soon. The attack quickly and shockingly brought into focus the threat that violent Islamists still pose to the country. Ever since the bomb attacks on London's public transportation system in the summer of 2005, police have regularly arrested terror suspects. But the Woolwich murder reveals that all surveillance efforts are futile when two young men decide on a brutal plan.

'A Big Influence'

When one speaks with people who knew Adebolajo, it becomes clear how surprisingly open he was about his radical views. Al-Muhajiroun founder Choudary says that he last saw Adebolajo roughly two years ago. At the time, Adebolajo was already calling himself a mujahedeen, or warrior, and wearing long, light-colored robes. He started to learn the Koran by heart. Choudary says that he had "a big influence" on his life -- and seems to be proud of that fact.

Around 2003, shortly after he converted from Christianity to Islam, Adebolajo joined the al-Muhajiroun group. The group's leader was a Syrian immigrant named Omar Bakri Mohammed, a radical Islamist cleric who urges his followers to fight the jihad and is currently banned from returning to the UK. In 2006, from his exile in Beirut, he allegedly called for violent resistance against "the enemy," which, in his view, is primarily the British and Americans. "When you meet them, slice their own necks," he reportedly said, concluding with: "Use the sword and remove the enemy's head." It sounds like instructions for the Woolwich murder.

No wonder Bakri called Adebolajo a "courageous" man shortly after the attack last week and insisted that his actions could be reconciled with the Islamic faith because he "had not attacked civilians, but rather a soldier." Adebolajo asked him religious questions in London, Bakri says, adding that "he was curious." But he admits that he doesn't know if he influenced the young man.

Choudary says that he was Bakri's right hand. Working together, he says, they aimed to rally Muslim youth throughout the country against the policies of the British government and usher them onto the streets.

When he is asked how he wants to change the UK, Choudary smiles gently. He has often publicly expressed his views, even on television. He insists that he wants to introduce Sharia law throughout the country as well as ban alcohol and gambling. And, of course, abolish the monarchy. He wants to transform Buckingham Palace into a mosque. Choudary sees jihad as a means of defending Islam. He has praised the 9/11 terrorists -- and he refuses to condemn the London bombers from 2005.

'There Will Be War'

After Osama bin Laden was killed, Choudary held a funeral prayer in front of the US embassy in London. Today, he organizes rallies and protest marches in support of the resistance in Syria and against Guantanamo. Before the attack in Woolwich, he wrote on Twitter that the recent tornadoes in the US were God's response to the oppression of the Muslims.

A friend of Choudary's steps up to the table. He calls himself Mohammed and also wears a black robe. He is in an excellent mood. "The entire country's afraid now," he says with glee. Mohammed says that he happened to run into Adebolajo a few weeks ago, "but didn't notice anything special about him."

Whether the entire country is indeed afraid is debatable. Emotions, however, have certainly been stirred. Last Wednesday evening, at least 60 masked right-wing extremists from the English Defense League (EDL) gathered in front of a pub in Woolwich. This aggressive and extremely violent group, founded in 2009, regularly holds protest marches against the presumed Islamization of the UK -- and Islamists have begun to defend themselves. The murder has increased the risk of an escalation.

It was only in late April that six men from Birmingham confessed to planning an attack on the English Defense League. Last summer, the men packed two sawed-off shotguns, knives and a homemade explosive device into a vehicle and drove to a demonstration by the right-wing radicals. They took along a letter claiming responsibility that was addressed to the queen and the prime minister. It said: "Today is a day of revenge." It was only by chance that the police took notice of the men and were able to stop them in time.

Choudary has now left the café, but Mohammed continues to talk. He has been observing the English Defense League for some time, he says. If, in the wake of the murder, the right-wing extremists now try to launch an attack against the Muslims, he insists his people will have an appropriate response: "Then there will be war in this country."

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
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« Reply #6604 on: May 27, 2013, 07:59 AM »

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05/24/2013 04:12 PM

Know Your Limit: Germany Seeks Uniform Law on Marijuana

In Berlin, you can carry 15 grams of marijuana. In Munich? Just six. To ease any confusion, German states are now trying to hash out possession regulations that would apply across the country.

The laws regarding cannabis possession in Germany are nothing if not confusing. It is illegal to possess or consume marijuana. Except that carrying a small amount for personal use has no criminal repercussions. But how much is okay? That depends on where you are. Each state has a different rule.

That, though, may soon change. Ralf Jäger, interior minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, said on Thursday that the 16 German states are now seeking to establish a single limit valid across the country. "We are prompting the ministers of justice to push for harmonization efforts, so that the legal status no longer varies from state to state," Jäger told the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung at a conference of state interior ministers in Hanover this week.

Such a uniform ruling would come as a relief to many. Currently, people in the city-state of Berlin are allowed to carry 15 grams of cannabis, but just across the border in Brandenburg, the limit is just six grams, as it is for many other states. Still others have set the limit at 10 grams, roughly equivalent to a handful of marijuana.

Up or Down?

How exactly this standardization may ultimately play out remains to be seen. In November, Lower Saxony's justice minister at the time, Bernd Busemann of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, pushed to lower the limit to six grams throughout the country, a proposal that would likely encounter resistance in Berlin.

Germany's Constitutional Court, the country's highest, asked the states to come up with standardized limits as far back as 1994, but nothing ever came of the demand.

The new attempt, though, is notable for where support has come from. Oliver Malchow, president of one of two unions representing German police officers, backs the effort. "If you move from Berlin to Munich, you'll be punished in one city and not in the other," he told the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung. That, he said, makes little sense to the general population.

Arguments from Opposite Ends

The debate surrounding cannabis in Germany has given rise to many different voices. Germany's Green Party is in favor of legalization as is the Pirate Party. The Social Democrats are in favor of allowing it for medical reasons.

Christian Democrat Busemann on the other hand, who has since become the president of North Rhine-Westphalia's parliament, has pointed to dangerous cognitive and psychological effects of marijuana consumption according to the newsmagazine Focus. Last fall he insisted that raising the legal limit to 10 grams across Germany was out of the question for him.

North Rhine-Westphalia's current justice minister, Thomas Kutschaty (SPD), on the other hand, pushes a slightly more liberal agenda, supporting moderate penalties for first-time drug offenders. While he insisted he did not want to trivialize drug consumption, he believes measures other than strict punishment to be more effective.

"We need to break the cycle of drug addiction and crime as soon as possible," he said. "A criminal conviction does nothing to help in this regard."
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« Reply #6605 on: May 27, 2013, 08:00 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
05/27/2013 11:57 AM

France Divided: Clashes at Same-Sex Marriage Protest in Paris

A week after France legalized same-sex marriage, tens of thousands of people joined marches in Paris to protest the law. The Sunday rally ended with clashes between police and right-wing demonstrators.

Police estimate that up to 150,000 people rallied in central Paris on Sunday against a new law legalizing same-sex marriage. The law, which also legalizes gay adoption, came into force just over a week ago, but organizers went forward with the protest to show their continued opposition and frustration with embattled Socialist President François Hollande.

After the rally ended, several hundred demonstrators clashed with police, shouting "socialist dictator" and lobbing smoke bombs at security personnel and journalists. The police used tear gas on the rioters and arrested at least a hundred people. Six people were injured, including four police officers, a press photographer and a protester. Interior Minister Manuel Valls attributed the violence to right-wing groups.

The issue has been extremely polarizing in France. According to surveys, the gay marriage reform, which was approved by the French parliament in late April and signed into law by President Hollande on May 18, is backed by a small majority of French. But it has incited a storm of opposition among social and religious conservatives, who have embarked on a series of often-violent demonstrations throughout the country.

A Broad Right-Wing Movement

Though the protests began as a grass-roots campaign backed by the Roman Catholic Church, they have grown into a wider movement encompassing opposition politicians and far-right militants. On Tuesday, a far-right activist shot himself at Notre Dame cathedral, leaving messages urging people to rally against the law.

The marchers on Sunday included politicians from the conservative opposition UMP party as well as members of France's far-right National Front and the party's leader, Marine Le Pen. The most prominent opponent of gay marriage, comedian-activist Virginie Teller, better known as Frigide Barjot, greeted demonstrators arriving to Paris for the rally earlier in the day but did not attend the march, citing threats from far-right groups.

Some 4,500 police were deployed throughout the city in anticipation of the violence. A poll published on Sunday said that 72 percent of French think the protests should stop.

France's first gay wedding is set to take place on Wednesday in the southeastern city of Montpellier.
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« Reply #6606 on: May 27, 2013, 08:02 AM »

May 26, 2013

Who Owns This Land? In Greece, Who Knows?

By SUZANNE DALEY
IHT

ATHENS — Not long ago Leonidas Hamodrakas, a lawyer in Athens, decided to pay closer attention to his family’s land holdings — some fields, a scattering of buildings and a massive stone tower — in Mani, a rural region in southern Greece.

But property ownership in Greece is often less than clear cut. So Mr. Hamodrakas put a padlock on his gate and waited to see what would happen. Soon enough, he heard from neighbors. Three of them claimed that they, too, had title to parts of the property.

In this age of satellite imagery, digital records and the instantaneous exchange of information, most of Greece’s land transaction records are still handwritten in ledgers, logged in by last names. No lot numbers. No clarity on boundaries or zoning. No obvious way to tell whether two people, or 10, have registered ownership of the same property.

As Greece tries to claw its way out of an economic crisis of historic proportions, one that has left 60 percent of young people without jobs, many experts cite the lack of a proper land registry as one of the biggest impediments to progress. It scares off foreign investors; makes it hard for the state to privatize its assets, as it has promised to do in exchange for bailout money; and makes it virtually impossible to collect property taxes.

Greece has resorted to tagging tax dues on to electricity bills as a way to flush out owners. Of course, that means that empty property and farmland has yet to be taxed.

Mr. Hamodrakas is far from resolving the dispute with his neighbors. The courts in Greece are flooded with such cases. “These things take years,” he said, “maybe a decade to settle.”

This state of affairs is particularly galling because Greece has thrown hundreds of millions of dollars at the problem over the past two decades, but has little to show for it. At one point, in the early 1990s, Greece took more than $100 million from the European Union to build a registry. But after seeing what was accomplished, the European Union demanded its money back.

Since then, Greece has tried, and tried again. But still, less than 7 percent of the country has been properly mapped, officials say. Experts say that even the Balkan states, recovering from years of Communism and civil war, are far ahead of Greece when it comes to land registries attached to zoning maps — an approach developed by the Romans and in wide use in much of the developed world since the 1800s.

But not in Greece. Here the extent of disputed land is enormous, experts say.

“If you calculated the total deeds that are registered,” said Dimitris Kaloudiotis, an engineer who took over as president of the national land registry authority last month, “the country would be twice as big as it is.”

Some experts wonder whether there is really the political will to sort things out. An army of lawyers, engineers and architects make their livings through the constant haggling over landownership and what kind of development is possible where. And the lack of zoning maps has proved profitable for some. Researchers, for instance, have found that enormous stretches of protected forest land have been developed in recent years after wildfires cleared the land.

Spyros Skouras, an economist at the Athens University of Economics and Business, who found that the fires increased significantly during election years, says that settling land issues once and for all is difficult politically. “Any government that locks in an outcome will disappoint someone, and no government has wanted to take responsibility.”

Land disputes are less acute in urban centers, where sidewalks, streets and building walls help clarify boundaries. But in the countryside, deeds reflect another era. Boundaries can be the “three olive trees near the well” or the spot “where you can hear a donkey on the path.”

“You had guys who had never been to school — who had 100 sheep — and they would throw a rock a certain distance and say: O.K., that’s mine,” said Mr. Hamodrakas, who in addition to his own problems has handled many landownership cases for clients. “The documents might say ‘from the tree to the stream.’ It is very hard to know what they are talking about.”

His own dispute, he said, arises from the language related to a sale that took place long ago. “The papers say that my great-grandfather bought ‘the threshing floor and the land around it.’ ” But did that mean 50 feet around the threshing floor or 5,000?

In general, experts say, Greeks are remarkably at ease with a level of irregularity when it comes to real estate. Stelios Patsoumas, an architect in Athens, says that most houses there run afoul of regulations. The building laws are so tangled, contradictory and outdated that it is virtually impossible to build without violating one regulation or another. Recently, for instance, he said he was asked to build a summer camp for children. The law demanded that the toilet facilities be 50 yards away from the sleeping quarters, a relic from the days of outhouses.

Most people involved in the real estate business say this state of affairs is rooted in the country’s tangled history. Greece has weathered a long series of occupations and wars, as well as waves of emigration or migration within the country toward the cities. This means that land was widely abandoned, at least for a time. One of the problems in determining who owns what is that in many cases, use of the land for 20 years entitles you to ownership.

Greece’s creditors — the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank — have made it clear that they want the development of a land registry and a zoning map, called a cadastre, sped up. International experts have been visiting Greece in the past year, offering advice.

They concluded that the most recent setbacks stemmed from a very poor tendering process, which resulted in expensive and inefficient contracts. Julius Ernst, one of the experts from Austria who participated in a fact-finding mission, said the government had not been clear enough in defining what it wanted done and how. “There has been a lot of money spent, and no one knows where it went,” Mr. Ernst said.

The goal now is to finish by 2020, though Greek officials call this optimistic. In the end, they said, Greece will probably spend $1.5 billion straightening things out.

The only parts of Greece that have had a land registry and cadastre are the Dodecanese Islands, because they were occupied by the Italians from 1912 to the end of World War II. Land use on the islands, which include Rhodes and Kos, is still guided by Italian law.

But there are problems even there. The cadastre maps have never been updated. Lots include beachfront that has long since eroded and paths, once used by donkeys, that have long since disappeared. Nevertheless, residents say they are grateful for the registry, which still includes the gigantic green books the Italians used to log deeds.

“You have to understand,” said Afroditi Billiri, a lawyer who works on Kos and handles many land issues. “This is cutting edge compared to the rest of Greece.”

Dimitris Bounias contributed reporting.


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« Reply #6607 on: May 27, 2013, 08:05 AM »


Serbian mourners flock to King Petar Karadjordjevic reburial

Reburial of former king and other members of Yugoslavian royal family takes place decades after their deaths in exile

Reuters in Topola
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 26 May 2013 19.45 BST   

Hundreds of mourners attended the reburial on Sunday of the former king Petar II Karadjordjevic and other members of the deposed Yugoslavian royal family, decades after their deaths in exile.

Serbian leaders attended the event – seen as an important act of national reconciliation – at the Oplenac royal chapel in the southwestern town of Topola.

The bodies of Petar, his wife Queen Aleksandra, mother Queen Maria and brother Prince Andrej, had been exhumed from cemeteries in the US, Britain and Greece.

The four coffins were draped in Serbian royal flags and escorted by Serb army guardsmen.

Petar succeeded his father King Aleksandar in 1934, who was assassinated in Marseilles, France, by Croatian and Bulgarian nationalists.

After Nazi Germany invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941, Petar fled the country and spent the most of the second world war in exile in Britain. After the war, Petar was proclaimed a traitor by the communists, who abolished the monarchy.

His property was confiscated and he remained exiled until his death in the US in 1970.

Among those attending the state funeral were the Serbian president, Tomislav Nikolic, Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, Patriarch Irinej and the head of Serb Orthodox church.

The ceremony was an act of reconciliation between those Serbs who supported the royal family during the second world war and those who backed the communist forces.

Tens of thousands died in Serbia between 1941 and 1945 in a civil war between royalist guerrillas and communist partisans who also fought the German occupiers. The two camps are still at odds.

"More Serbs were killed by the Serbian hand than by the hand of the occupier," Nikolic said in a eulogy. "We cannot, we must not allow divisions and injustice anymore."

After the war, royalist supporters were killed or persecuted by the government of Josip Broz Tito.

Petar's son, Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, and his family were allowed to return to Serbia in mid-1990s by Slobodan Milosevic as Yugoslavia disintegrated .

"This funeral was the fulfilment of historic justice. They had to be brought home," said Zoran Kotarac, a mourner from the village of Slankamen, north of Belgrade.


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« Reply #6608 on: May 27, 2013, 08:16 AM »

Scientists: The moon likely holds undiscovered alien materials

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, May 26, 2013 16:27 EDT

Minerals found in craters on the Moon may be remnants of asteroids that slammed into it and not, as long believed, the satellite’s innards exposed by such impacts, a study said Sunday.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, cast doubt on the little we knew of what the Moon is actually composed of.

It had long been thought that meteoroids vaporise on impact with large celestial bodies.

Unusual minerals like spinel and olivine found in many lunar craters, but rarely on the Moon’s surface, were therefore attributed to the excavation of sub-surface lunar layers by asteroid hits.

Olivine and spinel are common components of asteroids and meteorites, and have been found on the floors and around the central peaks of lunar craters like Copernicus, Theophilus and Tycho that are around 100 kilometres (63 miles) in diameter.

A team from China and the United States simulated the formation of Moon craters and found that at impact velocities under 12 kilometres per second a projectile may survive the impact, though fragmented and deformed.

“We conclude that some unusual minerals observed in the central peaks of many lunar impact craters could be exogenic (external) in origin and may not be indigenous to the Moon,” they wrote.

Co-author Jay Melosh from Purdue University in Indiana, said the finding answers the conundrum exposed by earlier studies which said craters the size of Copernicus were not big enough to have dredged up the contents of the Moon’s deep, interior mantle.

“It also warns planetary scientists not to use the composition of the central peaks of craters as a guide to the interior of the Moon, whose dominant mineral might not be olivine,” he told AFP.

On Earth, spinel and olivine create rare gemstones like peridot.

In an article commenting on the study, Erik Asphaug of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, said the theory meant that material excavated from Earth by large impacts during the planet’s early days may still be found on the Moon.

The scattered material was known to have hit the Moon at velocities as slow as 2 km/s and should have survived, if the study’s assumptions are correct.

This suggested yet another explanation for the existence of spinels on the Moon, said Asphaug: They came from Earth.

“Even more provocative is the suggestion that we might someday find Earth’s protobiological materials, no longer available on our geologically active and repeatedly recycled planet, in dry storage up in the lunar ‘attic’.

“Certainly, the potential of finding early Earth material is emerging as one of the primary motivations for a return to the Moon by human astronauts in our ongoing search for the origin of life.”

Unlike the Earth’s crust, which is repeatedly recycled through the process of plate tectonics, the Moon’s hard crust dates back billions of years, offering clues to the formation of the solar system, including Earth.


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« Reply #6609 on: May 27, 2013, 08:28 AM »

In the USA...

Republicans Push the Agenda of the Economically Fittest Exterminating the Poor

By: Rmuse
May. 26th, 2013
PoliticusUSA

In the natural world, beings that are weak and unable to care for themselves are cleansed from existence either through starvation, sickness, or inability to protect themselves or escape predators, and it is best defined by the phrase “survival of the fittest.” Human beings are fortunate in that most of them possess an innate moral drive to assist those unable to care for themselves, and most governments have set in place programs to ensure no citizen will perish because they lack basic necessities of life. There was a government in Europe in the 20th century that instituted a policy of killing off what they considered “defective” human beings, and after the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler’s “Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens”  (destruction of life not worthy of life) may be one of the most inhumane practices of the 20th century. Eugenics, whose prime idea was that only genetically ‘suitable’ people should be allowed to live and procreate, has been adopted and tweaked by the Republican Party and their “unsuitable” people are the 47% that Willard Romney complained are parasites he could never teach to take responsibility for their existence.

Within Romney and Republicans 47% of undesirables are senior citizens, poverty-stricken children, and the working poor who need assistance to survive the GOP’s economic malfeasance, and lacking a government-sanctioned eugenics program, Republicans are attempting to exterminate the 47% by withholding food, housing, and healthcare.  Besides cutting food and housing assistance for the poor, Republicans have attempted to eliminate the Affordable Care Act because it provides healthcare coverage for the poor thus prolonging their lives, so they are depending on their cohort in Republican states to expedite the demise of millions of poor Americans. In about half the states, Republicans are rejecting Medicaid expansion, and according to their inhumane policies, it is the very poor who will never receive medical care, and although it is not outright extermination, it is a way to kill off the “parasites” and cleanse America of what Republicans label “unsuitable for life.”

The conservative Supreme Court gave Republican-controlled states the ability to restrict the poorest Americans from having access to healthcare when they allowed them to reject Medicaid expansion. The states refusing to expand Medicaid leave millions of poor people ineligible for government-subsidized health insurance while many others with slightly higher incomes receive federal subsidies to buy insurance. In states like Texas, Florida, Kansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia, which refuse to expand Medicaid, the opportunity to have healthcare insurance will be unavailable for the neediest people, and more than half of the population without health insurance reside in states that rejected Medicaid expansion. If the people in those states have income up to four times the poverty line ($11,490 to $45,960 a year for an individual) they receive federal tax credits to subsidize buying private health insurance, but millions of Americans below the poverty line will be unable to get tax credits, Medicaid, or any assistance to purchase healthcare insurance. It is a way for Republicans to slowly kill off the undesirable 47% in GOP-controlled states, and the Urban Institute estimated that 5.7 million uninsured Americans with income below the poverty line could gain access to health coverage except they live in Republican states that are not expanding Medicaid.

In Texas, the executive director of an interfaith group, Texas Impact, said that “A lot of people will come in, file applications and find they are not eligible for help because they are too poor. We’ll have to tell them, you are so poor, you cannot get anything.” Another director of an outreach group, Georgians for a Healthy Future, said “Hundreds of thousands of people with incomes below the poverty level would be eligible for Medicaid if the state moved forward with the expansion of Medicaid. As things now stand, they will not be eligible for anything. What do we do for them? What do we tell them?” Why not tell them the truth that Republicans want them sick and dead, and without a government-sponsored eugenics-type program in place, the next best thing is withholding access to medical care to accompany withholding food assistance.

A Louisiana director of a primary care organization explained that in his state “If the breadwinner in a family of four works full time at a job that pays $14 an hour, he or she will be eligible for insurance subsidies. But if they make $10 an hour, they will not be eligible for anything.” It explains the Republicans’ refusal to consider raising the minimum wage, and why they want to eliminate overtime pay; because if they can prevent the working poor from qualifying for tax credits to buy health insurance, they can deny giving them any healthcare assistance because they don’t make enough money.  Bruce Lesley, president of a child advocacy group, First Focus, said “Trying to explain that will be a nightmare,” but he can tell poor children and their parents that it is Republicans’ form of eugenics and maybe convince them that slow death from lack of healthcare is better than being herded into gas chambers.

Republicans hate any American that is not in the 1-2% of the richest income earners, but they cannot tolerate the 47% of Americans they consider a drag on the wealthy. It is true that killing off 5.7 million poverty-level Americans will not make a huge dent in the 47-percents’ numbers, but it is a nice start in eradicating what Republicans call parasites and takers, and they are likely disappointed it is a slow method of exterminating the poor, but it is a death sentence all the same. Republicans cannot claim their refusal to expand Medicaid is a fiscal decision because it will not cost their states one penny until 2017 and then their share is only 10% of the cost of expansion. The people that do earn enough over the poverty level to qualify for assistance should not breathe easy because Republican-controlled states are cutting their wages, robbing pensions, and passing “right to work” for less laws that inform they are in jeopardy of falling into poverty and joining the 5.7 million Americans slated for slow death from lack of healthcare and it includes retired Americans, working poor families, and those who earn enough to receive tax credits to purchase healthcare insurance.

Republicans in Congress have attempted to assist their state-level cohorts in their slow-death eugenics programs for the past two years with their persistent calls for giving states block grants for healthcare, food stamps, and housing assistance and allowing Republican governors and legislatures to use the federal funds as they see fit which is usually more tax cuts for the rich and corporations.  It is why high-value corporate donors are pouring money into campaign coffers to elect more Republican governors and state legislatures, because what they cannot accomplish at the federal level, they will achieve in the states as evidence by Republican-controlled states refusing to expand Medicaid as well as cutting every other type of assistance for the 47%.

The idea of killing off poverty level Americans is universally adopted by Republicans, and they have made little secret that denying assistance to the poorest Americans is their raison d’être whether it is wages, healthcare, food stamps, or eliminating Social Security. The 47% have always been a thorn in Republicans’ sides because in their warped minds, any assistance, whether federal or state, is better spent on the rich and their corporations and since they cannot just exterminate the poorest Americans outright, they will deny them food, housing, and basic health care. It may take a generation for Republicans to eliminate 5.7 million poverty level Americans, but at least they will have thinned their ranks and unlike in nature, it is not survival of the fittest, but the economically fittest exterminating the poor.

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

May 26, 2013

Partisan Gridlock Thwarts Effort to Alter Health Law

By JONATHAN WEISMAN and ROBERT PEAR
NYT

WASHINGTON — When he talks to Republicans in Congress, Scott DeFife, a restaurant industry lobbyist, speaks their language: President Obama’s health care law is a train wreck well down the track. There will be collateral damage if changes are not made. Friends of the industry cannot sit back and let that happen.

Speaking to Democrats, he puts on his empathy hat: The Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. Its goal of universal insurance coverage is laudable, but its unintended consequences will hurt the cause.

Almost no law as sprawling and consequential as the Affordable Care Act has passed without changes — significant structural changes or routine tweaks known as “technical corrections” — in subsequent months and years. The Children’s Health Insurance Program, for example, was fixed in the first months after its passage in 1997.

But as they prowl Capitol Hill, business lobbyists like Mr. DeFife, health care providers and others seeking changes are finding, to their dismay, that in a polarized Congress, accomplishing them has become all but impossible.

Republicans simply want to see the entire law go away and will not take part in adjusting it. Democrats are petrified of reopening a politically charged law that threatens to derail careers as the Republicans once again seize on it before an election year.

As a result, a landmark law that almost everyone agrees has flaws is likely to take effect unchanged.

“I don’t think it can be fixed,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said in an interview. “Everything is interconnected, 2,700 pages of statute, 20,000 pages of regulations so far. The only solution is to repeal it, root and branch.”

Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and one of the law’s primary authors, said: “I’m not sure we’re going to get to the point where it’s time to open the bill and make some changes. Once you start, it’s Pandora’s box.”

As the clock ticks toward 2014, when the law will be fully in effect, some businesses say that without changes, it may be their undoing.

“Are we really going to put the private sector in a situation where there’s a real potential mess for posturing points?” Mr. DeFife asked.

This is not the usual way ambitious laws are carried out, but given the politics of the Affordable Care Act, “we cannot use any of the normal tools to resolve ambiguities or fix problems,” said Sara Rosenbaum, a professor of health law and policy at George Washington University.

The enactment of Medicare in 1965 was followed by changes in 1967, and again in 1972. In November 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed a landmark immigration bill that offered legal status to many unauthorized immigrants. Two years later, Congress made dozens of “technical corrections.”

The Social Security Act of 1935 was followed by the family protection program of 1939, which clarified that benefits could be claimed not just by retirees but also by dependents and survivors of covered workers.

Three years after the Affordable Care Act was enacted, an extensive list of possible fixes and clarifications has piled up. For example, Families USA, a liberal advocacy group and strong supporter of the law, would like to see more money to pay for “navigators” to help enroll the uninsured in the new health care marketplaces.

One provision of the statute allows low-income workers to opt out of employer-sponsored care — and into federally subsidized exchanges — if their share of the premium for workplace insurance tops 9.5 percent of household income. But that is calculated based on the individual worker’s costs, not the total family’s costs, said Ronald F. Pollack, the executive director of Families USA. It is a “glitch,” he said, that should easily be fixed.

But it will not be, lawmakers and lobbyists say. “I don’t believe in this Congress, anything of real substance is likely to be passed,” Mr. Pollack said.

Senators Richard M. Burr of North Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine, both Republicans, are trying to modify the law, to make it easier for small and midsize businesses to comply.

“Listen, this is statute,” Mr. Burr said with a tone of exasperation. “The president’s not going to sign a repeal bill. I think it’s prudent to try” to make changes.

But they are facing the same hands-over-the-ears reluctance that business lobbyists and others are finding. The last consideration of the health care law came on May 16, when the House voted to repeal it, the 37th time the House has voted to do so. Those bills have died in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.

A coalition of large retailers, restaurant chains and temporary staffing companies, along with their powerful Washington trade associations, says it accepts the pillars of the law. But the group, calling itself Employers for Flexibility in Health Care, or E-Flex, is pressing for significant changes.

The law’s definition of a full-time worker has to be raised from someone working 30 hours a week, E-Flex says, noting that restaurants, retailers and other businesses are already looking at cutting many employees’ hours to 29 to avoid having to offer the health care coverage mandated by the law. The group wants the definition raised to 40 hours. They also say that the definition of a large employer — with all that entails for the requirements for health insurance — needs to rise from 50 full-time employees or “full-time equivalents,” which could be a combination of several part-time workers.

They would also like a grace period into 2014 to comply with the law before penalties are assessed for not offering insurance that comports with the law’s mandates. And they want Congress to drop a provision requiring the automatic enrollment of new employees into a health care plan for any company with more than 200 full-time workers.

“Key definitions in the law must be changed,” Marshall L. Conrad, chairman of Libby Hill Seafood Restaurants in Greensboro, N.C., pleaded at a recent Congressional hearing.

Health insurers are focused on another goal: repealing a new tax on insurance companies that takes effect next year. The tax is expected to raise more than $100 billion over 10 years. Insurers say the cost will be passed on to consumers and businesses in the form of higher premiums.

Concerns over the law’s fine print are shared even among some of its architects. As the Affordable Care Act neared completion, the Obama administration and some Democrats in Congress drafted a proposed compromise to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions and smooth rough edges. Under that version, the marketplaces that people would be able to use next year to buy insurance, often at subsidized rates, were going to be national in scope, not state by state.

A provision that takes back subsidies if someone’s income rises in a year was going to be softened. According to a former White House official involved in the drafting, Democrats debated the 50-employee definition for large businesses and were open to additional flexibility for seasonal workers and teenage employees.

That all disappeared when Massachusetts elected Scott Brown to the Senate in January 2010. The Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority. House Democratic leaders saw no alternative but to accept the Senate-passed bill as written, with some changes to follow in a hastily drafted bill that passed under rules that prohibited a filibuster.

As a result, a back-room conference, where changes could be considered in private, never happened. Consequently, said E. Neil Trautwein, a health care lobbyist for the National Retail Federation, “the edges don’t quite line up.”

“We’re beyond caring who provides employer relief at this point,” he said. “We just want the relief.”

The obstacles are huge, beginning, Republicans say, with President Obama, who has publicly said employers face no significant problems carrying out the legislation.

“For the 85 to 90 percent of Americans who already have health insurance, this thing has already happened, and their only impact is that their insurance is stronger, better, more secure than it was before. Full stop. That’s it. They don’t have to worry about anything else,” the president told reporters last month.

Many pro-business Republicans appear no more receptive. Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia, acknowledged the push to change the 30-hour rule for full-time workers and the 50-employee threshold for large businesses. But he said raising the hour cutoff to 35 would anger some other groups of employers.

“The reality of the ACA being on the doorstep of becoming law is it’s going to begin collapsing under its own weight,” Mr. Isakson said. “I’m not so sure there’s enough individual fixes to make the law more manageable.”

***********

May 27, 2013 08:00 AM

Protests Grow In NC Against Hard Right Turn

By Tom Sullivan
CrooksAndLiars

A century and a half after the Civil War ended, the GOP-dominated North Carolina legislature is finishing the destruction Gen. Sherman’s troops never got to visit upon Raleigh, NC. Over 150 people have been arrested at the Legislative Building in four weeks of protests led by the NAACP. A crowd of 600 gathered last week for the latest Moral Mondays protest against a flood of conservative legislation targeting the poor and minority voters.

A few short years after Barack Obama won the state’s electoral votes, Republicans are firmly in control of the legislature and the Governor's Mansion. They are busily unmaking the American Century in what has been one of the South's most progressive states. The Washington Post calls it “a sweeping conservative agenda”:

    Legislators have slashed jobless benefits. They have also repealed a tax credit that supplemented the wages of low-income people, while moving to eliminate the estate tax. They have voted against expanding Medicaid to comply with the 2010 federal health-care law. The expansion would have added 500,000 poor North Carolinians to the Medicaid rolls.

In blocking the Medicaid expansion, Governor Pat McCrory’s written statement said, “Before considering Medicaid expansion, we must reform the current system to make sure people currently enrolled receive the services they need and more taxpayer dollars are not put at risk.” Leaving half a million of his constituents at risk? No problemo.

    The North Carolina House has passed a law requiring voters to have a government-issued identification card, and legislators are considering bills to roll back the state’s law allowing same-day voter registration and to sharply limit early voting — measures that supporters of the current law say were integral to the high turnout of minority voters in the past several elections.

The Voter Information Verification Act (VIVA) – the Republicans’ premier voter ID bill – is still pending in the North Carolina senate. Which of the proposed voting restrictions will make it into the final bill that reaches McCrory’s desk is anybody’s guess. Those that do will then have to survive the inevitable court challenges based on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act if Section 5 itself survives Supreme Court review this spring.

This, even as proponents seek to re-erect the kind of barriers to minority voting that existed under Jim Crow. Advocates for the new voting measures argue that the broad anti-discrimination measures in the Voting Rights Act are "outdated in light of racial progress" in the South and no longer needed. The Republican National Committee made similar arguments when it last year in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia to lift a 30 year-old agreement restricting it from engaging in improper election tactics aimed at minority voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. Reuters reported:

    The agreement dates to 1982, when the Republican National Committee settled a lawsuit brought by the Democratic National Committee accusing the GOP of trying to intimidate minority voters in New Jersey. Under the agreement, the Republican National Committee must obtain court approval before implementing certain poll-monitoring activities in minority precincts.

Among the alleged activities that prompted the original lawsuit: creating voter caging lists and hiring off-duty law enforcement officers to stand outside polling places in minority precincts wearing “National Ballot Security Task Force” armbands, some bearing visible firearms. [Emphasis added.]

    "If the RNC does not hope to engage in conduct that would violate the Decree, it is puzzling that the RNC is pursuing vacatur so vigorously," Judge Joseph Greenaway wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel.

The RNC had argued that "the risk of voter fraud outweighs the risk of voter suppression." Neither the New Jersey district court nor the 3rd Circuit were buying it. Plus, the appeal provided the RNC with a rare opportunity to present persuasive evidence in federal court that voter fraud was a significant problem necessitating the sort of voting restrictions now being erected in places such as North Carolina. It failed to do so.



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« Last Edit: May 27, 2013, 09:44 AM by Rad » Logged
Steve
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« Reply #6610 on: May 27, 2013, 02:24 PM »

It's Memorial Day in the USA, a day to honor soldiers who died, ostensibly to preserve freedom.  Taking this space for a small piece of editorializing, which is expressed quite eloquently by a blogger:
cab drollery
A place for a tired old woman to try to figure things out so that the world makes a bit of sense.
http://cabdrollery.blogspot.com/2013/05/happy-memorial-day.html

*************************************
Happy Memorial Day

It's Memorial Day, a day in which we remember and honor those men and women who died in the military service of this country.  It's a day I mourn my brother who died of Alzheimer's hastened by the chemical exposures he sustained in Viet Nam.  It's a day in which other families mourn the deaths of their lost soldiers, some dying as recently as a week or so ago.

And for what?

To say they died to preserve our democracy just doesn't cut it with me anymore.  The last ten years I've come to realize that what my brother and others died for was to keep the 1% fat and happy and, unfortunately, in control.

That democracy has been sold to the highest bidders, from the White House right on down to the local dog catchers.  Our Congress can't get even the tiniest bit of gun control passed, although an overwhelming majority of Americans want at the very least background checks for those who would purchase guns.  Our president has continued the shredding of those rights guaranteed by the Constitution carried out by his predecessors.  And our courts have tilted, nay careened, to the right to protect corporate interests to the detriment of we-the-people.

And I don't see an end to any of that.

So I mourn.
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« Reply #6611 on: May 28, 2013, 05:51 AM »

In Pig Putin's Russia

May 28, 2013

Pussy Riot Member on Hunger Strike Hospitalized

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

MOSCOW — A jailed member of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot was hospitalized Tuesday on the seventh day of a hunger strike to protest what she calls a persecution campaign against her.

Maria Alekhina was transferred to a hospital in her prison colony in the Ural Mountains town of Berezniki, Pyotr Verzilov, who visited the colony Tuesday, told The Associated Press. He is the husband of one of her band mates.

Alekhina went on a hunger strike last Wednesday after she was barred from attending her own parole hearing. The court, which is across the street from the colony, denied her release.

Three members of the band — Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich — were convicted last year of "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" for an impromptu punk protest against Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral and given two-year sentences.

Samutsevich was later released on appeal. Last month a court in the Mordovia province denied parole to Tolokonnikova, who is married to Verzilov.

In a letter dated Monday and published by her lawyers, Alekhina said prison officials were attempting to turn fellow inmates against her by holding a security crackdown in advance of the parole hearing.

Inmates could previously enter and leave their workplace freely, but now they have to wait for prison guards to escort them for up to an hour, Alekhina's lawyer Irina Khrunova said. The wait denies them prompt medical care for injuries they sustain at work sewing uniforms, she added.

Alekhina earlier spent five months in solitary confinement after claiming that officials deliberately lodged her with hardened criminals, including a convicted murderer, and encouraged them to intimidate her.

In a complaint filed in January, Khrunova wrote that officials did nothing after seeing criminals threaten Alekhina with violence. The lawyer said officials also wrote false psychiatric reports and pushed Alekhina into violating colony rules.

Judges have recently lifted several reprimands that officials filed against Alekhina.


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« Reply #6612 on: May 28, 2013, 05:54 AM »

UK forces EU to lift embargo on Syria rebel arms

Uncertainty surrounding European sanctions as Britain claims victory after day of acrimonious negotiations

Ian Traynor in Brussels
The Guardian, Tuesday 28 May 2013   

Europe's sanctions regime against Syria was plunged into uncertainty after Britain, backed by France, forced a lifting of the EU arms embargo on what it identifies as the moderate opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

Britain claimed victory in a long day of acrimonious negotiations, winning an easing of the arms embargo. The vast majority of EU states opposed the shift, but assented in order to preserve a semblance of unified policy.

A meeting of EU foreign ministers descended into recrimination with a vast majority against lifting the arms embargo, but William Hague, the foreign secretary, blocked a compromise deal. Austria, the biggest opponent of the British aim, reacted bitterly, stating that the EU negotiations had collapsed and that the Europe-wide sanctions regime would collapse at midnight on Friday.

Hague sounded satisfied, however, although others said 25 of 27 EU governments opposed the Anglo-French policy.

"EU nations agreed to bring the arms embargo on the Syrian opposition to an end. This was the outcome that the United Kingdom wanted. It was a difficult decision for some countries but it was necessary and right to reinforce international efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria," Hague said.

By contrast, the Austrian vice-chancellor and foreign minister, Michael Spindelegger, said the talks "have failed … I'm a little annoyed … It's regrettable that we have found no common position."

He added that France joined Britain in demanding a lifting of the arms embargo, but that the other 25 were opposed.

The Dutch said that only two EU countries were thinking of supplying arms to Syria, meaning the UK and France. There was also agreement that Britain would not begin to deliver arms to the Syrian opposition before August, in order to gauge what might happen at the internationally sponsored peace talks in Geneva mooted for next month, although there is no certainty whether they will take place.

The long day of negotiations between the EU's 27 foreign ministers saw Britain and France opposing plans to shelve a decision on arming the opposition until August, while Austria and the Czech Republic spearheaded the opposition to the Anglo-French push, with the Czechs supporting the Israeli line against sending arms to Syria and the Austrians alarmed at the impact on their UN peacekeeping mission in the Golan Heights between Syria and Israel.

Spindelegger said that Vienna would now have to reconsider its deployment on Golan. A withdrawal could see an Israeli rush to fill the UN vacuum, ratcheting up the tension in the region.

Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said Paris supported a decision that would maintain an EU consensus, but would allow "the rebels to have the necessary arms and that the arms could be monitored".

The foreign secretary, William Hague, joined the French in arguing that supplying arms to "moderate" opposition forces would lead to less killing in Syria. Others argued the opposite, that arms supplies would only escalate the conflict.

Several countries – notably Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden – opposed the decision for fear that weapons might fall into the hands of Islamic extremist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra. Germany has been trying to fashion a compromise.

Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, said he would try to "build bridges", but consensus was elusive with participants delivering contradictory statements. Both Westerwelle and Hague had warned the EU could fail to agree a common position on the sanctions package, which was to expire automatically on Friday.

It appeared that Britain and France had received a green light to go ahead with supplying arms to the Syrian rebels. They have been pressing for a partial lifting of the arms embargo to the moderate sections of the Syrian opposition since last November. Hague has argued that lifting the arms embargo would complement, rather than contradict, a peace process since a militarily strengthened Syrian opposition can force the Syrian president, Assad, to the negotiating table.

Fabius returned early to Paris to meet John Kerry, the US secretary of state, and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, to try to organise Syrian peace talks in Geneva next month. No date has been set for the talks. It is not clear who will attend.

In Brussels, Turkey's foreign minister voiced strong support for the Anglo-French position. But last week in the US, Ankara was strongly rebuffed in its hawkish position against Assad by the White House.

Oxfam's head of arms control, Anna Macdonald, said: "Allowing the EU arms embargo to end could have devastating consequences. There are no easy answers when trying to stop the bloodshed in Syria, but sending more arms and ammunition clearly isn't one of them.

"Transferring more weapons to Syria can only exacerbate a hellish scenario for civilians. If the UK and France are to live up to their own commitments – including those set out in the new arms trade treaty – they simply must not send weapons to Syria."

The UK-French attempt to lift the arms embargo has not been made any easier by the continued lack of unity within the rebel movement. Talks failed on Sunday to end a factional dispute over proposals to dilute Qatar's influence on rebel forces, with Saudi Arabia angling to play a greater role now that Iranian-backed Hezbollah is openly fighting for Assad.

The dispute over how to respond to the civil war in Syria has exposed deep divisions in Europe. Senior European officials say much of the debate is "hypocritical" because some of the countries calling for a lifting of the embargo do not have the weapons to deliver or have no intention of taking part. They also point out that the White House and the State Department appear to be similarly split between hawks and doves.

*********

Syria medics treat hundreds of rebels for 'symptoms of chemical exposure'

Detailed account of Syria conflict include claims that suggest chemicals and toxic gases have been used on battlefields

Martin Chulov in Beirut and Julian Borger   
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 28 May 2013   

Medics working in six rebel-held districts near Damascus have treated several hundred fighters for symptoms of chemical exposure since March, a detailed investigation has found, adding fresh impetus to claims the Syrian regime has resorted to the banned weapons.

A reporter from the French newspaper Le Monde who spent two months with rebel groups on the edge of the Syrian capital claims to have witnessed chemical attacks and to have seen numerous victims at various stages of exposure.

The first-hand account, which includes interviews with medics, rebel leaders and patients, is the most-detailed yet among a range of claims that suggest chemicals and or gases have been used on numerous Syrian battlefields.

The report was immediately seized on by the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, who on Monday said: "There is increasingly strong evidence of localised use of chemical weapons [in Syria]. That must all be verified. We are consulting with our partners to see what concrete consequences that we are going to draw from this."

Britain, the US and Israel have also alleged to have evidence of chemical use. Le Monde blames regime forces for their use. That assessment is shared by all three countries, whose officials say they are still studying earlier findings, which have been based on blood and soil samples taken from the site of the alleged attacks.

Le Monde's account is supported by video of apparent victims being treated and reports of a dispensing device – a 20cm cylinder that allegedly releases a gas soon after hitting the ground.
Laurent Fabius, French foreign affairs minister The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, says there is strong evidence of localised use of chemical weapons in Syria. Photograph: Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty

Barack Obama last year said that proven use of Bashar al-Assad regime's large stockpiles of chemical weapons, which include sarin and mustard gas, would change the US response to the violence in Syria. Obama has shifted uncomfortably since the first allegations of chemical use were levelled at Damascus. The US position has so far been to resist calls to become directly involved in Syria, instead indirectly backing efforts by allies Qatar and Saudi Arabia to support some rebel groups.

Regime officials had blamed rebel groups for an alleged chemical attack in Khan al-Assel, an Aleppo suburb, in March and demanded a UN inquiry into the incident. The UN agreed and formed a taskforce, which it insisted should also investigate other alleged attacks, particularly around Damascus. The investigators, led by Swedish weapons expert, Åke Sellström, have not been allowed into Syria and have since been examining evidence collected by intelligence agencies, including MI6.

Sellström has visited the UK three times since the inquiry was launched in March and analysed the samples collected by British intelligence, including blood samples from victims. He has also visited US facilities and looked at separate samples collected by the CIA, said a UK official.

The official acknowledged the standard of proof required by the Sellström investigation would probably require inspectors to visit Syria, but that he has so far not been able to agree the terms with Damascus.

"We are really in the realm of speculation on why Assad is risking the use of chemical weapons," the official said. "It possible that local commanders are finding it an effective tactical weapon to clear whole areas of rebels without much international response."

Western officials believe military commanders would use such weapons without direction from senior regime officials. They assess that the alleged attacks are small in scale and fit no regular pattern.

"They are testing boundaries, calling our bluff," said one diplomat. "So far they have called it successfully."
Qusair The battle for Qusair, near Homs, is one of the most crucial. Photograph: Reuters

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Syria the battle for Qusair near the border with Lebanon continued to rage on Monday, with Hezbollah forces advancing slowly from the south, but continuing to take heavy casualties. Officials close to the Islamic Dawa party in Lebanon suggested to Lebanese media that between 79-110 Hezbollah militants had been killed in Qusair in the past eight days.

Syrian regime forces are stationed to the north and east of the city, which is on the strategically vital road between Damascus and Homs, and are also moving slowly towards the centre. Rebel reinforcements are trying to reach Qusair from Aleppo and Idlib, led mainly by the Liwa al-Tawheed Brigade, whose commander, Haji Mara, is spearheading a resupply effort.

The battle for Qusair is one of the most crucial yet in Syria's civil war, which is now into its third year. A regime victory would deny rebel groups a vital supply line to Lebanon. A rebel win would cut off the regime supply line from Homs to Damascus.

Hezbollah's now public role in Syria has sharply heightened sectarian tensions in Lebanon. A mortar was fired from southern Lebanon into Israel early on Monday, one day after two rockets hit a Shia suburb of south Beirut.



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« Reply #6613 on: May 28, 2013, 06:09 AM »


EU exit would put US trade deal at risk, Britain warned

Obama officials say that the UK would probably be excluded from a trade agreement worth billions a year if it leaves the EU

Julian Borger, Diplomatic editor
guardian.co.uk, Monday 27 May 2013 16.10 BST   

The Obama administration has warned British officials that if the UK leaves Europe it will exclude itself from a US-EU trade and investment partnership potentially worth hundreds of billions of pounds a year, and that it was very unlikely that Washington would make a separate deal with Britain.

The warning comes in the wake of David Cameron's visit to Washington, which was primarily intended as a joint promotion of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Barack Obama, which the prime minister said could bring £10bn a year to the UK alone, but which was overshadowed by a cabinet rebellion back in London.

The threat by Cameron's ministers to back a UK exit in a referendum on the EU raised doubts in Washington on whether Britain would still be part of the deal once it had been negotiated. More immediately, Obama administration officials were concerned that the uncertainty over Britain's future would further complicate what is already a hard sell in Congress, threatening a central pledge in the president's State of the Union address in February.

With formal negotiations expected to start within weeks, the state department already has hundreds of staff working on the partnership. Sources at US-UK meetings in London last week said American officials made it clear that it would take a monumental effort to get TTIP through a suspicious Congress and that "there would very little appetite" in Washington to do it all again with the UK if Britain walked out of Europe.

"Having Britain in the EU … is going to strengthen the possibility that we succeed in a very difficult negotiation, as it involves so many different interests and having Britain as a key player and pushing for this will be important," a senior US official said. "We have expressed our views of Britain's role in the EU and they haven't changed. TTIP negotiations underscore why we think it's important that it continues."

US officials say that the White House is particularly perplexed because Britain played a key role in persuading Obama to stake significant political capital on the ambitious transatlantic partnership. If it is successful it could be the biggest trade and investment deal in history, encompassing half the world's GDP and a third of its trade.

On both sides of the Atlantic there is hope that the boost provided by removing remaining barriers to US-EU trade and investment — worth about $1bn (£660m) and $4bn respectively – would help lift the west, and then the global economy, out of the doldrums. Writing in the US press this year, the British ambassador to Washington, Sir Peter Westmacott, said "a bold and comprehensive deal could be worth 1%-2% in additional GDP on both sides of the Atlantic. Even a 1% bump would translate, at current GDP levels, into an extra $325bn." He added that the UK shared the Obama administration's optimism that it could be completed in less than two years.

Addressing the Senate last week, the US under-secretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, Robert Hormats, said the TTIP "is, in many respects, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape our relationship with the European Union". Hormats added it "will enhance our ability to build stronger relationships with emerging economies in Asia and elsewhere around the world".

Both European and American officials involved in preparatory talks on the partnership said that it was also intended as a bulwark against the economic challenge of China, aimed at forming a bloc powerful enough to lay down the rules of international trade and investment.

They pointed to the fact that Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan flew to Washington this month specifically to try to persuade Obama to include his country in negotiations. Officials said this was a reflection of the gravitational pull the partnership could exert on the rest of the world.

Gary Hufbauer, a former US Treasury official now a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said that the administration's hopes to complete a far-reaching partnership in Obama's term may be over-optimistic and would be torpedoed altogether by a British exit from the EU.

"If the UK separates from the EU, I think will go a long way to derail the TTIP project entirely," Hufbauer said. "There would be a lot of questions raised. The administration has many battles ahead of it. It will add another layer of confusion on an already confused picture, and there will be lots of commercial concerns in the US [from those who] have had their eye on the UK markets."

The TTIP will aim to remove the relatively low tariffs of about 3% to 5% between the US and Europe, but its greatest impact will be felt in promoting investment in both directions largely by the convergence of regulations on either side of the Atlantic. One of the greatest potential advantages for the EU would be the opening up of tenders at the US state level to European suppliers. But in return, Europe would have to give up existing protections on its agriculture, film industry and public services.
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« Reply #6614 on: May 28, 2013, 06:13 AM »

European authorities seeing ‘rapid rise’ in use of synthetic psychoactive drugs

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, May 28, 2013 7:45 EDT

New synthetic psychoactive substances are making their way into Europe where the Internet is becoming a big challenge in the fight against illicit drugs, the continent’s drug agency warned Tuesday.

Drug use in Europe remains high even though the consumption of cannabis and cocaine appears to be slowing, as is new heroin use, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said in its annual report.

“New synthetic drugs and patterns of use are appearing, both on the illicit drug market and in the context of non-controlled substances,” the Lisbon-based centre said in its report.

“The Internet presents growing challenges, both as a mechanism for rapid diffusion of new trends and as a burgeoning anonymous marketplace with global reach.”

The centre said more chemical or natural substances were emerging on the market, with 73 new psychoactive substances detected in 2012 — compared to just 49 in 2011 — many of them close to cannabis due to high demand.

“A recent development is an increasing proportion of substances reported that are from less known and more obscure chemical groups,” the report said.

“Many of the products on sale contain mixtures of substances, and the lack of pharmacological and toxicological data means it is hard to speculate on long term health implications of use.”

Mephedrone, a party drug often called “meow meow” described as a mix between amphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy, is an example of a new drug that has become a sought-after substance on the illicit stimulant market.

“Today’s drug market appears to be… less structured around plant-based substances shipped over long distances to consumer markets in Europe,” the report said.

Altogether, around a quarter of Europe’s adult population has used an illicit drug at some point in their lives.

And while the practice of injecting drugs is slowing, the report says figures show the long-term decline in the number of new HIV diagnoses in Europe could be interrupted as a result of outbreaks among drug users in Greece and Romania.

The report however welcomed that a record number of people — an estimated 1.2 million — had received treatment for illicit drug use in Europe during 2011.
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