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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the USA, the future of the world  (Read 297220 times)
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« Reply #9855 on: Nov 08, 2013, 07:11 AM »


Vietnam may resume firing squads for executions

Country struggles to obtain chemicals needed for lethal injections as 678 people wait on death row

Associated Press in Hanoi
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 09.58 GMT   

Vietnam is considering the resumption of execution by firing squad because of problems getting chemicals for lethal injections, according to state media.

The Laborer newspaper quoted the minister of public security, Tran Dai Quang, asking the national assembly to allow the use of firing squads until the end of 2015, along with execution by lethal injection.

In 2011, the country decided to switch from firing squads to lethal injection on humanitarian grounds, but only seven prisoners have been executed since August after a long delay as it struggled to obtain needed chemicals.

Friday's report quoted several lawmakers as saying the move would relieve pressure on prisons.

There are 678 people on death row in Vietnam, it said.


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« Reply #9856 on: Nov 08, 2013, 07:13 AM »


China arrests man over Communist party office bombing

Former convict Feng Zhijun detained by police after bomb-making materials are found following Taiyuan attack

Associated Press in Beijing
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 08.21 GMT   

Chinese police have arrested an ex-convict suspected of setting off a series of explosions outside Communist party offices in a northern city that killed one person and wounded eight.

Feng Zhijun was apprehended at around 2am on Friday and confessed to the crime, the Shanxi provincial government said in a statement. The 41-year-old had been previously sentenced to nine years in prison for theft, but gave no word on a motive for the blasts.

Bomb-making materials and other evidence were found at Feng's residence, the statement said.

Wednesday's blasts were reminiscent of the kind of revenge attacks occasionally launched by disgruntled citizens in China. Assailants angered at perceived injustices have blown up buses, stabbed officials and attacked schools.

Homemade bombs are often the weapon of choice in such cases because firearms are tightly controlled and very hard to obtain in China.

The bombs that were placed in at least two locations outside the provincial Communist party headquarters in the city of Taiyuan were packed with ball bearings and nails intended to inflict shrapnel wounds.

One of those injured was in a serious condition. The windows of cars and buses were blown out by the blasts.

The attack came during a period of heightened security following a suicide car crash at Tiananmen Gate in Beijing that killed the car's three occupants and two bystanders in what officials called an act of terrorism committed by Muslim militants from western China.

Shanxi, of which Taiyuan is the provincial capital, is a mountainous province west of Beijing in China's coal belt. Demand for coal has created vast fortunes for mine owners, but many in the province still live in severe poverty.


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« Reply #9857 on: Nov 08, 2013, 07:34 AM »


Egypt elections set for spring 2014

Foreign minister Nabil Fahmy says parliamentary voting to take place in February or March, with presidential poll 'early summer'

Reuters in Madrid
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 10.21 GMT   

Parliamentary elections will be held in Egypt between February and March to be followed by a presidential vote in early summer, the Egyptian foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, has said.

The elections will replace the leaders appointed after the army ousted elected president Mohamed Morsi in July. Fahmy's comments on Friday to Reuters in an interview were the most specific timeline announced to date for the end of the transitional government.


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« Reply #9858 on: Nov 08, 2013, 07:35 AM »

November 7, 2013

Rejected Seat on U.N. Panel Is Considered by Jordan

By SOMINI SENGUPTA
IHT

UNITED NATIONS — Jordan is considering seeking the nonpermanent United Nations Security Council seat that Saudi Arabia rejected last month in a pique of anger at the United States, diplomats said Thursday.

The diplomats, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Jordan’s United Nations ambassador, Prince Zeid al-Hussein, was en route to Amman on Thursday night to confer with the country’s top officials about possibly replacing Saudi Arabia on the 15-member Council — the most powerful and prestigious body in the United Nations.

“There are internal discussions taking place” among Arab states about who might replace the Saudis, one diplomat said.

The Saudis have yet to officially notify Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in writing that they have declined membership.

It was unclear whether countries may have to compete for the seat, which was abruptly rejected by Saudi Arabia on Oct. 18, an action that stunned the United Nations and even some Saudi diplomats.

The seat was one of five that had to be filled for two-year terms starting in January. The Saudis had been elected a day earlier, along with Chad, Chile, Lithuania and Nigeria.

It was the first time that any country had rejected one of the 10 nonpermanent Council seats. The five permanent seats are held by Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

The Saudi decision, which could only have been ordered by King Abdullah, reflected his unhappiness over American policy in the Middle East, most notably the embrace of diplomacy in the Syrian conflict and the move toward rapprochement with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s rival.

King Abdullah also was said to be upset over American criticism of the Egyptian military takeover in July that toppled Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist who was that country’s first freely elected president; and with faltering American efforts to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Secretary of State John Kerry visited Saudi Arabia on Monday, seeking to assure the king that the Obama administration and the Saudis shared common objectives in the Middle East.
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« Reply #9859 on: Nov 08, 2013, 07:39 AM »


US loses Unesco voting rights after stopping funds over Palestine decision

Some Americans warn of loss of influence over world culture and education after US misses deadline to pay debt

Associated Press in Paris
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 11.27 GMT   

American influence in culture, science and education around the world took a high-profile blow on Friday after the US automatically lost voting rights at Unesco after missing a crucial deadline to repay its debt to the world's cultural agency.

The US has not paid its dues to the Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in protest over the decision by world governments to make Palestine a Unesco member in 2011. Israel suspended its dues at the same time and also lost voting rights on Friday.

Under Unesco rules, the US had until Friday morning to resume funding or explain itself, or automatically lose its vote. A Unesco official, who was not authorised to speak publicly about the issue, said nothing was received from either the US or Israel.

The suspension of US contributions, which accounted for $80m a year – 22% of Unesco's overall budget – brought the agency to the brink of a financial crisis and forced it to cut or scale back US-led initiatives such as Holocaust education and tsunami research.

Many in Washington are worried that the US will become a toothless Unesco member with a weakened voice in international programmes fighting extremism through education and promoting gender equality and press freedoms.

Some fear that a weaker US presence will lead to growing anti-Israeli sentiment within Unesco, where Arab-led criticism of Israel for territorial reasons has long been an issue.

"We won't be able to have the same clout," said Phyllis Magrab, the Washington-based US national commissioner for Unesco. "In effect, we [now won't] have a full tool box. We're missing our hammer."

The Unesco tension has prompted fresh criticism of US laws that force an automatic funding cutoff for any UN agency with Palestine as a member. The official list of countries that lose their votes was expected to be read aloud on Saturday before the entire Unesco general conference.

Israel's ambassador to Unesco, Nimrod Barkan, told the Associated Press that his country supported the US decision "objecting to the politicisation of Unesco, or any international organisation, with the accession of a non-existing country like Palestine".

Unesco is probably best known for its programme to protect the cultures of the world via its heritage sites, which include the Statue of Liberty and Timbuktu in Mali. But its core mission, as conceived by the US, a co-founder of the agency in 1946, was to be an anti-extremist organisation. It tackles foreign policy issues such as access to clean water, teaches girls to read, works to eradicate poverty, promotes freedom of expression and gives people creative thinking skills to resist violent extremism.

Among Unesco programmes already slashed because of funding shortages is one in Iraq that was intended to help restore water facilities. Also in danger was a Holocaust and genocide awareness programme in Africa to teach about non-violence, non-discrimination and ethnic tolerance, using the example of the mass killing of Jews during the second world war.

This loss is a particular blow to the US, since Holocaust awareness was one of the areas the country aggressively promoted in the agency's agenda when it rejoined in 2002 after an 18-year hiatus, during which the US had withdrawn from the organisation over differences in vision.

The Palestinian ambassador to Unesco, Elias Sanbar, said other countries were beginning to make up for the US shortfall.

"Is this in the interest of the US, to be replaced?" he asked.

The Unesco director general, Irina Bokova, lamented the change. "I regret to say that I'm seeing, in these last two years … a declining American influence and American involvement," Bokova said.

"I can't imagine how we could disengage with the United States at Unesco. We are so intertwined with our message. What I regret is that this decision became so divisive and triggered this suspension of the funding," she added.

Bokova said she accepted political reality and would find ways for Unesco to continue its work, despite a 2014 budget that is down by an estimated $150m.

Some worry about more serious consequences if Palestine joins other agencies such as the World Health Organisation.

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

The US should pay its Unesco dues

The US refuses to pay up because of Palestinian membership in Unesco. It's a horribly misguided approach

Nigel Cameron   
theguardian.com, Sunday 27 October 2013 13.17 GMT       

As Halloween approaches and Washington's dance macabre, that three-step of sequester, shutdown, and debt, grinds to a temporary halt, the dead hand of Yasir Arafat is reaching out from the grave to yank the United States into a foreign policy disaster hardly anyone has heard of.

Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is about to give the United States a dishonorable discharge (the US could lose its vote at the Unesco general conference). Why? Because America has failed to pay its membership dues. The world's top power is effectively being booted out of the world's top soft power network at a time when soft power is key to global influence in the 21st century.

Notice how America's leaders are not making speeches, the press are not editorializing about this, and even the think tank community has given it a pass despite the fact that we are now well into the final act of the tragedy.

Here's the full play.

Act 1: President Clinton signs the bipartisan 1994 foreign aid bill, with a provision aimed at containing Arafat – requiring an end to US funding of any international institution that might accept the PLO as a member.

Act 2: in 2003, President George W Bush leads us back into Unesco, after two decades of boycott. In the post-9/11 world, the United States recognizes that the spread of freedom and democracy are as crucial in the struggle against extremism and terror as what can be achieved by the force of arms. Since then, under ambassadors appointed by presidents of both parties the US has become a major player in every realm of Unesco.

Act 3: in 2011, the Palestinian Authority – now a quasi-state – decides to assert itself and applies for Unesco membership. The nations who make up Unesco's members vote yes, over American protests; and the 1994 US law kicks in.

When the State Department immediately halted the annual US contribution, it was disastrous for Unesco. It meant not merely an instant 22% cut in income, but since the US pays in arrears, a sinkhole under their budget at the time.

Final Act: thus was the stage set for the finale in Paris next month, unless America ponies up its dues by then. Should that not happen, by sleight of hand from beyond the grave, Arafat will have shifted the United States into the observer role previously occupied by Palestine.

Partly because it is headquartered in Europe and not New York City, Unesco has never commanded much attention from the American public. It's easy for us to forget, especially in the 21st century, that UN institutions were essentially an American project – forged in the days following the second world war, to aid in securing a new global order. Side by side with the UN's political institutions, and the financial and economic effort of Bretton Woods, the United States pushed to solidify the peace by building a foundational network for science, education, and culture.

Few realize their economic value to host nations and localities of Unesco's world heritage sites. One study suggests that merely adding the San Antonio missions as a site would generate well over one year's annual US Unesco dues – more than $100m in economic development. Soft power and economic heft go hand in hand. This goes way, way beyond "kumbaya".

But there's also a lot more to Unesco than world heritage sites, science research centers, and world press freedom day. Unesco has been training the Afghan police in literacy to help facilitate US withdrawal. It hosts the global tsunami early warning system, and the key international network on water policy.

On global Internet policy, a core US interest, Unesco has stood with America and other advocates of internet freedom against a perceived power grab by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). And corporate America has weighed in with partnerships, including Pepsico, Procter & Gamble, Cisco, Google, and Microsoft.

The current US administration is reported to have sought a waiver from Congress that would make good on our dues. As the days tick past, it's worth pondering the lapidary words of American poet and diplomat Archibald MacLeish, a former Librarian of Congress and one of Unesco's founders, which have become the organization's motto – words that can give us goosebumps:

    Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.

Let's hope America can not only avoid the potential humiliation of being labeled a deadbeat, and even more importantly, that the US will renew its commitment to international cooperation in the defense of peace.

This op-ed represents the author's own views and not those of any organization.


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« Reply #9860 on: Nov 08, 2013, 07:44 AM »

Palestinians say Israel is the ‘only suspect’ in Arafat’s poisoning death

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 8, 2013 7:08 EST

Palestinian investigators said on Friday that Israel is the “only suspect” in the death of president Yasser Arafat, after laboratory tests suggested he died from polonium poisoning.

“We say that Israel is the prime and only suspect in the case of Yasser Arafat’s assassination, and we will continue to carry out a thorough investigation to find out and confirm all the details and all elements of the case,” Palestinian inquiry chief Tawfiq Tirawi told a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Tirawi said the Palestinian inquiry had studied the findings of Swiss scientists, released Wednesday, which “moderately” supported the notion that Arafat had been poisoned.

“This is the crime of the 21st century,” Tirawi said. “The fundamental (goal) is to find out who is behind the liquidation of Yasser Arafat.”

Palestinian officials on Thursday demanded an international inquiry into Arafat’s “killing”.

“The results prove Arafat was poisoned by polonium,” said senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official Wasel Abu Yusef.

“This substance is owned by states, not people, meaning that the crime was committed by a state,” he told AFP, calling for an “international committee” to probe the killing along the lines of the one that investigated the murder of Lebanon’s Rafiq Hariri.

Speaking to reporters in Lausanne Thursday, the Swiss team said the test results neither confirmed nor denied that polonium was the actual source of his death, although they provided “moderate” backing for the idea he was poisoned by the rare and highly radioactive element.

They said the quantity of the deadly substance found on his remains pointed to the involvement of a third party.

“We can’t say that polonium was the source of his death … nor can we rule it out,” said Professor Francois Bochud of the Lausanne Institute of Applied Radiophysics.

Bochud’s lab measured levels of polonium up to 20 times higher than it is used to detecting.

Arafat died in France on November 11, 2004 at the age of 75 after falling sick a month earlier, but doctors were unable to specify the cause of death and no post-mortem was carried out at the time.

In November 2012, his remains were exhumed and samples taken, partly to investigate whether he had been poisoned with polonium — a suspicion that grew after the assassination in that manner of Russian ex-spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

Since Arafat’s death, Palestinian society has long given currency to the rumor that he was murdered, with Israel the party most often blamed.

But there has never been any proof.


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« Reply #9861 on: Nov 08, 2013, 07:46 AM »

Saudi employers upset as labor costs soar after immigrant exodus

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, November 7, 2013 16:55 EST

Saudis have begun complaining of surging labour costs following the exodus of a million foreign workers, although economists insist there will be long-term planning benefits from fully regulating the market.

Professionals in the kingdom, both Saudi and expatriate, say the freelance tradesmen who used to queue for odd jobs in public squares have virtually disappeared since police patrols began the strict enforcement of tough labour laws this week, rounding up thousands of illegals for deportation.

They have been forced to turn instead to authorised service companies, which charge double the rate or more to hire out electricians or plumbers.

“I had great difficulty finding a carpenter even at a higher price,” complained primary school teacher Majed Hasan.

“I have been told that freelance carpenters have disappeared. I went to a services company and was told that they can provide me with a carpenter for 150 riyals ($40) — double what I used to pay.”

From Monday, the authorities began rounding up thousands of illegal foreign workers following the expiry of a final amnesty for them to regularise their work status in the kingdom.

Those considered illegal range from overstaying visitors and pilgrims who seek jobs, to shop assistants and day labourers working for someone other than their official sponsor, a requirement in Saudi Arabia as in most other Gulf states.

Nearly a million migrants — Bangladeshis, Filipinos, Indians, Nepalis, Pakistanis and Yemenis among them — took advantage of the amnesty to leave the country.

Another roughly four million regularised their situation by finding employers to sponsor them but in so doing virtually emptied the market of cheap freelance labour.

“I usually find a plumber quickly. This time, I’ve roamed three areas and I couldn’t find a single one,” complained Mahmud Badr, an Egyptian doctor who lives in the kingdom’s commercial capital Jeddah.

He said he was shocked by “how service workers vanished, after they were so easy to find” queueing in public squares for the chance to earn a few dollars.

Companies employing low-paid foreigners have to pay for a permit to recruit their staff, in addition to recurring fees for annual residency permits, making their charges far higher than those of freelance illegals.

“It has been so difficult to find a worker since the crackdown began,” complained Saudi Abu Maher, as he haggled with an electrician about the price to fix his satellite television receiver.

“If you find one, it is tough to agree a deal because he asks for a high price… The cost of labour has doubled over the past two days.”

But Saudi economists insist that the short-term hit to the pockets of professionals will be outweighed by the longer-term benefits in terms of more efficient planning of the Arab world’s largest economy.

“This will have a negative impact in the short term, but it will positively affect the economy in the medium and long term,” said Fawaz al-Alami, a onetime head of the Saudi team that negotiated the kingdom’s accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2005.

“Most of the departing workforce represent an oversupply in the market,” he said.

“Had the market needed these workers, their status would have been regularised.”

Economist Ihsan Bu Hulaiga said the existence of the large pool of illegal workers had long been an obstacle to efficient planning.

“The flushing out of illegals will … help in controlling the grey economy,” Bu Hulaiga told Saudi daily Arab News.

“Once illegal expats are sent back home, we can enumerate the total strength of the legal workforce in the kingdom, what they do and which cities they are based in. This will be relevant to analyse and formulate business policies for the future.”

Expatriates account for a full nine million of the oil-rich kingdom’s 27-million-population.

The lure of work, even in low-paid jobs as domestics or construction workers, has made it a magnet for migrants from Asia as well as poorer countries in the Arab world.

But despite it huge oil wealth, Saudi Arabia has an unemployment rate of more than 12.5 percent among its citizen population, a figure the government has long sought to cut.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #9862 on: Nov 08, 2013, 07:48 AM »

Black models go topless in Rio to protest racism in the fashion industry

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, November 7, 2013 13:58 EST

Some 40 black models, most of them women, have staged a topless protest in Rio de Janeiro against the low presence of Afro-Brazilians on fashion catwalks.

“What strikes you, your racism or me?” one of the female demonstrators wrote on her chest during the protest late Wednesday timed to coincide with Rio Fashion Week.

The demonstration also coincided with the signing of a deal between the Fashion Week organizers and the Rio ombudsman’s office setting a 10 percent quota for black models in fashion shows, the G1 news website reported.

“This agreement crowns a joint initiative that can open a space that does not yet exist,” said Moises Alcuna, a spokesman for Educafro, a civil rights group championing the labor and educational rights of blacks and indigenous people.

More than half of Brazil’s 200 million people are of African descent, the world’s second largest black population after that of Nigeria.

But Afro-Brazilians complain of widespread racial inequality.

“If we are buying clothes, why can’t we parade in the (fashion) shows,” asked a 15-year-old model taking part in the protest. “Does that mean that only white women can sell and the rest of us can only buy?”

“Claiming to showcase Brazilian fashion without the real Brazilians amounts to showing Brazilian fashion (only) with white models,” said Jose Flores, a 25-year-old former model who now works in advertising.

After 13 years of debate, President Dilma Rousseff last year signed a controversial law that reserves half of seats in federal universities to public school students, with priority given to Afro-Brazilians and indigenous people.

In June 2009, the Sao Paulo Fashion Week (SPFW)– Latin America’s premier fashion event — for the first time imposed quotas requiring at least 10 percent of the models to be black or indigenous.

Previously, only a handful of black models featured among the 350 or so that sashayed down the catwalk — usually less than three percent.

But in 2010, the 10 percent quota was removed, after a conservative prosecutor deemed it unconstitutional.

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« Reply #9863 on: Nov 08, 2013, 07:50 AM »

NASA ‘dumbfounded’ after Hubble telescope discovers six-tailed asteroid

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, November 7, 2013 16:35 EST

A strange asteroid that appears to have multiple rotating tails has been spotted with NASA’s Hubble telescope between Mars and Jupiter, astronomers said Thursday.

Instead of appearing as a small point of light, like most asteroids, this one has half a dozen comet-like dust tails radiating out like spokes on a wheel, said the report in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“It’s hard to believe we’re looking at an asteroid,” said lead investigator David Jewitt, a professor in the University of California Los Angeles Department of Earth and Space Sciences.

“We were dumbfounded when we saw it. Amazingly, its tail structures change dramatically in just 13 days as it belches out dust.”

The object has been named P/2013 P5, and astronomers believe it has been spewing dust for at least five months.

The asteroid may have started spinning so fast that it began to disintegrate, scientists say.

They don’t think the tails are a result of an impact, because that would cause dust to spray out all at once.

Its multiple tails were discovered in images taken by NASA?s Hubble Space Telescope on September 10, 2013, after first being spotted with a telescope in Hawaii.

Jewitt said the object may have come from an asteroid collision some 200 million years ago. Its pattern of dispersing dust in fits and bursts may be how it slowly dies.

“In astronomy, where you find one, you eventually find a whole bunch more,” he said. “This is an amazing object and almost certainly the first of many more to come.”

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« Reply #9864 on: Nov 08, 2013, 08:09 AM »

In the USA..United Surveillance America

Obama 'sorry' Americans are losing health insurance despite promises

US president says administration is working to close holes in healthcare law after millions get cancellation letters

Associated Press in Washington
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 09.00 GMT   

The US president, Barack Obama, has said he is sorry Americans are losing health insurance plans that he repeatedly said they could keep under his signature healthcare law.

Stopping short of apologising for making these assurances, the president told NBC: "I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me."

Signalling possible tweaks to the law, Obama said his administration was working to close "some of the holes and gaps" that have caused millions of Americans to get cancellation letters.

"We've got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them, and we are going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this," he said.

The president's apology came as the White House tries to stem a cascade of troubles surrounding the rollout of Obamacare, his signature legislative achievement.

The healthcare.gov website, which was supposed to be an easy portal for Americans to purchase insurance, has been riddled by technical glitches. As more than 3.5 million Americans have received cancellation notices from their insurance companies, there is fresh scrutiny over how the president tried to sell the law to the public in the first place.

In Thursday's interview, Obama took broader responsibility for the healthcare woes than in his previous comments about the rollout, declaring that if the law was not working "it's my job to get it fixed".

"When you've got a healthcare rollout that is as important to the country and to me as this is and it doesn't work like a charm, that's my fault," he said.

Some Republicans, who remain fierce opponents of the law three years after it won congressional approval, appeared unmoved by Obama's mea culpa.

"If the president is truly sorry for breaking his promises to the American people, he'll do more than just issue a half-hearted apology on TV," the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, said in a statement.

In recent days, focus has intensified on the president's promise that Americans who liked their current insurance coverage would be able to keep it. He repeated the line often, both as the bill was being debated in Congress and after it was signed into law.

But the healthcare law itself made that promise almost impossible to keep. It mandated that insurance coverage must meet certain standards and that policies falling short of those standards would no longer be valid unless they were "grandfathered", meaning some policies were always expected to disappear.

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

November 7, 2013

Cut in Food Stamps Forces Hard Choices on Poor

By KIM SEVERSON and WINNIE HU
NYT

CHARLESTON, S.C. — For many, a $10 or $20 cut in the monthly food budget would be absorbed with little notice.

But for millions of poor Americans who rely on food stamps, reductions that began this month present awful choices. One gallon of milk for the kids instead of two. No fresh broccoli for dinner or snacks to take to school. Weeks of grits and margarine for breakfast.

And for many, it will mean turning to a food pantry or a soup kitchen by the middle of the month.

“I don’t need a whole lot to eat,” said Leon Simmons, 63, who spends more than half of his monthly $832 Social Security income to rent a room in an East Charleston house. “But this month I know I’m not going to buy any meats.”

Mr. Simmons’s allotment from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps, has dropped $9. He has already spent the $33 he received for November.

The reduction in benefits has affected more than 47 million people like Mr. Simmons. It is the largest wholesale cut in the program since Congress passed the first Food Stamps Act in 1964 and touches about one in every seven Americans.

From the country kitchens of the South to the bodegas of New York, the pain is already being felt.

Christopher Bean, the executive director of a Bronx food pantry that is operated by a nonprofit organization called Part of the Solution, said that about 60 new families had visited the pantry in the past week because their food stamps had been cut.

They know they will be out of food well before the month is over. “People can do math,” he said.

In 2009, people started getting as much as 13.6 percent more in food stamps as part of the federal economic stimulus package, but that increase has expired. The reduction will save the government about $5 billion next year.

Over all, the nation’s food stamps program cost a record $78.4 billion in the 2012 fiscal year, according to the Agriculture Department. Although the amount given to each household — a figure that can vary widely depending on a complex formula of income and the number of mouths to feed — has been dropping by small amounts for the past few years, the roster of people seeking assistance grew steadily through the recession.

In the 2010 fiscal year, 40.3 million people were enrolled. Two years later, that number jumped by 16 percent. Just over 45 percent of those getting food stamps are children, according to the Agriculture Department.

Food stamps are likely to be cut more in the coming years if Congress can agree on a new farm bill, which House and Senate negotiators began tackling this week. The Republican-controlled House has approved cutting as much as $40 billion from the program by making it harder to qualify. The Democratic-controlled Senate is suggesting a $4 billion cut by making administrative changes.

To poor families trying to stretch a couple hundred dollars into a month’s worth of groceries, all the talk about stimulus packages, farm subsidies and congressional politics means little. It is all about daily survival at the grocery store.

“We’ll be on our last $3 at the end of the month,” said Rafaela Rivera, 34, a home health aide who earns $10 an hour.

Ms. Rivera’s family of four saw their food stamps reduced by $36, to $420 a month. They pay rent and other expenses using her income and her husband’s disability check, and they supplement food stamps with bags of fresh vegetables, chicken and other groceries from a food pantry.

“It’s going to be hard,” she said. “Our last week is going to be tight tight.”

Ingrid Mock, 46, a former supermarket cashier who is disabled, was at the Bronx food pantry on Monday stocking up on canned green beans, pasta, ground beef and apples.

Ms. Mock, who has received food benefits for a decade and uses them to help feed her 12-year-old daughter, said her allotment had steadily decreased from as much as $309 about six years ago to a low of $250 this month, which reflected a new cut of $25.

Meanwhile, the price of staples like rice and corn oil have increased. So this month Ms. Mock will make choices. One dozen eggs instead of three, and only $1 worth of plantains. And no coffee or sugar for herself.

“I try to get most of the things my daughter eats because I can hold the hunger — I’m an adult — but she cannot,” she said. “They don’t understand when there’s no food in the fridge.”

The cuts are also hurting stores in poor neighborhoods. The average food stamps household receives $272 a month, which then passes into the local economy.

At a Food Lion in Charleston where as many as 75 percent of the shoppers use food stamps, managers were bracing for lower receipts as the month wore on.

At a Met Foodmarket in the Bronx, where 80 percent of the 7,000 weekly customers use food stamps, overall food sales have already dropped by as much as 10 percent.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be that fast,” said Abraham Gomez, the manager. Losing that much revenue could mean cutting back hours for employees, he said.

Although several pilot programs around the country are designed to help people with food stamps eat better, including one by a Connecticut organization called Wholesome Wave that doubles the value of food stamps used at farmers’ markets, Mr. Gomez and others worry that less money for food means resorting to more dried noodles and canned tuna and fewer fresh vegetables and healthier cuts of meat.

Elliot Porter, 46, whose food stamps benefit dropped to $189 a month from $200, is a former property manager who is technically homeless but living with a friend while he goes to college.

At the Met Foodmarket this week, Mr. Porter had to perform a calculation with everything he reached for on the shelves, weighing his personal taste against cost and health.

A nutritionist who is helping him lose weight to avoid diabetes told him to buy a natural brand of peanut butter without sugar. But it cost $4.39. He decided he could afford only the store brand with sugar, which cost $3.79.

His situation may be better than many. During lunch at the Neighborhood House soup kitchen in Charleston this week, discussions about how to cope with cuts to food stamps were not hard to find.

People said they felt desperate. Many stuffed extra bread or cake into their pockets for later in the day, and traded advice on which agencies might be handing out free groceries later in the month.

“People at this level of need are already going hungry,” said Sister Noreen Buttimer, a nun who works at the soup kitchen, a Catholic charity. “It’s frightening how we think about the poor.”

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

Democrats Set to Rock Republicans By Pushing to Raise the Minimum Wage to $10.10

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, November, 7th, 2013, 10:43 am   

Senate Democrats are meeting today and are preparing to drop a bomb on Republicans. They are going to push for raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour by 2015.

According to The Hill:

    Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is spearheading the push to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour but not all Democrats are yet on board.
    …

    Harkin said Wednesday he is not certain whether all 55 members of the Democratic caucus would back his proposal, which would also raise the minimum rate in jobs that rely on tips to 70 percent of the standard minimum wage.

    “There are different views on proceeding to it, as an amendment, as a direct bill, how do you do it,” he said. “That’s what we’ve got to figure out.”

    Harkin said one of the goals of the meeting is to find out how many fellow Democrats will back the bill.

    “There are some who may want to add something to it, put something else on it, which other people would not want,” he said. “I think people deserve a clean-cut bill. Raise the minimum wage.”

The Harkin proposal would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour through 3 annual ninety five cent an hour increases. This isn’t about passing a bill though the Senate. What Democrats are doing is laying the groundwork for a potent campaign issue in 2014 and 2016. Chris Christie marched to a big reelection, but he saw his opposition to increasing the minimum wage steamrolled by New Jersey voters who overwhelmingly voted to increase the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour.

The minimum wage issue also gives Democrats a path towards addressing income inequality. In March the sponsor of the House version of The Minimum Wage Act of 2013, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) said, “Income inequality is one of the greatest threats to America’s long-term economic vitality, yet we are widening that inequality with wages that subject people to live in poverty. Even during a so-called ‘golden age of corporate profits,’ millions of working families are falling behind because their paychecks aren’t keeping up. That’s immoral and that’s undermining our economy.”

There is zero statistical evidence that raising the minimum wage hurts the economy or kills jobs. The Republican opposition to raising the minimum wage has always been based more in ideology than reality. Politically, this issue is a major winner for Democrats.

What Harkin and the Democrats are trying to put forward is a plan to make raising the minimum wage a part of the 2014 election. Earlier this year, President Obama came out in support of increasing the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. What the Senate Democrats are discussing would go further and make the minimum wage a living wage for many parts of the country.

Republicans are already reeling after the government shutdown, and a bad 2013 election night. Republicans may want to talk about Obamacare, but if Democrats have their way, it will be issues the minimum wage that will get voters to the polls. Republicans look like they don’t see it coming, but Democrats could have a big 2014 election if they run on raising the minimum wage.

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

Beware the Bitter Bumpkins of North Colorado

By: Black Liberal Boomer more from Black Liberal Boomer
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, November, 7th, 2013, 2:52 pm   

Just one last Election Day story that is kind of hard for me to pass up seeing as how I was born and raised in Colorado. Not from the anointed sovereign state of North Colorado, though. Just, you know, plain old Colorado. Denver, Colorado to be exact.

Those of you who have been following the more quirky news items spinning out from the coverage already know where I’m going with this, right? Because if the story of five Colorado counties located on the northern edge of the state that actually voted to secede from the rest of Colorado wasn’t so pathetic it might actually qualify as perversely amusing. I can think of endless Saturday Night Live-style skits that could be written making (justifiable) fun of the bumpkins on the fringe – mentally as well as physically. There really is a wealth of biting comic material here just waiting to be mined for endless hours of political comedy. Or just the plain and ordinary comedy that takes excessive joy poking fun at stupid people.

But then, taken in the Tea Party context of what has been happening across the country where hordes of bitter bumpkins have been uniting against the onslaught of facts and reason ever since The Black Guy got elected to the highest office in the land, it’s not always so easy to laugh in the face of madness – because it is this type of madness that has been holding the rest of us hostage for quite some time now. It was this sort of madness that shut down the government. It was this sort of madness that sought to repeal Obamacare. It is this sort of madness that cares more about the right to bear any and all sorts of arms more than the steadily rising pile of dead children victimized by gun violence.

There are days when it appears that the madness just might be winning.

Sure, it is highly unlikely anything will come of this. Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast spells it out as good as anyone could:

    These things have popped up before. I covered one 20 years ago, when Staten Islanders voted two-to-one to break off from New York City. The voters always approve these things. Of course, Staten Island is still a borough of New York City, which tells us that although they always pass, they always amount to nothing. This one will amount to nothing too, in the short term. Congress has to approve a new state, and that isn’t going to happen.

    But it’s fascinating that we are witnessing the culture-ization of politics, the trumping of shared culture over shared political traditions and agreements that go back generations. We’ve seen it around the world. Czeckoslovakia splitting in two. Yugoslavia splitting in five. The movement to split Iraq into three, which didn’t take hold but had the backing of some serious people. Back in the day, peoples of different cultures banded together to form states because there was more power in being larger, in the post-Congress of Vienna era of the nation-state. But eventually they circled back to the core unavoidable truth of not being able to stomach one another.

    Well, now we’re getting to the same point domestically. In the last 20 years, we’ve herded ourselves into clusters like snarling breeds of dogs.

But it is the dogged, determined persistence of willful ignorance, fueled by rage, that must always be guarded against. Because just when you start to laugh at the crazies is when they start coming over the fence like The Walking Dead.

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

Treasonous Republicans Warp the Constitution To Justify Nullifying Federal Laws

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, November, 7th, 2013, 8:23 pm      

Although the Founding Fathers declared America’s independence from England in 1776, they spent nearly eleven years carefully crafting the U.S. Constitution that was finally ratified in 1787 as the blueprint defining rights of the people and how the nation is governed. Since Americans elected an African American man as President in 2008, Republicans and their teabagger cohort persistently claimed they, and only they, adhere to the constitution regardless they routinely disregard or misrepresent the document to fit their extremist vision of America under Republican rule. It is likely that after the “Separation Clause” prohibiting religious fanatics from imposing bible edicts as the law of the land, conservatives of all stripes abhor the “Supremacy Clause” that prevents the nation from becoming a collection of sovereign nation states.

The idea that an individual state, or collection of states, had the right to nullify federal laws a state’s leaders opposed has been settled in the courts and by the American Civil War, and in fact it was the end of the war between the states that finally put an end to the nullification frenzy that began rearing its ugly head again with President Obama’s election. States under GOP control have threatened nullification over the Affordable Care Act, but they have also used (non-existent) gun safety laws and environmental regulations as grounds for nullification. They have even threatened armed insurrection to send a message to the government that they will use “Second Amendment remedies” to defend their right to disregard the Constitution. On Monday night at a campaign rally for failed Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, a former 12-term U.S. congressman and three-time presidential candidate stood in the former Confederate capital and called for reinstating the principles that resulted in the Civil War.

Libertarian hero Ron Paul was the featured speaker at a Cuccinelli campaign rally on Virginia’s election eve where he laid out an argument for states to govern by sedition and strongly alluded to armed rebellion if the federal government did not acquiesce to states’ nullification efforts. Paul said, “I’ve been working on the assumption that nullification is going to come. It’s going to be a de facto nullification. It’s ugly, but pretty soon things are going to get so bad that we’re just going to ignore the feds and live our own lives in the states.” Paul’s statement was likely lifted right out of Confederacy rhetoric leading up to the Civil War and he went so far as to warn that the people would likely have to take up arms against the federal government, President Obama, and governor-elect Terry McCauliffe to preserve their freedom.

Paul joined an ever-growing chorus of treasonous conservatives and gun fanatics who claim the 2nd Amendment exists for the sole purpose of allowing disgruntled anti-constitutionalists to wage war against the United States government. He said, “the second amendment wasn’t set up there to make sure you could shoot rabbits…Right now we have a greater threat on our liberties internally” and warned that “the McAuliffes and the Obamas of the world will come and undermine our liberties.” Paul came dangerously close to sedition by intimating that Americans will have to turn their guns on the federal government as well as Cuccinelli’s opponent and particularly the President of the United States. Ironically, Paul touted Cuccinelli’s devotion to the Constitution in the same breath he warned the federal government that states were intent on violating the Supremacy Clause through nullification efforts and armed rebellion because they oppose a legally passed law the Supreme Court ruled was constitutional.

Interestingly, while Paul explained to the crowd that Cuccinelli was a devout Constitutionalist who established a reputation for being unyielding to the point that “you know he’s not gonna back down,” he railed against two of the Constitution’s Amendments he claims are attacks on liberty. As an aside, Cuccinelli has spent no small amount of time as Virginia’s attorney general attempting to violate the Constitution’s separation of church and state by imposing Old Testament edicts on Virginians. However, despite claiming that, like himself, Cuccinelli is a strict devotee of the Constitution, Paul belied his own constitutional devotion by condemning an amendment in support of states nullifying federal laws.

To justify his contention that conservative states will resort to nullification to protect their liberty, Paul assailed the Constitution’s 17th Amendment ratified a century ago (1913) because it allows for the direct election of U.S. senators by popular vote that according to Paul “undermines the principle importance of the states.” He also railed against the 16th Amendment that enacted the federal income tax in 1913 that teabagger freak Ted Cruz, and likely all conservatives, teabaggers, and libertarians are Hell bent on eliminating to financially break the federal government and transform America into independent nation-states.

The idea of revisiting pre-Civil War nullification efforts and armed insurrection against the United States government has been a recurring theme among disaffected conservatives since 2009 when Barack Obama began his first term as President. Several southern state conservatives threatened to forcibly oppose federal officials if they attempted to implement the Affordable Care Act they intend to nullify because they claim the law is unconstitutional, and gun fanatics have threatened armed opposition against the government if they dared enact gun safety measures that still have not been passed. In 2009, certifiable nut-job Michele Bachmann said “I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us, having a revolution every now and then is a good thing, and the people — we the people — are going to have to fight back hard if we’re not going to lose our country.” In 2010, teabagger racist Sharon Angle twice said the public would have to bring down an “out of control Congress using Second Amendment remedies,” and to “deal not just with the ever-growing tyrannical U.S. government,” but to replace her then-election opponent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

It is insignificant what reason Republicans, teabaggers, and libertarians are using to nullify federal laws or threaten armed insurrection against the United States government. It is seditious treason and they are traitors. Particularly when the federal laws they intend to nullify follows the U.S. Constitution they, on one hand, claim to adhere to strictly and the other deride as faulty according to their dysfunction. It was not coincidence that Ron Paul stood in the now-defunct Confederacy’s capital and called for nullification of federal laws, condemned constitutional amendments, or that he suggested the 2nd Amendment existed to allow American citizens the right to wage war against the federal government or legally elected President of the United States.

Conservatives do not care what means they use to subvert the Constitution or the federal government, and Republicans are at the forefront of the march toward a Civil War since they lost two presidential elections. They have whipped their supporters into frenzy against the federal government as blatantly evil since the Reagan administration, and with the election of an African American President have convinced their rabid sycophants that their rights are being trampled asunder from an increasingly tyrannical government. Of course in conservative parlance, tyrannical government means Republicans are not in control.

The last time states embarked on a nullification campaign and threatened armed resistance to federal laws America suffered a Civil War that tore the nation apart and claimed the lives of three-quarters-of-a-million Americans. It is 152 years later and by all appearances Republicans, teabaggers, and libertarians are poised to embark on a nullification campaign and convince their supporters they may exercise their 2nd Amendment rights against the federal government, a governor-elect, and the President of the United States.

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

November 07, 2013 07:00 PM

GOP Electoral Strategy? Einstein's Definition of Insanity

By CrooksAndLiars

Rachel Maddow's report on Republicans' decision to row down Denial River and pretend like losing is really winning is long, and worth every minute. From the Whig Party to the RINOs, Maddow takes a deep dive into the Republican pathology dictating their current strategy.

You have to love the purity trolls pushing all of their viable candidates out the door. As Maddow notes, there's not really much in the way of policy differences between Chris Christie and Ken Cuccinelli, but Christie has perfected the art of pretending he's playing nice with others while he shoves a knife in their back. He's just as anti-woman, anti-abortion, anti-gay, and pro-oppression and discrimination as Cuccinelli. He just doesn't hang it all out there for everyone to see.

Republicans are lining themselves up now for the 2014 elections. Lindsey Graham introduced a 20-week abortion ban which has no chance of going anywhere, but will definitely energize women to work against his re-election and further stigmatize the GOP in the eyes of independents. In Graham's view, “It’s worth having this debate. The more people understand what we’re trying to do, the more public support will grow over time."

Reality Planet to Lindsey Graham, come in Lindsey. Women, especially single women, turned out overwhelmingly to defeat the proponent of that very same debate in Virginia. Listen to Rachel Maddow. She'll explain it if you're having trouble with it.

Marco Rubio would take Graham's 20-week ban one step further down Ideologue Lane by not only forcing the mother to give birth to a severely ill or disabled child, but also making sure that same mother doesn't have any access to health care.

Which brings me to the final GOP Pathway to Irrelevance.

Obamacare is a non-starter. Once again, Maddow hammers home the polling which shows approval for Obamacare is on the rise despite 24/7 nonstop kicking and screaming with full approval of their Fox News and CNN megaphones. As approval for Obamacare rises, viewership for those media outlets plummets.

Republicans, you can keep flogging that dead horse, but the bottom line here is that more voters live in reality than you do.

Albert Einstein defined Republican reality-deniers quite well: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Keep on playing to that base, Republicans, and you'll get the same results and we'll get the House back so we can get some things done.

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

November 07, 2013 02:00 PM

Senate Passes ENDA With 64-32 Vote

By CrooksAndLiars

It feels weird to think of the Senate as the only functioning legislative body of our federal government, but yet it seems to be true. Earlier today ENDA sailed through with 64 Senators voting to end employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Since John Boehner's sole accomplishment as Speaker of the House has been to impede progress and basic policy fairness, it comes as no surprise to know he considers ENDA a non-starter.

Daily Kos:

    House Speaker John Boehner doesn't agree with Sen. Merkley, and the majority of the Senate, that discrimination is simply wrong. He refuses to allow the House to join the Senate in making history. He says that this equal rights bill is "frivolous." Boehner, as usual, is on the wrong side of history on this one.

Meanwhile, the White House approves wholeheartedly while boxing House Republicans' ears:

    For more than two centuries, the story of our nation has been the story of more citizens realizing the rights and freedoms that are our birthright as Americans. Today, a bipartisan majority in the Senate took another important step in this journey by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would help end the injustice of our fellow Americans being denied a job or fired just because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Just as no one in the United States can lose their job simply because of their race, gender, religion or a disability, no one should ever lose their job simply because of who they are or who they love.

    Today’s victory is a tribute to all those who fought for this progress ever since a similar bill was introduced after the Stonewall riots more than three decades ago. In particular, I thank Majority Leader Reid, Chairman Harkin, Senators Merkley and Collins for their leadership, and Senator Kirk for speaking so eloquently in support of this legislation. Now it’s up to the House of Representatives. This bill has the overwhelming support of the American people, including a majority of Republican voters, as well as many corporations, small businesses and faith communities. They recognize that our country will be more just and more prosperous when we harness the God-given talents of every individual.

    One party in one house of Congress should not stand in the way of millions of Americans who want to go to work each day and simply be judged by the job they do. Now is the time to end this kind of discrimination in the workplace, not enable it. I urge the House Republican leadership to bring this bill to the floor for a vote and send it to my desk so I can sign it into law. On that day, our nation will take another historic step toward fulfilling the founding ideals that define us as Americans.

Since nearly three-quarters of Americans support bringing an end to workplace discrimination against anyone, this should be a no-brainer for the House.

2014 can't come soon enough.

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

’60 Minutes’ will review Benghazi story after more questions surface about ‘witness’

By Arturo Garcia
RawStory
Thursday, November 7, 2013 21:37 EST

In a short statement released Thursday night, CBS news magazine 60 Minutes promised to revisit its story on an alleged witness to attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi following another report calling his account into question. The report has also been removed from CBS News’ website.

“60 Minutes has learned of new information that undercuts the account told to us by Morgan Jones of his actions on the night of the attack on the Benghazi compound,” the statement read. “We are currently looking into this serious matter to determine if he misled us, and if so, we will make a correction.”

The New York Times reported on Thursday that the witness, whose real name is Dylan Davies, told Federal Bureau of Investigation officials that he was not at the facility when it was attacked on Sept. 11, 2012. That account corroborated an incident report filed by Davies’ employer, Blue Mountain, in which he said he stayed at his villa while working for the company as a security guard. Davies later told The Daily Beast he did not write the report.

But Davies, using the Jones alias, said he witnessed the attack in an Oct. 27 60 Minutes report. Davies also used the alias to write a book billing itself as an “explosive eyewitness account” of the incident.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) quickly seized upon “Jones’” interview with Lara Logan as justification for blocking all Senate appointments until survivors of the Benghazi attack were brought before Congress to testify, a sentiment his office voicemail reiterated as of Thursday night. An attempt to reach him for comment was unsuccessful.

But questions surrounding Davies’ allegations began to surface after a Washington Post report mentioned his statement to Blue Mountain, a document that the State Department gave to lawmakers.

“We’re surprised to hear about this, and if it shows we’ve been misled, we will make a correction,” CBS News chair Jeff Fager told the Times on Thursday.

In an interview published on Tuesday, Logan, who investigated the attack for a year leading up to her interview with Davies, told the New York Times she felt the criticism directed at her story was political.

“If you read the book, you would know he never had two stories,” Logan told the Times. “He only had one story.”






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Iran nuclear deal hopes rise as foreign ministers fly into Geneva

UK, US, French and German representatives visit as Kerry and Ashton 'discuss draft statement' with Iranian counterpart Zarif

Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan in Geneva
The Guardian, Saturday 9 November 2013   

Link to video: Iran nuclear talks: very good progress made, says Hague

http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/nov/09/iran-nuclear-talks-very-good-progress-says-hague-video

John Kerry, William Hague and foreign ministers from France and Germany all made unplanned flights to Geneva on Friday in an attempt to seal a nuclear deal with Iran and end a decade-long impasse with the country.

There were also reports on Friday night that the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, was flying in, despite earlier official denials that he would attend. The convergence on Switzerland of ministers from major world powers was meant to boost negotiations that have been under way since Thursday among senior officials.

As the talks closed on Friday night, officials were saying that the negotiations had been productive and that they would resume again on Saturday morning.

Kerry put off a planned trip to Morocco and Algeria to focus on the Geneva talks, while Iranian journalists were told to delay flights back to Tehran.

The focus of the talks shifted from formal sessions at Geneva's Palace of Nations to impromptu meetings at the European mission hosted by the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton. Kerry, Hague, the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, and his German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, gathered there. After night fell, Ashton and Kerry met the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, for three-way discussions that western officials described as the key session of the talks so far.

The officials said Kerry's arrival did not signal that a deal was ready to be signed but rather that the issues dividing the sides had risen to a level that only foreign ministers, in consultation with their heads of government, could resolve.

The aim of the talks is to agree a joint statement laying out a roadmap towards a peaceful resolution of the nuclear standoff. Iranian officials said a draft of the statement had been completed by the time Ashton, Kerry and Zarif met at the EU mission.

According to Zarif and western officials, it was to include details of an interim deal that would slow down Iranian uranium enrichment and relax some sanctions, providing time to work out a more comprehensive, long-term agreement. The outline of that goal would also be sketched out in the joint statement, on Iranian insistence. Zarif has said he does not want to negotiate piecemeal accords without knowing what the end point of the process would be.

Kerry arrived in Geneva in the early afternoon after a stormy meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, who made clear that he rejected the intended interim deal with Iran on the grounds that it represented a step towards dismantling sanctions without a total halt to Iranian enrichment.

Western officials said Netanyahu's remarks were aimed at his own rightwing supporters and that his vocal opposition would eventually make it easier to "sell a deal" to the Tehran leadership and Iranian public.

The White House said President Obama called Netanyahu on Friday to smooth things over. "The president provided the prime minister with an update on negotiations in Geneva and underscored his strong commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which is the aim of the ongoing negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran," according to a White House description of the call. "The president and prime minister agreed to continue to stay in touch on this issue."

On arriving in Geneva, Kerry said he had come at Ashton's invitation to help close the deal with Iran.

"I want to emphasise there are still some very important issues on the table that are unresolved. It is important for those to be properly, thoroughly addressed," the US secretary of state said. "We hope to try to narrow those differences, but I don't think anybody should mistake that there are some important gaps that have to be closed."

Fabius, who arrived two hours earlier, said he had made the impromptu trip "because these negotiations are difficult but important for the regional and international security".

He said: "It is a question of reaching an agreement which represents a first solid step in addressing the international concerns over the Iranian nuclear programme. There has been a lot of progress, but so far nothing has been finalised."

Majid Takht-Ravanchi, an Iranian deputy foreign minister, confirmed in the afternoon that a draft agreement had been drawn up and would be discussed at the crucial meeting involving Ashton, Kerry and Zarif.

"The text is ready and the initial negotiations about this text will be made in this trilateral meeting," Takht-Ravanchi was quoted as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency.

He added: "We have announced that banking and oil sanctions should also be discussed in the first step."

If that is true, and Iran is insisting on such large-scale sanction relief as part of the first step, it would signal a serious obstacle to agreement. Senior US officials have made it clear they do not think major oil and banking sanctions should be part of an initial confidence-building accord.

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that its head, Yukiya Amano, would visit Tehran on Monday in an attempt to accelerate parallel long-running talks between Iran and the agency aimed at clearing up allegations about past Iranian nuclear work.

Iran has claimed the allegations are based on forged evidence, but western intelligence claims that until at least 2003 Iran had a large-scale programme to create weapons. The IAEA has frequently complained that the previous Iranian government did not co-operate with its investigation, but agency officials have said since the election of reformist president Hassan Rouhani in June that the situation has improved.

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

Rouhani's diplomatic progress in Geneva keeps Iran's hardliners at bay

Rivalry between factions in Tehran means many Iranian fundamentalists would prefer that the nuclear talks fail

Saeed Kamali Dehghan in Geneva
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 19.39 GMT   

From his room in Geneva's InterContinental hotel on Friday morning, the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, could take in the sweeping view of Mont Blanc looming over Lake Geneva before an intensive day of diplomacy with his US and European counterparts.

Many would take in this idyllic vista and think of skiing and hiking, but for Iran's most senior diplomat it might well suggest the "mountain of challenges" – as the Persian idiom has it – that he and President Hassan Rouhani face back home. As Zarif met the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and prepared to shake the hands of the US secretary of state, John Kerry, hardliners in Tehran made clear they were still opposed to the United States and feared any prospect of an agreement in Geneva.

"Death to America," chanted crowds sympathetic to the elite Revolutionary Guards and its voluntary Basij militia gathered at Tehran University in the centre of the city for Friday prayers. The Geneva talks were held on Thursday and Friday, the Iranian weekend, which is likely to have reduced the public backlash in Iran, but still the hardliners made their voices heard.

The leader of Tehran's Friday prayers, Ayatollah Ali Movahedi Kermani, said in remarks broadcast live on national radio that any deal with the west would be detrimental to Iran. "It's harmful to underestimate the enemy because they do nothing but play tricks," Kermani said. "Our enemy would not rest even for a moment. If we underestimate the enemy, we will definitely get hurt."

The imam was particularly critical of assurances Kerry gave to Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, before leaving Tel Aviv for Geneva. "The US secretary of state has promised Netanyahu that he will not do a bad deal with Iran," he said. "This means that they will not agree to anything that is harmful for them – which means they will not make a good deal with Iran."

Reflecting remarks this week by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has said that he is not optimistic about the talks, Kermani said: "I don't think the talks will bear fruit. They [the enemy] are not going to stop their hostility towards us."

Despite Kermani's warning, Rouhani's diplomacy appears to have the support of Khamenei, who has ultimate power in all state matters. Khamenei has criticised those who labelled Iran's nuclear negotiators "compromisers", warning that they had a difficult mission and no one should "weaken an official who is busy with work".

Iran's conservative-dominated parliament has so far been silent about the trajectory of the talks, although a group of MPs criticised Rouhani's team for keeping the details of a possible accord secret from the public and called them to parliament for questioning. Others said it was necessary the talks remained secret at this stage.

On Friday, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, signalled his approval of the Geneva talks. He told the Isna news agency that the ground had been prepared for an agreement that would ease western sanctions and that it was compatible with Iran's national interests.

Khamenei's backing of Zarif's team means many of the more hawkish fundamentalists have refrained from criticising the new government's diplomacy directly. Instead, they have warned against giving in to the west's demands. Before Rouhani's largely successful visit to the UN in New York in September, Khamenei gave him more authority by talking of "heroic flexibility". That visit brought a historic phone conversation between Rouhani and Barack Obama, the first direct talks between Iranian and US leaders since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"Khamenei himself is also under lots of pressure," an Iranian analyst said, asking not to be identified. "The hardliners in the Revolutionary Guards are surrounding him all the time and sabotaging Rouhani's diplomacy by injecting scepticism about Americans and their intentions."

As Rouhani passes his first 100 days in office, he can claim credit for a number of election promises that have been fulfilled. A number of leading activists have been released from prison and Tehran has taken serious steps to improve ties with the west, not least breaking the 34-year taboo of talking directly to the US at the highest level.

A Tehran University professor, Sadegh Zibakalam, said by telephone that he anticipated a historic moment in Iran's relationship with the west. "We didn't expect this, but it seems that Rouhani's 'key' is opening many doors and a historic agreement may be under way," he said, referring to the key Rouhani adopted as the symbol of his election campaign.

"We don't know much about the details of this possible deal but to me what's important is that for the first time in 35 years since the 1979 Islamic republic, it appears Iran and the west are trusting each other despite sabotage by hardliners in Iran, in Washington or Tel Aviv.

For the first time, it seems Iran has trusted the US and Europe's words that they are not seeking regime change and that the sole issue here is the nuclear programme. The west, on the other hand, seems to have taken Iran's word that it will open the doors to IAEA inspectors and have nothing to hide."

Zibakalam said hardliners in Tehran were driven by rivalry with Rouhani's moderate administration. "It is partly true that in general, hardliners don't want the Rouhani team to succeed.

"They are even ready to sacrifice national interests for their political gains and internal rivalry," he said. "There is also a third group of people who really don't believe we should have any sort of dialogue or relations with the west."

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

Background: Iran’s Nuclear Program and Possible Steps to a Broad Agreement

Click to view: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/11/08/world/middleeast/Background-Irans-Nuclear-Program-And-Possible-Steps-to-a-Broad-Agreement.html

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

Hawks squawk even before Iran nuclear deal is sealed

Opposition from Israel and others should be tempered by the fact agreement looks likely to be phased, limited and reversible

Ian Black, Middle East editor
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 15.36 GMT   
      
Hardliners in Tehran, hawks in Tel Aviv and Washington, nervous Saudis and their Gulf allies are all alarmed at the prospect of a nuclear deal between Iran, the US and the international community.

Initial reactions from conservative opponents of President Hassan Rouhani have been predictably critical - with warnings that all sanctions had to be lifted and Iran's right to uranium enrichment recognised before confidence-building measures could proceed.

So were the openly angry words from the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, still hinting at a unilateral strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. The agreement reached in Switzerland was, he warned, "the deal of the century" for the Islamic Republic. But Israel – with its own undeclared atomic arsenal – would not be bound by it.

In the US, suspicions look likely to harden on Capitol Hill as the crucial details of the Geneva agreement, and especially any relief from sanctions, become clear. The White House has already had to urge Congress not to tie its hands in the talks with Iran.

Saudi Arabia, which has dramatically demonstrated its chagrin at Barack Obama's policies towards both Iran and Syria, kept silent on Friday. But no one has forgotten – thanks to WikiLeaks – King Abdullah's famous call to "cut off the head of the snake" in Tehran. Warnings this week that the kingdom may acquire its own nuclear weapons from Pakistan were a reminder – perhaps a deliberate one – of the high stakes being played for in the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates is also likely to be deeply unhappy about the beginning of a rapprochement between its powerful regional rival and traditional protector.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, who was putting the finishing touches to the P5 + 1 agreement in Geneva, has already had to reassure the Gulf states, as well as Jordan and Egypt, that America will not allow them to be targeted by Iran. Bahrain, with its restive and repressed Shia majority, worries in particular about this. Tehran, warned one influential Gulf commentator, could interpret a nuclear agreement as "American acquiescence in Iranian meddling in their allies affairs".

Opposition everywhere should, however, be tempered by the fact that the emerging deal looks likely to be phased, limited and reversible, offering partial relief from crippling sanctions in return for verifiable progress on international monitoring of Iran's nuclear programme.

In the Islamic Republic, the key to momentum will be sufficiently tangible economic improvements to build up the popular support Rouhani needs to bolster his position vis-a-vis diehard conservatives and the Revolutionary Guards, imbued with decades of suspicion towards the US, the west and their Arab allies. The continuing confrontation over the war in Syria, where Tehran and Lebanon's Hezbollah back Bashar al-Assad to the hilt while the Saudis support the Sunni rebels, has been a vivid reminder of Iran's regional reach and influence. For the moment though, Rouhani appears to enjoy the backing of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has urged critics "not to consider our negotiators as compromisers".

Israel's ill-tempered opposition – even before anything has been formally agreed – looks set to further strain its already tense relations with Washignton. "Netanyahu unwise to challenge US so openly/dismissively on possible Iran nuclear deal," tweeted Nicholas Burns, a former senior US diplomat. "Netanyahu's outburst was a serious tactical error." The Israeli prime minister has taken a hard line on this issue for years, so it is no surprise he is taking the news badly. It is still hard to imagine, however, that Israel would attack Iran – even if it has the military capability to do so alone – while a prolonged and internationally backed agreement is in place.

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

White House ambitions on Iran deal face challenge from hawks in Congress

Hopes that US will announce short-team deal Iran nuclear plans could be frustrated by bid to impose new sanctions on Tehran

Spencer Ackerman in Washington
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 22.16 GMT           

As soon as the Obama administration reaches an anticipated deal with Iran over its nuclear program, it will face a new challenge that threatens to strangle the accord in its crib: the inevitable attempts on Capitol Hill to impose new economic sanctions on Tehran.

Expectations are high in Washington that John Kerry, the secretary of state, will announce a limited, short-term deal with Iran, following his unexpected arrival in Geneva on Friday to participate in negotiations.

Yet the White House was quick to say that it is resolved to “protecting the broader architecture of the sanctions program,” as deputy press secretary Josh Earnest put it on Friday.

Unless Kerry can persuade Tehran to freeze all its enrichment activity before an interim deal, nuclear experts say, bipartisan congressional opponents of Iran will rapidly push to expand the sanctions regime. Iran wants the sanctions removed, and may consider an expansion of them a sign of America’s bad faith in advance of the longer-term deal both sides say they want.

The Senate, filled with Iran hawks, has multiple opportunities to expand the sanctions regime as early as Monday. One is a package of new sanctions in the Senate banking committee that chairman Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, said Thursday he will pursue after “the Geneva meeting is over with.”

Johnson told Reuters that Senate majority leader Harry Reid, one of President Obama’s most important legislative allies, signaled to Johnson to proceed with marking up the new sanctions bill.

Also, beginning next week, the Senate is anticipated to debate the next fiscal year’s defense authorization bill, which Republican senators say could provide an opportunity to put in place new sanctions.

Tennessee’s Bob Corker, the top Republican on the foreign relations committee Kerry used to chair, told the Daily Beast he crafted an amendment “to freeze the administration in, and make it so they are unable to reduce the sanctions unless certain things occur.”

The Republican-controlled House already passed an expansion of sanctions in July that awaits Senate action.

Congressional distaste for an Iran deal is likely to be fueled by the outright fury to it voiced by Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an influential figure on Capitol Hill. Obama telephoned Netanyahu on Friday to smooth things over.

"The president provided the prime minister with an update on negotiations in Geneva and underscored his strong commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which is the aim of the negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran," according to a White House description of the call. "The president and prime minister agreed to continue to stay in touch on this issue. "

The fight over new sanctions “is ongoing, and it’s probably going to get worse” for the administration, said Laicie Heeley of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

US presidents have broad authority over sanctions, but not absolute authorities. Congress not only passes sanctions bills, it can craft them to restrict so-called waiver authority that allows presidents to pause the implementation of sanctions deemed to be against the national interest.

“It would be their worst nightmare if Congress were to pass something that completely took away all the president’s waiver authority – because then all of our sanctions are completely useless, and passing them doesn’t mean anything, because we passed them to get Iran to the negotiating table to get a deal,” Heeley said. “If we can’t do anything to take them away, then they’re worthless.”

To stave off criticism of the deal before it was reached, the White House even publicly flirted with adding new sanctions.

Should the interim deal break down or a follow-on deal prove impossible in the coming months, “the moderate sanctions relief we’re talking about here would be reversible,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Thursday, “and we would be in a situation where, acting with the international community, acting with Congress, we could reinstate all of the sanctions and consider ratcheting up sanctions to increase pressure.”

The fact that Carney discussed escalating punitive measures ahead of a deal that would, at the least, alleviate them, speaks to the depths of distrust in Washington at anything resembling a deal with Iran, short of up-front Iranian capitulation.

As Friday wore on, with foreign ministers shuttling to Geneva for the talks, conservative legislators and thinktanks lined up to denounce the deal before they knew what it contained.

The Republican chairman of the House armed services committee, Californian Buck McKeon, castigated it as an unmitigated disaster.

“Relieving sanctions without a guarantee that Iran will end its nuclear program is foolish,” McKeon said.

“For some reason, this administration has yet to meet a red line it won’t brush aside to accommodate our enemies. They must stop chasing the thrill of a deal at the expense of US national security, and the security of our allies.”

The Emergency Committee for Israel, an implacable administration foe, encouraged Congress on Friday to “take all appropriate measures to oppose [a deal] and ratchet up sanctions. And Congress should also make it clear that the United States will stand with our ally, Israel, if she judges it necessary to act to prevent the Iranian regime from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

But proponents of an accord with think the Obama administration holds a strong hand – in part thanks, ironically, to the multiplicity of Iran sanctions bills.

“It’s the clock, it’s the weight of multiple [legislative] vehicles but no agreement on the way forward, it’s the key leaders on the committees, and it’s the dynamic that will change in response to a discussion of something real” with Iran, said Joel Rubin of the Ploughshares Fund, a former State Department official and congressional aide.

“Members will think twice, and the administration’s outreach these last couple of weeks has been effective on the consequences of damaging a nuclear deal.”

But Mark Dubowitz, an Iran sanctions expert at the hawkish Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said the administration was setting itself up for a multi-front fight, especially for a follow-on agreement: against Iran at the negotiating table; with Congress over the contours of the deal; and with Israel and Saudi Arabia, who are terrified at the prospect of US-Iranian rapprochement.

“What people are forgetting is that there’s not going to be a final agreement with Iran unless Congress is treated as an equal partner in this. Congress can block the final-deal terms, because the Iranians want fundamental sanctions relief, and the fundamental sanctions relief that they want is sitting in congressional legislation,” Dubowitz said.

“I think the administration has set itself up for a very, very difficult six months,” Dubowitz said.

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

November 8, 2013

On Iran, Netanyahu Can Only Fume

By JODI RUDOREN
IHT

JERUSALEM — Incensed by the prospect of an interim deal that would ease some sanctions against Iran during negotiations over its nuclear program, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is doing what he is best known for, and perhaps best at: He is speaking out, in strident tones, despite the inevitable discomfort for a high-profile guest from Washington.

In four strong statements over 24 hours on Thursday and Friday — to world Jewish leaders, to visiting members of Congress and before and after a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry in Tel Aviv — Mr. Netanyahu condemned the agreement being negotiated in Geneva. He ratcheted up his criticism each time, finally calling the agreement “the deal of the century” for Iran and “a very dangerous and bad deal” for the international community.

The remarks highlighted the growing gulf and heightened tensions between the United States and Israel over the nuclear talks and other issues in the Middle East. But they also hinted at the limited tools left for Mr. Netanyahu, who is sidelined in the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, which he views as an existential threat to his country and has long made his primary focus.

As Washington and its Western allies increasingly show willingness to make some concessions to engage Iran in the negotiations, Mr. Netanyahu has few options beyond serving as the hawkish scold in hopes of applying pressure on Israel’s allies. “I don’t see any magic wand he can really produce at this moment,” said Dan Gillerman, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. “This is a very difficult and trying time for the Israeli prime minister.”

Although Mr. Netanyahu’s declaration on Friday that Israel is not “obliged” by any agreement made in Geneva raised anew the specter of an Israeli military strike on Tehran, experts here say such an attack is all but impossible to imagine while negotiations proceed — and without American support.

Mr. Netanyahu could use Israel’s clout in Congress to push for new sanctions, or to foment discontent over President Obama’s foreign policy, but taking his case directly to Capitol Hill poisoned his relationship with the White House early on and could be too risky with the fate of Iran’s nuclear ambitions in the balance.

Perhaps the most potent possibility lies in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which Mr. Kerry engineered and came here this week in hopes of pushing forward amid swelling signs of crisis. After a clearly frustrated Mr. Kerry criticized Israel for continued construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Mr. Netanyahu declared on Friday that “pressure has to be put where it belongs, that is, on the Palestinians who refuse to budge.” He made clear he was in no mood to compromise.

“The more he’s unhappy about Iran, the less likely he is to move on the Palestinians, because it’s one of the leverages he has,” said Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States. “There has always been some sort of potential linkage between the Iranian issue and the Palestinian issue,” Mr. Rabinovich said. “Sort of saying, ‘O.K., I’m not happy with what I hear about Geneva, and I definitely am not going to please you by giving you, the secretary, or you, the president, the deal on the Palestinians you so much want.’ ”

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, denounced Mr. Netanyahu’s statements on Iran as “arrogant,” “childish” and “an insult” to Mr. Kerry, and said they reflected a relentless focus on Israel’s security that has prevented progress in the peace talks.

“His temper tantrum response to an Iran agreement is just an extension of that mentality,” Ms. Ashrawi said. “I want to do what I want to do, I want to get away with everything, and I want to dictate to everyone, including the U.S., how they should behave regarding Israel’s security the way Israel exclusively defines it.”

Mr. Netanyahu contends that like a tiny hole in a tire, even a limited lifting of sanctions against Iran threatens to unravel the entire package. Most Israeli analysts say that this fear is sincere, but that Mr. Netanyahu also has a track record of using such hard-line stances to force the West’s hand on Iran. Some saw his statements on Friday as an overreaction to what Mr. Kerry and others have made clear they see as only a small, first diplomatic step.

“It seems like he thinks that this is the final agreement — it is not,” said Amos Yadlin, the director of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “The real judgment of whether it’s a bad deal or an acceptable deal will be in the end of the negotiating period.”

Mr. Yadlin said the prime minister seemed to be “crying wolf too early,” adding, “You should keep the wolf for the final agreement.”

Efraim Halevy, a former head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, agreed that “the endgame” was what mattered, but noted that “the more you enter stages, the less you can be certain that you will get what you need in the end.” The key question, Mr. Halevy said, is the “reversibility” of the provisions of an agreement that would lift some sanctions on Iran in exchange for a freeze of uranium enrichment.

“Once you begin to relieve sanctions, to reimpose them is not a light matter — getting the sanctions in place took a long time,” Mr. Halevy said. “Whereas reversing the enrichment doesn’t take time, you simply get the machines going again within hours.”

Disagreements about the details notwithstanding, Mr. Netanyahu’s response to the possible Iran deal, along with an interview that was broadcast here on Thursday in which Mr. Kerry seemed more sympathetic than usual to the Palestinian case, suggested that Washington and Jerusalem may be entering another era of disagreement and distrust. Despite repeated promises by the Obama administration to keep Israel in the loop on the Iran negotiations, Mr. Netanyahu told the American lawmakers Thursday — twice — that he was “absolutely stunned” to learn that a deal was in the works.

On Friday, a photo opportunity with Mr. Kerry and Mr. Netanyahu was canceled amid the friction. Later, Mr. Obama called Mr. Netanyahu and “underscored his strong commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” according to a White House statement.

“There is a fundamental difference of understanding between this Israeli government and this U.S. administration, and it’s reflecting in the reality that’s emerging on a variety of tracks,” said Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. “This Israeli government, even though it won’t say so openly, regards this administration as bungling across the Middle East.”

“The way Netanyahu figures he has to deal with that right now,” Mr. Spyer added, “is to state his case bluntly rather than adhere to another view which he regards as fundamentally flawed and dangerous.”


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« Reply #9866 on: Nov 09, 2013, 07:54 AM »


China's leaders in closed-door meeting to establish direction of economy

The conclave which begins in a Beijing hotel on Saturday has been billed as the great unveiling of reforms

Tania Branigan in Beijing
theguardian.com, Saturday 9 November 2013 01.21 GMT      

It has been billed as the great unveiling of unprecedented reforms. But the Chinese public will not know what the future holds until their leaders' closed-door meeting concludes on Tuesday. In truth, they may not really find out for years, say experts.

The conclave which begins in a Beijing hotel on Saturday – the third gathering of the Communist party's top brass since Xi Jinping took power almost a year ago – will establish the direction for the world's second largest economy.

Yu Zhengsheng, a senior leader, has pledged that the meeting of the central committee will set out "unprecedented" reforms. State news agency Xinhua said it would "unleash China's new round of reform, which is expected to steer the country into an historic turning point".

Such talk has encouraged speculation about substantial economic and financial reforms and even comparisons with the third plenum of 1978 – when Deng Xiaoping closed the door on Maoism and set China on its current course. Ever since, third plenums have been regarded as particularly significant. Another of the meetings, in 1993, ushered in major reforms to state owned enterprises (SOEs).

On Tuesday, Xinhua will issue a dispatch as the meeting closes, giving the first indication of the leadership's plans.

"What's going to come out is a political communique that does not have significant details about how they are going to implement it," said Damien Ma, a fellow at the Paulson Institute.

Rather, it is designed to set out a clear direction and create some momentum, wrote Barry Naughton of the University of California, San Diego on the Asia Society's China File website.

Few doubt the need for drastic changes. While China's economic boom has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, few believe the current course of development is sustainable. Growth is slowing, inequality has soared and issues such as pollution and corruption have led to increasing resentment.

Reformers hope that the plenum will signal progress not only on financial liberalisation, but also on land reform, changes to the household registration system that limits the welfare rights of rural migrants living in cities, and possibly the curbing of powerful SOEs.

The problem is that implementation will be challenged by those who have prospered in the current system, noted Feng Chongyi, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Technology, Sydney.

"The Chinese know that the current system is 'power-elite capitalism' or 'party-state capitalism'. They talk about good things, but good reforms will be disturbed to serve the interests of that narrow interest group," he warned.

"Financial reforms are relatively easy ... [issues like curbing SOEs] are very difficult even within the party," said Tao Ran, director of the Centre for Economics and Governance at Renmin University.

But Ma noted: "You have to combine the communique with what is expected [in terms of] a more comprehensive plan on tackling corruption. I think its an open secret that those are intimately linked."

The clean-up campaign "is a way to get rid of what everyone talks about: these vague, abstract 'vested interests'", he said.

He suggested that references to 1978 were germane because it suggested using pilot schemes to incubate reforms, as in the eighties.

The recent low-key launch of the Shanghai free-trade zone makes some sceptical about how much energy the leadership will put behind such initiatives. While it was initially lauded as a major development, details remain unclear and premier Li Keqiang did not attend the opening ceremony.

Kerry Brown, executive director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, noted that while 1978 is now universally recognised as a turning point, many of the early changes were incremental and began at the grassroots.

"The problem with this kind of plenum is that it's not seen as being historically important until years after it has happened," he argued.

Cheng Li and Ryan McElveen of the Brookings Institution wrote this week that pessimism was sensible but argued that the leadership had a real sense of urgency and a collective understanding of the need for "big, bold and broad" reforms to gain public support.

"Will President Xi and his team prove the pessimists wrong at the Third Plenum? They must – their political relevance depends on it," they warned.


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« Reply #9867 on: Nov 09, 2013, 07:56 AM »


Philippines death toll from typhoon Haiyan 'could rocket within 24 hours'

195mph storm – the strongest ever to hit land – likely to have caused 'catastrophic damage' in isolated island communities

Kate Hodal, south Asia correspondent
The Guardian, Friday 8 November 2013 18.47 GMT      

Super-typhoon Haiyan – thought to be the strongest recorded storm ever to hit land – has barrelled through the Philippines with winds up to 195mph and waves as high as five metres.

The category 5 storm, which made landfall at dawn on Friday on Samar island in the central Philippines, blew westward in a devastating streak across a number of islands, including Leyte, Cebu, Bohol and Negros, where it brought down power lines, knocked out communications, caused landslides and left streets flooded.

Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated and thousands more fled their homes as Haiyan tore apart buildings and left whole provinces without power or communications. Experts predicted "catastrophic damage" as a result of the super-typhoon, whose speeds at landfall of 195mph and gusts of up to 235mph were faster than the previous strongest tropical cyclone, Hurricane Camille, which was recorded in the US at 190mph in 1969.

Official reports indicated that two people had been killed after being struck by power lines, another by lightning and possibly one more by a falling tree.

But the final toll is expected to climb much higher as so many affected areas were cut off, said Mathias Eick, of the European commission's humanitarian aid department (Echo) in Manila.

"In our previous experience with similar storms, because the Philippines are comprised of many islands and many isolated communities, often the statistics show a very low human toll [at first] but then within 24 or 48 hours the numbers just take off," he added. "We're talking about a storm where two-thirds of the whole area of the Philippines was directly affected – not entirely by the eye of the storm but by a very large area – and with many isolated communities on smaller islands or living in mountainous areas, it takes some time for the authorities, Red Cross and volunteers to collate the information."

About 12 airports were closed – including those in the tourist islands of Palawan and Boracay – and schools and offices shut, with roughly 1 million people in shelters scattered around 29 provinces.

Haiyan – the Philippines' 25th typhoon this year – has put an estimated 12 million people at risk and as of 10pm local time was still pummelling the country with sustained winds of 120mph and gusts of 143mph, with the eye of the storm located 20 miles west of Coron, Palawan, according to local media.

"There aren't too many buildings constructed that can withstand that kind of wind," said meteorologist Jeff Masters. "There are very few storms that have stayed at category 5 strength for so long."

The 370-mile-wide storm, which is called Yolanda in the Philippines, cut power to entire provinces, ripped iron roofs off buildings and threw trees across roads. Certain areas, such as Tacloban City and Cadiz, were particularly badly hit.

"We've been hearing from my colleagues in [the city of] Tacloban that they've seen galvanised iron sheets flying just like kites," Mai Zamora, of the charity World Vision, told the BBC. "It's actually all around the roads now. The roads are flooded in Tacloban."

Camera-phone videos uploaded to YouTube and Twitter showed streets reduced to rivers full of debris, trees bent horizontal or fully uprooted and huge waves crashing against slums located along riverways.

The damage to infrastructure, agriculture and livestock, electricity, water supplies, shipping routes and harbours all across the Philippines could be huge, said Eick. The World Food Programme expects that at least 2.5 million people will require food assistance.

On Bohol island, where a 7.3-magnitude earthquake last month toppled colonial churches and killed 200 people, residents waited out the typhoon in the dark, without power or water supplies, said Jackie Pinat of the Catholic aid agency Cafod.

"Many people on the island lost their homes in the earthquake, and many structures are unsafe," she said. "Most people in the coastal villages around Maribojoc are still in designated evacuation centres."

In 2012 Typhoon Bopha destroyed much of the southern islands, killing about 1,100 people and causing more than $1bn (£625m) damage.

Experts say that the sheer velocity of Haiyan may help limit the severity of damage, as a tremendous effort from the Philippines' emergency response included early evacuations and operational supplies: President Benigno Aquino III assigned three cargo planes, 20 navy ships and 32 military planes and helicopters for rescue operations and to provide relief. "No typhoon can bring Filipinos to their knees if we'll be united," he said in a televised address.

However, the typhoon's resulting storm surge could still cause extensive damage.

After 48 hours as a category 5 storm, Haiyan was downgraded to a category 4 and is expected to leave the Philippines early on Saturday. It will move towards the warm waters of the South China Sea and could make landfall in central Vietnam late .


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« Reply #9868 on: Nov 09, 2013, 07:59 AM »


The world must unite to save Central African Republic from catastrophe

Sectarian violence has devastated CAR. The international community must not stand idly by while its citizens are murdered

Dieudonné Nzapalaing
theguardian.com, Saturday 9 November 2013 07.01 GMT   

We are in a delicate situation in the Central African Republic, and the tension is mounting. There is a terrifying, real threat of sectarian conflict.

On a recent trip to Bossangoa province, I was shocked to discover that village after village had been deserted. People told us they were afraid of the Séléka rebels, that residents were opting to stay in the forest in inhumane conditions because of the brutality Séléka rebels had inflicted upon them.

As we journeyed along the road, an eerie calm enveloped us. And then we stumbled across a group of young people carrying traditional weapons. When we asked what they were doing, they said: "We're here to protect the village from the Séléka, who have come to pillage, rob, kill and rape."

Our group ventured to another village, where we discovered that everything had been burned: the Catholic and Protestant churches, the mosque – everything had been reduced to ashes.

Some 65,000 people are displaced in Central African Republic (CAR) because there is a lack of security. It is heart-breaking to see people trapped away from home, too afraid to return.

The Séléka is 90% Muslim and 10% Christian. When they enter a town, they head for the Muslim communities, because Séléka chiefs speak only Arabic, not French or Songo, the two national languages. And when they rob villagers, they force members of the Muslim community to store their loot. This is why some residents are fooled into believing there is complicity between the Muslims and Séléka. But it is a far more complicated business than that.

The escalating situation in CAR has led to the imam of Bombari, the president of the Protestant community, and I to form what we have called a platform for peace. We have visited many villages and our message is clear – we want co-existence. Muslims and Christians must learn to live together in peace.

Irrespective of a person's faith, our group defends everyone, because all humans are sacred. We will not allow rebels to shatter our history of co-existence.

The African-led peacekeeping force, Misca, had been charged with disarmament and weapons collection, but it patrolled with the Séléka. This meant that if the rebels started abusing people, the Misca would withdraw, leaving the civilian population at their mercy. The Séléka would then loot, steal, rape, torture and commit summary executions.

With the support of aid charities such as Cafod, we want to draw global attention to our plight and encourage the international community to mobilise and demand a return to peace and security in CAR.

That is why I agreed to go to Europe to give evidence at the UN human rights council. The first thing we need is to disarm the rebels and then we must work with communities on peace and reconciliation, letting them know that it is possible to once again live together in peace.

Let us not forget that CAR is surrounded by other countries, with millions of inhabitants. If it becomes a sanctuary for terrorists, narcotics traffickers, jihadists and bandits, our neighbours will be affected too. To avoid this deadly contagion, we need to act now.

We want the elections to take place, but CAR's civil service has been destroyed – civil records no longer exist, so we have to reconstitute these and carry out another referendum and conduct a census. We hope this will happen before 2015, so we can be assured of credible and uncontested national polls to guide us further along the path of democracy.

CAR is part of the international community, and this community must not allow citizens to be murdered, tortured and maltreated while standing by and watching with indifference.

My faith allows me the privilege of visiting places others cannot. I try to comfort those who are suffering, to let them know I will not allow them to be forgotten, that their voice can carry and humanity can hear them. We have to act now.

Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalaing of Bangui is president of Caritas Central African Republic.


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« Reply #9869 on: Nov 09, 2013, 08:01 AM »


Israel killed Yasser Arafat, claims Palestinian official

But head of Palestinian inquiry refuses to say Palestinian leader was poisoned by radioactive substance polonium

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem and agencies in Ramallah
theguardian.com, Friday 8 November 2013 13.03 GMT   

Israel was the "first, fundamental and only suspect" in the suspicious death of Yasser Arafat, a senior Palestinian official said on Friday after receiving reports by Swiss and Russian scientists on samples taken from the exhumed corpse of the late Palestinian leader.

Tawfik Tirawi, who heads a Palestinian committee investigating Arafat's death nine years ago, said he did not die from natural causes, but was evasive when asked repeatedly whether he believed Arafat was poisoned by the radioactive substance polonium-210.

"It is not important that I say here that he was killed by polonium," said Tirawi. "But I say, with all the details available about Yasser Arafat's death, that he was killed, and that Israel killed him."

He later described Israel as the "first, fundamental and only suspect in the assassination of Yasser Arafat".

However, the Russian report said the evidence of polonium-210 was inconclusive. "The outcome of the comprehensive report on the levels of polonium-210 and the development of his illness does not give sufficient evidence to support the decision that polonium-210 caused acute radiation syndrome leading to death," said Dr Abdullah Bashir, quoting the conclusions of the Russian report.

But Bashir said that both the Swiss and Russian reports found large amounts of the radioactive isotope in his remains.

The Russian findings were significantly more cautious than the Swiss conclusions, published by al-Jazeera and the Guardian on Wednesday, which said that its tests "moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210".

A third group of scientists, who took samples from the exhumed corpse at the request of French magistrates who are formally investigating Arafat's death in Paris in 2004, has not disclosed its findings.

Israel has vigorously denied any role in Arafat's death, saying it had politically isolated him at the time and had no reason to assassinate him.

"Let me state this as simply as I can: Israel did not kill Arafat," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said on Friday. "The Palestinians should stop this nonsense and stop raising these baseless accusations without any shadow of proof."

It has been suggested that, if Israel was responsible, it must have had assistance from one or more of the 270 Palestinians holed up in the besieged presidential compound in Ramallah where Arafat was effectively imprisoned for two and a half years. Israelis security forces controlled everything that entered the compound, including food and water, but had no control over who consumed which items.

Others have suggested that one or more of Arafat's rivals could have sought his removal.

The Palestinian committee of investigation has made little progress. Arafat's widow, Suha, this week called for a credible and thorough inquiry.

Arafat died on 11 November 2004 at a French military hospital aged 75, a month after falling ill at his West Bank compound. At the time French doctors said he died of a stroke and had a blood-clotting problem, but records were inconclusive about what caused that condition.

Arafat's grave was opened earlier this year, enabling Swiss, Russian and French scientists to take bone and soil samples for separate investigations.

The Swiss team presented its findings on Thursday, saying it found abnormal levels of polonium-210 and lead in Arafat's remains that could not have occurred naturally and that the results "reasonably" support the theory that Arafat was poisoned by polonium. They said the timeframe of Arafat's illness and death was consistent with poisoning from ingesting polonium.

The substance is rare and lethal even in minuscule amounts, and nine years on it would be difficult to track down anyone who might have slipped it into Arafat's food or drink.


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