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« Reply #10335 on: Nov 30, 2013, 07:26 AM »


David Cameron to distance Britain from Dalai Lama during China visit

Changed stance over Dalai Lama as No 10 seeks to shift UK-China trade relations

Nicholas Watt   
The Guardian, Saturday 30 November 2013   
   
David Cameron will distance Britain from the Dalai Lama during a trip to China next week as the price for restoring full business and diplomatic relations with Beijing. The changed stance is the result of an internal Whitehall debate on the best approach to Tibet and China that was won by the chancellor, George Osborne.

As the Free Tibet group called on the prime minister to raise the issue of human rights in Tibet, Downing Street sources said Britain has "turned a page" on the Dalai Lama and Cameron has no plans to meet him in the foreseeable future.

A No 10 source said: "This visit is forward looking. We have turned a page on that issue. It is about the future and how we want to shift UK-China relations up a gear."

The stark message came as the prime minister prepares to meet President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, who were installed in March, on a delayed visit to China next week.

The prime minister was forced to abandon a visit to China in April after Beijing indicated that the main Communist leadership were unlikely to be available. The move was officially explained by the need for the new leadership to bed down a month after the transfer of power, but was widely seen as a deliberate diplomatic snub. It was understood that Beijing wanted to show its displeasure after Cameron and Nick Clegg met the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, at St Paul's Cathedral in May 2012.

The snub prompted intense discussion at the highest levels in Whitehall over Britain's relations with China. The chancellor told a group of ministers at a private gathering attended by Cameron that Britain's relationship with China was of such economic and geopolitical significance that it could not allow British sensitivities over human rights to complicate matters. It is understood that the Foreign Office was keen for Britain to tread with care.

Osborne triumphed in the discussions and led a five-day trade mission to China last month which paved the way for Beijing to invest in Britain's new generation of nuclear power plants. The prime minister listened carefully to the cautious Foreign Office voices but will heed Osborne's advice when he declines to raise the issue of the Dalai Lama and Tibet in Beijing.

Downing Street declined to say whether he would challenge the Chinese leadership on human rights in the rest of China. European leaders tend to have a delphic mechanism for dealing with human rights in which they refer to an established dialogue on the issue which is then handled by lowly officials on the Chinese side.

Asked whether human rights would be raised, a No 10 source said: "We have a broad ranging relationship with China where we discuss a lot of issues. Nothing is off the table. If you look at the prime minister's visits and his bilateral meetings here human rights is an issue we discuss."

Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, said: "David Cameron may now claim to be opening a new chapter with China, but in truth this visit is an attempt to make up a lot of lost ground. He came to office saying strengthening the UK's relationship with China would be a top foreign policy priority, but his lack of diplomatic skill has put the UK-China relationship in the deep freeze for the last three years."

Downing Street believes the visit is taking place at a crucial time after the Chinese leadership unveiled a major expansion of economic freedoms. But the visit may be overshadowed by the dispute between Japan and China over the disputed Senkaku island. The prime minister will find himself in China at the same time as the US vice president Joe Biden who begins a visit to the region on Sunday.

An ICM poll commissioned by the Free Tibet group found that 69% of those questioned believe it is as important or more important for human rights to be protected in Tibet as it is to maintain good relations with China.

Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, the group's director, said: "George Osborne may not have stood up for human rights and Tibet during his recent visit, but it's absolutely clear that the British public expect Mr Cameron to do better. He was willing to raise human rights in Sri Lanka just days ago and he needs to show that Britain's principles are not dependent on the wealth of his host. It's clear from this poll that only a handful of British people believe trade with China is more important than human rights in Tibet and that they expect Mr Cameron to act like a statesman, not a salesman.

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

London 'slave' group went from figures of fun to tiny underground commune

Workers' Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought deplored Soviet 'scum' and regarded Britain as a fascist state

Peter Walker   
The Guardian, Friday 29 November 2013 20.36 GMT   
   
The description in the February 1977 edition of the South London Workers' Bulletin is dramatic and breathlessly rhetorical. A hard-working young mother is harassed by a government social security officer over her involvement in a Maoist group. The woman defends herself, and then her young daughter raises a fist and starts singing The Internationale. The story concludes: "Faced with this militant solidarity, the welfare woman ran out like a rat."

The woman in question later cut her ties with the group, the south London-based Workers' Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought. Two others, however, did not – and seemingly lived with the group's charismatic leader, Aravindan Balakrishnan, for 30 years in conditions police allege amounted to a form of domestic slavery, until they left last month with the aid of a charity.

The astonishing story of Aisha Wahab, now 69, and 57-year-old Josephine Herivel, along with a 30-year-old named in reports as Rosie Davies, has focused unexpected attention on a tiny, far-left group, which even those involved in Brixton's radical scene of the time rarely recalled before last week.

Wahab has now been reunited with her sister, Kamar Mahtum, 73. Mahtum, who flew to London from Malaysia this week, met the 69-year-old at an undisclosed location. She told the Daily Telegraph: "It was a very emotional day, very revealing, but then I was contented. I got what I wanted, and I can bring home beautiful memories.

"I have a feeling that she still wants to come home, eventually. We'll work hard to persuade her."

A handful of the surviving pamphlets from Balakrishnan's group uncovered by the Guardian present a view in which the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was "revisionist scum" for rolling back Stalin's policies, and China's "great, glorious and correct" communists were poised to liberate the world.

Balakrishnan's group was seen as fringe even for the era, recalls Paul Flewers, a historian of far-left groups who was himself a follower of the Revolutionary Communist party.

He said: "In comparison to the rest of us, they were like a strange sect compared to a C of E vicar. We'd have our own paper sales in Brixton at the time, by the station. They'd turn up with their flyers with pictures of Mao on them, and we'd queue up to get them. After our sales were over, we'd go down to the pub and have a good laugh at them. It doesn't seem so funny now."

The pamphlets show a group that was almost as obsessed by leftist "revisionists" as by the government or the group's perpetual nemesis, the police.

An issue from May 1976, emblazoned with a profile of Mao – who at that point was months away from death and thinking more of his own succession than plans to liberate Brixton – spends seven densely typed pages railing against Britain's trade unions, or "agents of the fascist bourgeoisie within the working-class movement".

Bob Nind, who as vicar of St Matthew's in Brixton was in contact with many political and community groups, recalls a neighbourhood where unused buildings were common and every variety of organisation sprang up in cheap rented offices or squats.

He said: "Many collectives were just people who wanted to make some changes in society, and wanted to make all their decisions together, which was usually fatal in the end. Others were more idealist.

"The Workers Revolutionary party would meet in the crypt of St Matthew's, where they seemed to be singing hymns most of the time. They weren't hymns but they sounded like hymns if you didn't hear the words. On one occasion, at the same time at the other end of the crypt was Chris Patten and the Conservatives. It was an interesting sort of time."

In general, Nind remembers, the far-left groups tolerated each other, with resentment aimed at a police force, which mainly lived in barracks outside the area, tensions which soon led to riots in Brixton in 1981.

"The emphasis was very much more on the attitudes of the police towards the young black community. I think everybody was beginning to feel that."

Balakrishnan's group had links to Brixton's West Indian community. The mother whose daughter sang The Internationale was an immigrant from St Lucia, while one of Balakrishnan's closest lieutenants, Ekins Brome, was also a member of the Black Revolutionary Workers' Movement.

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

November 29, 2013

London Mayor Raises Eyebrows, and Ire

By STEVEN ERLANGER
IHT

LONDON — Boris Johnson, the flamboyant, self-mocking and ambitious mayor of London, has put his gilded foot in his mouth once again, suggesting that the poor of Britain are victims of low I.Q. and that greed is good.

Mr. Johnson, who many believe wants to succeed David Cameron as prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, has created for himself an image that is both bumbling and endearing, based on bluster, wit and fundamental competence.

He has survived missteps, including various affairs and a love child, that would have sunk ordinary politicians, and he is a fiercely intelligent debater and funnier than most comedians.

But his comments on Wednesday night in the Margaret Thatcher Lecture at the Center for Policy Studies here have created an uglier fuss, with the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, of the Liberal Democrats, accusing Mr. Johnson of a “careless elitism” and discussing humankind “as if we are a sort of breed of dogs.”

Mr. Johnson is no scientist, but he has stepped into the kind of debate over the relationship of I.Q. to race and poverty that has tripped up many others before him. He was defending the record of Mrs. Thatcher and her belief in hard work and meritocratic reward, and he urged both helping the poor and giving more support to the brightest. But as he did so, he appeared to mock the 16 percent “of our species” who have an I.Q. below 85 and urged that more help be given to the 2 percent who have an I.Q. of 130 or above.

He said that inequality was inevitable and essential to spur envy and ambition, and hailed greed as a critical spark for economic activity, even as he said he hoped that the financial boom of London would not produce the cruelty of the past.

“I also hope that there is no return to that spirit of Loadsamoney heartlessness — figuratively riffling bank notes under the noses of the homeless,” he said. At the same time, he spoke about growing inequality as a danger to civic peace and made an analogy comparing people to cornflakes in a cereal box that, when shaken hard produced some cornflakes that rose to the top.

“For one reason or another — boardroom greed or, as I am assured, the natural and God-given talent of boardroom inhabitants — the income gap between the top cornflakes and the bottom cornflakes is getting wider than ever,” he said, adding, “We cannot ignore this change in relative economic standing, and the resentment it sometimes brings.”

The left-leaning Guardian newspaper was not alone in pointing out, in an editorial, that Mr. Johnson had misunderstood the nature of the I.Q. test, on which a score of 100 is defined as average. So it is simply a matter of a normal bell curve that 16 percent of the population would be below 85 and 2 percent at 130 or above.

“Any idea that they say anything about ‘our species’ is, well, specious,” The Guardian wrote, adding that I.Q. figures were irrelevant to any discussion about wages. And the newspaper suggested that Mr. Johnson’s elite upbringing, including his time at Eton, might have had something to do with causing “his flake to float to the top of the box.”

Mark Steel, writing in The Independent, praised Mr. Johnson’s “courage,” noting sarcastically that the trouble with Britain was that its bankers had not been able to display any greed. Even in 2006, Mr. Steel noted, they were instead “renting out their offices for free to orphans and injured kittens.”

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

November 29, 2013

British Loan Provider’s Steep Rates Under Siege

By KIMIKO DE FREYTAS-TAMURA
IHT

LONDON — The promotional film depicted the humble, happy lives of a dozen customers of Wonga, Britain’s biggest so-called payday lender.

Bathed in golden light, backed by dreamy music, the men and women described their prized possessions. Money? Barely mentioned.

But the short film, commissioned by Wonga and released online this month, backfired — by drawing further attention to the company, Britain’s biggest provider of payday loans, which critics have assailed as a predatory practice at a time of economic hardship. Stella Creasy, the Labour Party spokeswoman for business issues, posted on her Twitter account: “you can find 12 happy customers, I can provide you with 1200 caught in toxic payday loan trap.”

Responding to the controversy, the Conservative government — whose regulation of such lenders has been light compared with the United States, France, Germany and other European countries — said on Monday that it would propose a law to cap borrowers’ costs for payday loans.

Wonga, which offers small loans online at high interest rates, has found a market among Britons who need quick cash for short periods, something British banks rarely provide.

Of the few hundred payday lenders in Britain, Wonga is the leader by far. It made 1.16 billion pounds ($1.9 billion) in loans last year, about half of the country’s payday loan market. The company had a net profit last year of £62.5 million on revenue of £309 million.

Critics say payday lenders exploit the poor. Wonga typically charges a daily rate of 1 percent on a loan of up to £1,000. A £150 loan over 18 days, for example, will cost a client £33.49, including fees. Over one year, if someone could not repay, that would be equivalent to an interest rate of 5,853 percent when the charges are compounded.

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, a former businessman, is among Wonga’s most vocal critics. “An interest rate of over 4,000 percent has been considered usurious since the time of Moses,” Archbishop Welby said, as quoted by the Guardian newspaper. “It’s no different now.”

Wonga executives declined to comment for this article. But Errol Damelin, who co-founded the privately held company seven years ago and gave up his role as chief executive to become chairman two weeks ago, has described Wonga as “a powerful force for good in the financial world.” Writing in The Telegraph, he added, “We are challenging the tired and incompetent banking industry by offering new products and services that are relevant to a digital age.”

Wonga has drawn fire because it is the industry leader, said Martin Lewis, the creator of the personal finance website MoneySavingExpert.com. “It’s a marketing-created demand for instantaneous cash,” he said. “It’s done in one click.”

While most lenders rely on conventional methods like credit scores from a third party to assess borrowers, Wonga says it uses an algorithm that pulls together 8,000 pieces of data about borrowers from the Internet, including Facebook profiles. Its lending decisions are made instantly and loans can be transmitted to a borrower’s bank account in five minutes — a process Mr. Damelin says is like “buying a song off iTunes.”

Wonga argues that it competes favorably with bank overdraft fees. And some proponents say the clarity of the company’s website is a major improvement over the way British banks deal with clients who overdraw their accounts and are punished by high interest rates and penalties that are buried in fine print.

Wonga released the promotional film, called “12 Portraits,” this month. The ad, by the British director Gary Tarn, features a series of ostensibly happy clients. One of them, Angela Asquith, describes borrowing £200 and repaying £235, including interest and fees, 14 days later. Another, Dennis Carmichael, a professional karaoke singer, borrowed £101 to finance his travel costs between gigs. Four days later he repaid £111. In the film, at least, these and the other Wonga customers had no complaints.

But the film seemed only to lengthen Wonga’s already long lightning rod.

The Guardian described the film as a “political broadcast for the payday party.” Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, criticized the Wonga economy, in which, he said, thousands of British families were mired in unpayable debt.

Among technology buffs, Wonga has often been praised for its digital expertise. The company was established by Mr. Damelin and a fellow South African, Jonty Hurwitz, an artist and entrepreneur.

Mr. Hurwitz designed the technology, particularly the “sliders” on the website that show how much it costs to borrow cash over different periods of time. The numbers change for different borrowers, based on what the algorithm can glean from the digital footprints they leave on their computers — their choice of web browser, I.P. addresses, Facebook profiles, whether they arrived at the website directly or through an ad.

Wonga employs more than 650 people, including 150 data engineers. And while the bulk of its lending is in Britain, the company also operates in Canada, Poland, South Africa and Spain. Although those countries do place caps on interest rates, Wonga has found ways to increase other fees to ensure a profit.

Much of Wonga’s success has been built on the dearth of regulation in Britain, which has helped entice some American firms to set up offices, including MEM Consumer Finance (PaydayUK), the Dollar Financial Group (the Money Shop) and Cash America (QuickQuid).

“Britain has been the crock of gold at the end of the payday rainbow for companies,” said Mr. Lewis, the personal finance expert. “They aren’t doing anything against our law. The problem, however, is our law.”

Loan sharking is illegal in Britain, but there is no ceiling on high-cost borrowing — as there is, for example, in Germany and France, which have credit caps of around 16 percent and 20 percent. In the United States, regulations differ by state. But 15 states have banned payday lending altogether, while others have imposed laws to limit the interest rates and the number of loans that can be made to each customer.

Now, the British government is proposing caps on payday loans and fees. And next spring, officials at the Financial Conduct Authority plan to impose new rules, including requiring clearer warnings on advertising and limiting the number of times a loan can be extended.

Mr. Damelin has said he, too, wants better regulation. “The bad guys make it difficult for everybody innovating in financial services,” he told The Telegraph. “Wonga happens to be a poster child, as we’ve built a brand that is well recognized today and we’ve built scale.”


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« Reply #10336 on: Nov 30, 2013, 07:31 AM »

Turkey’s ‘Sultan’ Erdogan facing his toughest path to re-election

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 29, 2013 17:15 EST

Turkey’s once all-powerful prime minister is battling problems both domestic and international that threaten to diminish his popularity ahead of an election cycle next year, analysts say.

With three straight election wins under his belt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics for 11 years and enjoyed a free hand in crafting government policy.

But the tough-talking leader known as “the Sultan” who took office promising bold reforms has become an increasingly polarising figure in Turkey, and cracks are emerging in his government ahead of local polls in March.

“Since he took office, the prime minister has gradually shifted from pragmatist tendencies to ideological ones, from team work to personal decisions, from democracy to authoritarianism, from thought-out policies to impulsive ones,” Ilter Turan, professor at Istanbul’s private Bilgi University, told AFP.

Erdogan’s controversial policies have exposed deep fault lines within his Islamic-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the government has lost support over its heavy-handed response to mass street protests that rocked the country in June.

He has irritated friends abroad with his defiant stance on regional crises, while the EU has only just resumed accession talks after a three-year freeze.

On the economic front, growth has slowed sharply and the Turkish lira has taken a tumble.

Erdogan’s stature also took a knock when Turkey failed in its bid to host the 2020 Olympics and lost out to Dubai for the World Expo the same year.

At home, Erdogan is on the verge of losing one of his strongest allies over a bitter education dispute that has gripped the domestic political scene for several weeks.

‘Mistake of his life’

The feud with influential Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, who lives in US exile, stems from government plans to close down a network of private schools run by Gulen’s religious movement that are seen by the populist Erdogan as giving an unfair advantage to well-off students.

One analyst speculated that Erdogan would “make the mistake of his life” if he dared to challenge the Gulen movement, which wields considerable influence in the state apparatus.

Erdogan faced another confrontation with long-time ally Bulent Arinc, the deputy prime minister and an AKP co-founder, over his criticism of mixed-sex student accommodation.The former Islamic firebrand has also alienated many middle-class professionals and secular modernists over what they see as a “hidden Islamist agenda” in their predominantly Muslim but staunchly secular country.

But Erdogan himself insisted Friday that his government remained as strong as ever.

“We, as brothers, will add a new and meaningful victory to our political history,” he told a boisterous AKP meeting.

Latest opinion polls say the AKP is likely to emerge the clear winner in the muncipal and legislative polls.

Turan said Erdogan’s overwhelming election successes have led to his increasingly authoritarian style.

When he first came to power in 2002, Erdogan had an ambitious reformist agenda to build a “new Turkey” based on strong economic growth after years of military coups and rocky coalition governments.

He first waged war against the once-untouchable military, which fiercely guards the secular republic and has waged three coups.

He has also used the courts to stifle dissent, prompting allegations of the “Putinisation of Erdogan,” in reference to the Russian president’s steamrolling of rivals.

“There is growing unease over prime minister Erdogan’s policies both at home and abroad,” Faruk Logoglu, deputy head of the secular opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told AFP.

“The AKP government has been suffering fatigue after 11 years in power. Democracy and freedoms are being undermined. The price of wrong policies is an isolated and marginalised Turkey in the international arena and growing polarisation at home.”

In the Middle East, Sunni Muslim Turkey has found itself increasingly isolated as it grapples with the spillover of the Syrian civil war and an influx of refugees, and wants to build ties with regional Shiite powers.

Relations with regional heavyweight Egypt soured after Erdogan criticised the military “coup” that ousted Islamist president Mohamed Mursi, prompting Cairo to kick out the Turkish ambassador.

“If you fail to fine-tune policies, you will narrow your room for manoeuvre in foreign policy and gradually isolate the country, which will in time have a negative impact on national interests,” columnist Hasan Cemal wrote in the independent Internet newspaper T24.

Erdogan has set his sights on becoming president if a new constitution gives the post sweeping US-style executive powers.

AKP bylaws preclude Erdogan from running for a fourth term as premier in 2015, while the current presidency expires in August next year.

But his ambitions may be foiled by parliament’s failure to agree on a new constitution to replace a post-1980 coup charter.

“Strong leaders want to leave a legacy which will always be remembered,” said Turan.

“Mr Prime Minister is constantly on a quest. That’s why he is rushing. This is leading to impatience both on domestic and international fronts.”


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« Reply #10337 on: Nov 30, 2013, 07:32 AM »

Iran agrees to freeze nuclear program by January

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 29, 2013 11:09 EST

Iran’s six-month freeze of its nuclear programme agreed with world powers in Geneva will start by early January, Tehran’s envoy to the UN atomic watchdog said Friday.

“We expect that either at the end of December or the beginning of January we should start implementing the measures agreed by both sides,” Reza Najafi, envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters.

The breakthrough accord struck last weekend between Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — the P5+1 — foresees Iran rolling back some of its nuclear programme temporarily in exchange for sanctions relief.

The six-month freeze is meant to make it more difficult for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon and to build confidence while Tehran and the P5+1 hammer out a long-term accord.

Iran has pledged to limit uranium enrichment to low fissile purities. It will also lower the purity of its stockpile of medium-enriched material, which is relatively easy to convert to weapons-grade, or convert it to another form.

Iran also committed for six months “not to make further advances” at its Fordo and Natanz uranium enrichment sites and at the Arak heavy water reactor, which could provide Iran with weapons-grade plutonium once operating.

The Islamic republic, subject to painful UN and Western sanctions, will continue enriching uranium to low levels and it will retain its stockpile of low-enriched material.

It has been unclear since Geneva, when the accord was due to take effect, with technical discussions between Iran, the powers and the IAEA, whose job verifying Tehran’s compliance will be key, set to hammer out the details.

“We have had preliminary discussions with the agency with regard to the nuclear-related measures … to be verified by the agency,” Najafi said Friday. “We are going to continue those discussions.”

The IAEA already keeps close tabs on Iran’s nuclear work, with personnel almost constantly in the country inspecting machinery and measuring stockpiles.

But under Sunday’s deal this will go further, with daily IAEA visits to enrichment sites and access to centrifuge assembly sites, uranium mines, and more frequent trips to Arak — in addition to verifying the enrichment freeze.

Iran will also have to provide information on plans for new nuclear facilities, descriptions of every building at nuclear sites and updated design information on the Arak reactor, according to the text of Sunday’s deal.

This will mean an increased workload for the IAEA and its Japanese chief Yukiya Amano, who said Thursday that “some time” — and more money — would be needed to work out how to verify the deal.

“This requires a significant amount of money and manpower…. The IAEA’s budget is very, very tight. I don’t think we can cover everything from our own budget,” Amano told reporters.

In exchange for the freeze, Iran will receive some $7 billion (5.2 billion euros) in sanctions relief and the powers promised to impose no new embargo measures for six months if Tehran sticks to the accord.

But the vast raft of international sanctions that have badly hobbled the Iranian economy, more than halving its vital oil exports and sending inflation soaring, remain untouched.


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« Reply #10338 on: Nov 30, 2013, 07:34 AM »

52 killed in Iraq as fears mount of a return to sectarian warfare

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, November 29, 2013 21:45 EST

A wave of violence Friday killed 52 people in Iraq, most of whom were kidnapped and shot dead with their corpses abandoned, in scenes harking back to Iraq’s sectarian war.

The killings come amid a surge in violence that has left more than 600 people dead this month, including several who were snatched from their homes, only for their bodies to be found later, fuelling fears Iraq is slipping back into the communal bloodshed that plagued it from 2005 to 2007.

More than 6,000 people have been killed this year, forcing Baghdad to appeal for international help in battling militancy just months before a general election, as official concern focuses on a resurgent Al-Qaeda emboldened by the war in neighbouring Syria.

Violence on Friday struck in Baghdad and mostly Sunni Arab parts of the north and west, with shootings and bombings targeting civilians, local officials, security forces and even a brothel.

But the most troubling of the bloodshed came early Friday morning, when authorities discovered the bodies of 18 men, including two tribal chiefs, four policemen and an army major, dumped in farmland near the Sunni Arab town of Tarmiyah, just north of Baghdad.

All of them had been shot in the head and chest, police and a medical source said.

The kidnappers, wearing military uniform and travelling in what appeared to be army vehicles, abducted the men early Friday, telling their families they were suspects in various cases and were being taken for questioning.

Their bodies were found hours later, the sources said.

There was another such incident in Salaheddin province, north of Baghdad. Seven men — all maintenance workers and labourers at a local football field — were found dead, their throats cut.

A police officer told AFP he had felt physically sick upon seeing the mutilated corpses.

Three more corpses, all women, were also found in east Baghdad, their bodies bearing signs of torture. They were all shot in the head earlier on Friday, officials said.

Gun attack against brothel

The brutal killings come just days after authorities discovered the bodies of 19 people shot dead in various parts of Baghdad, including eight found blindfolded and six whose corpses were left in a canal.

At the peak of sectarian fighting in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion, Sunni and Shiite militias regularly carried out tit-for-tat kidnappings and assassinations and left scores of corpses littering the streets.

At the time, many of the bodies were blindfolded and showed signs of torture.

Elsewhere in Iraq on Friday, attacks in and around Baghdad, and the cities of Mosul, Baquba and Kirkuk killed 24 people, officials said.

Among them were a bombing against a football pitch in west Baghdad that killed five, and a gun attack against a brothel in the capital’s east that left six people dead.

The capital and Sunni Arab parts of northern and western Iraq have borne the brunt of the upswing in bloodshed.

The violence worsened sharply after security forces stormed a Sunni protest camp in northern Iraq in April, sparking clashes in which dozens of people died.

The authorities have made some concessions aimed at placating the protesters and Sunnis in general, including freeing prisoners and raising the salaries of anti-Al-Qaeda Sahwa fighters.

At the same time, the security forces have trumpeted operations targeting militants.

But daily attacks have shown no sign of abating.

Friday’s killings capped a week in which more than 200 people have died nationwide, with the overall death toll for the year topping 6,000, according to an AFP tally based on reports from security and medical officials.

Diplomats, analysts and rights groups say the government is not doing enough to address Sunni disquiet over what they see as mistreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led authorities.

On Wednesday, the UN Security Council condemned the violence and voiced support for government efforts to tackle the bloodshed.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki used a recent trip to Washington to push for greater intelligence sharing and the timely delivery of new weapons systems in a bid to combat militants.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #10339 on: Nov 30, 2013, 07:36 AM »

November 29, 2013

Increased Global Demand Aids India’s Mild Recovery

By NEHA THIRANI BAGRI

MUMBAI, India — India’s economy is showing signs of a gradual recovery as gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 4.8 percent in the three months that ended in September.

The growth surpassed the expectations of analysts, who projected a 4.6 percent rate, and was faster than the 4.4 percent pace seen in the previous quarter, which was the slowest growth in four years.

“The Indian economy has bottomed out on growth, and I think we are definitely seeing signs of a mild, moderate recovery — not just the gross domestic product numbers but in the results of individual companies,” said Saugata Bhattacharya, chief economist at Axis Bank. “However, in order to resuscitate growth, the government must improve investment channels, take measures towards fiscal consolidation, decontrol diesel prices and simplify the tax structure.”

The pickup in the September quarter was driven primarily by a good monsoon, which helped the agriculture sector expand at a 4.6 percent annual rate, according to the government figures released Friday. The sector that includes finance, insurance, real estate and business services also performed well, increasing by 10 percent; the sector for electricity, gas and water, increased 7.7 percent; and construction, 4.3 percent.

Industrial output, which rose 2 percent in the quarter from a year earlier, is also seen as one of the chief reasons for the improvement in the broader economy. A recovery in global demand and the depreciation of the rupee have helped Indian exports, which rose 13.5 percent to $27.27 billion in October.

“Strong export performance during the quarter has to a large extent aided in the pickup in demand-side G.D.P. growth,” said Bhupali Gursale, an economist at Angel Broking, a Mumbai brokerage firm. “We continue to believe that real G.D.P. growth during financial year 2014 as a whole is likely to range between 4.5 to 5 percent owing to near-term challenges in the macro environment, mainly from subdued domestic demand, fiscal constraints and the muted investment outlook.” India’s 2014 financial year begins in April.

Still, India faces significant challenges as it looks to revive its growth.

Hindered by an uncertain policy environment, subdued investor sentiment, red tape and inadequate infrastructure, the economy has decelerated from a high of 9 percent growth in 2010 to 5 percent growth in the fiscal year that ended last March. Although the central government has announced several policies since September that have eased the restrictions on foreign investment in India, they have yet to translate into real economic growth. Since July, a committee initiated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has removed the regulatory bottlenecks for $57 billion worth of infrastructure projects, but a majority of these projects have yet to get off the ground.

Difficulties also persist in certain segments of the economy, like the service sector, which makes up 80 percent of the Indian economy. And rising inflation remains a chief concern for Raghuram Rajan, the governor of India’s central bank, who has increased interest rates twice since he took office in September to battle price pressures. In October, wholesale inflation, the most closely watched price gauge in India, climbed to 7 percent, while consumer inflation hit 10 percent.

“The appointment of a new central bank governor in September has helped to stabilize the currency and financial markets, although this is unlikely to have had much of an impact on real economic activity,” wrote economists at Moody’s Analytics in a report last Monday.

Analysts do not foresee India’s return to high growth numbers in the short term.

“We don’t expect a serious uptick in growth in the near future as there are a lot of supply chain difficulties that have to be addressed, and monetary policy continues to remain quite tight because of severe inflation,” said Miguel Chanco, an economist who covers Asia at Capital Economics, a macroeconomic research company based in Singapore. “Growth is expected to pick up over the next few years, but very gradually, but we don’t think that growth will pick up back to its historical 8 percent growth rate any time soon.”

He added that he thought investor appetite would remain subdued until after the national elections next year. Investors, he said, are unsure whether Mr. Singh’s government will push through any politically unpopular decisions to reduce the deficit in the meantime.
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« Reply #10340 on: Nov 30, 2013, 07:38 AM »


China scrambles fighter jets towards US and Japan planes in disputed air zone

Washington tells airlines to notify Chinese authorities if flying through area amid escalating tensions in South China Sea

Tania Branigan in Beijing and Ed Pilkington in New York
The Guardian, Saturday 30 November 2013

China scrambled fighter jets to investigate US and Japanese aircraft flying through its new air defence zone over the East China Sea on Friday as the regional clamour over the disputed airspace escalated.

The ministry of defence announced the move, which is the first time China is known to have sent military aircraft into the zone alongside foreign flights, stepping up its response to the challenge after its unilateral establishment of the zone. It previously said it had monitored US, Japanese and South Korean aircraft and had flown routine patrols in the area on Thursday.

The ministry's statement said two US reconnaissance aircraft and 10 Japanese early warning, reconnaissance and fighter planes had entered the zone.

The airforce "monitored throughout the entire flights, made timely identification and ascertained the types", defence ministry spokesman Shen Jinke told the official China News Service.

The Pentagon has yet to respond to the statement. Japanese officials declined to confirm details of any flights, saying that routine missions were continuing.

Late on Friday the US state department advised American commercial airlines to notify Chinese authorities of flight plans over the East China Sea. But a US administration official said that did not mean Washington accepted Beijing's jurisdiction, the Reuters news agency reported.

"The US government generally expects that US carriers operating internationally will operate consistent with Notams [Notices to Airmen] issued by foreign countries," the state department said in a statement.

"Our expectation of operations by US carriers consistent with Notams does not indicate US government acceptance of China's requirements."

The developments came as South Korea's Yonhap news agency said officials were discussing how to expand its own air zone.

In Taiwan, legislators issued an unusual joint statement chiding Ma Ying-jeou's government for its tempered response to China's announcement of the zone and urging it to lodge a tough protest with Beijing. The government later said it would convey its "stern position".

Earlier the European Union's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton expressed its concern that the zone had contributed to tensions in the region, saying that the EU called on all sides to exercise caution and restraint.

Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang urged the EU to handle the situation "objectively and rationally", adding: "European countries can have air defence identification zones. Why can't China?"

While such zones are common, China's is controversial because it includes the skies over islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, which are the subject of a long-running territorial dispute, and overlaps zones established by Japan and South Korea. There has also been concern over China's warning that it would take unspecified "emergency defensive measures" if aircraft did not comply.

Taylor Fravel, an expert on regional security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said establishment of the zone increased the potential for an incident in the air that could spark a larger crisis. But he said tensions might ease if China continued to clarify the nature of the zone and how it intended to deal with unidentified aircraft, especially those flying through the zone but not heading toward China.

"China has always chafed at Japan's adiz [air defence identification zone], which at some points is less than 150km from China … China probably wants to level the playing field with Japan and increase the pressure on Tokyo regarding the disputed islands," he said.

Japan does not acknowledge that ownership of the islands is disputed. The US does not have a position on their sovereignty but recognises Japan's administrative control and has said they are covered by the joint security pact.

Many analysts think China is laying down a long-term marker, but did not anticipate the forceful response it has received from the US as well as Japan.

"The Chinese government is not going to concede the substance," said June Teufel Dreyer of the University of Miami. "When circumstances are more conducive, they will try to enforce it more strictly in the future. This is a pattern we have noticed for decades."

Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, Asia-Pacific director at the US Institute of Peace, said the creation of its zone had its own momentum. "The danger in the announcement is that it empowers the People's Liberation Army, maritime agencies and netizens [internet users] to hold the government to account," she said. "Now people are transgressing the zone, they have to make it look to the domestic audience like they are serious. They have given birth to internal pressures."

Behind the immediate issues lie regional concerns about China's growing strength, Beijing's unease at Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe's determination to strengthen his country's forces, and questions about the US presence in and commitment to the region. US vice-president Joe Biden will visit Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul on a trip beginning this Sunday which is likely to be dominated by discussions of the zone.

"I think the only problem is Japan because it has taken a confrontational policy. They want clashes and to drag America into military containment against China," said Yan Xuetong, a foreign relations scholar at Tsinghua University.

"The international community has ignored the roots of this … Abe has clearly stated that his fundamental goal is to revise the constitution [under which Japan renounces war] and he needs security tensions to legitimise his efforts."

Tokyo's military ambitions are particularly sensitive because many in China say Japan has not adequately recognised or atoned for its brutal occupation.


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« Reply #10341 on: Nov 30, 2013, 07:40 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/29/2013 04:55 PM

Billions from Beijing: Africans Divided over Chinese Presence

By Bartholomäus Grill in Bagamayo, Tanzania

Chinese companies have pumped billions into Africa to secure access to natural resources, boosting countries' economies along the way. Ordinary citizens aren't reaping the benefits, though, and have become increasingly wary of the new investors.

In a three-part series, SPIEGEL is exploring fundamental changes occurring in Africa -- a continent the West has long written off, but is now being embraced by other countries. This is Part I of the series. An introduction can be read here.

Everything is as it has always been: decayed rows of houses, weathered doorframes with intricate carvings, potholed dirt roads, fishing boats rotting on the beach and, in the middle of it all, the Boma, a stone fortress built by the former German conquerors in Bagamayo, a sleepy coastal town in Tanzania.

Bagamayo was the capital of the colony of German East Africa from 1888 to 1891, when the administrative seat was moved to Dar es Salaam because the shore in Bagamayo was too shallow for a real seaport. Since then, time seems to have stood still.

"But soon nothing will be as it once was in Bagamayo," says Marie Shaba, "because now the new rulers of the world, the Chinese, are coming."

The 65-year-old radio journalist is wearing a bright, mango-yellow kitenge, the traditional dress worn by Tanzanian women. She calls herself a cultural activist. For years, Shaba has been fighting to have Bagamayo, an important arena for the slave trade in the 19th century and for colonial history, declared a United Nations World Heritage Site.

But now Shaba fears that the sleepy town will disappear in the waves of progress.

This spring, Bagamayo was the focus of a story in international business news, when more than 400 newspapers worldwide reported that China was making a low-interest loan of $10 billion (€7.4 billion) available for the construction of a modern container terminal 15 kilometers (9 miles) south of the city, and also planned to fund the establishment of a special economic zone in the hinterlands behind the port.

"This is good for Tanzania, very good. It's a poor country that will be making a giant step forward," says Janson Huang, 36. It's also good for him and his company. Huang manages the local office of Chinese construction company Group Six International in Dar es Salaam. A short, wiry man with a sparse moustache, he is dressed casually in an open, gray-and-white striped shirt and dark slacks. Huang speaks English well, and he speaks openly and directly.

This is unusual, as Chinese investors tend to shy away from the media. All other inquiries SPIEGEL made with Chinese companies registered in Tanzania were either rejected or not answered at all.

A Win-Win Situation?

The Group Six headquarters, in the Mikocheni industrial area, was not easy to find. The unpaved access road hadn't been named yet. The company is housed in an inconspicuous complex behind high walls topped with barbed wire. Across from the materials warehouse are two red Chinese lanterns, marking the entrance to the uninviting dormitory for the Chinese foremen. The manager's office next door is sparsely furnished with imitation leather armchairs and filing cabinets.

Huang, an engineer, has been working in East Africa for a decade, first in Kenya and then in Tanzania. He likes his new home and wants to stay here with his family. He would like to have a second child, preferably a son.

It wasn't easy to gain a foothold in Tanzania, he says, "but we Chinese are not afraid of taking risks. We see Africa with different eyes than the West, not as a rotten continent, but as an economic region with enormous potential."

Huang's privately owned company has had a hand in constructing many buildings. Most recently, it built the Crystal Tower in downtown Dar es Salaam. "We invest and create jobs. It's a win-win situation for both sides," he says.

The only decoration in Huang's office consists of framed photographs on the wall, which depict him during the presentation of company donations for humanitarian purposes. He is especially proud of a group photo with President Xi Jinping. Huang, a young economic pioneer from China, is standing directly behind China's first lady.

'A Galloping Lion'

The photo was taken during Xi's state visit in late March, when China's newly chosen president signed the investment agreement for the Bagamayo port and special economic zone, as well as 17 other bilateral agreements. The president and party leader had just come from Moscow, and it was no accident that the second stop on his first trip abroad was in Africa.

China, Asia's economic superpower, is hungry for natural resources, energy, food and markets for its products. Africa can offer all of these things: about 40 percent of global reserves of natural resources, 60 percent of uncultivated agricultural land, a billion people with rising purchasing power and a potential army of low-wage workers.

"Our relations are at a new historic beginning," the Chinese president told his Tanzanian hosts. He noted that Africa is one of the world's fastest-growing regions, pressing forward like a "galloping lion."

Xi reminded his hosts of the warm relationship between the Great Chairman Mao Zedong and Tanzania's first president, Julius Nyerere. He also praised the two countries' shared struggle against imperialism and invoked the common interests of all developing countries. "We are true friends," he said. "We treat each other as equal partners."

Before giving his speech, Xi had made a symbolic gesture of handing over a monumental conference center, built by a Chinese construction company in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam, to the Tanzanian president. After his visit, he traveled to the BRICS summit in Durban, South Africa, to do business with representatives from the other states in this group: Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa.

'History Is Repeating Itself'
Tanzania is one of the focal points of the Chinese globalization strategy in Africa. In 2011, a large Chinese company invested $3 billion in coal and iron ore mines in the country. The enormous natural gas reserves off the Tanzanian coast -- an estimated 40 trillion cubic feet -- are of strategic interest. The China National Petroleum Company is currently installing a 532-kilometer (333-mile) pipeline from Mtwara, a port city in southeastern Tanzania, to Dar es Salaam.

When the pipeline is finished, supertankers docking at the new Bagamayo port will load liquefied natural gas, cooled to temperatures of minus 164 degrees Celsius (minus 263 degrees Fahrenheit), and transport it to the Far East. Mineral ores and agricultural products from Tanzania, Zambia and Congo will also be shipped from the port. The Chinese are also reportedly planning to build a naval base to protect their economic interests along the Indian Ocean.

"History is repeating itself," says Shaba, the journalist and cultural activist. "In the past, ivory and slaves were exported through Bagamayo. Today, it's natural resources."

Slaves once dubbed this town Bagamayo, which means "throw your heart away." Anyone who had not managed to escape the slave traders en route to the coast was lost by the time they reached Bagamayo.

China's economic offensive in Africa began before the turn of the millennium. At first, it was very gradual and inconspicuous. But, since 2000, trade volumes between China and Africa have grown twentyfold, reaching $200 billion in 2012. China has surged ahead of the old major powers - France, the United Kingdom and the United States -- to become Africa's most important trading partner.

A Chinese 'Irruption'

For years, China has engaged in an intensive campaign of visiting the continent. Presidents, heads of the government and ministers have traveled to almost all sub-Saharan countries that support China's policies and do not recognize Taiwan. They have forgiven debt, granted billions in loans, sealed defense deals and handed out generous aid packages. Most of all, however, they have secured access to Africa's natural resources.

China's "irruption onto the African scene has been the most dramatic and important factor in the external relations of the continent -- perhaps in the development of Africa as a whole -- since the end of the Cold War," wrote Christopher Clapham of Cambridge, England-based Center of African Studies.

There are now more than 2,000 Chinese companies and well over a million Chinese citizens in sub-Saharan Africa. They can be encountered in the major cities, in mining centers and oil fields, on plantations and even in the most remote jungle villages. They include managers and military advisers, doctors and agronomists, engineers and importers, itinerant traders, small business owners and contract workers employed on countless construction sites.

The Chinese are building conspicuous signs of their presence everywhere: presidential palaces, ministries, military barracks, conference centers, museums, stadiums, broadcasting companies, hotel complexes and large-scale agricultural operations. They are renovating railroad lines, paving thousands of kilometers of roads and building airports, dams, power plants and hospitals. Indeed, the Chinese are modernizing a large segment of the continent's infrastructure.

The Washington-based Center for Global Development estimates that, between 2000 and 2011, China provided about €75 billion in aid to Africa for a total of 1,673 projects, or roughly as much as the United States did in the same period. However, it is sometimes hard to tell where profitable investment ends and altruistic initiatives begin.

The competition from the West is often left empty-handed. Chinese state-owned companies operate with less bureaucracy, are faster and cheaper and, as a rule, provide financing for projects with low-interest loans from state-owned banks.

In return for developing the infrastructure, the Chinese receive lucrative licenses to exploit natural resources and fossil fuels. For instance, Angola, a war-torn and marginalized country until not too long ago, has become one of China's key oil suppliers, competing with Saudi Arabia for the top position.

An Unequal 'Marriage'

Other newly industrialized countries -- such as Brazil, India and Turkey -- have also discovered or rediscovered Africa. But no country is making its presence felt as strongly, from Khartoum to Cape Town, as China. Lamido Sanusi, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, already sees a "whiff of colonialism" in China's activities.

Senegalese intellectual Adama Gaye is even more concerned, warning of a second wave of conquest. In his polemic "China-Africa: The Dragon and the Ostrich," China, the voracious dragon, and Africa, the naïve ostrich, face off as an extremely unevenly matched duo. "They take what they can get," says Gaye, referring to the Chinese. He even accuses them of creating "an apartheid-like culture" through social segregation.

Azaveli Lwaitama, 61, takes a more relaxed view. "The Chinese keep to themselves and are just doing their thing," he says. A lecturer in philosophy, Lwaitama speaks on behalf of the Vision East Africa Forum, a think thank dedicated to the future of East Africa. "We are being globalized at the moment and are experiencing an accelerated battle for a share of our resources." In his view, this is merely capitalism with a different, "Chinese face."

It's hard to understand what Lwaitama is saying due to the deafening noise coming from a nearby Chinese construction site, where pile drivers are pounding steel posts into the ground. Dar es Salaam is one big construction site, with skyscrapers, office complexes and bank towers sprouting up from the ground. The streets are constantly congested, and half of the pedestrians are walking around with mobile phones in their hands.

"We have arrived in the modern world. It all looks promising, but we shouldn't be fooled," says Lwaitama. Despite an economic growth rate of about 7 percent in 2012, the majority of the 45 million Tanzanians haven't benefited much from the upturn. On the contrary, Lwaitama says, the gap between rich and poor has only grown wider.

"The African leaders have married China, the most attractive bride on the world market, and now the West is complaining about its unwanted rival," says Lwaitama. But, he adds, the Chinese are just as motivated by profit as the Americans and the Europeans. "However, they have a key advantage: They are tougher than the whites. They come from poverty and can survive under the most difficult conditions."

Growth Trumps Freedom
The concept of "West is best" is now a thing of the past. Disappointed by Europe and America, where their continent has often been written off as a hopeless case, Africans have instead looked to the Far East. There, they have found a strong ally, one that is mainly interested in doing business and doesn't interfere in their internal affairs. China attaches no political conditions to economic cooperation, unlike the West, which, at least on paper, demands good governance, the rule of law, anti-corruption measures and protections for human rights.

This is one of the reasons that despots like Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe hold the Chinese in such high regard. Cooperating with China fills their empty coffers and enables them to secure their hold on power. And Africa's dictators are not badgered when they oppress and prey on their own people.

For example, Beijing wasn't overly troubled when the regime in Sudan waged a criminal war of forced displacement in Darfur. It continued to supply the Sudanese government with weapons and blocked resolutions in the United Nations Security Council. Beijing's primary concern was that Sudanese oil would continue to flow. Next to Angola, Sudan is China's second-most important source of oil in Africa.

With Chinese economic dominance, the West's political influence is gradually being eroded. In authoritarian countries like Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda, the model of the Chinese development dictatorship, which prioritizes growth over freedom, has long been a welcome alternative to liberal democracy.

At the same time, Europe's and America's cultural influence is waning. China's Xinhua state news agency now has 28 offices in Africa, more than any Western competitor. The state television broadcaster CCTV, which opened a new headquarters in Nairobi last year, is gaining more and more viewers. Instead of airing the usual disaster reports, the station tends to broadcast "good news" from Africa and portrays China as a "true friend."

Growing Resentment and Violence

Nevertheless, there is growing resentment in South Africa, where there are reportedly already 250,000 Chinese. In the townships, the new immigrants are berated as "yellow masters." Among South Africans, the Chinese are often seen as greedy, ruthless and racist, as people who are exploiting Africa, flooding its markets with cheap products and ruining an already weak domestic industry.

Union leaders in Angola complain that Chinese companies are creating too few jobs for local workers. There are rumors in the capital, Luanda, that the Chinese are using prisoners as forced laborers on construction sites.

In Zambia, there are frequent protests against the starvation wages and inhuman working conditions in Chinese-run coal and copper mines. Chinese guards have repeatedly fired on striking miners in recent years, causing bloodbaths. One of the miners, after being struck by a bullet in July 2006, said: "They simply don't see us as human beings." Angry workers killed a Chinese manager during a wage dispute in August 2012.

In Zimbabwe, Chinese products are called zhing-zhong, or junk products that don't last. Chinese vendors were recently attacked in the Kariakoo market in Dar es Salaam. "They undercut every price and are spoiling our business," says a woman who runs a shop at the market.

A Gold-Rush Mentality

"What's all the fuss about? There's free competition everywhere in the world," says Janson Huang, the manager of the Chinese construction company in Tanzania. "We use our opportunities and are doing exactly what the West has done for centuries." The accusation that Chinese companies only hire Chinese workers is unfair, says Huang, noting that his company employs about 1,000 local workers and 50 Chinese in management positions. He says he encourages them to learn the official language, noting that it's important to adjust to the local culture.

Huang contradicts the cliché of the predatory Chinese pouncing on Africa. But now Huang has to cut our conversation short, as both of his smartphones are buzzing. The calls are about major projects in Bagamayo, where bids are being solicited. His company is expecting lucrative contracts.

India's Kumar Group plans to build a gas-fired power plant in Bagamayo, while a Japanese consortium has already submitted designs for the port facility. In recent years, HeidelbergCement, a German company, has invested $130 million in its subsidiary in Wazo Hill, a town in the special economic zone.

The gold-rush mentality is creating mixed feelings in Bagamayo. "People are anxious because they're not getting any information at all. Even the city administration doesn't know what lies ahead," says Baraka Kalangahe, 53, a project manager for a small environmental organization that is trying to protect the fragile ecosystem along the coast.

"Young people are hoping to get work, but many no longer believe it'll happen," Kalangahe says. She talks about fishermen worried about their future and about a small coastal village that was recently emptied out. "The government simply relocates people, offering little compensation in return," Kalangahe says. But, she adds, at issue is a project of continental importance, by far the largest port in Africa, which is projected to handle 20 million shipping containers a year.

But will it be a success story for Tanzania? The most recent Africa Progress Report serves as a warning to the government. In it, a panel headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan concludes that Africa would lose about $38 billion a year due to non-transparent natural resource deals and tax avoidance, a loss far greater than the development aid it receives.

Winners and Losers

In the current boom, which is primarily driven by China's offensive, the old asymmetry is still in place: Africa remains a supplier of natural resources, while added-value creation occurs somewhere else.

"A small clique gets rich, while the masses remain poor. That's the curse of the natural resource bonanza. But we have the opportunity to change this," says Godwin Nyelo, 52, a geologist and adviser to the Tanzanian government on mining issues and a member of the board of an Australian uranium company. He lives in Wazo Hill, where the newly established special economic zone is practically at his doorstep.

Nyelo often travels abroad to dispel doubts and recruit investors. In a PowerPoint presentation called "East Africa: The Big Leap Forward?" he shows a chart that looks like a colorful treasure map. His country's resources are identified on the map: gems, gold, copper, nickel, cobalt, magnesium, phosphate, kaolin, coal, iron ore, uranium and natural gas -- all the things the global economy desires.

"The government is planning a transparent resource-management system," Nyelo explains. "We aim for sustainable development, and we want all Tanzanians to benefit from prosperity."

In the coastal city of Mtwara, where the Chinese-financed gas pipeline is to begin, people already feel cheated. They want a gas processing plant to be built in the region, which would provide jobs. When riots broke out about six months ago, the government sent troops to Mtwara, and several demonstrators were killed. Eyewitnesses spoke of "civil war-like conditions."

The Tanzanian government is promising a rosy future, but the wananchi, or ordinary citizens, have become suspicious. A government-appointed commission estimates that corrupt politicians and businesspeople have already deposited about $5.9 billion in illegal earnings into foreign bank accounts.

Shaba, the cultural activist, fears that the cunning negotiators from China and other countries will take advantage of the naïve and corrupt government officials. "It's very tempting for them," she says, "because we're like chickens, which can't fly." Africa is in the process of being divided up a second time, she adds, just as it was at the 1885 Berlin Conference attended by European colonial powers.

Shaba is standing at the jetty in Mbegani, gazing out at the mangrove islands in the turquoise-colored bay. Soon this idyllic scene will have to make way for the new port. Then giant ships will put out to sea from Bagamayo, loaded with the riches of Africa.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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« Reply #10342 on: Nov 30, 2013, 07:42 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/29/2013 05:17 PM

A Giant Awakens: Inside Africa's Economic Boom

In roughly a decade, Africa has gone from being labeled "the hopeless continent" to enjoying an unprecedented boom. In a three-part series, SPIEGEL explores this transformation -- its drivers, winners and losers -- and asks if it can last.

The magazine cover bore a completely black background. In the middle, an outline the shape of Africa framed a fierce-looking fighter toting a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. Above the picture was the title, "The hopeless continent."

This cover of British magazine the Economist, the world's most influential newsmagazine for business and financial topics, appeared in May 2000. The issue featured a deeply pessimistic report that tore Africa to pieces, presenting it as a lost continent, eternally plagued by tribal wars, famine and mass poverty.

But since the turn of the millennium, the world has a different take on Africa thanks to an economic boom that refuses to fit into the usual distorted picture. The same voices that once proclaimed the continent dead are now predicting a rebirth for Africa, the awakened giant with nearly incalculable natural resources (around 40 percent of the world's raw materials and 60 percent of its uncultivated arable land), fast-growing markets and a young, highly motivated population.

Indeed, while he was still president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo proclaimed that the 21st century would be "the century of Africa."

A Second 'Scramble for Africa'?

Here are the facts behind the fiction: No other continent has developed as rapidly in the last decade as Africa, where real economic growth was between 5 and 10 percent annually. In oil-rich countries, such as Angola, it was a possibly record-breaking 22.6 percent in 2007.

A World Bank study shows that 17 of the 50 national economies currently displaying the greatest economic progress are in Africa. The gross domestic product of the continent as a whole -- over $1.7 trillion (€1.3 trillion) -- is nearly equal to that of Russia.

Africa is showing its true potential and offers "myriad opportunities" that investors can no longer afford to ignore, says the German consultancy firm Roland Berger.

With not much going on in Europe and the United States at the moment as a result of the financial crisis and ensuing austerity policies, investors and speculators are discovering the African continent, where investment funds that speculate in natural resources, food and agricultural land promise fabulous yields.

This development has historians talking about a potential second "scramble for Africa," comparable to the period in the late 19th century when European colonial powers carved up the continent among themselves and plundered its resources. Now, in the age of globally unleashed capitalism, new competitors have entered the race, including India, Brazil and smaller emerging markets, such as Turkey. First and foremost in this modern-day scramble, though, is China.

Fresh Beginnings and Leapfrogged Eras

The world's largest economy has overtaken the West to become Africa's most important trade partner. The volume of Sino-African trade amounted to nearly $200 billion last year. Driven by an insatiable hunger for raw materials and mass markets, China is conquering the continent with such determination that African intellectuals warn of a new form of Chinese colonialism. Still, most Africans see this new global player's involvement as an opportunity to break free of poverty.

Africa's boom can be seen in many indicators: the volume of cars (and accompanying traffic jams) on the streets of its major cities, the glittering shopping malls and the major infrastructure projects. Highways, rail lines, airports, dams, power plants, pipelines and factories are all being built, and megacities such as Lagos, Nairobi, Addis Ababa are seeing the emergence of industrial parks and special economic zones.

It's the start of a period of new growth and fresh beginnings, and many Africans seem more confident now than they have at any other time since the end of the colonial era, in the early 1960s. Economists attribute this to three main factors: political stability, economic reforms and a push toward technological innovation that has gripped the entire continent.

Many countries have become better governed, and Africa as a whole is more peaceful and democratic than it once was. When the Cold War ended, just three out of 53 African nations had halfway functional democracies. Today, that figure is 25 out of 54. Aside from chronic conflict zones -- such as those in Congo, Sudan and Somalia -- the number of civil wars and military coups has decreased, as has the excessive use of violence.

At the same time, a revolution is taking place in the information and communications sector, as Africa connects itself to the world via modern data highways. Nowhere is the spread of the Internet as all-encompassing as it is between Cairo and Cape Town, and nowhere is mobile-phone use increasing as explosively. There are now 650 million African mobile-phone users -- more than in North America.

In Kenya, young local IT experts are doing globally pioneering work in developing innovative mobile-phone applications. Development experts call this "leapfrogging": As Africa catches up on modernization, it is able to skip the industrial age completely and jump straight to the digital future. And free access to information in turn stimulates economic activity, strengthens civil society and brings about societal change, especially in major cities. In this way, the young people and women of Africa are emancipating themselves.

Driving this progress is a new middle class, which the African Development Bank estimates encompasses over 310 million people -- roughly equivalent to the population of the US.

'Lion' Nations

Those who have made it into this African middle class don't fit the cliché of the helpless, destitute African. These are self-confident citizens who have jobs, buy apartments and invest in their children's education, just as members of the middle class do around the world.

"The lions are on the move" is the new motto of the African elite, with the phrase being a play on the term "Asian tiger." After decades of decline, African nations are hoping to benefit from the same demographic dividend that made it possible for countries such as South Korea and Taiwan to make a leap of progress. By 2050, at least 2 billion people will live in Africa, accounting for one quarter of the world's labor force.

Skeptics, though, pose the question of whether Africa's current economic miracle might be nothing but a flash in the pan, fueled primarily by high raw-material prices and improving life for only a thin layer of the upper class. In resource-rich countries, such as Gabon and Angola, many people experience those resources not as a blessing, but a curse. While those in power grow rich unchecked, everyone else remains just as poor as ever.

Millions of Africans continue to go to bed hungry. Millions suffer from disease and epidemics. Millions of children attend abysmal schools.

Nevertheless, the economic growth is bearing its first fruits. In many places, living conditions have visibly improved. Child mortality, illiteracy rates and AIDS infection rates are declining, and life expectancy has increased by 10 percent.

Even those with a pessimistic view of Africa are looking on in astonishment as the continent once considered an ailing giant gradually picks itself up off the ground. In fact, Africa's economic successes of the last decade have most likely had more of a positive impact on it than all the development aid it received over the last half-century.

The 'Continent of the Future'?

Is Africa the continent of the future? Economists such as Robert Kappel and Birte Pfeiffer at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), in Hamburg, praise the progress of individual countries. But they also caution against getting carried away by euphoria. The majority of the 48 sub-Saharan nations still fall at the very bottom of the list when it comes to global prosperity, they point out, with few truly having managed to catch up to the rest of the world. Effusive comparisons with the "Asian tiger" nations, they say, are "not very apt."

There's a danger that homegrown problems -- government failure, mismanagement, nepotism, endemic corruption and capital flight -- could quickly undo the continent's recent accomplishments. If these current changes are to be sustainable, Africans must finally liberate themselves from the kleptocrats who rule them.

In a three-part series, SPIEGEL describes three forces driving Africa's boom: China's economic offensive, the digital revolution and African women's fight for a better future.

Click here for Part I of the series, on China's booming ties with the continent.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein


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« Reply #10343 on: Nov 30, 2013, 07:44 AM »


Britons protest over Israel plan to remove 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins

More than 50 public figures including Antony Gormley and Brian Eno put names to letter opposing expulsion from historic land

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Friday 29 November 2013 18.49 GMT   

More than 50 public figures in Britain, including high-profile artists, musicians and writers, have put their names to a letter opposing an Israeli plan to forcibly remove up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their historic desert land – an act condemned by critics as ethnic cleansing.

The letter, published in the Guardian, is part of a day of protest on Saturday in Israel, Palestine and two dozen other countries over an Israeli parliamentary bill that is expected to get final approval by the end of this year.

The eviction and destruction of about 35 "unrecognised" villages in the Negev desert will, the letter says, "mean the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes and land, and systematic discrimination and separation".

The signatories – who include the artist Antony Gormley, the actor Julie Christie, the film director Mike Leigh and the musician Brian Eno – are demanding that the British government holds Israel to account over its human rights record and obligations under international law.

According to Israel, the aims of the Prawer Plan – named after the head of a government commission, Ehud Prawer – are economic development of the Negev desert and the regulation of Palestinian Bedouins living in villages not recognised by the state.

The population of these villages will be removed to designated towns, while plans for new Jewish settlements in the area are enacted.

But Adalah, a human rights and legal centre for Arabs in Israel, says: "The real purpose of the legislation [is] the complete and final severance of the Bedouin's historical ties to their land."

The "unrecognised" villages in the Negev, whose populations range from a few hundred to 2,000, lack basic services such as running water, electricity, landline telephones, roads, high schools and health clinics. Some consist of a few shacks and animal pens made from corrugated iron; others include concrete houses and mosques built without necessary but unobtainable permission.

The Bedouin comprise about 30% of the Negev's population but their villages take up only 2.5% of the land. Before the state of Israel was created in 1948 they roamed widely across the desert; now, two-thirds of the region has been designated as military training grounds and firing ranges.

Under the Prawer Plan, between 40,000 and 70,000 of the remaining Bedouin – who became Israeli citizens in the 1950s – will be moved into seven over-crowded, impoverished, crime-ridden state-planned towns. The Israeli government says it is an opportunity for Bedouins to live in modern homes, take regular jobs and send their children to mainstream schools. They will be offered compensation to move, it adds.

Miranda Pennell, a film-maker and one of the letter's signatories, said: "Citizenship counts for nothing in Israel if you happen to be an Arab. Tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouin are being forcibly displaced from their homes and lands. At the same time, there are Israeli government advertisements on the web that promise you funding as a British immigrant to come and live in 'vibrant communities' in the Negev – if you are Jewish. This is ethnic cleansing."

The actor David Calder said: "The Israeli state not only practices apartheid against the Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories, but it seems they have no hesitation in practicing apartheid on their own citizens – in this instance, the Bedouins. When is the west going to find these actions intolerable?"


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« Reply #10344 on: Nov 30, 2013, 07:48 AM »


Saudi Arabia's foreign labour crackdown drives out 2m migrants

Ethiopian workers face hostility amid 'Saudisation' campaign to control foreign labour and get more Saudi citizens into work

Ian Black in Riyadh
theguardian.com, Friday 29 November 2013 12.52 GMT      

Under the watchful eyes of Saudi policemen slouched in their squad cars along a rundown street, little knots of Ethiopian men sit chatting on doorsteps and sprawl on threadbare grass at one of Riyadh's busiest junctions. These are tense, wary times in Manfouha, a few minutes' drive from the capital's glittering towers and swanky shopping malls.

Manfouha is the bleak frontline in Saudi Arabia's campaign to get rid of its illegal foreign workers, control the legal ones and help get more of its own citizens into work. This month two or three Ethiopians were killed here after a raid erupted into full-scale rioting.

Keeping their distance from the officers parked every few hundred metres, the Ethiopians look shifty and sound nervous. "Of course I have an iqama [residence permit]," insisted Ali, a gaunt twentysomething man in cheap leather jacket and jeans. "I wouldn't be standing here if I hadn't."

But he didn't have the document on him. And his story, in broken Arabic, kept changing: he was in the process of applying for one; actually, no, his kafeel (sponsor) had it. It didn't sound as if it would convince the police or passport inspection teams prowling the neighbourhood.

Until recently, of the kingdom's 30 million residents, more than nine million were non-Saudis. Since the labour crackdown started in March, one million Bangladeshis, Indians, Filipinos, Nepalis, Pakistanis and Yemenis have left. And the campaign has moved into higher gear after the final deadline expired on 4 November, with dozens of repatriation flights now taking place every day. By next year, two million migrants will have gone.

No one is being singled out, the authorities say. Illegal workers of 14 nationalities have been detained and are awaiting deportation. But the Ethiopians, many of whom originally crossed into Saudi Arabia from Yemen, are widely portrayed as criminals who are said to be mixed up with alcohol and prostitution. "They'd rather sit here and do nothing than go home because maybe they will get some kind of work," sneered Adel, one of the few Saudis to brave Manfouha's mean streets. "In Ethiopia there is nothing for them."

The Ethiopian government said this week that 50,000 of its nationals had already been sent home, with the total expected to rise to 80,000. Every day hundreds more trudge through the gates of the heavily guarded campus of Riyadh's Princess Noora University, awaiting a coach ride to the airport, fingerprinting, a final exit visa and their one-way flight to Addis Ababa.

Incidents involving Ethiopians are reported almost obsessively on Twitter and YouTube and across mainstream media outlets. Ethiopians complain in turn of being robbed and beaten, and of routine abuse and mistreatment by their Saudi employers. Protests have been held outside Saudi embassies in several countries. Prejudice is so rife that the Ethiopian ambassador had to insist that the Muslim or Christian beliefs of his compatriots prevented them from practising sorcery.

Yet other foreign workers show little sympathy or solidarity. "These people believe this is their country," said Mohamed, a Bangladeshi who runs a petrol station in the centre of Manfouha. "They are big trouble, and dangerous. I've seen them carrying long knives."

Mokhtar, a Somali, had no problem with them. "I'm not afraid of the Ethiopians because we are neighbours," he grinned. "But the Saudis are. I have heard the stories about them breaking into houses and I've seen them smashing up cars on this road." Ansar, another Ethiopian who blamed his boss for withholding his iqama, condemned his violent compatriots as kuffar – infidels.

Saudi Arabia's addiction to cheap foreign labour goes back to the oil boom and religious awakening of the mid-1970s. In recent years it has come to be seen as an enormous problem that distorts the economy and keeps young people out of the labour market. But the government turned a blind eye and little happened until March. And it remains to be seen whether the notorious kafala (sponsorship) system – responsible for many abuses – can be reformed or replaced. Saudis say one of the biggest problems is foreigners who have fled their original kafeel and effectively disappeared.

"We will need two decades to get back to where we were in the 1970s," predicted Turki al-Hamad, a writer who grew up in the eastern city of Dammam, where Saudis used to work in the Aramco oilfields. "We are better off economically than we were then, but much worse off socially."

The "regularisation" campaign has had some unintended though probably predictable consequences. The sudden acceleration of departures, both voluntary and forced, has left building sites deserted and corpses unwashed. Some schools have closed due to an absence of caretakers. In Jeddah a septic tank overflowed disastrously because the cleaners had all fled after hearing word of an impending police raid. Rubbish is piling up everywhere. In Medina undocumented foreigners dressed up in robes to blend in and avoid attention.

"Two friends of mine were arrested in a furniture shop," said Mohamed Shafi, a driver from Kerala in India. "Their kafeel said it was too expensive to regularise their status so he sacked them. Now they are in a detention centre and there's no way to contact them."

Middle-class Saudis bemoan the sudden disappearance of their maids and drivers (an economic necessity for women, who are banned from driving) and find themselves sucked into a costly labyrinth if they try to intervene. "I had to use the black market and I've paid 100,000 riyals [£16,000]) to regularise my workers," complained a British manager. Embassies are being overwhelmed by nationals frantically seeking the documents they need to allow them to leave the country. "You could see this was a disaster waiting to happen," said another European resident. "It just wasn't thought through. It's all about incompetence."

In the long term the expulsions should help the wider "Saudisation" programme, based on the nitaqat or quotas for employing Saudis in certain sectors depending on the size of the enterprise. But this is not only about the menial work that pampered Saudis refuse to do. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans, Lebanese, Syrians and Egyptians work in the private sector. According to the latest figures from the IMF, 1.5m of the 2m new jobs created in the last four years went to non-Saudis. Entire areas of the economy are controlled by foreigners.

Oil prices are still high and growth enviably healthy but everyone knows that the vast state sector – providing jobs for the boys, if not for the girls – will have to shrink in years to come. Officially unemployment is already 12%; it is probably more than twice that among the two-thirds of the population who are under 30. Every year about 100,000 graduates enter the job market. Technical colleges are now providing vocational training.

"Saudisation can only succeed if a company really wants to do it," argued Abdelrahman al-Mutlak, a businessman. "It can't be done by regulation. Too many Saudis still think it's a lot more prestigious to hire a foreigner even if there is perfectly good Saudi candidate available."

Economists point out that with fewer foreign workers sending remittances home, more money will stay in the country and help boost consumer spending. Official accounts of the expulsion campaign have an almost apologetic tone and stress the efforts the security forces are making and the difficulties they face. But the Saudi Twittersphere echoes to complaints that Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, the interior minister (and a likely future king) has been too soft on what one angry tweet called "criminal gangs of Ethio-Israelis".

It seems clear that the public is cheering on the government on the foreign labour issue. "It is the right thing to do," said Fawziya al-Bakr, a lecturer. "We've reached the point where people were trading in these workers and women were running away to become prostitutes. This is a problem that has built up over 40 years. It can't just be swept up in nine months. But it has to be done. When everything is legalised it will be easier to control."

For Kamel, a Shia businessman from Qatif, in the Eastern province, the expulsions are long overdue. "These people live in ghettoes run by gangsters," he said. "If they are not here legally we don't want them. It just creates problems. They had a period of grace but didn't do anything about it. In Manfouha the Ethiopians started attacking the properties of Pakistanis and Afghans. That was a big mistake. The government says it can solve this problem – so it's really acting tough."
Abuses and exploitation

More than eight million migrant workers in Saudi Arabia – more than half the entire workforce – fill manual, clerical, and service jobs. "Many suffer abuses and labour exploitation, sometimes amounting to slavery-like conditions," says Human Rights Watch.

The kafala system ties foreign workers' residency permits to sponsoring employers whose consent is required for workers to change jobs or leave the country. A Pakistani man employed as a driver, for example, needs permission to work in a shop. Employers often abuse this power in violation of Saudi law to confiscate passports, withhold wages and force migrants to work against their will or on exploitative terms.

Thousands work illegally under the so-called "free visa" arrangement, with Saudis posing as sponsoring employers and importing workers to staff fictitious businesses. Workers who enter Saudi Arabia under this scheme work outside the regulatory system for companies and businesses that are happy to avoid official scrutiny while the worker pays often extortionate annual and monthly fees to the free-visa sponsor to renew residency and work permits.


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« Reply #10345 on: Nov 30, 2013, 07:51 AM »

November 29, 2013

Out of Syria, Into a European Maze

By JIM YARDLEY and GAIA PIANIGIANI
IHT

As war rages on, more refugees are risking a journey to what they hope will be prosperous new lives.

SYRACUSE, Sicily — Fifty miles off the southeastern coast of Sicily, the refugee boat first appeared as a gray spot on the horizon, rising up or dipping away with the churn of the Mediterranean. Then, as an Italian Coast Guard rescue ship drew closer, the small boat came fully into view, as did the dim figure of a man, standing on the bow, waving a white blanket.

Adrift at sea, the boat heaved with about 150 Syrians fleeing war. Mothers in head scarves clutched infants. A child wore a SpongeBob life jacket. Smugglers had left them alone with a satellite phone and an emergency number in Italy: Save us, they pleaded to the Italians before the phone went dead. We are lost.

Capt. Roberto Mangione shouted for everyone to stay calm as he positioned his Coast Guard ship alongside the listing trawler. The Syrians, pale and beleaguered, started clapping. They had been at sea for six days, drinking fetid water, enduring a terrifying storm. One man combed his hair, as if preparing to greet his new life. A woman named Abeer, dazed and exhausted, thought: salvation, at last.

“I had nothing left in Syria,” she explained after stepping onto the rescue boat. She had fled with her husband and three teenage children. “We came with nothing but ourselves to Europe.”

The Syrian exodus has become one of the gravest global refugee crises of recent decades. More than two million people have fled Syria’s civil war, most resettling in neighboring Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. But since this summer, refugees have also started pouring into Europe in what became for many weeks a humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. Over five months, Italy’s Coast Guard rescued thousands of Syrians, even as hundreds of other migrants, including many Syrians, died in two major shipwrecks in October.

For many, reaching Europe was merely the beginning of another difficult journey. Having risked their lives in hopes of settling in prospering Northern Europe, many Syrians found themselves trapped in the south, living illegally in Italy, hiding from the police, as they tried to sneak past border guards and travel north to apply for asylum.

One Syrian man set himself on fire in Rome in October as a protest. In Milan, the financial capital and a transit hub near Italy’s northern border, Syrians began arriving in August, and kept coming as late as November, as refugees took shelter in the central train station, presenting local officials with a dilemma: help them or arrest them?

“This is a humanitarian emergency,” Pierfrancesco Majorino, a Milan council member, said in late October.

From the outset, Europe’s response to the Syrian refugees has pitted the ideals of the Continent against the hard reality of European immigration and asylum laws. After the October shipwrecks, European leaders pledged to increase patrols and rescue operations in the Mediterranean — long a demand of southern countries like Italy, which have complained of bearing Europe’s burden.

But Europe’s broader policies on migration and asylum remain riddled with contradictions and mixed signals. This year, Germany and Sweden promised generous benefits and asylum for Syrian refugees, which inspired thousands of Syrians to pay extortionate fees to smugglers to make the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

Yet upon reaching Italy, the gateway to Europe, the Syrians have been ensnared in red tape: European law requires that the police immediately fingerprint and register them as refugees in Italy — and asylum seekers must make their applications in the country where they are first fingerprinted and registered.

Few Syrians want asylum in Italy, where the economy is mired in recession and benefits for migrants are meager. Once fingerprinted, however, even if the Syrians make it north to Sweden or Germany, they can be sent back to Italy, where the asylum process often drags on for months.

“They are not offering us things we left our country for — no jobs, no homes,” Abeer said. “They are sympathetic. But I didn’t leave Damascus to live like that. Poverty is as bad as war.” Like most Syrians interviewed for this article, Abeer asked to be identified by a single name out of fear of saying anything that might bring retribution to family members still in Syria.

Abeer’s rescue at sea on Oct. 2 came weeks after her family fled Syria.

They had planned to leave Italy quickly for Sweden. Instead, they spent nearly a month bouncing around Italy, desperately raising money for a trip north, trying to elude the police and immigration authorities.

“I thought things were going to be easier,” she said later at a park in Milan. “But no. Our dreams have begun to fade.”

Rescue at Sea

The storm hit on the second day. Rain battered the refugee boat as heavy winds spun it up and down the lines of high, rolling waves. Land was nowhere to be seen. People retched from seasickness.

“We began to believe we would be dead,” Abeer said.

Her family had left Syria on Sept. 13, shattered by the war. Her husband’s company had been destroyed in a bombing raid. Her teenage son, confronted on the street by a security officer, narrowly escaped being shot. Violence kept creeping closer. A man was killed in a car parked in front of their home. On another day, Abeer found a head on the street.

She started selling things — rings, a necklace, a laptop computer, her cellphone. Her relatives and friends sent money until she had raised $11,000. Traveling to Europe by land is very difficult, so most Syrians pay smugglers to take them by boat. Abeer’s family flew to Egypt and spent 15 days shuttling between safe houses in the port city of Alexandria, until they were rushed onto a tiny boat in the early morning darkness, as the smugglers cursed them.

“They were threatening us all the time,” Abeer said.

Smuggling operations have long flourished in northern Africa, often along the coasts of Libya or Tunisia, only 70 miles or so from the Italian island of Lampedusa. Critics of Europe’s immigration policies say smugglers thrive because Europe has created too few legal channels for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, especially for poor refugees seeking to escape countries such as Eritrea or Somalia.

For reasons of proximity, most Syrians travel through Egypt rather than Libya, and many of those coming to Europe are from the middle class, including pharmacists, engineers and shop owners. In interviews with dozens of Syrians now in Italy, several said they had ruled out Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey, because Europe offers the potential of professional opportunities and lifestyles similar to what they left behind.

“I hear the Syrian people get bad treatment in Jordan and Lebanon,” said one man, Basim, a medical technician who spent 10 days at sea to reach Italy. “Sweden, I will go to Sweden. Sweden is good life.”

The Egyptian route can take six days or longer, with smugglers charging $1,000 to $3,500 per person to reach the waters near Sicily. Many of the boats are 55-foot wooden trawlers that have been stripped down to rickety hulls, making it easier for smugglers to press as many as 500 people onboard.

Usually, smugglers depart Egypt with the refugees packed onto a large “mother” ship that is towing a smaller trawler. Once reaching Italian waters, the refugees are pushed onto the smaller boat, handed a satellite phone and given emergency numbers in Italy. The smugglers turn back to Egypt on the larger ship, leaving the Syrians abandoned at sea, sometimes for several days, waiting to be rescued.

“They are so desperate,” said Luca Sancilio, who served as commander of the Coast Guard station in Syracuse until mid-November when he was promoted to a new position in Rome. “We’ve seen people in wheelchairs, and people with amputated limbs.”

The smugglers abandoned Abeer’s boat on the fifth day, promising it would reach land in three hours. But 15 hours had passed, and people became increasingly desperate. Abeer, utterly exhausted, said she began to contemplate suicide.

Then, in the distance, the Italian rescue ship came into view.

“When we saw the boat, we thought, ‘At last, we are saved,'” Abeer said. “I forgot all the pain. We were going to be on the earth again. I hated the sea.”

But as the Italian rescue ship came near, the Syrians also reminded themselves: no fingerprints in Italy.

Clenched Fists

Day or night, as refugees have poured into Syracuse throughout the summer and early fall, even the tourists at the outdoor cafes have succumbed to the spectacle. On some nights, they press against the temporary fencing at the dock, snapping photographs and watching in silence as Syrians stagger off Coast Guard rescue boats.

“The numbers are so big this year that there is no comparison,” said Commander Sancilio of the Coast Guard. Last year, Coast Guard boats in Syracuse rescued 572 migrants at sea. By late November this year, the number had exceeded 11,500, mostly Syrians or Palestinians who had been living for generations in Syria.

Tragedy is common. Coast Guard crews have found bodies on refugee boats; one mother saw both her children die on a journey and had to toss their bodies overboard. Captain Mangione, who leads many of the rescue missions, carries a gurney because his crew often has to transfer people with gunshot wounds suffered in Syria.

But there is also joy. In late September, a Syrian man named Jaffar arrived at the Coast Guard office in tears. A year earlier, he had escaped to Finland; now he had come to Sicily to find his brother and two nephews. He had tracked them by text message until they fled by boat from Egypt. When the boat was brought in a day later, Jaffar tried to break past the police as the refugees slowly stepped onto the dock.

“My brother! My brother!” he shouted at the sight of a weary man holding a small child, a second boy standing nearby. He then held out his mobile phone and broadcast live images, via Skype, to his brother’s wife, still in Syria.

Hours after refugees arrive at the dock, the police and customs officials are required to take fingerprints and register each person into a Europe-wide database. Many times, Syrians will clench their fists, refusing to reveal their fingertips. In some instances, Syrians have complained that the police forced them to submit, even beating them.

Abeer was supposed to represent her group with the Italian authorities. In Syria, she had taught English in a Palestinian settlement and assumed she could communicate with the authorities in Sicily. But at the dock, she was rushed to a hospital after nearly fainting from exhaustion. When she returned, the police were in a tense confrontation with a group of Syrian men after 20 people had been forcibly fingerprinted.

“I went to the gate and asked for the police officer,” she said. “He said, ‘O.K., I promise you I’m not going to oblige anyone else.’ They were very kind. They brought us food, coats and milk.” And the fingerprinting stopped.

The fingerprints tether a person in a system that requires asylum seekers to make applications in the country where they are first registered. Even if Syrians make it north to Sweden or Germany, they are sent back to Italy, where the asylum process can drag on for months and where benefits are paltry.

In Syracuse, the entry point into Italy’s immigration system is a nondescript holding center on the outskirts of the city, where newly arrived migrants await asylum hearings. The gate is left open, and when the Syrians on Abeer’s boat arrived at the center, several people left almost immediately for the closest train station. Abeer’s family stayed for two days, calling friends and relatives to raise 2,000 euros, about $2,700. Then they walked six miles to the bus station.

Leaving was easy. But it also meant that they were now in the country illegally.

Escape From Italy

On Oct. 18, a Friday, families loitered on benches inside a park on the outskirts of Milan as children ran in circles, laughing. Only slowly did it become clear that most of the people in the park were Syrian, including Abeer and her family.

They were different now. Gone was the veil once worn by Abeer. The two teenage girls wore clingy jeans and jewelry. Abeer combed out her hair and wore makeup. This was not a celebration of a more permissive culture. They were trying to blend in, to avoid notice as illegal migrants.

The €2,000 that had bankrolled their departure from Sicily was now mostly gone. They had taken trains and buses to Rome and Tuscany, then up to Milan, back to Tuscany, and back again to Milan, living on the run. They tried to fly to Denmark but were stopped by a guard at the Milan airport who refused to let them pass through security.

“I told her she had to help us,” Abeer said. “We were refugees. But she didn’t help.”

In a holding room at the Milan airport, the police pressured the family for fingerprints. They refused, and finally a sympathetic officer let them go, offering a piece of advice: Stay away from trains and planes. Stuck in Milan, they slept on the floor of a mosque, trying to find another way north.

Nor were they alone in Italy’s fashion and financial capital. At Milan’s central train station, beneath billboards for Hugo Boss and Dolce & Gabbana, a few hundred Syrians were squatting on the mezzanine as passengers hurried by in late October.

“A week ago, there were 40 to 50 people here,” said Jesu Issam Kabakebbji, an Italian of Syrian descent, as he sat beside a group of city social service workers, registering the Syrians in the station. “Today, I’ve registered more than 240 names. What are we going to do when the next train from the south comes with more Syrians?”

Officials in Milan, rather than arrest the Syrians, decided to help by establishing an unofficial “humanitarian corridor,” arranging showers at Catholic charities and even assigning rooms in local homeless shelters. Asked whether housing illegal migrants complied with Italian law, Mr. Majorino, the council member, laughed.

“I don’t really know,” he said. “I just know that what we are doing is right. We can’t become the Damascus of Italy. But we have a moral obligation to these people, before a political one.”

Some Syrians had managed to cross the Austrian border by train, only to be sent back by immigration agents. One of them, Alan Ali, 21, a dentistry student from Damascus, had been among the survivors in October of the second shipwreck, in Maltese waters, when he swam to a life raft tossed out of a military airplane from Malta.

“I was swimming,” he said. “But our friends could not swim. Many children died. Many people died. Pregnant women.”

For Abeer’s family, the chance to escape Italy came unexpectedly. A contact in Germany agreed to drive down and bring them to Dortmund. But the car could hold only Abeer and her three children. Her husband would have to remain in Milan and find another way north.

The car arrived in Milan on Oct. 25. Two days later, after detouring through France, they reached Germany. Then, after a few days more, they boarded a bus and then a train for Sweden. The trip took 32 hours, but they made it. And Abeer’s husband also found safe passage.

Appearing before Swedish authorities, the family finally offered their fingerprints. By November, they had started the application process for residency permits, the first step in building a new life.

“We are looking forward to having a room, not a house,” she said before leaving Milan. “Opening the door, closing the door. Being a family again.”


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« Reply #10346 on: Nov 30, 2013, 07:53 AM »

NASA plans to grow turnips on the Moon by 2015

By Scott Kaufman
RawStory
Friday, November 29, 2013 11:42 EST

Scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center have proposed an experiment that would put a garden on the moon.

The lunar “greenhouse” will likely arrive on the moon as payload on an unmanned Google Lunar X-Prize mission in 2015. In it will be five days’ worth of air, a small water reservoir, and 140 seeds of cress, basil, and turnips.

The purpose of the experiment is to determine whether lunar light is sufficient for germination and growth, as well as measure the effect of higher radiation levels on plant development. According to the proposal,


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« Reply #10347 on: Nov 30, 2013, 08:09 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

November 29, 2013

Health Care Site Rushing to Make Fixes by Sunday

By SHARON LaFRANIERE, ERIC LIPTON and IAN AUSTEN
NYT

As the Obama administration’s weekend deadline for a smoothly functioning online marketplace for health insurance arrives, more than a month of frantic repair work is paying off with fewer crashes and error messages and speedier loading of pages, according to government officials, groups that help people enroll and experts involved in the project.

But specialists said weeks of additional work lie ahead, including a major reconfiguration of the computer hardware, if the $630 million site, Healthcare.gov, is to accommodate the expected flood of people seeking to buy health insurance. Without the additional changes, experts predict, the website may continue to crash during periods of peak use.

Beyond the prospect of potential delays for consumers, insurers warn that problems remain in the invisible “back end” that transmits enrollment information to them. That data has been plagued by inaccuracies, insurers say. Administration officials have been unwilling to disclose the error rate.

As late as Wednesday, the site still continued to slow down when 30,000 users tried to log on simultaneously, according to project specialists. A batch of hardware upgrades and software fixes scheduled for this weekend, administration officials say, will allow the site to handle 50,000 simultaneous users, as promised, by Dec. 1, which is Sunday.

The Health and Human Services Department announced that the site would be shut down for 11 hours on Friday night to put those upgrades into place, on top of the usual four-hour timeout for maintenance on Saturday night.

Although the administration has postponed a December marketing campaign, fearful that the site would collapse under a surge in traffic, five weeks of repair work have clearly made the exchange better. From last Sunday to Tuesday, nearly 20,000 users managed to enroll in insurance plans, the most for a three-day period, according to people familiar with the project. By comparison, fewer than 27,000 users picked an insurance plan on the federal site in the entire month of October.

And pages that once took an average of eight seconds to load now show up in a fraction of a second. The rate at which a user sees an error message has also dropped from about 6 percent to 0.75 percent.

But the pace of enrollment must pick up drastically if the administration is to meet its target of signing up seven million people by the end of March, the number that insurers say they need to spread risks and keep prices down. While some states that built their own sites are making better progress enrolling people, applicants in 36 states, with two-thirds of the nation’s population, depend on the federal site.

At this week’s rate of enrollment, those enrolled through the federal exchange would total fewer than 1.1 million by the March deadline. Few insurance executives expect alternative options for enrolling, including by phone, mail, or in person at counseling centers, to make up that gap.

The administration has already spent more than $9 million beefing up the system’s computing power with additional servers and other hardware. The reconfiguration of the data center — the website’s computer brain — is expected to cost millions more and require up to another month of work, specialists said.

Experts involved in the repair work say the overhaul is necessary because bursts of traffic beyond the designed capacity could bog down the site, forcing users into an electronic queue until emails notify them that they can return.

The only solution, several experts said, is to reconfigure many of the site’s computer servers so that they are dedicated solely to HealthCare.gov’s tasks. Currently, most of the servers juggle demands from other clients as well.

One expert said the site needs to be able to handle 100,000 simultaneous users to provide a safe margin of error. “Think of it as Version Two,” he said.

Tests conducted this week for The New York Times by a California-based company that evaluates websites for major commercial clients found that the site remains too complicated for many users, and is still prone to errors and delays.

“There are too many obstacles and unexpected hurdles people have to jump to sign up,” said Jonathan Hicken, research director at User Testing, the Mountain View, Calif., company that conducted the tests.

Consumers reported varying degrees of success. Aimee Berner, 59, of Glenview, Ill., said she was still not able to finish the application that she began weeks ago. “At least for me, the glitches are still there.”

But on Friday, Dan Wilson, 28, of Madison, Wis., said he had better luck. “I needed to make a decision about whether I was going to keep my current plan or find a new one. I was successfully able to get through and get the information I needed.” In early October, he said, he found the site “just useless.”

Federal officials continue to try to create alternative ways to enroll. The latest is a shortcut called EZ-App, developed over the past month, which will allow consumers to more easily estimate how much federal assistance they are eligible to receive.

The concept is similar to the Internal Revenue Service’s 1040EZ form, the shortest and simplest way to file a federal income tax return. But even getting this slimmed-down process to work online has proved difficult, one person said, so it will initially only be available to individuals who seek to enroll by telephone.

The overhaul of the system’s hardware foundation is intended to address deep concerns about the site’s stability and horsepower. Though the site is up and running more than 85 percent of the time now — compared to just 42 percent in the third week of October — it still crashed for more than three hours last week.

When the site went down at the end of October for more than 10 hours, administration officials blamed Terremark, a subsidiary of Verizon, which operates the data center that houses the system’s hardware. While some specialists said Terremark merely followed specifications it had been handed, several contractors and vendors said they have been unhappy with the firm’s response to repeated outages. A new contractor, chosen before the site went live and problems emerged, is taking over when Terremark’s contract expires, the administration has said.

Because of the system’s fragility, one subcontractor, Oracle, has delivered its own server to a data center near Washington, so that its software, crucial for users to create accounts, runs faster and more reliably. Gary L. Bloom, the chief executive officer of another vendor, MarkLogic, said his firm is also moving its software to differently configured servers. MarkLogic provided the technology for the database that serves as the system’s internal filing cabinet and index.

“I am picking up my house and moving it to a better foundation next door,” he said in an interview. He said MarkLogic is performing up to standard, but “the network and the storage systems are not properly sized and not properly run.”

Another critical problem involved the specifications for a major computer switch that connects the computer servers through a security firewall to the Internet. Mr. Bloom said it has been upgraded from four gigabytes a second to 60. He said the earlier speed was the equivalent of employing four security staffers to screen Heathrow Airport’s passengers. “The line to get through,” he said, “would go back to the city of London.”

Other critical components of the site also remain to be finished, including a financial management tool to handle payments to insurance companies for customers eligible for subsidies.

Some officials involved in the project have expressed disappointment that the redesign work has yet to start. But several technicians warned that rushed upgrades are risky. “Everything is just spotlight on, high pressure, has to be done live, without a net,” one said.

Sharon LaFraniere reported from New York, Eric Lipton from Washington, and Ian Austen from Ottawa. Jennifer Preston contributed reporting from New York, and Robert Pear from Washington.

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

President Obama and First Lady visit fasting immigration activists

By David Ferguson
RawStory
Friday, November 29, 2013 13:38 EST

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama visited a group of activists on Friday who are fasting to protest inaction by the House of Representatives on immigration reform. According to the Associated Press, the protesters have foregone all food for 18 days, drinking only water.

The president visited the group Fast for Families — a coalition of immigrant rights and labor rights groups and their representatives — in the white tent they erected on the National Mall to mark their protest. He reportedly told them that he supports their efforts and said that there is still time in the legislative year for the House to take up immigration reform.

Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) has steadfastly refused to let the immigration bill come to the floor for debate, in spite of the fact that it might actually pass, even in the Republican-dominated House.

Immigration activists and labor reformers say that Boehner’s inaction is inexcusable in the face of families that are broken up by deportations and livelihoods that are ruined for people who are just trying to make a better way of life for themselves and their loved ones.

Vice President Joe Biden paid a surprise visit to the activists to express his solidarity last week.

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

November 25, 2013

The Changing American Family

By NATALIE ANGIER
NYT

American households have never been more diverse, more surprising, more baffling. In this special issue of Science Times, NATALIE ANGIER takes stock of our changing definition of family.

CHELSEA, MICH. — Kristi and Michael Burns have a lot in common. They love crossword puzzles, football, going to museums and reading five or six books at a time. They describe themselves as mild-mannered introverts who suffer from an array of chronic medical problems. The two share similar marital résumés, too. On their wedding day in 2011, the groom was 43 years old and the bride 39, yet it was marriage No. 3 for both.

Today, their blended family is a sprawling, sometimes uneasy ensemble of two sharp-eyed sons from her two previous husbands, a daughter and son from his second marriage, ex-spouses of varying degrees of involvement, the partners of ex-spouses, the bemused in-laws and a kitten named Agnes that likes to sleep on computer keyboards.

If the Burnses seem atypical as an American nuclear family, how about the Schulte-Waysers, a merry band of two married dads, six kids and two dogs? Or the Indrakrishnans, a successful immigrant couple in Atlanta whose teenage daughter divides her time between prosaic homework and the precision footwork of ancient Hindu dance; the Glusacs of Los Angeles, with their two nearly grown children and their litany of middle-class challenges that seem like minor sagas; Ana Perez and Julian Hill of Harlem, unmarried and just getting by, but with Warren Buffett-size dreams for their three young children; and the alarming number of families with incarcerated parents, a sorry byproduct of America’s status as the world’s leading jailer.

The typical American family, if it ever lived anywhere but on Norman Rockwell’s Thanksgiving canvas, has become as multilayered and full of surprises as a holiday turducken — the all-American seasonal portmanteau of deboned turkey, duck and chicken.

Researchers who study the structure and evolution of the American family express unsullied astonishment at how rapidly the family has changed in recent years, the transformations often exceeding or capsizing those same experts’ predictions of just a few journal articles ago.

“This churning, this turnover in our intimate partnerships is creating complex families on a scale we’ve not seen before,” said Andrew J. Cherlin, a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s a mistake to think this is the endpoint of enormous change. We are still very much in the midst of it.”

Yet for all the restless shape-shifting of the American family, researchers who comb through census, survey and historical data and conduct field studies of ordinary home life have identified a number of key emerging themes.

Families, they say, are becoming more socially egalitarian over all, even as economic disparities widen. Families are more ethnically, racially, religiously and stylistically diverse than half a generation ago — than even half a year ago.

In increasing numbers, blacks marry whites, atheists marry Baptists, men marry men and women women, Democrats marry Republicans and start talk shows. Good friends join forces as part of the “voluntary kin” movement, sharing medical directives, wills, even adopting one another legally.

Single people live alone and proudly consider themselves families of one — more generous and civic-minded than so-called “greedy marrieds.”

“There are really good studies showing that single people are more likely than married couples to be in touch with friends, neighbors, siblings and parents,” said Bella DePaulo, author of “Singled Out” and a visiting professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll be single forever. “There are not just more types of families and living arrangements than there used to be,” said Stephanie Coontz, author of the coming book “Intimate Revolutions,” and a social historian at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. “Most people will move through several different types over the course of their lives.”

At the same time, the old-fashioned family plan of stably married parents residing with their children remains a source of considerable power in America — but one that is increasingly seen as out of reach to all but the educated elite.

“We’re seeing a class divide not only between the haves and the have-nots, but between the I do’s and the I do nots,” Dr. Coontz said. Those who are enjoying the perks of a good marriage “wouldn’t stand for any other kind,” she said, while those who would benefit most from marital stability “are the ones least likely to have the resources to sustain it.”

Yet across the divide runs a white picket fence, our unshakable star-spangled belief in the value of marriage and family. We marry, divorce and remarry at rates not seen anywhere else in the developed world. We lavish $70 billion a year on weddings, more than we spend on pets, coffee, toothpaste and toilet paper combined.

We’re sappy family romantics. When an informal sample of 52 Americans of different ages, professions and hometowns were asked the first thought that came to mind on hearing the word “family,” the answers varied hardly at all. Love! Kids! Mom! Dinner!

“It’s the backbone of how we live,” said David Anderson, 52, an insurance claims adjuster from Chicago. “It means everything,” said Linda McAdam, 28, who is in human resources on Long Island.

Yes, everything, and sometimes too many things. “It’s almost like a weight,” said Rob Fee, 26, a financial analyst in San Francisco, “a heavy weight.” Or as the comedian George Burns said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”

In charting the differences between today’s families and those of the past, demographers start with the kids — or rather the lack of them.

The nation’s birthrate today is half what it was in 1960, and last year hit its lowest point ever. At the end of the baby boom, in 1964, 36 percent of all Americans were under 18 years old; last year, children accounted for just 23.5 percent of the population, and the proportion is dropping, to a projected 21 percent by 2050. Fewer women are becoming mothers — about 80 percent of those of childbearing age today versus 90 percent in the 1970s — and those who reproduce do so more sparingly, averaging two children apiece now, compared with three in the 1970s.

One big reason is the soaring cost of ushering offspring to functional independence. According to the Department of Agriculture, the average middle-class couple will spend $241,080 to raise a child to age 18. Factor in four years of college and maybe graduate school, or a parentally subsidized internship with the local theater company, and say hello to your million-dollar bundle of oh joy.

As steep as the fertility decline has been, the marriage rate has fallen more sharply, particularly among young women, who do most of the nation’s childbearing. As a result, 41 percent of babies are now born out of wedlock, a fourfold increase since 1970.

The trend is not demographically uniform, instead tracking the nation’s widening gap in income and opportunity. Among women with a bachelor’s degrees or higher, 90 percent adhere to the old playground song and put marriage before a baby carriage. For everybody else, maternity is often decoupled from matrimony: 40 percent of women with some college but no degree, and 57 percent of women with high school diplomas or less, are unmarried when they give birth to their first child.

More than one-quarter of these unwed mothers are living with a partner who may or may not be their child’s biological father. The rise of the cohabiting couple is another striking feature of the evolving American family: From 1996 to 2012, the number jumped almost 170 percent, to 7.8 million from 2.9 million.

Nor are unmarried mothers typically in their teens; contrary to all the talk of an epidemic of teenage motherhood, the birthrate among adolescent girls has dropped by nearly half since 1991 and last year hit an all-time low, a public health triumph that experts attribute to better sex education and birth-control methods. Most unmarried mothers today, demographers say, are in their 20s and early 30s.

Also démodé is the old debate over whether mothers of dependent children should work outside the home. The facts have voted, the issue is settled, and Paycheck Mommy is now a central organizing principle of the modern American family.

The share of mothers employed full or part time has quadrupled since the 1950s and today accounts for nearly three-quarters of women with children at home. The number of women who are their families’ sole or primary breadwinner also has soared, to 40 percent today from 11 percent in 1960.

“Yes, I wear the pants in the family,” said Ana Perez, 35, a mother of three and a vice president at a financial services company in New York, who was, indeed, wearing pants. “I can say it brings me joy to know I can take care of my family.”

Cultural attitudes are adapting accordingly. Sixty-two percent of the public, and 72 percent of adults under 30, view the ideal marriage as one in which husband and wife both work and share child care and household duties; back when Jimmy Carter was president, less than half of the population approved of the dual-income family, and less than half of 1 percent of husbands knew how to operate a sponge mop.

Mothers are bringing home more of the bacon, and of the mortarboards, too. While most couples are an even match scholastically, 28 percent of married women are better educated than their mates; that is true of just 19 percent of married men. Forty years ago, the asymmetry went the other way.

Some experts argue that the growing legion of mothers with advanced degrees has helped sharpen the already brutal competition for admission to the nation’s elite universities, which stress the importance of extracurricular activities. Nothing predicts the breadth and busyness of a child’s after-school schedule better, it turns out, than the mother’s level of education.

One change that caught many family researchers by surprise was the recent dip in the divorce rate. After many decades of upward march, followed by a long, stubborn stay at the familiar 50 percent mark that made every nuptial feel like a coin flip, the rate began falling in 1996 and is now just above 40 percent for first-time marriages.

The decline has been even more striking among middle- and upper-middle-income couples with college degrees. For them, fewer than one in three marriages is expected to end in divorce, a degree of stability that allows elite couples to merge their resources with confidence, maximally invest in their children and otherwise widen the gap between themselves and the struggling masses.

There are exceptions, of course. Among baby boomers, the rate of marriage failure has surged 50 percent in the past 20 years — perhaps out of an irritable nostalgia, researchers said, for the days of free love, better love, anything but this love. Nor do divorce rates appear to have fallen among those who take the old Samuel Johnson quip as a prescription, allowing hope to triumph over experience, and marrying again and again.

For both Mike and Kristi Burns, now in their 40s, the first marriage came young and left early, and the second stuck around for more than a dozen years.

Kristi was 19, living in South Carolina, and her Marine boyfriend was about to be shipped to Japan. “I wasn’t attached to him, really,” she said, “but for some reason I felt this might be my only chance at marriage.”

In Japan, Kristi gave birth to her son Brandon, realized she was lonely and miserable, and left the marriage seven weeks after their first anniversary. Back in the States, Kristi studied to be a travel agent, moved to Michigan and married her second husband at age 23.

He was an electrician. He adopted Brandon, and the couple had a son, Griffin. The marriage lasted 13 years.

“We were really great friends, but we weren’t a great husband and wife,” Kristi said. “Our parenting styles were too different.”

Besides, she went on, “he didn’t verbalize a lot, but he was mad a lot, and I was tired of walking around on eggshells.”

After the divorce, friends persuaded her to try the online dating service match.com, and just as her free trial week was about to expire, she noticed a new profile in the mix.

“Kristi was one of the first people to ping me,” said Mike Burns, an engineer for an e-commerce company. “This was at 3 in the morning.”

They started chatting. Mike told Kristi how he’d married his first wife while he was still in college — “definitely too young,” he said — and divorced her two years later. He met his second wife through mutual friends, they had a big church wedding, started a software publishing company together, sold it and had two children, Brianna and Alec.

When the marriage started going downhill, Mike ignored signs of trouble, like the comments from neighbors who noticed his wife was never around on weekends.

“I was delusional, I was depressed,” he said. “I still had the attitude that divorce wasn’t something you did.”

After 15 years of marriage, his wife did it for him, and kicked him out of the house. His divorce papers hadn’t yet been finalized, he told Kristi that first chat night. I’ll help you get through it, she replied.

Mike and Kristi admit their own three-year-old marriage isn’t perfect. The kids are still adjusting to one another. Sometimes Kristi, a homemaker, feels jealous of how much attention her husband showers on his daughter Brianna, 13. Sometimes Mike retreats into his computer. Yet they are determined to stay together.

“I know everyone thinks this marriage is a joke and people expect it to fail,” said Kristi . “But that just makes me work harder at it.”

“I’d say our chances of success are better than average,” her husband added.

In America, family is at once about home and the next great frontier.

The Baby Boom for Gay Parents

A growing number of same-sex couples are pursuing parenthood any way they can.

LOS ANGELES — The Schulte-Wayser family is like the Jetsons: a blend of midcentury traditional and postmodern cool.

One parent is the breadwinner, a corporate lawyer who is Type A when it comes to schoolwork, bedtime and the importance of rules. The other parent is the self-described “baby whisperer,” staying home to care for the couple’s two daughters and four sons, who dash through their days as if wearing jetpacks.

Both parents know when rules and roles are made for subverting. “We are each of us very maternal in our own way,” said Joshua Wayser, 50, the lawyer. “I take my girls shopping, and I’m in charge of beauty and hair care.” Mr. Wayser glanced at Richard Schulte, 61, his homemaker-artist husband, who was sitting nearby.

“Of course,” Mr. Wayser added dryly, “he doesn’t think I do a good job.”

Mr. Wayser, Mr. Schulte and their six adopted children are part of one of the more emphatic reinventions of the standard family flow chart. A growing number of gay men and lesbians are pursuing parenthood any way they can: adoption, surrogacy, donor sperm.

“There’s a gayby boom, that’s for sure,” Mr. Wayser said. “So many of our friends are having kids.”

Some critics have expressed concern that the children of gay parents may suffer from social stigma and the lack of conventional adult role models, or that same-sex couples are not suited to the monotonous rigors of family life. Earlier studies, often invoked in the culture wars over same-sex marriage, suggested that children who lived with gay parents were prone to lower grades, conduct disorders and a heightened risk of drug and alcohol problems.

But new research suggests that such fears are misplaced. Through a preliminary analysis of census data and other sources, Michael J. Rosenfeld of Stanford University has found that whatever problems their children may display are more likely to stem from other factors, like the rupture of the heterosexual marriage that produced the children in the first place.

Once these factors are taken into account, said Dr. Rosenfeld, author of “The Age of Independence: Interracial Unions, Same-sex Unions, and the Changing American Family,” the children of same-sex parents are academically and emotionally indistinguishable from those of heterosexual parents.

And two-father couples, in defiance of stereotype, turn out to be exemplars of domesticity. In her long-term studies of unconventional families, Judith Stacey, a professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University, found that the most stable of all were those headed by gay men who’d had their children together.

Over 14 years, she said, “I was shocked to find that none of the male couples with children had broken up, not one.” Dr. Stacey, author of “Unhitched: Love, Marriage and Family Values From West Hollywood to Western China,” attributed that success to self-selection. “For men to become parents without women is very difficult,” she said. “Only a small percentage are willing and able to make the commitment.”

There’s no maybe about the gayby boom. According to the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, the number of gay couples with children has doubled in the past decade, and today well over 100,000 same-sex couples are raising children. Other estimates put the number of children living with gay parents — couples and singletons combined — at close to two million, or one out of 37 children under age 18.

Driving the rise in same-sex parenthood is the resonant success of the marriage equality movement, which has led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in 16 states and has helped ease adoption policies elsewhere. In 2009, 19 percent of same-sex couples raising children reported having an adopted child, up from just 10 percent in 2000. Gay parents are four times as likely as straight ones to be raising adoptees, and six times as likely to be caring for foster children, whom they often end up adopting.

Some crave the fetters of DNA, and here women have an advantage. Many of the children of lesbian couples are the biological offspring of one of the women and a semen donor — who may be anonymous, a friend, the brother of the nongestating woman, or Mark Ruffalo.

The Schulte-Wayser family started out unhyphenated, as the Waysers. The two men had broken up; Mr. Wayser was living alone in Los Angeles, his law career was in flux, and he was tired of obsessing about work. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something else,’ ” he said. “I had to come out to myself as a father.”

His mother was thrilled, and she offered to pay the costs for a surrogate mother to carry a baby conceived with his sperm. Mr. Wayser said no.

“I wanted the clarity of having someone who didn’t share my genetics, who was completely different from me,” he said.

He met with an adoption lawyer in March 2000, and by June he had a newborn daughter, Julie. Several months later, Mr. Schulte called to chat, heard Julie in the background and stopped by to meet her.

The baby reminded him of Don King, the boxing promoter. “It was love at first sight,” Mr. Schulte said, and Mr. Wayser acknowledged, “I used Julie as bait.”

His old boyfriend took it. “We were a couple again,” Mr. Schulte said. Or rather, he amended, “we were a family.” He and Mr. Wayser later married in Malibu.

From 2002 to 2009, four brothers and a sister followed — Derek, A J, Isaac (all from one mother), Shayna and Joey. “That’s my line in the sand,” Mr. Wayser said. “We’ve run out of room.”

Yet he believes it’s easier to manage a large family than a small one. “They entertain each other. They organize themselves,” he said. “We send the kids out. We say, ‘Go ride your bike, go out and play.’ We want them to have a very traditional childhood in a nontraditional setting.”

He admits to being a worrier. Some of the children have learning disabilities and require extensive tutoring, and he doesn’t know what risks the birth mothers might have taken during pregnancy.

But he resents people who note the color of his children’s skin as well as his obvious financial resources, and cluck about how noble he is and how lucky the children are.

“No, I’m the one who’s lucky here,” he said. “I’m not trying to save the world.”

The Wedding Will Have to Wait

The idea of marriage can be intimidating, so some couples choose cohabitation instead.

Ana Perez, 35, who moved to New York from the Dominican Republic at age 5, has an open smile, a firm handshake and a vivid, scrappy manner just this side of a fireplug. But as she recalled the night she threw the father of her two older children out of her Harlem apartment, her voice cracked into a dozen pieces and her eyes blurred with tears.

She might have accepted his infidelities if he’d kept them discreet, cheap and away from the neighborhood. “I had this mentality that men will be men.” she said.

But when he began lavishly dating the younger sister of a friend of hers, Ms. Perez confronted him in a fury.

“I said, ‘You’ve been spending money on this person when you have children who need diapers and milk?’ ” she said. “The last straw was, we had this huge fight in the kitchen and I pulled a knife on him. For a second, I saw my children without a mother — because I would be in jail.”

Their relationship ended that night a decade ago, she said, “and I never looked back.”

He still visits with George, 16, and Bryana, 10, “as a friend figure,” Ms. Perez said, but he has no say in their upbringing.

For the past six years, Ms. Perez has lived with Julian Hill, 39, the father of her third child, Bubba, 4. Mr. Hill is tall and African-American, his head shaved, his cream-colored suit impeccably paired with a blue-checked banker’s shirt and yellow tie. He is devoted to all three children and involved in their everyday lives.

“I come home every night,” he said. “They might be asleep when I get home, but I’m here every night. I’m always pushing them hard to do their very best, maybe sometimes a little too hard.”

Until this fall, Ms. Perez worked for a financial services firm, and she has been the family’s primary earner. Mr. Hill, equally ambitious, has worked as a notary public, mortgage closer and occasional stock investor. He and Ms. Perez recently started a small notary-mortgage business.

“I think like Warren Buffett,” Mr. Hill said. “My plan is to be a billionaire, but if I fall short and end up a millionaire, that would be fine.”

Yet he admits that for now even that downsized goal remains elusive. “If you’re talking about income,” he said, “we’re lower, lower middle class.”

If you’re talking about their relationship status, he and Ms. Perez have been engaged for more than a year, and they plan to go more than another year before getting married.

Of the many changes to the design, packaging and content of family life over the past generation, researchers cite two as especially significant.

One is the sharp increase in out-of-wedlock births among all but the most highly educated women. The second is the repositioning of marriage from cornerstone to capstone, from a foundational act of early adulthood to a crowning event of later adulthood — an event that follows such previous achievements as finishing college, starting a career and owning furniture not made from fruit crates.

The two trends are interrelated, researchers say, but for reasons that are often misunderstood. Unmarried parents are not necessarily the careless and shortsighted hedonists of stereotype. Instead, a growing number of Americans are simply intimidated by the whole idea of marriage: It has assumed ever greater cultural status, becoming the mark of established winners rather than of modestly optimistic beginners (while weddings have become extravagant pageants where doves and butterflies are released but still, nobody gets the bridesmaid dresses right).

Childbearing, on the other hand, happens naturally, and offers what marriage all too often does not: lifelong bonds of love.

“For many cohabiting couples, there’s a high bar for marriage, high expectations of where they should be at economically or emotionally, and if they don’t meet that bar they’ll put off getting married,” said Kelly Musick, an associate professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell University, who has studied cohabitation patterns.

“But if they’re reasonably pleased with the relationship and happen to find themselves pregnant,” she continued, “they may realize they’re not in a great place financially to become parents but they’re still happy to have the child.” They find “a sense of purpose and fulfillment in parenthood” even when the rest of life is withholding the goods.

Kathryn Edin, a professor of public policy and management at Harvard University, has interviewed hundreds of low-income Americans. In her latest book, “Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City,” which she wrote with her colleague Timothy J. Nelson, Dr. Edin describes the enormous instability of family life among the working class and the poor.

“In the middle class, the divorce rate has gone down, and family life is in many ways simpler than it used to be,” she said in an interview. “There’s far more complexity and churning of households among the poor, a turnover of partnerships, lots of half-siblings.”

Yet Dr. Edin also punctures the myth of the low-income father as a deadbeat who deposits his sperm and runs. Instead, the young men in her study were eager to establish their paternity.

“They’re showing up at the hospital and signing birth certificates in droves,” she said. “They’re doing all this voluntarily, even though they know that by having their name on the certificate they’ll be liable for child support and could go to jail if they don’t pay.”

The fathers also proved to be more involved in their children’s lives than previously believed. “Even five years in, about two-thirds of fathers are seeing their kids at least monthly, and just under half are seeing their kids several times a week,” Dr. Edin said.

Most of Ms. Perez’s previous co-workers were younger than she was and came from middle-class backgrounds, and she acknowledges that their timing of life events has its benefits.

“You go to college, you build your finances, you marry, you build more finances, then you have children,” she said. “If you wait longer, you have the foundation, you’re more educated, and you have the confidence in yourself that you’re able to survive.”

Then again, she laughed, “in Spanish culture, we do everything early.”

She is convinced that having her first child at 19 was the right thing to do. Without that incentive, “I would have had such a different life,” she said. “I would have been much less productive. I would have spent all my time just hanging out.”

But between the spur of her family’s needs and a work ethic she describes as “awesome,” Ms. Perez rose to a vice presidency at her previous company, “and I didn’t even graduate high school,” she said.

Nevertheless, she frets incessantly about the future. She’d like to go back to school and set something aside for her children’s college educations; she won’t buy cereal that’s not on sale; and the last thing she wants to spend money on right now is a wedding.

“I’m O.K. just going to City Hall,” she said.

Mr. Hill won’t hear of it. “I can’t do that, I can’t just go downtown,” he said. “I want to do something big, a wedding with friends and family standing together.”

So he’ll wait until he’s saved enough to pay for the wedding of his dreams, when he can celebrate the family he loves and know it has arrived.

To Atlanta, by Way of Sri Lanka

The Indrakrishnans are part of a new tide of immigration with traditionally strong family ties.

ATLANTA — When people first meet Dr. Indran Indrakrishnan, a gastroenterologist with a busy private practice near Atlanta, they take note of his unusual name, his crisply lilting accent, his tan complexion and wavy black hair, and they ask, “So, doctor, where are you from?”

“See if you can guess,” Dr. Indrakrishnan replies cheerfully. India? No. Pakistan? No. Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Afghanistan? Negatives all around.

“At that point they’re stumped, and they move on to South America,” he said, “and when I finally tell them I was born in Sri Lanka, they look more confused than ever. ‘Sri Lanka? Where is that?’ ”

Such casual geographic illiteracy may soon give way under the sheer force of numbers. Dr. Indrakrishnan is part of a new tide of immigration that has been sweeping America, upending old voting blocs, reconfiguring neighborhoods, diversifying local restaurant options and casting a fresh perspective on the meaning of traditional family values.

Though much of the immigration debate has focused on Latinos, the fastest-growing immigrant groups are not Hispanic but Asian. The Asian-American population soared by 46 percent from 2000 to 2010, compared with 43 percent for Hispanics and 1 percent for non-Hispanic whites, and the Asian share of new immigrants nearly doubled, to 36 percent from 19 percent.

The 1950s stereotype of the ideal American family, of Dick, Jane and Wonder Bread homogeneity, arose at a time when the immigration rate was near historic lows. Today, the best place to find a traditional, G-rated American family may be in an immigrant community. Asian-American families, in particular, are exceptionally stable. They are half as likely to be divorced as Americans in general; only 16 percent of Asian-American infants are born out of wedlock, compared with 41 percent over all; and 80 percent of Asian-American children are raised by two married parents, versus 63 percent over all, according to Pew Research data.

Many of the new Asian immigrants come from solidly middle-class backgrounds, and many, though by no means all, do as well or better after moving to the United States. Fifty-one percent hold college degrees, compared with 31 percent of all adults. According to recent studies, Asian-Americans have the highest average household income of any racial group, roughly $68,000 a year, compared with $55,000 for whites and $34,000 for African-Americans.

At the front edge of the Asian-American boom are immigrants from South Asia, including India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Dr. Indrakrishnan, 53, who also teaches at the Emory University School of Medicine, is something of a celebrity among South Asian immigrants — the sociable, civic-minded and highly successful professional everyone wants to schmooze with at the local Hindu temple each week.

“Sometimes I have to go to temple during off hours,” he said, “or I’ll get caught up chatting there the entire day.”

He lives with his wife, Gayathri, 49, a tax accountant, and their daughter, Harini, a high school senior, in a gated enclave on the banks of a glistening artificial lake, not far from the former residence of the football quarterback Michael Vick. The house feels like a castle, only bigger — 15,000 square feet of vaulted, chandeliered ceilings, an enormous alabaster fireplace, matching ornate staircases that curve together like an upside-down heart, and an elevator if you’re too tired for the stairs.

Personal statements can be found throughout: in one corner, an elegant bronze sculpture of the Hindu deity Shiva; in another, a bulbous-bodied stringed instrument called a Saraswati vina that Gayathri Indrakrishnan wishes she had more time to play; and in the basement, a custom-built studio where Harini practices Bharatanatyam, a highly structured, almost geometric form of classical Indian dance that has become a defining feature of her otherwise all-American life.

“Dance keeps me connected to my culture,” she said. “I’ve got the best of both worlds.”

Her parents grew up in the same part of Sri Lanka and had friends, a family doctor and a cleaning woman in common. But the two didn’t really meet until they were young adults living in North America — he finishing his medical training, she pursuing microbiology — and their older brothers decided to play matchmakers.

He flew to Toronto for a rendezvous. If it wasn’t exactly love at first sight, she said, “the chemistry was there.” The couple spent a year exchanging phone calls and letters and were married in 1991.

“We had what’s called a semi-arranged marriage,” Dr. Indrakrishnan said. “It’s quite common back in India and Sri Lanka.” Families are involved, but they don’t push; “we had to like each other and get along.”

After they married and settled in the United States, Ms. Indrakrishnan traded microbiology for an M.B.A. and a numbers-crunching career. She and her husband became American citizens a decade ago.

“I love living here!” he said. “It is truly the land of opportunities.” Yet he said he would not have wanted to marry an American woman, and when asked the first word that came to mind on hearing the word “family,” he said, “Gayathri, my wife.”

The Census Bureau does not track the frequency of arranged marriages, but researchers believe the numbers are rising. Among other signs, they said, is the growing number of immigrant matchmaking websites like bharatmatrimony.com, aimed not just at eager singletons but at their parents and relatives.

And though many Americans may bridle at the idea, studies suggest there is little downside to letting the family do your advance work. Kathryn Klement, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Northern Illinois University, surveyed 329 married Indian women, 176 of them in arranged marriages, and said, “I didn’t find any significant differences” between the two groups in marital happiness, feelings of intimacy, trust and commitment, sexual satisfaction and the ease with which the women could express their desires.

Indran and Gayathri Indrakrishnan independently identified the same key to long-lasting marital harmony. “It’s tolerance,” she said. Many of Dr. Indrakrishnan’s American patients “are not very tolerant of their spouses,” he said. “They want the chemistry to be perfect, and if it isn’t, pfft, they split up.”

Tolerance extends to their parenting style. Their expectations for Harini are quite high, but they care less whether she aces every class than that she is always trying, always seeking to improve.

“If there is homework due or a test the next day and she’s goofing off and not listening to me, yes, I’ll be upset,” her mother said. Harini, it seems, has absorbed the parental credo. When she sensed that Facebook was interfering with her schoolwork, she deactivated her account.

Also poised for deactivation is a certain cliché symbolized by fangs and stripes.

It is no secret that many Asian-American students excel academically; their average SAT scores, for example, are the highest of any ethnic group.

One theory to gain traction lately is that Asian-American parents are harsh taskmasters who virtually chain their children to their desks and pianos, a view reinforced by Amy Chua in her best-selling book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”

But a long-term study of 300 Chinese-American families suggests that view is nothing but a stereotype. The researchers, led by Su Yeong Kim, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, administered lengthy questionnaires to parents and children, asking about school, work, home life, grades, extracurricular activities and emotions. The researchers determined that the parents most likely to raise high-achieving offspring were not cold authoritarians but ones who combined “the right amount of parental control” with a “high level of warmth,” Dr. Kim said.

“Supportive parenting always yields the best outcome academically and socio-emotionally, too,” she added. “These kids outperform the kids of tiger parents by quite a lot.”

She and her colleagues proposed other factors that might help explain the good report cards: family pride; cultural traditions that extol education, like Confucianism; and children’s acute awareness of parental sacrifice.

“They gave up everything for their kids,” as Dr. Kim characterized this attitude, “so I’d better not blow it.” And when they succeed, they bring honor to ancestors, descendants, the entire high-fiving clan.

For Career Jugglers, Life Goes by Fast

With two children, the Glusacs may seem typical, but their story is more complicated.

LOS ANGELES — Jan Glusac, 51, is blond and heigh-ho friendly, a first-grade teacher with a first-rate tolerance for contradictory ideas. A few years ago, she and her family participated in a landmark study by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles — a close anthropological look at the daily lives of 32 typical middle-class American families.

Does she feel that her family is, in fact, typical?

“I do and I don’t,” Ms. Glusac says.

She wears a long white skirt, black blouse, jeans jacket and a silver necklace, and is sitting on a plump aubergine couch in a comfortable, recently renovated postwar bungalow in Westchester, a solidly middle-class neighborhood not far from the Los Angeles airport.

On the typical side of the ledger: The average middle-class family has two children, and seated next to Ms. Glusac are her two children, Katie and Chris.

Katie, 17, is a high school senior, a star of her cross-country and soccer teams, an intern at a local veterinary clinic and these days a captive player in that all-American combat sport called applying to college. Chris, 21, is a Santa Monica College engineering student who still lives at home but plans to transfer next year to the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“We may soon be empty nesters,” Ms. Glusac says. “That’s one phase of life we’re not ready for.”

But at least they’ll still have Ollie, she says — “the best dog ever!” Katie chimes in — and dogs, it so happens, are the most popular pet in America, preferred over cats by more than two to one.

Around 6 p.m., Srdan Glusac, 50, arrives home from his job as an avionics engineer at Federal Express. Mr. Glusac, who goes by the nickname Serg (pronounced surge), was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, but grew up in Montreal. He looks like the original from which Chris was cloned: the same mild face, the same fine, sandy hair.

Mr. Glusac generally gets home an hour or two after his wife, a scheduling disparity common among two-career households: American men spend 35 to 55 minutes longer on the job each day than women do, while working mothers devote eight more hours a week to child care and housekeeping compared with working fathers.

Less typical is Mr. Glusac’s Bosnian mother, Ilinka Volk, who lives nearby and has long acted as the fantasy super-grandma, obviating the need for day care, chauffeuring the kids to soccer games and serving up Old World comfort food like stuffed cabbage, goulash and a revelatory Bosnian custard called snow clouds.

Jan Glusac points out that her family is better off than most, with a household income nearly four times the national median of about $51,000. For example, Chris recently bought a black BMW convertible, which meant Katie got his Prius.

“And now we’re a four-car family,” Chris says sheepishly. “That sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it?” The average number of cars per American family is 2.28.

The family has had its share of frame shifts and body blows. Ms. Glusac was treated for breast cancer eight years ago. In middle school, Chris became extremely introverted and barely left his room. “I feel like I’m a key in the wrong lock,” he confessed in a note to his parents.

“That made me start crying,” Ms. Glusac says. “I knew exactly what he meant.”

As a ninth grader, Katie was arrested after shoplifting more than $100 worth of clothing from a department store. Her parents were devastated. She was grounded for the summer and had to perform community service, help pay her legal fees by handing over most of the money she’d saved since elementary school, and endure the humiliation of hearing her mother tell other parents that if they didn’t want their children associating with Katie, she’d understand.

“That was the hardest part, the strain on my relationship with my parents,” Katie says. “But what came out of it was a stronger relationship than before” — and lucky for her, no permanent record.

In the U.C.L.A. study, a team of researchers associated with the Center on Everyday Lives of Families focused on dual-income families with two or more school-age children at home in the Los Angeles area. The investigators spent weeks with each family, staying in the background as they observed and recorded every aspect of home life: the banter, the spats, the struggles over homework and piano practice, the laundry, the meals.

As recounted in the books “Fast-Forward Family” and “Life at Home in the 21st Century,” the scientists learned that American families are just this side of clinically compulsive hoarders, owning “more material goods per household than any society in history,” in the words of one investigator, Jeanne E. Arnold, a professor of anthropology.

The researchers also particularized the centrality of the kitchen, where the largest and most visible clocks are displayed and where the greatest number of calendars, school memos and to-do lists are posted.

Yet the lure of a festively pushpinned corkboard has its limits. The researchers determined that even when all of the family members were at home and awake together, they were in the same room only 14 percent of the time.

The researchers have since done comparative studies of families in Italy, Sweden, Samoa and the Peruvian Amazon, and have concluded that American families are outliers in their fixation on children’s needs and children’s success.

“In other societies, school-aged children are expected to be vigilant and see what needs to be done around the house, and they routinely do chores without being asked,” said Elinor Ochs, a director of the study. “But here, in middle-class mainstream households, you can’t ask kids to do anything. It’s incredible.”

Instead, given today’s single-digit admission rates at the nation’s elite universities, middle-class American parents want their children to focus almost exclusively on homework and extracurricular activities. In a study of the after-school life of students in the Philadelphia area, Annette Lareau of the University of Pennsylvania and her colleagues found that virtually all the middle-class children remained as tightly scripted outside the classroom as they had been during the school day.

At one suburban school, she said, “I went through the schedules of 100 fourth graders and couldn’t find a single child who did not have any organized activities.” The researchers also determined that the time children spent in such activities rose in tandem with the mother’s education: 4 hours 54 minutes per week for the children of mothers with some college, 5 hours 37 minutes for the offspring of college graduates, and 6 hours 33 minutes for the children of mothers with graduate degrees.

“I remember feeling like that was all I ever did — I was always in the car driving someone someplace,” Jan Glusac says of her family’s two-car days. “I don’t think I could keep that schedule up at this point in my life,” she adds. Nowadays, the kids largely take care of themselves, Ms. Glusac says, and they’re either out of the house or working in their rooms. “We love being together as a family,” she says, even if that means little more than sharing the same roof.

Wanting Marriage and Pursuit of Happiness

The clues to an American paradox, and family changes, can be found in the past.

The American family began life in the raggedness of the Colonial era as a kind of organizational Swiss Army knife — many institutions in one convenient package.

The home was a place of business, of relentless industry, where there was always more flax to spin and tallow to drip; all able-bodied family members from toddlerhood onward were expected to work for the family economy. (In fact, the word “family” comes from the Latin for servant.)

The home was a delivery ward, schoolroom, hospital and funeral parlor. And in an age before centralized government or even a reliable town sheriff, the home served as the primary locus of social control. Everyone had to reside in the all-encompassing embrace of a bustling household, and adults who tried to live alone, particularly single men, were viewed with suspicion, advised to marry, find room and board with a “decent” family or get out of town.

As recently as the 1950s, according to Andrew J. Cherlin, a professor of public policy at Johns Hopkins University, unattached adults could arouse community ire. “If you didn’t get married by a certain point, there had to be something wrong with you,” he said. “People suspected you were mentally ill.”

Yet as a young nation of wide horizons and Powerball opportunities, America also encouraged a degree of footlooseness, a scorn for the settled and a yen for the new. That novelty-seeking spirit applied as much to conjugal matters as economic ones, and the divorce rate rose steadily along with the number of stars on the flag. By the turn of the 20th century, the United States had the highest divorce rate in the Western world, a title it retains to this day.

It’s the great American paradox. We value marriage as “the center of civilized society,” Dr. Cherlin said. At the same time, we value our liberty, the pursuit of personal happiness and the right to leave a bad marriage behind.

Other factors helped give the American family its distinctive cast. As the population shifted westward and the distances between dwellings opened, Americans grew accustomed to a degree of privacy and personal space that few other earthlings could share.

The passion for privacy accelerated as the Industrial Revolution pulled productive activity out of the house and into the factory, leaving the home as a private sanctum for the family. Americans went wild for the privatized family and family-themed activities: the family vacation, kiddie birthday parties, decorating the Christmas tree, and the ultimate American family holiday, Thanksgiving, signed into law by the man who saved the Union, Abraham Lincoln.

And “over the river and through the woods” notwithstanding, that family mostly meant nuclear, with ties to older or second-order relatives increasingly frayed.

Industrialization and the entry of women into the work force changed the nature of marriage as well, from the pragmatic merging of skill sets that prevailed in the agricultural era to a relationship of choice based on friendship, personal compatibility and love.

“Marriage as an institution lost much of its power over our lives, but marriage as a relationship became more powerful than ever,” said the social historian Stephanie Coontz.

The trend has only intensified with time. “The less we need marriage,” she said, “the more we expect from it.”

Bonding From Behind Bars

The children of more than a million inmates are left to cope as best they can.

One variant of the modern American family — sadly characteristic, if often ignored — is the family struggling with the impact of an incarcerated parent. Largely as a result of harsh drug laws and mandatory minimum sentences, the nation’s prison population has almost quadrupled over the past 30 years, according to a 2010 Pew Charitable Trusts study.

Today the United States is the world’s leading jailer by far, housing more of its citizens behind bars than the top 35 European countries combined. And of the estimated 2.3 million inmates serving time, more than half are parents of children under age 18. That translates into 2.7 million affected children nationwide, or one of every 28, up from one in 125 in 1990.

Some groups have been hit much harder than others. “African-American children living in lower-income, low-education neighborhoods are seven and a half times more likely than white kids to experience the incarceration of a parent,” said Julie Poehlmann, professor of human development and family studies at the University of Wisconsin. “And by age 14, more than half of these kids with a low-education parent will have an imprisoned parent.”

Families are left to cope as best they can, not only with the deafening absence, the economic hardship, the grief and loneliness that separation from a loved one can bring, but also with the stigma that accompanies a criminal conviction, the feelings of humiliation, debasement and failure.

It’s one thing if your father is taken away by disease or divorce; it’s another if he’s taken away in handcuffs. Studies have shown that even accounting for factors like poverty, the children of incarcerated parents are at heightened risk of serious behavioral problems, of doing poorly in school or dropping out, of substance misuse, of getting in trouble with the law and starting the cycle anew.

In a telling sign, “Sesame Street” recently introduced a Muppet named Alex, who looks as glum as Eeyore and is ashamed to admit why only his mother shows up at school events: Dad is in prison. The show offers an online tool kit for children and their caregivers, “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration,” with a coloring book, cutout mobile and “how am I feeling?” cards (angry, upset, sad).

“We know a lot of kids who need help understanding what is happening with their parents, and caregivers who need to know how to talk about it,” said Dr. Poehlmann, who helped develop the tool kit.

Nearly half the caregivers never talk about the imprisoned parent, while another third simply lie, Dr. Poehlmann said. “They don’t have the words, they don’t know what the kids will understand,” she said. “But kids have big ears, and if no one talks about it directly, the kids will feel they should keep it secret.”

Caregivers are also often hesitant to take children to visit incarcerated parents, either out of fear the visit will be traumatic, or because the prison is usually in a remote rural area hours from public transportation.

Whatever the reason, a vast majority of prisoners get no visits, from their children or anybody else, Dr. Poehlmann said, “and they feel very sad about that.”

During several recent visits to a men’s low-security federal prison in rural New Jersey, the joy, pain and unsettling ordinariness of family time, penitentiary style, were on fluorescent-lit display.

Women brought babies, children, teenagers and bags of quarters for the vending machines. Fathers wearing prison khakis and work boots were required to stay seated in their molded plastic chairs, but as family members filed in, the men’s Humpty Dumpty grins threatened to split their faces.

Older children settled into seats beside their fathers, while younger ones played at kiddie tables in the corner. Everybody ate chips, microwaved sandwiches, bags of M&Ms. The prison photographer snapped family portraits in front of fake backdrops of palm trees and sunsets.

One day at the end of visiting hours, as family members lined up to await escorted passage through multiple locked doors, a 10-year-old boy in a striped polo shirt stood next to his mother, crying and crying. She pulled him close, but the boy didn’t stop. He was weeping his quiet ocean of loss and would give no thought to the shore.

In interviews, conducted in person and through an intermediary, the prisoners, too, teared up when they talked about their children, and the great difficulty they had maintaining bonds through sentences long enough to turn those children into adults.

All are nonviolent offenders, as are about two-thirds of prisoners over all. They spoke on condition that only their first names be used.

Sing, a tall, slim man in his early 40s, has been in prison for 15 years on drug charges, with two years to go. His son and daughter are now 17 and 23, but he has been “adamant” about staying involved in their lives — through letters, phone calls and emails.

“They are doing very well,” he said. “They have no criminal problems.”
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continued...

 Yet because they live in Florida, 1,000 miles away, Sing hasn’t seen them in five years. He and other inmates expressed frustration at how often the Bureau of Prisons flouted its official policy of trying to house inmates in facilities within 500 miles of their families. The authorities are supposed to do as much as possible to keep families together, Sing said bitterly, “but they do more to keep families apart.”

Other inmates said that no matter where it was, prison had a way of corroding emotional ties to the outside world. Jon, who is 55 and three years into a five-year sentence, scoffed when he first arrived and a seasoned inmate told him he’d soon stop caring about the everyday concerns of the people he left behind, including those of his only child, a teenage girl.

The veteran, Jon sighed, was right. “I have to make a special effort now to stay emotionally connected with my daughter and to keep up with her daily experiences,” he said. “It’s hard for me to do. She’ll start talking about her friends and I’ll have no idea who they are.”

Perseverance helps. “My top priority is to stay relevant in my kids’ lives,” said Rob, an athletic 46-year-old who has been in prison four years and has three teenage daughters. “I put them first as much as I can.”

He calls each girl once a week and prepares conversation notes ahead of time. He sends gifts he’s drawn or crocheted. They have a family book club. His daughters seem to be doing well: One is at Bryn Mawr College, and another is at Tabor Academy, a highly competitive prep school. But with nine years of hard time yet to go, who knows if all the threads will hold?

Simply Deciding to Be Related

Circumstances can lead to friendships becoming something more.

The night Beki Reese’s 22-year-old son, Caleb, went into a coma, three months before he would die of lung cancer, she asked his best friend, “Matt, are we going to lose you too, when this is all over?”

After meeting at a heavy metal concert in 2001, Matthew Tanksley, now 33, became the big brother Caleb never had. When Caleb got sick, Matt visited him in the hospital almost daily, and briefly took on the role of nurse during a memorable trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. But he was also there for Ms. Reese, of Costa Mesa, Calif., who says she depended on him for emotional support as her son’s illness progressed.

“Through that ordeal, that nine-month period, I became like a full-fledged member of the family,” Mr. Tanksley said. “We were having family dinners together, we were going out to eat, we were talking to each other every day on the phone. Hard times build bonds, and that definitely happened.”

Mr. Tanksley’s own mother had died when he was 13, so he welcomed the Reese clan’s embrace. Seven years later, he and Caleb’s mother remain close: She calls him her son, and he introduces her as “Mom.”

Relationships like these — independent of biology but closer and more enduring than friendship — have been documented in various cultures throughout history. In the United States, they are particularly common within African-American and immigrant communities, as well as gay and lesbian social networks. Anthropologists have traditionally used the term “fictive kin” to separate such relationships from “true” kinship based on blood or law, but many researchers have recently pushed back against that distinction, arguing that self-constructed families are no less real or meaningful than conventional ones.

“They see these folks as family, and so I’m going to honor that,” said Dawn O. Braithwaite, head of communication studies at the University of Nebraska. “We want to think about it more as a continuum from friendship to family, and I don’t know when the bell rings. But definitely, for these people, nobody had a doubt that it was a family to them.”

Dr. Braithwaite and her colleagues have termed such families “voluntary kin.” For a study published in 2010, they interviewed 110 people in such relationships; they found that for some people, voluntary kinship filled a void left by death or estrangement from biological family, while for others the relationships were supplemental or temporary.

One thing that distinguishes these relationships from friendship, Dr. Braithwaite said, is that they often become central to one’s identity. And many serve important life functions: They may provide a sense of belonging, as well as financial and emotional relief.

Mr. Tanksley’s own family expanded three years ago, when he married Caleb Reese’s former girlfriend, Shannon. Their two children call Ms. Reese “Nana.” — Roni Jacobson


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Ukraine's bloody crackdown leads to call for sanctions

Violent dispersal of pro-European protesters sparks opposition demand for trade embargo

Oksana Grytsenko in Kiev
The Observer, Sunday 1 December 2013   

Ukraine's opposition leaders called for western sanctions to be imposed and urged demonstrators to further protest action after police used force to break up a demonstration on Saturday against the government's refusal to sign a trade deal with the EU.

Kiev's central Independence Square has been ringed by police to prevent a repeat of the rally, which saw up to 10,000 people waving flags, singing songs and demanding the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych.

The protest was prompted by Yanukovych's confirmation on Friday that he had decided to turn his back on a landmark pact with the EU, instead keeping Ukraine closely aligned with Russia.

About 500 police officers descended on the square – the symbolic heart of the 2004 Orange Revolution against elections rigged in favour of Yanukovych, as well as Ukraine's 1990 anti-Soviet protests – at 4am on Saturday, attacking protesters with truncheons. Yanukovich said on Saturday he was "deeply outraged" by the events which led to violent confrontation between protesters and police. He called for an immediate investigation, though did not specifically blame the police for the incidents.

"I just can't believe it happened," said student Igor Mitrov, with a bandaged head and a bloodstained Ukrainian flag in his hands. Mitrov, 22 was among protesters regrouping in the grounds of Kiev's St Mikhailovsky monastery. "The police were beating the girls with rubber batons and we, the guys, were trying to defend them. But without success."

Yaroslava Fedorash, 20, from Lviv in western Ukraine, described how police surrounded and pushed protesters into a metro station. "We were not resisting: we were just singing the Ukrainian anthem," she said. "I saw a girl whose hand was broken and the ambulance took her from the site."

The police action has generated international outrage. Britain's envoy to Ukraine, Simon Smith, tweeted that he was "hugely disturbed this morning to see pictures of deplorable intimidatory violence". The prominent Ukrainian human rights campaigner Yevhen Zakharov said the attack on peaceful demonstrators was unprecedented.

Yanukovych's opponents called the police action an attempt to "intimidate" people and demanded the resignation of the country's most senior police officer, Vitaliy Zakharchenko. They called for a general strike and urged people to attend a rally on Sunday to demand that Yanukovych step down and western countries impose sanctions.

Yulia Tymoshenko, the jailed former prime minister and opposition leader, whose incarceration on corruption charges is suspected by the west of being part of a political vendetta, called on Ukrainians to "step up against dictatorship and violence of Yanukovych" in a letter to the nation read by her daughter.

Vitali Klitschko, world heavyweight boxing champion and leader of the opposition Udar, or "Punch", party, warned that the violence against protesters should not be excused. "If we forgive such actions today, tomorrow they will repeat, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, and Ukraine will turn into a police state."

Ukraine's prime minister, Mykola Azarov, said on his Facebook page that he was "outraged and concerned" about the incident but did not have enough information to make a final judgment. Ukrainian media are reporting that Sergiy Liovochkin, the president's chief of staff, has resigned in protest over the violence.

Police claimed their officers had been responding to complaints from municipal workers who said the demonstrators had been preventing them from preparing the main square for Christmas. "The actions of Berkut [the riot police unit] started after the protesters began fighting back at the police, scattering them with rubbish, glasses, bottles and burning sticks," a police statement said.

Thirty-five people arrested in the square were released following opposition complaints. Antoliy Vershygora, the head of the Kiev ambulance service, said seven people had been treated in hospital and that a further 14 needed medical assistance.

It was revealed on Friday that Yanukovych would not be signing an EU association and free trade deal at a summit in Lithuania as he could not afford to sacrifice economic ties with Russia. His decision was condemned by the European commission president José Manuel Barroso as a Russian "veto".

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

Ukraine opposition calls new rally after baton-wielding police attack 1,000 protesters

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, December 1, 2013 1:53 EST

The Ukrainian opposition hopes to muster tens of thousands of demonstrators on Sunday and give new momentum to demands for President Viktor Yanukovych to step down amid a row over ties with the European Union.

Three main opposition parties said they were establishing “a national resistance task force” after riot police brutally dispersed a rally of opposition supporters and wounded several dozen on Saturday.

The rally was broken up by baton-wielding police who attacked about 1,000 protesters on Independence Square in the capital Kiev in the early hours of Saturday morning.

About 10,000 people had gathered in central Kiev on Friday night calling for Yanukovych’s dismissal after the president refused to sign a key political and free trade agreement with the EU.

The opposition called for a new protest in a central Kiev park after police surrounded Independence Square with metal barriers.

“We can and should remove these authorities,” world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, the leader of the UDAR (Punch) party, told about 10,000 supporters on Saturday, announcing the new protest.

“We should come out and show that we will not allow them to humiliate us, we will stand up for our rights,” he told the crowd nearly a week after mass protests broke out across Ukraine following the authorities’ decision to scrap the EU deal that would have set the ex-Soviet nation on a path to European integration. The European Union has accused Kiev’s old master Moscow of pressuring Ukraine, which is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas, to walk away from the deal.

On Saturday, current EU chair Lithuania said the use of force was “reprehensible” and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele called for a probe.

“Violence and intimidation should have no place in today’s Ukraine,” added US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Amnesty International called on the Ukranian authorities to live up to their obligations to protect human rights.

Late Saturday, Yanukovych said in a statement he was “deeply outraged” by the use of force against the protesters and vowed that those responsible would be punished.

Opposition protesters massed Saturday outside an ancient, golden-domed church where several hundred demonstrators — many of them out-of-towners — had received sanctuary earlier in the day.

After the pre-dawn sweep, monks at the Mikhailovsky monastery gave the protesters, many with caked blood on their clothes and flags, first aid and food.

Everyday Ukrainians launched a drive to collect food and clothes for the protesters who were set to spend the night in the church.

Many said they felt betrayed both by the government and the opposition.

“Everyone abandoned us. We were left one on one with police batons,” protester Igor Mitrov, his head bandaged and clothes blood-stained, told AFP.

“We do not know what to do next,” said the protester, who arrived from the southern Crimean peninsula.

Yaroslava Fedorash, a 20-year-old protester from the western city of Lviv, said: “One young woman had her arm broken when the rally was dispersed. She’s had it bandaged here.”

One of the monks, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said the demonstrators were allowed to remain in the church on the condition they refrained from smoking and drinking.

“Our monks will ensure they have food and hot tea.”

Church leaders condemned the violence and called on both the authorities and the opposition to avoid further clashes.


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* Ukraine-opposition-calls-new-rally-after-police-brutality-615x345.jpg (56.56 KB, 615x345 - viewed 14 times.)

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* The Pig and his Puppet.jpg (96.83 KB, 850x759 - viewed 19 times.)
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